Public Art, Books, and Fellowship, as Bridges Between Hong Kong and Taiwan
Picture books. My dad had his own design firm, and my parents both worked there. When I was young, I would walk to my father’s office after school to have lunch. After I finished my homework, I enjoyed picking up the picture books from the bookshelves in the office, and flipping through them. It is only when I did my first curatorial residency, that I realised the ‘pictures’ in the books I used to enjoy in my childhood, were exhibitions images from museums such as Centre Pompidou and Musée du Louvre.
Beijing pre-Olympic mood. I did my first internship at China Business Time, in Beijing, during the summer of 2006. At that time, Beijing was in a pre-Olympic period, with constructions sites and developments everywhere. The 798 Art District (Dashanzi) was not yet over-developed as it is today. When I visited, the mixture of factory spaces, art studios, and galleries made a strong impression on me. After I came back to Taiwan to continue my last year of university, I started working part-time at the Museum of Contemporary Art Taipei. The museum team was small, and I was lucky to get the chance to work directly with artists, curators, and educators for 2 years. Eventually, I decided to pursue a career as a curator.
Y TEAM is like a seasonal limited edition for now. Together with Yi-Hsuan Kuo, Yuan-Chun Huang and Yi Chang, we initialed this collaborative project in 2016, for the exhibition NightView Keelung, at several public spaces around Keelung Port and in Keelung Culture Center, and continued to co-curate in 2017 for Keelung Ciao Environmental Art Festival. Yi-Hsuan Kuo is now an exhibition producer, she was selected for a curatorial fellowship at Rockbund Art Museum in Shanghai and produced Philippe Parreno’s exhibition in 2017. She also worked on the production of Taiwanese artists Su Hui-yu’s video work, “Future Shock” (2019), and Yao Jui Chung’s “Republic of Cynic”, (2020)) at C-LAB. Yuan-Chun Huang has a background in architecture and focuses on spatial design. She actively devoted her strengths into LGBTGI’s causes, including for the exhibition “The Wedding Banquet – A Celebration of Same-Sex Marriage in Taiwan and Beyond”, in New York, in 2019. Yi Chang now works at the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts. Because we all have our own projects, the team works organically together, exploring possibilities where we can remain independent but work together around a common interest.
One of the several research projects I am working at the moment is for the Museum of Contemporary Art Taipei. I was invited to curate an exhibition for autumn 2021. Thanks to this, I will have the chance to make a group show involving Taiwanese and Hong Kong artists together. The curatorial concept is an extension from my last project, “Post-Anthropocene”, for Taiwan Biennial Collateral Events programme, but discussing the current COVID-19 and post-COVID situation, through various narratives via archive, installation, and video.
Hong Kong / Taiwan. One of my colleagues used to tease me, saying that my home commute was faster than hers. Taking a flight to Taipei from Hong Kong is only 75 mins, but from her office in Tsuen Wan to her apartment in Lam Tin, it took nearly 2 hours! But of course I wasn’t commuting to Taiwan, I lived in Kowloon, and commuted via bus not plane! Due to COVID-19, I temporarily cannot live in both places. But I am still working on several projects between Taipei and Hong Kong. I grew up with Hong Kong movies and Cantonese pop music, and now due to the social and political situation, I feel I have tight bonds with Hong Kong again. Or I would say the eagerness for equality, freedom and justice is the same in both places. And I am sure it will infuse power and strength into the art and culture of both places.
In Hong Kong, my favourite spot is Sham Shui Po, because that is where my favourite steamed vermicelli rolls shop is located, it is also a place where you can get a lot of material and tools for production. Whenever I show this part of town to my friends, they love it!
My favourite place in Taipei is Dadaocheng, the old town district. It is one of the earliest northern port of Taiwan and the earliest developed area in Taipei. You can find a lot of traditional products here, from herbs, food, to crafts. And you can also find the oldest restaurants as well as hipster bars and bistros.
Ramifications of the clothing industry. CHAT is a private art museum located in Tsuen Wan, on the second floor of a former cotton-spinning mill. The whole project was founded by Nan Fung group, a former textile manufactory and now the property developer. The enterprise’s founding base, the former mills, were terminated and the production line moved to where the labour is cheaper such as Indonesia, Vietnam or even Shenzhen, in China. In 2018, the mills 4, 5, and 6 were part of a landmark revitalisation project, The Mills. It includes textile innovation (Fabrica), a shopping mall and an art museum, the Centre for Heritage, Arts & Textile, CHAT. CHAT is unlike anything else, compared to other museums. Fashion is not our aim, but instead, the museum’s programme discusses a lot of the underlying issues around fashion, including production and process. I think that the topic of clothes manufacturing is a very contemporary one, considering globalisation, and its many behind the scene issues, such as labour, pollution, material sustainability, international trading, and vanishing craftsmanship. It was a precious experience to work there before the museum officially opened, and to witness its inauguration on March 17, 2019. It was chaotic, but you also got the chance to know various aspects of cross-department collaboration, including interior design. I conducted many learning programmes and the initial docent teams. My docents act outstandingly and receive remarkably positive feedback from visitors. One of the most 2 unforgettable projects I was involved were with Pilipino artist Alma Quinto, and Taiwanese artist HUANG Po-Chih. Alma’s work was exploring the life and condition of domestic workers in Hong Kong (most are from the Philippines) through textile. The strength, power and intelligence of her collaborators gave me a lot of energy. Po-Chih’s work “After After Party” dived into a very distinctive subject: Pang-Jai, the 40-year old grassroots, fabric market in Sham Shui Po. That neighbourhood witnessed the history of Hong Kong’s industrialisation, migrants movements, and globalisation. Today Pang-Jai and its community fight hard against urbanisation and capitalism.
