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Video | Visual Arts Curating
2021 Recording: Digital Corporeality
This video documents the making of Digital Corporeality, an exhibition curated by curator I-Wen Chang and supported by NCAF's Production Grants to Independent Curators in Visual Arts. It presents footage and interviews from the art venue, execution process, and curatorial practice.As a performance critic and dance expert, the curator has traveled to major art festivals around the world over many years to do research on corporeality, choreography, performativity, digital art, technological art, and live art. This exhibition, Digital Corporeality, is based on her research and proposes a somaesthetic that integrates the viewpoints of technological art. Initially inspired by The Rite of Spring, different versions of The Rite of Spring were displayed at the entrance to explore the four aspects of digital corporeality: "Part 1: Future Body through Critical Lens", "Part 2: Corporeality, Materiality, and the Other", "Part 3: Inter-passivity", and "Part 4: AI, Big Data, and Digital Bodies", followed by "Epilogue: AI and Future Choreographies in the 21st Century", which echoes the performance documentation video series of The Rite of Spring at the beginning. From non-human theaters to an AI-generated choreography to connect with spirits, the exhibition contemplates possibilities of digital corporeality from multiple dimensions and offers a basis for diverse theories and exploration of digital corporeal experimentation, a hotly discussed topic at present.
2022.09.26
Article | OUTLOOK
From Responding to COVID to Overcoming COVID: Some Observations and Thoughts on the Beyond COVID-19 Program
ForewordInternational exchange has always been a major category of grants by the National Culture and Arts Foundation (NCAF). The current results and statistical data on the International Cultural Exchange archive show continuous growth in the overall quantities  of international exchange activities. As for non-quantitative long-term trends, the international experiences of groups are not limited to production (final products), but are enriched by reflecting on the nature of cultural exchange/communication, thus achieving self-understanding through cross-regional and cross-disciplinary coordination and communication. The COVID-19 pandemic began to spread globally in January 2020. In response, NCAF offered project grants to artists and artist groups through the Beyond COVID-19 Program, which encouraged art professionals to develop innovative and diversified exchange projects during this transition period. Formally speaking, the project grant may be regarded as a grant program to encourage international exchanges in more diversified ways during the pandemic in response to its disruption of international travel and traditional (i.e., pre-pandemic) modes of exchange, that is, larger environmental factors. In my view, this program has two characteristics at first glance: one is economic. This program still has the function to provide "active relief" to artists to sustain their living and the operation of their teams during the pandemic. The other is "bricks and clicks". Through the incentives provided by this program, the wealth and diversity of exchange channels accumulated under the support of past international cultural exchange grants can be transformed or perpetuated via "digital transformation". This article summarizes the four editions of the Beyond COVID-19 Program (Performing Arts category) 1 implemented from 2020 to 2021 and preliminarily explores potential situations and issues in the digital transformation and online system building of artist groups during the pandemic, so as to provide reference for future international exchange activities.Classification and Summary of the Four Editions of the COVID-19 International Exchange Support Program (Performing Arts Category) Grantee ProjectsAs stated above, NCAF's Beyond COVID-19 Program encourages art professionals to develop innovative and diversified international exchange projects during the transition period of the pandemic. From 2020 to 2021, the Beyond COVID-19 Program (Performing Arts category) was implemented four times in total. Grantee projects included cross-national online exchanges, performances, preliminary research, and website and database translations into foreign languages.The grantee projects during these two years can be roughly divided into the following 8 categories: (1) Website updating (bilingualization/multilingualization and optimization); (2) Digital archiving; (3) Preliminary research or cooperative presentation of cross-national productions (preliminary research aimed ultimately at physical performances); (4) Online non-performance exchanges (artist residencies, forums, courses, workshops); (5) Online performances; (6) Content translation; (7) Work publishing (digital and print); and (8) Video production. Since some projects, such as those which published videos of online exchanges and digitized works on optimized websites, belong to multiple categories, the following section only describes the contents of each category without counting the number of projects belonging to each category.(I)    Website updating: This category can be roughly divided into three subcategories according to the content of individual projects. The first is bilingualization, platform building, and data uploading for integrated websites and self-media platforms, such as the online video archiving and website bilingualization of Flying Group Theatre. The second is the building of independent websites for existing international exchange projects and their outcomes, which simultaneously function as digital archives. For example, the contents of Shakespeare's Wild Sisters Group x Dainanagekijo x Mie Center for the Arts Present: Notes Exchange Anatomy Room are documented on a website and the links to the international network of the three-year Notes Exchange project are shared thereon. The third is the relatively simple website redesign and bilingualization, such as Müller x World: Müller Chamber Choir Website Upgrade and Digital Media Bilingualization Project.(II)    Digital archiving partly overlaps with website updating due to their shared requirement of data use and external communication. Other integrated digital archiving projects such as Bare Feet On-Line by Bare Feet Dance Theatre and HORSE Archiving Project by the dance troupe HORSE all include historical documentation from artists' written or oral accounts, website bilingualization, archive preparation, and other data compilation and archiving tasks from various stages.(III)    The main difference between preliminary research and cooperative development for cross-national productions is that the former still aims to put on physical performances after the pandemic comes to an end, while preliminary research or field surveys postponed due to the disruption of international travel during the pandemic are implemented through digital or online methods instead. In cooperative development, the resulting cross-national productions are directly made publicly available online. Projects of the former type include Ming-Hwa Yeh's Taipei x Bergen Co-Production Project: Preliminary Research and Development of Ming-Hwa Yeh's SHE: Images of Dance History According to Her. The latter includes the Taiwan-Germany Contemporary Music Co-Creation Project, a cross-national collaboration between the German flutist Katrin Szamatulski and Taiwanese composer I-Lly Cheng, which presented the final work in the form of a music video online.(IV)    Online non-performance exchanges (arts residencies, forums, courses, and workshops) include the 7 sessions of the six month-long online symposium Connect with SEA organized by Thinkers' Studio, in which conversations were carried out among owners, managers, and producers of independent organizations in Southeast Asia and Taiwan.(V)    Online performances include Studio Acht's 2020 Jeonju International Sori Festival Online Performance Project. While the international visit of this event was canceled by the organizer due to the pandemic, participation in the opening concert and other events by overseas artists was alternatively implemented in South Korea via live streaming.(VI)    Content translation projects include TOTAL Musical Theatre's script reading session and concert, which arranged the translation and adaptation of the musical You & It by EG Musical Company & Orchestra from South Korea.(VII)    Work publishing (digital and print) projects include Against Again Troupe's Against 18 Monograph Publishing Project, and the publication and international release project for Tradimento by the Italian publisher Ermes 404 in collaboration with artist Chia-Ying Lin.(VIII)    Video production can be roughly divided into two subcategories in terms of implementation method: The first consists of the filming and editing of existing works, which are made available through online performances or video platforms. Such projects include Formosa Baroque's Versailles II International Post-Production Online Sharing Session Project, which edited the video materials recorded during the ensemble's performance at the National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts (Weiwuying) in 2019. The second category refers to works produced in digital forms and methods during the pandemic, such as Hao-Yeh Wang's Several Interpretations of Home: An Inter-Disciplinary Digital Art Project Exploring the National Identity of Taiwanese People. The project was co-produced by Wang and four other artists based in three different locations, including choreographers Szu-Wei Wu and Yen Lee, video artist Yanina Isla, and sound artist Ng Chor Guan. The filming was done in Changhua, Taiwan, and Berlin, Germany. Two 6-minute solo-dance videos are expected to be completed and presented on a webpage on the existent website.Again, most of the Performing Arts grantee projects on the list encompass the nature and features of multiple categories. This is due to the complexity and diversity of creative processes and the mixed use of data more efficiently. Therefore, the classification above is a rough overall picture of the grantee projects for readers' reference and easy understanding, not a precise or absolute classification.NCAF's Beyond COVID-19 Program—HORSE Archiving Project, by the dance troupe HORSEObservations and Thoughts on Grantee ProjectsI.    The medium- and short-term "response to COVID-19" and the long-term "overcoming of COVID-19"When I was on the review panel of the Beyond COVID-19 Program, I considered the judgment criteria and the methods of assessing the effectiveness of a project. In summary, I believe the following requirements should be fulfilled at a minimum: (1) The work's subject-matter or contents should respond to the social conditions during/after the pandemic; (2) The delivery/exchange media should overcome physical limitations or offer innovative alternatives; (3) The project should compile its own developmental history and establish an archive to help write the history of the industry, thereby developing the capacity for subsequent exchanges; and (4) The business model should be adjusted to foster management of industrialized financial and legal affairs. Generally speaking, the grantee projects mostly possessed the features (2) and (3) mentioned above. Furthermore, international exchange depends on long-term communication, interaction, and empowerment, which cannot be achieved overnight. Most projects were based on existing international exchange networks or existing in-person exchange projects of applicants. During the pandemic, the mode of interaction was changed to online methods that overcome physical limitations (among the very few exceptions which did not involve any online platform was Against Again Troupe's Against 18 Monograph Publishing Project).The battle against the pandemic has lasted longer than any of us expected. Although there are signs of a temporary abating, it will still have a lasting impact on international exchange activities. In performing arts industry, individual artists, managers, artist groups, and venue operators or other stakeholders have adopted various strategies and policies with certain degree of effectiveness in response to the pandemic. At this point, I think these response measures should be defined as short- and mid-term plans, and it is too early to determine whether they are really able to overcome the pandemic and take advantage of transitional opportunities to create new demand, thereby becoming a plan fully adapted to the post-COVID-19 environment. For example, the multilingual websites or databases completed with the support of this grant still require human resources, funding, and other resources for future management and usage. Has this requirement been addressed in the long-term operational plans of the individual artists or groups, as to maximize their effect in international exchanges? Also, are the Internet platforms or online work models developed or established during the pandemic connected with the artist groups' sustainability strategy? All of the matters above must be observed and evaluated over a longer period of time to make fair judgments.II.    Physical-virtual integration of online systems and face-to-face modelIn terms of the availability of online systems at a global scale, 2020 was a historic year. Due to the disruption of physical international movement and the limitation to the scope of activities, online systems gained popularity as means of communication. To align with this inevitable trend, most of the grantee projects utilized various online tools such as Internet platforms to varying degrees in order to overcome physical limitations. At first glance, Internet tools seem to have done away with physical limitations and lowered the threshold for international exchanges, which is in turn conducive to the expansion of the exchange scope; however, international exchange activities through Internet platforms might also increase competition. Artists and artist groups must think more carefully about the purpose and method of communication, consider the diverse perspectives of the market and audience, and adopt steady and continuous implementation methods. Otherwise, in the absence of physical contact and communication, the content of an exchange could be difficult to "disseminate".The online systems and platforms used in the grantee projects and the content forms of these projects can be roughly divided into two categories: two-way simultaneous and on-demand. Events such as classroom-based lectures or forums and online performances are mainly two-way simultaneous. On-demand services, on the other hand, feature contents available on online resource platforms for the audience to view/experience whenever they please (on demand). Projects focusing on website optimization and archiving mostly belong to this category. Although both play the role of maintaining communications in the absence of physical travel, their operation methods and effects are very different.Two-way simultaneous online systems still have a synchronized character despite participants being based in different locations. This means that participants can only carry out communication when they are synchronized. On the other hand, communication via on-demand online systems or platforms neither takes place in one location nor synchronously, and the only element shared by the participants is the information (contents). Without in-person and synchronized meetings, communication happens very differently.During the pandemic, the biggest challenge for on-site stage performances, including theater, was that their physical, synchronized nature, heretofore a fundamental condition, was shaken. In summary, we may categorize the virtual and physical domains into three models, in terms of location and synchronicity: on-site experience-oriented (single-location and synchronized), two-way simultaneous (multiple-location and synchronized), and on-demand (multiple-location and non-synchronized). Before the pandemic, artists or artist groups probably only needed to take care of the "physical" matters. The pandemic has accelerated the trend of integration of the three aforesaid models and diversified operations by artists and artist groups. In the two-way simultaneous online stage, I think that the kind of "stage" experience viewers and listeners can share is still being explored. Such explorations include two-way experiments between artists who provide artworks/services and the audience members who receive the artworks/services. As for on-demand online platforms, the streaming service platform Netflix may serve as an example. This on-demand, subscription-based cultural consumer platform can be said to belong to a different cultural realm from that of the on-site stage experience. In performing arts, these two consumer models should be able to work together complementarily. The interaction and integration of the aforementioned face-to-face on-site experience, two-way simultaneous method, and on-demand service, I believe, are next-generation possibilities for international exchange in the post-pandemic era. This is not only an issue that performing arts industry must address, but also the key to the sustainable development of every arts group and venue.NCAF's Beyond COVID-19 Program—Studio Acht's 2020 Jeonju International Sori Festival Online Performance ProjectIII.    