By Trista di Genova / published 2005 in Travel & Culture magazine in its abridged form
“EVERYWHERE IS A MUSEUM”
This year, Kinmen made international headlines when Kinmen was transformed from a former battlefield into an international art exhibition. A hundred thousand visitors came to Kinmen to see some of the estimated 2,000 bunkers around the island transformed into installation art exhibits. The collaborative project consisted of 18 international artists and 19 local elementary schools, wit the objective of converting symbols of war and confrontation into demonstrations of artful peace and peaceful art.
The Bunker International Museum of Contemporary Art (BMoCA) was the brainchild of Fujian-born Cai Guo-Qiang ( 蔡國強), a Chinese artist and curator now based in New York, who had spent his childhood under artillery barrages a few kilometers away in Quanzhou city. He is well-known for his pyrotechnic work in Shanghai and New York’s Central Park. “All over the world, people are building tall, magnificent buildings,” Cai said at the opening ceremony. “Here is the opposite – an underground palace for art.” “I wanted to make the bunkers into love hotels,” Cai said, adding that he’d seen a “similarity” between the two kinds of boxlike structures during a visit to Japan 10 years ago.
Cai’s first Bunker Museum of Contemporary Art (BMoCA), drew together some of the most celebrated Chinese and Taiwanese talent, a panoply of celebrities – filmmakers, painters, musicians and architects.
For instance, Tan Dun (b. Hunan, China; New York-based), who won an Oscar for the musical score he wrote for the film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” created a multimedia installation that involved wrecking a piano, the remains of which visitors can view in Tashan Battery No. 3 Bunker. “Every abandoned piano has a story behind it,” he said of the work. “History, time and disaster can destroy the surface of all entities. However, the heart of music and harmony is eternal.”
Luxembourg-based, Cantonese-British artist Tse Su-mei’s thought-provoking installation “Airing” uses a large rotating propeller (now still) that fills the bunker, preventing entry. This is a literal airing of the negative history associated with the bunker, she says, “which allows Kinmen people to now use the island and bunkers in a new way.”
Perhaps the most titillating installation was Taipei-born, Japanese-raised Yin Ling’s “Lovemaking for world peace,” (or, “Make love with Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek”) an opening day “happening” in which the Asian erotic and political idol donned camouflage lingerie, got in bed flanked by effigies of Chiang Kai-shek and Sun Yat-sen (孫文), and used the tenderness of lovemaking — with a skeleton — in an effort to symbolically negate, subvert and flout the cruelty of war and politics. “I will make some sexy poses on the bed to say that violence is not important and making love is important,” she said.
Another favorite was Fujian-born, Paris-based Shen Yuan’s “Speaker Tea.” At nearby Dadeng Military Base, Shen had seen the world’s largest propaganda speakers — huge trumpets that for years were used by China and Taiwan to blare propaganda back and forth across the Taiwan Strait. Shen then made a replica, and built a tongue-shaped platform on which visitors at the exhibition could drink tea and chat, in the middle of a minefield facing China.
Cai said that at the Sept. 11 opening ceremony that he hoped the artwork would remain permanently on the island, “to become part of an arsenal of wealth;” unfortunately, however, only some of the bunker exhibits are open to the public. Perhaps in the future the curators of BMoCA will find a way to make the shows more a permanent fixture on the island.
But the “bunker show” may be just the shot in the arm that Kinmen’s tourism economy needed. Professor Chiang Bo-wei, a professor in the Kinmen Institute of Technology’s Department of Architecture and World Preservation (and a champion of Kinmen’s cultural restoration), said Kinmen would like to turn the bunker art exhibition into a biannual affair.
“We want to put an emphasis not on the war but on the peace and freedom that Kinmen represents,” he said.
However, Taiwan’s Council for Cultural Affairs turned down an application to fund another bunker art exhibition, citing a lack of funds. Although BMoCA exhibition wasn’t “a business festival,” Chiang said, it succeeded in raising people’s awareness while infusing at least NT$200 million into the local economy.
But chances are fairly good that there will be another world-class art exhibition held on Kinmen in the near future. As it turns out, “the local government is very rich,” as Chiang said, mostly thanks to Kaoliang, or Kinmen wine, “jinmen jiu,” Kinmen’s (and Taiwan’s) most prized export liquor. If BMoCA organizers could work out a sponsorship arrangement with Kaoliang, funding for a biennale bunker exhibition wouldn’t be such a long “shot” at all.
And speaking of shots, the Kaoliang factory is a great place to get free samples of Taiwan’s sorghum-based traditional wine, and get “loaded up” on alcoholic souvenirs on the way to the airport. Chances are you will not want to leave Kinmen.