KILLING IMPERIALISM WITH KINDNESS?
A Statement by monochrom
The São Paolo Biennial is known to be one of the most important
and biggest art exhibitions in the southern hemisphere, forming
the counterpart to the geographical concentration of art in the
context of the west. The worldwide hegemony of western art is
still maintained through art history (even when it started to
perceive non-European art, like Carl Einstein’s book "The
Negro Sculpture" from 1915), aesthetic theory as well as
the practical side of its presentation (e.g. documenta) and discourse
(from categorical universalism to concrete media presence).
Nevertheless, we, monochrom, were pleased, if only as the national
representatives of a racist mini state, to participate in such
The situation there, however, showed the disappointing image of
the usual criteria of exclusion under the curatorship of German
Alfons Hug, who participated in crude discussions about the exhibition
theme, Metropolitan Iconographies, from the window of the platform
of higher individuals down to the wild-romantic and violent „urban
energies“ under globalized living conditions.
From the plethora of scandals we want to focus on one incident,
which concerned us, because it took place in the immediate vicinity
of our space: Chien-Chi Chang was invited as the representative
of Taiwan, but the country’s name was removed from his room
over night and replaced by "Museum of Fine Arts Taipei."
As we found out later on, China had threatened to retreat from
the biennial and to cause massive diplomatic problems. Chien-Chi’s
open letter remained unanswered. Then, Georg Paul Thomann, our
art avatar, invited artists from several countries to a solidarity
action to take down letters from their countries’ names
and hand them over to Chien-Chi that he could remount ”Taiwan“
outside his room. That was taken down again over night, though
being the product of an artistic action.
With this statement we do not want to weep over "our work
of art," but demonstrate which border the directors of the
biennial were willing to cross in order to support those states
It was not a question of which kind of imperialism to prefer;
the western-economical as represented by Taiwan, or that of the
old-Stalinist China. (Some orthodox leftists already criticized
us for that.)
On the following day, a solidarity dance performance by Georg
Paul Thomann ("We meet here a 4 o’clock to have a radical
dance performance, we dance the world 'Taiwan'") was thwarted
by several security officers. They had to stand the remaining
two months of this mega exhibition in front of Chien-Chi’s
white cube every day in order to stop possible critical interventions.
We wanted to show solidarity with Chien-Chi and that artists do
not necessarily have to internalize the fragmentation and isolation,
which is imposed by the structure of the art market, the exhibition
scene and the respective economy as a society-controlling imperative.
These or other artists were pulled out of their self-referentiality
and closedness of their national cubes of representation, which
also signifies their commodity function. The biennial building
itself, which proves to be static despite the modernist architecture
phantasm, was inscribed with psycho-geographical patterns of movement.
Thus, artists maniacally ran through the corridors.
Reclaim the streets!
[Annotation: Many Taiwanese and Chinese newspapers reported on the
incident. We got several headlines like "Austrian Artist
Georg Paul Thomann Saves 'Taiwan'"]
AM FROM AUS RIA" - NOBODY GEORG P. THOMANN AND THE GREAT
brief comment by Andreas L. Findeisen
Why does the Austrian
artist Georg Paul Thomann happen to be one of the protagonists
of Taipei TIMES, in a highly politicized context, which is close
to war? As far as the author is informed, Thomann never appeared
on the international scene of the powerful, not even as someone
whose presence could have been neglected. He simply didn’t
stand out, which would be necessary in case of emergency. Born
in 1945 in Bödele, Vorarlberg, the artist already supplied
the public with various forms of action during his high school
years, but what he produced in terms of rumors or speculations
was only good for the streets or his regular’s table, and
finally found its place in art history.
Then the situation
changed, and this should give us a reason to think: In 2001, when
the Austrian federal chancellery was looking for the right person
to represent the country at the prestigious São Paulo Biennial
in Brazil, the process started its course, which, in retrospect,
could easily be misinterpreted as a chain reaction. Due to obvious
advantages, the responsible curator turned out to be the director
of Moderna Galeria in Ljubljana, Zdenka Badovinac. After some
research in Vienna and vicinity, she chose Georg Paul Thomann,
by that time 56 years old. For him, the honorable invitation came
too late anyhow, and he not only wanted to be celebrated as a
big artist but also take the role of a benefactor for young talents.
Thus, he declared himself co-curator, and, after consultation
with Ms. Badovinac, took the painter Richard Wientzek, the media-
and bricolage collective, monochrom, the concept art troop 320x200
and the A/V-artist Tonki Gebauer with him into the transatlantic
However, his cleverness should not be ignored. He stylized himself
into the absolute middle of the Austrian pavilion, to the conditio
sine qua non for his offspring with the installation “Self-portrait
as Austria’s highest mountain - I am winning my religion"
– the four young groups simultaneously became tourist centers
grouped around this nature-strong art throne. They played the
cryptical and really evil games with devote passion and, why not,
the own market value in mind. After all, the São Paulo
biennial is not just something, but since fifty years the most
important overall art exhibition of the southern hemisphere.
Even if Taiwan is situated
in the northern part, the problems until March 2002 had been entirely
different, and this won’t change for a while. To understand
these problems in their hybridity, one does well in dealing with
the real history along with art history. Let’s go:
In the sense of a culturally
written historiography, Taiwan has existed a little bit more than
400 years. After Dutch colonizers had taken Chinese farmers from
Mainland China, the latter slowly mixed with the Malayo-Polynesian
aborigines, and "a new race was born: the Taiwanese".