The absence of a market/audience perspectiveIf we regard the grantee projects as the artist groups' initial attempt to carry out digital transformation, a decisive difference in comparison to related issues in commercial or business management is the absence of a market/audience perspective. In short, the grantee projects mostly take the perspective of the artists and artist groups. The feedback from information or content users seems to be absent from the pre-project online tool selection process or in the follow-up project effectiveness evaluation. On the other hand, speaking of digital transformation in online sales from the commercial sector, the traditional strategy is usually to "build an official website and increase exposure of projects on different e-commerce platforms or on social media like Facebook and Instagram". The strategy most likely to be adopted by digital natives is "collecting various data online to understand the characteristics of target customers, including gender, age, occupation, and other related preferences, and then plan marketing strategies and select products that meet the needs of target customers". Its emphasis on data analysis can be regarded as what sets apart the pre- and post-digital transformation eras. Of course, this only represents a referential line of thought in the era of digital transformation, not the correct answer to our question. At this point in time, the grantee projects still seem to regard digital tools as a temporary alternative to on-site events or to existing work models during the pandemic. Their approaches are still similar to those of the early stage of digital transformation. They have not had the opportunity or time to explore a more advanced digital transformation strategy for the performing arts yet. One benefit of digital tools, in comparison to previous tools or platforms, is that they can record objective statistical data more easily. A business perspective aside, the significance of digital transformation is that digital tools are powerful enough to help performing arts industry understand consumers' behavioral patterns and reach more potential audience members. Therefore, to more effectively and efficiently exert the strengths of digital tools, it is necessary to incorporate market/audience perspectives.In addition, catalyzed by the pandemic, digital transformation or Internet-based diversification is to certain extent a conspicuous future trend. Therefore, the introductory text of Taiwan Entertainment & Media Outlook 2019-2023 published by PwC may be relevant, even though the performing arts are not included in its industry categories: "Entertainment & media (E&M) was the first industry to search for new directions amidst the revolutionary digital trend. However, this transformative endeavor still has a long way to go. Driven by technology and the constantly evolving consumer behavior, a more personal and personalized model of media interaction is continuously on the rise"2. In my view, the "personal" and "personalized" approach concurs with the emphasis on the market/audience mentioned above. While the performing arts industry is facing the issues of reshaping "liveness" and digital transformation, another key point is physical-virtual integration based on the aforementioned three models from (2). Since on-site experiences and online systems may have completely different audiences in either the international or domestic market, it is necessary to understand (or shape) the market/audience structure of the online platform as well as its difference from physical counterparts from the very beginning.IV.    Other topics related to Internet-based international exchange(I)   The content industry is closely associated with the management of "rights and privileges". The author believes that the performing arts industry can be regarded as part of the content industry in a broad sense, especially in the future Internet media environment. The leading position of the streaming service giant Netflix, mentioned for comparison with other online system models is currently being challenged by competitors. However, since its House of Cards in 2013, Netflix has adopted strategies that subverted industry conventions and may offer valuable suggestions for the performing arts industry. In short, Netflix boldly abandoned what may be called the golden rule of the film industry—the "window strategy"—which regulates the transition from public screening to subsequent screening on other platforms (TV, etc.)—and secondary product distribution, choosing instead to unwaveringly focus on an Internet platform. I believe that this approach can inspire the performing arts to think of different possibilities. Of course, this is not to encourage artists to adopt the business model of a pure Internet platform like Netflix. It means that the linear thinking to define live performance as a primary product, followed by secondary and tertiary products such as video releases, may no longer be fully applicable in the era of online media. For this reason, the diversified operations and international exchanges of the industry may require a different approach from the past. In addition, during the pandemic, the creative processes and phasic results of some international exchange projects were presented on the Internet as an alternative to on-site performances to some extent. In other words, this exchange method did not center on the finished work. It is worth exploring how this method can be developed or utilized after physical exchanges resume. Other issues that require in-depth investigation include how to manage the rights and privileges (copyrights, patents, broadcasting rights, etc.) of individual artists and artist groups in the Internet age, as well as the need to redefine and evaluate licensing in response to the rise of Internet media/platforms. (II)  The aforementioned Global Entertainment & Media Outlook 2019-2023 provides overall advice for entertainment and media as follows: E&M companies must reconsider their business and income models, be prepared for the advent of emerging technologies, adapt to regulatory changes, and build trust. Here, "trust" refers to the protection of personal data/information in the age of the Internet. It is not only a legal and supervisory issue but also an important reminder for the performing arts industry, which has begun to use Internet tools more frequently. Since individual artists and artist groups may reside either in the upstream, midstream, or downstream of the data/information industrial chain, it is important to properly protect the personal data they have obtained, pay attention to information security when transmitting personal data or streaming their works, and remain vigilant on issues such as digital addiction. These are all important issues to be addressed for building consumer trust and showing awareness on the importance of communication with audiences in the future age of media.(III)  With the rapid development of digital technology, profit-seeking businesses do not need to set up offices in countries where they seek to create markets. As a result, these countries have encountered problems including tax collection, tax base erosion, and tax loss. For this reason, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is committed to researching and developing the Global Profit Distribution Tax System, a global uniform solution of long-term taxation, which is expected to be implemented in 2023. Although almost all online exchanges or contents/performances from grantee projects made publicly available on the Internet were free of charge, it is expected that reasonable fees for these activities and content services will be charged in the future to pursue a more financially sound and sustainable business model. When non-profit organizations such as artist groups or venues are exploring new operating models, they are also under the sway of the global trend of digital taxation. In addition to content creation and aesthetic judgment, the financial and tax impacts on the operation management of online-based performances and exchanges should also be considered in the overall evaluation.NCAF's Beyond COVID-19 Program—TOTAL Musical Theatre's script reading session and concertConclusionThe COVID-19 pandemic that engulfed the world should not be regarded as a contingent event in international exchange. The 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US in 2001, the global financial crisis caused by Lehman's collapse in 2008, Brexit in the UK and the Trump government in the US in 2016, and the global COVID-19 pandemic that has ravaged all nations since the beginning of 2020—all these events and changes seem unrelated at first. However, when viewed in the light of mankind's long-term development, they can be understood as reactions to the accelerated globalization caused by neoliberalism since the 1980s. The observations or thoughts above also suggest that terrorism, financial crises, or disease outbreaks may obstruct the physical communication and interaction between countries and people, but they also make us and other cultural groups or countries confront a common issue together. Moreover, on the shared space of the Internet, the technical, managerial, and financial and tax issues faced by individual artists or artist groups are more uniform than before. Therefore, concerning future international exchange activities, I believe that the most beneficial matter is understanding the limitations and boundaries of Internet tools and the operational logic of media communities. With the support of Internet and media tools, we may be able to propose a "Taiwan-style answer" to these universal issues through works/contents of performing arts or further raise a valuable and meaningful "Taiwan-style question".[1] NCAF's COVID-19 International Exchange Support Program has been implemented four times from 2020 to 2021 and supported a total of 131 projects. This article mainly focuses on the performing arts (music, drama, and dance).[2] For PwC's Taiwan Entertainment & Media Outlook 2019-2023, please see: https://www.pwc.tw/zh/publications/topic-report/2019-taiwan-enm-outlook.html*Translator: Linguitronics
2022.08.06
Article | CASE STUDY
The House Is the Universe, Where Everything Comes to Life: Interview with Pei-Yu Shih, Director of Flying Group Theatre
Our house is our corner of the world. As has often been said, it is our first universe, a real cosmos in every sense of the word. —Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space 18 years have elapsed since Flying Group Theatre was founded in May 2004. Centering on "non-human" characters, its name in a Chinese is a homonym for "non-human", in other words, puppetry. This troupe continues to delight audiences with stylistically distinctive works. Its brand image is defined by works such as: For All Age Groups —The Trilogy: A Sleep and a Forgetting, which has been repeatedly invited to stage performances; Close to You, which alludes to a connection between literature, history, and communities; and the continuously evolving Hear the House project 1. These works may also be seen as corners of the house of Flying Group Theatre, each safeguarding charming and distinctive objects and memories.At the end of 2021, when the COVID-19 pandemic was a major challenge to performing arts professionals, Pei-Yu Shih, the director of Flying Group Theatre, was sitting quietly in their office, recalling the time when Flying Group Theatre was yet to be formed…The Kitchen, debut performance of Flying Group TheatreThe Kitchen 2 was first performed at the Crown Art Center Theater in April 2004 as a feature show in the 3rd Taiwan Women Theatre Festival.The play was about one hour long. Mixing human actors, puppets, and videos, Pei-Yu Shih wove these elements into symbolism for the Legend of the White Snake—a famous Chinese folktale dating back to the Tang Dynasty—to represent women's business in the kitchen, something always on her mind.When the curtain rose, dim light shone on the black box theater and a "kitchen" appeared before the audience. The play began with the sound of a cook's knife in the actor Chao-Chi Ma's hands. ...With certain hurry, the slicing of the knife can be heard as the ingredients turn from chunky into finely chopped ones; next, the clanging of music gradually becomes audible, mixed with a faint rumbling sound resembling a range hood. The woman wipes her hands and throws all the chopped ingredients into a pot, as if to draw a close to her work in the kitchen. She then takes out a book from the top shelf. Surrounded by the increasingly articulate human voices from the radio, she leafs through the book.Script files of The Kitchen (courtesy of Flying Group Theatre, written by Pei-Yu Shih)All of a sudden, a "Hello!" is heard, Spirited and energetic, the word pierces through the hitherto calm ambiance of the kitchen—that’s the sound from the radio, a masculine voice presenting The Legend of the White Snake in a new style of storytelling. What follows are a series of scene changes: At an unexpected moment, the radio host suddenly appears on stage, his body emerging out of the "refrigerator", and continues his story. In the next scene, another actor, Mei-Hua Hsueh, joins the stage with puppets in hand to perform her part. Pots, pans, and puppets are infused with life as The Legend of the White Snake progresses. With every corner of the kitchen involved in the drama, the play feels like an allegory of every stage of life, reflected by the shifts in lighting. During the performance, the audience often laughed out loud. Though emotion is the main appeal, The Kitchen is never without a sense of humor. 3Why The Legend of the White Snake? "Because I thought at that time that Su-Chen Pai (the "white snake") is a powerful woman and the master of her own fate, but she eventually chooses to become a housewife in the kitchen." When writing the play, Pei-Yu Shih was thinking about the inevitable "choice" that confronts Su-Chen Pai, whose case resonates with her own multiple identities as a director, puppet designer, and playwright.In the social climate more than 20 years ago, women were still shackled by strict and almost unchallengeable gender expectations, as if getting married and devoting herself to a family is the only reasonable life path for a woman. "I was also thinking, should I stop taking individual projects as a freelancer and settle down? It's like I had to think about working harder to build a family of mine, or…working harder to build 'something' that might truly be mine? It was time to take things seriously, but what kind of things?" When these thoughts occurred to Pei-Yu Shih, she happened to be working in the theater sector. In the meantime, the 3rd Taiwan Women Theatre Festival, organized by a crew of women, was just about to take place."