Conor Stuart (蕭辰宇)

Conor Stuart (蕭辰宇)

Born in Belfast. Just finished his Master from the Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature at National Taiwan University (NTU). Currently lives and works in Taipei. 

Friday, 28 October 2011 15:26

Internet as Body

The Internet has been lauded and criticized from all sectors of society in recent years, especially in light of the role of social networking and the internet in the Jasmine Revolution and the 'Occupy Wall Street' movement but also in in areas as diverse as anthropology, the music industry and documentary film-making . Recently, in an interview with Renlai, Taiwanese director Wang Molin gave his two cents on the discussion as below:

Young people see an open society, they'll very easily suppose themselves to live in an open society, a freer, more democratic society. What concerns them are issues surrounding their own individual bodily desires, it is the bodily desires that stimulate them. Youth subcultures have become increasingly centered around the individual, this is the inevitable path of capitalism. Individualism should in theory lead to a more rich and multifaceted world, but people of the younger generation seem to think that computers constitute the world, they try to cram the world into a black box, and their bodies start to shrivel, leaving them with less physical energy. In this kind of era, it is impossible to get the youth to identify with society through protest a they lack a "body" or a physicality.

This might lead one to question then the value of medium like the internet, as it takes from us the physicality of our actions, and we enter the semi-real world of Baudrillard's simulation. So this month eRenlai re-examines this notion of 'reality' with a broad range of articles, some of which reinforce this impression, with the internet isolating them from society, giving them the compulsion to spend more than 8 hours a day on online games, and debilitating their social skills, for others it opens up the world, giving a voice to the disenfranchised within society and opening up new opportunities for love; others still suggest that online activity actually reinforces social norms, and as such should not be endowed with such a mystic reputation, that it is in fact the dynamic nature of human society itself and its institutions that are just harnessing a new medium of representation.

No matter where you stand on the issue, the internet has definitely changed the way we live our lives, whether we grew up before the advent of the internet proper, or if we were born digital natives and have grown up as the internet evolved and developed, and as the space requirements of maintaining the technology expanded exponentially.

Illustration by  Peri Shroom


Wednesday, 14 September 2011 10:41

The Everyman of Taiwanese Theatre

In recent years, Taiwanese Theatre has made an attempt to reach out to ordinary people in Taiwan. Trying to span the crevasse between the traditional theatre-going audience, mainly consisting of the upper middle-class and the imaginary of the Taiwanese "everyman", those who have never set foot in a theatre before. This has led to a new cacophony of theatrical forms aimed at removing the esoteric elitist reputation. In this month’s Focus, we take a closer look at some new theatrical forms in Taiwan, and influences from abroad.

Friday, 02 September 2011 17:35

Mom, Bye: A Review of Wang Molin's Play


Wang Molin (王墨林)is clad in a Che Guevara t-shirt, the same one angry teenagers and naive politics students across the world are probably wearing at that same moment. His manner is distracted during the Q&A, and, as in the interview we conducted with him previously, he brushes off any difficult questions with a sneer and a "Do I have to explain everything a thousand times?", seemingly a smoke and mirrors technique to evade addressing any of the arguments directed against him. The assumption that anyone who disagrees with him is illiterate or locked into a capitalist ideology that only he and people who agree with him are able to see through makes conversation with him tiring. This was mirrored in the way the play was presented, tiring.

There were a few very basic errors from a practical point of view that, given the director's long career in the "Little Theatre" (小劇埸), were preventable. These were little details, like a semi-transparent cloth hanging mid-stage with a light shining from behind it, that made the subtitles of the Korean dialogue in the play (the play was performed by a Korean theatre troupe) difficult to read, and resulted in people stretching their heads in different directions to try and look past the cloth. This wasn't aided by the reams of dry ice that were pumped out at random intervals throughout the performance, that made the subtitles slightly more difficult to read and triggered the asthma of a guy in the row behind me.

