The soul of a trail — its trail-ness...lies in its function: how it continuously evolves to serve the needs of its users.
─── Robert Moor, On Trail: An Exploration
If someone asks me about the breakthrough achieved by The Hidden South in terms of its curatorial methodology, I would say that it has realized “the meditation of the trail,” which, in its case, that has its roots in the South-Link Highway. One is reminded of the advice that the protagonist in Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums gives to his friend, “Try the meditation of the trail, just walk along looking at the trail at your feet and don’t look about and just fall into a trance as the ground zips by.” Never have I ever, in my experience of travelling on the South-Link Highway for dozens of times over a course of dozens of years, taken the time to stop and meditate on the road beneath my feet. The so-called “trance” I have experienced along the journey has been informed by the landscape with cars rushing by. This time, however, I myself as well as the audience were stopped by The Hidden South, and have begun gazing into the trail that never seemed to be our concern.
Starting with the former bus terminal, turning it into an information center, the exhibition has already occupied a node of modern memory. From Anne-Flore Cabanis’s prismatic writing in the form of her sculptural installation, Two Color Gradient, Wu Tsan-Cheng’s The South-link Sound Map, Cudjuy Malijugau’s Ina’s Garden of Memory, to Dexter Fernandez’s Vuvu & Vuvu, these works have unveiled one question from the four aspects of abstract line, local sound, plant ecology and graffiti—apart from Shen Baozhen, Yuan Wenzi and the road-builders in the Showa period, along the 100-km highway and after the nauseating section with the biggest curve and slopes with the highest gradient in Taiwan, what are the implications of these endless trails in Taimali, Jinfeng, Dawu and Daren that are extending from the South-Link Highway and leading to various indigenous villages, mountains and the sea? Who created them? Why do they exist? One could choose any of these trails and inquire about its existence.
We would like to ask: in addition to the trail-ness of modern roads that have adapted to cars, what can we find in The Hidden South? In this essay, I discuss “the meditation of trail-ness” introduced by The Hidden South from four aspects – installation of trail-ness, trail-ness of collaboration, trail-ness of sharing and trail-ness of coexistence – to point out the unique value of “the hidden south” embodied by the exhibition.
We began with the meditation installation of trail-ness, starting with the Kaling Diway’s Pulami in Nantian Camping Area at the end of the highway — “ The artist weaves clay pots, millet, and arrows with bamboo strips. The work symbolizes Paiwan’s modesty and their commitment to land ethics. With moderated use of natural resources in accordance with the natural cycle, a relationship informed with abundance, mutual respect and love is created among heaven, earth and humanity.” Also using bamboo strips for his woven work, Yu Wen-Fu’s Vector of the South was the continuation of sea waves. On Chiu Chen-Hung’s The Balcony, visitors could observe and meditate on the vast southern waters. Siki Sufin’s Wings stemmed from his meditation on the feathers of mountain hawk-eagles used in traditional rituals. We eventually arrived at Wu Sih-Chin’s multimedia AR installation, My Name? I Have a Lot of Names, which evoked the otherworldly presence of the disappeared Little Black People, ending with LuxuryLogico’s Rebirth that drew inspiration from reflecting on the cycle of natural disaster, material and landscape. Along this trail, we departed from Nantian, to Shangwu, passing The Hidden South Center, visiting the mural in Dawu Junior High School, and finally arrived at Pacavalj. The exhibition lured us into turning of our engine, stepping out the enclosed vehicle, or at least lowering the car windows and slowing down the cars. Then, we started to walk towards a sandy beach, trail, platform on the roadside or an empty small park, turning our eyes towards the mountains or gazing into the sea. The spatial-temporal transposition and the slowing down of physical pace introduced the first question: what had happened here? Aside from colorful road signs, could there be a different dimension of other forms of life here? How have humans shaped this road into what it is now, and what difficulties have taken place so far?
