Taiwan’s Ecological History as Performance: The Collection of Time in the Polymer Age

by Brian Hioe


Photo Credit: The Collection of Time in the Polymer Age


New Bloom/No Man is an Island’s Brian Hioe interviewed artists Kappa Tseng and Chiang Tao about their recent art project, “The Collection of Time in the Polymer Age”.


Brian Hioe:  Could you first introduce yourself for readers that may not know you?

Kappa Tseng:  My name is Kappa Tseng, I normally work in theater. I work on theater design, including lighting design, spatial design, and stage design. As for my own, most of this has to do with found materials. I use manmade found materials and make small-scale performances, which may take place in theaters, museums, or other places. 

BH:  Could you talk about “The Collection of Time in the Polymer Age”? What was the inspiration for this project?

KT:  “The Collection of Time in the Polymer Age” is a part of another project of mine, which is called “Island of Plastic Dream”. This project began in 2020, as built upon research into the petrochemical industry in Taiwan. I’ve been working on this collective project for the past two or three years. This includes a tabletop game I put together for “Island of Plastic Dream” and the exhibition for “The Collection of Time in the Polymer Age”. 

BH:  What else is planned for this project?

KT:  The project is quite large. Outside of “The Collection of Time in the Polymer Age”, in November, I’ll do a tour-style performance in Dalinpu by the Linhai Industrial Park in Kaohsiung, bringing some visitors to the park. That area has been settled for around four hundred years, but there have been issues regarding forced evictions in the last thirty or forty years, they might be evicted soon. So I’ll bring visitors there. 

At the same time, in July, I’ll be doing an art residency at the Lize Puppet Art Colony in Yilan. Lize is an interesting area, in the past, William Wang of Formosa Plastics considered the area when evaluating where to construct what is now the Mailiao No. 6 Naptha Cracker, because comparatively speaking, Yilan is very broad and flat, and there’s a deep water harbor there. 

However, at the time, Yilan residents opposed this, the local government and central government disagreed, and so in the end, Lize was not chosen for construction. I’ll conduct some fieldwork there and try to understand what happened there. My subsequent plans will be to continue my research into the petrochemical industry in various parts of Taiwan, I might not have the opportunity to create new works in all of these places, but this is a large issue, so I’ll continue my research.

BH:  There are many layers to the “The Collection of Time in the Polymer Age”, ranging from the everyday lives of workers, to the environmental history of the earth. Why did you plan the project this way?

KT:  While researching these past two years, I found that what was difficult was that though we have many statistics from the government, biographies of industrialists, or blood-and-tear-soaked protests from environmental groups or local residents, each side has its perspectives. But to put these perspectives together is difficult, in that there are many sides to how people look at an event. What points are focused on or the things that are brought up are different. 

But I think this complexity is significant. For me, what is important is to understand the context where these incidents take place, as well as their complexity, rather to rush to try form our own viewpoint. This is what I hope I can give viewers, that they can see these various aspects– including from the point of view of workers, local residents, and from non-human perspectives as well, such as from the factory itself, or from the viewpoint of plastic plates. To look at this from the perspectives of each of the individuals involves is what I hope for them to experience, which is why I designed the project this way. 

BH:  Were there any influences on your work from others? The songs remind me of Lin Sheng-xiang. 

KT:  Of course, Lin Sheng-xiang has influenced us. He had a concept album about the petrochemical industry before. But compared to other people’s works, we want to focus on the real world, including in terms of documentation, reports, and etc. We use lyrics as part of this. The other co-founder of our studio, Chiang Tao, also happens to be a musician. We’ve tried to use musical narratives in the past few years as part of our work, using lyrics to develop the perspectives of these narratives. He can tell you a bit more about that. 

Chiang Tao:  In the beginning, Kappa wanted me to write four songs, she had four viewpoints that she drew up. But after working on this, I felt that this wasn’t too suited to my style, I don’t like things that are too sincere, because my works are a bit more ironic. 

So I felt that for these two characters that are real people, the grandmother that lives near the forest, and the worker in the oil refinery, I could invite some friends of mine to work on this. There were two people I thought were suitable for this, so invited them to work with us, and divided the parts with them. I took care of the oil refinery and plastic plates myself, taking the point of view of these material objects. Because I often work with Kappa, I’m used to focusing on non-human perspectives, or works from the standpoint of objects. 

I told the other people that we invited to work with us that their songs should focus on narratives, rather than the feelings of the moment. That is, it should have what comes before, and what comes after. It was more or less like that. 

KT:  I set up four points of view, outside of the Kaohsiung oil refinery, the other perspectives were fictional. In terms of the fieldwork I did in the past few years, whether in terms of interviews or collecting information, I hoped to show something real about the characters, in creating these fictional perspectives. After coming up with these four characters, I came up with life stories for them, and wrote out their lives as a whole. After finding these perspectives, I set up the arrangement of the toys we used. The life stories were used for the structure of the lyrics, regarding what happens in Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. After that, we left it up to these three musicians to write their songs. 

BH:  What do you hope that viewers of the project take away? Whether these are Taiwanese viewers or international viewers?

KT:  This time we worked with Magnify. It’s quite interesting. When researching this topic, a lot of information is from outside of Taiwan. Particularly in America, where there are many issues with the petrochemical industry. Some materials are from Europe, there were fewer materials from elsewhere. But when reading these materials, I would be curious–where does Taiwan fit in? The relations between industrial areas and local residents or between the government and industry must be different than Taiwan. So I usually read materials from outside of Taiwan and then research Taiwan. 

The question was how to show Taiwan’s circumstances to international society. But what takes place in Taiwan is part of a larger, international issue. It’s not that it is an abstract issue, it’s quite concrete, including as tied up with government-to-government relations, international trade, the influences of the industrial structure, and international consumer behavior. This is connected to everyone in the world. Much as how there was a moment that after coming to understand this, I wanted to know more, I hope that whether for Taiwanese or international viewers, there can be a similar moment, where they want to know what is really happening and taking place.