Project Island Hopping – Reversing Imperialism: Lander

Exhibition Dates: October 13 to November 16, 2018
Artist Talk: October 13, 2018, Saturday at 4:00pm
Opening: October 13, 2018 at 6:00pm
Curator: Wu Dar-Kuen
In Collaboration With: Patrick D. Flores
Venue: Jorge B. Vargas Museum and Filipiniana Research Center
Address: Roxas Avenue, University of the Philippines Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines
Participating Artists: Cheng Hsien-Yu, Hsieh Mu-Chi, Huang Wan-Ling, Su Hui-Yu, Yao Jui-Chung, Yu Cheng-Ta, Santiago Bose, Diokno Pasilan, Mark Salvatus, Jo Tanierla, Renz Lee

VT Artsalon has been facilitating cultural exchanges between Taiwan and the globe for many years through exhibition, artist residency, forum and publication as a way to contemplate on Taiwan’s existence within the unique cultural and political context. In 2017, VT Artsalon proposed Project Island Hopping – Reversing Imperialism in the hope to provide a route to reflect upon and resist the imperial invasion that has begun since World War II and made use of the island chain. Through the project, “art as action” becomes a primary initiative to redefine the cultural context and artistic perspective of the Pacific island chain.

The project refers to the reversing route of the island hopping strategy adopted by the US army in World War II. The first exhibition of the project, Vessel, was curated by Patrick D. Flores, Curator of the Jorge B. Vargas Museum and Filipiniana Research Center, and took place at VT Artsalon in March, 2017. In October, 2018, Wu Dar-Kuen, Curator of VT Artsalon collaborated with Flores to curate Lander presented at the Vargas Museum in Manila. The exchange exhibition of Taiwanese and Filipino contemporary art features six Taiwanese artists, including Yao Jui-Chung, Su Hui-Yu, Cheng Hsien-Yu, Yu Cheng-Ta, Huang Wan-Ling, Hsieh Mu-Chi, and five Filipino artists, who are Santiago Bose, Diokno Pasilan, Mark Salvatus, Jo Tanierla, and Renz Lee. The exhibition also represents a possibility to respond to current social collective anxiety in both the Taiwanese and Filipino contemporary art communities. Naturally, it is a response to the larger scheme of Project Island Hopping as well: an exploration of the relationship between invasion and being invaded, the global and the local, the active and the passive, as well as a latent Asian consciousness and position. Through the dialogue between these Taiwanese and Filipino artists, this exhibition is both a response to the exhibition, Vessel, as well as a revelation of the grand scheme of Project Island Hopping, which is to redefine historical and geographical regions and reconstruct an alternative topology and identity.

In addition to discuss the Filipino colonial past within the historical context presented through the artists’ works, the exhibition also actively engages in discussions and topics about post-modern globalization and digital mediatization that have emerged after post-colonialism as well as the surfacing of new populism. The Artist Talk of the exhibition will start at 4 pm on October 13. Through their dialogue, the Taiwanese and Filipino artists will take a retrospective look at the islands to exorcise the colonial specter of the past.

For more information, please contact Vargas Museum at (+632) 981-8500 loc. 4024 (U.P. trunkline) or send an email to vargasmuseum@gmail.com. You may also check the Vargas website at http://vargasmuseum.upd.edu.ph, Facebook via https://fb.me/vargasmuseum.upd and Twitter via @UPVargasMuseum for updates.

Organizer: VT Artsalon
Co-organizer: Vargas Museum
Sponsors: Ministry of Culture, R.O.C; National Culture and Arts Foundation; Department of Cultural Affairs, Taipei City Government; Johein Technology, 1335MABINI Galleries