Next was the trail-ness of collaboration. The first time I visited the sites of The Hidden South was with Japanese curator Minato Chihiro on March 11, 2018. It was part of the course practice for the TNNUA Doctoral Program in Art Creation and Theory, titled “Contemporary Curation and Interpretive Anthropology,” in which I collaborated with Minato and organized a “curatorial lecture.” Through the assistance of artist Chang En-Man, we met with the curatorial team in Pacavalj. We realized that artists Akac Orat and Chang En-Man in the curatorial team were both in a state of “rediscovering the trail back to the village.” As indigenous weaver Yuma Taru stated in the first chapter, entitled “The Encounter and the Wait: On the Exhibition,” in Collaboration: Remembering a Tribal Exhibition of Old Atayal Objects, “this is, as a matter of fact, a process of waiting and encountering. After waiting for many years, I finally met my ancestors and the ancient spirits in my own tribe.” (p. 41) The curatorial team was indeed a patient and enduring one that could wait until the moment of encounter; and this has been one of the intellectual prerequisites when every member of the team decided to collectively embark on the “trail of collaboration.” According to what I learned, the so-called “waiting period” comprised collaboration and coordination among the public sector and all the other groups, which have become the internal framework to support the installation of meditation on the trail-ness as well as the foremost requirement to unfold and extend the spiritual geography.
That night, we attended a workshop called “Vaqu a vawa & Lemon-flavored spirits,” organized by artist Huang Po-Chih, taking place at Sauniyau Bakery in Rulakes. When the village residents who made their millet wine in the village met the artist that made his own lemon-flavored spirits in his hometown, all predesigned programs dissolved under the influence of alcohol and gave way to an unexpected interchange of secret wine-making recipe. The young artist seemed fairly impressed when someone mentioned that one had to literally dream to make wine because the recipe had to come from the ancestral spirit’s instructions in the dream to create the brilliant make-up of the recipe. In the meantime, the brilliant banter and verbal charm of the village women that had a powerful presence, with the intoxicating effect of alcohol, soon emancipated the bashful souls of all the workshop participants, turning them into bacchanal walkers of “the trail of wine-making,” who uncontrollably tasted the homemade nectar from different households in a trance-like state while listening to how their wine was made. Also in Collaboration, Ho Tsui-Ping, the Director of the Museum of Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica stated in “Mutual Recognition: The First Collaboration Exhibition” that “‘collaborative anthropology’ is an anthropology that best fits the ethics of the 21st century. It is not only ethically conscious in research and study, but also methodologically attentive to diverse voices from different directions. It is the way to provide anthropologists in the future richer legacy.” (p. 17) After the various experiences offered by The Hidden South around March 11, I became convinced that the exhibition has mastered the essential spirit of “collaboration”: a mutual recognition at the site. Whether bamboo bracelet weaving, mural-painting workshop, cross-stitching or wooden plate carving, these programs all required mutual recognition through facing each other and lending each other a hand that dissolve the hindrances of time and space to render collaboration possible.
The second experience of The Hidden South was the sharing of trail-ness. That day, a group of friends and I rushed to Jialun Industry Road to join the sharing reception of House of Time, co-created by Chen Shing-Hsiung, Liu Chin-An and Chen Wen-Yi. This open, streamlined house was packed with adults and children inside and outside when we arrived. Music and dance of blessing overflew. All those present were also invited and engaged in the fluid relationship of dining, sharing and dancing. We could clearly see that the dining classroom and various concerts and folklore lectures emphasized on the idea of sharing. However, sharing required opening up roads for sharing as well as the inherent trail-ness created when the roads were built. Food, music and dance were the means to sharing, which were brought back by the exhibition. The reason was that the food used local ingredients and involved historical exchange of life and the evolution of lifestyle between the indigenous villages and the outside world. Music denoted meditation and excitement on the road and in transportation, which manifested the rhythm of life; and dance conveyed the physical rhythm, which was the sharing of resonating frequency. If one is to point out unique quality of the spiritual geography informed by “the thinking of the South” enhanced by The Hidden South, such inclusive spirit of sharing that encompassed heterogeneous qualities could not be overlooked. Expressive forms of individualism and capitalism were all converted in such space.
