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Brand, Practice and Footprint: Revelation of Proposition and Action Strategy of Co6 Taiwan Avant-Garde Documenta

□ By Lin Ping

"There are always footprints left behind one's footsteps" is a saying commonly quoted in a Taiwanese popular variety show, which helps people find their long lost friends and relatives. The saying implies that human activities always leave imprints, and such implication has become part of Taiwanese values by the advocacy of pop culture. From a positive perspective, activities, however enormous or small their scale may be, will leave imprints and hence become significant in a certain way. So what matters is to do, rather than to reap. From another perspective, when we've seen an imprint, are we able to infer who its creator was, how it was created, or how it was found? Due to uncontrollable factors, such as limitation of research tools or researchers, it is likely for imprints "to be made without ever being found" or "to be found without being interpreted". We have seen more and more reviews of Co6 Taiwan Avant-Guard Documenta: Do. Before people forget about Co6, we are listening to how they interpret our imprints. Art curating is a process of creation. Curators have their own set ideas. But they always face more unexpected, sensitive encounters that fill the process with surprises, adventures, conflicts, displacements, compromises, and insistence on ultimate care. As the chief curator of Co6, I'd like to provide behind-the-scenes perspectives from the inside of the process. Here, I will spare the words of gratitude for those who have supported us. Instead, I'll reveal the process of proposition and give some interesting examples of Co6 Taiwan Avant-Guard Documenta: Do. Perhaps this will help the finders of our imprints with their exploring and interpreting. Such exploring or interpreting cannot be done only from within the art; it also has to be done from an outside mechanism in order to discover the significance of such an exhibition for Taichung's or Taiwan's contemporary art.
Structural Analysis of Co6
Exhibitions with a budget of more than NT$5,000,000 are considered large-scale exhibitions in Taiwan. Co6 is not only a large exhibition, but it also has a very complex structure: 3 hosts, 2 organizers, 6 co-organizers, 1 major sponsor, and 2 co-sponsors. In addition, it also has 4 media companies to jointly organize and handle exclusive visual planning. The exhibition is shown at 4 venues under 3 major Taichung agencies. Operation involves central and local governments, public and private sector, cultural & art groups and the academia. Organization and executive mechanism of the exhibition includes preparation of the Implementation Committee, planning by both the chief curator in Taichung and the executive secretary of the Committee. Art reviewers and curators continue to keep in touch during the process, creating multiple "dimensions" of time, space and people. Such "dimensions" (also pronounced as "do" in mandarin) co-exist with the instant actions of "DO", revealing the subject of the exhibition. This year's Avant-Guard Documenta is unique in its scale and complexity of operation. One can almost say that it is in itself a city's biannual exhibition of a smaller scale. This exhibition is the only one in Taiwan that involves diversified planning and co-efforts from multiple parties. The entire process is full of uncertainty and adventure, and requires a high level of team work. An exhibition of such a large scale also requires coordination and communication among participating agencies. To make it happen, we need to cooperate, negotiate, and compromise. This is also what makes this year's exhibition so different from the previous two years.
Basically, Co2 is like a traditional market, where vendors sell chicken, ducks, fish, meat, and groceries. Its diversity is what makes it colorful and interesting. That's why Li Xian-Ting calls it the best exhibition. However, some critics say it's a hodgepodge that lacks planning, and a waste of young artists' money. Co4 enters the era of professional planning and is shown in several professional and non-professional venues. Experienced curators each exert their strengths to reflect current issues in Taiwan. Co4 is almost like a hypermarket with various sections or fashionable thematic restaurants. It has a strictly controlled scale and better distribution of resources. But the venues are the one-time thing that is obtained at the last minute. Some say this work is good, or that work is bad. But most people say it's impossible to visit all works, because the venues are too scattered. They are able to see more curators than individual works. That's why Co6 resets the fundamental key, openly soliciting cross-disciplinary teams of curators. As a result, Co6 is like a department store with diverse Departments. Each department has its own game rules and characteristics that are either closely related to the implanted content or deliberately disengaged from the content. After the planning and executive teams finish allocating space in the cultural and educational district and old neighborhoods in Taichung City, they use the brand name "Co6" to combine all the works. To be more specific, they are like a strategically allied commercial cluster that connects shops previously indifferent to each other. Using a branding strategy, they decide to play it together for once. We live in an era of commercialization. From the viewpoint of industrial trend, Taiwan Avant-Guard Documenta is ever-changing and adaptive to local differences.
