Declaration / Documentation: Taipei Biennial, 1996-2014

Held once every two years, the Taipei Biennial is Taipei Fine Arts Museum’s premier international exhibition exploring the confluence between Taiwanese and international contemporary art. This year, we celebrate the Taipei Biennial’s 20th anniversary. Now, as we commemorate two full decades of the Taipei Biennial, TFAM presents the special exhibition “Declaration / Documentation: Taipei Biennial, 1996-2014.” By producing an archive, presenting exhibits and hosting a series of forums, we recollect and cast a new gaze upon the evolution of the Taipei Biennial. And as we turn around to look back, we hope to find the coordinates and perspectives to solve new problems and achieve new creations.


In 1996 then TFAM director Chang Chen-Yu proposed a major transformation for the Taipei Biennial, aimed at keeping in stride with the trends in biennials elsewhere round the world and elevating Taiwanese contemporary art in the eyes of the international art community. Firstly, the museum invited an international curator to organize a themed exhibition, and secondly, instead of soliciting submissions from the public, artists were invited to participate based on how well their art dovetailed with the Biennial’s theme. In 1998 the museum strategically invited renowned international curator Fumio Nanjo, initiating the first truly international biennial at TFAM. From 1998 to 2014, the Taipei Biennial not only raised the visibility of Taiwanese contemporary art, reverberating widely in Taiwan and drawing attention in the international art world, but also successfully gained a perch for Taipei in the contemporary art network of Asia, and indeed the world. From a different angle, the artistic visions from around the globe that it has introduced to Taiwan, its professional example of exhibition organization, and its international media exposure have all become important pillars for the development of contemporary art and international cultural exchange in Taiwan.


As intimated by “Site of Desire,” the curatorial theme of 1998, desire is the primal motive force of human civilization, driving the rise of the world’s metropolises. The memories and imprints of each Biennial representing different points in time only vanish with people’s forgetfulness, but the archives that have been left behind possess their own life energy, waiting to be reopened and reawakened. Thus, memory and present-day desire cannot be separated. It is desire that makes us imagine the future and drives us, even as we are looking back, to create new ways of seeing and thinking. Over the course of 20 years, the Taipei Biennial has proven itself, within the context of others biennials and triennials throughout the world, to be a strongly issue-oriented medium-sized exhibition. As we have sought to balance awareness of the international art world with the central importance of our own land, the central core of art with its marginal regions, our method of organization has evolved in many ways. A co-curatorship shared by an international and a local curator has given way to a single international curator. Originally executed only by an in-house team, the Biennial has expanded to include partnerships with organizations outside the museum. The exhibition space has also expanded from galleries inside the museum to other venues nearby and in other areas of the city.


The word “Declaration” in the exhibition title reflects our aspiration to unveil the voices, articulations, expressions, gestures and poses of past curators and artists as they responded to the contemporary world and everyday life through their exhibitions and artworks within the halls of the Taipei Fine Arts Museum. Based on extant documentation, the exhibition is organized in three parts – archives, exhibits and panel discussions.


The framework of the archive takes the form of a website – an extension of the Taipei Biennial in a virtual space. It spans all ten previous Biennials, from 1996 to 2014, including curatorial statements, artists’ works and projects, online exhibitions, reports and reviews, a timeline, data graphics, as well as texts, photographs, manuscripts and audiovisual recordings, all available to the public to access and study.


Over the past 20 years, some of the artists completed their works by changing the positions of their own bodies, pursuing site-specific themes from the vantage points of different cultural backgrounds, exploring, studying, blending into and coming to understand this locality, even inviting visitors to participate. Consequently, the exhibition gallery not only displays physical artifacts such as posters, brochures and artists’ project manuscripts, but also exhibits themes and events centered on site-specificity, including works created on premises specially for Taipei Biennials of the past. For example, at the 2000 Taipei Biennial, the Austrian artist Erwin Wurm made a documentary of his “One Minute Sculptures” in Taiwan, and in 2012 the Danish artist Virlani Hallberg engaged in a field survey and interviews to produce the video “Receding Triangular Square.” Other art projects began at a Taipei Biennial but continued after it had finished. For example, Jin-Hua Shi’s “Auction” and “X Trees” and Pak Sheung Chuen’s “Going Home” from the 2010 Biennial were extended to Beijing. Finally, we have specially invited Yu Cheng-Ta and Chou Yu-Cheng, both Taipei Biennial alumni artists, to create new works integrating sound and text, which resonate with elements from past Biennials.


Our hope is to encourage people to remember and reconsider archives of the past that seem to have fallen still, or have even been forgotten, to ponder them and talk about them again, and breathe new life into them. To this end, we have organized a series of forums, divided into two segments. The first features international curators of previous Taipei Biennials, returning to TFAM to field queries from curatorial studies scholar Lu Pei-Yi and to engage in dialogue with Taiwanese curators and art professionals, exchanging insights and experiences. The second portion is a “Biennalathon” curated by senior international curator Manray Hsu – a series of marathon art discussions among a wide variety of art professionals, pondering how Taiwanese art has changed over the last 20 years in such aspects as creative methods, the art ecosystem, institutions and policies, and international exchanges. All events will be recorded audiovisually, becoming documentary products of the Taipei Biennial in their own right. Based on the curatorial concept of exploring new ways to remember, read, perceive and revitalize archives of previous Biennials, the exhibition aims to achieve a more complete feeling, comprehension and vantage point on Taipei Biennials of the past, and even the future.