«Visualising culture and gender: postcolonial feminist analyses of women's exhibitions in Taiwan, 1996-2003 This item was submitted to Loughborough ...»
M. Turner, © 2008 whereas, women are negative, incomplete, dark and inferior. In short, women are regarded as being the ‘other’ in relation to men and are situated on the darker, more negative side of the world order. The stereotypical images given of women are usually demeaning and Chinese-influenced societies such as that in Taiwan hold unbalanced views of gender, as addressed above. Thus, Taiwanese women tend to be treated as objects on the margins of the social structure and to share the fate of women from Taiwan’s colonial past, which is to be controlled by another stronger power.
Another example which illustrates the effects of Chinese patriarchal ideology can be found in Confucian philosophy. The recorded opinion of Confucius on women is that ‘[i]t is only women and petty persons who are difficult to provide for. Drawing them close, they are immodest and keeping them at a distance, they complain’.46 In addition to classical philosophy, modern Chinese thinkers also hold the same views towards women. To prove this statement, I would like to discuss one of the most influential and famous Chinese writers and
critics of the twentieth century, Lu Xun and the views that he has expressed:
According to the ideas of present-day moralists who have stipulated the definition of chastity, generally speaking a chaste woman never remarries nor does she elope with another man after her husband has died. The sooner her husband dies and the more impoverished her family is, the more magnificent is her chastity. There are two more kinds of rigorously chaste women: the first one kills herself when her betrothed or husband dies, whether she has married him yet or not; the second one, when confronted by a rapist who will defile her, manages either to commit suicide or to have him take her life in the struggle to resist him.47 Ames, Roger T. and Henry Rosemont. The Analects of Confucius: a Philosophical Translation. New York: Ballantine, 1998, pp 17 and 25.
Lu, Xun. Complete Works of Lu Xun. Beijing: People’s Press, 1981, p 117.
M. Turner, © 2008 The examples given above illustrate the severity of the attitude existing both in
shocking to discover that it was not only in the distant past but at least until the last century that Confucius-influenced society continued to hold women in low esteem, just as Confucius and his followers had done in around 500 BC.
Art and Representation Having considered gender relationships and binarism, I now resume my appraisal of the show in terms of the artworks. This exhibition tended to be multi-sensory rather than merely visually stimulating, which meant that many of the artworks on display responded to the exhibition’s location and explored a variety of ideas linked to time, space and history. The curatorial concepts and the exhibited works introduced ideas relating to haptic aesthetics. James Gibson points out that ‘[t]he word haptic comes from a Greek term meaning “able to lay hold of”’.48 Although the term ‘haptic’ originally refers to the sense of touch, Gibson defines ‘haptic system’ as ‘[t]he sensibility of the individual to the world adjacent to his body by use of his body’.49 The haptic system for Gibson refers to the whole gamut of sensory experiences obtained by the body, including sight, smell, taste and hearing, which can be controlled. David Prytherch and Bob Jerrard, who were post-doctoral fellows at Birmingham Institute of Art and Design, maintain in their 2003 article, Haptics, the Secret
Senses; the Covert Nature of the Haptic Senses in Creative Tacit Skills, that:
Gibson, James Jerome. Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1966, p 97.
M. Turner, © 2008 Although vision is generally considered the most significant and dominant sense initially, a deeper practice analysis reveals that the haptic senses are at least as critical as vision, which appears to function primarily as a monitor of progress.50 Prytherch and Jerrard emphasise the importance of the other haptic senses, apart from the visual, including taste and smell, and claim that they are as critical as vision. The smells and tastes associated with the factory buildings, even though they were no longer produced there and had long since
proposing that the buildings’ colonial history, their old style of architecture and the haptic senses that their products had once stimulated, are the dominant factors behind the visual exhibition held there, all of which encourage the audience to re-consider Taiwan’s history and identity.
