Saturday, August 8, 2015

Wild weather, Pandas, participatory art & puppets

Puppet Carved head - Taiyuan Asian Puppet Theatre Musuem
When I started this blog I was bunkering in for my second typhoon..that's when the city closes down, and I mean really closes down. No transport services, all offices shut their doors, pot plants get placed on their sides, trees are tied down, windows are taped with crosses, and I am wondering if my scheduled two-day masterclass is going to be postponed...The first typhoon I experienced wasn't too bad, so part of me wonders what the fuss is all about...Then within twenty four hours it all starts....

This is Summer in Taiwan with the weather ricocheting from pretty hot to very hot, with humidity moving between 40 - 70 % depending on the day. Umbrellas will be used in a single day for sunshade (most women avoid sun like the plague, as it makes you 'brown') and then for torrential rain. I eventually understood why so many shoe stores sell fully plastic shoes, boots, and sandals (which I initially thought kind of odd in Summer), and its because whenever it rains there is a serious amount of water. Most people have a diverse collection of wet-weather gear, and there are also fashion lines in raincoats and the like.
Meanwhile my roof has again sprung a leak (it has its own red bin bucket at this moment) and there is an occasional unexplained drip that periodically lands in the middle of my studio floor...for no reason that I can see. Weather, gotta love it...or be completely blown away by it...more about our Typhoon experience later...

This last week or so has been a balancing act between writing, research and break out day trips to get time out from the city. Had some fun in the sun (yep it was a hot one) with TAV artists Helene & Hyangro visiting Taipei Zoo and us experiencing our first Pandas (joyous). Then up and away onto Maokong via a 4.2 km floating Gondola. Here we shared a lazy lunch at one of the many tea houses gazing over the valley. This was followed by a seriously sweaty trek to Jinjhe Cave temple embedded high up in the mountain side next to a water fall. Hot work in amongst a symphony of butterflies, but eventually we come across this magical setting. We got lost on the way back after taking one of those detours you shouldn't take, but all up it was a great day. Check out side page to read more.
Here's lookin' at you...

Post Breakfast nap
Our Gondola
Yep, its pretty cool.
Over the mountains
Hard work Hyangro - there is a lot of climbing up

Hiking Helene

Temple at Jinjhe Cave
Later in the week a solo reconnaissance via train to the faded port city of Keelung provides a day of contemplation. I wander up and down its narrow alleyways and through the historic Miaokou Night market, one of the most famous in Taiwan. It was good to take a look round prior to its Ghost Month festivities that will kick off in a few weeks time. Keelung is a focus town for various events to appease those ‘hungry ghosts’, or 'good brethren' as they are commonly known. I’m planning to come back and witness some of this unique celebration, so watch out for future Ghost hunting posts!
Temple preparations underway at Zhongsheng Park for Ghost Month celebrations
Keelung laneway
Back in Taipei I visit the Museum of Fine Arts and experience the New York based artist Lee Mingwei’s wonderful and absorbing exhibition Lee Mingwei and His relations: The Art of Participation – seeing, conversing, gift-giving, writing, dining and getting connected to the world. (longest title ever) which is touring Asia at present. Lee is a world-renowned conceptual artist producing different participatory art projects to highlight the ‘public’ and ‘social’ aspects of Art. Moving beyond our role as viewers we find ourselves becoming invited to become participants intervening in the artists projects. Projects in this exhibition included; The Mending Project, the Sleeping Project, The Dining project and involved exactly what the title states, yet there is a gentle, non-confrontational approach and a certain purity to the aesthetic of the various stagings and installations. Another exhibition Formosa in Formation featuring selected works from the MFA collection 1895 – 1947, a time of sweeping change in Taiwan, was a more formal and overall less appealing body of works. See Artworks side page for more exhibition pix
The Art of Participation
The Writing Project
The Museum of Fine Arts is all white walls and glass, an impressive and spacious edifice set in Expo Park which features an array of quirky designed, shaped and decorated pavilions that were clearly the ‘thing’ in 2010 (when the Expo opened). You can wander through and check out the Taiwan Excellence Pavilion, Pavilion of Aroma and Flowers, Pavilion of Taipei Robot and others..a total contrast to my next stop TheTaiyuan Asian Puppet Theatre Museum. Tucked down lane ways in the heart of the historic Dihua quarter this Museum is reached via a single entrance just off the street. It has four tightly squeezed floors of exhibits reached by one of the narrowest and vertical of stairways I have ever climbed. The Museum is dedicated to the preservation and promotion of traditional Asian puppet cultures and has a collection of over 10,000 Asian puppets, one of the most complete collections of Asian puppets in the world. The Museum hosts an educational centre, a small puppet theatre and a full functioning puppetry workshop. Of course incomparable to our own Spare Parts Puppet Theatre in Fremantle it was rather lovely and had a warm, much loved feel to the place, a secret hidden away from most of the tourist crowds. It is a little run down, there were only about 60 or so puppets on display and unfortunately there are no shows currently in performance. Yet, the early Chinese hand puppets, so exquisitely and expressively carved, won my heart. Their age and beauty speak of stories I can only imagine, and these small, delicately crafted and painted wooden hand puppets are still popular entertainment today. There was also various small scale erected wooden play stages and aged chests that would have made their way from town to town all those years ago. I come away with several ‘newer’ versions bought and tucked into my bags. Irresistible. Check out side page for more images of Dihua along with puppet pix.
Three 'wise' men...
Personal favourite

