Curating like a Dinner Host, Bringing Diverse Practices and Flavours Together

River Lin artist portrait, photo by Chinfan
Artist portrait. Photogrpahy Chinfan

My family background is in running a seafood restaurant. In Taiwan and Asia, people share meals on big tables as a central part of their social lives. When I was a kid, I was helping my family run the business; my father worked as a chef in the kitchen and my mother was in charge of reception and hospitality. I was mainly taking orders and serving food as my mom’s assistant. That is how I learned how to host people, talk to strangers, and provide a service conceptually and physically. I realise it had become part of my “training”. I first got in touch with performance in primary school by joining a drama club. At the time I already liked to perform and work collectively with people on a project. When I entered a performing art school in a university in Taiwan, in the early 2000s,  I realised that what I liked wasn’t actually theatre and drama, I had no passion for playing Shakespeare. So moving a little bit towards other genres: cinema, visual arts, cultural studies provided me knowledge and educational nourishment. When I was 20, I was fascinated by visual cultural studies, which was newly introduced to Taiwan. Later when I was 30, I began to practice performance art and dance with my own body.

At the beginning, being an artist was very ambiguous. My first experience was in 2010, when Japanese performance artist Seiji Shimoda was invited to Taipei to teach a workshop. I was inspired. Ten years ago the practice and discourse of performance art in Taiwan, among artists of younger generations, wasn’t often seen or heard. Through that experience, I transformed. I recognize my body as a tool, an object, a map, a voice, and a statement to create messages in the context of visual art and the intersectional embodiment of performance art and art history.  In 2014, I found out that I had to explore more performance and live art elsewhere, and learn about contemporary development of live art and how its communities practiced it. I began my research in Europe while doing my own performance pieces. After a 6-month residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts, in 2015, I moved to Paris in 2016, with an artist visa issued by the French government. Then I began my career as an artist to present work at some artist-run performance arts festivals, and gradually got to know the arts community. Nowadays, I mostly present my live works in museums, institutions, and galleries. 

Performing informed me about the awareness of my own body, its autonomy, and its political and social messages that can be delivered responding to certain surroundings. It doesn’t matter if I am a trained dancer or not or if I have techniques, as long as the body exists, it speaks and works. 

River Lin. Performance view of Dancing With Gutai Art Manifesto 1956 at C-Lab Taipei (2020)
Performance view of Dancing With Gutai Art Manifesto 1956. C-Lab Taipei. 2020.

When I started ten years ago I was interested in identity, quite basic. Thinking about identity, back to my Taiwanese context, is quite complicated. I belong to a younger generation who defines itself as Taiwanese, not Chinese.  On one hand, I started to explore who I am related to that collective identification in flux. On the other hand, as a biological male, I wondered if I really identified myself—social construct and all—as male-male, or something else? That was a very early point of questioning, selfness leading to potential engagements with queer culture. Nowadays, I’m interested in revisiting history and knowledges of arts, and questioning social constructs or heteronormative representations. That’s why a lot of historical references can be found in my performance work, and I try to propose alternative perspectives to them in response. Recently I have done a research and performance project about Gutai, the post-war Japanese collective. What the artists of Gutai’s first-generation did more than 50 years ago with live actions, movements and experimentation was for me dealing with the performativity of mediums. And questioning the notion of what makes production and reproduction. It also manifested as an early performative practice in the context of history of performance art in East Asia while happenings and Fluxus were conceived and formed in the West. Through the Gutai project, I investigated notions of performing objects, the artist’s body, and audience participation in an Asian trajectory.

I started curating because it could be part of my artistic practice. When I make a performance through collaborating with dancers and artists I find myself curating, organising, presenting, integrating materials together to transform into something else. Choreographing, editing, directing, hosting people and making a platform for dialogues have become my curatorial/artistic process.

My ongoing project is ADAM (Asia Discovers Asia Meeting for Contemporary Performance). I proposed this project to the Taipei Performing Arts Center, in 2017. My concern was to create an agency and a space to facilitate artists from different genres to exchange knowledge and collaborate. In the Asia Pacific region, it’s not that common. There are many artist-run initiatives or institutions, but what’s been missing for me is a network that can embrace a wide variety of genres and disciplines. Initiating and hosting a big table, like in a restaurant, where people from dance, theatre, painting, sculpture, video, film, and socially engaged art practices can all share meals together and work together. 

For me art and curatorial practices are integrated, but what is still different is when I make a project as an artist, I test the results of my research through the body, and when I curate, I test ways of assembling people in conversation, producing raw knowledge, and facilitating process-oriented art. For instance, in ADAM, how would theatre makers and visual artists work together through the lens of performativity and participation? Not to mention that there are many different understandings of performance, performance art, and performing arts between artists from different backgrounds. I was also curious about what art education meant for the infrastructure of the future of the art ecosystem, so I proposed and co-curated Camping Asia, working with students of arts schools and institutions. 

