I’ve just returned home after taking part in a project on Ikei Island in Okinawa. Organised by Yoshiko Machida (we’re classmates), it was called Coral Island Art Project. It’s a type of collaboration and cultural exchange between Taiwanese and Okinawan based artists, and Yoshiko has curated an exhibition here in Taipei and in Okinawa with work thematically linked with a response to coral.
We lived on Ikei Island for a week, slowly and surely installing. Such a surreal place, unlike anywhere I’ve been. Surreal probably isn’t the right word, it’s the word an outsider would use. It’s actually very real, people live here (only about 250), the village is made up of traditional Japanese houses with some newer buildings scattered here and there. We slept on the ground underneath a mosquito net, in a home inhabited by the ancestors of the owner, who doesn’t live there. ‘Heartbreak Island’ my friend called it. She was speaking personally, but I also understand – we all felt something. Such heartbreaking beauty, and a quietness I’m not used to anymore coming from Taipei. No phone, no internet, but a quietness punctuated by such turbulent and sudden weather!
I installed my work in a home inhabited by an ancestor. It’s such a relief to install outside of the gallery for a change. To be sure the space presents it’s own challenges and problems, but I would love to find a way to work in a space like this again.
This piece was called 93%. Here is a little something I wrote to accompany it:
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is one of the county’s most significant and iconic national landmarks. Beach culture is central to Australian life, the reef’s beauty is perhaps the most tangible evidence as to why. The most comprehensive survey of the reefs that comprise the Great Barrier Reef was completed in April, finding that 93 percent have been hit by coral bleaching. Coral bleaching occurs when the ocean water warms, sending the coral into distress and eventual death. The mass bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef comes amid a global bleaching crises that’s only getting worse as the oceans continue to warm.
The installation piece ‘93%’ is made up of one hundred individual, coral shaped, pieces. Ninety-three shapes are cut from white board, the remaining seven are painted. It’s a desperate response aimed at articulating the dread and protest I’ve felt about this issue, an issue largely ignored by Australia’s media and political establishment. Australia is currently in an election year, the results of which could decide the fate of the reef. This work is as much an attempt to raise awareness of this time sensitive issue as it is a response to the loss of a treasure and the degradation of the environment. In responding to these new figures, I’ve also begun to question the social function of art, acknowledging that work like this too often lacks the audience and vocabulary to truly affect change. Rather, art becomes the object of memorial to something of value lost. A kitch monument to a loss we cumulatively preside over, and do nothing.
The Okinawan culture I saw on Ikei was unlike anything I’ve seen before. How can I get back there? I only got such a small glimpse inside something very special and I want to know more. Is there a way to return to Ikei? Maybe for longer with a more engaged, ongoing project? I think in spite of the gentle difficulties of the trip, that’s something I’d really like to do. For the first time I’m filled with the urge to learn Japanese, spend time there to better understand the country.
Well let’s not get ahead of things, I’m about to graduate (post coming soon) after which I hope to stay on and get serious about Chinese learning. It’s the next stage, I feel a vitality and importance attached to the act of language learning that I used to only associated with art making. So yes, Chinese first. But I still hope to return to Ikei in the future, with some new project I don’t yet know about.