這種工作方式是我藝術實踐的重要部份，不論是在我與各行各業的工作者所共同合作的計畫（如Womanifesto計畫 http://www.womanifesto.com/, 或在印度的植樹計畫），或是在我自己的裝置及表演作品的發展及表現上。因此，「北回歸線環境藝術行動」所展現的開放性，不將最後結果加以定義，任何事情都可能發生，針對當地問題，在特定地點與當地人民及環境對話，這些概念都深得我心。這樣的平台，特別是由藝術家所發起的平台，在我們亞太區域裡是很少見的。
~ 郭秀麗, 詹清森,以及黃醫師夫婦
I arrived in HsinKang with a view to spending ten days there before heading to Dong Ho Liao, which is where I was scheduled to stay and work within the community. My experience of setting up and working in similar community-based projects tells me that one can only ponder over some ideas and pre-form notions based on pictures and research, but a place must be experienced in reality before going any further; its best to keep an open mind and let things develop – all as part of the process of discovery.
In Dong Ho Liao which, in the end, I did not even visit due to lack of time, I had envisioned I would realize the planting of a garden with the help of community members of different ages who would teach me, a city dweller, about the local plants, trees and something about their agrarian way of life. The vision of this garden, a blooming archive of local flora, that would grow and be nurtured as a living ‘piece of art’ for many to enjoy over the years keeps appearing in front of my eyes. Perhaps one day, in Dong Ho Liao and in other places this ‘mental image’ of a garden will manifest as reality.
Instead of planting a garden I changed track and location and become involved with the residents of HsinKang and together, we planted discarded old railway sleepers in the local park. Notwithstanding the shift of location and the formation/realization of completely new ideas, the process undertaken to arrive at a point intrinsically contains all the richness resulting from many coming together, of human diversity and creativity. It also leads to the opening up of minds and allowing a multitude of ideas, feelings and experiences to enter - all as part of an organic process that continues and develops further well after its starting point.
This way of working is an essential part of my art practice, whether it is to do with projects I have conducted that involve a network of people from all walks of life (such as projects for Womanifesto http://www.womanifesto.com/, or planting trees in India), to the development and presentation of my own installation and performance-based works. Hence, the openness of projects such as Art as Environment - Cultural Action on Tropic of Cancer where no end results are defined and anything can and usually does happen, essentially addressing local concerns and in conversation with the people and environment of a particular place, is close to my heart. Such platforms, specifically ones initiated by artists are rare to come by in our region.
I made the decision to spend all of my residency time in HsinKang and attempt to discover as much as I could about the place, its people and environs. At first glance most small towns seem to be fairly simple, easily decodable even, with an uncomplicated geography that to a city dweller might appear somewhat banal but nevertheless present a refreshing change of environment. However, every place has its own secret codes and the special nooks and crannies and interests/concerns of a particular community only become visible to those who have the time and inclination to discover them.
Delving into the landscape of a place, one may assume, is a fairly straightforward affair but encountering and connecting with people especially if one does not speak the language is quite another matter. One’s ‘foreign-ness’ gets highlighted and the mind throws up an array of obvious questions. Will people be friendly or closed? What if they are not open to engaging with an outsider? How does one go about negotiating an unfamiliar environment in the first place, to be able to settle down and establish an exchange in terms of artistic processes and ideas? As it turned out I need not have pondered over this for any great length of time, for what ensued and how it came about, also what transpired as my personal lived experience has added yet another rich facet to life, and endorsed the power of the most straightforward creative actions and all that is positive about human endeavor. Having been fortunate enough to be presented this opportunity to interact with and contribute to this community, I get the distinct feeling that I ended up gaining much more in return that in many ways cannot be quantified.
The workshop BenKang → HsinKang was set up to bring various elements of the place together – the history, the people, their stories and personal connections from old to the new, and life as it is lived today. Also, I must admit, my initial reason to establish the workshop was a selfish one – how else would I have got to know something about this place, its people and their concerns in such a short space of time? Hence this was a way to begin the process of learning and exchanging, of encountering and forming connections, which then could be explored even further in time. With the efficient backing of the HsinKang Foundation a group of people were brought together, introduced to ideas, encouraged to input their own, the workshop could be conducted and one outcome of the process could be made visible. And for all of the participants, including myself, only time will tell what else results from these creative and intensive moments we spent together.
Four generations – from children to great grand parents were invited to present their stories visually on ceramic tiles, which they created at the Old Ben Kang Ceramics studio. The tiles were installed on old wooden posts made from railway sleepers. The posts are installed at intervals along the railway line – starting with the park in town, and ending with the old bridge that leads to BenKang. All materials used are local; one of the important traditional crafts that continues and flourishes from the old days is that of Cochin Ceramics and I thought to introduce the idea of employing this traditional technique to generate a contemporary dialogue.
Engaging in this process meant asking people to pause for a moment, when all around us seems to gallop ahead at great speed leaving us with a feeling of constantly having to catch up with things. It also meant to contemplate, to search ones memory, and engage in a leisurely process – pairs of hands molding clay, composing, drawing, painting and, at the same time, to embrace the process of nature – of waiting for the warm humid air to dry the clay to the right point before baking it slowly in a kiln.
This was a community effort that many engaged in, from those who came to share their knowledge and create the tiles to the staff at the ceramic studio and at HsinKang Foundation, the carpenters, gardeners, and the residents of HsinKang. Thus, when people come across the sleeper posts bearing the tiles installed in the Railway Park many can directly relate to them. The posts also act as markers – they mark moments and situations from history and present time, personal visual messages about the diverse aspects of human society and our environment that form connections in the present and extend into the future.
Before leaving HisnKang I presented Lin Hui, a participant at the workshop, a sketchbook/diary. She told me she loved to draw, and I saw that not only could she draw but also she could do so very well. I asked her to tell me something about her day-to-day life via her drawings, to email them to me along with short texts. I keep in touch via her drawings, and feelings – her happy moments and sad ones, the caring for her grandfather and the special meals she cooks for him, her excitement at driving her uncle’s car for the first time, her struggling to pull the scooter to higher ground when HsinKang streets flooded during the typhoon, and so on…. The exchange is a personal one between us but in many ways it constitutes a larger picture about ourselves and of the many nuances that impact on and inform our lives. Thus my relationship with this particular community of individuals continues to develop and apart from further stirring up our artistic connection, no end result is defined.
BenKang → HsinKang was the beginning of a process - an opening up of ways of thinking and doing - that is waiting to be explored further.
I wish to thank Wu Mali, the Sponsors and Organizing team of the project:
Art as Environment - Cultural Action on Tropic of Cancer 2007
~ All who took part in the workshop
~ Frank and The HsinKang Foundation
~ Mr and Mrs Hsieh and the staff at Old Ben Kang Ceramic Studio
~ The residents of HsinKang
~ Grace, Jon Son, and Dr and Mrs Hong.