The third time I visited the sites of The Hidden South was around the overture of “Migratory Music Gathering” in Tjuabar by Dazhu River at night. The musical event began with getting to know edible plants collected in the wilderness and learning the cooking of traditional Paiwan delicacies, including rice-cooking, pig-blood sausage and barbecue, before moving onto learning and exchanging craft skills. Participants were encouraged to bring their own food and drinks and to swim in the river before the main concert commenced, which featured live music performances by Chang Bulayoyaung, dakanow, Yu Hsin-Liang/Luo Wang-Sheng, Lin Ming-Chao, Viktor, Chu Shu-Chuan, Galesges, Balai as well as Japanese musicians from Okinawa. The event drew in many people from northern and western Taiwan, bringing the relationship of sharing to a ritualistic climax. From then on, Provincial Highway No. 9 would become a road of joyful reunion and sharing rather than a simple tarred road.
The last time I came to The Hidden South was already the late autumn of 2018. I thought I was attending a workshop about indigenous huntsman’s tracking skills, but I later realized that it was to discover the trail-ness of coexistence demonstrated by “the mountain trekker.” After coming home and inheriting his family’s traditional hunting ground, hunter Darasong realized that it was a mountainous area where the hunting trails passed down from the family have been kept. Along these hunting trails, some of the rubbles in the soil contained moisture that contributed to the preservation of clear footprints. Whereas ordinary people like us could not tell whether a trace was created a few hours or a few days ago, a skilled huntsman like Darasong, who specialized in tracking could easily distinguish different marks and traces with a single glance because the footprints, for him, were like different musical notes that resonate with each other. In On Trail: An Exploration, the author mentioned that “Australian indigenous people are the greatest tracker. They almost start teaching children tracking skills shortly after they were born … The indigenous mothers teach their babies by putting a tiny lizard in front of them. As the lizard runs away, the baby chases after it, carefully tracking it back to where it hides.” Starting with lizards, children become better and better at tracking “until they can identify traces of light-footed animals and insects, such as beetles, spiders, ants, centipedes, scorpions, etc.” (p. 152) In order to capture Formosan muntjacs, goats and boars, hunters must be able to predict the direction of their movement. The first step is to find out their habitual trails and place traps there, such as laying down rocks or logs, digging holes, placing noose traps, etc. However, these only constitute the first lesson for the “mountain trekkers.”
Louis Liebenberg states in The Art of Tracking: The Origin of Science that “tracking is a science that fundamentally requires the same intellectual abilities as a modern science such as physics and mathematics.” “In the Kalahari Desert in South Africa, the Kungs encourage little boys to set up traps to capture small animals, and by doing so, learn about the tracks of animals.” (On Trails, p. 152-153) Lou led us into his family hunting ground, a site where generations of his family members have matched their strength with muntjacs, goats and boars. Nonetheless, in what way can we equate such tracking skills with “art”?
We entered the hunting grounds respectively during the day and at night. Aside from reporting and praying for the blessings of the ancestral spirits, Darasong also pointed out that the essence of the hunting trail was not about the game but “coexistence.” First of all, the ecology revolving around flora and fauna in a hunting ground is also the ecological indicator that shows whether or not the indigenous village could continue and survive in a place. Therefore, a hunter that excels at tracking also plays the role of an ecological guide and assessor. In other words, the hunter needs to consider if the hunting might be excessive and hurt the seasonal cycle and rate of propagation. He must evaluate the migratory direction of the animal communities and the balance in their number to take what is necessary and hunt what is needed. If the family’s hunting ground becomes depleted, the entire village faces the possibility of migration for survival. The next point of concern is the potential changes in the overall environment. Different animals feed on different plants or insects, so examination of their feces naturally become signs based on which one can infer where certain animals might appear or gather for certain plants and insects. Plants, insects, animal and hunting trails naturally form an ecological entirety. Consequently, the tracking hunter and ecological assessor that emphasizes on lasting “coexistence” must take into serious consideration whether a hunting rifle is needed, whether hounds that might easily damage the environment are necessary, whether the number of traps should be increased to the extent that he could not check them all in time, and whether the prey might be too young or pregnant that the entire population might be affected if they were hunted.
All animals make trails. Wild boars are particularly good at creating deceptive, disruptive ones, whereas sambars are very careful in deciding their feeding trails. From the viewpoint of “all beings are equal,” whereas boars’ trails create limited damage, concrete bridges and roads created by humans along Provincial Highway No. 9 are more catastrophic and create an uncertainty far exceeding the making of animals. Therefore, Darasong’s emphasis on the trail-ness of coexistence as well as his hunting and ecological ethics eventually showed in his sensitivity and disdain for the man-made “roads.”