… The curator then was Yu-Hui Fu. She talked me into this, so I joined the festival." When she was reaching the marriageable age according to conventional values, Pei-Yu Shih turned to theater, transforming her conceptions and aspirations for a "family".Since 1996, the Taiwan Women Theatre Festival4 has been held every four years. Its "all-woman crew" in curating, writing, direction, and project execution created an alternative and did away with the male dominance of Taiwan's small theaters in the 1980s, marking an exceptional chapter in the history of Taiwan's performing arts. However, what is a "woman"? Is there one unquestionable definition? How to be a "woman"? Should there be some kind of manual to must follow? These are key questions that merit continuous critical exploration. Pei-Yu Shih repeatedly asked herself such while taking part in the Festival and working on The Kitchen. As she confessed: "I must say that I have been lucky. Since childhood, I received education and training from my family that made me feel that 'gender' is not an issue . . . I mean, no one ever said to me something like 'hey, a girl can't do this, a girl should be like that'. So, I don't keep thinking that I'm a girl, or to put it differently, there's nothing I can't do as a girl. So, um, I felt a little awkward when taking part in a women's event (laugh)." As it happens, art is often a tool and channel to discuss this kind of dilemma.The Kitchen @ Crown Art Center Theater, 2004 (courtesy of Flying Group Theatre)To match the Festival's emphasis on "woman", Pei-Yu Shih finally chose the "kitchen" as the central image to represent women as well as her life experience during that period. For her, it is a place with the strongest maternal aura: "The kitchen is the engine of the family. I mean, it needs to be ignited to make the house warm." Of course, the most important thing is that the "mother" is in there; at least it was so vividly in her cherished memories: “When I was young, my mum used to turn on the radio whenever she was cooking in the kitchen. So, whenever we heard sounds coming from the kitchen, we knew 'Mom's there!'. The kitchen was also the first place we children ran up to whenever we got home, sometimes to report things, sometimes just to get a snack (laugh) or to wait for dinner at the table outside the kitchen. So for me, many precious memories of my life come from there. For me, it really was a place of much warmth." She continues: "I was looking at her, the maker of all the warmth. Did she also feel the warmth inside?  My mom had a high educational background, but she ended up being a housewife. I couldn't help but wanting to know: is that what she wanted?" Recalling the kitchen in her house, Pei-Yu Shih pointed out that it was located at the far end of the house. One had to cross the living room and many other rooms to get there. "The ultimate concern of The Kitchen is: what exactly is happiness?"In this manner, Pei-Yu Shih seemed to raise questions for herself by having another conversation with her mother, this time as an image in her mind. Artists thus face their deepest concerns through their work.Although she did not study theater as a profession, she had been fascinated with drama. Pei-Yu Shih first worked as administrative staff for nearly ten years at her early stage of her career. The groups she worked for were all prestigious ones: Shiny Shoes Children's Theatre and Contemporary Legend Theatre, among others. From 1997 to 2002, she also served as manager and producer of Creative Society for five years.5  What does it feel like, debuting as a playwright and creator after working in art administration for so many years?She said: "Well, if you ask me, I don't think the real debut of Flying Group Theatre was The Kitchen!" The Kitchen, as it turns out, is not her first work.A Hidden Piece of History: B612, Before Flying Group TheatreIndeed, The Kitchen was the first production in which Flying Group Theatre applied for a grant, but the work that actually catalyzed the establishment of Flying Group Theatre, in Pei-Yu Shih's heart, is B612, which was performed at Guling Street Avant-garde Theatre in 2002. Performed before Flying Group Theatre was established, this play was the troupe's real debut for her.Speaking of her aspiration to create art, Pei-Yu Shih recalled how it was ignited during her time doing children's theater as a pastime. As a matter of fact, everyone in the theater scene was willing to put their all at the time, so as long as you wanted this, you could have a chance to try it out, to make a small work by yourself. Back then, the Shiny Shoes Children’s Theatre which I took part in had a theater called Small Shoes House that had regular performances every week. So the amount of performances was large, which means there was enough market demand to offer opportunities." Later, Pei-Yu Shih's administrative experience in various theater troupes also gave her the opportunity to learn how to produce a theatrical work and build a blueprint for her future career: "The wide range of my experience with theater made me understand the complexity of administrative affairs, of running a theater company. So, I wanted to actually make a play to figure this out, to figure out if I was able to form a theater company myself." So B612 was the testing ground for her "self-assessment". Program of B612, 2002 (courtesy of Flying Group Theatre, hand-drawn by Pei-Yu Shih)The script was written by Huei-Na Lee, while Pei-Yu Shih acted as the puppet designer and director. "What about the administrative staff?", I asked. "No administrative staff! There was only me!" As there was a shortage of helpers, she did most of the jobs on her own. Recalling the crew of B612, she pointed out: "There were very few people; just a few designers, myself, and two actors. I also engaged Sheng-Ju Chao to help with the administrative matters, but basically, I had to deal with most of the matters on my own, the front desk and everything." Even the program was handmade by herself. The tickets were produced, copied, and then brought to the National Taxation Bureau for stamping. Her friends and family learned about the play through word of mouth. They left their contact numbers to express their interest, but whether they would actually show up was not ascertained until the actual staging. As for why they didn't register and apply for a grant before implementing the project? "Because I missed the deadline for grant application just when I made up my mind to do this. But, you see, the money issue cannot hold you back when you really want to do it! At that time, I thought that where there is a will there is a way. Just do it and see what happens." Those who know Pei-Yu Shih can probably feel the vivacity and energy inside her. There was a newspaper story with a heading that read "Produced by Pei-Yu Shih Out of Her Own Pocket". It not only exemplifies the straightforward style of news report titles of the time but also reflects Pei-Yu Shih's own upbeat charm.When B612 was officially performed, many friends and teachers who became acquainted with her in past theatrical projects came to watch the play. People from Creative Society, whom she playfully called "bosses", also showed up in the audience. The booking record show that many notable theater people, including Wei-Jan Chi, Ya-Hung Hsu, Ying-Chuan Wei, Yih-Fang Wu, Liang-Hui Shen, and Huan-Hsiung Li, purchased tickets.Although people are very likely to associate these puppet shows and objects with "children" and "innocent fun", Pei-Yu Shih  was targeting an adult audience when working on B612—as the opening sentence of the preface to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince states, "I ask the indulgence of the children who may read this book for dedicating it to a grown-up." Anyone who has seen excerpts of B6126  can feel that the rhythm, language, voice, puppet design, and the use of light and shadow are all full of an "adult" flavor. One can imagine how refreshingly original it was at the time.Pei-Yu Shih recalled her experience with Craig Quintero, whom she engaged to help with the video recording gave her memorable feedback for B612: "Craig Quintero, he even came to see my play twice. We were not familiar with each other back then. But after he finished watching the play he even walked me home from the theater, and during the journey, we had a conversation for more than an hour. He was much more experienced with small-scale theater than me. I guess he was probably thinking 'I have never seen a form of expression like this'. To be honest, at that time, there were indeed very few works which mixed human actors with puppets and had a relatively strong visual style." Pei-Yu Shih's insistence on making a puppet show for adult audiences broke with conventions at the time. This is probably a major reason why Flying Group Theatre has attracted people's attention ever since.B612 @ Guling Street Avant-garde Theatre, 2002 (courtesy of Flying Group Theatre)The Challenge of "Starting a Family"Although B612 received positive feedback, Pei-Yu Shih did not immediately move on to form a troupe in 2002. On the contrary, she took a two-year break and continued taking freelance projects. "B612 made me realize that I really can do it. But I had other things in mind too . . ." She pointed out that, as an artist, she also spent a lot of time thinking about the "organization of a theater troupe"."Working in different companies allowed me to see many different organizations. We call the team of Shiny Shoes the 'Seven Immortals'. Each member is so capable that they can carry out their individual projects on their own around Taiwan and can assemble at any time to make a big show. Or take Creative Society, whose eight members are all owners, not staff, as an example. In short, troupe organization varies a lot. So actually, I kept thinking, if I started a troupe, how would I coordinate administrative and creative matters?" It takes more than just enthusiasm to build something. One has to be equipped with the basics, which in the world of arts roughly means production, publicity, and funding.Readers may gain some idea about the actual production and administration in theater's early days in 40 Years of Taiwan Contemporary Theater (1978-2018). This book mentions the human resources and financial management of 40-plus modern theater teams in 1993, recorded in The Catalog of Performing Arts Groups published by the Council for Cultural Affairs in 1995: "In the current year, government grants accounted for an average of approximately 39% of each group's annual budget, corporate sponsorship accounted for 16%, and performance revenue contributed 13% . . ."7  Although this survey result may be incomplete—it did not include "all" theater groups at that time for various reasons, we can still get some idea about the overall landscape of that time.We may take a different perspective: from Pei-Yu Shih's personal experience. Flying Group Theatre was taking shape in the early 2000s. At that time, Taiwan's theater had been developing for only a bit over a decade. Performance information was conveyed mainly through printed newspapers and in-person press conferences. In addition, ticket sales relied much on the word of mouth of family members and friends, the marketing channels were far less developed than at present, and productions required far more human resources. For this reason, it was crucial for a performing team to receive financial aid to complete productions. "In the early days, it was basically impossible to do anything without grants. Firstly, they accounted for a major share of the crew's income. The ticket price was low and the box office performance was inconsistent compared to now. The market was very small and the marketing channels were painfully scanty. At that time, the ticket price would be considered high even when set at just NT$250 or NT$300! Support from grantors is really important. This could even decide your fate, your ability to carry out your project. It was brutal." The self-funded B612 was a reassurance for Pei-Yu Shih. Thanks to this play, she had ample time to think over all aspects that she needed to take care of in order to be the "head of the family" before she "started a family" in 2004.Speaking of the dilemma in dealing with arts grantors, she remarked: "Even if we applied for a grant with success, we would still be worried. For instance, if the grant amount was small, wouldn't that mean we still should somehow make it happen against all odds? Our grant was really meager, so we couldn't do it. If we had continued, we would've gone bankrupt . . . So, in the early days, you had to abort projects occasionally because of this…" After being premiered at the Taiwan Women Theatre Festival in Taipei in 2004, The Kitchen applied for grants from NCAF and planned a performance tour across Kaohsiung (Spring Wind Art Theatre) and Yilan (Traditional Opera Hall, National Center of Traditional Arts). Later, although this work was supported by a grant of NT$150,000, human resources remained an issue. No matter how much it was streamlined, a tour would still require a crew of eight to nine people, including the cast. Four shows would require at least two to three days of expenditures. Coincidentally, Spring Wind Art Theatre was also moving out of the "Spring Cultural Underground", its performing space on the basement. After much deliberation, Pei-Yu Shih decided to give up on the endeavor.Did she not consider using her connections to draw corporate sponsorships and make up for the deficiency? She laughed and said that of course she had some connections, but "At that time, it was really difficult for you to explain to people what a 'modern puppet show' is. People's first thought on hearing this would be children's drama, but that was not what I wanted to do. Under such circumstances, we had to spend a lot of energy to explain this stuff to others and they might still not understand it, so it was quite unlikely to find a company willing to sponsor us. A typical scenario was that I sent dozens of proposals but got no reply at all, or just one, for which we would be very grateful. Oh, but the reply would normally be just a reply, not a promise to fund you. The general conditions of this industry were rough like that." But from 2004 to 2008, Pei-Yu Shih continued to produce works: Alice (2004), Mr. D (2005), Memory (2006), The Light of Darkness (2006), and The Bathroom (2007). In 2008, she was invited to the 2008 Beijing Cross-Strait Youth Theater Festival in Beijing on a grant of NT$180,000 from NCAF, thus further promoting B612, the company's real debut.Toward the Next Stage?Looking closely at works of Flying Group Theatre over the years, one can notice that since The Kitchen in 2004, subsequent works include The Bathroom, The Room, and Livingroomroute, all of which are components of a house. Does this mean that Flying Group Theatre was piecing together the image of a house with these works? "Oh, yes, yes. The kitchen is an engine of warmth. The bathroom can keep private secrets; you can cry over anything in there. When you finish, you get rid of it by flushing it down the toilet and come out. And the room hides other people's secret, not yours . . ." At this point, Pei-Yu Shih and the troupe manager Wan-Ping Chuang spoke in chorus of the future Prefab project: "We are talking about it. What we mean by prefab is an assemblage of these spaces into one unit. We can find a model house which is about to be abandoned. We will