【Project Concept】 This project focusing on Taiwanese-Filipino interaction is part of a larger 5-year global project. Research will cover the Pacific War between the Axis and the Allies between December 6th, 1941 and September 2nd, 1945, encompassing the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean, and the Southeast Pacific Region, and will focus on Japan’s initial southbound strategy, and the American “island-hopping” strategy. Image 1. Japan’s invasion of Asia between 1937-1942 (Japanese sphere of influence in blue, Allies in red) Following the American island-hopping strategy, the project begins in the Philippines. The United States plotted two routes for the Central Pacific Fleet and the Southern Pacific Fleet, merging at the Philippines and Okinawa. General Nimitz originally proposed occupying Taiwan as a base for the invasion of Japan, but this plan was replaced by the campaign to retake the Philippines, fulfilling a promise he made in 1942 to return. After Japan’s defeat in World War II, the Pacific Ocean fell under allied influence, led primarily by the United States. In this post-Cold War era, the international situation is constantly changing, as there are clues indicating that Asia may develop into the hotbed for a new kind of Cold War. Growing terrorism in Western Asia, the establishment of the Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), growing Chinese economic and military might, China’s “Belt and Road” initiative, the American return to Asia, the election of Donald Trump and the potential challenge to China’s “One China” position – these combine with incidents in the South China Sea, the Scarborough Shoal, and Okinotorishima Island to create a high-stakes, zero-sum geopolitical situation as tense as ever seen before. Image 2. The American counter-attack against Japan in the Pacific between 1943-1945. World War II and the following Cold War encompassed the first island chain, which included Japan, Okinawa, Taiwan, the Philippines, the Greater Sunda Islands, and Korea. While the strategic importance of this chain appeared to dissolve with the fall of the Berlin Wall, it has become relevant once more due to the events described above. The governments in these nations have transitioned away from authoritarianism, transformed into new political systems. Accordingly, this project will begin by exploring the Philippines to reconsider the fate of Taiwan and its surrounding islands, as a reference for future development. What sort of new international situation are we heading towards – the new era of strongmen dictatorships, or a new type of politics?

【Curatorial Statement】: Lander

VT Artsalon has put forth a long-term international art project, titled “Project Island Hopping,” which is a five-year plan at its initial stage. As part of this project, VT Artsalon invited Dr. Patrick D. Flores, Curator of the Jorge B. Vargas Museum and Filipiniana Research Center, to curate an exhibition at the gallery in 2017; and in 2018, VT Artsalon organizes an exhibition at the Vargas Museum as a form of exchange. The meaning of “Vessel,” a concept proposed by Dr. Flores, is twofold: it refers to both container and ship; sometimes, “Vessel” can also refer to any vehicle that sail on or in water. Literally speaking, “lander” reminds us the Age of Exploration and denotes multiple contexts; however, how do we connect it to a latent Asian consciousness and position, and eventually revisit the “body” to re-examine the island civilizations? In the past, our Austronesian ancestors had sailed their canoes and “landed” on different places, and thus, created the migration of marine civilizations. From this perspective, were they not a kind of “landers” as well?

Throughout history, Taiwan and the Philippines both experienced colonization by various landers. Whether ships or dwelling places are vessels of the “body” and “people.” Under this framework, we have had correspondence with Dr. Flores, after much discussion, we finally decided on returning to the unique political and historical progress that took place on the islands, from the landing of war vessels, steamers and cargo ships in the past to today’s cultural and commercial exchange and integration, along with all the progressive and conflicting emerging topics and colonial complexes. Within the Pacific politico-economic systems, we hope to revisit the formation of connections between islands and explore the similarities and disparities occurred throughout hundreds of years of history. Can the comprehension of historical differences lead us to an understanding of how Taiwan and the Philippines have evolved until the present day?

Through the dialogue between Taiwanese and Filipino artists, the exhibition reviews both places and performs an exorcism of past colonial presence, and even carries out an act of anti-landing. One of the highly discussed contemporary issues today is that peripheral cultures have been gradually depleted as human civilization progresses. As the “historical monster of globalization” sweeps the entire globe, external forces have led to new changes in cultures while local cultures have been losing platforms. To survive, many people are forced to work longer hours and even betray their beliefs and values, which used to let their life unique and precious. These distinctive beliefs and values, however, are what makes culture and art more meaningful. After the Cold War, colonialism has waived war vessels and cannons and adopted another form of landing and invasion on the level of global economy and culture. Such rapidly developed and powerful post-colonialism has utterly altered our lives as we become submerged in the waves without realizing it. Consequently, the competition and dominion over the body as a site of power have become overly complicated and unsolvable; or, the body as a site to manifest subjectivity has lost its power to resist and slipped into an eternal coma.