An investigation of some of the works exhibited is essential in order to amplify my previous discussion. Before my visual analyses of the selected works, I am briefly introducing how artworks were shown and installed in these two locations. Works exhibited in this show included two-dimensional paintings, photographs, three-dimensional installations and multi-media works [fig 34].
All of the works were shown in one major warehouse in Taipei, whilst in Kia-A-Thau, the participating artists had more choices in terms of the locations of exhibiting and installing their works inside or outside of two warehouses, in addition to some space between the warehouses and the old railway tracks.
This paper was delivered at the conference Euro Haptics which was co-hosted by Trinity College Dublin and Media Lab Europe, held between 6 and 9 July 2003. The essay can be found at Prytherch, David and Bob Jerrard. ‘Haptics, the Secret Senses; the Covert Nature of the Haptic Senses in Creative Tacit Skills’, http://www.eurohaptics.vision.ee.ethz.ch/2003/10.pdf, consulted on 19 September 2006.
M. Turner, © 2008 For example, Lin Pey-Chwen’s Baby: Back to Nature (2001) [fig 35-37] was installed both inside and outside of a warehouse in Kia-A-Thau. In other words, artists were given more choices when making decisions of how to present their works. In the following analyses, from the twenty-three artists involved in this event, I consider five women artists’ works, which fit more closely to the concerns of the curatorial statements and my exploration of this show.
Lin Ping is one of the women artists who returned to Taiwan’s artistic community in the early 1990s and who introduced feminist philosophy to Taiwanese society during the early post-martial law era. In order to engage with her chosen concepts, Lin Ping mainly used ready-made objects and installation, (a trend developed in the West), as her media and method of work.
It should be noted here that the use of abandoned factory buildings has
alternative spaces used for this show, several art spaces which had been transformed from factory buildings abandoned by the railways were set up, including Stock 20 in Taichung Railway Station (2000-), the Art Site of Chia-Yi Railway Warehouse (2000-), Fangliao F3 Art Venue (2001-), the Art Site of Hsinchu Railway Warehouse (2003-) and the Art Village of Taitung Railway Warehouse (2004-).51 Firstly, I analyse Lin’s work, Interior [fig 38 and fig 39], which is made up of The alternative spaces listed in the text are abandoned factory buildings in railway stations and were transformed into artistic spaces under the policy of the Council for Cultural Affairs in Taiwan. More information about these spaces can be found at: Council for Cultural Affairs in Taiwan, ‘Plans for Art Villages of Railway Warehouses’, http://anrw.cro.cca.gov.tw/ch5/a_railwayart/mainframe.htm, consulted on 24 October 2006.
M. Turner, © 2008 several transparent plastic boards and lights. I have chosen this work to be the first example because the forms and methodology utilised closely echo the central concept of combining colonial history, people, buildings and geography.
Most importantly, this work uses light as the key element to link haptic aesthetics.
Twenty-seven light boxes were hung randomly on the wall, mostly portrait, with a few landscape. Each box was connected by power leads, which were used to transfer the electricity to each light bulb. Heat, light and electricity were therefore linked, creating a network, reminiscent of a large damaged computer keyboard, suspended in the unlikely surroundings of an old and historical warehouse. Lin located symbols of biological cells and organisms on each semi-transparent board of the light boxes. Those symbols created by drawing or printing were the only recognisable figures in this piece and the light radiating from behind furnished these cells with light and heat, as signs of life.
Warmth and heat, spreading out from the light boxes, reminded me of the process of wine brewing with yeast. This piece provided the audience with an unusual sensory experience, compared to other works, and this fits the curator’s attempt to test how sensory experience (sweet and sour) inspires aesthetic creativity.