use it for a scene of the living room on one day and of the kitchen on another." It seems that the developmental trajectory of Flying Group Theatre has been true to its spirit from the beginning to present.Although the first hit series under Flying Group Theatre is likely to be Close to You since 2010, the interpretive framework of home space as mentioned above may draw our attention to the Hear the House performing project, which started in 2016 and is more comprehensively representative of Flying Group Theatre at present.The project was conceived to achieve the mission of "revitalizing old houses and abandoned places as artistic and cultural spaces". The troupe performed Treasured Fragment—first presented in the 321 Art Alley Settlement in Tainan in 2015—across seven old buildings in six cities in Taiwan. These buildings included Butt Mountain and Yue Yue Bookstore in Taipei; Hodala Cafe in Zhongxin Market, Taichung; Mix Art Center in Chiayi; the old principal's residence in National Hualien Girls' Senior High School in Hualien; Takao Renaissance Association in Kaohsiung; and Yunlin Story House in Yunlin8 . Bringing out the life of old things in response to the memories from old spaces, they reinstilled life into these old houses through the movement of puppets and the accumulation of images through time.Hear the House, 2016 (courtesy of Flying Group Theatre)In this way, Hear the House has continued to develop and become another important series of Flying Group Theatre. In 2019 and 2021, this project was again sponsored by NCAF. Apart from performances, she continues visiting local old buildings and organizing lectures and post-performance talks. Seeing both Close to You and Hear the House, it seems that Pei-Yu Shih has a predilection for "lectures on local literature and history". She explained, "Well…I would say that in our past old house projects, we just performed our work at a location. After interacting with that place, you eventually realize that it also has its own needs and expectations, that is, a hope that something other than the performance can happen. Sometimes we come across an old house and sometimes the foundation to which it belongs has some plans in progress, so we just go in and participate in its reinvigoration in a different approach." These words show Pei-Yu Shih's aspiration for a deeper bond with local communities, which is also found in the following quote from a 2021 news report: "…Pei-Yu Shih pointed out that they will not only perform but also stay in old buildings during their tour in Kinmen and Kaohsiung to become closer to the spaces."9 . In the proposal for Hear the House, the wording "deep cultivation" was also added to the title."What I mean by 'deep cultivation' is organizing something like a workshop." For the 2021 Hear the House project, Shih-Chi Wang and Yen-Ting Tseng, two artists who are also familiar with object theater, were invited to host the two-day workshops in Taipei, Kaohsiung, and Kinmen, one day each. "What we were doing was picking a topic and getting everyone (local people) involved to discover something together, to see if these things could give something (to the work) and be incorporated into Hear the House?" The workshops focused on "objects".Hear the House, 2019 (courtesy of Flying Group Theatre)Hear the House: Local Objects Creative Workshop @ Kinmen, 2021 (courtesy of Flying Group Theatre)Hear the House: Local Objects Creative Workshop @ Kaohsiung, 2021 (courtesy of Flying Group Theatre)Hear the House: Treasured Fragment, Vol. 2: Home, 2021 (courtesy of Flying Group Theatre)So, objects and puppets should be understood separately after all? "No, no", Pei-Yu Shih replied. Not separately. "I would maximize the scope of 'objects', which refers to all non-living things, so puppets are included." The modern puppet show, according to her, explores the relationship between humans and objects. "'Puppet' shows rely very much on puppet manipulation, but object theater does not place emphasis on 'manipulation'. On the contrary, it's anti-manipulation. It focuses on 'meaning'. For example, what is a mobile phone to us? A way of contact? A type of relationship in modern life? In object theater, when I present a mobile phone on stage, what can I evoke? We have long been looking for this kind of connection between humans and objects. Having said that, I have to admit that it is very abstract." The idea of deep cultivation via workshops is also derived from such approach and observations: As an artistic genre which does not work by "telling" in plain language, object theater is not very accessible to most people. Therefore, through actual practice, puppet show performers extract the feelings of an "object" from within themselves. In doing so, the meaning conveyed by a work of art is no longer unilaterally defined by the artist. In object theater, one might allow things to naturally form a "channel" to speak for themselves without verbal mediation, so that emotions and memories can flow reciprocally. "Everyone has a different sensibility. For example, what do you feel when you see a cup? Everyone has a different perception. What about a red cup and a white cup? A big one? A small one? Everyone has a different perception, which reflects the personal history and habits of each individual. When we were doing the workshop, it is as if we are introducing participants to a brand new thing…" It's like what a mentor does, showing their students something: "Hey, there is a grassland here. Ah, you have already made a path over there, but you see, this grass can still be divided in the middle like this and you can walk over from here. Or, if you want to walk over from another place, you don't need to remove all the grass. You can just remove the grass in the middle, and then we can try it out together and see where we can reach and what can see there."Pei-Yu Shih is considering an even more profound next step: "I hope future workshops can be initiated even earlier to allow interactions for a longer time." Our target audience includes two segments. One is local residents and the other is young people with an idea of performing arts. In this way, more opportunities may be created to extend the influence of arts through deep communal connection.Brick by brick and step by step, the troupe has progressively built each component of the "house", which can now accommodate more "guests"—which not only refers to new friends from various places mentioned above, but also includes Chien-Tsang Hong, their artist-in-residence since 2020. "Let me put it this way. Before 2020, the life of this troupe overlapped with mine. Or, rather, the status of my work and the direction of the troupe overlapped to some extent. Since Chien-Tsang joined us in 2020, the troupe has been developing into new things, in new directions." See the response to Chien-Tsang Hong's The Desperado of Longxing 46, completed in 2022. The future of Flying Group Theatre will be even more open-ended.The Desperado of Longxing 46, 2022 (courtesy of Flying Group Theatre, play made and performed by Chien-Tsang Hong)The Desperado of Longxing 46, 2022 (courtesy of Flying Group Theatre, play made and performed by Chien-Tsang Hong)Tough Challenge in the Age of the Pandemic?In many of the works of Flying Group Theatre, there is often a certain flavor and rhythm that is particularly "human", occasionally described as a "handmade touch" in some news articles. I asked Pei-Yu Shih, have the limitations brought by quarantines and the prevalence of going online due to the pandemic resulted in any obstacles to the persistence in delivering this handmade touch? She laughed and replied that she has never described the troupe's work as "handmade". In her view, the troupe has not particularly insisted on manual production when producing shows. She thinks that this rustic, handmade texture is a result of the overall aesthetic choice, which is not directly associated with the actual production method, handmade or otherwise. Therefore, going online is probably not a problem. However, "when I am in the audience, I don't like online stuff." Pei-Yu Shih confessed."Because no matter what incentives are offered to me, even gifts, I just don't like interacting with people via the computer screen. However, as an artist, I think maybe I need a shift in perspective. That is, don't regard the Internet as an alternative, but a radically different creative method. Maybe that can open new possibilities? It's just that this absolutely has something to do with 'equipment'. You have to get the equipment to be able to 'test' it and you won't know if it works unless you test it. But to get equipment, you must get funding first." However, funding does not mean one can buy and try the equipment, then throw it away and search for replacement simply because it is found to be unfit for the purpose. This is probably the more challenging aspect for the performing arts compared to other arts. The pandemic's impact was felt immediately. Even if artists' minds can theoretically adapt to such a rapid change, it is really difficult them to do anything substantially when it comes to physical equipment. No grants are provided to assist in buying equipment for going online. Even if we sought aid from our theater peers, most are in the same situation, unprepared to face such crisis."So you have to take a step back and think, fine, do I want to use this (online) medium? Is it fit suitable? Or, can it 'perpetuate' the current status of your work?" Perpetuate? "Yes. For example, if we still use objects as the key element, what possibilities can cameras bring to objects? What's the difference to the audience between sensing an object in person or through a camera? What kind of operability and performativity would that achieve?" If only low-level equipment is available, "how should we start? We have to try alternatives, like using only a mobile phone for the camera paired with very simple editing software, things like that." In doing so, she seems to be back to a certain starting point, from which she can explore the fundamentals of artistic creation and thus achieve a "handmade touch in a new era".Although reality may force one to make some compromises, Pei-Yu Shih has always been sharp enough to see the most effective and promising alternative: "let's just focus on overcoming geographical isolation for a start." By the time of our interview, Flying Group Theatre has already been working on Close to You, its next project, which connects with works of foreign artists that Taiwanese audiences have never had the chance to see before. The repeated exchanges with puppetry and object artists from foreign countries painted a picture of creators around the world under the pandemic. "We're just moving forward, inviting people out there, and learning about their thoughts. She recalled: "An artist from Israel sent a proposal to us and expressed his wish to come to Taiwan. I said, why, but how can you come to Taiwan under these circumstances? I made a counter proposal to them. We have an online alternative, are you interested? He said in that case he would have to rehearse his play in a different approach." Pei-Yu Shih continued, after a pause: "Well, let's wait and see how he's going to do it." This remark might be Pei-Yu Shih's most candid response to the current circumstances—if we say that COVID-19 is a paintbrush that fell from heaven and drew a box to circumscribe everyone, then why don't we use the vision of the little prince on planet B612 in B612, to take a closer look inside the box and see what is in there?References and Supplementary Materials[1] Supplements: Information on funding received by Hear the HouseHear the House—2016 Old House Reinvigoration Tour Project: https://reurl.cc/vdKz9l Hear the House—2019 Old House Reinvigoration Project: https://reurl.cc/YvkKlX 2021 Treasured Fragment 2.0—Old House Reinvigoration Project, Deep Cultivation: https://reurl.cc/VDmbX5[2] Excerpts of The Kitchen, 2004: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WoMcQRlordw .[3] The full performance video is currently not available publicly on the Internet. The scenes described by the author are based on the full performance video provided by the troupe.[4] For more details about the Taiwan Women Theatre Festival, see Wu, Yi-Jung. "Women's Voices, Sisters' Theater: A Preliminary Study of the Taiwan Women Theatre Festival", 2014. URL: https://reurl.cc/ane5DZ.[5] Cheng, Tai-Chiung. "A Company Insisting on Travel in a Microscopic World". URL: https://reurl.cc/Wr8mye.[6] B612 (2002) Full performance video: https://reurl.cc/d2QVog.[7] Lu, Hong-Hui. "The Impact of Grants from the Ministry of Culture and NCAF on the Operations of Modern Theater Companies", 40 Years of Taiwan Contemporary Theater (1978-2018), p. 341.[8] Information of Hear the House (2016) performances on the Flying Group Theatre website: https://www.flying-group.com.tw/portfolio/2016-hear-the-house/.[9] The quote ". . . Pei-Yu Shih pointed out that they will not only perform but also stay in old buildings during their tour in Kinmen and Kaohsiung to become closer to the spaces." is from a report by Commercial Times in 2021: "Performing a Small Play in an Old House, Flying Group Theatre Tells a Home Story". URL: https://ctee.com.tw/livenews/ch/chinatimes/20211110005060-260405 .*Translator: Linguitronics
2022.07.26
Article | FOCUS
Ingraining and Critical Thinking: the Profundity of Documentary Screenings
"Going to the cinema" has long been dominated by consumerism as a form of entertainment and has become a formal way of watching films. However, when we think about it, a considerable amount of resources and budget need to be invested to release a movie in the cinemas actually, such as publicity, scheduling, high-quality audio-visuals, and even theater rental. This is not an easy feat for documentaries or independent films. The formation of a "film culture" actually relies on a diversity of advances and pluralism, in which film festivals and competitions/awards play an important role, allowing space for different tastes or subjects. The production team needs to develop their own path towards screening in order to break away from these more conventional systems and find alternative methods that are more in line with the nature of their work, so that it remains conducive to dialogue and communication. The NCAF "Audio / Video Arts" grants provide funding for screening and are an important resource to support the development of cultural diversity in cinema. In particular, for documentaries based on the real world, how to provide social commentary, to bring about change or deeper communication, is something that many filmmakers are constantly thinking about. For example, in the 1990s, the Full Shot Communication Foundation, a documentary organization, advocated that "documentaries should serve as feedback to people's daily life and their living places". They also organized several local documentary screenings to express social concern through documentary filming and screening. This tradition of Taiwanese documentary filming and screening has been carried on by many directors. For example, film director Shu-Mei Huang, a former member of Full Shot Communication Foundation, has been working on local stories and centered on environmental issues for a long time. In 2015, she made a documentary on the 100-year history of mountain and forest development in Taiwan, A Letter to Future Children; a nationwide tour of screenings and seminars was also held at the Pingtung County Government building, Taitung Black Box Theater, and Hualien Cultural and Creative Industries Park. In 2017, she documented the campaign of villagers and environmental groups in Lingnan Village, Dongshan District, Tainan to fight against the Yongyang Business Waste Landfill site, making the film A Fight For My Hometown. They toured across the Anti-Matoushan Business Waste Landfill Association in Qishan District, Kaohsiung; Protect