The following articles discusses the deployment of body demonstrated by the artists, whose works are respectively examined under the categories of “The Lost Identity,” “The (Pseudo)Historical Body” and “The Mediatized Body.” The “subtext” in each of the artists’ work is political, and vice versa.

The Lost Identity
The complicated relationship between identity, race and identification has often been discussed in the context of exploring Asia-related issues. Amidst the waves of globalization, national and cultural position is also a topic that many artists aim to explore. Yao Jui-Chung’s Long Live series and Long Long Live series associate authoritarian slogans with various heterogeneous spaces, such as juxtaposing the battlefield in Kinmen and the Chung-Shan Hall in Yangming Mountain. The military forts in the old frontier, the solemn and austere war site of Guningtou and the intricate web of war tunnels have all been captured in this work. As the ruler keeps crying “Wan Sui (long live)!” in the empty national assembly hall, the propagandist signs are scattered on the floor, depicting an endless loop of the historical fate. In coping with the historical emotions in a post-war era, the artist assumes a drifting body and enacts the possession of collective memory, embodying the ultimate version of an authoritarian’s “The Phantom of History.”

Yu Cheng-Ta’s work reimagines the relationship between the subject and the other, and bridges the subtle disparities in culture, language and identity in a humorous manner rather than portraying the conflicts and contradictions resulting from differences. The artist films two Filipino women that are married to Taiwanese husbands and now live in Won Won Building in Taipei. Decades of living in a foreign land, the local languages have become a necessity for them to survive. However, due to differences in family background and languages, they have often encountered situations of inadequate verbal expression, misunderstanding and mispronunciation. In the work, their singing becomes a way to dissolve the invisible linguistic barrier, allowing heterogenized representations of language while exemplifying the body losing its coordinates. In the work, Yu has employed a subtle strategy of cultural possession to embed historical and subjective anxiety into the body.

The (Pseudo)Historical Body
In The Walker, Su Hui-Yu deconstructs Taiwan Walker Theater’s three plays – Mary Scooter (1993), Asshole Man (1996) and Our Top Horny Novels (2000) – and reimagines the history in these plays to discuss the extreme aspects of popular culture and the sub-cultures from other places. Moreover, the artist reenacts the improvisation of amateur actors, which has been a special feature in Taiwan Walker Theater’s performance. Through his endeavors in representing the (pseudo)history, Su has once again incorporated physical impulses into his delineation of cultural decolonization epitomized by the peak of Taiwanese experimental theater in the 90s.

In a similar context of the narrative body, Huang Wan-Ling employs the traditional form of watermark woodcut to create scrolls that delineate heterogeneous aspects of the human life. These travelogue-like scrolls serve as the artist’s narrative stage, through which she even adopts semi-autobiographical vocabularies to depict inexplicable experiences she has undergone in life. Through these works, the artist’s physical experiences have also become the creative traces of self-examination. Another artist, Hsieh Mu-Chi, exhibits the painting series, Unforgotten, which unfolds his unique visual vocabulary that incorporates the island landscape from his artist predecessors. A simple landscape might be imposed with political agenda or ideological inspection in the past; however, Hsieh does not focus on his predecessors’ perspectives to create his works. Instead, he extracts the painting elements from the past and creates his own spiritual symbols through methods of multiple perspectives and their deconstruction. In the form of spatial-temporal specimen, his work displays how he has approached history.

The Mediatized Body
Medium is the most powerful instrument that has been asserting its subtle influence in contemporary society. Through media (including TV news, newspaper, theater, etc.), electronic devices and mobile devices, information has flooded personal and public spaces, not only increasing the speed of cultural communication and transformation but also expediting tendencies of homogenization and globalization around the world. The topics of Cheng Hsien-Yu’s work evolves around public media, digital image, electronic communication and its control, demonstrating how a medium asserts its influence and assumes a global stage of power. Cheng’s Sandbox adopts the method of invading electronic devices and using SMS text messages to describe artworks and lead audiences with peek into these works that are considered absent in an empty exhibition space. Each of these invisible works is about something that people believe to exist but somehow cannot really confirm its existence. The artist makes use of mobile phones as a medium to explore the digital frontier and rewrites our body’s awareness to the boundary between reality and illusion.

