Adapting to climate change: Art and the community in the Cheng Long Wetlands, Taiwan

Artists involve the local fish farming community in the fifth iteration of the Cheng Long Wetlands Project in Taiwan.

The Cheng Long Wetlands International Environmental Art Project invites international artists to create sculptural installations in the local setting. The project aims to involve community members, creating awareness of environmental issues and improving conditions for a better livelihood and a conscious environmental practice.

Kattie Surridge, "Changes", 2014, recycled and natural materials from the Cheng Long area, soil, living plants. Image courtesy Cheng Long Wetlands International Environmental Art Project.

Katie Surridge, ‘Changes’, 2014, recycled and natural materials from the Cheng-Long area, soil, living plants. Image courtesy Cheng-Long Wetlands International Environmental Art Project.

The fifth edition of the Cheng Long Wetlands International Environmental Art Project in Taiwan’s Yunlin County is themed “Fishing for a Better Environment” and was launched on 2 May 2014. The installations will remain on site until next year’s project in April 2015. From the 157 applicants from 48 countries, curator Jane Ingram Allen selected six artists that submitted proposals focusing on the local fish farming industry.

The artists-in-residence spent the month of April 2014 in the small fishing village of Cheng Long to create outdoor sculptural installations in, on and around the fishing huts. The artists collaborated and discussed with the local community and hut owners to agree on what could be done in their assigned location.

Kathy Bruce, 'Big Fish Through Wall', 2014, bamboo, raffia and other natural materials. Image courtesy Cheng Long Wetlands International Environmental Art Project.

Kathy Bruce, ‘Big Fish Through Wall’, 2014, bamboo, raffia and other natural materials. Image courtesy Cheng-Long Wetlands International Environmental Art Project.

Cheng Long: Re-evaluating the Wetlands

Since its inception in 2009, the Cheng Long Wetlands International Environmental Art Project has championed its resident artists’ involvement with the community, in order to create awareness about environmental issues and produce ideas for the improvement of local conditions and livelihood.

The Kuan-Shu Educational Foundation invited curator Allen to the Cheng Long Wetlands in 2009, after becoming familiar with the international outdoor sculpture festival that Allen curated from 2006 to 2009 in the Guandu Nature Park in Taipei.

Cheng Long, like much of Yunlin County, sits below sea level due to the floods that hit the region several times a year. The village’s first flood was about 25 years ago, and since then, the land has been uncultivated as salinity levels in the soil and waters have risen substantially. The local community has, therefore, had to adapt to the environmental changes and take up fish farming as the main occupation.

Curator Allen recalls her first visit to the Wetlands in 2009, observing how the environment was eerily beautiful, with “light poles, buildings and graves sinking in the water”. She believed that there were many possibilities for outdoor installations and setting up an environmental art project, and told Art Radar

I also thought that bringing international artists there could be good for the village and bring some new life to the village and bring more attention to this environmental problem. Rising water from global warming is becoming a problem around the world now, and Cheng Long maybe started experiencing it before other places. […] By doing a contemporary art project in a small fishing village in Yunlin County, probably the poorest economic area in Taiwan, I thought we could bring some more public attention to the Wetlands and the environmental problems that all of the world is starting to face. Also, the art project would be an important part of the ongoing environmental education program in the local elementary school.

In its previous years, the project focused on bringing more attention to the Wetlands, developing some local pride and environmental awareness and the ability to see the potential good for the community in the local environment. The installations were placed around public areas in the village.

Maurice Meewisse, 'Hut', 2014, Recycled materials, building materials, bamboo and other found materials. Image courtesy Cheng Long Wetlands International Environmental Art Project.

Maurice Meewisse, ‘Hut’, 2014, recycled materials, building materials, bamboo and other found materials. Image courtesy Cheng Long Wetlands International Environmental Art Project.

Improving the environment, involving the community

The 2014 edition of the project has taken a different approach, involving the local community at a higher level and especially targeting fish farmers. This year, says Allen, is

very different from the other years too because all of the artworks are on and around the fishing huts that are owned by individual local fish farmers and not on the public land in the Cheng Long Wetlands area.

The artists have had to negotiate what they wanted to do and accommodate the hut owners’ decisions.

Additionally, this year artists were allowed to use recycled materials, as well as, natural ones since the art was not going to be located in the nature preserve area. As such, the project also shows how recycled materials can be re-used in creative ways.

