Erenlai - The Hole
週日, 01 十二月 2013 19:00

The Toad Mountain Community Arts Festival

Text by Nicholas Coulson

The Toad Mountain Community Action (蟾蜍行動 鄰里起哄 藝術節)

One Autumn night in August 2013, a group of our friends had been invited to a local café-bar, Faust (孓孓).  Coincidentally the Good Toad Club, consisting of documentary filmmaker and local Td Mountain resident Lin Ding-chieh (林鼎杰) and NTU Building and Planning (B&T) student Ah Bang (城邦) were inviting film producer and curator Angelika Wang (王亙瑜) to curate a spontaneous community arts festival. As default coordinators of the preservation action, Ding-chieh and the B&P students began to solicit filmmakers, other creative nostalgics and cultural circles with the aim of galvanizing residents and sympathizers to help defend against the imminent demolition of the cultural and social artifact that is the Toad Mountain community. Through Wang came the support of Taiwan’s most highly acclaimed director Hou Hsiao-hsien (侯孝賢) who agreed to show his 1987 film, Daughter of the Nile (尼羅河的女兒) in the Toad Mountain community square, where it had been originally shot.

It was agreed that the spontaneous 10-day 'happening' or action would be held immediately at the beginning of September. Film students or others wishing to make their own short films about Toad Mountain were given one week to shoot and edit them. At the end of the week they could then show these films to the residents and assembled supporters of toad mountain and anyone else interested to accompany the screening of Daughter of the Nile.

Loosely affiliated members of our informal arts and action group, The Hole also took up the Good Toad Club’s invitation to volunteers to release their creative energies in any way that felt fit to revitalize a street from which residents had recently been removed in preparation for the demolition. It fit well with our spirit of DIY and spontaneous direct action, and from this time on we began making our own documentary of the process, edited by Pinti Zheng:

 

clean-up

With talk of demolition beginning that month, time was of the essence. By the next morning certain sympathizers had begun the rejuvenation of the vacant houses in the spirit of spontaneity and non-organized direct action. The middle of the street was cleared out to make it safe for residents walking through. Then trash was given new life. More than just a middle class nostalgia for all things old and pretty objects, the vacated houses were cleaned with a spirit of recycling, re-usage and DIY - the original buildings were themselves makeshift, using whatever leftover materials they could get their hands on. With this spirit the volunteers tried to address the contemporary problems of waste and scarce resources. As time went on, the vacant street seemed increasingly reinvigorated, fit for residents and flaneurs, half-works sprouted up everywhere, individually and as groups we were empowered as we reconnected to the fruits of our labour. Abandoned red lanterns were hung up on both sides of the street. Mini-paper toads stuck everywhere. Abandoned motorbikes were turned into installations. A dozen broomstick heads and a century of lightbulbs had similar reorganisations. A street artist and professional recycler, Uncle Bird (鳥伯), had added his own collections from years of gleaning in Taipei, he was by far the most experienced at finding the functional or aesthetic value of waste. One architecture student gathered together glass shards and forged them into the shape of Toad Mountain, adding a Bodhisattva statue she'd found to give it symbolic protection. A recovered board and chalks was used to make the main billboard for the Community Arts Festival.

clean-up2Another focus of this 'happening' was the relationship between the natural ecology and the city, considering that this community was right at the mountain border and there was a much higher level of interaction between the people and their mountain. Rather than the urban jungle ever encroaching on the natural jungle, we saw this as a base from which nature was re-invading the city: trees were growing through the ruins, smashing through the roofs.  During the Toad Mountain action, these roofless buildings were re-appropriated, turned  into experimental urban gardens, most of the rubbish was cleared out and the space filled with various types of compost. One of the garden volunteers even held a workshop one morning to teach residents and students how to look after the composts, further strengthening the links between the remaining residents and their natural surroundings. The old trees which had prevented the early demolition were also draped in string connected to the buildings representing the inextricable life force existing there between the tree and the land but also the community and the land. Fallen leaves return to the roots (落葉歸根) goes the Chinese proverb, meaning that the elderly return to their homes to die. Was it to be that the elders of this mainlander community were twice denied that fate?

