Critics’ Picks

View of “Altering Nativism: Sound Cultures in Post-war Taiwan,” 2014.


“Altering Nativism: Sound Cultures in Post-war Taiwan”

MoNTUE - Museum of National Taipei University of Education | 北師美術館
NO.134, Sec. 2, HO-Ping East Road
February 22 - April 20

This exhibition, which chronicles an ambitious historiography of audio materials, could be renamed “A People’s History of Taiwanese Sound,” as it traces various political, artistic, expressionist, and ethnomusicological impulses, as well as movements of sound-making since the 1940s, most of which were banned, neglected, or rejected by authorities or the entertainment industry. Curators Ho Tung-hung, Jeph Lo, and Amy Cheng—active figures in Taiwanese sound production industries and curatorial initiatives—have filled the four floors of this museum with recordings, newspaper clippings, and other ephemera, including zines, posters, and album art, energizing the space with rich and often provocative visual and audio elements.

A 1997 commercial release of a recording of crashing waves billed as “the voice of Taiwan” powerfully introduces the show and defines its revisionist tone. The presentation poignantly captures the intersection between sound cultures and their social context, from production to documentation, institutional control to grassroots organizing, outdoor music festivals to underground raves, and experimental sound art to lowbrow X-rated material. The exhibition’s complex sonic landscape demonstrates the plurality of the loaded term “nativism” (bentu), which has circulated since the 1970s in both academic and popular discourses, and is in need of clarification. The curators’ biggest challenge and success is delineating the diverse yet entangled influences that trigger the question of what Taiwanese nativism is, or could be, in the first place, and they include: Japanese colonial heritage, Kuomintang government censorship, American rock-music imports, sounds and rituals of the indigenous population, and folk music, as well as social movements.

Works by artists Chen Chieh-jen, Yao Jui-chung, Wang Fujui, Teng Chao-ming, and a few sound collectives and documentary filmmakers punctuate the show, demonstrating how aural productions and contemporary art share certain points of view and practices that manifest in performance, installation, and video, as well as in venues such as experimental theaters, artist-run spaces, and the street. Almost like a minimuseum of sound, the dense and informative exhibition charts the shifting of social values and aesthetics in Taiwanese society, raises questions about the collective memory, and most important, contextualizes the emergence of conceptual, radical art on the island.