Tsengwen River Alliance in Yujing District, Tainan; Anti-Ou Hsin Business Waste Alliance in Niupu Village, Longqi District, Tainan; and Golden Chimney Cultural Promotion Association in Dalinpu, Kaohsiung. Through post-screening discussions over a long period of time, they practiced the cinematic ideal of "filming is action, action is power". In a similar vein, there were also the screening tour of Unveil the Truth 2013 by director Kevin H.J. Lee, and the screening and discussion tour of See You, Loveable Strangers by Vietnamese director Kim Hồng Nguyễn and Taiwanese director Tsung-Lung Tsai. The venues they chose were mainly independent bookstores, schools, and regular art/performance spaces. The directors were present at each screening and took the stage to exchange ideas with the audience in a solid, progressive dialogue. This also enabled them to obtain first-hand feedback and valuable lessons. The film The Lost Sea, directed by Chun-Hsiu Hung, which discusses the impact of human political and economic activities on the habitat of horseshoe crabs; director Li-Shao Lee's Southland Soldiers, Boundary Revelation, and Stranger in the Mountains, which make up the Yunnan-Burma Border Guerrillas trilogy; director Singing Chen's The Moving Tent, a documentary on the Taiwan Haibizi tent theater troupe; and Taiwan Women's Film Association's I Am a Woman, I Make Films—2018 Taiwan Women Directors' National Film Promotion Screening Project all received great acclaim after their respective tours. More invitations ensued, extending and expanding the life of the films. Unlike the commercial theater mechanism, the documentary screening tour emphasizes critical thinking, communication, and dialogue. It is more like the slow sowing of seeds and tilling of the land, taking place over a long period of time. The process accomplishes a necessary film-watching experience that is so important for the building of culture. Further Readings:Screening Is My Social Movement—Director Shu-Mei Huang's Touring Methodhttp://docworker.blogspot.com/2021/11/blog-post.htmlThe Internet as a Medium of Resistance to Power—Kevin H.J. Lee's Online Documentary Screening Experiencehttp://docworker.blogspot.com/2021/11/blog-post_25.htmlThe Lost Sea Documentary Screening and Post-Screening Discussion@Hoanya Bookstore, Chun-Hsiu Hung 2015https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tZG62mQ5aD4See You, Loveable Strangers—Kim Hồng Nguyễn and Tsung-Lung Tsai Document the Plight of Migrant Workershttps://mag.ncafroc.org.tw/article_detail.html?id=297ef7227039739d01707a92427c0038Exile and Homecoming: A Memory Check of the Yunnan-Burma Border Guerrillas Trilogyhttps://mag.ncafroc.org.tw/article_detail.html?id=297ef722707b8a0401709e738bd0003aDocumenting as Confrontation—On Shu-Mei Huang's A Fight For My Hometownhttps://mag.ncafroc.org.tw/article_detail.html?id=297ef7227039739d01707a221e450027*Translator: Linguitronics
2022.05.27
Article | FOCUS
Constructing a Fantasy Dreamscape of Contemporary Mythology
"Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths." ―Joseph Campbell, 1904-1987A myth is both absurd and fanciful. It is a hero's journey hidden in the human heart. We keep bringing up ancient legends and telling children about an imaginary world, as if we are returning to the dreams of our ancestors.How can contemporary myths be interpreted in a new way? For its World Myth Theater: Stupid is as Stupid Does, Sun Son Theatre selected three classical Chinese myths: "The Foolish Old Man Removes the Mountains", "Ching-Wei Trying to Fill Up the Sea", and "Kua-Fu Chasing the Sun". In "The Foolish Old Man Removes the Mountains", we examine the absurdity of today's media in the "trending" phenomenon; "Ching-Wei Trying to Fill Up the Sea" reveals how cruel life is under civil war: a girl who failed to escape into another country turns into a bird who fills the sea to create a safe road for her loved ones; "Kua-Fu Chasing the Sun" seeks light and warmth for others with a naive spirit.La Cie MaxMind's Super Mythology Trilogy: Part II 'Penglai' Script Writing Project yielded a mythological musical by writer-director Yi-Hsiu Lee, who created Penglai and Dream of the World after after finishing Part I: the Drought Goddess. The story is based on the Classic of Mountains and Seas and uses Nanguan and Beiguan music to create the dreamlike atmosphere of ancient mythology, with the gods' greed, anger, and foolishness corresponding to the earthly world. Taipei Philharmonic Theater's Taiwan Indigenous Tsou People's Myth Musical—HOCUBU is a fusion of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the Tashan Love Story of the Tsou indigenous people of Taiwan. It portrays the joy of true love and explores the relationship between people and the land.In addition to interpreting and re-creating myths through theater, Migo Yang also learned to imitate mythological characters through body language. As part of the project The Monkey God Hanuman in Thai Khon Dance, he went to Pichet Klunchun Dance Company in Bangkok, Thailand, to learn about the dance and Hanuman. The background of the Khon dance is Thailand's national epic Ramakien, which is derived from the Indian mythological epic Ramayana. In the Khon dance, Monkey God Hanuman is also often considered to be the prototype of the Monkey King Sun Wuk-Kung, which in different forms corresponds with the monkey number in Peking opera. In continuation of this project, Toy Factory conducted a dialogue between the performing arts creators of the two countries in 2020, 2020 PLAYground—'The Monkey King: Hanuman' Pre-Development Beyond the Pandemic Project. It looked at the use and contradictions of traditional and contemporary physicality from three perspectives: body, sound, and culture. In addition, the Three-Year Project—Rama's House, which is a collaboration between HORSE's Wu-Kang Chen and Thai contemporary dance master Pichet Klunchun, also used the Ramayana as the starting point. From historical relics to the learning and transformation of dance, the body was used to approach the ancient myths and translate them into new interpretations. Thus, the mythological figures not only exist in the imagination, but also flow in physical dance.Art Square Taiwan participated in the exhibition r:ead#5 (2017)—Residency, East Asia, Dialogue on Myth, History, Identity. The exhibition was based on the concept of how myths shape cultural identity and was organized under the theme of "Myth, History, Identity". Through the collection, creation, and interpretation of myths and stories from different ethnic and cultural circles, a two-way relationship was established between the contemporary and the ancient. It enabled visitors to witness the construction of a cultural identity at the same time as to return to their roots.Myths from all over the world are still being recounted today and they manifest the common dream of human minds in colorful forms. Whether it is Hanuman, the Monkey God, or the refugee child who is transformed into Ching-Wei, they all tell the same story of a hero's journey. No matter how foolish or stupid the ancient characters are, they still convey the determination of human nature. We can rationally analyze and explore these myths from all over the world, or we can reinterpret them through music, theater, and dance. After all, myths are public dreams, the numerous fantastic dreamscapes constructed by culture and art.Further readings and related websites:2017 Sun Song Theatre—World Myth Theaterhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8QceLJ4XdIFragments of the Gods' Dream Talking: Mythological Theatre Penglaihttps://www.thenewslens.com/article/918042020 Taipei Arts Festival—Pichet Klunchun Dance Company (No. 60)https://www.artsfestival.taipei/FilmContent.aspx?ID=32Monkey God & Hanuman, Right Beside You and Me Online Sharing Sessionhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MmZZQR7OA8kPerforming Arts Abroad Project—1st Year Results Review: HORSE: Three-Year Project—Rama's Househttps://youtu.be/D9Xlpzu3SPMResidency, East Asia, Dialoguehttp://r-ead.asia/?lang=tw*Translator: Linguitronics
2022.01.28
Article | OUTLOOK
An Inquiry Into the Development of the Domestic Modern Music Ecosystem by Examining Grantee Creative Projects Between 2017 and 2019
PrefaceAs the 21st century moves forward, the boundary between different types of Western modern arts and cultures is becoming increasingly blurred. Various novel art genres that have been invented do not fit cleanly into previous categories. As the emphasis on hybrid and interdisciplinary art forms continues to enjoy popularity, the variety of performance forms and narrative contents is expanding and experimental creative elements are gradually increasing. In Taiwan's modern music market, creators have ample space for self-determination while performers play a supporting role in the performance process. The positioning of roles within this structure has gradually brought about the division of labor in the industry. Audience feedback has slowly started to influence group management, creating a mechanism in which two-way interactions occur between supply and demand.In 2017, the National Culture and Arts Foundation (hereinafter referred to as "NCAF") launched the Taiwan Composers Database project. The database is a compilation of information about composers who received NCAF funding over the years through NCAF grants in the music category—"Creation", "Commissioned Creation" and "Artist-in-Residence". Personal pages are built for composers and their works to not only present the creative results of NCAF's music grants, but also to facilitate mutual exchange between Taiwanese composers and observations on each other's works. In addition, experts, scholars, and critics in the music field have been invited to use the grantee works created in the past as materials for relevant research and writings. It is hoped that various topics in the domestic art and music creation ecosystem can be explored from different perspectives. It is also expected that research will reveal the creation process behind the grantee projects as well as the beneficial results of various artistic and cultural collaborations.In response to the Stage I invitation for experts and scholars to compose study papers, this article examines the projects funded by NCAF between 2017 and 2019, including case studies of commissioned creations in the music category and works by artists-in-residence of music ensembles. Then, the article discusses the creative value generated in the economic structure of Taiwan's cultural and arts industry through the co-existence, co-prosperity, and collaboration between domestic groups in the creative, arts, and cultural sectors as the global cultural and creative industry progresses. The process of producing a performance can be an extended value generated from the collaboration between an individual composer and a group. This reflects the concept of artistic innovation at the time and is further connected to general music listening habits in the industry, which include pleasant music layers, texture, homophony, and audiences' general auditory impression of music.One key to exploring trends in the industry is to let the mode of audience contact and participation indicate the shape of the industry ecosystem and guide market analysis.1  In terms of the level of acceptance for project contents and consumption preferences among audiences, one may investigate and analyze ticketed events, relevant conferences, and workshops organized by private music groups to observe the acceptance in the overall music market. Although the economic and consumption structures of the arts and culture industry are affected by the overall development of society and economy, feedback can still be obtained through various forms of interactions between groups and audiences to discern market benefits.This article will first describe relevant domestic information on the dynamics of the music industry and then focus on case studies in which Western music is used as a medium by organizations. Attention is placed on standard-setting platforms that have been established in the field of music for a long time and private music groups with gradual and steady development: The groups include Taiwan Computer Music Association, a promoter of modern music creation focused on new media; ISCM-Taiwan, a platform that promotes the performance and development of contemporary and modern musical works; TMC Culture and Arts Foundation, an organization that has facilitated comprehensive development in the field of choral music in recent years; and Kaohsiung City Wind Orchestra and Taipei Percussion, two music ensembles with long-term partner composers-in-residence and the capacity to bring about artistic progress. Interviews with the aforementioned platforms and groups were conducted based on their respective role positioning and creative contents. Qualitative research methods were used to explore various challenges in the field of modern music, including commissioned creations, composers'-in-residence role positioning, audience feedback, and supply and demand mechanisms in market management. In addition to summarizing the key points from oral interviews, this article also includes the interviewees' understanding of the past and present of the industry ecosystem. This helps to more clearly examine the value-multiplying productive/creative relationships and cultural industry value that already exist in various musical domains.An Overview of Existing Data Records on Taiwan's Music IndustryThe existing domestic research data on the field of music—including the regular census reports released by the Ministry of Culture—offers a retrospective on relevant reports on the industry environments and consumption surveys of 2005, 2007, 2010, and 2016. To this day, the Ministry of Culture has not conducted regular in-depth research projects on the music industry ecosystem. 2 On the other hand, retrospective surveys that focus more on the overall trends in the field of culture and arts, as well as the analysis and statistics on various activities in the industry, include the Taiwan Music Yearbook of Taiwan Music Institute, National Center for Traditional Crafts. As an effort to promote the Ministry of Culture's policy plan of "Reconstructing Taiwan's Music History", Taiwan Music Institute compiled the annual Taiwan Traditional Music Yearbook from 2009 to 2012, and began inviting experts and scholars from different musical domains to participate in the compilation of Taiwan Music Yearbook's 2018 and 2019 editions. The annual yearbooks are collections of various emerging music activities in Taiwan in their corresponding years, which are also used as materials for observation. Movements in the four major fields of traditional music, artistic (contemporary creations) music, popular music, and interdisciplinary music and other subfields are specifically documented in their corresponding years. Several supporting articles explain the development directions of each field's cultural ecosystem, allowing readers to get an overview of flourishing developments in Taiwan's music field during every time period. 