Maurice Meewisse, 'Hut', 2014, recycled materials, building materials, bamboo and other found materials. View of a 'folly', the model hut made with school children to document the real hut repairs. Image courtesy Cheng Long Wetlands International Environmental Art Project.

Maurice Meewisse, ‘Hut’, 2014, recycled materials, building materials, bamboo and other found materials. View of a ‘folly’, the model hut made with school children to document the real hut repairs. Image courtesy Cheng Long Wetlands International Environmental Art Project.

Allen says:

This year we wanted some of the works to be functional as well as aesthetic and some that would actually improve the fishing huts and the environment. I also chose one artist who is interested in art and technology and could introduce some alternative energy such as wind and solar power in a simple way with recycled materials and little expense.

This year’s project, Allen hopes, could be a way of encouraging the locals to reflect more on what they are doing and how they affect the environment with fish farming. The Kuan-Shu Foundation has also set up a model fish farm to educate locals on how to farm with salt water instead of pumping out more underground fresh water, in order to develop good environmental practices.

Katie Surridge, 'Changes', 2014, recycled and natural materials from the Cheng Long area, soil, living plants. Detail of mosaic made with school children. Image courtesy Cheng Long Wetlands International Environmental Art Project.

Katie Surridge, ‘Changes’, 2014, recycled and natural materials from the Cheng Long area, soil, living plants. Detail of mosaic made with school children. Image courtesy Cheng Long Wetlands International Environmental Art Project.

The Cheng Long Project artists

The six artists in the 2014 project are:

  • Joaquin Fargas (Argentina)
  • Kathy Bruce (United States)
  • Katie Surridge (United Kingdom)
  • Maurice Meewisse (Netherlands)
  • Thierry Godet (France)
  • Yen-chen Wang (LaLa) (Taiwan)
Joaquin Fargas, 'Space for Purification', 2014, bamboo, plastic bottles, solar panels and various mechanical parts. Image courtesy Cheng Long Wetlands International Environmental Art Project.

Joaquin Fargas, ‘Space for Purification’, 2014, bamboo, plastic bottles, solar panels and various mechanical parts. Image courtesy Cheng Long Wetlands International Environmental Art Project.

Joaquin Fargas, a professor of art and technology at Maimonides University in Buenos Aires, realised Space for Purification, a functional sculptural installation that uses solar power and a windmill. Including natural and recycled materials such as bamboo and plastic bottles to make the pipeline, his artwork raises awareness about alternative power sources which can be used in the local industry. The installation also provides pure water and wind and generates electrical power in the hut area.

Thierry Godet, 'Entre Deux', 2014, earth, stones, dried grass, old fire bricks and other found materials. Image courtesy Cheng Long Wetlands International Environmental Art Project.

Thierry Godet, ‘Entre Deux’, 2014, earth, stones, dried grass, old fire bricks and other found materials. Image courtesy Cheng Long Wetlands International Environmental Art Project.

Other functional installations include Entre Deux, a large oven made by French artist Thierry Godet to bake bread, fish and other food, that highlights the importance of earth and fire in human life. Dutch artist Maurice Meewisse’s Hut, a conceptual artwork, involved repairing local fishermen’s huts by engaging with the locals through labour and paying tribute to their work. Meewisse also made new fishing huts, or ‘folly’, with the students from the local elementary school as a record of each repair.

Yen-cheng Wang (LaLa), 'Hopes Hide Inside', 2014, bamboo framework and recycled materials including old clothing, plastic netting, bottle caps, and shells. Image courtesy Cheng Long Wetlands International Environmental Art Project.

Yen-cheng Wang (LaLa), ‘Hopes Hide Inside’, 2014, bamboo framework and recycled materials including old clothing, plastic netting, bottle caps, and shells. Image courtesy Cheng Long Wetlands International Environmental Art Project.

The only Taiwanese artist in the project, Yen-Chen Wang (LaLa), created Hopes Hide Inside, an educational installation that transformed a fishing hut into a gift wrapped up with a big bow. The artwork includes handmade flowers made with the students from recycled materials, inside which the school children place their hopes and wishes for a better environment.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

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Related Topics: art and the community, community art, art and science, curatorial practice, art and education, art and the environment, social art, artist residencies, site-specific art, installation, public art, art in the open air, events in Taiwan

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