The Art of War

A show housed in bunkers on Kinmen Island addresses the legacy of conflict between Taiwan and China.

The coast of China is faintly visible from the beach on Kinmen Island. The Taiwan-governed isle has been a battleground since the Cross-Straits conflict began in 1949. After Taiwan declared its independence, China shelled Kinmen four times a week for 20 years. Although the tension still takes center stage in Taiwan-China politics and business, it is no longer played out militarily across the island’s mine-filled beaches.

But since the bombardment began there has been a dearth of culture on the island. “They’ll forever be just an ‘island’ if everyone just comes and does shows and festivals, and then leaves,” says artist Cai Guo-Qiang (pronounced “SY gwo chang”), who staged the exhibition Bunker Museum of Contemporary Art (BMoCA) on Kinmen in September 2004.

Despite initial local skepticism about what insight international artists could offer into conditions on the island, BMoCA’s impact has been tremendous. In the first four months after the show opened, some 500,000 visitors came to the remote island, a 50-minute flight from Taipei. And it was announced in December that the project will become permanent.

Cai is known for monumental firework productions, such as the display over New York’s Central Park during its 150th anniversary celebration. For BMoCA he curated works by nine artists of Taiwanese descent and nine of Chinese descent, who created installations in the obsolete concrete bunkers that once held ammunition, tanks, and large cannons. The show features artists such as Tan Dun, composer of the sound track for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and film director Tsai Ming-Liang.

BMoCA has slowly become a cultural fixture in the community, and some 200 local volunteers have participated in running the exhibits, including 20-year-old Zhang Sung-Ho, who has no art history training. He notes that Dun’s installation, Musical Visual—in which the sounds of a piano being violently broken echo throughout a cavernous space strewn with remnants of fractured instruments—has a cathartic effect. “Music is equated with the sounds of war,” he says.

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