Sun Yat-sen Freeway

That Road
I was born in 1986; the following year, Taiwan’s martial law was lifted. My untroubled childhood was set against the backdrop of Taiwan’s society progressively opening itself up. The rich colors of economic development, while drowning all other strident voices, offered explanation of the surroundings. I later realized that that was also the era in which American and British Neoliberalism took flight; in which powerful countries began to manipulate international markets and relations via multinational finance systems. That was when the concept of a free market traveled to all corners of the world, when the consumerist lifestyle thoroughly manifested the essence of freedom. In recent years, a desire to better understand the world I live in has propelled me to devour many books about Northeast Asia’s modern history. The texts fill up gaps left by lost words and compensates for a sense of vacancy that follows the anxiety caused by a deficiency of subjectivity.  

Even though what I wish to face squarely is the present — this very moment — I find myself gradually realizing that the problems left behind from the martial law and Cold War era are not truly left in the past. The effects on our politics, our economy, even us as individuals, are still significant to this day. Therefore, I decided to simply do away with all my concern for formality, and the anxiety I experience when my words lack precision. I attempt to meddle with the detritus of history beneath my feet, as well as the fragments of my own emotions, and use this space to tell a story. What I am about to abruptly cut into is not a world that is familiar to you and me. The Sun Yat-sen Freeway I will speak of is not the one you and I often shuttle through. This freeway is a perception of time; powerful, vigorous. Where this freeway is constructed, all obstacles shall be eliminated. It was erected under memories of revolt and mayhem. It was built amidst an ensnarement of emotions. Riding above this freeway, we do not recognize it as a cognitive curtain or framework that excludes other ways of coexisting with time. Yet, the aspect that most perplexes us is, perhaps, the modern form it has embodied — a freeway. It symbolizes the era of modernized prosperity during which it was built. As solicitude for international, global, and local knowledge swells and occupies the forefront of our discourse, and as we seem to have become able to hold a simultaneous discussion with the West concerning the religion of ‘speed,’ it has become increasingly difficult to maintain an accurate grasp on the illusions created by discrepancies in time. It has also become more challenging for us to see clearly in the historical shadow cast by the process of modernization.     

In my Sun Yat-sen Freeway exhibition, I created interlinking works — including a video, installations pieces, and a set of paintings — inspired by the imagery of one freeway and one family. I peer out from a historical point of view and see, through a nation’s imagination, the effects of cold wars and modernization. I wish to refine these specific historical situations through the path of my own politics. I seek ways of molding our subjective experiences, our patterns of desire, and even the gloom politics of modern life.  

Purple Cinders
A sense of lag and deficiency produced by a linear historical perspective are the gifts bequeathed to Asia by 20th century colonialism. Freeways, on the other hand, are seen as a cultural symbol of a country that is striding towards modernization. The first section of the Sun Yat-sen Freeway to be constructed was the MacArthur Thruway. It ran through Keelung — the predecessor of Taipei — and was the first freeway built in Taiwan. The MacArthur Thruway is the product of the political situation between Taiwan and Mainland China after 1949 as well as the Cold War. The thruway, named after General Douglas MacArthur, was sponsored by USAID and its construction commenced in 1962. The American Occupation of Japan set a military and material foundation for the Korean War and the Vietnam War. The occupation also initiated the process of imperialism manifesting in East Asia, creating situations that could be exploited by various East Asian regimes. The Korean War brought about military and financial aid — to help Taiwan combat foreign aggression — for the Republic of China regime. Such generous aid also helped sort out the dissenters within. It also created a global manufacturing system led by the US. Under an authoritarian system and the White Terror, Taiwan gradually became a highly productive and industrialized country. After the USSR collapsed, cold wars around the world came to some sort of a halt (post-Cold War era). However, from post-WWII to the 1970s, modernism that proliferated during the Cold War brought about statism and the ideology of modernizing economies. To this day, such beliefs seem to still occupy the mainstream ideology of East Asian societies. 

A Hungarian author who was present during the Korean War described what he witnessed, saying, “All that remained of the towns were chimneys. I do not know why chimneys survived when all houses had collapsed. Passing through a town with a population of 200,000, I saw nothing but a few chimneys.” “Just piles of low, purple chunks of cinder.”

Inspired by this description, I crashed, cut, and re-created my collection of discarded household objects and packaging into images imitating the ruins of war. Through the production process of attempting to link one image to another, and through the material and labor meaning behind the process, I am able to outline the relation between modern material life and past wars. 

A set of story-board-like paintings depict a family driving on a freeway. The freeway is Sun Yat-sen Freeway — a road often taken on family trips. Imposing high voltage transmission towers and beastly concrete factories constitute the scenery along the way and became images engraved in my mind. Yet, the forms of these scenes and spaces also seem to represent those who were replaced in the extended process of a country’s modernization. I borrowed the idea of analogizing one’s nation with one’s home, which Patriarchy often indoctrinates, in my attempt to overturn the modernized content of a nation’s mode embedded in nuclear families. In so doing, we can identify the trauma seen in a nation and in the development theory of a historical point of view.

Worldly affairs are mutable and our inability to fully appreciate the situation of others constantly leaves us feeling as if we are missing a lesson. After closing a book, I always find myself caught in the realization that I am looking at the sky through a narrow tube, trying to picture the full view of an era. In this exhibition, all I can hope to do is put forth more than an open narrative body. I wish to present a parable, a metaphor of disaster and destruction; a metaphor that clings tightly to the past while rehearsing the future. I wish to present a parable, a metaphor of disaster and destruction; a metaphor that clings tightly to the past while rehearsing the future.