Melbourne Fringe Focus: Taiwan explores subculture, tradition, hope and fear
15.11.2021

Melbourne Fringe Focus: Taiwan explores subculture, tradition, hope and fear

Image credit: In The Mist, Photo by Kris Kang.

The 2021 Melbourne Fringe Festival is shining an insightful, futuristic light on a vast array of Taiwanese artistic expression.

When many Australians think of Taiwan, they think of…well…China.

Yet for decades, Taiwan has been home to one of the most groundbreaking artistic movements in Asia, across first cinema, and now virtual reality.

Melbourne Fringe’s Focus: Taiwan has the ambitious aim to inform a somewhat naive Australian public about a nation nearly the same population as itself, that’s only one-seventh the size of Victoria.

An island that encompasses rich cultural traditions and a First Nations heritage akin to Australia’s, and that has so much more to offer than a daily news headline.

The key takeaways

  • 15-20 November 2021
  • Loop Project Space & Bar, 23 Meyers Pl, Melbourne
  • FREE to all

Keep up with the latest in entertainment via our website.

Now in its second year, Fringe Focus Taiwan is a live VR experience bringing the country’s most ground-breaking contemporary and experimental digital artists to Melbourne.

It’s a free event the organisers describe as one massive virtual reality art party – “where you can sip cocktails, whack on a headset, and watch some wild Taiwanese VR films and digital art”. It’s reality can be much more subtle, however, with the intrinsic beauty of the experiences likely to provide a much more calming and atmospheric atmosphere than some attendees may be expecting. This is not a bad thing, far from it, it may be quite an enlightening one.

This aim is supported by The Ministry of Culture, Republic of China (Taiwan) and Cultural Division, Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Sydney.

One may expect that such support would entail walking a fine line between artistic integrity and political pressures, as the Fringe festival’s focus comes at a time of increasingly heightened tensions between Taiwan, China and the western world.

But instead, considering the program only has a small handful of films, virtual reality exhibits and AV art in its arsenal for the mighty challenge, it packs a huge amount of diversity.

And all the while, the Fringe’s program is an oasis of calm and curiosity, balancing focuses on technology, tradition and family with art that’s bursting with future challenges and opportunities.

While VR abounds, the artistic expressions also encompass patient odes to the island’s rich cinematic culture, which spawned the likes of Chung Mong-hong and Ang Lee.

Offing

Take Offing – directed by Taiwanese director Shih An Chen – an absorbing and experimental documentary on the The indigenous people of Orchid Island – a small haven – and their traditional festival around the migration of the flying fish.

Every year the migrating flying fish follow the northern tides in the East Pacific Ocean. One of their first stops is Orchid Island – a small, volcanic haven; home of the Austronesian indigenous descendants, the Tao.

The Tao spend more than half of the year dedicated to the Flying Fish Festival – celebrating the most symbolic animal and important food source on the island. Be immersed in the stunning surrounds of Orchid Island, experience the preparations for the festival and observe how climate change and globalisation are threatening the fish and island life.

Is their struggle for independence a subtle allegory to Taiwan’s, or perhaps an ode to the transitory nature of place? Fringe Focus: Taiwan poses the questions, the answers are all for you to decide.

A Song Within Us – Oli

A similar notion is portrayed in A Song Within Us – Oli, director Fangas Nayaw’s quest to showcase the spirit of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples, as it comes alive in the shared experience of music and dance.

It transports you into lush forest, underneath stunning waterfalls as the Taiwanese First Nations elders in remote tribes often encourage the younger generations to sing and dance with conviction, connecting to their land and meet with their ancestors’ spirits.

Indigenous culture can only survive through participation, the film notes. And in the immersive world of VR, cultural legacy can be passed on through a virtual dialogue with these ancestral spirits through technology.

In this captivating technological experience, participants will learn about how tribal hierarchy and culture are passed down through generations, while enjoying music and dance in the Annual Ceremony of Taiwan’s First Nations people.

It’s a hint at the flavour of the Taiwanese focus to come, which will be unsurprising if you associate Taiwan more with bustling technology than tradition and culture.

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Mechanical Souls

Perhaps we’re all destined for Mechanical Souls, an interactive experience that partners the family ambience of Ang Lee’s masterful drama Eat Drink Man Woman with an escape room.

This particular activity is powered by VR, analytic engine, live actors, and your own sleuthing skills.

In this virtual-reality spectacle, a sumptuous wedding is about to take place. Mrs. Song has found a good match for Zhen-Zhen, the heir of the rich Zang family. She spares no expense and hires wedding androids to help with the ceremony.

But something has gone wrong. And it’s your job, as a new Mechlife employee, to figure it out.

IT-ME: TIME Traveller Beta2021

Artful AV and futuristic exploration continue to combine with Taiwanese experimental artist Betty Apple’s work IT-ME: TIME Traveller Beta2021. 

A futuristic and fabulously queer video work, join Taiwanese artist and digital mystic Betty Apple as she introduces you to Beta – a futuristic mermaid, creature from an alternate dimension who travels through time and land on the Earth; falling on to the island of Taiwan in 2021.

In an adventure that sees her absorb fantastical energy from a Dragon Palace under the sea before turning into a human, she undergoes a mermaid awakening that adopts a modern digital slant.

Using experimental rap music and videos, Betty overthrows the stereotypical, patriarchal image of mermaids. From the mermaid costume to the gigantic silicon breasts, Betty’s Taiwanese Queer Punk Sci-Fi adventure redefines the meaning of both the IT Girl and Information Technology with a surreal character and moving imagery.

This AV installation work is filmed by the famous queer Taiwanese filming crew: MW Studio. The work was filmed with iPhone 12 ProMax in the iconic site of the northern coast in Taiwan, including the Temple of Shells and the Fish Market.

Afterimage for Tomorrow

With all this future-snapping, things take an inevitably dystopian twist in Afterimage for Tomorrow, an intricately choreographed exploration of a futuristic world where memories can be uploaded.

A man wakes up in an unknown dimension. Is it a memory, virtual reality or all just a lucid dream? In this short film, director Singing Chen collaborates with choreographer Shu-Yi Chou to create the indefinable.

Set in a futuristic world where memories can be uploaded, Afterimage for Tomorrow explores what in life is worth storing. How long will the images and memories we create today live into the future?

In the Mist

Last but certainly not least, and for now, it seems, the most popular and highly anticipated short film of all, is In the Mist, a voyeuristic journey through a male sauna revealing the life experience of underground gay culture that has a trailer reminiscent of Berghain’s dark room.

In a dim room filled with steam and mist, blurred figures of men sip desire and loneliness from one another. You have entered a forbidden zone. A state between dreaming and being awake; gazing at someone, who in turn gazes back.

In this fast-selling short film, acclaimed theatre and new media director Chou Tung-Yen invites you on a voyeuristic journey through a male sauna, revealing the life experience of underground gay culture. Take a voyeuristic and poetic journey through a male sauna and see into something that’s hidden beneath desire—love without love.

Head to the Melbourne Fringe Festival website’s Focus: Taiwan page for all the info.