The play was about an iconic protester in 70s' South Korea who fought for the rights of labourers and died at the protest and his mother's reaction to his death. Although the topic was interesting, it was delivered stiffly and the attempt to humanize the hero through the mother/son relationship didn't move me as it must have attempted to. The play read like a union propaganda film, with martyrs of the protest flashing up on the screen with rhythmic drums. It was then unsurprising to learn in the Q&A that the actors were in fact not actors but social activists and that the play had a very one sided political message to preach. This was then reinforced when Taiwanese "labourers" (I put quote marks around this word because in Taiwanese popular usage the word for labour "勞工" includes white collar office workers), who were basically people who had been hired by the government to do the same job as civil servants without the benefits of being a civil servant, bemoaned their plight. At one point one of them stated that their situation was worse than Korea in the 70s and worse than the plight of foreign labourers (外勞) and workers (工人) in Taiwan. Although to be fair I don't understand completely the nature of their situation, even though it has been quite high profile in the media, to be honest this seemed like a massive exaggeration as many of the plethora of documentaries about foreign workers in Taiwan can attest to. The preaching style of the play, did no justice to the issue, and the images and dialogue were cliche, reminiscent of the early works of Taiwanese literature and mainland socialist literature. The cliched dialogue and symbolism reinforced the image of the protagonist as an idealized hero, and had none of the depth of understanding of the disenfranchised classes of society of works like Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman or John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath and Cannery Row. This suggests the distance of Wang Molin from the working class in Taiwan, as he only seems to conceive of them from a theoretical, iconic ideal as opposed to exploring them as more complex human beings with aspirations and vices.

On my way home from the theatre I saw the director again, grabbing a beer by the roadside with a group of youths that I supposed to be members of the stage crew, still wearing his Che Guevara shirt, and most likely still spouting the half-baked idealism of a 1st year politics university student.

 

Thursday, 05 May 2011 17:27

Re/turn


My teacher gave me some tickets to see this performance, by the Tainaner Theatre Troupe. I'd been to the theatre in the Xinyi branch of Eslite before to see a play inspired by the songs of Chen Qizhen, a Taiwanese singer (膚色の時光 Once, upon hearing the skin tone). I remembered so clearly having been there before because the stage is slightly unusual, in that it is a round stage that divides the audience into two sections at either side of the stage, which means they enter through two separate doors. The last play I'd seen staged here had been interesting technically but weak in terms of plot. This play was similarly weak plot-wise - think a school production of Back to the Future fused with the cheese factor of popular Taiwanese TV dramas (Meteor GardenThe Devil Beside You). The story dealt with several connected love stories gone wrong. The death of the female protagonist's mother halts her wedding to a closeted gay man, and her mother comes back through time via a magic doorknob acquired in Tibet from an antique seller (who was portrayed with possibly the weakest piece of acting in the whole play). This sets off a series of events which changes the lives of the protagonists (in Sliding Doors fashion), so that they get the chance to "Re/turn" to the scene of their unresolved regrets and "amend" them. The female protagonist is, through this supernatural interference, reunited with her lost love, and the gay man is accepted by his best friend as a teenager (again thanks to the magic doorknob) so gets the confidence to come out early in life and so avoids the pitfalls of soliciting rent boys and using (God help us all) marijuana (there is an amusing scene where there is a major police bust over one joint).

The major problems with the play was not the acting, which was convincing, but rather the whole concept upon which the play was structured, certain elements of which seemed to be lifted right out of Taiwanese popular culture and films. The obsession with making the play "international" without incorporating any international actors was also a problem for the play. It pandered to the Taiwanese obsession with European and Japanese culture, in that a lot of the play was set in London - where the male lead Charles had apparently grown up with an American accent; there was also a Taiwanese actress playing a Japanese dancer, two very Taiwanese sounding Americans as well as a Taiwanese playing a British postman. Only the latter was vaguely funny, with deliberate use of British English terms designed specifically to make the audience laugh, and none of them sounded natural in english. The director and writer Cai Bozhang (蔡柏璋), though a good singer, was a little self-indulgent as he sang in Taiwanese inflected English through most of the play. My companion for the evening, one of my classmates, pointed out something that I think speaks true of my experience of the contemporary Taiwanese Theatre: that because the writers of a lot of the plays produced nowadays also act as director and actors, the scripts that they write are not really the focus of their work, and do not stand alone as literary works. Rather, the event and the production takes first place. The result is the rather paltry, soap-operaesque dialogue seen in this production. It was a pity that the talents of the actors wasn't put to a better use, more worthy of the stage, otherwise the only role of theatre in Taiwan would seem to be to give a live experience of soap operas.

If we are to take the piece seriously as a piece of theatre, the other thing I was not comfortable with was the moralistic pedagogy of the production, and its assertion that there is "right" path in life that we are diverted from, which seems a rather simplistic and egotistical exercise in self-affirmation by the director (people who don't follow my liberal ideology are following the wrong path). Any deeper exploration of the idea of regret and "fixing the past" is absent, sexuality too, receives quite a superficial treatment in the play. There are two major gay stereotypes in action within the play. The director plays the role of the "gay best friend" of the protagonist. She describes him as her "妺妺" (little sister) whom we "might think is a little unusual". There is, however nothing unusual to a Western viewer about this kind of character: the emasculated, non-predatory inocuous gay male referred to by terms usually reserved for females (think of a slightly updated version of Are You Being Served's Mr Humphries, or a character lightly based on Taiwanese celebrity Cai Kangyong (蔡康永). His "one true love", Peter, (pause - wipe off the vomit - continue) is dead, so his sexuality is essentially safely removed from the present for the audience. The closeted gay fiance's reversion to type after coming out also suggests that his previous masculinity was but a ruse, and at the end of the play he is shoe-horned into the "gay best friend" role as evidence of his acceptance of his sexuality. The other two representations of gay men, are also stereotypes, the predatory older man who chases the closeted gay man when he is a high school student, and the rent boy, whose brazen sexuality and drug-use lead him to arrest, which can be seen as divine justice within the play. As opposed to representing sexuality in a more diverse way, the production instead polarises the representation of alternative sexual and gender roles.

