The “Curatorial Seminar”, taught by Professor Manray Hsu, was one of the three different art seminars opened for IMCCI students to enroll this semester. The objective of this course was to theorize curating in the context of contemporary philosophy. It was designed for postgraduate students that have an interest in curatorial practices and that are able to speak in Chinese in order to facilitate communication with the group. All the students were encouraged to apply to the seminar and after going through a selection process, only twelve students were chosen to participate in the exhibition.
The intense seminar provided an invaluable, one of a kind opportunity to collaborate and learn from the process of organizing the exhibition “Futurist Wave: Contemporary Art from Greater Sandimen”, that is currently open at the Pingtung Art Museum.
TNUA Professor, Manray Hsu is an independent curator and critic. His intellectual work focuses on cultural conditions of globalization, the relationship between aesthetics and politics, and geopolitical situations of contemporary art. Hsu has curated several international exhibitions around the world and often collaborates on workshops, conferences and publications in Asia, Europe, America and Australia.
“Futurist Wave” is the third edition of Contemporary Art From Greater Sandimen. The concept of this exhibition follows the sequence from last year’s exposition “When Kacalisian Culture Meets the Vertical City.” This unique exhibition showcases the artwork of twenty-three contemporary artists from the Sandimen township, twelve of these artists also participated in the previous event, and are joined now by eleven indigenous artists. Sandimen is an indigenous community located in Pingtung county, in southern Taiwan. Its population is composed mostly of Paiwan and Rukai people. In Paiwan language kacalisian means “people who truly live on the slope” and it is the self-description of the Paiwan and Rukai tribes.
Contemporary indigenous artists showcase their creativity through different techniques and works of wood and stone carving, iron sculpture, weaving, glazed beads, clay pot, painting, video and multimedia installation. Their artworks talk about how art can connect the wisdom of past ancestors with the current technology to create the potential of the future.
The artists participating in this exhibition are: Sakale Savalju, Lidaku Mabaliu, Arulhadenge Valialane, Arase Salrebelrebe, Pakidafi Rusanokan, Sakuliu Pavavaljung, Ruladen Family, Umass Zingrur, Kulele Ruladen, Masiswagger Zingrur, Tapiwulan Kulele, Cemelesai Takivalit, Thalaelethe Titibu, Rngrang Hungul, Etan Pavavaljung, Sasuyu Ubalat, Ljaljeqelan Patadalj, Reretan Pavavaljung, Aluaiy Pulidan, Aruwai Matilin, Nitjan Takivalit, Lavuras Matilin, Pacake Taugadhu and Adan Dalujalung.
The eight-week intense seminar started on March 3, with a class introduction where Professor Hsu contextualized students with the history of Sandimen, the concept of the artworks, exhibition space, funding, scheduling and most importantly the role of the students in the process of organising the new exposition. Students were required to travel to Pingtung every weekend until the exhibition opening date, scheduled for April 17, 2020.
The first trip to the south was made on March 14, the excited group of students gathered at Taipei Main Station, ready to start the five-hour journey on board the local train that would take them to Pingtung. As soon as the students arrived in the southern city, they went straight to the Pingtung Art Museum where they met with part of the staff that works there. They were in charge of supporting the students and the artists in the process of making the exhibition. After a brief overview of the project, the team strategically divided the different tasks into teams, such as space design, entrance design, promotion, educational program, booklet, Chinese-English translation and documentation team. Therefore, students had the option to choose to work in the group or groups that best suited their abilities and professional background. Some scholars were part of two or three different groups, which meant they had to organize their time wisely to cope with the workload.
Since the first day of arriving in Pingtung, students started working on their assigned tasks in order to complete the goal and meet the designated deadline, which was April 16, one day before the unofficial opening. To keep everyone informed about each group’s improvement, an online folder was created which contained subfolders for each team to upload their work at any time. Also, due to the heavy workload every week scholars had late evening conference calls with Professor Manray to discuss the status of work and make changes if required.
Photos by Larissa Soto and Claudia Bermúdez
The exhibition sought to give its audience a historical walk through Taiwanese Indigenous Art from past to present and give them a sneak peak into what the future might be. IMCCI students were tasked with developing the flyer and brochure design, documenting the process, educational programming, map designing and translation. Working on the exhibition meant experiential learning for students, it gave them the opportunity to experience the complete process of curating an exhibition as well as getting to live and experience life in another Taiwanese county. Life in Pingtung was significantly different from what can be experienced in Taipei. The small community could be described as a small town with less people and easier to navigate by foot and bike than Urban Taipei.
Between the time of the exhibition’s installation and the student’s first trip to Pingtung several small teams took consecutive trips to identify placement of designs, collect interviews with artists and other forms of media for the advertisement and documentation of the processes. Most of the work was done off location through pre-arranged meetings either virtually or in person. Communication between Grace’s team and the students was facilitated through the online messaging platform with continuous uploads to the google folders of new editions of documents. Line was the main communication medium used for the latter part of the process. The dynamic group that ranged from Architects and Graphic Designers to Videographers and Photographers and even Social Media Managers were able to successfully provide support within their individual fields of expertise. Beside using pre-existing skills, students also lent their support and learning about other technical fields to facilitate the project that came with a short deadline.
