Monday, September 7, 2015

Rites, Rituals and offerings

I am now in the final phase of my Asialink residency. After the half way mark everything definitely starts to speed up, and with Summer  over and Autumn now here work on my project intensifies. As we move towards a final showing date relationships develop and grow with the resident artists, staff, collaborators and new friends. There is a connection that is made that comes with living for an extended period in the same environment, and I am experiencing that this is one of the quiet joys a residency offers, a meaningful connection to people and place, and the invitation to a deeper level of understanding.  
There is too a re-visiting of places viewed earlier, a looking closer, and the noticing of detail overlooked first time around. I find with an altered awareness you can view the same from a fresh perspective. I have particularly appreciated this re-visiting and returning to various places, something we don’t tend to do when we are tourists. When you return to a site, temple, building or gallery more than once, you encounter it afresh, from another angle, perhaps at a deeper level, all the while sensing and experiencing the changes that have occurred within you. You look with different eyes, and find perhaps the smaller detail of things you missed or another layer to the experience. Perhaps too it can be just that the day is sunny, your mood equally so and you are not needing a map or guide book to find your way! I have been made aware of how we create patterns, routines, and even routes that we repeat, how they become familiar and reassuring and that we do this wherever we are. You have made a temporary home, you have come to know your neighbourhood, the local park you run in, where you get your favourite Taiwanese pancake breakfast, your lunchtime pork rice or wonton soup with vegetables.The supermarket doesn’t seem so overwhelming with its array of products and mysterious labels…and always where there is good coffee to be found! At the same time there is this sense of ending as residencies conclude and once new faces, now familiar, begin to leave, and goodbyes are said…With the change in season has come more rain, and a lowering of the temperature, definitely there is a feeling of ‘last days of Summer’ in the air…perhaps feeding my sense of growing nostalgia and melancholy!

Hsu Yen-Ting recording Longshan Temple parade
Hsu Yen-Ting and I have been busy following Ghost Month activity for our ABC Radio program. As well as capturing the Taipei street action of table offerings and paper burnings we participated in the Lantern ritual of Longshan Temple. What started with us following the parade through the streets, watching and recording the crowds, the traditional music & Buddhist ritual chanting and prayers, ended with us on the back of a temple truck on a wild open air ride to the river’s edge. After the crush, noise and smoke of the previous ceremony here we witness a more intimate event as a small group of followers silently release individual lantern ‘houses’ into the still water. It was unexpected and I loved the random nature of running with what happened and our own participation in it! We rode back on the truck to the temple chatting to staff arriving to firecrackers popping as we drove through the temple gates. Here we made our own incense offerings adding our thoughts and wishes into the smoky scented air.  
Longshan Temple offerings
Lanterns float downstream
My experiences of Ghost Month have been really interesting and different to what I imagined. Even though there are bigger events held in towns such as Keelung, the month long festival retains a personal aspect. You see the community visibly honoring ‘hungry ghosts’ as individual buildings, businesses and temples set up tables on the street, making their offerings and saying their prayers. Each table with its own unique combination of food, flowers, gifts, ‘treats’, candles and smoking incense. Most made complete with stool, a washing bowl with water, towel and even a fresh face cloth & toothbrush for the ghost to use as they ‘consume’ the offerings placed in their honour. Driving through small towns around Yilan this last weekend I was again struck by the sight of family groups making offerings and burnings in front of their homes and work places. This is not ritual as tourism, or a jingoistic papered festival celebration such as Easter, it is personal, meaningful, and ordinary in a way that is moving to witness. I don’t mean it is always undertaken with religious fervor, or even with a ‘real’ belief in ghosts (though many do ‘believe’), rather it is a part of everyday life and not emptied of its own place and meaning in the greater scheme of things. 
Ritual offerings and burning of paper 'money' to appease 'hungry' ghosts - Dihua District
It seems to me this ritual expression of acknowledging the ‘hungry ghost’ is also a collective way of recognising the shadow or the ‘other’, the mixture of ambivalent feelings that might be seen as attached to the unfulfilled life.The tales of hauntings, of ‘ghosts’ wanting to be ‘heard’ and avenged, a way for the darkness and disillusionment of life to be articulated and laid to rest.The burnings and gifts to departed and lonely souls a way to appease and perhaps release emotions of disappointment and frustration, loneliness and longing, the troubling and difficult feelings that can not be openly expressed. A time to contemplate the unresolved endings, lost hopes and dreams from the past that each of us carries within, and a moment to acknowledge ‘ghosts’ both living and dead. It makes a lot of sense when you think about it…to sweep away the regrets and remonstrations of those roaming spirits and their shadows and light up what lies beneath the surface of the water. (view side page for more images)

With our joint exhibition False Start: Situtational Exploratorium now up and running my focus is on the development of my own version of a ‘Ghost’ project Jhih. I am busy in the TAV studio collaborating with local dancers & performers to explore some of the outcomes from my research and writing. It feels the right time to be bringing into animation and motion the thoughts and images I have been creating in my mind and on paper. We have two fairly intense weeks together including some filming, and then we will show the work in progress to an invited audience at an event here at TAV on the 18th. It has also become very much about translation and communication as I work with mainly Chinese speaking artists, and even though I have a translator I am enjoying the experience and some of the laughs that inevitably result from the process. Never mind my hilarious attempts to demonstrate what I am trying to create! But trust me I have a go, and the performers assure me, ‘no ‘it’s OK, OK..’ so, it will be interesting to see where we are in a few weeks time…

