​IMCCI Goes To Tjimur Arts Festival

IMCCI Goes To Tjimur Arts Festival
Author: Melody Wagner

A fun filled week of creative interactions and a bunch of memories would be the best way to summarize our experience at this year’s Tjimur festival while enrolled in the intense course Art Festival Practice. The small group of IMCCI international students were taken out of their Taipei City comforts and taken to live in Sandimen Township for the duration of the course. Cultural immersion opportunities is perhaps one of the many unique features that the course offers its students. As a member of the IMCCI cohort you have so many unique integration, sharing, and immersion spaces. In a time where the COVID-19 pandemic is dictating the movement and possibilities of events, the chance to attend the festival was a summer highlight for most. The pandemic has interrupted and cancelled several plans, programs, projects, and initiatives, however, in the case of the festival, it created an unexpected platform for friendships and cultural exchange. 

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Photo Credit: Andrea Sandoval

Through the USR project (University Social Responsibility) a lot of the field interactions for our course is facilitated. The resources and support that USR provides, helps to create invaluable opportunities for sharing, connection and interaction. Connected to a larger project that we have been participating in since the start of the school year (2019-2020) that looked at the ecological and social features of the university community - Beitou, the intense field course "Art Festival Practice" was born. The larger project is titled:「Hi-Five Plus: 從北投平埔族群到屏東原住民的國際藝術對話」Hi-Five Plus: International Art Platform--Indigenous Peoples from the Plains of Beitou to the Mountains of Pingtung" led by Prof. I-Wen Chang. It took students on journeys and facilitated interactions between the international students of IMCCI and locals in both Beitou community and Sandimen community. During these sessions we got to learn about the culture, beliefs and practices of both groups while sharing with them our own local identities and experience. 
Attending the 2020 Tjimur festival as a participant and guest lecturer was one of the many benefits that being an IMCCI student during the COVID-19 pandemic has afforded me. We had the unique opportunity to share and experience culture on both local and international levels.When the opportunity was initially announced for a short term course where we would spend 4-5 days in Sandimen Township participating, observing, and organizing this year’s Tjimur festival I was quite uncertain of what the experience would be or even what part of my culture I would share at the festival. As time progressed and the official applications were shared with us, I was still uncertain because of the demographic we were told to prepare for elders and children who would most likely not be English speakers. My initial instinct was to share music, dance, or language, but considering the language barrier as well as the age of the audience we were expecting to have I selected more handcraft connected projects. 
The idea of tropical crepe paper flower making was an extension of the paper wreath making tradition that I grew up seeing and participating in as a child. I figured I could talk about the tradition and even conduct some research about its origins and share that with my class. The entire process was fun and interesting, as a person that has always enjoyed making handcrafts, the chance to develop and present a workshop to an international audience was delightfully satisfying. Excited about the 10 day trip to Tjimur, Sandimen Township areas, and Pingtung County we took a 5-hour train from Taipei to Pingtung. When we finally arrived in Tjimur we checked into our Air BnB and went over to Tjimur Theatre where we would spend most of our next 10 days. We got to look around and see the space and was later taken to a nice indigenous restaurant owned by Sandimen’s famous artist Saculio. There we got to try traditional Paiwan foods. 
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Photo Credit: Tjimur Theatre

On the second day, we took a walking tour around Tjimur where we were told a bit about the tribe’s history, social structures, cultural practices and belief systems. Touring the Tjimur area made me feel quite at home, its environment, landscapes, and even some infrastructures were quite similar. I saw several plants and herbs that I would see in Belize. Additional to the physical similarities, I found a lot of the social and cultural practices to be similar to that of the indigenous people from my region. From food preparation techniques to agricultural products and techniques. I even found some of their belief systems and social structure principles to be the same. 
That night was the official welcome social for participants and artists attending the festival. I must say that they know how to throw a party, and while there were moments of uncertainty and discomfort in the way we were treated by Tjimur staff the welcome party was well received and enjoyed. We danced and even participated in the singing of a Paiwanese melody. 
That was also the first day that I got to sell at the market space that we were told we would be allowed to have products. Andrea and I had set up our table to sell, Andrea made mini-kites as a small souvenir related to her workshop and I sold sugar-corn cups, a variation of sugar corn ideals that would be made and sold for really hot days and ducunu, another corn-based snack. The corn cups were a fast seller, because of how hot the days were, the sweet frozen treat was a quick and soothing relief during the hot summer days. 
On Sunday we sat in on the conversation on "her breathe" which was the theme of the 2-week festival. There were recorded performances by several different international artists that were invited but unable to attend due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There were performers from different parts of India, the US, Canada and Newzealand sharing their craft on screen. After their videos, there was an open discussion session, where participants and observers had the chance to share their opinions, responses, and connections about the works. We then had the chance to see parts of a work performed by the Tjimur dancers, choreographed by a resident choreographer. It was an attempt to transfer traditional choreography into a museum space. It was beautiful work and what was perhaps most interesting about it was the fact that the dancers sang the music to which they danced. After a brief Q and A segment with the choreographer. The session continued and we were introduced to the guest artist and dancer with which they were collaborating. There are 4 fulltime professional dancers, so an artist was invited to work with each dancer. Artists came from diverse backgrounds, there were 2 Taiwanese artists and 2 international artists, with backgrounds ranging from visual arts, performance, butoh, and Taiching Dowing each brought a different spin to the studio and their dancer that they worked with. By the end of the 2 weeks, each pair was expected to come up with a performance for the closing show. 
That night we had the chance to socialize and interact with the dancers and staff of the theatre, they took us to KTV. This was an opportunity to build personal relationships with the theatre staff and connect on a deeper level. 

