Dec 12 2020

The grand debut of “Subzoology: 2020 Taiwan Biennial”

by ArtAsiaPacific

*This is a sponsored post.

Installation view of the 2020 Taiwan Biennial at the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts (NTMoFA), Taichung, 2020. All images courtesy NTMoFA unless otherwise stated.

A panoply of performances kicked off the exhibition, creating new highlights for Taiwan Biennial

The National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts (NTMoFA) presents the 2020 Taiwan Biennial, shedding new light on contemporary art in Taiwan. Curated by Taiwanese artist Yao Jui-Chung, the 2020 Taiwan Biennial launches under the title “Subzoology,” taking the “Buddhist path of reincarnation into animals” as the exhibition’s entry point. The Biennial reflects upon the long-term human plunder of and dominance over natural creatures, as well as modes of co-existence between humans and other sentient beings in the post-pandemic era. Examining human-animal relationships from the angle of science, art, and philosophy, “Subzoology” echoes and extends the study of ecological and environmental issues in the Anthropocene spotlighted at many international biennials.

Works by 49 next-generation artists/artist groups are on view, with 96 out of 201 exhibits newly created—the highest proportion of new projects in the Biennial’s history. The 2020 edition also marks the first time that all participating artists are invited to the event. In addition, the NTMoFA debuted a program of satellite and collateral events in collaboration with art spaces outside Central Taiwan, greatly extending the Biennial’s transdisciplinary horizons and creating a new methodology for the festival’s curation.

Detailed installation view of collateral event at Waley Art. Photo by Sean Wang.

“Subzoology” features seven subthemes: “Sacrifice and Salvation,” “The Sub-history of Wildlife Trade,” “Portrait of Unknown Heroes,” “Laboratory/Operating Room/Specimen Room,” “Festivals/Sandbanks/Green Coverage Ratio,” “Beast Mimic/Torured Beastnoid,” and “Habitat/Zoo/National Park.” Another section is dedicated to “Performance & Live Art/Multimedia-Installation & Performance.” Closely bound to the theme of the exhibition, all of the participating artists/artist groups have first-hand experiences in Taiwan, and expand the new possibilities of their creative media and personal observation, giving voice to the exploited ecology and environment through various forms, from visual and sound art to performance.

Walking into the museum, you will see huge whales stranded in the lobby. This work was created by Chen Sheng-Wen. All kinds of waste collected in the mountains and on seashores were used in the artwork. Through the repetitive labor of embroidery and weaving, combined with the gestural representations of Taiwan’s endemic species, the work not only reveals neglected land scars but also attempts to mend the interdependent and entangled relationship between humankind and the environment. 

Installation view of CHEN SHENG-WEN’s their birth in grief, but not ashes, 2019–20, wood boards, iron, iron web, wool, discarded fishing net, dimensions variable, at 2020 Taipei Biennial, NTMoFA, Taichung, 2020. Photo by Lin Song Hao. Courtesy YIRI ARTS

In the work Surgery of Muse: Implant by Chang Chen-Shen, the ersatz operating room is replete with surgical instruments and an operating table. Cloaked in medical scrubs, the artist spends 12 hours implanting human hairs into a pig’s head, an allusion to the Buddhist association of hair with earthly woes. Afterwards, the pig’s head is placed in a glass case filled with formalin as an uncanny atmosphere and scent fills the dimly lit room. In the 12 links of dependent origination in Buddhism (ignorance, formation, consciousness, name and form, sense faculties, contact, feeling or sensation, craving or thirst, clinging or grasping, worldly existence, becoming, decline), the pig represents ignorance, exhibiting characteristics of irrational persistence, delusions, and an inability to discern fact from fiction. The act of performing hair transplant on a pig’s head is a comment on the idiocy of humankind, and the necessity to recognize the delusion and destroy it in order to find the true heart.

Installation view of CHANG CHEN-SHEN’s Surgery of Muse: Implant, 2019, image and installation, dimensions variable, at 2020 Taipei Biennial, NTMoFA, Taichung, 2020. 

Across the way, River Lin’s Huxian Memorial Hall is positioned inside a palatial perforated wooden structure, where a coven of vamps launches their one-day occupy-the-museum action. On opening day, 20 LGBTQ performers and a few heterosexual performers dressed as “internet hotties” from the Taichung area will intervene in the museum arena and perform various absurd, sexy, and vampy quotidian actions such as singing, dancing, doing yoga, and taking selfies and group photos with artworks and visitors, performing as both men and women, human and animal. The title of Lin’s project references the ancient Chinese deity Huxian, who takes a hybrid form of fox, man, and woman. Lin’s installation Huxian Memorial Hall is an altar with fictional texts on the incarnations of Huxian as well as the metamorphoses of late queer figures who spearheaded Asia’s LGBTQ rights movement, which saw a major milestone when Taiwan became the first to recognize homosexual marriage in 2019.

RIVER LIN, documentation of Huxian au musée, 2020, performance.
RIVER LIN, documentation of Huxian au musée, 2020, performance.

During the exhibition period, there will also be forums, lectures and talks, expert guided tours, and workshops, with the festival’s curator and participating artists sharing their creative experiences and interpreting curatorial concepts. The artistic momentum of the “2020 Taiwan Biennale” will not stop. For details please refer to the official websites and Facebook pages of NTMoFA and the 2020 Taiwan Biennial.




ARNDT SAM ACAW Silverlens E-flux 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art Opera Gallery CHRISTIE"S RossiRossi