Iron, Glass, Branches, Water, Sugar, Metal
Interview by WHITE FUNGUS
Q In your sculpture/installation for this exhibition, “Promised Land”, you explore the significance of sugar for the history of Bangka. This theme seems connected to another recent work of yours, “They Come, We Don’t Have Sugar”. Can you tell me about why you chose to focus on the sugar industry for these works?
A I choose to talk about Wanhua’s history from the angle of sugar because I think this corresponds to sugar industry’s position in Taiwan’s history. Sugar cane was massively planted in Taiwan thanks to the propitious climate and environment here, and sugar industry was one of Taiwan’s major exportation industries. Yet due to alterations of the country’s policy and leadership, eventually we turned to rely on importation as the main resource of sugar. In fooding, sugar has the function of adding flavor; it enhances special savor to food. For me, this is very similar to Wanhua’s role in the entire country in an early period. Historically, sugar industry hubs and the old district of Wanhua were places longed for by different communities and peoples. Today, they have departed from their pasts and exist with their vivid conditions, which is also because of their openess.
By chance, I’ve several connections to Wanhua in 2016. Months ago, I was invited to take part in “Gara Art Festival”(加蚋仔藝術季) and “Hieroglyphic Memory” exhibition in Bopiliao Historic Block. Coincidentally, both projects took the locality of Wanhua as their texts. For my 《日景計劃》 in “Gara Art Festival”, I took buses moving in Wanhua streets everyday as the venue. At the start of the research project based in this area, I made a series of photography and proposed “They Come, We Don’t Have Sugar”; the phrase was the problematic for the work.
“They come, Taiwan as the place producing sugar cane, the raw material of sugar industry. They come, most cane fields are changed into rice fields under the rule. They come and destroy most of the sugar factories. They come, Taiwan that used to export sugar now imports it. They come, and we’re taught how to live our lives.” “They” in the sentences point to different answers in the minds of inhabitants in Wanhua and their answers just represent their feedbacks to their own past history.
As for my work “Promised Land” for “Hieroglyphic Memory” exhibition, mainly it’s to present my previous questioning through installation. It relates how the land of Wanhua was a place many people aspired to in the past. Also, the melting of sugar reflects current mutations of Wnahua. The installation is composed of sugar and materials collected from Wanhua Sugar Industry Cultural Park on Dali St.; it’s balanced in mid-air. The main part, the round-shaped sugar symbolizes the relation between Whanhua and sugar. During the exhibition period, the sugar’s volume and crystalization will change. Changes of forms in the installation signify the various facettes and situations in different stages of the land.
A 我以糖來談萬華的歷史，是因為我覺得這呼應了製糖產業在台灣歷史 中所佔的位置。因為氣候和 環境的適宜，甘蔗在台灣被廣泛種植，糖業也曾是台灣主要的出口產業。然而，在國家政策與領導者的變更下，糖最終面臨以進口為主要來源。糖在飲食中扮演著增添食物風味的角色，能讓食物顯出不同格調，對我而言，這與萬華早期在整個台灣的角色很類似。在歷史中，糖產業的聚集地和萬華這塊老城區都曾經是不同族群們嚮往的處所，它們如今以告別過去的豐富姿態存在，正也因為它們的包容性。
「他們來了，台灣作為種植甘蔗原料生產糖的地方。 他們來了，大部分甘蔗田受命改耕稻米田。 他們來了，把台灣大部分糖廠都摧毀了。 他們來了，台灣從昔日的糖業出口地轉變為進口地區。 他們來了，我們被教導生存的方式。」 這些字句中的「他們」在萬華居民心中意指不同的答案， 而那些答案正是在地居民對於自身歷史過往的反饋。
而我在「謎樣的記憶」展覽中的作品《應許之地》，則是以裝置呈現先前的提問，講述萬華這塊土地早期是許多人心中所嚮往的境地，並以糖塊的融化來反映萬華目前的轉變。 作品以糖塊與現址大理街糖廍文化園區所收集而得的素材 製作成裝置，平衡在半空中， 主要的圓形糖塊象徵著萬華與糖的關係， 糖塊份量與結晶在展期中隨時間而改變狀態，裝置作品中的型態變換，意涵著這塊土地不同階段的樣貌與景況。
Q Your work often takes food as an entry point into the exploration of economic and historical shifts. Apart from a number of projects you have undertaken in Taiwan, you have also gone to Manila and Paris to conduct similar projects there. How does the food culture of Bangka compare to those you encountered in other locations?
A In my works about food research in recent years, the cultural aspects of fooding aren’t only limited to foods or cuisine but widely include structuring elements behind food culture, such as cultivation of crops, transportation of ingredients, food processing, industry history, political food, people’s migrations, etc. I also attempt to describe situations of culture and history through art-making.
Each time I look for subjects and make works in different places, I always choose food culture as the approach to deeply examine diverse issues. Also, I find focuses for projects according to collection work carried out locally and feedbacks from people there. In 2014, during my residency in Cité internatinale des arts in Paris, I started a long-term art project, “Your Cuisine My Recipe”, inviting interviewees from different countries and peoples to eat with me. Through the approach of imitating cooking, I attempted to explore the flattening of peoples and the world. In 2012, during my residency in Manila, I collaborated with my partner in residency to make an action piece. Through a process and action of sharing food with local visitors, I explored the essence of food and its connection to consumer habit.
As for my work for the show in Bopiliao, the focus is on the cultivation of sugar, an important crop in Wanhua in the past, as well as the sugar industry. The point isn’t the food culture of local public. My intention is rather to look at the transformational aspects in sugar industry from a certain history, and to explore how colonial policy influenced such industry through the area’s political, economic and agricultural developments.
Q Although traditional fresh food markets are still commonplace in Taipei, multinational fast food and convenience store chains are increasingly ubiquitous sites, branding Taipei with the ‘global city’ trademarks. Concurrently, many night markets have undergone re-designation as ‘tourist night markets’, which promote a more presentable version of Taiwan’s street-food culture. What impact do visual representations have on the vibrancy of food culture in Taiwan? How can food culture live and breathe amidst social media’s insatiable desire for its flattened digital image?
A Food culture is a social expression that’s closely connected to human. Different geographical locations and climates, environments all contribute to crops of different places. Inhabitants of different countries naturally create certain homogenous food cultures and habits. Of course, this was the case before the age of industrialization. Now, with the convenient transportation and easily accessible information, we can get imported foods and ingredients easily. Much of the food distribution is already a result of certain political and economic policies. If we don’t take initiative in finding answers, we easily fall into vague understandings about the land and its crops. This is the hierarchy of food after the age of industrialization.
Now, all our ways of life are fast-made. Similarly, the pace of life worldwide is under pressure of becoming obsolete in a short time! In a primitive state, people eat in order to maintain their lives, whereas now the food culture in our society has become a luxury. People pay much more to pursue additional values brought by food. Such values are then turned into mainstream values through media promotion, packaging and influence of branding. As I said, people came to emphasize food culture in recent years; people worldwide are concerned about food issues and new ways of cuisine and eating also arise. And for most people in Taiwan, reflection on food involves food security. Yet apart from that, mostly they only think about the taste of food. But I think food culture should be more than that. It should be a resource enabling us to look at more aspects of culture and landscape.