I was treated with abundant, delicious local dishes at a diner in the indigenous village, Pacavalj. The gifts from the mountains and the ocean excited my palette. After returning to where I stayed, I soon felt very relaxed. Looking into the azure sky while lying down, I was overwhelmed with an intense drowsiness. Was it because of the millet wine? In the past, I would have taken my camera and gone out for a walk; but I was unable to resist the heaviness of my eyelids… After an either ten-minute or one-hour nap that felt like I had fallen into the bottom of a well, I seemed to hear someone calling out my name. It was not a whisper next to my ear but loud calls from an outdoor speaker… Why calling my name like this? Was I dreaming? No, it was not a dream. I was supposed to give a talk in the village. This was not the time for a prolonged nap! I got up in a flurry, grabbed my bag and headed out. Though my head was still half-clouded, but I was sure the venue of the talk was only a few minutes away on foot. When I arrived, I did not find an indoor activity hall. Instead, it was a place like a roofed plaza, with colorful stools scattered around in a casual manner. Per the request of the organizer, I started my talk about the topic of art festivals in Japan. During the talk, sometimes the children playing games in the back would accidentally kick their ball over, sometimes a dog would come and sniff my feet; and at one time, a scooter even drove through the audience that was listening to the talk. Was this really the venue of the talk? My sense of reality seemed to be splitting away from the very idea of an international art project and disappearing rapidly.
THE SPIRITUAL SOUTH
The Hidden South that I visited twice throughout its duration was a special and unforgettable art project. To be precise, I visited the art project prior to its opening and right before it closed, and I was rather amazed by both its content and scale. The approach of using an entire geographical region to curate an exhibition could be found around the world, including in Japan. However, it was indeed rare to see an art project with such agency given its incorporation of the entire landscape of Taitung, which was embraced by the mountains and the ocean.
Its another achievement was to renounce large facilities like art museums and cleverly use the everyday space where people actually lived in. It is worth mentioning that, for people who visited the art project, these places were temporarily transformed into “classrooms,” where they could learn about different indigenous groups, including the Paiwan, Amis and Rukai peoples, as well as local culture and history. My statement would perhaps bring to mind the currently popular style that makes an emphasis on regional history and culture while associating contemporaneous expressions around the world, connecting the local and the global to produce glocalized value. However, The Hidden South was not steered toward this direction. It is unnecessary to deny that this art project did attract some tourists and produce a certain level of economic benefit. However, this was never the objective of the project.
The art project not only showcased artworks, but also programmed a series of diverse events and activities, in particular, educational ones. It has indeed brought people to discover the local value. I encountered a wide range of vocabularies, lives and materials that I had never known before, but I did not discover the simplistic structure of quickly linking local culture with global contemporary art commonly found in some art projects. This became tangibly clear to me when I saw the mural, entitled Vuvu & Vuvu, which covered the school building of Dawu Junior High School. The black-and-white mural created by Dexter Fernandez seemed to engage Taitung’s people, animals and plants in a metamorphosis, unveiling a grand ritualistic fest, one that invited visitors to enter an inner world of one’s childhood rather than the global, external world.
The Hidden South based the project on Taitung’s customs and landscape, but moved towards a direction opposite of globalization. To create the encounter between people and the forgotten yet existing “South” within everyone, the art project provided several methods to visit the alternative dimension. The artworks, performances and educational events, while achieving a balance between rationality and sensibility, formed a passage or loop leading to the innerscape. What was the art project all about? In this essay, I would like to offer my personal experience to reflect on the art project.
PERCEIVING the DÉPAYSEMENT
The twenty artists participating in the art project were vastly different whether in terms of their background or creative style. The one they had in common, however, would perhaps be the use of “dépaysement.” In art history, dépaysement becomes widely known for surrealism. It denotes the non-everyday arrangement of objects or people to introduce a sense of disparity or a change of atmosphere. In terms of placing a site in an utterly different context, the art project’s information center fit the requirement. When I first saw Dawu’s decommissioned bus terminal, I really had the feeling that it was the center of the art project. Cudjuy Maljugau’s installation work, Ina's Garden of Memory, perfectly transformed this disused building into an art space—a “non-place” that did not evoke memory, nor express any characteristics. Through the furniture made of plants found in Taitung, the space was decisively turned into a “site” that combined nature and living.
Two intriguing works could be found along the Provincial Highway No. 9. Hopping out of the car and looking towards the beach, something seemed to be protruding out of the sand. It was Chiu Chen-Hung’s The Balcony, which looked like a ship buried under the earth leaving only the deck above the ground; it also looked like a massive indigenous house being excavated out of the soil. One could seem to perceive the suspended history of the place. LuxuryLogico is an artist collective known for their media installations of technology. Their work installed on the road where Pacavalj’s rest station was located. It was the sculptural piece, Rebirth, made of concrete and steel taken from architectural ruins created by typhoons. It epitomized the mountain ridge lines of Pacavalj, delineating the elegant natural contour while embodying materiality and the struggling, laboring flesh with dripping sweat. Through the alternation of ordinary places that people would normally ignore, the artistic landscape re-directed our vision towards events that could have taken place in the past.