clean-up3The works also focused on the community and its participation. Red string, gleaned from one of the ruins, ran through all the houses on the street, linking the overlooking balconies which previously would have been the focal points of daily communication, something lost in the detachment of high-rise life, a source of modern urban alienation. Indeed it seemed to represent the previous connectedness, the inseparability of the community and how if one part was cut the whole community would fall. In a time transcending reply to a barely comprehensible poem that had been discovered behind a removed mirror, one of the foreign volunteers read a poem about the joy of people gathering, which he transposed onto another wall space with a paler shade  from which another mirror or poster had likely been removed.  Who knew who might rediscover it in the future. The B&T students such as Naijia, Yuwen and A Pei presented their interviews and mappings of the residents houses, along with old photographs, showing how each family  had a worthy story which should not be overlooked in the pursuit of rapid development. At the last moment Chenggong University students Dong Yuci (董玉慈) and Liu Chunjun (劉純峻) also rushed over from their anti-nuclear protest to offer their support, having sewed together several bandages and transposing prints of objects leftover in the abandoned buildings, to show that life was full of pain, but that they had always been able to patch it up again, fitting the fix-it-yourself ethic of these impermanent communities.

Perhaps most successfully of all, the community square was full of residents and sympathisers for the final weekend of performances. For the noise performance "The city's memory is disappearing, we cannot stay silent" by One Night Band, Yu Jun re-jumbled the words of memory which they had collected from resident interviews in A Ming's mobile community recording studio. This video by Sky Lee summed up the weekend feeling: 

On the final Sunday, each household brought a pot-luck dish and there was a full house for the music performances and the film showings, which overlooked the mountain and its iconic radar. The Daughter of the Nile brought the evening to life and following that the filmworks which had been made about the community were displayed on the huge screen against the backdrop of the mountain. It kicked off with the documentary film "Will my friends come out today?" which has since been instrumental in bringing attention to the movement:

一家一菜3 蟾蜍山除了外省伯伯本省媽媽外也有印度人原住民居住於此是文化的大熔爐

It kicked off with the documentary film "Will my friends come out today?" which had been instrumental for bringing attention to the movement. It was then followed by these films.

It had been a blissful temperate night overlooking the mountain, but as they say in England, it ain't over till the fat lady sings. That moment arrived as Lin Ding-chieh's requested that Toad Mountain Marching Forward, the festival theme tune, a cover of Lim Giong's Marching Forward, be sung with its new lyrics. Despite the handing out of lyrics, the rendition nevertheless left the crowds vocally unimpressed and slightly confused. A black dog howled half way through the rendition and the night came to an abrupt, but timely end. For better or for worse, the visibility of the issue at hand had been raised by this ten-day 'happening' and perhaps Toad Mountain was marching to a different future.

Photos provided by Good Toad Club, Sharon Liu, Pinti Zheng, Nick Coulson

尼羅河女兒尼羅河女兒很難在市面上找到放映當天除了在地居民外也吸引許多電影愛好者前來觀賞

週二, 29 十月 2013 10:30

Shanshui Taipei, City of Water and Mountains

 

 Wormhole Diagram (by Pinti Zheng)

 

In Chinese, 有山有水 'have mountains and water' is synonymous with a good natural environment, and the imagery runs through Chinese aesthetics and language. From the two natural phenomena shan (mountains) and shui (water) as starting points, eRenlai brings you two features in November and December, exploring respectively, the relationship of Taipei's waterways, and its mountains to the city's inhabitants.

