ISSUE 7 The Heterogeneous South
South Fever: The South as a Method in Taiwan Contemporary Curating1

Since 2016, a “South Fever” has come into vogue in Taiwan, one whose popularity has witnessed continued growth. Unlike the trend of “Discovering the South” that began in the 1990s, and the subsequent endeavors to increase the visibility of “the South perspectives”, this “South Fever” serves as a reminder for us to reflect on “the South’s” pressing significance to present-day Taiwanese society. This paper aims to explore the following questions: What does “the South” mean today? What underlies “the making of the South” in various forms of artistic practice and representation? Is it a journey to explore individual or collective identity or is it an empty gesture catering to political correctness? Can “The South” as a method in contemporary curatorial practice unsettle the conventional hierarchies of art and prompt a rethinking of the ways in which art in peripheral regions are represented? Or does it simply reproduce the current hierarchies of the globalized art world? This paper offers an analysis the following exhibitions in order to explore the complex and multifarious representations of “the South”: South Country, South of Country—Vietnamese & Taiwanese Artists Exchange Project (2012) and The South—An Art of Asking and Listening and The Hidden South (2017).

Connecting the Nanyang: South Country, South of Country—Vietnamese & Taiwanese Artists Exchange Project

South Country, South of Country—Vietnamese & Taiwanese Artists Exchange Project, held between December 2, 2012 and February 3, 2013, is an exchange program initiated in 2012 by Vietnamese curator Nguyen Nhu Huy and Taiwanese curator Nobuo Takamori. Two alternative project spaces in the south of the two countries— “Zero Station” in Ho Chi Minh City and “Howl Space” in Tainan—were chosen for the program. As part of the residency exchange project, an artist from each country was sent to the other country every three months to collaborate with a local artist. Since September 2012, the residency program hosted a total of 12 artists from both Taiwan and Vietnam and 6 collaborative contemporary art projects were created. 

In this residency and exchange program, the idea of “the South” is both diverse and multi-layered. Firstly, the program seeks to explore the ways in which regional exchanges engender connections within and multilateral connectivity? sites located in the periphery. In particular, it registers a shift away from the conventional Euro-American framework of art and circuits of exchange. By changing one’s reference point and orientation, “the South” becomes a possible alternative framework, echoing the question proposed by Nobuo Takamori— “Are we able to transform a one-way-street pattern in which other countries are subject to North-American-European centrism and move towards a network pattern that fosters multilateral connectivity?2 Secondly, the program addresses “the South within Asia” and questions the relations between Taiwan and Southeast Asia (South Seas) by asking “is Taiwan a part of Southeast Asia?” Cultural similarities (such as strong Chinese influences and affinities) between Taiwan and Vietnam, further, lay the foundation for artistic collaboration. In Crossing the Line, for instance, the female Vietnamese visual artist Ngo Thi Thuy Duyen and male Taiwanese architect Lin Hsin-Her have played wife and husband for a month. This collaborative project centering around “Vietnamese spouses in Taiwan” culminated in an intense performance, that gave cathartic expression to their emotions and feelings built up during the residency period. The curator Takamori argued that “they have brought about transformative effects on the circumstances they have been in, turning themselves from (passive) observers to (active) subjects who are emotionally involved. And, eventually, they themselves as subjects with agency are presented in artistic form to be gazed at by an audience (Nobuo Takamori 51). Lastly, “the South” refers to a kind of mentality. Compared with large-scale international exchange exhibitions and performance projects, South Country, South of Country—Vietnamese & Taiwanese Artists Exchange Project” is a small exchange experiment among artists and project spaces. By highlighting the ways these shared journeys facilitate mutual understanding, cultural exchanges and creative collaborations, this exchange and residency program represents a distinctive mode of experimental art-making and curating that resonates with the regions history, cultural and identity.

