The fastest trip from Tainan to Taipei by the High Speed Rail takes 1 hour and 26 minutes. The number of trips had been reduced during the pandemic, but as the pandemic subsided and pedestrian flow grew, it was hardly catching up with the demand. I waited for two hours in the departure hall. “Time” bears witness to history in the present. I will forever remember the moments of waiting here during the pandemic.
In Taipei, I love the Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA) Taipei on Chang-An West Road near Zhongshan Station. During the two months when the pandemic hit its worst in Taiwan, MoCA was holding its Twenty-year Anniversary Exhibition Series, titled Chrono-contemporary. Art meets major events of the times, while simultaneously documenting major events in time. I wondered, can “time” really be preserved and exhibited?
“If contemporary art is a movement that is constantly responding to the issues of the times, how does a museum, armed with the responsibility of writing history in a city, review the past continuous state of the last twenty years?” This is an excerpt from MoCA Taipei’s promotional pamphlet.
Just the architecture of MoCA is already intriguing enough. During the period of Japanese rule, this red brick building was an elementary school campus, then it became the Taipei City Hall. As such, it holds much historical significance in Taipei. Entering the exhibition space, I wandered about and was captivated by the plant artworks before me. They were illuminated by sunlight only, and the light was dim. I could not make it out clearly and thought it was an ink painting, but this presentation was unusual of an indoor exhibition space. So I drew closer to scrutinise these works, and only then discovered that they were concrete. They were sculpted reliefs, like shadows. The plants, looking familiar, turned out to be Mikania Micrantha of the vine species. On the artwork description was written, “Mikania Micrantha is originated from Central and South America. The plant was brought to Asia during World War II for military purposes as it makes good camouflage for airports.”
This series of works titled Plant was the version created by Chiu Chen-Hung in 2019. Earlier versions were previously exhibited in MoCA and the Taiwan Air Force Innovation Base at the same time in 2016. The “Air Force Innovation Base” was the Industrial Research Institute of the Taiwan Governor-General’s Office during the period of Japanese rule, subsequently becoming Taiwan’s Air Force Command Headquarters, and since 2016 an exhibition space for arts and culture. “Mikania Micrantha” was exactly the plants he saw at the “Air Force Innovation Base”. From World War II until now, those plants have been climbing on the building for 70 years.
Back to MoCA’s Twenty-year Anniversary Exhibition Series. The main theme that runs through the exhibition is the temporality of contemporary art. When the seemingly paradoxical concept of the “contemporary” entering “history”, and the fact that we are living in the thick of it, occur without any conflict, could this be “the present in eternity”? Chiu uses reliefs to document plants with incredibly rapid growth spurts, freezing time in an instant; MoCA, on the other hand, turns open a historical work again, while I just so happened to encounter it at this very time and moment. Time will pass, but it is never gone. What has occurred becomes history. Ever thought of time, not in a linear sense, but as a circular state? Ever experienced a déjà vu moment? We created history, became history and returned to history. As such, all the highs and lows or ups and downs are but a handful of little “Mikania Micrantha”. We grow on our own, then one day we are carved into history.