The natural environmental potential of Taipei is plentiful, it was founded in a basin, water was omnipresent, and the city is surrounded by rich mountains to the north, east and west. By these standards it should easily qualify for the Chinese proverb 'has mountains and water'. Yet the city now seems both intertwined and distant from its natural settings, at some point it seem to become 'poor mountains, filthy rivers' (窮山惡水) synonymous for poor ecological surroundings. In the pursuit of modernity, the city organism encroached ever further on the mountains, diminishing jungles and dotting Taipei's mountain cityscape with high-rises that seem so insecure, with the unpredictable bipolar rage of this regions winds and earthquakes. The rivers which brought settlers to this basin and made the city have been shut out by 10-metre high walls and the irrigation canals which fed the land were pushed underground. Expensive high rises of Taipei often name themselves after idyllic natural settings from ancient Chinese literature and provide breathtaking views overlooking mountains and rivers, yet seem to distance the residents from actually breathing the mountain humidity and the stench of the polluted rivers. Under the pressure of rapid population growth, there was a rupture of most city dwellers from the natural surroundings that previously fed them. Someone brought up in Taipei in the 70's returning to the city 30 years later to the site of family photo taken by a river, may find it replaced by a wider road. The distancing from the rivers also diminished community space and strong neighborly ties. Children used to play naked in their community section of the river, safely overlooked by fishing adults, perhaps collecting clams to sell in the markets, a seamless part of the nature-city montage. Now the Taipei residents in search of water are more likely to visit the crowded tourist destinations along the river - Xindian and Danshui - to stare at the river alone in a sea of strangers, or head to a public swimming pool to share in the sweat of a hundred bodies. With the sacrificing of much community space over the last 40 years, it seems that while idyllic natural settings and history from thousands of miles and years ago are remembered, there is amnesia for recent history, buried and forgotten underneath the concrete city along with the irrigation canal. Finally the distance from nature and community in the modern city has led to a reliance on the great conveniences of the metropolis, be that 7-11, food availability or the Internet, alienating us from our own physical work, and numbing the senses and instincts which allow us to act spontaneously and survive out of necessity.

The otherness of nature in its absence from city life, indirectly leads us to three other disenfranchisements: it alienates us from our own work, killing the DIY spirit and the ability to survive and provide for oneself by forcing reliance on pedantic bureaucracies and commercial networks; it further disconnects us from our human surroundings as community space and ties are weakened; finally the inhabitants are left in a state of amnesia as natural and human traces are constantly destroyed in the temporary city, people are alienated from their own history and memory.

These are the conditions under which we ask: in what type of city do we wish to live? Can we reduce urban and environmental alienation, bringing nature and community back into the city through actions and artistic happenings? In the spirit of ecological connectedness, spontaneous action and community participation, we explore and initiate micro-ecological and artistic actions aimed at liberating both ourselves and wider society, bringing agency back to the individual and the community. In acting from below, we attempt to restore our autonomy, paving the way for a more democratic, involved and connected society.

Despite the one-size-fits-all dominant urban model, where bigger is always better, Taipei is also rich in marginal communities surviving on the urban border, physical traces reminding us that there are diverse ways of existing in the modern city. In our attempt to excavate the memories of alternative living communities, in order to imagine alternative futures, a focal project of our nomadic arts and action space, The Hole, has been the spontaneous action to try and preserve the Toad Mountain[1] military dependents' community which we will be looking into in our December focus in time for the Hong Kong and Shenzhen Architecture Biennale and its focus of "Urban Border". Toad Mountain is also the spot that of this month's interviewees, Professor Kan of National Taiwan University, suggests as the water source to bring natural rainwater back into the Taipei City basin, and consequently turn NTU into a water campus to rival Cambridge University. This brings us to this month's focus on Taipei's waterways.

Taipei, Water City

"那時的台北,是水渠密佈,水田處處的台北。"

水城台北  舒國治

"Taipei, at that time, was a dense network of canals, with paddy fields at every turn"

Taipei, Water City, Shu Guozhi.