To sum up, the play is easy watching, its ending is predictable and safe. This is the territory of liberal morality and its pedagogical unfolding is suitably bland. None of which is what motivates me to go to the theatre, why pay 600NT or more to see a low-budget, albeit live, rehash of a feel-good movie. The night I went the production overran by about 40 minutes, so expect to be impatiently looking at your watch while you watch the happy-ending play out at length to the crooning wails of the directors singing.

Don't expect much and you'll have a long but vaguely entertaining night. 2/5

Performance attended: Friday 15th April 2011, 7.30pm. Poster taken from the play's blog, which can be viewed here.

 

Thursday, 21 April 2011 16:09

The Cultural Inheritance Behind Illegal Architecture

Amongst the participants of the opening of the Illegal Architecture exhibition held in Ximen in March of this year, was mainland Chinese architect and artist Wang Shu. Perhaps aptly, given the topic of the exhibition, there was a construction crew digging up the road right beside the exhibition's marquee. Despite the repressive authoritarian thrum of council diggers and drills, Wang Shu took time out from competing with the noise to answer a few questions from the eRenlai team about illegal architecture and its role as a voice of civil society in Taipei:

Alternative (for readers in China)

Interview by Ida Wang, Nicholas Coulson and Conor Stuart, Video Editing and Subtitles by Conor Stuart.


Wang Shu's installation on the roof of the exhibition centre, The award winning "The Decay of A Dome"

 

Friday, 25 February 2011 11:49

千變萬變總是春

提到「春天」這個詞,大家的腦中會浮現何種意象呢?是鮮花、初生之犢,還是數之不盡的蓬勃生機?其實除了這些典型的春之意象外,春天還有許多不同的面貌,映照出我們在自然觀與人生觀上的各種轉變,且聽作者娓娓道來!


Wednesday, 23 February 2011 19:48

Spring in all its states

Spring, it dredges up half-baked images from the collective imagination of baby lambs, flowers blooming, and mad hares, not that there is a large number of baby lambs in the Belfast area during May, nor Taipei in February for that matter (spring starts with Lichun in the Chinese tradition, between the 3rd and 5thFebruary, one month before the Western spring).

Tuesday, 25 January 2011 15:23

The Middle Class Fetish for Immortality: An Interview with Roan Ching-Yue

Roan Ching-Yue takes a stern stance on recent policies by local government to gentrify disused and derelict buildings, including the commercialization of buildings like Huashan, which he points to as a kind of mummification or an attempt to defeat time. He also tries to analyze the causes of the contemporary fixation with construction and how the Eastern tradition is a resource for a new way of thinking about buildings.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011 19:16

Taiwan: Apart from or a Part of the Pacific Region

Professor Tsang Cheng-Hwa (Institute of History and Philology at the Academia Sinica) discusses the need for researchers to work across disciplines on an international scale towards a more comprehensive understanding of the Pacific and Taiwan's current and future role there.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011 17:04

Dispelling Cultural Imperialism: Taiwan's Gaze towards the Pacific

Professor Tung Yuan-Chao discusses the problems of anthropology in the contemporary world, given the questionable moral origins of this academic field. She attempts to define a new framework in which Taiwan can look at its Pacific neighbours without echoes of Western imperialism affecting their gaze. As well as discussing how body habits can be more important to identity than ancestry.

Friday, 14 January 2011 18:59

The Land-Locked Island: Taiwan's Lack of Pacific Perspective

Professor Hsia Li-Ming talks about the need for mainstream society to start realizing their role in the Pacific and calls on the arts to provide the impetus for the Taiwanese to turn their heads East to the strange, terrifying and unattainable waters on the other side of the Island.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010 16:14

A Tale of the Moon's Eclipse

Sakurai Daizō, director of the Haibizi theater troup, discusses his tent theatre performance in the video below. Touching on issues such as the perils of capitalism in postmodern society and the simulated world and life choices of the youth of the 21st Century:

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