The little art space that roared,Vico Lee


IT Park doesn't boast the swank address common to many art galleries, but that hasn't prevented it from becoming one of the most influential alternative spaces in Taiwan

The Kwangju Biennale, the Asian counterpart of the Venice Biennial, is going to exhibit not just works of art, but art spaces in the Kwangju Municipal Art Museum. In addition to Hong Kong's Para-site and Loft Media Center from China, it has enlisted Taiwan's IT Park, among other alternative spaces in Asia, in one section of this year's biennial, which is aimed at giving voice to aspiring artists, instead of established ones.

According to Hou Hanru (侯瀚如), IT Park become Taiwan's alternative space at the show because it best represents all the alternative art spaces in Taiwan. With around 700 visitors to each exhibition, many of whom are art students accompanied by their professors, the space's influence on the contemporary art scene is clear.

For this occasion, Chen Huei-chiao (陳慧礄), owner of IT Park, and her friends, the core artists who have taken turns exhibiting their works in the space throughout its 13-year history, were enthusiastically preparing for the biennial which acknowledges the influence IT Park has had on the contemporary art scene in Taiwan.

The group includes Tsong Pu (莊普), Ku Shih-yung (顧世勇), Chu Chia-hua (朱嘉樺), Wang Jun-jie (王俊傑), Yuan Kuang-min (袁廣鳴), Peng Hung-chi (彭弘智), Chen Suen-chu (陳順築) and Chen Huei-chiao. The preparations by the first three artists, together with Chen, has become "Distant Reality," IT Park's current exhibition which opened yesterday and will continue through March 2. They will then reconstruct the space in Kwangju.

One of the works planned for the Biennial is Ku's installation meant to represent IT Park. In his work, photos of random stretches of its walls and corners will be put on the corresponding walls and corners at the Biennial exhibition. The minimalist and somewhat nostalgic work serves to highlight IT Park's uniqueness as an alternative space.

In an unlikely setting -- a Korean restaurant to its right and a Chinese noodle shop to its left -- IT Park has kept a light on for the art-interested late into the night. Squeezed between buildings on Yi-tung St, its narrow stairway leads to a photo studio on the second floor, exhibition space and a bar on the third, and a rooftop.

The simple yet flexible structure of the place -- combined with the exhibitions it has held -- has polarized people's opinions, with some finding like-minded friends at the exhibition space and others left feeling puzzled.

Opened in 1988, installation-heavy IT Park was, at the time, part of the burgeoning art scene in the post-martial law era, which allowed for freer artistic expression and a marked increase in media other than paper and canvas.

IT Park first gained international attention in 1991 by curating "International Mail Art Exhibition." At the time the art form -- exchanging works created on postcards by mail -- was virtually unheard of in Taiwan but gathering force in France, Germany, England and other countries. IT Park invited artists from Hong Kong, Italy and Yugoslavia to join the event.

In IT Park's tenth year, it was once again ahead of its time in organizing the "Magnetic Writing" exhibition, which showed the works of 83 artists of Chinese descent. Drawing on the revolution computers had brought to art, all works were made on A4 paper. Many of them were print-outs of computer-generated images or integrated sound-files that viewers could listen to while seeing the works on screen.

"What I have seen through the years is the challenges with which it [IT Park] has presented the public. Sometimes it not only challenges, but threatens them. I've seen people feel frustrated because the way they access a work of art didn't work and their definition of art was muted. The works here have not been the eye-pleasing paintings which which they were accustomed. Many have not known what to make of it," Tsong said.

"In IT Park's second year, there was an exhibition by Chen Chian-pei called `Tou Chi' (the Taiwanese folk religion ceremony in which the ghost of a deceased relative is believed to have come back to his or her house for a last look at the human world). As viewers came up to the white-draped second and third floors, they saw mourning crowds and funeral paraphernalia. Thinking that they'd seen not an exhibition but a real funeral, they left in bewilderment," Tsong said.

"Similar things happened at Wang Teh-yu's exhibition of inflated plastic membranes. When they were exhibited here, people couldn't believe they were looking at works of art. Their sense of complacence was challenged," Tsong continued.

It may sound a bit sectarian, but according to the artists here, you either like IT Park or you don't. There's a kind of tacit understanding which binds artists and viewers together.

"When you walk into this space, your intuition begins to interact with the peculiar setting. The new interpretation of the space that goes with each different exhibition -- and the interaction many of the exhibits require -- is seen as an affront to some viewers and even critics. Once they find that their previous knowledge fails to help them comprehend the works, they never want to step into this place again," Ku said.

Those who did come back were often seen engaged in casual conversation with the artists at the bar.

Until last April, the bar was on the third floor providing no-frills drinks to exhibition-goers. Its limited menu showed that, unlike other alternative spaces, such as Front, Tutto and Mi-zang, the bar was subordinate to the gallery, instead of the other way around.

However, the bar began to do more harm than good to the interaction between viewers and artists. "Many people passed by the works without giving them their due. Some did not even know there were works on exhibit. They just wanted to have fun at a bar," Chen Huei-chiao said.

That's why they decided to tear down the bar last April, thereby transforming IT Park into a pure art space.

Contrary to what IT Park artists expected, the renovated space attracted more visitors than before.
"We were surprised, but now we can be sure that when people come here, it's for the exhibitions. That's a positive change," Chen said.

(Taipei Times, Sun, Feb 03, 2002 - Page 24, By Vico Lee/ STAFF REPORTER)

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Art Director / Chen Hui-Chiao Programer / Kej Jang, Boggy Jang