3 First published in 1995, the Performing Arts Yearbook released through the Performing arts redefined magazine issued by the National Theater & Concert Hall, National Performing Arts Center has always been an important publication for Taiwan's performing arts. The Yearbook has been documenting the creations and ecosystemic changes in Taiwan's performing arts industry for many years. Since its revamp in 2004, the Yearbook has been planning and editing its structure based on the concept of being a "reference book". It objectively lists major events and trends in the performing arts field every year in a thematic and event-oriented manner. In summary, official institutions are not able to conduct in-depth periodic studies on a single type of culture or art to produce trend analyses and reports relevant to the industry due to the complexity and diversity of the observed scope, domains, and types of industry trends. Also, due to the difficulty in defining roles, readers have not been able to truly fathom the reality of the progress in the industry ecosystem via official research reports.Promoting the Value of Collaboration and Innovative Approaches Through Commissioned CreationIn 2019, Taipei Male Choir commissioned composer Fang-Wei Luo to create Microcosmos. The choir's discussions about the commissioned creation included considerations for ticket sales and the choir's familiar singing styles. Taipei Male Choir has always placed importance on the selection of materials for writing lyrics. Their lyrics not only gracefully contain literary elements, but also maintain a contemporary style and present the theme of love while being expressed through tonal music. For this reason, the composer chose passages from the two volumes of Microcosmos written by poet Li Chen. Microcosmos was inspired by Japanese haiku poems and the two volumes contain nearly 200 short poems. Each poem simply consists of only three lines, but rich imagination and originality are embedded in the text. In the end, the performance version presented by the choir was the third version modified by the composer, which was created using a "quasi-tonality" that alternates between tonic and tonal modulations. Initially, the first sketch was created based on the concept of post-tonal music, but element utilization as well as the difficulty in presenting the timbre were taken into consideration. Then, for the second version, the tonality and timbre were still not well defined, and the obscure sonic palette would not be easily understood by the audience. In the process mentioned above, the commissioned creation served as the means for the composer to guide the singers to be a bridge that facilitates communication between the composer and the audience. This multiplied the benefits of collaboration and demonstrates the value of commissioned creative work.Taipei Male Choir commissioned composer Fang-Wei Luo to create the music score for Microcosmos. The lyrics of the piece are from the two volumes of Microcosmos, a poetry collection by poet Li Chen. The final performance version is the third version revised by the composer after discussions with the choir, expanding the benefits of collaboration through the process of music commissioning.Composer Fang-Wei Luo mentioned that there exists a century-long gap between the auditory aesthetics of composers and audiences. The sound textures, timbres, and structures displayed in modern musical works constitute an avant-garde combination. It is unfortunate that Taiwan's music education has made feeble efforts to cultivate basic understanding and learning of modern music among audiences. Most Taiwanese audiences build auditory aesthetics through cultural development. Taipei Male Choir deliberately seeks out collaboration with composers in Taiwan. The choir commissions music pieces with the hope that the process not only serves as an auditory training for choir members and audiences, but also opens up new perspectives on singing. For the most part, general audiences reacted by expressing interest in the presentation of timbre for each male voice type, showing the subconscious opinion that such vocal techniques are difficult. For audience members who are members of other choirs, this commissioned piece is challenging and entails a certain skill level. The choir itself hopes that the commissioned work will be published and hits the store shelves. However, when considering the following: the domestic market has only a few male choirs, the piece requires a high skill level, and other groups likely have low desire to choose the piece, the commissioned work may be regarded as a failure in the context of achieving target outcomes. But in terms of artistry for live performance, technique, and growth, the commissioned work achieved considerable results. Audiences may aptly demonstrate the mental states and physical feelings created by listening to the tension between musical dissonance and resolution. For audiences, modern music creation perhaps resembles more a learning tool. How should these creations be handled so that audiences do not feel intimidated by modern music?Founded 23 years ago, TMC Culture and Arts Foundation began with cultivating male choirs. During recent performances, choir members have been reflecting on a few questions: what cultural values can be created through choral work? What makes the interactions between individuals and society relevant? What sort of messages and perspectives do music performances intend to convey to audiences? This reflection process resulted in the following works, which are recent examples of creations relevant to current issues: The 2014 Sunflower Student Movement, the Hong Kong anti-extradition bill protests which started in 2019, discussions on the human pursuit of equality and harmony are some topics that have inspired the choir to commission the rearrangement of Island's Sunrise, a song created by independent music band Fire EX for the Sunflower Student Movement. As COVID-19 shrouded the world this year (2020), the choir explored two topics through new works—the relationship between humans and the Earth, and the news of a pregnant elephant being fed a bomb in Kerala, India. This led to the making of a choral adaption of the song Happy Paradise. It is hoped that the choir's performances will bring attention back to important messages about cherishing our living and social environment. Moreover, the choir often receives new, boundless ideas from audiences, which then come into fruition through serendipity. For instance, the Taipei Male Choir & Ringmasters Barbershop concert held at the National Concert Hall in 2019 received enthusiastic acclaim, which led to the development of an upgraded barbershop concert in 2021.The publication of creative works is a crucial contributor to the robust development of the domestic ecosystem for choral ensembles. A reason for this is the emergence of Pana Musica International Co. Ltd. (hereinafter referred to as "Pana Musica") in recent years, which has provided great support in the establishment of a system for choral pieces. It has fostered the development of Taiwanese choirs and the diversity of concert project execution. Another reason is that many Taiwanese choral groups, including Taipei Chamber Singers, TMC Culture & Arts Foundation, Formosa Singers, and Taipei Philharmonic Chorus, have been tenaciously working on the important undertaking of publishing modern choral works. Such underlying support has allowed both amateur and professional choirs to easily select the pieces they wish to perform through the aforementioned channel, which also reflects the general market demand for new works. In turn, the Taiwan Composers Database established by NCAF includes original and commissioned choral music. For these works, the composer's initiative contributes to the creative concept and aesthetic development to a high degree, and a smaller proportion of creative elements are influenced by market orientation.Presently, only few existing commissioned choral works have eventually been published and started selling in the market. Before Pana Musica emerged, there were very few Taiwanese choral works, so most choirs could only find choral music through the Internet or foreign publishers. Consequently, for a long time in the past, choirs only performed foreign music. However, since the emergence of Pana Musica, it has been observed that the number of Taiwanese choral pieces increased from around 20 works at the beginning to 400-500 works presently. This has influenced the content of choral performance planning and gradually expanded the proportion of domestic works chosen for performance.Furthermore, in the context of domestic subsidy distribution, professional groups supported by government resources actively take more initiative in inviting composers to create original works in comparison to average small ensembles. Generally, smaller ensembles unassisted by subsidies are unable to use commissioned music as the central part of a project due to factors such as budget, professionalism, choir members' skills, and overall business considerations. However, the reality of commissioned music is that a market-orientation approach is more or less adopted when the creator is faced with the self-evaluation of a modern-style work, requirements associated with choir members' style and techniques, and whether the work can strike a chord with audiences in alignment with the ultimate goal. In the end, as a commissioned creator, the composer is required to strike a balance between artistic expression and popular taste.The Aesthetics of New Media Sounds Combined with Instrumental Works"Sound art" is a foreign term that first appeared in Taiwanese art magazines in the late 1980s. After all, sound creation is a type of auditory abstract art and providing visual aids for it is difficult. Without seeing the cultural context of sonic art and without live performances or audio recordings, it was difficult to interpret the sounds lying behind the texts. Coupled with the fact that very few people in Taiwan had experienced sound art, the term was just an ambiguous new type of art at the time. 4 In 1992, Taipei National University of the Arts founded the Research Center for Technology and Art, Taiwan's first research institution that focused on the field of technology art. Later, as an effort to build the foundation for the development of the research center over the following years, the Master Program of Arts and Technology was founded in 2000 to cultivate talents in the domain of technology and art integration. At the turn of the century, Taiwan was also influenced by the international trend of new media art, which was receiving increasing attention and favor of government bodies, arts and cultural groups, and artists year by year.With regard to academic music creation in Taiwan, when the Taiwan Computer Music Association was established in 1999, most of the members at the time had learned Western academic music making approaches and concepts, and after they returned to Taiwan, they have attempted to use the association as a powerful performance platform to foster the aesthetics of progressive experimental electronic music, up until today. Today, the development of the new media art music ecosystem can be clearly separated into several aspects: Firstly, the commercially driven aspect puts focus on enhancing audiences' overall sensory entertainment experience through the improvement of technology hardware. Secondly, the visual art sector incorporates elements such as noise, aesthetics, techno music, and electronic music with visual sensory stimuli to create audio-visual performances and exhibitions. Thirdly, when academic music cultivated through classical music principles is integrated with new media elements to create a piece, the work is generally developed with mastery of music composition's essential structures, techniques, and textures.Technology is one of the key parts in the creation of new media works, but it should be guided more by a humanistic spirit. When technology utilizes cultural characteristics in sound development, the sounds produced are more infused with local elements. For example, in Electric Connection—Cross-Strait Electronic Interactive Music Commission Creation Project organized by the Taiwan Computer Music Association in 2018, commissioned composer Pei-Fen Huang's work Lang Lau is a quadraphonic electronic music piece that draws inspiration from Taoist rituals in Taiwanese folklore and customs associated with funerals in the early times. Back then, to become a Taoist priest, one first had to learn to perform a type of funerary ritual consisting of a series of acrobatic stunts, called lang lau in Taiwanese Hokkien (nong nao in Mandarin). Quadraphonic sound is used throughout the piece to produce the effect of phase shifts and create connections between moving sounds. The piece including contains more than 30 effects including the shifts of one part and the concurrent shifts of multiple parts. It attempts to depict Taoist masters' performance of bagua (a type of Chinese martial art) and recreate the dynamic process in a sacred ritual space.5  In recent years, innovative works from the new generation have had the intention to break through frameworks of the past and display original creative styles through new forms. They consist of collaborations between various art fields, such as visual art, theater, and dance, or contemporary music theater productions that portray a sonic philosophy. The current situation of common electronic music works in Taiwan is discussed in the interview with composer Chao-Ming Tung. Intending to be different from creative structures and techniques used in the past, new media are applied sparingly and put together using montage to produce a finished piece. It is an attempt to create works that meet the expectations of the wider public, but the creation no longer has the artistry that a music piece should have in itself. When a creator does not take a step further and think reflectively, their work will only be reduced to the utilization of strong elements to cover up the weak ones, a complementary interdisciplinary work. Interdisciplinary creations should aim to do more than merely using different art forms in a complementary manner. Perhaps Wilhelm Richard Wagner's concept of "Gesamtkunstwerk" can be incorporated in the creative process to assist the consideration and structuring of a total artwork's core value. For a new media music composition to become a language for the composer's self-expression through autopoiesis, it must stretch into various directions that form complex auditory structural layers. Only in this way can a unique style emerge from conflict.Snow Sculpture by Zoe Lin, a work comprised of a virtual 3D scene with multimedia music and a guzheng solo part, was presented at the 2018 Electric Connection—Cross-Strait Electronic Interactive Music Commission Creation Project organized by Taiwan Computer Music Association.Difficulties in the Development of Modern MusicDomestic music promotion platforms, including ISCM-Taiwan, Taiwan Computer Music Association, Shuanghsi Music Forum, and Asian Composers League-Taiwan National Committee, have been focusing on playing the role of advocates of academic modern music creation. This mission has already gradually blurred the boundaries of the platforms' creative developments under the influence of today's trend of creative development through interdisciplinary collaboration. However, it is observed there is a high degree of overlap between the main focuses and role division of various non-governmental music platforms, as well as among the contents of public organizations' projects. Contemporary music appreciation is a concomitant value of highly professional academicism and artistry. There are more barriers to appreciating contemporary music than appreciating popular music. Facing the reality of operating in the market, a large proportion of income sources depends on the long-term investment and cultivation facilitated by resources in the public sector, which are consequently essential to maintain the visibility of contemporary music in the industry ecosystem. This fact leads to another issue by switching perspectives. Regarding the future of Taiwan's modern music industry ecosystem, how can resources in the public sector be invested to assist the expansion of market value? What can be done to form a positive investment cycle that generates momentum for new developments and stimulate possibilities for various potential projects?Looking at ISCM-Taiwan as an example, when it carried out modern music promotion programs, it proposed comprehensive planning and curation, but the current organization