Sunday, 23 June 2013

One Voice

After three years living in Taipei I feel I have reached a stage when everything I do has to be more political. Whatever I say or do stands out from the norm, even more when in Asia. Having a voice is a powerful tool for an artist, but what happens when people do not wish to hear? There's no ideal country. The issues change shape but remain the same fundamentally. When I lived in France, mine was to find a voice and the courage to use it. I had alas not reached the stage where people would stop and listen to me. I was invisible. It's different in Taipei. People are indeed interested, but they get scared like little rabbits not daring to hop out of the cage.
I had been invited to show my photographic work for a possible exhibition at a place called The Empress Lounge. Formerly a non too successful night club, it has now been turned into a coffee shop with a gallery space. That is, that's what the owner is hoping to achieve. I immediately saw the potential as soon as I walked in. But it was still at a potential stage. As it was, the space was a messy mismatch of falsely baroquely garish sofas, vintage industrial chairs and tables and a bit of n'importe quoi gathered from an antique shops at the flea market (flea market in Taipei?)
The current exhibition was showcasing colourful and cute paintings of animals (mostly cats) by a Japanese artist named Pepe who also provided the music, an album of (cute) folky songs that perfectly match the artworks on the wall. They asked me if I would have an exhibition the following month. I was about to accept (and arguably get myself into trouble) when Strawberry boy Ryan wisely told me to wait.
"This place still doesn't have any clientele" he said. "And you shouldn't rush to find yourself with no one coming to see your work. Wait for a few months"
What a good piece of advice! I instead suggested the idea of a collective exhibition. A perfect way to launch the place and make it known to people. The Empress bar also needed to undergo some serious changes. The leftover furniture from the club had to be disposed of, more place should be dedicated to the artworks, the working space area for the staff had to be re-located away from where the customers have their meal and drink...  
And I got carried away. F., the owner, a suave and attractive young man endowed with a rich deep voice (he used to sing in a choir) happily welcomed my suggestions. He even started to dream on with me as I was explaining to him that the place had to undergo drastic changes if he really wanted to make a difference. Coffee shops with art on the wall is a common trend in Taipei - to me, calling a coffee shop 'gallery' is an euphemism which thinly disguises a trick from the owners to get free decoration for their space.
I presented some more suggestions which would help boost up his place as an exciting and cool artistic venue. Unfortunately, my vision wasn't his vision. He had none.
Much as he loved the ideas, he slowly started to show his nervousness: he didn't feel he had the guts to go all the way. "I'm a business person, so I have to think about making money" he explained.
Business? His night club venture was a tragic failure which he managed to drag for a year and a half if it wasn't for his parents' help. I often hear people invoking the financial issue to excuse their unwillingness to pursue their aims.
"And I also have to take my partners into account. I may agree with you, but they might think it's too drastic a decision."
His mother had flown back from Toronto to help her son. Then a different picture unveiled un front of me:
F. was just one of those rich kids who were born with a silver spoon in their mouth. He may have studied finance, but had still not showed signs of any real ability in the department.
I was disappointed. But the whole experience made one thing clear for me: asking F. to be the artistic director of his gallery was a mistake, for I actually need someone to do support my work and bring it to the public. Not the opposite. In spite of the disappointement, the outcome was a positive one. I had been preparing all my life and it was now time to embrace my talents, get out there and find the people who would help/me.

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