In the early twentieth century, the imperial Japanese government attempted to transform northern South Taiwan into a ‘paradise’, simply in order to provide a test case for further expansion into Southeast Asia in the future. Enormous quantities of tropical plants were transported to Taiwan, including coconut trees, which were seen as a strategic object in the expansion of borders—enacting a systemization of nature as such.
In 1935, the Japanese government commemorated the fortieth anniversary of the colonization of Taiwan with an extravagant display of cultural and political power, ‘The Taiwan Exposition: In Commemoration of the First Forty Years of Colonial Rule’. This fifty-day event celebrated Japanese and Taiwanese products and craftsmanship, construction and modernization, and occupied over thirty new buildings in Taipei and across the island. The Exposition’s South Pavilion featured a reproduction of rubber plantation—though the rubber tree itself is not native to Southeast Asia, it now grows here in abundance having been imported from South America by the British. This Pavilion was also flanked by sculptures of horses, an animal usually accustomed to temperate climates and unable to withstand extreme heat, but which was trained in humid southern Taiwan in order to prepare for upcoming battles. In this sense, the Taiwanese Exposition revealed the way in which the geographies of flora and fauna have been manipulated by humans to sustain colonization.
This artwork extends from The Nanyang Intelligence Bureau, a collaborative performance presented by Au Sow-Yee and the Oz Theatre Company in October of 2018. Designed as a film set which humorously mimics the Southern Pavilion from the Taiwan Exposition in 1935, and integrates radio broadcasts, video works, and archival objects, A Love Story of Life and Death charts Taiwan’s colonial history through an unlikely romance between a vanished intelligence agent and the ‘Belle of Penang’ (Bin Cheng Yan). A theatrical murder mystery of sorts, this performative installation invites viewers to reimagine the relationships between Japan, Taiwan, and Malaysia, exposed through their political and botanical connections.
Au Sow-Yee, born 1978 in Malaysia, lives and works in Taipei.