Beyond the Silk Road, Across the Sea to Taiwan
– Eight Views of Taiwan: Art Creation Project 2013 – 2015
Chances in life are truly wonderful. Who could have predicted, the 2011 art creation journey across the Silk Road with six close friends, and its exhibition at Loftyart Gallery in the following year, did not come to a conclusion with the exhibition’s end. Due to the success of the exhibition (Silk Road: A Contemplative Journey 2011 – 2013) and its catalogue, the project attracted a new sponsor – Yoken Wu. Introduced by Lin (Apex) Pang-soong, Wu sought to follow the footsteps of the Silk Road’s sponsor, Hsu Cong-wei, and asked me to curate another art creation project: Eight Views of Taiwan.
Traveling through the Silk Road, the ancient Buddhist reliefs at the Mogao Grottoes of Dunhuang were an eye-opener for me, as visual nourishment to my artistic accomplishment. The names of countless patrons carved onto the grottoes’ walls were an unforgettable sight. Because of their donations and offerings, the art of Dunhuang has been preserved and handed down for generations. Hsu Cong-wei and Yoken Wu’s contributions are comparable to the patrons of Dunhuang, and we are pleased to accept this kind of contemplative creation project. However, the execution of Eight Views of Taiwan was rather disoriented. Stretching from 2013, it was finally completed in 2015, much to the relief of our sponsor Yoken Wu.
The Beauty of Taiwan, the People or the Scenery?
“The most beautiful scenery in Taiwan is the people,” has recently become a popular phrase, meaning the Taiwanese people are warm and loving. But does it suggest the scenery of taiwan to not be beautiful? Or at least incomparable to the people? In fact, Taiwan’s natural landscape is vastly diverse and full of character, very much like the people.
In the Mid-Sixteenth Century, Portuguese traders sailed upon Taiwan for the first time. As they gazed at the island from their ships, they were moved by its rising mountains and luscious foliage. They thereby named it “Ilha Formosa,” meaning “beautiful island,” and the name Formosa has been proudly held synonymous for Taiwan ever since.
Off the coast of China on the Pacific Ocean, the island of Taiwan is sub-tropical in climate with a wide range of fauna and flora. The island is lined by a central mountain range across its north-south axis, with more than 260 mountains over 3000 meters above sea-level. The highest mountain, Mount Yu, towers at 3952 meters as the tallest in East Asia. Due to its mountainous terrain, Taiwan is abundant in geographical wonders.
As an narrow island, Taiwan has two long coastlines, with very different characteristics. In Taiwan Chorography, complied by a Qing dynasty official in 1694, a list of eight sceneries were outlined, forming the canon of what later became celebrated as the Eight Views of Taiwan. Of the original eight, seven were of the coastal landscapes. Understandably, as the province of Taiwan was not widely inhabited during that time, the choice of sceneries was limited to the coast. However, as time progressed, settlements developed, and regimes changed, the Eight Views of Taiwan changed accordingly.
In 1927 during the Japanese Colonial Period, the Taiwan Daily News selected a new list of Eight Views by popular survey, in which mountains scenes; Mount Ali, Pakua Plateau, Monkey Mountain, Eight Immortals Mountain, Taroko Gorge, gained a majority over coastal scenes; Tamsui and Cape Eluanbi.1 Also the reservoir Sun Moon Lake made its first appearance on the list.
In 1954 after the retrocession, the republican government of Taiwan established an official Eight Views with Sun Moon Lake, Mount Yu, Fort Zeelandia, Mount Ali, Mount Datun, Taroko Gorge, Qingshui Cliff, and the Pescadores Islands. Finally in 2005, the Tourism Bureau conducted another survey, which selected the current list with the Taipei 101, the Palace Museum, Sun Moon Lake, Mount Ali, Mount Yu, the Love River of Kaohsiung, Kenting National Park, and Taroko Gorge.
As the times change, some sceneries are no longer popular or relevant. In examining the past with the present, it appears in every era, the Eight Views were generally composed of natural landscapes. However, within each landscape there is also a strong sense of human activity or cultural identification. Today, the list includes achievements of human engineering and culture, such as the Taipei 101 and the Palace Museum. As sceneries come and go out of fashion, the changing lists provides an insightful view into the visual culture of Taiwan. While popular locations are outstanding in their own right, the sceneries in everyone’s minds are bound to vary.
Eight Views of Taiwan in the Minds of the Artists
The three artists invited for Eight Views of Taiwan, Lin Pang-soong, Zhou Gang, and Xue Song were pleased by the chance to travel around Taiwan. For the two Mainland Chinese artists, Zhou Gang and Xue Song, that goes without saying. Although it was not their first time visiting Taiwan, an artistic journey such as this was definitely the first, especially with the project curated toward their artistic outlook and personal style. As for Lin Pang-soong, who was born and raised in Taiwan, and has explored nearly every corner of the island, his passion for adopting Taiwan as his subject matter has never waned. Moreover, to be accompanied by fellow cross-strait artists, and friendly painting assistants, Lin was glad to be onboard. Unfortunately as all three artists lead terribly busy lives, despite our relentless effort, a common time for the project could not be reached. Instead, each made a trip separately. It is interesting the project turned out this way, as each artist chose to depict different sceneries. Ultimately, in the spirit of “independent travel,” the project ran for over two years.
As for the curator and painting assistants, the three artists’ separate trips proved to be inconvenient, as their itineraries eventually overlapped in certain locations. However, from another perspective, as each artist has his own style, to all depict the same subject matter would have been unfitting and impersonal. Rather, each location was specifically chosen for an artist, in regards to his artistic medium and mode of representation. And for the curator, as long as one faces each trip in the right mood, the sceneries are beautiful every time.
