2019 Kaohsiung Public Art Festival:
Re-electrifying the Game Field-On Electri-city

Written by Enkaryon Ang
Translated by Ariel Lien

Re-electrifying the Game Field-On Electri-city

American curator Lucy R. Lippard once described her imagination in curating in A Brief History of Curating: “I was trying to do shows that would be so dematerialized they could be packed in a suitcase and taken by one artist to another country, then another artist would take it to another country, and so on”.  Recently, Lippard’s thoughts on the dematerialized legacy of art have somehow been realised in south Taiwan. Electri-city,curated by Robbie Huang at Kaohsiung Central Park, invited 13 artistswith their 12 art installationsto starta whole season of art events.The question is: How doesElectri-citysuccessfully attract viewersto participate at the curatorial level,andactivate the links among the exhibition, thepark, andTaiwan Power Company?

The Emergence of Publicality: From the History of East Asian Parks

The first park in Taiwan is Yuan Shan Park. The first city park is Taipei New Park. This two parks built under the Japanese rule signified two forms of East Asian parks in the 19th century. The former is an attempt to transform religious space with shrines placed in the center, and the latter is based on the model of Hibiya Park. The Chinese term “Gong Yuan”, once translated as “garden” or “flower house”, from the 1870s has been the generally accepted translation of “public garden”; One example is the current Public Garden of the Bund in Shanghai.

When Iwakura Tomomi discussed European parks in the 1870s in Tokumei Zenken Taishi Bei-O Kairan Jikki (Record of a tour of the United States and Europe)”, he wrote that “East Asians do not pay too much attentions to properties and are not keen on trades. Unlike the Westerners who feels the urge to be diplomatic, East Asians are more ‘cautious’. Also, the Westerners value ‘material science’, which is applied science, and East Asians value ‘immaterial science’, which is conceptual theory. This difference can be observed in whether there are parks, botanical gardens, zoos, etc. in the city.... People come to the park for leisure; They live on the other side of the city, make their livings with manual labor, feed on potato and corn and wear humble clothes, earning minimal wages from factory workscovered in coal smoke. On Sundays, in the Boulogne Garden, you see elaborate carriages and families walking side by side joyfully”. The Buttes-Chaumont Park, with similar scenery, is not as grand, but the freshness of the two  parks is equally impressive.” In Iwakura’s account, parks in East Asia in this sense are considered as a cultural device in the city, functioning as the composition of knowledge system, as well as a public rest space. Among the debates on “parks” in the 19th century, Iwakura’s gaze upon the West has manifested the formation of the publicality of a space. 

Electri-cityalso dwells on the aspect of park being a public device. Central Park, originatingfrom the urban planning of Kaohsiung in 1936 before the war, was completed40 years laterandgradually became thedestination of several urban attractions such asUrban Spotlight.Not long ago, the campaigns to protect trees, triggered by the construction of the Li Keyong Memorial Library in 2014, has illustrated the imagination and environmental issues of Central Park as a public space. However, what Electri-cityfocuses on is not the history or the construction of historical memories. When artworks and parks collide, Electri-cityattempts to regain the public functions of the urban space by making connection with its existing elements.  

Card Rules and Game

In recent years it is common to see how video games play a role in local tourism, like the way how Pokemon Go has swept Taiwan. It indicates not only the prospect of advanced technology, such as virtual reality, but also the origin of the word “game” as “ga-men”, the gathering of a group. In the overall curatorial concept of Electri-cityartworks are designed as a set of card game. The intervention made by game rules gives Central Park, a space where people gather and the designated location of the game, a sense of logging in and out. As sociologist Roger Caillous mentioned in Man, Game and Play, the cards are restricted and created by rules. During the exhibition, each participant holds10 to 15 cardsin each game, and play up to two cardsin each stage. The final score will be counted according to the attribute of eachcard, and players with the highest score win. The design and meaning of the cards is based on the artworks in the exhibition. In this way, the card game has created another virtual dimension of the artworks.

This virtual interface of the exhibition has successful motivated the participation of the local community. Electri-city’s intention of building game rules on the basis of fictional narratives is obvious in its animation project “A Same Dream”. Also, the cards of Clockwork Inc., Sun Magic Cubeand AEM #7suggest a connection to the production and use of energy. The “dematerialization” of art in the mid 20th century, in Lippard’s account, required more visual experiences from viewer participation, especially when artworks were perceived vague and laborious. In contemporary art this tendency of dematerialisation and non-visual is especially salient. Here the curatorial strategy of Electri-cityis essentially dematerialized, but as we can see, instead of resorting to traditional approaches such as workshops or point collection,Electri-city has constructed a new set of fictional rules based on the potential of the space, which has expanded the possibility of participation. For example, the exhibition has included the crowd in environmental activities of park decontamination. Therefore in terms of audience participation, the curatorial approach of Electri-cityhas achieved its purpose.