In this piece, Lin did not concern her work with issues directly related to the physical space and the concepts of postcoloniality; rather, to a certain extent, she associated her work with themes surrounding our living world and social issues. According to the artist’s statement, her intention of creating this work was to reveal the micro-world where things shift and wander in order to live and M. Turner, © 2008 exist. Lin states that ‘now is the time when minds and bodies are lost and isolated’. 52 ‘Now’ in the statement means the time when martial law was suspended and when Taiwan started to develop democracy for its own people after hundreds of years of colonisation. The new-found freedom from the Japanese and the Chinese Nationalist governments, however, brought disorder and chaos to the ‘infant-like’ society, which led people to distrust one another. This is the condition that the artist is describing in her statement about feelings of isolation and loss among bodies and minds. Through the presentation of her work, especially by employing the device of linking ‘lights’, which are often used in Buddhist temples to imply hope, Lin proposed to connect shifting elements together to create a sense of harmony among people. The connector between each light bulb and box evokes the link between the individual yeast culture and its networking nature.
The only foreign artist to participate in this event was Joan Pomero (a French woman artist living and working in Taiwan) and her works, Quietly Exsanguinate [fig 40 and fig 41] and Steam-side [fig 42 and fig 43], used fabric to incorporate her ideas of the exhibition place. In Quietly Exsanguinate, Pomero installed material shaped like a large flower on the floor and placed some purple and pink liquid in the centre, which was continually being absorbed, thereby creating a beautiful effect. The flower consists of four petals in the shape of a cross. It is clear that some sponges were hidden within the white cloth petals, through which the purple and pink liquid could be absorbed easily by the cloth.
Kia-A-Thau Cultural Society, op cit, p 26.
M. Turner, © 2008 Time is an important element in this piece, as this work keeps changing its colour and appearance with the flow of time. The involvement with time in this piece has a link with the ideas of ‘history’ as history is made up of what has happened in the passing time flow. The gradual expansion of ink on the cloth records the fading of time, which connects this piece with the physical
simultaneously bore a resemblance to the process of wine production, when yeast expands in size, and to a woman’s sex organ during menstruation. As to Steam-side, the work consists of a long piece of white cloth hung from the wall and spreading onto the floor. It utilises soft fabric to imply the properties of softness, fluidity and flexibility. In this work, the artist sets out to revisit scenes from the past when the sugar and wine factories created a lot of steam during the production process. By this symbolic and metaphorical way of representing the past, Pomero helps the audience to recall the old days.
For Pomero, she believes that no individual is ‘an island’,53 and s/he needs to have connections with other people. Through her works, she wanted to reveal the relationship among human beings and how they are interconnected with each other. Through her choice of soft and flexible fabric as the medium, her works manifested gentle and smooth properties of materials, which provided the audience with a different haptic experience than that found in Lin’s work.
Kia-A-Thau Cultural Society, op cit, p 22. The quote derives from John Donne’s (English, 1572-1631) famous saying and the original text is that ‘[a]ll mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language […] No man is an island, entire of itself […] any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind […]’. Cited from Abrams, M. H and Stephen Greenblatt (eds). Norton Anthology of English Literature. Vol 1. New York: Norton & Co., 1962, p 1107.
M. Turner, © 2008 Having described Pomero’s works, I need to examine some of the discussion about the issues surrounding womanliness in order to support my argument.
An essential proposition is that the issue of womanliness belongs to the discourse of ‘gender’ rather than ‘sex’. Gerda Siann addresses the
differences between gender and sex in Gender, Sex and Sexuality (1994):
Sex is defined as the biological differences between males and females and gender is the manner in which culture defines and constrains these differences; not only differences in the manner in which women, in general, live their lives compared to men in general, but also differences in the manner in which individuals view both themselves and others […].54 Thus, the properties of ‘womanliness’ are categorised as issues of gender.
When stating that some characteristic features of womanliness are that women are by nature soft, fluid and changing, the argument is based on the determination of what constitutes women’s gender compared to that of men,
over-rationality’.55 The view that women and men are essentially different in their nature has deep historic roots in both Western and Non-western literature, philosophy and ideology. Although I have addressed gender differences in the preceding text, some arguments expressed in the West in the nineteenth century should also be borne in mind. Siann takes issue with Sigmund