The South/Other: The South—An Art of Asking and Listening

In contrast to Tainan that was once the capital of Taiwan, Kaohsiung has always been the self-proclaimed “South” of Taiwan. Indeed, Kaohsiung has long been neglected due to the uneven distribution of economic resources between Southern and Northern Taiwan. As the city that has been sacrificed for the sake of the development and modernization of Taipei, the metropolitan capital; Kaohsiung has historically been viewed as the periphery to be provided with limited resources. Significantly, Kaohsiung is not only geographically located in the South, it is also considered “the South” in cultural, psychological and political terms. In 2017, curator Manray Hsu was invited by the Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts (hereafter KMFA) to develop a research-led exhibition titled The South—An Art of Asking and Listening. Taking place from June 3 to September 17 in 2017, the exhibition invited 26 international and Taiwanese artists to participate and present work in relation to “the South politics.” Within this context, “the South” appeared as a metaphor for the Other as it confronted the subject that is sacrificed, silenced, and rendered invisible in the project of modernity in Taiwan—the South/Other. Furthermore, the exhibition can be seen as giving expression to KMFA’s self-proclaimed aim to be the Museum of “the South” and its ambitious program of “South Plus: Constructing Historical Pluralism from The KMFA Collection.”

Three subthemes help structure sections within the exhibition. The first section is titled “Your Country Does Not Exist.” In this section, Chang En-Man’s The Sea is Close to Our Tribe (2015) utilizes demolished building materials found at the scenes of forced demolitions to create site-specific installation in the exhibition venue. Chang’s work highlights the tension between state laws and urban indigenous people’s right to housing and examines conflicts caused by capitalist developmentalism of modern cities. It sharply questions the actions of a modern state, addresses those who are neglected, and critically interrogates the way ordinary people are “Southernized/Otherized” by the state apparatus. The second section, “Ask for the South,” is named after the eponymous song by singer songwriters Lin Sheng Hsiang and Chung Yung-feng. The effects of industrialization, such as the decline of rural areas and the subsequent exodus of the younger generation from the countryside, represents the grim reality of modernization and the societal pursuit of economic developments. The documentary photography work by Chung Sheng-hsiung and Hsu Cheng-tang, South Wind, investigates pollution caused by the Sixth Naphtha Cracking Complex of Mailiao Refinery and its calamitous effects on local residents and the environment. In the third section, “From Wandering at Ease to Macroscale Aesthetics”, ecological catastrophes resulting from large-scale construction projects in a world premised on a developmentalist logic are documented, represented and reflected on by artists. This is allegorically depicted in Yang Shun-Fa’s photographic series The Submerged Beauty of Formosa Series (2016). Last but not least, the exhibition poetically concludes with the concept of “listening.” Sound artist Yannick Dauby’s How Corals Think speaks to crucial ideas that bring the show together: as a human being in the ecosystem, “listening” to the Other could be a way for us to understand and to know “the South” better.

The South—An Art of Asking and Listening critically brings “the South” into sharp relief while foregrounding the effects of its cultural, political and historical negligence. While the exhibition’s binary opposition of “North vs. South” and “centrality vs. periphery” reinforces the critical potential of the idea of the South, it also runs the risk of oversimplifying a complicated reality. “This exhibition involves two expanding dimensions which share a considerable overlap: firstly, the oppressed collectively constitute the abstract, general ‘South’; secondly, the exploited areas—the areas other than metropolitan Taipei— are read as concrete evidence to prove their becoming ‘the South,’ which even morphs into a kind of materialized aesthetics” (Huang 153). In other words, “the oppressed” is positioned as morally and politically “in the right;” and aligned with “the South.” In my opinion, evoking the idea of “the South” to advance the pursuit of transitional justice not only has possible connotations of political correctness; it also obscures the complex and multilayered politics of “the South” in ways that undermines its potential to challenge the status quo and enact critical and transformative change. 

1 The content of this article was presented at the “Contemporary Curating Rethink: In the Context of Asia and Beyond” conference on 11-13 October 2019. It was subsequently published in the Journal of Taipei Fine Art Museum. Please see: Lu, Pei-Yi. “Making South: The ‘South’ as a Method in Taiwan Contemporary Curating.” Journal of Taipei Fine Art Museum, vol. 41, 2021, pp. 65-98. (https://www.tfam.museum/journal/Main.aspx?id=46&ddlLang=zh-tw) This article is a shortened version.