The experience with both cross cultural communication and the opportunity to assist with this exhibition was both exciting and intimidating. As a group of International Students the challenge of communication was something often faced in the classroom, with the most speaking English as a second language, however for the exhibition, students were challenged with yet another reality. The majority had even less chinese language ability and no grasp of indigenous languages. A part of the task at hand was to translate content from Chinese to English which was challenging, however it was completed. For social media posts content was often written and edited in English and later translated to Chinese so that it could reach a wider audience.
The documentation group were perhaps one of the more hands on and immersed, they had the unique and priceless chance to visit the artist in their workshops and studios. The duo spent over a week meeting and interviewing each artist while also understanding how they created their works of art and what inspired them. The end product of their labour was a profile video with each artist speaking on their understanding of one of the key terms of the exhibition “Futurist”, a promotional video that engaged and encouraged public to visit the exhibition and a final video of what the project was about, where each participant got to speak about their contributions and takeaway from the project. Members of that group, employed pre-existing skills while also tinkering with foreign fields.
For each team, there was a level of challenge, in the sense that the process of the exhibition curation was not something students were familiar with, therefore the lessons gained are countless. It was perhaps the best way to demonstrate the concept of curation, having students actively curate an actual exhibition. This was a very successful seminar as students will probably never forget the emotional and physical experience endured during the process.
Added to the challenge of curating an exhibition, the group also had to be attentive of the Corona Virus and the changing regulations that were being enforced to control it’s spread. This included following the regulations suggested by the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) the organizing team had to adjust or cancel some activities that were planned for the project. Some of these activities included workshops and small gatherings focused on sharing indigenous knowledge with the community. These efforts were part of an enriching educational program that was made by the scholars in collaboration with some artists for the exhibition. Hopefully, these activities can be resumed before the exhibition ends on August 17, 2020.
The Countdown – 1 Week to Opening
The week before the soft launch and opening, students embarked on their final exhibition related journey to Pingtung, in a Covid-19 conscious time. This trip was markedly different from previous as new restrictions and enforcements were in place which in many ways raised concerns for students about health and safety while also significantly altering plans surrounding interactions and visitor expectations for the exhibition. That in mind, several of the initial ideas that some teams sought to carry out had to be adjusted. However, lessons of the last week were perhaps more of a practical and immersive manner than the complete duration of the course. This could probably be linked to the excitement of the set up as well as being on site.
During this week students worked closely with artists to set up their works, from painting display boxes to walls, learning how to weave with artist Aluaiy Pulidan setting up and seeing digital media displays. It was challenging but educational and transformational, from one day to the next we could see the difference and between the documentation and publicity team students were able to take viewers on that journey.
The final week was also the peak of the cultural exchange as the IMCCI Scholars worked with the different artists. During that time they were able to learn more about the artists their ideas, beliefs while the artist learned about the backgrounds and culture of students. Working on the exhibition was a priceless and immeasurable creative opportunity.
Among some of the success stories was the opportunity that one of our second year students had to work for the full final week closely with Aluaiy Pulidan who uses indigenous weaving techniques as her chosen medium of expression. Peruvian second year student, Yesenia Loayza learned from Pulidan various weaving techniques and was able to help her with setting up her artwork. Following that experience Pulidan has offered Yesenia, a member of Peru’s Quechua Community (Indigenous of Peru) the invitation to work with her on another art exhibition later this year. On that same wave, one of our first year IMCCI students is being encouraged by another one of the indigenous artists Etan Pavavaljung to undertake a residency in September.
Witnessing the empty museum transform into the exhibition we had 1 month ago only had rough sketches and later projected onto a 3-D virtual model was one of the most satisfying feelings. Accomplishment, completion and pride are only a few of the words that could describe how we felt as a team, seeing our ideas, our work and our suggestions being used. On the final set up day April 16th, we left the museum pretty late, but we left it completed, with everything in place for Friday’s launch.
Photos by Larissa Soto and Yesenia Loayza
The day of the launch, all the students of the seminar were present for the press conference and first tour, where artists, and the main curator addressed the audience and conducted a guided tour of the exhibition. The group went from one installation room to another witnessing the works and hearing each artist explain what their work represented and how it contributed to the exhibition.
Working on the PTAM Exhibition through this semester’s Curation Seminar was educational on so many levels. It was a unique opportunity to engage with Taiwanese Indigenous history, art and goals. Additionally it was the chance to make intimate connections with the Taiwanese Art Industry as well as the curation and exhibition processes. Beyond the learning and exposure that it provided it was a free space for us to apply and develop our technical skills and talents, our investment of time, energy, ideas was abundantly compensated with new knowledge, friendships and life memories. It also produced internships and possible future collaboration opportunities for some students.
This innovative exhibition invites the visitors to rethink the indigenous concept and to start a conversation about indigeneity with a futuristic approach. In the words of the curator, “Futurist Wave attempts to explore the relationship between humans and land, other species, and deep ecology from the perspective of indigeneity, and explore how the aboriginal contemporary art connects the fountains of the past and present and creates potential forces for the future.”
By Claudia Bermudez and Melody Wagner
IMCCI year 1 students