Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: ruin
Wednesday, 27 April 2011 16:36

Tracing Stains in Namaxia

Chen Po-I (Bi Bi) won his first photography award in 1996, the Hua Deng Young Photographer’s Award in Tainan, and since then he has won almost a dozen others. Due to his passion, Bibi eventually suffered from CTS (Carpal tunnel syndrome) in his wrist, brought on by long-term holding of cameras for which he had release surgery in 2008 to get the compressed wrist nerve removed. Yet, following his surgery he was still obsessively engaged in photography and his interest turning towards Taiwan after the hit of Typhoon Morakot, from which he says "I find the unbeaten vitality of Taiwanese society."

While most young people go to the ruins for a sense of thrill, danger and the freedom privided by these independent anarchic spaces with no owners, Bibi prefers to approach the buildings as an archaeologist. He explains that accross the globe there are several types of ruin: Chernobyl style, where due to manmade disasters, a whole area is evacuated and left for generations; New Orleans style, caused by natural disasters, where after a few years humans begin to rebuild; finally, the temporary ruins which emerge during the process of urban renewal are the most common type of ruin.

One tyoe which is more common in Taiwan than elsewhere are ruins caused by natural disasters. In 2009, during Typhoon Morakot, the great storm, a mountain mudslide left the community of Nansha-lu (南沙魯) or Namaxia (那嗎夏) in pieces, with 10 people confirmed perished and 32 missing in the mudslides. After the accident, the government began cleaning out the houses in preparation for the excavators being brought in. Before they were demolished Bibi went with his camera to capture the remains. In the resulting photo collection, Bibi was particularly interested by the traces, the mudstains left on the wall and the story this interprets. For example he asked, why did the original owner not return to live in one of the houses? Because four neighbours corpses were discovered in the living room of their house. There were ten people in the family, nine of them drowned in the disaster. The only survivor was a 5th grade child, who was thrown on to the roof of another building further below, where he was stuck before eventually the slides relinquished. The family could thus not return because the spirits of their neighbours were trapped within these walls.

Though the mud in Namaxia was eventually dug out by the military, his photo records show the depth of the mudslides in the house.  Even Bibi was far shorter than the level the mud reached on the wall. If he had been there at the time, he probably would have perished as well. Bibi feels that questions of social justice are also raised here. The governments reaction to these type of accidents is to opt for the easy way out, but also the least respectful and culturally understanding. They decide that the best way is purely to move all the aborigines to the cities, where their culture would simply be overrun and lost in the urban sea. The mountain community is their home, their culture and their way of life. The government should instead help these communities find safer ways to continue living as communities in the mountains.

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The photos in this article were a part of Chen Po-I's work 'Morakot Nanshalu'. Text by Nicholas Coulson.


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