Public art in Taiwan. Hu’s Art Company is an art consultancy founded by an independent curator Sean C. S. Hu. It is one of the most established curating companies in Taiwan. We served client from government to enterprises and collectors. During my time with Hu’s Art Design Company, we did several flagship public art projects in Taiwan, which included public art in 8 stations of Taoyuan Airport Metro System. We also executed the Taiwan Pavilion of the 2011 World Design Expo in Taipei, with an exhibition that presented the works of over 100 artists, designers and creators. The most unforgettable experience for me was running a mobile museum project opposite Taipei 101 skyscraper for one year in 2013. I was also associate curator of its inaugural exhibition “Transcendence of Illusion” and got the chance to work with my favourite artist, Japanese Fujiko Nakaya, known for her fog sculptures, to execute her amazing work, Post-Urban Fogscape. It was phenomenal!
Comfort food. I don’t cook that much when I am in Taiwan. But I make Taiwanese-style chicken soup when I am sick (physically or just homesick). Here it is:
CHICKEN SOUP RECIPE
Wash the chicken with water. If you use half a chicken, remember to clean the bones and remove the bloodstains.
Put the chicken in a pot of cold water with ginger slices and cooking rice wine (you can find it in Chinese supermarkets, but if not, just add extra ginger).
Take out the chicken from the water when boiled. Remove all the blood and gravy that came out from the chicken. Make sure the chicken meat is clean.
Wash dry mushrooms with hot water. Then drain the water and keep the mushrooms only.
Use a clean pot, put the ingredients inside, including chicken, ginger slices, rice wine, mushrooms, and hot water. Bring the pot to boil with full power (15mins), close the lid to make sure all the good flavours remain inside, and when the water is boiling, turn to the smallest flame for 30 mins, and it is done! Add salt when serving, but quantity is up to your personal taste!
My favourite piece of tech is my iPhone, and the perfect future invention…I have imagined driverless cars, and I think it is on its way to us.
I never curate a show without discussing it with the artist(s) and reading the books they recommend to me. I found out it is inspiring and it always comes with surprises!
Whenever I get stuck when writing or working, I will ride my bicycle from where I live to the farthest point I can reach. But if the weather is bad, I will do yoga at home instead, to keep me calm and refreshed.
For fun I am doing a podcast. It is called “More Than Casual Talk”, and it is in Chinese on Apple podcasts and Spotify. I have invited artists, curators, and designers as guests, to talk about their work and experience and even share crazy stories from when they were in school.
My latest favourite book is “The Man with the Compound Eyes” by Wu Ming Yi (2011). It was the first of his novels that got translated into English and centres around several characters living in the Taiwanese coastal town of Haven, and how their lives are impacted by climate change. He is my favourite writer and his work is a reminder of how we look into the world we are living in, also the relationship between us and other species and environment. He gave me a lot of inspiration for my curatorial practice, and the density of research on his nature-writing is always a remider for me to respect different voices.
The best way to work with a team, I found out, is to respect each other, and let everyone use their strengths in their own best way.
The best way to know someone, is to ask them what book they recently read, or their preferred music.
If I were an art collector I would collect Olafur Eliasson or James Turrell.
If I wasn’t curating I would be a journalist or a barista.
Erica Yu-Wen Huang
Hong Kong & Taipei, Taiwan
Erica Yu-Wen Huang, independent curator based in Hong Kong and Taipei.
She worked as Curator, Learning and Exhibition for Centre for Heritage, Arts & Textile (CHAT), Hong Kong (2018-2019), Adjunct Lecturer for Institute of Applied Arts, National Chiao Tung University, Hsin-chu, Taiwan (2018) and Curator for Hu’s Art Company (2011-2016). Now she works as independent curator and founding member of curator collective Y TEAM. Her curatorial practice focuses on multi-culture issues and the art as intervention and observation method in urban development and local community. She was selected in several curator residencies and fellowships including La Cité internationale des Arts, Paris, France (Granted by Ministry of Culture, Taiwan, 2016), Turner Galleries, Perth, Australia (Supported by Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts, Taipei and Taipei City Government, 2017), Gwangju Museum of Art, Gwangju, Korea (Granted by National Culture and Arts Foundation, Taiwan, 2017) and International Studio & Curatorial Program, New York, United States (Granted by Ministry of Culture, Taiwan, 2020).
Her recent curatorial projects include: “Post-Anthropocene – 2020 Taiwan Biennial Collateral Exhibition”(Zit-Dim Art Space, Tainan, Taiwan, 2020. co-curate with Andre Chan), “Sea Views – We Meet at Seaside”, (Dalsbruk Harbour, Finland, 2019) and “Keelung Nights_Nordic Lights” (Architect and Designer’s House, Keelung, Taiwan) which were co-curated with Nina-Maria Oförsagd; and “2017 Keelung Ciao – International Environmental Art Festival” (Keelung, Taiwan, 2017), “NightView Keelung”, (Keelung Culture Center and Keelung Harbor area, Keelung, Taiwan, 2016).