2 “A tributary system” describes a situation in which the center of the art world (New York, Berlin, London, etc.) occupies a central position like an emperor in an ancient empire receiving tributes from other subordinate kingdoms. The centrality allows the power and capability to know everything and to obtain all exotics. Other peripheral areas rely on the empire’s views and translation to see other worlds. On the contrary, in “a network system”, places are able to foster mutual relations with one another and facilitate exchanges. For more details, please see Takamori, Nobuo. “From Tributary System to Networking: Redefined ‘International Art’ / Connection Processes between Peripheral Regions.” Demolition Eve – Forum and Sound Performance. Taipei: TheCube Project Space, 2013, pp. 180-182.

Learning from the South: The Hidden South

The Hidden South is a public art project whose exhibition/performance venues are scattered along the South Link Highway within a 50-km span in four different townships (Daren, Dawu, Jinfeng, Taimali) in Taitung County. Held between May 26 and September 1 in 2018, it featured the work of 20 international and Taiwanese artists and 50 affiliated projects, exhibitions, performances, events, and workshops that were closely connected to the concept of this unconventional public art project. By bringing viewers to the townships along the South Link Highway and local tribes in the area, the project enabled the audience to acquire first-hand experience of site-specific art projects located amongst communities of indigenous tribes. The viewing public and participants were also able to familiarize themselves with the local area by “being physically present” on site.

The curatorial team adopted an approach that emphasized the close connection and proximity to the land and the time spent during the residency with the local tribes. Moreover, they prioritized artists who were “open to listen to what localness has to offer.” The project featured contemporary artists who were not from the local area, such as artist collective “LuxuryLogico.” Known for the precision in their design of artworks, the collective inevitably had to face the challenge of adapting their project to the local environment. LuxuryLogico’s original plan was deemed unfeasible after the team discovered that it could not be realized on site. They then had to redesign the work, Rebirth, according to demands of their local environment. Abandoned steel bars and rubbles found after typhoons were repurposed to create a hollow mountain-shape installation, as a response to the excessive mining of limestone in Eastern Taiwan. The work also represents a critical interrogation of the developmentalist view that “faith will move mountains,” noting how such a belief is disastrous to the environment. 

In addition, this project also invited local indigenous people who “lead their lives artistically” to participate. There are no words for “art” or “artists” in the Paiwan language. Rather, the focus lies on the subtlety of the everyday and how they lead their daily lives. Ina’s Garden of Memory, created by Cudjuy Malijugau who is from a local Paiwan community, presented a garden made with plants native to Taiwan, common food plants in local indigenous culture, and drift wood. The work represents the profound wisdom drawn from indigenous people living harmoniously with nature. “The indigenous daily life is in itself a kind of artistic translation. It is not about the everyday aesthetics but particular ways and guiding principles to lead a life. That is why the concept of ‘art’ does not exist and the word is not part of their lexicon” (Hou). The local indigenous people who “lead their life artistically” could “easily, naturally shake up how ‘art’ itself is imagined and defined when they join the project and interact with its framework using their own systems of linguistic expressions” (Yan 107).

Unlike large-scale art events that offer dazzling spectacles or art festivals in rural areas that aim to attract a huge crowd to make profit, The Hidden South foregrounds the suspension of logic and rational thought by presenting a journey in which the possibilities of understanding are opened up so as to enable a rediscovery of indigenous art(making). More than 50 events based on indigenous tribal cultures and life experience were planned, including artistic creation in residency projects, eco-tours, food-sharing workshops, and bonfire concerts. A feminine, non-mainstream, open model of curating was experimented through small events, in-person interaction, sharing and collaboration. Instead of being referred to as the “curator”, Eva Yi-Hua Lin considers “mediator between the cracks” a more precise description of her role in The Hidden South. “The South” in The Hidden South, therefore, does not refer to the geographical south. Rather, it is used to denote “a deeper spiritual state to be arrived at when existing knowledge and logical reasoning are forsaken to make space for the physical body to experience intuitive rediscovery of the world, to connect with nature” (Yan 109). In my opinion, The Hidden South presents the South as a space of potential and possibility and a deeper spiritual realm, one which is greatly valued; hence the significance accorded to “learning from the South.”