configuration of ISCM-Taiwan is faced with the predicament of being unable to support the required manpower and financial allocations. Furthermore, potential audience development, pressure of promoting ticket sales, and anxiety associated with the decline of Taiwan's capability in creating original music are some long-standing issues faced in the development of Taiwan's modern music industry ecosystem. As a creative platform, the role, responsibility, and mission of ISCM-Taiwan are even more important in today's music environment. On the other hand, even though ISCM-Taiwan is a member of the International Music Council (IMC) founded by UNESCO, development in the international domain still faces the pressure and various obstacles imposed by China. Despite the desire to engage in overseas interactions, ISCM-Taiwan's ability to expand internationally is limited. Consequently, ISCM-Taiwan deliberately cultivates the domestic market. In addition to providing composers with a platform to display creative works, ISCM-Taiwan assists in developing opportunities for domestic performers to interpret modern music. Attempts are also made to invite foreign composers to come to Taiwan and share ideas, expand Taiwanese musicians' horizons, and exchange ideas on creative aesthetics and concepts with Taiwanese composers. Another aspect of reality in the current music market is that non-governmental enterprises' decisions on who or what to sponsor are dependent on the brand value of a soloist or institute Such sponsorships aid in achieving high visibility and high profitability in a short period of time. However, due to the lack of professional understanding about the value of music itself, the enterprises are unable to interpret the important meaning of modern music in the development of Taiwanese music.ISCM-Taiwan and other similar domestic platforms play a key role in the promotion of modern music creation. In addition to serving as a platform for information dissemination and regular publications of international creative work submissions, they host music festivals to enable exchange of professional ideas between composer and performer members. These efforts facilitate continuous development of domestic modern music. Take different projects for the 2017 and 2019 Taipei International New Music Festivals as an example: In 2017, under the guidance of Director Ting-Yi Ma, Professor Wenjing Guo—the chair of the Composition Department of the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing—was invited to be a composer-in-residence for the festival and share his personal experiences and creative knowledge. For the solo series, pipa performer Hui-Kuan Lin arranged a pipa solo, duet, and trio, which included the world premiere of Breath II by Ya-Ting Lee. Selected works by domestic composers, including Ling-Huei Tsai, Chao-Ming Tung, and Mei-Fang Lin, were also presented. In Taiwan's current environment, this pioneering project was the first to plan an entire concert with only contemporary solo pipa pieces. It was not only a good opportunity for performers to take a leap and meet the challenge of interpreting contemporary works and their musical aesthetic, but also an excellent occasion to demonstrate the necessity and cultural significance of the contemporary works in this age. Furthermore, commissioned creation was the central focus of the music festival, and music pieces by domestic composers were premiered in two projects: A Spectacular New World and New Voices of Youth. The following composers were commissioned compositions: senior composers Hwang-Long Pan and Chin-Yow Lin; middle-aged composers Ching-Wen Chao, Ching-Yu Hsiau, and Cheng-Wei Lee; and young composers Lily Chen and Hao-Yuan Chiu. The festival also collaborated with the Association of Vocal Artists of R.O.C. in organizing the 2017 Modern Vocal Music Recital, at which new works by Deh-Ho Lai and Chia-Lin Pan were performed by domestic singers. These series of performances of modern works revealed several features about creators from different generations, including the conceptual development, imagination and execution, life philosophy, and thorough understanding and interpretation of poems reflected in their musical works. They hold aesthetic characteristics that align more with creators' personal thoughts and ideas.The breakthrough and change made by ISCM-Taiwan in 2019 was the result of suggestions from many Taiwanese performers on content planning. The current chapter president, Chia-Lin Pan, started various dialogues at the Taipei International New Music Festival through connections with diverse platforms. The planning approach for the music festival of 2019 was opposite to what was done previously. Instead of looking at composers as a starting point, the focus was on creating new auditory dimensions for audiences (the third party) through radical change and the concertato medium (involving performers' perspectives). On the other hand, as organizations worked in cooperation, composers concurrently acted as curators. Studio Acht, under the leadership of Fang-Yi Lin, and JU Percussion Group worked together to make necessary arrangements for the production of performances centered on composers.The Connection Between the Role of Composers-in-Residence and Brand ManagementTaipei Percussion has always adhered to the core spirit of promoting classical-style percussion music. In recent years, the ensemble has made adjustments and incorporated innovations in music projects to line up with market development. In addition to considering audiences' listening experience, performers' ideas are taken into account, all while continuously upholding operational goals and values. Percussion music generally receives higher market acceptance domestically than other types of music. Most adults or children have a basic knowledge of percussion music directly gained from the tapping of everyday objects. Therefore, percussion ensembles differentiate their audience groups through different projects, such as concerts for children or performances that can be enjoyed by the general public. Taipei Percussion wholeheartedly promotes further innovation of academic music. The ensemble attempts to arrange well-known classical works into percussion ensemble pieces and enable audiences to understand the diverse sounds and forms of presentation of the music. In fact, every group in the percussion music market has unique characteristics and they differ from each other to a relatively high degree. For instance, business directions that focus on theatrical styles or modern music allow audiences to gradually establish auditory aesthetics, recognize brands, and make consumption choices. Recently, the themes of Taipei Percussion's performances are planned according to the seasons. For example, in spring, the ensemble tends to present large-scale productions catered to the wider public's preferences; in winter, it is likely to produce small-scale concerts based on arrangements of iconic classical pieces. This not only allows audiences to choose between programs, but also maintains the artistic quality of each performance. While Taipei Percussion's business values are not completely market-oriented, the group creates new possibilities in every project without fail. Perhaps not everything presented can be accepted by audiences right away, but it is possible for understanding of innovation to be gradually established.For Taipei Percussion's The Egoists Ⅲ—Percussion Concerto Night, composer-in-residence Ting-Chuan Chen was invited to plan the entire concert and compose and arrange all music for it.Kaohsiung City Wind Orchestra was founded with the spirit of promoting the art of wind music. The group engages in diverse project planning, which includes concerts of academic wind music, arrangements, and movie and anime soundtracks. Its purpose is to promote and establish a strong foothold for wind music, with the hope of bringing more audiences into concert halls to get to know wind music. In the early days, most of the performances in the field of wind music were arrangements, as there were few choices of original compositions in the market. Arrangements of symphonic music are rarely selected for the concert programs of Kaohsiung City Wind Orchestra. The arrangement for wind parts and the presentation of sound qualities are taken into consideration, and the result presented by the ensemble may not necessarily surpass that of a symphony orchestra. The exceptions for this include themed concerts that are relatively more popular, such as concerts of movie and anime soundtracks. In recent years, original works of wind music have been increasing in number, enabling program contents to be planned according to different audience groups: Firstly, audiences who like listening to classical symphonic music may not necessarily enjoy wind music concerts; therefore, the main target audiences of Kaohsiung City Wind Orchestra are concert bands in the same field, including societies, student clubs, wind musicians in training, and wind music enthusiasts. Secondly, movie or anime soundtrack-themed concerts are organized for the wider public; such concerts are used to attract the general public in order to inspire interest in wind orchestra concerts that hold more artistic elements. Thirdly, seed-planting programs are implemented to cultivate understanding of wind music in children; such programs include inviting primary schoolers to watch performances at concert halls, giving them the opportunity to learn about wind music and cultivate their interest in it. Kaohsiung City Wind Orchestra's guiding business principles focus on attaining a balance between artistic and commercial orientations. The orchestra primarily uses compositions that are well accepted by the public to actively foster people's familiarity with music, and long-term business plans to generate ticket sales are implemented through the process of fostering people's interest in music. Income derived thusly is then used for concerts that are more artistic in style. Performing original wind orchestral pieces is one of the key purposes of Kaohsiung City Wind Orchestra, because the musical capabilities developed this way are especially significant in enhancing orchestra members' performance skills as well as establishing the group's core values. Furthermore, in addition to inviting foreign wind music experts to come to Taiwan and share knowledge with orchestra members and audiences, Kaohsiung City Wind Orchestra promotes domestic original wind music, too. Led by the orchestra's composer-in-residence Hsuan-Hung Chou, the orchestra integrates characteristic elements of different cities in Taiwan into the creation of music; however, it takes time for this type of project to come to fruition and cultivate the target audience. Japan, a nearby country with a relatively mature wind music market, can be compared to Taiwan. Japan's thriving industry is able to produce thousands of original wind music compositions every year. Japan's strategies include making domestic original wind music works compulsory for music competitions. Perhaps relevant organizations in Taiwan can adopt a similar method when organizing music competitions as an attempt to improve the overall morale of the wind music composition field and foster positive development.The role of composers-in-residence, collaboration methods, and job tasks in orchestra organizations vary according to their different business directions. For example, Kaohsiung City Wind Orchestra invited Hsuan-Hung Chou to be the composer-in-residence with the hopes that he would compose original works, make arrangements, and be responsible for contacting foreign guest conductors and musicians. The orchestra is trying to expand avenues of foreign development and expects to bring the orchestra and original wind music creations to foreign markets in the future. Hsuan-Hung Chou has also dedicated himself to education. He not only gives pre-concert talks, but also goes into schools to help students learn about wind music. These different aspects of work are business goals and the mission of promoting wind music derived from the additional space given to the composer-in-residence by the orchestra. To Hsuan-Hung Chou, the multiple hats he wears as composer-in-residence enable him to exchange knowledge on music with students, audience members, foreign musicians and more. His multi-faceted work model also helps to enhance his experience and growth. Taipei Percussion, on the other hand, has been tenaciously promoting modern percussion works by domestic composers for a long time. The ensemble has gradually developed teamwork chemistry with composer and percussionist Ting-Chuan Chen. In addition to arranging and composing for the percussion ensemble, Ting-Chuan Chen took on the role of concert producer in order to enhance Taipei Percussion's development, and more ideas have been sparked in its project planning.The Kaohsiung City Wind Orchestra invited composer Hsuan-Hung Chou to be their composer-in-residence, who not only creates original compositions but is also given multiple roles with different responsibilities. Picture: Pre-concert talk presented by the composer at the 2020 Brilliant Sound—KCWO 8th Anniversary Concert.ConclusionThe purpose of creating music is to generate discussions and resonance through the process from performance to audience reception 6. Consumer networks are generated by music that later on can be repeatedly performed to and listened by wide audiences. In other words, perhaps creators can penetrate the landscape constructed by the market and media and think about the auditory needs of today's audiences, so as to create musical works that feature styles of this era. This article explores the current state of the industry ecosystem by discussing commissioned creations and artist residencies funded by NCAF. Besides examining musical works created between 2017 and 2019, interviews and interviewees' opinions are used in the article as the basis for further discussions about issues of resource distribution and whether music grants should be independently planned and individually funded. Furthermore, relevant Taiwanese institutions in the public and private sectors are unable to effectively join forces and repeatedly carry out similar promotional work. It is worth for such organizations to review and reorganize resource allocation. The Taiwan Composers Database of NCAF is highly anticipated by domestic composers. People are looking forward to the expansion of the database's scope of collected data as well as the optimization of the search function's backend settings. Cooperation with the Taiwan Music Institute can also be considered to avoid overlapping resource allocation and facilitate data integration and connection.Annotations[1] Yu, Andy & Yuan, Mei-Fen (2020). Study on the Metrics and Framework for Observing the Performing Arts Ecosystem—Performing Groups' Organizational Strength as an Indicator of Soundness of Performing Arts Industry's Development Chain, p. 5. National Culture and Arts Foundation.[2] Same as Note 1, p. 14.[3] Chen, Chi-Ming (2020). "The Joint Advancement of Tradition and Modernity in Taiwan's Music History". 2019 Taiwan Music Yearbook, p. 2. National Center for Traditional Arts.[4] Lin, Chi-Wei (2012). Beyond Sound Art, p. 9. Taipei: ART FORMOSA[5] Huang, Pei-Fen (2018). Notes on Lang Lau, a quadraphonic electronic music composition. Retrieved from: https://archive.ncafroc.org.tw/upload/result/2921-B2034/2921-B2034_曲譜首頁_黃佩芬弄樓為四聲道電子音樂_3_1579514775411.pdf[6] The term "reception" ("rezeption" in German) can be used to refer to the historical value attributed to art by society, as well as a function of aesthetic response. When the word "reception" became commonly used in art history development, composers and musicians began paying attention to the preferences of their audiences. In reception theory, music psychology is emphasized in the utilization of audiences' standards to explore collective and internal subjective responses. Based on this premise, the main factor (psychological state) influences the responses of cultural groups and frameworks are built upon individual cognitive behaviors. A music piece that has survived the test of time has gone through many different eras and cultures in its own way. Such music has become an additional part of eras and cultural backgrounds under various forms and functions to adapt to changes as time continues.*Translator: Linguitronics
