Was it really a coincidence, or was it destined? Are we consciously living in a cyclic temporality, or is our meeting again by chance?
Recalling the Memories of Tattaka, published in 2022, shares the same title with a travelogue written by painter Kinichiro Ishikawa in 1909. The book, an extension of a museum project, feels like a report and a novel at once, but it is “memories of Tattaka” for sure. It documents the plein air painting experience and artworks of twelve painters of the Southern Taiwan Art Association and Kinichiro Ishikawa, the precursor to Taiwanese landscape painting, during their respective visits to “Tattaka”.
It was at an exhibition at the Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts that I saw the artworks of those twelve painters, mounted on portable plein air painting easels. At the centre of the exhibition space were two televisions, one showing a documentary of the painters going into the woods to paint, another showing something like a film, where a hiking collective seems to be navigating through the woods. What did these represent? I had a vague feeling that I should not be appreciating the artworks only. To involve so many in their hike for plein air painting, there must be a reason.
What is now called “Tattaka” is located in the area around Taiwan’s tallest mountain Yushan. What about 110 years ago? After seeing the exhibition, I was a bit confused as to why the artworks by the painters were different from the “Tattaka” I knew of. Through textual records at the exhibition space, I realised that the painters also shared the same confusion while searching for the location. Leaving the museum, I found the book Recalling the Memories of Tattaka and learned that Kinichiro Ishikawa introduced English landscape painting to Taiwan, and was himself the precursor to Taiwanese landscape painting. This time, as the authors decided to revisit the “Tattaka” in Kinichiro Ishikawa’s memoir, the deeper they went into the path, the more they realised that the process was just like the circumstances back then.
110 years ago in a Taiwan still under Japanese rule, the Japanese government, having decided to go into the woods to carry out aboriginal administration, sent painter Kinichiro Ishikawa to tag along the military as they entered Tattaka in what is now the area around Qingjing and Wufeng, where the Musha Incident at the time became one of the direst conflicts between the Japanese and the Aboriginal people in the history of Taiwan. Kinichiro Ishikawa’s memoir mentions the Tattaka outpost (police station), and so the team set off for Tattaka.
“The purpose of this trip is to go for painting in the land, or to go to war? It is getting more and more absurd.” – Kinichiro Ishikawa (1909)
“At the outpost, we became the clearest scenery in the fog” Recalling the Memories of Tattaka (2019)
After several site visits, the team found that the actual environment and location were nothing like what was documented a hundred years ago. “It was not what we call Tattaka in the Tsou vernacular today, but the Tattaka in the Seediq vernacular (Liyingshan).” The team later found that when they romanised the name, the name of another location came up, and what was known by that name in the past has now become the Highland Experimental Farm of National Taiwan University. Just like that, a phone call linked up with a hundred-year-old historical site.
Over the last two years, I have got lost during my work in the farm, and when I stumbled upon some neat stones, I discovered the historical site of the outpost. It took two years to organise the historical site, which was completed only moments before the phone call. If this was not destined, I could not think of a better re-encounter.
Standing at 2100 metres, the Meifeng range of National Taiwan University’s Highland Experimental Farm is twice as tall as Hong King’s highest mountain Tai Mo Shan. Setting off in a foggy early morning for plein air painting, these experienced painters ladened with painting equipment found the scenery they had been looking for and imagined the scenery facing Kinichiro Ishikawa back then, as a thicker fog arose shortly. The paintbrushes in their hands danced in the open air, the marks they left pulling together a hundred-year-old scenery, the sounds they made on paper resounding through the woods. Reaching the end of the book, however, another story came through. A member of the farming collective that led the painters to the historical site of the outpost turned out to be a Seediq aboriginal person, a descendant from the battles a hundred years ago. With this identity, he goes in and out of his ancestors’ domains and treads a different path from that of people who live on lowlands. What kind of experience does that ordinary life yield as compared to the painters’ excursion and Kinichiro Ishikawa’s from a hundred years ago?
This is a book, an exhibition, a film, a history that connects through a hundred years, a pathfinding story.