Over 300 years Taiwan had been ruled by foreign regimes which cunningly through warfare and diplomacy acquired the right to rule the island, where the act of public pillage, economic rapine, cultural ravishment, even ethnic plundering, was undertaken. And this contributes largely to the lingering Taiwanese sentiment of an oversea colonial motherland. History has cultivated Taiwan’s cultural and ethnic landscape. Despite the lift of martial law in 1987 and the right to freedom of thought that ensued, Taiwan’s sovereignty remains a haunting question.
Liang-Pin Tsao: Becoming/Taiwanese pivots around Martyrs’ Shrines across the island. Capturing the Martyrs' Shrines through photography, the artist then transfers the imagery along with archival images of the Shinto shrines onto light boxes, juxtaposed with historical documents, in an attempt to foreground the past relationship between Taiwan and Japan. The existing Martyrs’ Shrines in Taiwan, revamped from Shinto shrines of the Japanese rule period, embody the once conflicted relationship between China and Japan, and bear witness to Taiwan’s fragmented perception of identity, tormented by its colonial past over a hundred years ago. Pondering the issue of transitional justice, the artist prompts the viewer to think about how to break free from the traditional authoritarian shackles, and about the abolishment, the preservation, or the transformation of the Martyrs’ Shrine, in an attempt to not only commemorate these martyrs' sacrifice and educate the public about the historic lesson, but also rid the shrine of its function as the authoritarian means to instigate nationalist sentiment.
The Chinese exhibition title Xiang Xiang Zhi Suo, a direct translation of "imaginarium," responds to the artist's investigation of an imagined Taiwan's subjectivity and identity. Inspired by the book Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (1983) by the late American historian Benedict Anderson, the artist names the Shinto/Martyrs' shrine "imaginarium" with an understanding that nationalism is never easy to define, that it is a collective consensus, that it belongs to distinguishable groups of people. He sees the Shinto/Martyrs' shrine as a testament to the state's manipulation of people's imagined history through cultural dominance, as well as a sacred space that cradles cultural heritage and nurtures vigorous imagination.
"Becoming/Taiwanese," the English title of the exhibition, is also the name of the photography project. By juxtaposing "Becoming" and "Taiwanese," the artist contemplates the fluid definition of "Taiwanese" in his examination of the island's colonized history for the past 300 years. The artist reflects on the education he and so many others have received under the one-party state, as well as their frustration and shame upon learning a different perspective on history after the lift of martial law. The vestiges of the past loiter in the collective subconsciousness, furtively shaping Taiwanese identity and the relationship between "us" and "others."