River Lin, Curating performance of Boris Charmatz at Taipei Fine Arts Museum and hosting a post-performance talk_photo by Taipei Performing Arts Center
Curating performance, Boris Charmatz at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum. Courtesy Taipei Performing Arts Center. 2016

Camping Asia. Camping is an annual festival at the Centre National de la Danse, in France, and they invite a lot of artists to give workshops to amateurs and art university students, in an interdisciplinary context. Although CND is a dance institution, the way they look at performance is intersecting fields of fine art, architecture, music, fashion … I discovered the festival when I moved to Paris, and wanted to do something like this in Asia. There are many art and culture universities across Asia, but no platforms to bring together different disciplines to learn from each other. I proposed Camping Asia to both the CND and the Taipei Performing Arts Center. It took a long time to achieve because of both institutional systems but also, I was very aware not to make it a colonial gesture. It had to be a collaborative platform instead of a French project infused into Taiwan. It resulted in a very rich dialogue with the CND, learning about their culture while they also learned about Asia, and the complexities it involves. I also spent a lot of time bringing art schools in Asia together by going to Vietnam, Bangkok, Hong Kong etc. introducing this project to the teachers. Camping Asia manifests the necessity of creating platforms with the resources of public institutions for younger artists so they can embrace multicultural and interdisciplinary practices and knowledge. When the first edition was done, I was 35. Turns out, I had feelings of motherhood in me ha ha. 

The perfect meal with friends is when you have a mix of everything. For example, if we are going to eat something spicy, then we have Sichuan dishes, but also Mexican, or Thai, which is also a spicy sour, or Japanese. I always like a mixture of things, cultures and ingredients.

I love to cook vegan curry. It happened a few years ago when I cooked for a vegan friend.  I invented my own recipe. You need zucchinis, which are very available here, corn, a lot of carrots, onions and tomatoes. That is the foundation of the broth. Then I add broccoli and maybe a little avocado. Then the point is to mix spices. I use a Japanese curry cube with Indian and Korean spices to produce a mixture of tastes, and it works.

At the moment, I am reading “There Is No Society? Individuals and Community in Pandemic Times” edited by Ekaterina Degot and David Riff. It’s the publication from the steirischer herbst festival in Austria, it’s been just recently published. Since the pandemic, I have been observing the transformation of the art ecosystem. I interviewed artists and curators, and attended and hosted many online symposiums. Last year I was also often invited to be part of several panel discussions, talking about issues related to the pandemic and the precariousness of the current state. I also have been doing a lot of research about climate change, focusing on how public institutions can be responding to these issues. British theatre maker Ant Hampton initiated a project called Showing Without Going. It’s an open resource collecting many ideas and possibilities on how to reduce travel, mainly for the performing art sector, which requires more travels than visual arts. Also a few months ago the latest edition of Helsinki Biennial was entirely dedicated to climate change, and it was organised by the Helsinki Art Museum, a public museum. My interest in the issue goes beyond climate change as a subject, I am looking at it as a method.

River Lin with fellow artists of ADAM 2019 in a filipino restaurant in Taipei. Photo by Taipei Performing Arts Center
With fellow artists of ADAM 2019 in a Filipino restaurant in Taipei. Courtesy the Taipei Performing Arts Center. 2019.

In my personal life, I am very messy, with a messy desk and many sticky notes. But when I work I am super organised. Maybe because I am Gemini! 

For fun I jog and I drink a lot. The more I jog, the more I drink. If I run for 10 Km, it means I deserve some whisky in return. In Paris, Japanese whisky is more easily available than Taiwanese Kavalan whiskey, which is actually my favourite.

If I wasn’t curating, I would be a lonely person, because I couldn’t host a big table with shared meals, drinks, and conversations and bring people together. 

River Lin

Artist and independent curator

Paris, Taipei


River Lin is a performance artist working across the contexts of visual art, dance and queer culture through making, researching, and curating. Art-historical references are often infused into River’s compositions where he investigates cultural representation, social engagement and performativity of mediums.
His work has been commissioned or presented by institutions and artist-run festivals, including the Centre Pompidou, Palais de Tokyo and Centre National de la Danse (Paris), Tokyo Real Underground Festival, the KANAL Centre Pompidou and KAAI Theatre (Brussels), Live Art Development Agency (London), the Manifesta 11 (Zurich), Buzzcut Festival (Glasgow), Month of Performance Art Berlin, Rapid Pulse International Performance Art Festival (Chicago), Draw to Perform and Tempting Failure (London), ANTI Contemporary Art Festival (Kuopio), the M+ Museum (Hong Kong), Asia Contemporary Art Week (New York/ Dubai), Serendipity Arts Festival (Goa), the Rockbund Art Museum, Ming Contemporary Art Museum and TANK (Shanghai), the 2020 Taiwan Biennial,  2016 Taipei Biennial and Taipei Fine Arts Museum, and the Liveworks Festival (Sydney) among others. 
He served as a jury member at the Live Art Prize of ANTI Contemporary Art Festival in 2017. In the same year, presented by Taipei Performing Arts Center, he initiated ADAM (Asia Discovers Asia Meeting for Contemporary Performance) designed for artistic exchanges and cross-cultural collaborations across the fields of visual and performing arts in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. In 2018, he curated Taiwanese program at TPAM Fringe in Yokohama. In 2019, he co-curated the Camping Asia festival in collaboration with Centre National de la Danse of France. 
Born in 1984 in Taiwan, River Lin currently lives and works between Paris and Taipei.

Art critic and writer.

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