Located just a few minutes’ walk from Pingtung’s Fangliao train station, the F3 Art Venue is living proof that idle land can be put to good use. Converted from old dormitories that once belonged to the Taiwan Railway Administration, the art village has been part of the Art Network of Railway Warehouses run by the Council for Cultural Affairs since 2002. The ‘F’ in the title stands for Fangliao, and ‘3’ means it was the third art village developed in the project.
The idea of transforming the space into an art venue did not originate with officials but came rather from a few local enthusiasts. Fangliao train station functioned as the terminus of the West Link Line and an important hub for transportation until 1991, when the South Link Line was finished. This left Fangliao Station with a total of 3,210 square meters of idle land including dormitories, warehouses and offices. For a while much of the area was occupied by homeless people and drug users, a situation which raised local citizens’ concerns for safety.
Local groups who needed a place to set up their offices rented the space from TRA at bargain prices. Members of the Culture and History Studio, Wild Bird Watching Association, Calligraphy Study Group and several art groups had the opportunity to exchange ideas with each other. They organized the Fangliao Life and Cultural Promotion Association in 1996, together with local citizens including an architect, with the aim of promoting local industry and community development. A series of remaking plans were soon underway.
As the association made use of the space to hold exhibitions, seminars and educational activities of all sorts and invited residents to come along, the idle land began to take on a new life. In 2001 the association applied for a subsidy from the Council of Cultural Affairs for reuse of idle land and constructed the space as it is now known, the “F3 Art Venue”. Then in 2002, the art zone was enlisted as a part of the council’s Art Network of Railway Warehouses project, following Stock 20 in Taichung and the Art Site of the Chiayi Railway Warehouse. Subsequently the Council of Cultural Affairs officially took over operation from the association.
There are three sections in the F3 Art Venue: a display room, studios of groups-in-residence and Fangliao Art Village. The art village was reconstructed from old two-story dormitories to give artists in residence more functional living space. Their studios became one of the attractions of the art village in addition to the art works.
The uniqueness of Railway Art
Art villages are a global phenomenon. Some are known worldwide, for example the Cit? Internationale des Arts in Paris, and in recent years Beijing 798 has received much global attention. Beijing 798 was reconstructed from an old armory built by the former German Democratic Republic in the 1950s and is now home to artists from around the world. Since artists require space to do their creating, art villages are usually located in the suburbs, and in many cases they are transformed from factories of all kinds. This allows them to concentrate on their works and make use of the room to display them afterwards.
Taiwan’s Art Network of Railway Warehouses is a unique project because it makes use of the connectivity of the railway. The warehouses which functioned as storage rooms are perfect for art exhibitions, and the railway system makes the venues a lot easier to get to for the general public. Furthermore, the train station has its place in the collective memory of people islandwide in terms of its significance in history, architecture, transportation and industrial growth over the years.
According to studies conducted by researchers from art administration and management, rebuilding the warehouse into space for art creation and exhibition opens up a new era for the railway system. It used to carry goods, and now it carries art.
Artists in residence
The meaning of an art village varies from place to place, but the core value in a “village” always has something to do with its “residents”. The connection between the village and the locality is a key to its livelihood. In Fangliao Art Village, there are artists in residence who have made longer commitments to the village than is usual. Fang Fu-ming(方福明), or Boleng (伯冷), for one, is a sculptor from the Paiwan tribe who has resided in the village since 2002. His large scale wooden sculpture exhibited in the village’s open space has become an iconic piece of public art.
Born in the 1960s, Boleng left the tribe early and started earning his living by helping out in restaurants and factories. He learned fruit and ice sculpture in the kitchen, which led to an interest in sculpture. To support his family, Boleng was once a sailor on a fishing boat. The frowns and gloomy looks on the faces of his life size sculptures reveal the hardship a sailor has to go through. Nonetheless, Boleng met his wife during a trip to the Philippines, and she became his biggest catch.
Huang Ying-chuan（黃瀅權） is a paper, clay, and copper sculpture artist who also started his residence in 2002. Huang is holding a themed exhibition to celebrate the year of the Ox in the village from February 21 to March 29, 2009. This is the fifth year that Huang has organized an exhibition focusing on the Chinese zodiac. He is also the current Director of the Kaohsiung Creators Association. The exhibition will showcase works from different artists in the association.
“We are a bunch of artists who value creativity as our first priority in producing art. The ox symbolizes energy, but we are presenting it from various aspects,” said Huang during a phone interview.
Huang meant it when he said presenting the symbol of the ox from different aspects. In his blog, where he shares photos of his works, the ox series even includes snail figures. Huang promises that visitors will be joining a parade of oxen in different forms including flat-planed and three-dimensional, realistic and symbolic. The ox exhibition should certainly be a nice surprise.
Artists-in-residence and management authority rarely see eye-to-eye on how to run an art village. From the managerial point of view, the F3 Art Venue was established to promote local industries such as fisheries and agriculture. On the other hand, the artists in the village are there at their own expense. They paid everything to re-build the dormitories as their studios, and have been responsible for rent, water and electricity charges since day one.
Visitors to the village may find it quiet and empty sometimes. According to some bloggers’ travelogues, they appreciated the art space but were somewhat disappointed when they wanted to meet the artist but found that no one was there.
“For me, I like to take the space as my personal studio. I don’t think an art village is supposed to be a tourist attraction. We are not animals in a zoo, and we do have a living to make,” said Huang.
“Art itself is the substance. When art is attractive enough, the side effects such as tourism will surely follow. I am happy when I have visitors, but they can’t expect me to be there 24/7.”
Another administrative hurdle is the allocation of subsidies from authorities. People in the art village tend to see things in different ways.
“Subsidies from the public sector are better spent on maintaining the environment in the village. I am fine earning my own living, but this is just me,” said Huang.
Huang’s comments imply that reliance on governmental subsidies may jeopardize an artist’s character since it will inevitably involve compromises. He is reluctant to see artists or their creations bear prices set by authorities.
“I’d rather be a free bird than one in a cage,” he adds. This is something for management to chew on. The F3 Art Venue is a true treasure of the Fangliao community. How to maintain its vitality remains an unanswered question.