Taipei, Taiwan


The residency at Bamboo Curtain Studio started right after our residency at the Jan van Eyck in 2017/2018 in Maastricht. During our time at Jan van Eyck, we met Yasmine Ostendorf who leads the Jac. P. Thijsse lab for ­nature research. Previous to her work at the Van Eyck she lived and worked in South East Asia, being based for some time at Bamboo Curtain Studio. From this experience Yasmine saw overlap in the manner our practice operates and how artists and curators work with or on similar topics in Taiwan dealing with ecology, food, nature, community and sustainability. 

Before our arrival in Taiwan we started to discuss potential topics and agreed with BCS (Bamboo Curtain Studio) to start looking at fresh water and salt water systems along the Tamsui river. Arriving early September 2018 we were introduced to the vibrant team of BCS and meeting the other ­fellow residents from Korea, Indonesia, Japan, Philippines and US. In the following months we were able to meet and work with experts, local and ­international artists, curators and we got the chance to visit other parts of Taiwan, ­travelled to Xiamen in China and Jakarta, Jatiwangi and Yogyakarta in Indonesia. Thanks to the extensive network of BCS we ­experienced a ­tremendous and ­invaluable enrichment to our work and practice. ­Working and living in Taiwan led to a new work, a growing body of research, ­numerable ­presentations, workshops and two exhibitions. In this report we’ll describe our findings, the content of our research, the work we produced and how we want to continue in the future with this experience. 

Taipei, Taiwan

The sea is our refrigerator

To understand the natural part of the island, we set up a trip to the east coast, to Hualien. First we met Yu-Ping who researched the heritage of the Taiwanese landscape as living and changing entity. We’re invited by her to see an ­exhibition she curated and meet two of the participating artists. The exhibition is the result of a site specific project where over 10 artist from ­aboriginal descent created work for or in their local communities. In the works it becomes clear how the artists show the different struggles between urban city life and rural village life. How many cultural stories, skills and traditions are difficult to bridge between the two worlds. The theme of the exhibition is explained to us by the concept of hand fermentation. Only a few people in the local tribes have got the right ecosystem on their hands to activate the fermentation of rice, vegetables or meat. A dying skill that we don’t seem to need in the city anymore. 

The second person that we got introduced to in Hualien, runs a fair trade shop and organises a land art festival based on encounters between artists and indigenous people. She hopes people can get a deeper understanding of how the first people that started to live in Taiwan see and use the land. 

Inhabiting a landscape means it can provide everything you need, we learned from meeting Emas. He’s part of the small local Kaluluan tribe on the East coast of Taiwan. With him we explored his local village and the ­surrounding area of the sea, fresh water stream and the jungle on the ­hillside. When you need food, building material or medicine, he believes it all grows around you. Knowing how to use the landscape is an invaluable but also dying ­tradition. We go shopping in a supermarket and store our food in a fridge, always buying and consuming more then you need. It creates a disbalance between us and the landscape surrounding us. ‘In the old days the sea was our refrigerator.’

How can we imagine a relationship to food in a global food system where we mostly can’t retrace its origin and landscape it has been produced? In Taipei we experienced that the whole city is a stage for food consumption. Everything is or potentially becomes a shop. Stones with straps, buckets and concrete blocks. All elements screened of with fabric, silent sculptures lying in corners of the street, the city becomes public storage. Everything stacked up, waiting to be build up and activated. All the elements combined, opens up as a shop for a local vendor. The stalls become inscrutable ecosystems on their own terms and rules. Tubes contort and embrace one another, ­beginning and end is lost. 

Hualien, Taiwan

MAZU — goddess of the sea

While trying to understand the spiritual landscape in Taiwan, we ­encounter with Mazu: a Chinese sea goddess. It was believed she roams the seas, ­protecting her believers through miraculous interventions. She is now ­regarded as a ­powerful Queen of Heaven. Mazuism is popular in Taiwan and her temple ­festival is ­celebrated in a truly unique way: the believers derive through the city and landscape holding the Mazu statue without knowing the final destination during the temple festival. This process can take up several days and even up to a week. All the actions and the whole process are based on signs from nature and Mazu herself. Depending on how a thrown stone falls, decisions are made. Directed by Mazu as they say. Can we also find signs in our controlled landscape? Is it still possible to ‘read’ ways nature directs us in life or did we create a structure where there is no room for signs anymore?

Taipei, Taiwan

Red hair soil

To understand the mixture of cement the Dutch used to build their forts in Taiwan equals understanding the four ingredients; sugar, rice, sand and shells. How do these ingredients become cement? We’re unable to retrace a written recipe of how to create the cement and decided to create ­taxonomic workspace at BCS making a test block of cement. We were learning how to burn oyster shells for the chalk, cooking rice glue, extracting sugar from the cane and collecting different sands in the landscape in order to test different recipes. Our studio turned into a experimental miniature factory for pre industrial cement. Parallel to our process into the materiality of the cement we approached En-Yu Huan, a professor in history of architecture, that knows all about the old Dutch settlements and forts. We met En-Yu in An-Ping, a village close to Tainan where the remains of the former Dutch fort Zeelandia lies. Here we could compare our samples of cement with the 17th century made cement. The resemblance was quite striking.