As local author Shu Guozhi reveals in his latest book, until recently Taipei had been a city of water. Symbolically, this November, the same month in which our feature is published, Taipei's latest metro line, the Xinyi line will have been opened to the public. While Taipei City celebrates this latest engineering feat, we have been re-exploring an irrigation channel of old, the Liugong Canal[2], the great engineering feat completed 250 years ago, which first sought out and brought a water source to irrigate the Taipei Basin[3] , turning Taipei into a city of water. For the last 40 years, however, the Liugong Canal and most of Taipei's water channels have been removed from the community, gradually covered with asphalt and concrete to make way for the residential and commercial space; buried underground, to make way for economic development.

Thus we begin our explorations of the water city. First, we present a brief cartographic history of the Liugong Canal. Then, we began to dig up Taipei residents' memories of the Liugong Canal, shooting a documentary film, Taipei, Water City, traversing through the time-travel wormhole to be reconnected to the memories which were buried along with the canal. The documentary teaser goes on to explore plans to bring the Liugong Canal back into the city and introduces the ideas and actions of our own nomadic arts space, The Hole, as it explores and re-appropriates the now underground network of canals.

Since the late 90's academics and community groups and even politicians began to explore the idea of reopening some sections of the Liugong Canal and bringing water back into the everyday life of the city. These plans have differing economic, environmental, cultural and social aims and standpoints. Water expert, Dr Chun-E Kan shows how we can return clean natural rainwater to the city, starting by 'sunlighting' (reopening) the section of the Liugong Canal which runs through the NTU campus. We then introduce another comprehensive proposal for a larger scale reopening of the Liugong Canal with a community aesthetic and interest in social innovation. Taipei's interdisciplinary architectural research hub, the Ruin Academy have advanced on European Architect of the Year 2013 Marco Casagrande's vision for Taipei River Urbanism with their proposal for Sustainable Synergies.

Meanwhile, rivers also have a fleeting creative value. Daphna Salpeter, long term sinophile and Taiwan Literature graduate student, explores the significance of water imagery in classical Chinese literature and poetry. And merely watching the flow of the rivers, can inspire a flâneur to a poetic gest; photographer-explorer Benoit Girardot, who sees poetry wherever he may roam, tells us what it inspires in him.

With this month's focus as a starting point, The Hole will continue to provide a public forum on bringing water back into the community. Asides from artistic actions, we will further explore the memory of the Liugong Canal as we develop a full length documentary. We are in discussions with a school and institutes, trying to make the Liugong Canal and Taipei rivers' as outdoor ecological classrooms. We look to extend the idea of ecological classrooms, perhaps by building an ecological raft, and taking ecological tours around the farm allotment island near in the middle of the Danshui River, helping Taipei's youth to better get to know their river, their nature and their agricultural heritage. We are also looking at ways of stimulating community participation in any future plans to bring the water back into the city, empowering the people to take part spontaneously in making Taipei's environment cleaner and more sustainable.

Text: Nicholas Coulson


[1] 瑠 公 Liu Gong (pinyin), Liu Kung, Leo Kong. Named after Kuo Hsi-liu (郭錫瑠), the 公 'gong' was posthumously affixed as a term of respect for accomplished older man. '圳' Usually pronounced "jun" but can be confused with the Taiwanese and often Taiwan Guoyu pronunciation of 'zun' and the most common Mainland China pronunciation of 'zhen' as in Shenzhen. The 'jun' can be translated into English as ditch, dyke, channel or canal. Based on a mix of common usage, definitional logic and the recent adoption of Pinyin in Taipei, I will standardize as the Liugong Canal, though it should be noted that it's primary function was as an irrigation waterway and not as a transportation canal. When referring to the individual I use Liu Gong with the space.
[2] 蟾蜍山 (chanchushan) Toad Mt or Toad Hill, a community tucked away on a mountainside near Gongguan, Taipei City. It is Taipei's last remaining mountainside Military Dependants' Village, these villages were constructed as temporary accomadation by soldiers who came over landless from the mainland following their defeat in the Chinese Civil war. There were several of these communities along the Liugong Canal originally.
[3] Referring to the space of land that lies between the Danshui, Xindian, Songshan and Jingmei rivers, and enclosed by mountains in the east.

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