December 31, 2019
We came right at the intersection of the past and the future in present-day Taipei. Hours before New Year’s Eve celebration, Ki and I picked just one place to spend the cold, rainy afternoon – Bopiliao Historic Block at Wanhua District for a peek at the city’s history. We expected to see the recently revitalized building as a museum of artifacts from the Qing Dynasty to the Japanese colonial period. Instead, the entire block showcased various genres of modern art.
At the entrance, the marker summarized the old street’s place in history:
Known today as Lane 173 Kangding Road, Bo Pi Liao Street is a well-preserved Qing Dynasty passage between Mangka District and Guting District. Entering the old street, one is transported back into the past. Its history lives on in the landscape, kept alive by local residents’ memories. As the old streets are renovated and their culture is restored, community relations improve and the story of the Bangka is preserved for all residents of Taipei to know and cherish.
The well-preserved red-brown brick walls and arched windows provided an atmospheric background for our ‘Gram shots. The old street was flanked by erstwhile shop houses, each unit had been repurposed into an exhibition area for both local and foreign artists. A staff mistook Ki to be an artist himself for his long, stringy hair. Profiling much? We waltzed into a flatlet that opened up to a narrow courtyard under the canopy of Chinese hackberry. How space was still created within the cramped confines of the old building was telling of its Japanese heritage.
The marker thus continued:
Restoring Bopiliao Historic Street took the combined efforts of local residents, preservation groups, and the Taipei City Government. The deterioration and disrepair of the original buildings along the old street necessitated great care in their restoration. Besides offering a glimpse of Taipei’s storied past, Bopiliao Historic Street also symbolizes the city’s dedication to the ongoing redevelopment of historic Wanhua District and the restoration of its former glory.
The dissonance between this ancient space and the futuristic images enhanced our experience. A memorable piece was the dizzying 3D world created by Polish artist-architect Guskos called Fractals. The video format required active audience participation. It was the closest experience to either scooting over The Matrix or falling into the Death Star. In the artist’s words:
Mathematical objects, such as fractals, exist in the world beyond time and physical space, but they can be brought to the real world by making them available to human senses. In this project selected 3-dimentional fractal spaces are being made physical by digital visualization, sonification and 3D printing methods.Andreas Guskos
Some of the featured artists were on hand to discuss their works with curious visitors. Illustrator Bai Jia Qi graciously explained that she never signed her drawings; instead, she put her stamp of ownership by inserting a self-caricature sporting her signature “red nose,” which she gamely put on for a photo with Ki. The fun in inspecting her works, dense with details as they were, was in looking for the red-nosed artist.
What a happy accident that, on our way back to the subway station, we stumbled into Monga-Longshan Cultural & Creative B2, an underground art gallery sharing the basement with Longshan Temple Station. The experience was practically in keeping with the art in Bopiliao. What used to be a decrepit shopping center was transformed into an industrial-designed cultural hub for local artists and designers to showcase their creations.
Shopping stalls became separate exhibition rooms showcasing diverse creations that included traditional fashion, knickknacks, and installation art. It was a our luck that one exhibit was manned by curator Marcus Chiu (Chiu Po Ting) who explained the postmodernist work of Chang Chun-Shuo. The piece, though, was not as comprehensible as Marcus’ fluent English with the most neutral accent this side of Taiwan. The entire revitalization project was ingenious in taking formerly inaccessible art to replace bargain basement and reach the metro commuting public.
It was as well to set out without any expectation of the day’s destination as it allowed for such pleasant surprises. We immersed in historical ambiance and the artistic rendition of the present and the future. We also felt cold and damp in our OOTD of sweater and slippers, but the end of our afternoon visit gave us a fresh appreciation of the city’s efforts to look back and to look forward.
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