Cutting paper in Taiwan: my two months as a residence artist in Soulangh Artist Village

If you have ever thought of joining an Artist in Residence programme, now is the best time to apply for one of the best available: Soulangh Artist Village and Tsung-Yeh Artist Village have just launched their call for artists and there is time until the 27th January to send your proposal.

I have recently came back from two of the most creative and rich months of my artistic career as an International Artist in Residence in Soulangh Artist Village, Jiali, in the rural area north of Tainan (Taiwan).

This post will describe different aspects of my life and work there: I will add details and web links to create a useful tool for people interested in the programme and for future resident artists.

Tsung-Yeh Artist Village

I was initially selected to join the programme in Tsung-Yeh Artist Village, that in the 19th Century hosted office and leisure buildings for the Japanese workers of nearby sugar factories, and that has been converted in Artist Centre.

Japanese performers at Tsungh-Yeh

Japanese performers at Tsung-Yeh

The environment is highly natural: dark and magical in the night, classy and full of energy and local activities on day time, especially on weekends.

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The view from the living room of the flat

It would have been a creative paradise, if only I hadn’t been the only Resident Artist there. After spending few days talking to a gecko, I expressed my concerns to the administration: they understood my situation and managed to arrange my transfer to Soulangh Artist Village.

Soulangh Cultural Park

The first place that I was shown after arriving in Soulangh is the Children Museum of Papercutting.

Yes.

I thought it was a joke tailored around my dreams but it actually exists: two warehouse buildings dedicated to Taiwanese and Western papercutting art, with exhibition, showcases and workshops for children.

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Children Museum of Papercutting

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Exhibition about the traditional papercutting techniques in the Matzu Island, curated by papercut artist 乃華治旭 (Chen Chih-Hsu)

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A traditional paper umbrella decorated by the beautiful papercutting by Taipei-based artist Cassie

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A detail of one of the papercuts by Cassie

Soulangh Artist Village is a cultural park, open to the public, with three rows of big concrete and wood buildings, and old Japanese sugar factory recently converted into a museum and cultural hub. Some buildings host permanent collections, some are indoor children playgrounds, some are dedicated to the resident artists’ exhibitions.IMG_1155 IMG_1153

Every artist has as much space as they need. A corner, a portion of the building, an whole warehouse.

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The opening event of Round-trip Ticket, Tainan-LA, curated by Hsu Yuan Ta. photo taken by Rich J Matheson

The reason why I did not think of applying for Soulangh in the first place, is that the call for artists specifies the need to create “site specific” installation. I had never really worked with space and I did not think my work on paper would shine on a big scale.

I was then proved wrong by my own outcome, and I will talk about this in my next post.

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The opening event of Nika Oblak and Primoz Novak, Slovenian video artists.

Every exhibiting artist is asked to host an opening event, usually in the morning, where press and video crews are invited and food is largely provided (Taiwanese people are very generous, and food is a relevant part of they culture!).

Residency as shared experience

One of the aspects that made my experience so special was the chance of sharing space and time with the other resident artists, interesting and beautiful people: each of them contributed hugely to the development of work with creative opinions, technical advice, food and moral support.

IMG_9969Soulangh organized a series of field trips that helped us to get to know each others and offered us a privileged insight into the work of known personalities in different fields of local creative life.

We visited the studio of Madou-based ceramist, Chen San-huo that showed us how he gradually changed his work from traditional craft to pure art.

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We also had the special experience of climbing up a tall ladder to reach the ceiling of a Tainan temple and appreciate its decorations from very close: the small temple was under conservation, and oil painting restorer Tsai Shun-jen (蔡舜任) talked us through the various techniques he learnt during his years of training in Italy, and the challenges of sharing his knowledge in Taiwan.

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So there I was on a scaffolding, fighting with my fear of height and trying to look cool, smelling 50 years of History on the painted wooden beams, listening to restoration theories in a perfect Florentine Italian accent. Priceless.

We were also invited to visit architect and artist Kuo Chang’s Ou studio (打開聯合), to share and discuss ideas about urban transformation and organic architectural  interventions. 

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During a trip to the southern city of Kaohsiung, we were invited to take part in the conference 創造性未來–以藝術進駐為方法 Creative Future – artist in residency a way to start, organized by Bamboo Curtain Studio, Taipei, and hosted by the National Taiwan University of Arts. It was a wonderful occasion to share with art students at the beginning of their creative career our thoughts about your life and unique experience as a resident artist. Of course I got a little bit emotional: fortunately I could blame my natural Italian inclination.

Another memorable moment of creative collaboration during my stay at Soulangh was when  Li-Ping Ting, a French-Taiwanese musician and performance artist asked me to assist her in an event offered to a visually impaired audience and their families. I was in charge of delivering sound massages, moving and manipulating natural elements and objects of everyday use (sheets of paper, tins, stones, shells..) very close to the ears of the visitors to create a state of relaxed concentration.

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A moment of the event directed by Li Ping Ting as part of her exhibition Light Action

Life in Jiali

The Artist Village and the flat offered to resident artists are located a five minutes bike ride from the centre of the village of Jiali, and bicycles are made available to every artist from the moment they arrive.

Tainan City is a 40/50 minutes bus ride away (do not trust Google, everything looks always much more far and unreachable than it actually is: ask information and help at Soulangh office or at the local bus company (blue line connects Tainan central station to Jiali).

Jiali is a busy town full of restaurants, night markets, supermarkets, stationery and hardware shops.

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My idea of a candy factory

There are temples at every corner and beautiful rural scenes to explore; the sea shore can be reached with a 40 minutes bike ride through rice fields, little villages and fish ponds.

The flat we shared was very well organized: a common room, a kitchen and a garden with palms and banana trees, and 6 rooms with a desk and ensuite bathrooms.
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Everybody was working hard, but the meals at the end of the day were unmissable social moments. We spent most of our evenings getting lost in the menus and enjoying the food that Jiali had to offer (especially when Li-Ping was there to translate the Chinese menus for us).

To gain a honourable feeling of independence, we started keeping the takeaway menus from every restaurant, taking notes of the favourite dishes and the general ingredients, so that it would suffice to bring the same menu the next time we would go to the same place. The menus were still on the wall of the living room when I left, as a legacy for future hungry artists.

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This is just a portion of what can be experienced there; I warmly advise everybody to apply to this programme, either in Soulangh or in Tsung-Yeh.

My next post will focus on the creative process, research and final work that I was able to produce in less than two months.

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One comment

  1. […] collecting images and ideas, I started giving a structure to my work. I mentioned in my previous post that Soulangh was not my initial choice as I did not think I would be able to work on a big […]

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