Every year, Taiwan Avant-Guard Documenta has a unique strategy. In addition to an equal dialog and decision-making mechanism, it has also cultivated professionals of art administration and implementation in Taiwan. With its large scale, we face many unprecedented challenges, and the training is much harsher than any other ordinary training. Some playfully say that each year, the hard work finishes off one executive secretary and many temporary supervisors and staff. Completion of the mission always depends on passionate, yet less professional volunteers. When faced with the daunting task, we must attend to both professional art works and chores. We must be tough and resilient, and most important of all, we must have passion for public affairs and fervor for art. With the level of difficulty and lack of a regular organization, completion of the mission depends on the staff's "one-time experience". Thank God this exhibition lies in "change", not "sustainability".
The Implementation Committee decides to use "speed" as the subject for Co6 Taiwan Avant-Guard Documenta. To pursue the symbol of Taiwan High Speed Rail (THSR), Co6 is moved to Taichung. From the public selection of cross-disciplinary planning team, selection and planning of openly solicited works, to the organization and budgeting of the exhibition, such collective or existing deliberation reflects the basic principle and indicator feature of Taiwan Avant-Guard Documenta. We have always had a high level of self-consciousness that consists of internal dialogs and a character of profound self-reflection. Such a quality not only shapes the fundamental key and philosophy of our exhibition, but also sculpts the exhibition's aspiration to change and attempts to survive inside and outside the framework. A loose organization may be fatal to administrative efficiency, but academic discussion and full authorization of planning and execution are an alternative breeding ground for the exhibition to release energy.
Co6 manipulates the proposition ecologically by using both "strengths" and "weaknesses".
From the angle of ecological propagation and development, Co6 must follow decisions made by the Committee and consider the scale and complexity of the exhibition. Co6 must also adapt itself to the change of local values, migration of people, and the difference of brand recognition from the north to the south of Taiwan. Without actual time factors and a catalyst, Co6 uses a planning strategy of "strengths" and "weaknesses" For the planning and executive team, the practical choice and working proposition of this exhibition is how to appropriately put together cross-disciplinary proposals and heterogeneous works. This is in fact a type of external and physical combination, instead of a metamorphosis that changes the internal elements. However, a certain degree of delicate ecological reactions may have to be compromised in order for major elements to co-exist without conflicts. This is the conditions of manipulation for an exhibition to provide multiple layers and diversity. For example, an exhibition that solicits art works is a stage for mechanical or quantitative presentation. However, the performance of Co6's cross-disciplinary proposals shows the diversity of "cross-disciplinary" ecological effects: "hippocampus" shown at Stock 20 uses a form of art theater, allowing creators from various areas to integrate from the inside and outside of their theatrical characters and to present a cross-disciplinary romance "Sweet Blue Gene Corporation" is in itself a combination of alternative art, whose creators are hard to be defined as any traditional art areas. "Tung-Hai University Architecture Team" has professional architecture knowledge and a character of integrated plurality. They do not work as a cross-disciplinary team on purpose. The use of multiple media and engineering integration is the way they work. On the contrary, "Co6 south manufactures drugs the field" is a deliberate combination of multiple media. Their "cross" disciplinary works enhance the concept of differences between areas.
Co6 Avant-Guard Documenta Seminars provide a forum for participants from various areas to discuss and exchange ideas on how this exhibition allows "movie", "architecture", "sound", and "examination" to co-exist. Although the locations of the exhibition can not trigger real chemical reactions in its ecology, we try to integrate heterogeneous teams from various disciplines or areas. This is an extra gain for the curators in addition to ecological stimulation. The participation of "urban faces" by Tung-Hai Architecture Team and "motile space" allow audience who are used to visual arts to observe how architects perceive art. On the other hand, Tung Hai University's Department of Architecture opened a course for this exhibition and invited the chief curator to talk to the students about "what is architecture", "what is a city", "what is art", and "what is an exhibition"; they use the exhibition, instead of an architecture model, to overthrow their own ecology and concept. Through a different production behavior, they even incorporate the change into the standard for evaluating graduate students of architecture. Most of us are so used to how an exhibition should be presented. In fact, to judge the influence of a "cross-disciplinary" exhibition, visual effects are only the result of ecological change on the surface. The process of stimulating, tackling challenges, questioning, and looking for alternative exits is the true value of a cross-disciplinary exhibition.