Reflecting on Electric Engineering and Art

The concept of Electri-citycame from the English word “electricity”, and is set to discuss the multiple relationships between electricity (energy) and city (civilization). Supported by Taiwan Power Company who endorsed Central Park, artworks such as Clockwork Inc. by Chiu Chao-Tsai, Electricmagic by Tsai Pou-Ching & Wu Tsung-long, Atom Billiardsby Chiang Chung-lun,Sun Magic Cubeby Liao Chien-Chung, Mistby Yeh Chen-Yu, Ride in the Rain by TsengWei-Hao and AEM #7by Yao Chung-Han attempt to create imagery of electricity. Through means like light perception, audience participation plays a major part in these installations. Clockwork Inc.asks viewers to manually operate the devices to generate electricity, while Ride in the Rainaims to activate the installation by asking viewers to bicycle together to generate power and circuits. In Mistand AEM #7, the solar panels absorb sunlight to provide energy for interactive lights and sounds, and the effects of drizzle and smoke.

On the other hand, instead of discussing the imagery of electricity, some artists chose to work with existing elements in the park, such as Balancing Act by Joyce Ho, Electri-fortressby Wang Jun Yuan, Electri-bus by Su Huiyu, Revolutionary Teamby Yu Cheng-Ta, andFrog by Hsiao Sheng-Chien. Balancing Act,designed as a rocking crib, is placed in the middle of the fountain, subverting the way viewers perceive the fountain. For Frog, the challenge is to insert an installation into a park which has already been filled with facilities, and it has managed to immerse itself in the surroundings as a subtleaddition. In Electri-bus, Su Huiyu defamiliarised the image of industrial production, and turns it into the new outlook of a bus dispersed through the city traffic. In Revolutionary Team, through workshops and videos, Yu Cheng-Da includes audience in the operation of the device, and further explores the interaction between “energy” and its technical carrier, which is also Wang Jun Yuan’s intention with Electri-fortress.

The challenge for Electri-cityis not limited to the production of digital art, or the pressure to organise artworks for an art festival. The more important question is, with all the nodes and movements in the city, how should art intervene and reshape urban space. By interlacing physical installations and fictional narratives, Electri-cityhas successfully grasped the imagery of electricity and energy.

The Question of Re-functionalization and Republicization

In terms of the system of parks in East Asia, Electri-cityhas demonstrated a thoughtful employment of the ideas of “park” and “publicality”, while in the West parks often serve as a field for non-cooperation movements and collective actions. The emphasis of Electri-cityis not on the “natural” aspect of the park like in the 19th century, but the paradoxical relationship between nature and energy based on the current electricity infrastructure. With the design of game cards and the interactive installations, this relationship is constantly examined during the course of exhibition. Lippard, whose main focus is public art, once discussed the difficulty in viewing art in its visual forms. The strategy curator Robbie Huang came up with is to activate the park through the concept of “game", and to introduce artists and artworks via the game cards. Roger Caillois considers another dimension of game is the fact that players do know it is fictional. But in Electri-city, with the curatorial essay as the user manual, art installations open up another reality in the park parallel with the fictional game. The exhibition is therefore an exploration of possibilities between fiction and reality.

The foundation of Electri-cityis the existing functions and facilities of Central Park. Artists have been dealing with the reuse and activation of a space with approaches different from cultural historical preservation. In the case of Electri-city, it has demonstrated the potential of art to expand game, activities and alternative narratives. It can serve as a reference for future reinvention of popular games and folklore in Taiwan, and a viable strategy to connect history with installations in urban spaces. How can the activation of cultural/historical space revive the functions of a space? How can a fictional space intervene in the production of meanings? These are all potential curatorial directions. In aspects such as reusing space through fictions, or activating, refunctionalising and republicizing sites, Electri-cityhas contributed a certain solutions through its experiments, ready to be adapted and improved in the future. In this sense, Electri-cityis an exceptional example of connecting diverse elements within the exhibition system .

Taiwan Power Company 2019 Kaohsiung Public Art Festival: Electri-City

Exhibition date: 2019/01/12-2019/04/12

Exhibition location: Central Park, Kaohsiung



Written by Enkaryon Ang

Enkaryon Ang, poet, critic, the editorial board member of "Secret Reader". He was rewarded by the International Art Critics Association as the mentioned honor in Young Art Critics and was a resident critic at the Macao City Fringe Festival. His works are showed in various art newspapers and periodicals. They have been included in the collection "Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan Post-80s Poets Collection", "Evidence of Life: National New Poetry Reader", and poetries, "Rorschach Inkblot", "Hedgehog", and "The howness of A Galaxy".

Translated by Ariel Lien
Based in London and Taipei. Researcher/writer on art, politics and urban space.