The World of Electri-city

文/ 吳垠慧

The World of Electri-city

If the concern of scientists is about how to generate electricity or how to use power efficiently, then the concern of artists is probably about how to see electricity in a romantic way.

—Robbie Huang, curator of Electri-city.

The world of Electri-cityis filled with a sense of familiarity, coming from the exhibition's name, visual design, and its application of the visual vocabulary of anime cartoons. Anime is always a language that crosses the barriers of age, belief, education and regional differences. Through animation, childhood memories of different generations can be connected. At the same time, it also highlights the "Public Art Festival" jointly planned by Taiwan Power Company and Kaohsiung City Government. Compared with other art festivals, there is a stronger sense of publicality and interactivity in Electri-city.

1.   Public Art As “Event”

In Article 9 of the "Culture and Art Awards Regulations" promulgated by the government in 1992, it is clearly stated that the public owners of public buildings, owners, administrators or users of the public and major public works of the government should place artworks to improve public environments. Later in 1992, the Council for Cultural Affairs promulgated the "Public Art Setting Method" which officially opened the door to the setting of public art in the future. 

Therefore, public art is usually associated with a piece of artwork or a sculpture, and, in short, an imagination that does not deviate from an “object” of art. Public art was originally from the good intention to improve the environment, however, the results of the implementation usually led to further problems. For example, installing public art only for the sake of installation. Many public art installations are not relevant to the local, nor can they echo or integrate into the local architectural landscape, geographical environment or cultural context. They often became an awkward existence, interrupting the view or the traffic, lacking consistent management and maintenance. If a work is damaged, it is possible that it doesn’t even get to be properly repaired. Not only does the good intention fails, but the regulations can’t keep up with the changing forms of art production.

After ten years of promotion and discussion, the new edition of the "Public Art Setting Method" was announced in 2008. The changes were made in response to the drawbacks of public art, the simplification of the review system, and the clarification of the procurement law. Among them, the changes of the setting method has expanded the concept of public art. Public art is no longer simply an object, but can also be a performance or activity, implementing the public, artistic and interactive features in the definition of public art. This three features of public art are also clearly expressed in the curatorial plan of Electri-city.

2. Cartoon Was Our Everything

-    Manmade God of Sun

The theme of the 2019 Kaohsiung Public Art Festival is “Childhood". Electi-citywas selected for its appeal to parents and children participation. Composed of 12 works created by the 13 artists,  Electri-citycan be analyzed by few keywords : "electricity", "anime game" and “park”. These themes and keywords cross, meet, echo or juxtapose each other on their own path. On one hand they interact with the park, the landscape, neighboring buildings and the public, on the other hand, when the works of art come out of the framework of the white box space, they face a more serious test of the real world. However,  new opportunities of creative thinking can also appear at the same time. For example: With AEM #7Yao Chung-Han has increased the sensing mode of extreme weather, which is a new attempt for his AEM series.

AEM #7consists of solar panels and dozens of small lights. In the daytime, solar panels absorb light and converted it into electricity during the night time, just like in sci-fi movies, the matrix crouches in the sun in order to provide nutrition to its little electric monsters. AEM #7 can also interact with the audience. For example, the rhythm of the hand clapping sound can change the frequency of the electric monsters. In addition, climate detection modes are also added into the installation: Snow, fog, heavy rain, and cloudy can all change the appearance of the artwork.

Liao Chien-Chung’s Sun Magic Cubeand Yeh Cheng-Yu’sMist also use solar panels as the source of visual elements or electricity. At first glance, Sun Magic Cube is a large-scale sculpture made of solar panels. In the night, the cube gives out the glimmer of light, which also enhances the illusion of solar panels. In fact, this work is purely artistic and has no other functions more than visual. Liao, who is proficient at simulating camouflage with extremely realistic techniques, made realistic solar panels with glass and digital output for this exhibition, proving that what the eyes see may not be true. Yeh installed a few solar panels on the artificial lake to provide the power needed for the battery in the control box. The surface of the control box mimics the shape of the park's healthy trail. When the audience step on the top, they can start the ultrasonic oscillator in the lake, vibrating the water into water molecules, thus creating a cloud-like and fleeting image.

-Discharge and Body That Abandons Electricity

This exhibition is based in Central Park. Central Park is an urban park adopted by Kaohsiung Dalin Power Plant of Taiwan Power Company (PPC) since 2009. Because of the connection of TPC, Su Huiyu and his photography team were able to enter the Xingda Thermal Power Plant, which is under the jurisdiction of TPC, and photographed the coal bunker. Finally, a large-size photograph was posted on the body of a TPC bus, like a scene of space capsule depicted by science fiction films. Through the eyes of art, different viewing angles are brought to the industrial world.

Electricity will not be produced out of thin air, as manpower can also produce electricity. Tseng Wei-Hao, who is familiar with the use of conductive ink and interactive media, created Ride in the Rain in which the audience bike together, and through the wires, the LEDs hanging in the tubes between the treetops are illuminated one by one, as if the audience brought rain to the site together.  Ride in the Rain, with its Chinese pronunciation same as “praying for the rain”, allows the audience to touch the surface of the protective layer on the trunk and the wood chips coated with conductive ink. The contact of human body will generate a buzzing sound effect. In this sense, Riding in the Rain is a work with visual and auditorial elements collectively created by the audience.

Yu Cheng-Da’s Revolutionary Teamalso aims at designing a bicycle that can generate electricity. Often taking his own body as an intermediary and shooting video works with performances to discuss issues such as identity, this time Yu turned into a natural science teacher, led 15 students in the workshop to conduct electricity-related courses to design bicycles that can generate power. Finally, one of the bicycles was successfully implemented. Like a lab for future bicycle, audience watched the videos from the internet by scanning the QRCODE provided on site.