“The South” as a method in contemporary curating 

The term, “the South” has been gaining currency and becoming ubiquitous in contemporary cultural production and presentation. It has further shifted from it limited “geographical” connotations to more nuanced meanings encompassing a kind of sensibility, worldview or perspectives, and a method. When we take a closer look at the three aforementioned exhibitions, it is clear that “the South” conveys multiple meanings. It refers to the North-South divide within Taiwan and the regional scope of Southeast Asia (South Country, South of Country, 2012); it implicates the way the global South has been sacrificed in the project of modernity (The South, 2017); and it serves as an index of the geography and culture of indigenous peoples in Taiwan and Austronesia (The Hidden South, 2018). On one hand, “the South” is evoked to mark Taiwan’s multi-layered history of colonialism, its close connected to the ocean and the languages and cultures of Austronesia, and its pivotal location at the crossroads of Northeast and Southeast Asia. On the other hand, “the South” embodies a powerful affective force that evoke the imagining of a shared ethnic identity, one that seeks to accommodate the yearning for Taiwan’s cultural sovereignty. In this sense, “the South” is not simply a subject matter of exhibitions, it also a trope that contributes to a fundamental rethinking of the frameworks, methods and trajectories of contemporary curatorial practice. Exhibitions are curated to “present the South”, “fabricate the South”, “create the South,” and, furthermore, to continuously complicate the plural meanings of “the South” in relation to Taiwan. In other words, through the two aforementioned approaches, curating can be seen as an important contemporary instrument to reimagine and remake the cultural and geographical bearings of the South.

If, however, this “South Fever” is directly linked to governmental policy3, then “the South” as a method in curating may yield double-edged results. It can be difficult to make use of political resources and to have unconstrained autonomy in artistic activities at the same time. A lot of consideration is needed to determine whether one is catering too much to political correctness and how distant one should be from public funding schemes. Moreover, since “the South” can also be an instrument to create cohesion within a group of people (a nation, a region, a local area) and consolidate the value of particular identification, it is important to remind oneself of the risk of inciting extreme nationalism or over-romanticizing the local. In this context, the core value of “the South” curating should therefore aim at knowing oneself, knowing “the South” as it is (from one’s own peripheral positioning). A complex and layered understanding of the struggles of everyday life can be a starting point for a recognition that “the South” is not a site for the exotic projections and fantasies of “the North”; nor is it a cultural specimen to be collected or a utopian idea with which “the North” utilizes to invigorate itself. Quite the contrary, “the South” is a mode of being in and for itself, one that emerges from the foundation of reflexive practice “Feng/ Tu”4, “Craftsmanship/ Art” and “Sharing/ Common” through visions of plural Souths emerge. In so doing, the South finds itself in its own contexts and specificity, in which different rhythms of lives negotiate with one another for a shared and flourishing future.
3 In terms of cultural policy, the Ministry of Culture established “The Emerald Initiative” in 2013, to promote cultural exchanges between Taiwan and Southeast Asia, and in 2016, the Southeast Asia subsidy program “Youth Cultural Gardening Team” was initiated. In the same year, Tsai Ing-wen’s administration enacted the New Southbound Policy, in response to the shifts in global supply chains and the challenges and opportunities of engaging with emerging economies in the South. It is also a response to the drastic demographic change in Taiwan. As a result of this policy, more resources are being allocated to foster cultural exchanges between Taiwan and countries in Southeast Asia, South Asia and Oceania.
4 Feng/ Tu, 風/土 is a Mandarin Chinese term used to describe the evironmetal factors and social custom of a certain place.
Works Cited
Takamori, Nobuo. “South Country, South of Country—Vietnamese & Taiwanese Artists Exchange Project.” Art Critique of Taiwan, vol. 55, July 2013, pp. 49-60.
Huang, Chien-Hung. “Can ‘the South’ still be imagined? Starting with ‘The South—An Art of Asking and Listening’(「南方」還能被想像嗎? 從「南方:問與聽的藝術」談起).” Artist Magazine, August 2017, pp. 152-155.
Yan, Xiao-Xiao. “The Creativity of the ‘mediator’—Three examples of research focuses and practices in independent curating of contemporary indigenous art (「中間人」的創造性:當代原住民藝術獨立策展中的問題意識與實踐三例).” Artco Monthly & Investment, December 2019, pp. 104-109.
Hou, Jimmy., Editor. Interview by Wei Yu and Yu-Ching Liu. “Eva Yi-Hua LIN: from ‘Festival of Imagination’ to ‘The Hidden South’(林怡華:從「映像節」到「南方以南」).” CLABO, 29 Jul. 2019, https://mag.clab.org.tw/interview-with-eva-lin-from-parallax-to-the-hidden-south. Accessed 1 March 2021.