2021.01.06
Article | CASE STUDY
Everything Is Wuxia—the Novels of Mo Shen
In a Class of His OwnSince he began writing wuxia (martial heroes) novels as an undergraduate student, he has been dedicated to writing for a living. He regards the wuxia novel as his lifelong vocation, aiming to forge new paths for the genre. In the nearly 20 years of his writing career, he has published over 30 novels. His name is Mo Shen, a multi-time winner of the Sayling Wen Million-Dollar Prize for Wuxia Novels. In 2013, He won first place for both the long and short wuxia fiction categories with In Hell and Late Life, marking the zenith of his writing career. Even though the prize mentioned above is now discontinued, there is no pause to his writing, having published more novels including Natural Enemy, The World of Legends and the Godless Age, Chronicles of the Seven Bandits, The Phantom King, and In Hell. He remarked that everything in this world serves as inspiration for wuxia novels, so he has never experienced a shortage of materials or ideas. This could make many writers in Taiwan envious.Into the World of Wuxia He became acquainted with the wuxia genre early in his life—he has been reading wuxia novels since junior high school. Unlike most readers, who begin with Yong Jin's work before moving on to Long Gu's, he began reading Long Gu from the start. Stimulated by Long Gu's passionate, sentimental, even slightly melodramatic style, he thought: "So that's the wuxia novel? I'll try my hand too!" So, in his weekly student journal entries, he started serializing his first wuxia fictions for half a semester until his teacher asked him to stop, because the teacher found them incomprehensible. (Laugh)In his senior high school years, he looked for wuxia materials from book rental shops. Back then, book rental shops could be found in every corner. He borrowed almost all the wuxia titles he got his hands on, including those of Fangyu Dong and the "three musketeers of wuxia", namely, Ling Sima, Qingyun Zhuge, and Sheng Wolong. Extensive reading also allowed him to develop the artistic sensibility to discern the quality of individual wuxia novels. However, when reading their novels, he could not help asking himself: "why did these pioneering writers only touch on a narrow range of topics and not explore more possibilities?" For instance, he was recently rereading Yong Jin's The Smiling, Proud Wanderer. He recalled how much he was fascinated with the "Nine Swords of Dugu", a set of sword skills including moves such as "Sword-defeating Stance" and principles such as "Moves outside tradition can overcome traditional ones". Yong Jin's wuxia is more emphatic on symbolism and martial arts simply serve as metaphors. However, Mo Shen remained mesmerized by the moves fabricated in Yong Jin's novels and looked forward to exploring these spectacular moves in depth. For this reason, in writing every novel, he finds it necessary to construct a comprehensive and distinctive martial arts system rather than just devising individual moves.In a strict sense, however, he was introduced to the wuxia genre by the work of Yi Huang. The 1990s were the golden era of the publishing industry. Shattered Void, published by Crown Publishing, particularly influenced Mo Shen. He still remembers the thrill he experienced in reading the novel for the first time. This innovative wuxia novel, which incorporates mysticism and cosmology, brought an exhilarating reading experience he never had before: a cosmological vision fused into the wuxia world, which transcends life and death and expresses the poetry of life through martial arts. This vision is the most crucial reason for which Mo Shen admires Yi Huang.The novel that achieved an unprecedented success and brought Yi Huang fame was Lethal Weapons of Love and Passion, thanks to the special marketing and pricing strategy of its distributor Wanxiang Publishing. At the time, the wuxia genre had experienced a slump in popularity. Yong Jin and Long Gu's prime years were behind them. Yi Huang's new approach to the genre by incorporating mysticism and science fiction became a new sensation. Legend of Great Tang's Two Dragons sold 20,000 copies for each of its 63 volumes, marking the zenith of Yi Huang's career as well as the best days of publishers.Wuxia Novelists to AdmireYi Huang, who daringly incorporated a cosmology into the wuxia novel, became Mo Shen's hero. His masterpiece Lethal Weapons of Love and Passion, in particular, is unforgettable for its poeticism and the lyricism of its words. Although the text became repetitive as new volumes continued to appear, this novel remains Mo Shen's second favorite of all times.The extraordinarily talented Rui'an Wen (Swee Oan Woon) is one of the few writers who could write both modern poetry and fiction. He founded Shenzhou Poetry Society at National Taiwan University and developed the "stream of consciousness" writing technique, for which he became a famous and popular writer at the time. However, Wen's outstanding prowess proved both advantageous and disadvantageous. Although he was invited to write as a columnist for many newspapers and journals, his wild creativity often resulted in an opening gambit too broad in scope to draw to a conclusion, which was a great pity.Ta-Chun Chang's Gang of the City State brought Taiwanese wuxia novels to the next level. This novel broadened the horizon of the wuxia genre by incorporating metafiction into wuxia writing. It is Mo Shen's all-time favorite.An Artist with a Rational MindWhile continuously exploring new possibilities for the wuxia novel, Mo Shen has a rational approach to writing and places an emphasis on logical thinking. Wild imagination must be grounded in a proper representation of human nature. For instance, he is not fully convinced that a slow-witted fool like Jing Guo in The Legend of the Condor Heroes can figure out a difficult martial arts book like the Nine Yin Manual. He confessed his dislike of the characters created by Yong Jin, because these superhuman perfections do not reflect reality. "I am very much concerned with what an individual character in a wuxia novel would do in response to their circumstances. These responses have to be realistic, without a shadow of fictitiousness." "The character xia in wuxia should be understood as a person caught in their circumstances," he remarked.EruditionAs a wuxia novelist who continues to write, Mo Shen also continues to read extensively. His reading ranges from Chinese literature to translated works of foreign novelists. He also continues to pay tribute to great modern novelists with his own works. For instance, Natural Enemy, originally titled Two Hundred Years of Solitude, pays obvious homage to Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, while Chronicles of the Seven Bandits pays homage to Milan Kundera. In addition, in the long acknowledgment in his Natural Enemy, he thanks Yi-Jun Luo, Italo Calvino, Wu He, Franz Kafka, Bohumil Hrabal, Umberto Eco, Kai-Cheung Dung, and others. During my interview with Mo Shen, he enthusiastically talked about authors who profoundly influenced his work, particularly José Saramago's The History of the Siege of Lisbon and Graham Greene's Brighton Rock. The Hong Kong writer Bik-Wan Wong's writing of pain inspired him to write about the body from the perspective of pain. Kai-Cheung Dung, another influence on Mo Shen, uses illness to lay bare the heart. The epic masterpiece Tangut Inn by Yi-Jun Luo, Taiwan's foremost novelist, brought him a reading experience of excitement and impact. He even read this book many times.Life Is Never ElsewhereEveryone has a different way of seeing the world, but artists are generally more attentive and sensitive to detail than the average person. During my conversation with Mo Shen, I came to admire him for savoring the day-to-day and feeling life with heart. He remarked, smiling, "I thought I was a weirdo, and later, I also felt that this eccentricity in my youth was like a wall that separated myself from the world. Whenever I looked at a chair, I tended to think that it was definitely not just a chair, so I spent my childhood chiefly in my own fantasy world. The world was not a projection of me. I was a projection of the world."The only overseas trip he has made in his life was to San Francisco in the United States. After a flight of more than 10 hours, he landed on a foreign country and saw nothing really different from his home. So, he feels that people don't have to travel to a distant place to search for meaning in life, because everything around him means something to him. Even one's mother, someone who accompanies one every day in one's life, has many hidden stories to be discovered, as long as one is willing to look at her eyes and feel her heart. Therefore, "life is never elsewhere and our quest for the otherworldly is really just an illusion," he remarked.Shift in Writing StyleInfluenced by Yi Huang, Mo Shen began to write The Lonely Man when he was a college student. Skeptical about so-called history, he began to construct fictional martial arts worlds and invent martial arts systems. He stated that this is the approach he wants to use for exploring the possibilities of wuxia. However, his early style was still closer to traditional wuxia vocabulary, including the language used by Yi Huang, Rui'an Wen, and Yong Jin. When he was working on the At World's End series, he was studying modern poetry in university. He daringly introduced modern poetry into wuxia writing, transforming the genre into a medium or an artistic device. He might have been ahead of his time, for the sales of his work suffered a sharp decline and his publishers dissuaded him from continuing this writing style. Nevertheless, he continued writing while reading literature rigorously, including modern poetry. He also enjoys stage plays and art films, and within three or four years, he has watched hundreds of plays and written reviews on plays, films, and books. Years of training in this manner finally gave Mo Shen the confidence to start writing wuxia novels again. The outcomes are the titles we are now familiar with, such as The World of Legends and the Godless Age, Who Is the King of the Void, The Phantom King, and In Hell.Breaking the Convention of Linear Narrative: The Sword Is Like TimeThe Sword Is Like Time was inspired by the novel Cloud Atlas, which consists of six narrative segments. Each is presented in a different narrative style or genre, such as science fiction or romance fiction, and divided into two parts. The author presents popular fiction with ideas from serious literature. The novel's unconventional narrative structure inspired and was adopted by Mo Shen as the narrative framework for The Sword Is Like Time. Such ingenious approach to structure reflects exactly the disorder and even complete chaos of time.For example, this book begins with "Part 2", followed by "Primeval Time", and ends with "Part 1". This structure really breaks the convention of linear narrative and shows that the novel is not limited to a single storyline but can present double or even multiple storylines simultaneously, which makes reading fun and writing venturous. Mo Shen believes that The Sword is Like Time is even more brilliant than his award-winning In Hell.The theme of this book appears in the beginning, when a sword is being forged: from a stone in its original shape to its forging by the swordsmith, once the sword takes shape, people will think about how to use it. Such a chicken-and-egg situation is the central question Mo Shen wishes to explore in The Sword Is Like Time.After a sword is made, someone develops a set of moves for this sword. The sword may be lost afterwards, but the moves remain and undergo many changes; however, these changes do not make the moves more comprehensive but, ironically, more fragmented. It becomes evident how the author has actualized his idea of writing serious literature in the form of wuxia. For Mo Shen, the evolution of the sword moves in The Sword Is Like Time also symbolizes the evolution of literature.I asked Mo Shen about the positioning of The Sword Is Like Time, his latest creation. He laughed and said that since Who Is the King of the Void, every new book of his is like a new milestone. For someone whose daily routine cannot miss wuxia novel writing, such activity has long been the most important part of his everything life. Therefore, every time he completes a book, he feels like he has just completed his last one, while every new book is like his first, because it is filled with passion and new ideas.Finding One's Place in the World Through WuxiaWhen reading Mo Shen's wuxia novels, one must be prepared to become addicted to them. His confident and fluent writing style allows the reader to have a page-turning, delightful reading experience. For Mo Shen, exploring new possibilities of wuxia is what he is looking forward to whenever he sets out to start a wuxia novel. Every new conception is a new take on wuxia. Mo Shen's wuxia novels picture a fictional world, in which the art of characterizing and naming characters, the unique martial arts systems, and the minute details of narratives achieve a signature charm.Mo Shen's astrological sign is Libra, which is guarded by Venus and suggests an extreme sensitivity to beautiful things. With an aestheticist personality and yearning for splendor, he names the character's weapons, their favorite snacks, and distant mountains so stunningly. For example, names of food such as swirling-cloud noodles, flower-cluster wine, clouds-on-water candy, dream-hag cake, blue-jade-flower tea, and more dazzle the reader. As he points out, details are the life of a novel. Concrete descriptions of colors, images, scents, and other types of minutiae can make readers feel the author's attentive and conscientious approach to creation.In addition, in Chronicles of the Seven Bandits, gallantry has been superseded by a higher ideal and broader vision. It reverberates with history and reality, achieving a "history of world revolution" in the form of wuxia. Transcending the confines of genre, it is a piece of modern wuxia writing with a strong connection with reality. In Hell, which won first place in the Sayling Wen Million-Dollar Prize for Wuxia Novels, is an allegory of human desire caused by a muddling of the six sense bases (Buddhist concept). Each of the six protagonists symbolizes one of the sense bases, perfectly illustrating what will happen to human nature in the world of wuxia and what kinds of desire must be restrained...While sex and violence is a common feature in the work of Mo Shen, there are also romantic and sentimental elements. The World of Legends and the Godless Age, for example, is about the yearning and despair for the wife Meng-Wa. The contrast between the innocent female protagonist and the violent male protagonist reflects the uncertainty of love at that time.As a novelist who regards the wuxia novel as his vocation, everything in the world can be approached through the lens of wuxia. Although the heyday of wuxia is past, he still tries his best to open cross-genre possibilities and develop postmodern wuxia writing. He never has any expectations of his readership. Maybe he always writes for himself. "The world doesn't need wuxia. I need it. I need wuxia to define my place in the world and how I engage with the world," Mo Shen remarked.*Translator: Linguitronics
2017.10.26