INTO the DIMENSION of DREAMS
Whereas these two works displayed the expression of dépaysement in public space, the project entitled Dream Inspired Millet Wine utilized a private space to show dépaysement. It was in a beauty and wellbeing salon called “Mei Mei” in the indigenous village, Aljungic. This project by artist Huang Po-Chih intended to initiate an exchange of dreams with the salon proprietor. If my understanding was correct, the phenomenon of the artist and the proprietor appearing in each other’s dreams was the essence of the artwork. With dim light, a unique ambiance mixing nostalgia and allure permeated the salon space. Some portraits were hung on the wall. A few bottles on the counter contained millet wine of different colors made of different materials. The female proprietor would pour the millet win into glasses. I did not have much knowledge of the process at the time. It seemed that the millet wine of different colors would induce different dreams. It was until the sunset of that day that I truly grasped the meaning of the work.
It was by the river known as Daniao River. In a corner of the collapsed riverbank was a circular concrete platform. Scanning the QRcode with one’s smartphone, a little black person would appear and start mumbling. This was Wu Sih-Chin’s My Name? I Have a Lot of Names, a media installation created with AR technology. The work was based on the legend of the little black people passed down in the indigenous village. As I tried to listen to the explanation, my eyes shifted away from the phone screen and moved towards the flowing river; and it was at this precise moment that an incredible thing happened.
The sun slipped westward, seemingly hiding into the mountains of Pacavalj. The western sky glistened with orange radiance, bouncing on the river water. The incessantly running river split into two, meandering separately and converging before eventually creating a symbol of “infinity.” Under that magnificent sunset and at that specific moment, I felt something seeped through the depth of my body. Somehow I found the scene, which I was seeing for the first time, extremely familiar.
It was a landscape that I had repeatedly seen in my dreams for a long time. I looked down on the landscape of the majestic river in the embrace of towering mountains. The sky glistened in the sunset. I looked at this scene, feeling slightly lost even though I knew that I would soon travel to the distant end of this landscape. For me, a person who traveled constantly, I had interpreted the repeated dream as ordinary; however, it was right in front of my eyes at this moment. The shock kept me briefly immobilized by Daniao River. Whether it was because of the millet wine or not, I had been linked with another place through the dimension of dream.
THE POWER of the SPIRITS
I did not immediately think of the last scene on the last day of the exhibition and what it meant. However, because of writing this article for the exhibition catalogue, I revisited the place in my memory and realized some things. My realization was not about the implication of the landscape but the reason why I had the feeling of déjà vu. As I said at the beginning of the article, I first visited the art project on the day before its opening; it was the first time I visited Taitung. The curator Eva Lin was to be blessed in a cleansing ritual, so we headed to bus terminal directly from Dawu Train Station.
Two women who were called shamans performed the cleansing ritual, praying for the smooth progress of the project. The ritual was performed in a simple manner. Although the shamans used a different type of tree leaves, the ritual was not much different from that of Japan. While saying some spell, the chief dabbed Eva’s head and shoulders with beautiful green mulberry leaves before finally throwing the leaves into the air. Even without any explanation, the content of the ritual was quite clear. Most importantly, in my opinion, the ritual was performed in the now empty bus terminal.
This was a place where the paths of travelers on the bus moving on the South-Link Highway intersected; it was a place that had witnessed countless encounters and separations. Dreams of all sorts were probably mentioned here. Those who were traveling to the cities had hopes or disappointments. There were perhaps residuals of memories. In between so many encounters and separations, the place kept the landscape of memory from people starting their journeys and those arriving at the place. Though the bus station seemed empty, it was in fact filled with people’s dreams and memory; it was, in short, a space that evoked people’s memory.
On the last day, I serendipitously witnessed the same cleansing ritual at the same place. This time, the ritual was performed to express gratitude for the successful completion of the art project. The two chiefs again chanted the spell with faint voices, scattering the leaves into the air. Green leaves fell onto the floor of the space once visited by many visitors and travelers during the exhibition.
Upon seeing the view, I was wondering: were these leaves not epitomizing the inner landscape of people? Flying in the air were in fact the endless dreams of people traveling between stations in the past and the future. I believed that the landscape by the riverbank in my dream was encapsulated in one of the falling leaves.
In the ancient time, long before human beings appeared, spirits had lent their powers to complete projects on this island. In a similar way, a southbound route, a spiritual south-link highway, was born within me, through which the moment of traveling to the next stop would soon arrive.
不僅僅是展示作品，還包含各式各樣的周邊活動，特別是教育性的節目，這個計畫讓在地價值被發現是事實。我在那裡與許多從未知曉的語彙、生命和物質的形態相遇，然而我並未從中看見那種藉由計畫將其在地文化迅速地連結上全球化當代藝術的簡單結構。當我在大武國中的學校建築上看見壁畫作品《Vuvu & Vuvu》的時候，具體感受到了這件事。戴克斯特所描繪的這幅黑白壁畫，彷彿是把台東的人們、動物和植物變身，展開一場盛大的祭典一樣。這場祭典，與其說是全球性的外部世界，更像是邀請我們進入到童年時期的內部世界。
本文收錄於《a firetime story》（「南方以南」群記），2021年3月出版。
This article is featued in the book, a firetime story (notes to The Hidden South), published in Mar 2021.
Photography Etang Chen