1 The content of this article was presented at the “Contemporary Curating Rethink: In the Context of Asia and Beyond” conference on 11-13 October 2019. It was subsequently published in the Journal of Taipei Fine Art Museum. Please see: Lu, Pei-Yi. “Making South: The ‘South’ as a Method in Taiwan Contemporary Curating.” Journal of Taipei Fine Art Museum, vol. 41, 2021, pp. 65-98. (https://www.tfam.museum/journal/Main.aspx?id=46&ddlLang=zh-tw) This article is a shortened version.

2 “A tributary system” describes a situation in which the center of the art world (New York, Berlin, London, etc.) occupies a central position like an emperor in an ancient empire receiving tributes from other subordinate kingdoms. The centrality allows the power and capability to know everything and to obtain all exotics. Other peripheral areas rely on the empire’s views and translation to see other worlds. On the contrary, in “a network system”, places are able to foster mutual relations with one another and facilitate exchanges. For more details, please see Takamori, Nobuo. “From Tributary System to Networking: Redefined ‘International Art’ / Connection Processes between Peripheral Regions.” Demolition Eve – Forum and Sound Performance. Taipei: TheCube Project Space, 2013, pp. 180-182.

3 In terms of cultural policy, the Ministry of Culture established “The Emerald Initiative” in 2013, to promote cultural exchanges between Taiwan and Southeast Asia, and in 2016, the Southeast Asia subsidy program “Youth Cultural Gardening Team” was initiated. In the same year, Tsai Ing-wen’s administration enacted the New Southbound Policy, in response to the shifts in global supply chains and the challenges and opportunities of engaging with emerging economies in the South. It is also a response to the drastic demographic change in Taiwan. As a result of this policy, more resources are being allocated to foster cultural exchanges between Taiwan and countries in Southeast Asia, South Asia and Oceania.
4 Feng/ Tu, 風/土 is a Mandarin Chinese term used to describe the evironmetal factors and social custom of a certain place.
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Author
LU Pei-Yi is the founding director of MA Program on Critical and Curatorial Studies of Contemporary Art, National Taipei University of Education and now serves as an associate professor. She was awarded PhD in Humanities and Cultural Studies (London Consortium) from University of London in 2010. Her research interest relates to artistic practice and exhibition histories outside museums. A research-based book edited by her Contemporary Art Curating in Taiwan (1992-2012) was nominated for the 10th Annual Award of Art China for Publication of the Year. Her selected curated and hosted lecture series include Socially Engaged Art Talk (2014, Taipei Contemporary Art Center), Conversations Biennial(2016, Taipei Fine Arts Museum), Spring Project — Curating History/ Histories of Curating in Asia I&II (2017-2018, MoCA Taipei). Her curatorial practices include associate curator of the 8th Shenzhen Sculpture Biennale: We Have Not Participated (2014); curator of Micro Micro Revolution (2015) at the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (CFCCA) and co-curator of the 5th Taiwan International Video Art Exhibition: Negative Horizon (2016) at Hong-Gah Museum.
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Issue 7 The Heterogeneous South

Issue 6 The Beginning of Curating

Issue 5 Curatorial Episteme

Issue 4 Curatorial Consciousness in the Times of Post-Nationalism

Issue 3 Curating Performativity

Issue 2 Curators' Living Rooms

Issue 1 Curatography