Organised by the Taipei Economic & Cultural Office in Malaysia and produced by INXO Arts & Culture (L) Foundation, Tea Philo is a series of sharing sessions revolving around the discussion of philosophies and humanities. Luminaries from Taiwan are invited to share their experiences and engage with Malaysia’s local cultural communities promoting mutual learning.
The latest Tea Philo E-talk titled Public Art in Taiwan featured speaker Ms. Wang Yuling (Founder of Blue Dragon Art Company) from Taiwan and was moderated by local architect and curator Wendy Teo Boon Ting (Founder of Borneo Art Collective). The E-Talk was livestreamed publicly through Tea Philo’s Facebook page from 3pm-5pm on 6th June 2021 (Sunday) and has attracted 900 unique views and counting.
Wang Yuling holds two MAs in French Literature from the University of Montreal, Canada and Paris-Sorbonne IV University, France. In 1994, Wang was a PhD candidate majored in visual history at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences, France. Since 1990, she writes regularly for art magazines and has published over a hundred articles and translated multiple contemporary art publications. From 1996 to 2000, she worked at the Sculpture Association under the Ministry of Culture of France to curate outdoors big-scale sculpture exhibitions. In 2001 she worked as the Editor in Chief of ARTCO Magazine and founded Blue Dragon Art Company.
Wang started by introducing the history of Public Art as a cultural policy both internationally and in Taiwan. She defined the Public Art Legislation as a cultural and art policy that aims to improve environmental quality and promote national aesthetic education. She pointed out that the “Regulations Governing the Installation of Public Artwork” (公共藝術設置辦法) legislated in 1998 was the starting point of public art in Taiwan. In the past two decades, there have been more than 2,000 public art installations created in Taiwan, and the accumulated budget was over NTD 2 Billion (around MYR 277 Million).
In 2002, Wang and her team were commissioned by the Department of Cultural Affairs, Taipei City Government, to do research on Public Art funding in five different countries, and from 2003 onwards, many cities and counties in Taiwan started to establish their own Public Art Funds, encouraging more artists to create Public Artworks.
Wang and her team were also commissioned twice, in 2008 and in 2014 respectively, by the Cultural Development Council to amend the Public Art Legislations. The new “Regulations Governing the Installation of Public Artwork” expanded the definition of public art by recognising and executing it as a form of project, and encouraging architectural designs to be recognised as public art that can change the urban landscape and enhance the aesthetic qualities of citizens. In 2013, Wang and team applied the new regulations to the Public Art Project of the Social Sciences Library of National Taiwan University, a building designed by the internationally renowned Japanese architect Toyo Ito, which became the first building approved by the Ministry of Culture as a public artwork.
“Good public art is always site-specific,” Wang emphasised, “if a project works equally well in two different sites, it probably isn’t a very good work, because each site must have its own cultural context and social and historical identity, and good public art should really make an effort to work in dialogue with that.”
She stated that a good public art plan can transform the urban space, convey cultural characteristics and historical context of the city or region, and present a unique cultural landscape, so that citizens can enjoy the pleasure of strolling while also understanding more about the space they are in.
Wang mentioned the project of Shuiyuan Market (水源市場) as an exemplary model of public art as urban landscape. Shuiyuan Market is a 10-story building and is currently the largest public art work in the world. “The importance of public art does not lie in the volume or scale of the project, but the social and cultural influence of the works on the regional landscape and the identity of residents,” Wang stated. The old Shuiyuan Market, built in 1953, sat in the centre of Gongguan district and has witnessed the development of the whole district, which has now become one of the liveliest areas in Taipei. The appearance and state of the building had been deteriorating when Wang and her team stepped up and invited artist YaacovAgam, internationally renowned for his artistic style with rich colours and interesting geometric composition, to create an artwork titled “Heart of Water Source” on the building. The municipal government also helped improve and replace outdated hardwares in the building. The transformation completely subverted the public’s impression of a traditional market as the reborn Shuiyuan Market became a dazzling landmark in the Gongguan area.
Wang emphasised on the importance of public recognition when it comes to public art. She reminded that art education should not be wholly theoretical, and that public art might be the most accessible form of art for the public. She hopes that through public art, residents can feel a stronger connection to the spaces they live in and frequent.
“Spaces hold memories, and memories are essential for identity construction. Let’s make sure we secure these memories for the generations to come.”