The Rebellious Body
In terms of resistance against the lander, the works of artists featured in Project Island Hopping – Reversing Imperialism: Lander can be viewed as a rebellious act of using body as its agent and a stance of how the island body responds to the thinking of land.

Filipino artist Santiago Bose’s work discusses the sovereignty over the Spratly’s Islands. Currently, there are seven countries, including the Philippines, China, Taiwan and Vietnam, that claim the sovereignty over the islands and engage in political standoff over these waters. Diokno Pasilan has deep ties with the sea. He uses boat-shaped containers to display numerous faces that speak of each other’s stories from the past.

Mark Salvatus exhibits a two-channel video work in this exhibition, which centers on the journey of how a tea instrument travelled to Osaka from Luzon in the 16th century. This ordinary tea instrument transformed the Japanese cultural history through the concept of “wabi-sabi” advocated by Sen no Rikyū. In the Philippines, it was a common utensil; however, its cultural value changed drastically in Japan. In the video, the artist shows the first export of the tea instrument from a Filipino harbor on one screen while the other screen reveals the journey of how the tea instrument reaches Osaka. At first, Salvatus was simply interested in objects made of clay. As he explored the multifaceted meaning of an object in different cultures and geographical locations, the meaning could no longer be defined from one single perspective.

The venue of this exhibition, the Jorge B. Vargas Museum and Filipiniana Research Center, originated from a donation of collection made by Jorge B. Vargas, the first Executive Secretary of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, to the University of the Philippines in 1978. The private collection included artworks, stamps, coins, books, archives and memorabilia; and in the name of Vargas, the museum was inaugurated in 1987. Vargas was highly active in founding the Boy Scouts of the Philippines and was actively involved in the promotion of international sports events, such as the Philippines’ participation in the Asian Games. Therefore, artist Jo Tanierla shows a work related to the Boy Scouts of America, and explores the ideology of introducing scouting from the US and its evolution. Renz Lee, on the other hand, discusses sports as an extension of national ideology through his work.

Because Vargas served important governmental positions during both the Japanese colonization and American colonization in the Philippines, his status has been inevitably associated with imperialism, whereas his collection has been deemed as a doorway to examine the collective history, in which culture and politics, arts and nation as well as wars and national architecture have become intertwined.

Reviewing every artist’s work starting from the body, can we eventually observe the bodily awareness that surpasses a phenomenological understanding or the empirical principle emphasized in pragmatism? Or, can we observe a route to break through the systems that siege the body? At least, they have provided a clue for a possible route between individuals and systems. With rational observations and political agency, how can one use one’s power to create a mechanism of resistance through reconstructing capital residuals? This approach also represents a possibility to respond to current social collective anxiety in both the Taiwanese and Filipino contemporary art communities. Naturally, it is a response to the larger scheme of “Project Island Hopping” as well: in the 21st century, how do we redefine historical and geographical regions and reconstruct an alternative topology and identity, which enable us to resist and counteract the imperial invasion that has begun since World War II and made use of the island chain?

【About Vargas Museum】

Jorge B. Vargas (1890-1980) was the country’s first Executive Secretary, having served this position during the Commonwealth period.

On March 1, 1978, Mr. Jorge B. Vargas donated his collection of art, stamps and coins, his library, personal papers and memorabilia to his Alma Mater, the University of the Philippines. In 1983, the University of the Philippines laid the cornerstone for a building that would house Mr. Vargas’ collection, originally displayed in a private museum located in the premises of his residence at the Kawilihan compound in Mandaluyong.

The transfer of the objects to the Diliman campus began in 1986. The museum building was formally inaugurated by then President Corazon C. Aquino on February 22, 1987.The building of the museum was formally inaugurated in 1987, almost nine years after Mr. Vargas bequeathed his collection to the University of the Philippines. The multi-level architecture was designed to support the museum’s diverse functions. It has a bookshop and space for the museum’s community arts program and a café for the museum and the university’s visitors.