The Taipei Arts Festival has also kicked off. A performance based Festival funded by the City of Taipei it sensibly stages performances Thurs - Sunday each week for just over 5 weeks, and is scheduled so there are not too many clashes. Up and coming shows include works form France, Germany, Japan & Australia, alongside local productions.Taipei Fringe then commences on the 23 August and runs until 13 September, proudly claiming ‘130 teams with 543 sessions’. This is definitely an endurance event with a pretty eclectic program dotted around the city. As part of the opening weekend of TAF I went along to see another free contemporary dance event staged in a public park (Taipei is definitely on to something) and for the most part I enjoyed the presentation. The New Co-Choreographer Program produces by Memiage Dance invites leading Taiwanese dancers working abroad to come and create individual solo works in the style of their current company. The artists also share something of their experiences working overseas and are interviewed by the host. In addition there was some audience participation in form of mock auditions. This involved the dancers taking volunteers through imaginary auditions for their companies & then later improvising with them. For me these moments felt a bit ‘So You Think You Can Dance' in terms of the 'lame' format, but the dancers own created works were diverse, eclectic and powerful. The companies they represented include Akram Khan, & Bill T Jones & Company. From the framing of the event and recent experiences it is clear there is a real local pride and engagement with contemporary dance as an art form. It has a strong post-war history with many current senior local choreographers studying in the US, and then bringing that training home. There are now several tertiary-based courses here with numerous graduates working nationally and internationally. Currently there are 30 dance companies in Taiwan and this does not include the many internationally successful independent solo artists such as Su Wen Chi (who I am a particular fan of). 
Daan Park TAF Performance
The TAV also got into some active artist participation of its own with a group Dumpling making (and eating) session. Staff and interns were joined by Taipei Artist Village and Treasure Hill based residents. Much fun and mess making was had devising our own 'variations' with a healthy and 'creative' post-meal discussion over a preference for steamed versus fried!   
Team dumpling

Hyangro in action

Significantly for me this week saw the realisation of one of my first creative collaborations undertaken here in Taipei. After several meetings, discussions and emails, local artist and calligrapher Tseng Ting Yu along with translator Li Hui Huang spent an incredible and productive evening with me at TAV studio 302. I had written a text for my project that Li Hui then translated into Mandarin. Ting re-interpreted this translation into his own adapted form of the ancient art of calligraphy. I filmed him at work and several hours later we had a stamped and signed version we were both satisfied with.Ting even made me have a go at painting an adaptation of his text..hilarious..Check out side page for images from our session including this fab piece of work!


Final result.
Footage from this session, the written translation, and the resulting calligraphy will form the basis of the next stage of The Ghost Project. I plan to work with local performers on creating a movement vocabulary from this material...It is always quietly thrilling to see your words 'come alive', its why I choose to write for performance. Yet this was a totally new experience, a performance of a different kind. As I watched this artist at work I felt awe at his focus and his control as he 'danced' the text onto the page...
Here is the translated text:

My heart is a void
It is a mirror
See in my face
Loathing and horror
In the world of ghosts
Prisoned by dreams
Unknown remains unknown (but)
As long as you remember (me)
I will never disappear

Now, back to the Typhoon..
The temperature drops, the wind lifts, windows rattle and the trees begin to sway...and then? It's dark, the windows are now shuddering and it's too noisy to sleep as the Typhoon rolls on in.There is torrential rain, and more wind, and trees are bent over and breaking, roof pieces lift off and scud down the street, scooters over-turn, umbrellas are ripped and wrenched from your hands, rain water is streaming and flooding into everywhere...Alarms go off, sirens are screaming, and loud speaker instructions in Chinese are calling out to us to evacuate. It's in the middle of the night and as we close our electronically operated doors we have no idea it will be hours before we will return to our studios. Every room seems to be dripping, and sand bags are not stopping the steady flow of water into studios and offices. We huddle in the VIP room and wish we had brought more clothes, phones etc..and me, sensible footwear. Although barefoot and now soaked I do have my Handbag! The storm and winds rage on as we quietly chat and watch via laptop Typhoon Soudelor weave a devastating path across the country. Mid-morning we brave the chaotic streets to a 7-11 for coffee & food. We eventually get keys that will return us to our rooms, all a little shell-shocked at the degree of impact...Four people have died...and I learn that a Typhoon is not something to be ignored or ever to be taken lightly... 
View from my balcony
A flooded studio
Out Front

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