Tsai Pou-Ching & Wu Tsung-long’s Electrimagic also obtains energythrough the most primitive physical labor. Since bringing children to the park to play is often described as “discharging”, it might be a better idea to let “electricity” actually play a substantial role and become the positive energy that starts the bubble machine and gives out bubbles. The two artists created amusement equipment such as swings and bicycles, so the audience can simultaneously produce energy in the process of participation, with the bubbles hinting at the illusion of energy for being omnipotent and fragile at the same time.

Chiu Chao-Tsai’s Clockwork.Couses the classic method of tying the spring to generate kinetic energy. Proficient at creating a toy machine that interacts with the audience, this time Chiu designs Clockwork.Coas the mechanical device for the audience to provide energy to ignite the motor by tightening the spring, so that the miniature planet emits light. As energy is generated by atomic collision, Chiang Chung-Lun originally intended to launch a collision game on the lawn by letting the audience enter large zorb balls. However, for security considerations, only one ball was open for the audience to enter and experience the feeling of being limited to the inner space of the sphere. Other balls are fixed, so the audience can only push, squeeze, press, and bounce from outside the sphere, but the black coating and pores inside the sphere still remind audience of a sky full of stars.

Different from most works that are in pursuit of self-generated power, Hsiao Sheng-Chien erects three metal frogs made of mirror-like stainless steel on the lake, abandons powering generation, and uses the natural wind to touch the drumsticks of the metal device to make the sound of frogs. Although Frogis made of metal, it is blended with the environment due to the specular reflection of the surrounding scenery, creating the illusion of only hearing the frogs but not seeing them.

-Everyday Objects and Signs in The Park

The predecessor of Central Park is Rotary Park and Chungshan Stadium. It is also a leisure and sports site familiar to Kaohsiung people for many years because of its proximity to the shopping area. Twenty years ago, the City Light Gallery was added around the park to combine dining, music and art installations as a nightlife attraction. During this evolution, the fences of the public space were taken down in an attempt to create a more open atmosphere. From this context, Joyce Ho’s Balancing Act seems more interesting. Good at applying small transformations to everyday objects to create different effects, Ho designed Balancing Act asthe combination of the curvature of the bottom of the fence and the rocking chair. The fence has the image of blocking and protection; Although the curvature makes the chair unstable, it can still  be pushed without falling. Balancing Actis placed next to the spout of Water Dance Square. When the water spray mechanism is activated, Balancing Act shakes and shifts under the impact of water column, like dancing and displaying an unstable awkwardness at the same time.

Coming from an architecture background, Wang Jun-Yuan set up Electri-fortresson the towering circular platform next to the MRT exit. It is a miniature city echoing the skyline of Central Park. The architectural model that emphasizes the handmade texture also symbolizes a future promised land for children. Here children can make their own wishes into small signs and hang them inside the model. When the light shines through the model at night, it illuminates the signboards of children’s wishes, as if they were all realized.

3. That Year We Fought Each Other in Electri-city

"What kind of exhibition makes people want to come twice or three times?" For the first time moving from the creative end to the role of the curator, Robbie Huang, from his experience of interacting with school-age children, thinks about what kind of design can be made in the park so the crowd will stop and look, or even interact with the installations. In this regard, Robbie Huang started with three approaches: animated short films, card games and youtube short films about curating for audiences of different ages and groups.

At the beginning of the project Robbie Huang already decided to make an animated short film of Electri-cityas PR material. The animation protagonist, An, came across the Tribe of Electricity and obtained the method of collecting electric elves. Once while playing video game with his two companions, he accidentally discovered that his friends also had secret devices, which granted them the special ability to fight against the Dark Dream Demons. Thus from Electri-cityin Central Park the boys embark their journey of fighting against the Demon Tribe.

Animation is an art form for all ages. The setting of the protagonists is not only related to "energy”. While the boys were helping to turn off the faucet, recycling the bottle, and turning off the lights, they have completed the goal of collecting a hundred electric elves, and therefore got to meet the Thunder Sharman in the end. Through animation, the audience is encouraged to recycle resources and save energy. Interestingly, during the exhibition, children have extended the instruction of picking up cigarettes and garages in Central Park, bringing the plots of the animation back to the real world. By doing so they were rewarded with upgraded cards by the curating team.

As the last generation have their own childhood memory of collecting games, the fashion of today’s young generation is card games. Through the modules of collecting and exchanging cards, Robbie Huang turned Central Park into the time and space of the "Central Park Wars" three hundred years from now, cleverly integrating twelve works of art into the cards as the battle bases. Through the design of cards, the exhibition guides families to approach and interact with art, as well as to "remember the artists’ names”.

In addition, Robbie Huang also swiftly employed social media and marketing strategies from the media to produce series of videos titled as “The Life of Curating”. In these 10-minute videos, from exhibition introduction, curator and artist communication, field survey and creatives processes of the artists to installing and opening the exhibition, Huang is curator, travel program host, video game expert and reality show producer at the same time, meticulously designed interesting plots to unveil the practice of art production.

This exhibition is a conscious and systematic combination of popular cultural elements. As a publicity strategy for art exhibitions, the relationship between the curating team and the audience and between audience and audience is no longer limited to tours or workshops. Electri-city has provided a more interactive approach. Through the logical language of popular subculture and the promotion of social media, the exhibition has formed a softer and more humane communication space between the general public and contemporary art.