The critical proposition of Co6's space change
Taiwan Avant-Guard Documenta actively addresses the issue of negotiation between contemporary artists and the system. It attempts to maintain an lukewarm, neither friendly nor aloof relationship with the system. After the works and venues are approved by the Committee, Co6 then faces questions very different from other exhibitions. When arranging space for the works, we have to ask strategic questions concerning the space: Why here? Why there? What's the purpose? When various forms of contemporary art agilely moves in and out of the system for survival, art museums are also actively evolving and changing traditional forms of exhibitions. That's why Co6 consciously chooses a museum to be our major venue for the new generation of experimental art. It happens that the new director wants to deal with art creation and the issue of new media in the younger generation, so we have received more help than obstruction. We decide to work hand in hand with the system and use different spaces, including National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, local cultural organizations, and alternative spaces. We work with peripheral exhibition mechanism of commercial galleries and try to introduce appropriate curating issues. We incorporate cross-disciplinary planning, including sound, movie, architecture, behavior, new media, and new methods of art. We adopt multiple attitudes of creation, including criticism, skepticism, statement, experience, story-telling, healing and entertaining.
The best decision-making of space arrangement for Co6 is to follow our instinct. We put "Reminiscence;Confession/Room" in Stock 20, which has the characteristics of a black box theater and is full of the sense of time. "Co6 submissions" and "To Smelt: Disorder;Abstratction;Noise" are the two displays that cause the greatest changes and controversy. In the beginning, we wanted to put the latter in the museum, in order for its character of the uncultivated "south" and "alternative space" to challenge the image of the museum. "Co6 submissions", on the other hand, was meant to be placed in Taiwan Architecture, Design and Art Center. The result of the coordination? The former chooses the alternative space to make their statement as artists on the fringe. The latter chooses the museum, following the curator's white box personality and reluctance to face challenge.
It is regretful that "PUSH Party" by local sound artist, Noise Steve, is not allowed to be displayed on the front square of the museum. So we have to move this work to Taiwan Architecture, Design and Art Center. Consequently the museum, which seeks renewal, is unable to relate to local young artists.
The basic proposition of Co6 cross-disciplinary planning to attract new faces
The basic proposition of Co6 is to contrast the appointed planning of Co4. Co6 openly invites art works done by more than 2 people in a cross-disciplinary manner, so that new faces with experimental planning can have their opportunities, too. This is a risky attempt. Curators are like military officers leading troops. Generals who lack experience may put the battle in jeopardy. But from our past experience, we know that no generals are born with battling experience. Among all the curating processes, "Urban Faces" is the most disciplined, "Polyphonic Mosaic" is the most interesting, "Motile Space" attracts the most attention, and "Reminiscence;Confession/Room"  is considered the least experienced, and yet the best by many. In comparison, Andreas Walther is the most experienced curator directly commissioned by the Implementation Committee. The curator has his own taste and introvert personality, which are impacted by the openness of the proposition and the fact that the venues are on the street. He is able to achieve a well-rounded exhibition that is not criticized in art reviews. 
The basic proposition of Co6's new faces of creation
Every year, Avant-Guard Documenta has some romantic stories. This year, the most romantic role is Chi Chi-Kang, an architecture that recently returned to Taiwan. Under the main subject "Dimension:DO", Chi uses an interactive device that is light, changing, creature-like, and architecture-responsive in the renovated space of National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, and appropriately finishes the production of "Motile Space". The most extensively-discussed, difficult, adventurous and most fun work is "This is not art, nor destruction" by Bbrother (Chang Shuo-Ying). After the planning and execution is approved by the Committee, we try to find a creator that has cross-disciplinary, alternative, and experimental characteristics. We hope this creator can convey a different message and challenge the authoritative academia. Chang Shuo-Ying, who has never received formal art training, is considered an urban actor and expresses his alternative statement through graffiti. During the process, Chang is involved in the illegal graffiti in Huashan Culture Park and has to communicate or even fight with the planning team. In the end, he is able to provide two works that are related to and distinguished from social intervention, with conceptual character and physical perception. Interestingly, during the entire process, Chang plays the role of a creator, working on the exhibition and his graffiti simultaneously. He negotiates space arrangement with the curator, while continuing to create fake transformer box which says "CCA Property. Do not damage". The museum accepts his works without any doubt, secretly responding to the subjection of the exhibition "Dimension: DO".