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Photo Credit: Andrea Sandoval

As the days progressed, on Monday 3 of the IMCCI student lead workshops were completed, starting from my own handcraft workshop and ending with Rhodrigo Lopez’ Pinata Cultural/ Historical talk and Pinata making activity. Each of our workshops saw a different level of participation, conversation and interaction, having unique levels of impact and educational value to its participants. I appreciated the opportunity of facilitating and supporting the development of the interactions that we had.  
In addition to the opportunity to lead workshops, we also observed and participated in the workshops that happened while we were there including the traditional Paiwanese: button, food, glass bead making. These were all beautiful experiences holding valuable lessons about Paiwanese culture, history, and traditions. I enjoyed each for the unique immersion opportunity it presented.              
One evening we had the chance to go to the neighbouring community of LiNali and visited 2 of the contemporary artists that lived there. Both welcomed us into their homes and shared with us their artistic inspirations, cultural influences and insights into their works. This visit gave us the unique chance to engage with the artist and understand the values that their work represents as well as the important role they play within their tribe. The artists we visited had works in the Futurist Wave Exhibition that is at the Pingtung Museum, that we later visited. I was enrolled in the course this semester that was brought onboard to assist with the curation of the exhibition. The opportunity to meet with the artists in their homes and work space and hear more of their back story certainly provided perspective and clarity on the works that were in the exhibition. Visiting the artists also gave us the chance to get a clearer understanding about the Sandimen township and the diverse indigenous groupings that coexisted in the area. Our trip to LiNali was inspiring, engaging and enlightening, it helped to give me a clearer understanding and contextualize what we experienced in LiNali and what the Exhibition we assisted with meant for the community. 
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Photo Credit: Iwen Chang

Another highlight from the trip was the Visual Arts workshop hosted  by one of the Guest Artists from Belgium. In her workshop Heidi Voet told us about her process, inspiration and showed us some of her works. I enjoyed hearing about some of the extents that she went through to conceptualize and bring to life her pieces. After her lecture presentation, we had the chance to create our own visual piece and go through some of the processes that she does when coming up with her work. I enjoyed the process of research, conceptualizing, sharing and listening that we encountered during that workshop. Seeing the diverse concepts and content that each participant developed,as well as learning about the fruits that we were tasked to work with as our chosen objects was an interesting process to be a part of and observe. It was very meaningful, and engaging.
Toward the end of our stay we had two trips outside of the Sandimen community, the first was to the Culture park, where we for the first time had the chance to see other parts of the park. The landscape continued to steal the show with its vast beauty, however on this trip we got to experience and learn a bit more about the different indigenous groups in Taiwan. We visited the onsite exhibition and saw a performance that provided us with an interactive education tour through song and dance of some of the Taiwanese Indigenous. While the performance emphasized the Cou people’s traditions, beliefs and culture, we got to see the cultural attire and hear words from all the recognized indigenous groups in Taiwan. The colorful, educational show was a combination of creativity and innovation, and something I think has great potential if done with the right intentions. After the show, we went to another section of the park, where we visited some of the indigenous housing structures, placed on display. The park was quite the immersive educational tour and something I certainly have to revisit.

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Photo Credit: Iwen Chang

The second trip was to the Museum to have a complete tour of the “Futurist Wave” Exhibition by the Curators. While well intentioned, I must admit that it felt rather exclusive due to hurdles of language barriers and an apparent disinterest in whether the person trying to interpret could follow the conversation. However, what was good about the visit was the chance to see what changes had been made as well as getting to share with my classmates what we had done over the semester. 
The take away from this invaluable opportunity to participate in the festival and see this part of Taiwan will always overshadow the moments of cross-cultural communication lapses and occasional linguistic exclusions that were experienced. Any opportunity to participate in culture sharing is something that I will always appreciate. The chance to share my music, tradition, food and dance with my classmates and the other festival participants was very fulfilling. It surely helped to make me forget about the fact that we are in the midst of a global pandemic that has forced so many borders to close. The bonds made through this opportunity, the chance to connect and interact with artists, cultural enthusiasts, and locals, sharing cultures and interests and having critical conversations about current events was significant and important. I cannot thank our professor enough for her initiative in negotiating and facilitating this wonderful opportunity to share, collaborate, and build capacity.