Reporting from: Cheng Long Village, Taiwan
Local Contact: Jane Ingram Allen
Jane Ingram Allen first visited Taiwan in 2004 with a Fulbright grant, and as a Fulbright Scholar for two years, she created art with handmade paper using local plants. She also worked as an artist in residence in 14 different communities all over Taiwan. She and her husband decided to stay in Taiwan; he secured a job as an English instructor at a university in Taichung, and Jane continued to do art projects as an independent artist, curator and arts writer.
“It is an interesting and exciting place to live and work, and I am especially pleased with the effect this art project has had on the small village of Cheng Long. Now the children welcome the artists each year and are so enthusiastic and friendly. Their English skills are improving, but most of all they are knowledgeable about the world and environmental issues. I feel this project has brought new life to this area.” ~ Jane Ingram Allen
Tell us about the Cheng Long Wetlands International Environmental Art Project, a project you curated and organized.
This is the third year that this small rural village in Southwestern Taiwan has held this event. The village has about 500 people and about 75 children in the elementary school. Most people make their living from fish farming, raising shrimp or gathering clams, so this year the theme is seafood production; the project title is “What’s for Dinner?”, created to encourage better methods and organic ways of producing our seafood.
How did you get involved in this?
I got involved as the curator after being invited by the Kuan Shu Education Foundation to come visit the Cheng Long Wetlands and discuss some possibilities for having an art project with an environmental focus in that area. The Foundation had seen the outdoor sculpture festival I began at Guandu Nature Park in Taipei in 2006 and curated for four years. For that project, I brought international artists to Taipei to create site-specific environmental artworks using local natural materials.
When I first came to Cheng Long in the Fall of 2009, the Foundation had been working there for several months doing environmental education programs with the local elementary school and community. While I was there, I met the school principal, town officials and the children in the school, and I also toured the Wetlands. I thought it was a very interesting place for foreign artists to come and really experience traditional Taiwanese village life. The Cheng Long area of Yunlin County is one of the poorest areas in Taiwan and the ground is sinking every year more from typhoons, changing weather patterns and human errors that pumped out the underground water to supply nearby industry. The Cheng Long Wetlands are formed from former farmlands and you can see homes, graves, even temples that are now covered by water in the Wetlands. Over time the Wetlands have become an environmental nature preserve with many birds and other wildlife living there now.
The Taiwan Forestry Bureau has managed the Cheng Long Wetlands and now it is seen as a positive rather than a negative. In Cheng Long village there are no convenience stores, no coffee shops, no restaurants, and it is almost like going back in time to come there. When I first came there I felt that many had never seen a foreigner up close before. The children were shy but very curious and the people seemed kind and gracious. I thought it would be possible to do an art project and bring contemporary artists there to create works to help raise community awareness about environmental issues and create opportunities for cultural exchange, and that it would be an interesting challenge to introduce contemporary international environmental art there.
Tell us how this worked – how you made it all run smoothly – in such a small, remote village.
The problems related to accommodations and food for the artists were solved with local cooperation. We rented four houses in the village for the artists and the volunteers who also come from all over Taiwan to live and work with the artists in the village for the 25-day residency period. They help the artists create their works and involve the children and local community. A local mother cooked dinner every night for the group of about 20 artists and volunteers, we ate lunch at the school with the children and had breakfast at one of the local houses with purchased breakfast food.
The artists are selected from an Open Call for Proposals each year. This year I had about 180 proposals from artists in 60 countries! We chose two Taiwanese artists for the project—as we do each year—and the other artists came from India, South Africa, France, Switzerland and Japan. This year we expanded the art project to have six artists and include works using recycled materials. Installation sites are in the village—on and inside abandoned houses—and those using natural materials are sited in the wetlands nature preserve area.
Jane Ingram Allen is the curator of this year’s Cheng Long Wetlands International Environmental Art Project in Cheng Long village, Kouhu Township, Yunlin County, Taiwan. Follow the Cheng Long Art Project at www.artproject4wetland.wordpress.com.
Christine Mason Miller is a writer and mixed-media artist who loves to travel, wander and explore, whether on her own or vicariously through others. Her latest book – Desire to Inspire: Using Creative Passion to Transform the World – is now available on Amazon.com and at bookstores everywhere. Visit her at www.christinemasonmiller.com.
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