"Bunker Museum of Contemporary Art -- 18 Solo Exhibitions," Sept. 11, 2004-Jan. 10, 2005 at Nanshan Fortification, Tashan Battery, Guningtou Cihu Great Bunker, Changliao Rezoning District, Shuito Village, Lintsuo Old-Battlefield Army Base, all located in Kinmen County, Taiwan
The coolest Chinese art party this season took place on Sept. 11 on Kinmen, often known in the West as Quemoy. The occasion was the opening of an ambitious, large-scale exhibition called "The Bunker Museum of Contemporary Art," curated by New York-based artist Cai Guo-Qiang.
As suggested by the subtitle of the show, "18 Solo Exhibitions," he invited 18 leading Chinese and Taiwanese artists to make their own installations on the tiny island. The exhibition is gorgeous and thought provoking, and it is lots of fun to cruise around visiting the various sites.
The island was certainly an unlikely place for art luminaries from China and Taiwan to convene. The deceptively peaceful, subtropical spot is Taiwans closest outpost to mainland China. Only two kilometers away from Chinas Fujian Province, the island, under Taiwans control, saw many bloody battles in the last century. Under military rule until 1992, Kinmen is still covered by 2,000 bunkers and reportedly dotted with millions of deadly landmines.
The 46-year-old Cai, who grew up listening to the sounds of fighter planes in the nearby Quanzhou in Fujian Province, had long hoped to bring artworks to the island, taking advantage of its disused military structures. His idea was to replace war with art.
Despite the typhoon that hit Taiwan that weekend, many of the participating artists made an appearance at the muddy outdoor sites, keen to discuss their work with visitors from Taipei, Beijing, Tokyo and even as far away as New York and London.
Among the artists was Tan Dun, Oscar-winning composer of the soundtrack for the film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, who was making his debut as a visual artist. His installation Visual Music, sited inside a large bunker, features old pianos that have been destroyed and reassembled. In the dark spot at the end of the bunker, filled with the music of Beethoven and Bach, a little pyramid made of wooden pieces from a broken piano sits surrounded by three TV sets showing Tan playing and then smashing up a piano. The piece has a quietly magnificent, opera theater-like quality. "Its like life, which is a refrain of resurrection," says Tan.
One of the most dynamic pieces in the exhibition is Dragon Dares Tiger Liar by Taiwanese Wang Wen-Chih, who covered and extended a bunker into a 15-meter-tall tower surrounded by a sprawling tunnel made out of woven bamboo and rattan. Visitors are invited to climb up to the roof, where they can meditate and enjoy the scenic beauty of the island.
Malaysian-born, Taiwan-based filmmaker Chai Min-leong, who directed Vive l'Amour, and consequently won a Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1994, presents Withering Flower. In this piece, a huge, smiling statue of Taiwans Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek stands in a dark bunker, facing mainland China. Asked about the ghosts that some Kinmen locals believe fill the old military facilities, Chai grinned and said, "The other night, all the light inside the bunker went off and we didnt know why. . . ."
Like the curator Cai Guo-Qiang (who did not include his own work in the show), Shen Yuan was born in Chinas Fujian Province. Her hometown was so close to Kinmen that she finds the local dialects and cultures "very familiar." She created Speaker Tea, a copy of the giant megaphone that was once used by the Chinese government to send propaganda towards Kinmen and the rest of Taiwan.
A former military school displays "Battlefield Sketches: The New Eighteen Arhats," 18 life-size portraits of soldiers by one of Chinas best-known contemporary painters, Liu Xiaodong. He spent months at a military base in China and weeks in Taiwan, painting nine soldiers on one side of the strait, nine on the other.
The most conceptual piece in the show, One Divided by Two, is by Beijing-born Chang Yongho, the head of the Architecture Center at Peking University and a fellow professor at Harvard University's Design Research Institute. He cut a small bunker into two halves, to symbolize the traditional Chinese idea of Ying and Yang, the two opposing forces in the universe.
"The Bunker Museum of Contemporary Art" was years in the making, due to political sensitivities. Local press reports have called it "one of the most ambitious shows" to have been put on in Taiwan. Indeed, Cai Guo-Qiang, best known for flashy, outdoor performance pieces involving gunpowder explosions, is an enormously ambitious artist. He wants the exhibition to "help facilitate peace," and, in the future, to include international artists outside of China and Taiwan, eventually making Kinmen the art center of Asia.
The other participating artists are Da Lun Wei Art Squad, Fei Dawei, Lee Shi-Chi Studio, Lee Mingwei, Lin Hsing-Yueh, Su-mei Tse, Wang Wen-Chih, Tung Wang Wu, Yao Chien, Yin Ling, Ying Bo and Zeng Li.
From Taipei, there are several hour-long flights to Kinmen every day. For details, go to http://bmoca.kinmen.gov.tw or http://www.caiguoqiang.com/bmoca/
KAY ITOI is author of In Search of Lost Masterpieces (Jiji Press, 2001).