Lin Pang-soong and Zhou Gang had joined our family on the Silk Road four years ago, and have since remained close friends; to travel again with them around Taiwan would have been a pleasure. We originally planned to revisit our memories of the Silk Road through this journey. Unfortunately, Lin Pang-soong was always too busy, so we were forced to proceed without him. Zhou Gang’s schedule was also full. So in December 2013, while Zhou Gang was attending a conference at Asia University, we used the opportunity for him to begin his Eight Views of Taiwan. Although the schedule was tight, it was rewarding nonetheless. Asia University is located in Wufeng district of Taichung city, from there we first visited Taichung Park and the Confucius Temple; then we crossed south into Nantou county for Sun Moon Lake, and finally headed east to the town of Lukang. There, not only did our sponsor Yoken Wu join us, he also brought his parents and daughter to join us as patrons of the arts. While we scrolled leisurely through these scenic locations, Zhou Gang wasted no time and sketched away furiously. Further south, we traveled to the ancient capital of Tainan, and visited the city’s Martial Temple and the old Dutch settlement of Fort Provintia. On the return trip north, we stopped at Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall and the Taipei 101. Originally, the Memorial Hall was not envisioned as one of Zhou’s Eight Views, but in order to capture the 101 from a suitable angle, we circled the tower until we arrived in front of the Memorial Hall, and Zhou was more than pleased with the location and began sketching immediately. Once he started, despite the cold winter weather, he could not stop, and the painting of Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall was the result.
Of Zhou Gang’s tour around Taiwan, he was most impressed by the Longshan Temple at Lukang, in which the buddhist temple’s simplistic design and rustic charm provided a refreshing alternative, to the usually elaborate Southern Hokkien style of architecture common to Taiwan. Having arrived at Longshan Temple late in the afternoon that day, the weather was extremely cold. As Lukang was an old port by the sea, the ocean wind brought devastating chills throughout the town. While the rest of us sought refuge inside the temple, Zhou sat alone outside, in sheer defiance to the wind, and concentrated on his art.
For the Eight Views of Taiwan project, Xue Song made two trips to Taiwan; the first included the Taipei 101, Sun Moon Lake, Mount Ali, Tainan (Fort Provintia, Fort Zeelandia, and the Martial Temple), Kaohsiung (the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas and the Former British Consulate), and Tamsui. The second trip was to the Matsu Islands and Hualien in Eastern Taiwan. What drew us all the way off the coast of Taiwan to Matsu was principally Yoken Wu’s Kaoliang liquor collection there, but also Matsu’s rich heritage of the Chinese Civil War, a subject in which Xue Song has long explored in his artwork.
Twice visiting Taiwan, what left Xue Song with the strongest impression was also Lukang. Xue felt Lukang preserved a great amount of historical sites, in which many sites still operate and function as they did in historical times. This stands as a stark comparison to the ceaseless demolition and new construction occurring in Mainland China, where the newly-built lack genuine forms of connection with the past. In Lukang, Xue eagerly walked through every main roads and small alleyways, fully appreciating the pattern and spirit of the town. Across from the main city temple, was what appeared to be small shrine dedicated to the Patriarch of the House of Xue, which naturally caught Xue Song’s attention. After a brief investigation, he proudly discovered the patriarch, who shares a rare surname with him, was a historical general from the Tang dynasty, whose legacy has been preserved and appropriated into Taiwanese folklore. Although the town of Lukang was rather empty, traces of its past glory could still be felt.
Recalling the journey across the Silk Road four years ago, the artists traveled as a group, painting together day and night, while sharing ideas as well as laughter. This time, the journey around Taiwan was made separately by each artist, which is somewhat regrettable. However, as the curator, the extended journey proved to be just as rewarding. From researching Taiwanese history to the planning of each location, the whole experience gave me a chance to consciously revisit Taiwan. In terms of the itinerary, Lin Pang-soong contributed the most. Lin found several books and historical documents on the Eight Views of Taiwan canon, which inspired me to dive deep into my own investigation of visual culture in Taiwan. During my research I realized, as I am ashamed to admit, due to the apparent familiarity with the subject, I have ignored or overlooked certain aspects in the past. This time, for the project, and also for sake of the Mainland Chinese artists, I read widely on Taiwanese geography and its relation to cultural heritage; and shared with the artists my humble findings. On Xue Song’s first night in Taipei, after dinning on top of the Taipei 101, we went shopping for materials, in bookstores hidden in the alleyways across from the National Taiwan University. Xue’s favorite store was one dedicated to Taiwanese history, where he spent the longest time picking out materials for his collages. I was particularly impressed by Xue’s genuine attitude toward his art, which also gave me a sense of involvement in the creation process.
Zhou Gang and Lin Pang-soong’s artworks for Eights Views of Taiwan were also quite moving for me, not only because they reflect my curatorial effort and research, but more importantly because the artworks contain journeys in which we travelled together, with laughter and memories we shared – this is what makes the artworks so special.
Elaine Suyu Liu
1 Taiwan Daily News, August 1927: A popular survey was conducted for selecting Eight Views of Taiwan in which the result has been a topic of debate between two versions. 1: Keelung, Tamsui, Eight Immortals Mountain, Pakua Plateau, Sun Moon Lake, Mount Ali, Monkey Mountain, Cape Eluanbi and Taroko Gorge. 2: Wulai, Hsindian, Eight Immortals Mountain,, Sun Moon Late, Mount Ali, Pakua Plateau, Fort Zeelandia, and Kenting.