The basic proposition of Co6's local ecology
The cultural strategy of Co6 focuses on Taichung, where the greatest challenge is to connect with the relatively weak ecology of contemporary art, in particular the Cultural Affairs Bureau and local universities. The College of Fine Arts and Creative Design, Tung Hai University, provides professional art planning and organizing. Their efforts represent the active participation from the academia, from resource application, human connections, creative stimulation, forum and dialog. They maximize the tension of the exhibition/performance, allowing for cross-disciplinary dialogs within the college itself. The Taichung Cultural Affairs Bureau also raises funding by itself and creates "Volatilize", which shows Taichung's local energy of creativity. The curators and artists use Taichung as their base. These young contemporary artists reflect daily life both from the inside and outside. The white box is used for more traditional exhibition, while the special viewing context arouses excitement from the volunteers and curiosity from the passers-by. The curators expect to use this exhibition as a "teaching material for beginners"; however, the advanced materials will have to be achieved beyond this exhibition.
The multilayer planning and curating of Co6
The multilayer work of Co6 facilitates interaction and cooperation between agencies.  Of course, temporary matching cannot define future ecology. But undeniably, we have expanded the original perception of art-related agencies in Taichung and completed mutual exploring with them as well. As Taiwan Avant-Guard Documenta always has a high percentage of student participation, it is often bantered as an "alternative student art fair", whose purpose is to encourage students to experiment, explore creative resources, and to utilize the platform of exhibition. The ecology of art in Taiwan is unhealthy with single resources. Therefore, the mechanism of Co6 can still attract young generation of artists. The positive meaning of the exhibition can be observed from the fact that it selects 20 works out of 140 applicants and that it deliberately chooses venues away from Taipei, the heart of contemporary art in Taiwan.
No single exhibition can accomplish every ecological mission, even on with the complexity and layers like Taiwan Avant-Guard Documenta. Co6 leaves Taipei for the first time; the symbolic significance of space change is greater than the actual significance of ecological fermentation. From explaining to the locals what Co6 means, the creation of art works, to the presentation of exhibition, we manipulate the groups in the form of "brand abduction" and gradually establish recognition and identification with common values. At this stage, we do not address the influence on the ecology, but the process of forming the ecology. Perhaps it is not quite what Huang Hai-Ming expects from "creativity within chaos", but at least it disturbs the seldom challenged order. This year, Co6 is still criticized as too academic, too bureaucratic, too clean, or too pretty. Maybe it can be viewed as effective sampling of the current ecology of art in Taiwan. But we need to go beyond the function of ecological sampling. Instead, we must further disturb and create ecology. "Weak curating" or "work camp" may be the goals that the next or future Taiwan Avant-Guard Documenta should attempt to achieve.
Co6 begins with the issue of Taiwan High Speed Rail, which fails to begin operation in time due to uncontrollable technical and political factors. Co6 deliberately unveils the exhibition just before the launch of THSR. However, THSR also enables people who play critical roles in Co6 to go to Taichung for their mission, including Lin Mun-Lee, the Committee convener, Becky Cho, Executive Director of Taishin Bank Foundation of Arts and Culture, and our executive secretary Wang Kai-Wei. Can the policy of "Round-the island travel in one day" or "Co6 Taiwan Avant-Guard Documenta really influence the culture or ecology of art in Taichung? Who knows? Who has to right to decide?" "There are always footprints left behind one's footsteps;" however, if we only examine the results without recognizing the proposition, or, if we don't understand the purpose of the actor, how can we precisely determine and interpret the imprints left by the actor?
In addition to the preparatory guidance and support from the Implementation Committee of Taiwan Avant-Guard Documenta, Co6 would never be able to leave its imprints without the professional contribution of Li Si-Hsien, the creative art marketing director, and Yan Ming-Hung, exhibition affairs director, the hard work of executive secretary Wang Kai-Wei and the assistants, and the co-efforts of all cooperative agencies.
(Courtesy of Taiwan Avant-garde Documenta Promotional, Photo by Wu Shin-ying)