My favourite shot from the Opening
False Start Opening
I continue to walk Taipei enjoying the process of discovery on a daily basis. Temples of all shapes and all sizes, a corner turned at night and in a park a one man puppet show is underway. There is a hidden beauty in the older areas of the city, experiencing the array of personalities of shop keepers in the Dihua district, and in photographing architecture, people and places. (view side pages) Before my walking compnaion TAV resident Helene departs back to France we trek up Elephant Mountain to take in the city vista at night, eat at an infamous dumplings restaurant Din Tai Fung, visit the Lin Family Mansion & Gardens buried in a semi-industrial Fuzhong, and find a local banquet house with more diverse desserts of every kind on display that I have possibly ever witnessed! (including a chocolate fondue with popcorn). After eating a massive steak we do a multiple taste test on the cake selection and declare our winner! More walks, night markets, attending performances, along with a delicious discovery; a 1950's style cafe that does superb coffee & cookies in Ximen. Helene and I have enjoyed some wonderful times so it was sad to wave her goodbye. 
Helene Juillet - TAV resdient
Recent days have seen me with Yen-Ting visit Yilin (Ilan), head up into the mountains to historic town of Shifen where we sample traditional foods such as mifanshu (sweet potatoes cooked in white sugar), visit Houtong, a former coal mining town, now a designated 'cat village' totally devoted to domestic 'stray' cats, visit the lush waterfall country around Jiaoshi, and view the jet black sands of Wai’ao ‘surf’ Beach. Rich experiences and many laughs, especially in ‘cat-town’, which has to be seen to be believed! 
Homes for strays
Yen-Ting in 'cat-town'
Wufengqi Falls
This last week I welcomed WAAPA dance exchange student Michelle Aitken to Taipei, here to begin her own Taiwanese rite of passage with a five month dance exchange program at Taiwan National University of Fine Arts. I have enjoyed seeing through her eyes the fresh discovery of the unknown sharing with her some of my now favourite places...and food!
Michelle Aitken, Ximen at night
I have attended more presentations by residency artists including Bamboo Curtain’s Open studio, a Taiwanese community space that delivers a range of public art programs, local and international residencies.(see side page) I also witnessed the extraordinary solo performance Shoot Jeez By Gosh by contemporary Butoh performer/creator Yuko Kaseki. Inspired by visual artist Henry Darger’s fantasy world that juxtaposes innocence with violence this was a spellbinding hour as she transformed and contorted her body expressing powerfully some of the horrors of war and the loss of innocence of those affected. Given recent current events relating to the Syrian refugee crisis, the work is timely and I was moved to tears by her rendering of a young boy trying to play ball and his desperate efforts to be included in the game. Her singular expressiveness as a solo performer, her humility, humanity and her vulnerability is compelling and mesmerising. 

Bamboo Curtain studio visit

Yuko Kaseki
My Taipei Arts Festival experience continued with two Australian presentations; the extraordinary Dirtsong by Black Arm Band & the Taiwanese/Australian contemporary dance program eXchange. Dirtsong featured a full band, and 5 incredible Indigenous singers with Sangpuy Katatepan Mavaliyw, a local Taiwanese guest artist, joining them for a set. It was presented in language and was a polished, yet raw, open and heartfelt performance by these artists. The original screen content by Daybreak Films (Aus) accompanying the work is outstanding and enhanced the experience taking us into Australian Indigenous heartlands, with its black & white images of country and people. Sitting in the auditorium there was a moment when I also truly felt a long way from home. eXchange,a collaboration between Fragment 31 and local company Century Contemporary Dance Company, was a combined program of new works commissioned for the Festival. The 6 newly minted short pieces, three by Taiwanese artists and 3 by Australian choreographers were a mix of style, content and form. The artists ranged from the emerging to the experienced with the works clearly reflecting this in terms of their level of sophistication and delivery. The effort to integrate the history and dynamics of the Gaunfu Auditorium, a 50’s style cavernous hall-space (complete with massive chandeliers) into the works them selves was less successful, and for the most part diminished the impact of the individual works. Choreographer/performer Melanie Lane (Aus) wisely created a defined performance space within the space contributing to the overall power and effectiveness of her tightly constructed and focused solo work. The process and the exchange itself was clearly the winner here, with this a lunch pad to future collaborations. Attending the post-show artist talk the participants spoke to the strong and meaningful creative and personal connections they had made with Taipei and each other. 

eXchange team
I have found this the gift of the residency, the meetings with new people, the connections and conversations, not only on art, art-making and the living of a creative life, but also on politics, history, culture, place, and yes, food! Also the unexpected collaborations, for example, this last week I sat for local emerging photographer Shantel Liao. Becoming a participant in her global project, a photographic study of people, place and the important objects that we carry with us on our travels. And yes, for all the activity there are also days and hours of solo time, experiencing those moments of tough inner questioning, feeling challenged by circumstances (various!) and sometimes merely being a long way away from home…

..All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are. And we must pass through solitude and difficulty, isolation and silence in order to reach forth to the enchanted place where we can dance our clumsy dance and sing our sorrowful song. (Pablo Neruda)

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating observations and variety of work people are doing! Would have loved to see the Butoh performer Yuko Kaseki... amazing the amount of ideas and possibilities for performance and art practise that can come from being in this kind of exchange program... wishing you are feeling absolutely excited and brimming...