Magazine article Artforum International

Taipei Biennial 2012: Taipei Fine Arts Museum/the Paper Mill

Magazine article Artforum International

Taipei Biennial 2012: Taipei Fine Arts Museum/the Paper Mill

Article excerpt

In The Monster That is History, literary scholar David Der-wei Wang considers the taowu, an ancient Chinese monster described as "like a tiger with a human face." This fiendish beast was made all the more ominous by its divinatory ability to see both past and future. Ancients cautioned others to "remember and recount [the taowu's1 wickedness so as to take precaution," and eventually the taowu came to be seen as the embodiment of history itself. This, Wang argues, makes it an adept metaphor for both the violence of twentieth-century Chinese history and the literature that seeks to depict it.

Anselm Franke, curator of this year's Taipei Biennial, takes up this premise in "Modern Monsters / Death and Life of Fiction." With Wang's book as its point of departure, the exhibition asks: If history has always been a monster, what new monstrosities has modernity wrought? Is the modern monster a different creature, and what does it take to face down the beast? The entirety of the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, including six thematically distinct "mini-museums" distributed between the main site and an off-site venue housed in a repurposed paper mill, is given over to exploring this question.

Previous editions of the Taipei Biennial have come under heated criticism for their neglect of local community and history. Franke's edition not only includes its fair share of Taiwanese artists--ten, to be precise--but directly confronts the island's past. In one mini-museum, the Museum of Infrastructural Unconscious, archival records document the public and industrial processes--spanning vastly different political conditions--through which Taiwan was built. Kao Chung-Li's The Way Station Trilogy, 1987-12, is a video biography of the artist's ninety-three-year-old father. The work explores the intersections between his life and the broader currents of Chinese history, physically manifest in a bullet, acquired during a decisive battle during the Chinese Civil War and still lodged in his head. …

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