2020 Green Island Human Rights Art Festival Deviating or Being Left Behind—Lively Marks Outside the Main Discourse
Written by CHEN Fei-Hao
Compared to the 2019 Green Island Human Rights Art Festival Visiting No. 15 Liumagou with keywords “place”, “memory” and “narrative”, the same curator Sandy Lo chose to expand the conceptual theme “marginality” for 2020. Although abstract, marginality carries very lively ideas associated with deviation or being expelled from the mainstream. Putting this site of injustice in the historical context of Cold War, the past totalitarianism of the Republic of China has inspired artists’ exploration on issues such as the Taiwanese identity suppressed by the Chinese nationalism, White Terror in the perspective of indigenous peoples, political prisoners excluded by the society, and the comparison with other developing countries with similar situations. The audience was engaged to participate and to contemplate these issues from different angles.
Indigenous Perspective of the White Terror in Green Island——
Sandy Lo did not forget to include indigenous artists for both years of her curatorship. Last year visual artist Watan Uma and Bulareyaung Dance Company were invited, and this year we saw Chang En-Man and Eleng Luluan who provided not only indigenous but also female perspectives. In Chang En-Man’s video “Milky Way”, three young indigenous men acted as the prisoners decades ago, who were ordered to carry rocks to build the walls incarcerating them. When the rocks were handed to people outside of the camera lens, no one knew where they were moved to. Followed was a propaganda clip during the Martial Law period, boasting about how peoples living in remote mountain areas were taken care by the Republic of China. Compared to the emotionless movements of carrying rocks by the political prisoners, from the video we see that the regime had tried to placate indigenous peoples in the past. Through the artist’s works, the audience imagined the paths of these two marginalized groups coming across.
Eleng Luluan has a unique background, she belongs to the noble class of Lukai. She used to hate her identity, but in Taiwanese society dominated by Chinese culture, the legacy of Austrianesian cultures drove her to find her own position under all kinds of impacts on her identity. In “The Forgotten Vanishing”, Eleng Luluan represented the natural landmark General Rock of Green Island with her fiber weaving. The image in “The Forgotten Vanishing”, the supposedly mighty general, rather looked like a mother in tears looking at a remote place. Through different projections of emotion, the visual elements and natural scenes were reconstructed in our mind.
For a long time Lin Yi-Chi has been looking into her family history under the past totalitarianism, and in this exhibition, she invited indigenous songwriter Simario to compose a song “Waiting for Nothing” with her. In the modernized folk music with both Han and indigenous elements, performers in the roles of a female diving coach, a jailor, a restaurant proprietress and a B&B owner sang in Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese and English. Their acting was to respond to the singing of the political prisoners who tried to comfort one another and to pacify the traumatized souls.
In short, Chang En-Man’s work “revealed”, then Eleng Luluan’s work “transformed”, and at last in the performance of singing together in Lin Yi-Chi’s work, the ideas they expressed seemed to constitute a process for the Han and indigenous peoples to gradually reach mutual understanding by sharing memories in the past. The bonds formed between the marginalized are likely to formulate a new identity with new cultural versions.
State Collectivism and Individual Experience——
The contrast between personal expression and the state collectivism during the period of White Terror was accentuated in the artworks for this exhibition, responding to the curatorial theme “marginality”. Affection was felt in the art of many participating artists since in the relentless authoritarian politics and social structure, personal passion became precious and provoking. “D-i-n-g, Watch” by Lee Chien-Hsien, Tang Ching-Ya, Liao Hsin-Yin, Tzai Tzung-Yu, and Wang Yuan-Po created an immersive theater “Family Letter” to present the scenes mentioned in the letters by political prisoners long time ago. The artists mapped the pieces they found in the letters and rewrote them into a story of a man and a woman expressing their affection for each other during their imprisonment. Their love, although tragic, did not fail to pass on the universal humanity beyond historical plights.
Wang Ding-Yeh’s “My Dear, Kiss Me and Goodbye” was inspired by the many patriotic slogans he saw in the memorial park, like “Forget Not the Days in Ju of Exile”, “I Love My Country, I Love National Flag”, and “Communism Is Doomed, Taiwanese Separatism Is Poisonous”. But in the letters of the prisoners to their families, the artist felt the passion between the authors and their families. Imagining what the incarcerated would want to say to their beloved without knowing what would happen to their future, Wang Ding-Yeh made characters of Taiwanese in romantic phonetics “My Dear, Kiss Me and Goodbye” with large neon light tubes and hung them in the center of the Bagua Building. The brimming affection is a stark contrast to relentless propaganda.
Similar emotions also appeared in “On Adaptation: The Lost Capital” by Thai artist group Jiandyin. This project came from their observation of the Bermese immigrant workers in Thailand. Away from home, they were not sure the people they loved at home still cared about their relationship. The artists created a figure of half woman and half beast, steadily surfing moving forward in the ocean with a bamboo barge. Before the end, a song with very ordinary lyrics was played, “Do you still love me?” The most common question of these female workers in a foreign country was repeated again and again, echoing the calls of the marginalized groups from the “D-i-n-g, Watch” and “My Dear, Kiss Me and Goodbye”, as well as the curatorial attempt to put the White Terror in the center of the history, and expand its connections outwards.
“White Discipline” by Wang Heng-Yu, Hsu Soul-N, and Huang Hsin-Tze introduced “Consumptive Revolving” for this exhibition. A large machine pushed human heads from the center to the edge and grind them. After a certain time these heads would fall and break, and new heads would be supplied. A state machine will develop its own political consciousness and push dissidents to the edge, where they are maltreated, even killed after all. Lin Hong-John’s “Biodictionary: White Impermanence, Black Impermanence, And The Man With A Blue Shirt” was about the haunting nightmare of his father, a man lived under the authoritarian rule, before his death. It reminds us that not only the political prisoners, but also the general public, were victims of totalitarianism. It is the case all over the world, of all the groups of people. Looking into the possibilities to centralize the marginalized experiences of the White Terror victims and explore these issues from more diverse angles was the goal of the 2020 Green Island Human Rights Art Festival. And the most meaningful role for art to play for Transitional Justice would be: How to make use of the creative nature of art to help the audience understand the dark past from different discourse strategies.