Life in Taiwan

Taipei’s Museum of Contemporary Art (+ History + Technology!)

Last week, Mii-chan, a friend from the Japan office of the company I work for, stayed with me for a week. This was actually my first time hosting, and it felt great, since I’m usually the one crashing at people’s places to finally be able to host my friends!!

Thanks to her, I also got to see the artsy/trendy side of Taipei, for instance the area around Liuzhangli station and… the Museum of Contemporary Art:

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I’ll talk about the museum and exhibits we saw.

TL;DR- I’m not an art buff, but I enjoyed this museum. Probably because it’s not just an art museum, but explores the intersection of art, history, and technology.

From Primary School to Museum

From the facade, you probably can’t tell this building houses contemporary art. The structure dates back to the 1920s, when it was Kensei Elementary School 建成小学校.

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Japanese Flag in front of Kensei Elementary School (Wikipedia)

Kensei/建成 was the name of the district 建成町/Kensei-cho, which draws its name from a road 建成街/Kiàn-sîng-ke (Hokkien) that dates back to the Qing Dynasty days. (If you’re familiar with the now-demolished 建成圓環 near Ningxia Night Market, it’s the same 建成)

建成 was the name of a trading house 商行. According to Gushi.tw, many roads in the Dadaocheng area took the names of prominent trading houses (建昌街、六館街、建成街) or names that were auspicious for business (朝陽街 “rising sun”、太平街 “peace/social order”、日新街 “constant progress”), reflecting its role as the center of commercial activity in Taipei after the Opium War opened up the local port to international trade 🚢🚢🚢

But anyways, after WWII, the Republic of China (ROC) came to Taiwan and made this the Taipei City Hall — all the way until 1994, when the City Hall moved to its current location on the East side of the city. Shows how over the past century, the center of the city has shifted from the West side (Bangka, Dadaocheng) to the East side (where Taipei 101 is).

Since then the building was renovated and turned into a museum, but the two flanks are used by Jiancheng Middle School. Creative use of a historic building, if you ask me. I wonder what it’s like to attend that middle school.

On to the Exhibits

This museum has a minor admission fee. The ticket looked like this:

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Then we entered the exhibits, which started with a wall explaining Taiwan’s industrial history. Here is a map of major industrial facilities in Taiwan during the colonial period and two paragraphs explaining how the role of Taiwan in the Japanese Empire changed.

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Left: “Industrial Japan- Agricultural Taiwan” — Taiwan provided the Empire with natural resources. Japan built infrastructure to take advantage of these resources: power plants, modes of transportation, electricity, running water, communication lines, etc. Right: “Rise of Military Industries due to War” — War meant that Taiwan could be cut off from Japan at any time, so the government had to develop local chemical, metal, and machinery industries. Japan’s invasion of China however put a stop to these developments. At this time, most research studying geology, anthropology, biology, and agriculture was conducted by Japanese people and were not the product of indigenous work.

The wall traces the country’s industrial history, starting with the Japanese era to the American/ROC era to the modern day, exploring Taiwan’s role in the global electronics industry.

Along the way, there’s also some technology-inspired art, which we decided to contribute to (the best part of going to art museums, eh? 😉):

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Mii-chan said that when she was a child, she once dreamed that she became a tiny person and explored circuit boards.

Then we went upstairs to a dark hallway, with all the windows boarded up. There were a lot of little rooms you could go into to watch films. We skipped a few that flickered too much and were too trippy for our taste.

We watched a film that showed photographs of ordinary-looking people interspersed with commentary from some professors and a physician. At the end, they show you the same people from a different angle and you realize that they’re all amputees sitting with a mirror in the middle so it looks like they still have all their limbs 😱 According to the physician, this mirror technique helps recent amputees come to terms with their new life.

Then we went to another exhibit on video game design. It showed how depictions of natural scenery have changed due to improved technology. Think back to the static trees in early Mario games. Whereas now the trees in video games have branches that sway in the wind! A lot of math is needed to make sure the swaying appears not mechanical. Then they showed we’ve come from 2D waterfalls to 3D flowing water. From pixelation to photorealism.

Truly an intersection of art, history, and technology: 「藝術、古蹟、科技」.

Anyways, after going through the exhibits, we went back downstairs, checked out the giftshop, and found these patchwork doors!

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As the exhibits were dark (including a suicide technique exhibit that I didn’t mention above), it was a relief to see this blast of color at the end of the tunnel.


Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei
http://www.mocataipei.org.tw/index.php
39, Chang-an West Road, Datong District, Taipei (Google Maps)
Closed Mon, Open Sat-Sun 10am-6pm
Entrance Fee: $50NTD (under $2 USD)

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