The most poetic and artistic moment I experienced in The Hidden South was when Darasong led us to quietly sit next to a Lagerstroemia subcostata that was at least one century old, with our head lights turned off. After the darkest moment passed, floating fireflies began surfacing like spirits. As our bodies immersed in the tranquil air, leaves above our heads rustled, and a patch of starry sky appeared beyond the tree tops while fine and delicate glistening beads of dew could be seen around us. Specializing in tracking, the hunter told us that sambar deer usually appeared on a near slope when we quietly waited like this. It was their trail. As birds flied by in quietude with occasional cries and fireflies swam amidst trees in serenity, Darasong said he always thought of the innumerous times when he and the elders in the village walked these hunting trails in the past. In this meditative moment, all beings coexisted whereas the self became minimized, merging with the rhizomic roots sprawling across the mountains and streams and flying with the birds amidst the flowing air streams. We seemed to have entered a dimension, in which everything has always remained unchanged and all beings have enjoyed equality. For Darasong, this was his favorite moment and the trail-ness that he cherished the most. At that moment, I felt like telling him that it was mine, too.
如果要我說「南方以南」有什麼策展方法上的突破，我會說，它實現了一種立基於南迴公路的「路徑的冥想」。猶如小說家傑克．凱魯亞克（Jack Kerouac）在小說《達摩流浪者》（The Dharma Bums）中，主角建議朋友「走路時牢牢盯著腳下的路，不要東張西望。地面快速後退的同時，讓自己進入一種出神狀態」。從來沒有。我走過南迴數十趟、數十年，但從來沒有好好停下來，盯著腳下的路，我的出神從來都是在汽車快速掠過的地景中完成的。但這一次，「南方以南」讓我、讓觀眾們停了下來，開始凝視過去從來不在乎的腳下的路徑。
從原本的公路轉運站出發，轉置為服務站，這個展覽就已經掌握了一個現代記憶的節點，安．芙羅瑞（Anne-Flore Cabanis）的淡色七彩線條書寫《線性空間》，吳燦政的《南迴聲音地圖》，謝聖華的《Ina的記憶花園》，戴克斯特．菲南德（Dexter Fernandez）的《Vuvu & Vuvu》，從抽象線條、在地聲音、植物生態、自由塗鴉四個方面，打開了一個問題：全長100公里的公路，經過全台灣彎度與坡度最大的暈車路段之後，除了沈葆禎、袁聞析、日本昭和年間的開路者之外，太麻里、金峰、大武、達仁四個鄉，由南迴公路所延展出來這些永無止盡、通向部落與山海的小路，究竟有什麼意涵？誰創造了它們？它們為什麼存在？你可以選任何一條路，去追問它為何而存在。
「南方以南」這個展覽為我帶來最詩意、最具有藝術性的一刻，就是安聖帶著我一行人，關掉頭燈，安坐在那棵少說也有百年的九芎樹旁的夜裡。The Hidden South。在最黯黑的片刻過去之後，眼前出現了有如靈魂飄浮的螢火蟲之光，身軀受靜止的空氣中沙沙的樹葉聲的籠罩，頭頂有樹冠層以上透出來的星空，而腳邊則有細密反映著微光的水珠。擅於追蹤術的獵人羅安聖說，這樣安靜的等待中，水鹿會出現在不遠的坡上，那是牠們的路，山梟山鳥會靜靜地啼鳴飛掠，螢火蟲也會無聲地浮游在樹木之間，而他會想起千百次與部落長輩共同走過的這一片遍佈著獵路的經驗，而這個冥想的時刻，萬物共生，自我縮小如虛空，既如根莖蔓延於山野溪流之間，又如鳥羽漂搖於大氣遷流之上，這一刻，我們彷彿進入了一個千年未曾改變、萬物生而平等的時空裡，這便是他最珍愛的時刻、他最珍惜的獵人魂之路。當時，我很想輕輕地說：我也是。
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