Then the famous Chinese pirate Cheng Cheng-Kung (Koxinga) took
over the island (1662), himself in favor of the Ming dynasty and
in flight from the Ch´ing dynasty. More and more people
from Mainland China began to settle on this island, but not as
representatives from Peking but as refugees due to famine. Later
attempts from the Peking emperors to take control over Taiwan
always led to conflicts with the ever more stubborn islanders.
They are mirror one proverb, which has been handed down over the
years: "Every three years an uprising, every five years a
rebellion." When in 1870 Taiwanese pirates captured American,
Japanese and French vessels and the respective governments sent
their notes of protest to the Chinese emperor, he replied, shrugging:
"Taiwan is beyond our territory." The enraged French
sent their own fleet to secure the trading route, but took the
power only over Northern Taiwan and this for nine years (1884/5).
Because in the meantime Japan had decided to extend its influence
towards the South, and the Chinese rulers over Manchu, usually
no seafarers, finally discovered their interest in Taiwan through
the power of mimetic rivalry (you only desire though the gaze
onto the gaze of another desire). In the year 1887, Taiwan was
declared a province of the Chinese empire, but only eight years
later, the Japanese won the "Sino-Japanese War." The
"contract of Shimonoseki" (1895) transferred this claim
for possession to Japan forever (and not, like in the case of
Hong Kong "for 99 years.")
these eight years, Taiwan was under siege of the Chinese empire
" – is what Taiwanese historians say today. Chinese
communists, however, rather follow those historians, who say that
occupation always existed.
For the moment, it
is not the respective Chinese central government, which disputed
the insulated Taiwanese right for self-government. Back then they
tried to fight the violent incorporation by Japan: With the help
of a dissident Manchu officer, Taiwan was declared the first Asian
republic ever on May 25, 1895, and a separated flag was designed.
Only four days later, this movement was beaten by a 12.000-men
strong Japanese invasion, which ruled exactly 50 years, until
the Japanese defeat at the end of WW II, leveling the country’s
industry, infrastructure and education with one’s own standards.
In 1930, during the time of Japanese dominion, leader Mao Tse-Tung,
who was himself involved in fights for power with the nationalist
Kuomintang by Chiang Kai Chek, told the American journalist Edgar
Snow the following sentence as a note: "...we will extend
them (the Koreans) our enthusiastic help in their struggle for
independence. The same thing applies for Taiwan."
However, the tradition
of the Chinese imperialist thoughts was soon meant to occupy the
official status of Taiwan, i.e. the recognition of its own identity,
in an even more persistent form: In 1943, during the second world
war, Chiang Kai Chek demanded (without the presence of Taiwanese
representatives) from the allied forces that "Taiwan had
to be handed over to the (nationalist, not communist, A.F.) China."
This was agreed upon in the Cairo Declaration, and in 1945 Chiang‘s
troops were allowed to temporarily occupy Taiwan according to
the orders of the allied forces. This agreement was settled „on
a sleepy afternoon under the hot Cairo sun“ (Taiwanese historians)
and should have serious consequences for the self-conscious islanders
during the following decades, also beyond Georg P. Thomann‘s
Although Chiang finished
Japanese foreign dominion (which was counted in days anyhow),
he also abducted the most important art works and artifacts of
ancient China from the almost communist Peking (to protect them
from the barbarian, tradition-hostile Sino communists) and from
this stage claimed nothing less than the overall diplomatic representation
of mainland China with his resting regime in Taiwan, he also thought
to protect the true Chinese archive in Taiwanese exile for better
times. A revolt by the Taiwanese in the year 1947 was bloodily
defeated by his Kuomintang (today KMT), "18.000 to 28.000"
inhabitants were killed and the "white terror" started:
the prosecution of all intellectuals and Taiwanese leading figures
over years. Thereafter, on February 28 that year, the day of the
rebellion, became the founding symbol of the strive for independence
of many Taiwanese ("2.28"). 15% of today’s population,
however, who fled the island with Chiang – in 1949 war in
mainland China was completely lost – ruled over the rest
of the inhabitants by controlling the media, the infrastructure,
education, and an own secret service apparatus: 40 years under
martial law began.
On an economic level,
the Kuomintang managed to successfully improve Taiwan’s
capacities until 1971, but the sole diplomatic representation
was more and more degraded by real politics and the international
banquet of the powerful to a wish dream, which, in retrospect,
it had been from the beginning. Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger
wanted an "opening towards China" and not an exile government.
Kuomintang’s seat at the United Nations was transferred
to Peking and the Chinese occupants of Taiwan were at the mercy
of world politics, while sitting on their Chinese culture archive
and having to watch helplessly the recognition of representation
as a ticket to dance on a banquet, which they had lost. In 1972,
Henry Kissinger signed the Shanghai Communiqué after a
delicious dinner with "Maotai and Peking duck," this
document later formed the basis for a "One China" politics
of the US. Here, Taiwanese historians also remind of the "Rand
Corporation Report of 1985," in which Kissinger is cited
with the sentence: "After a dinner with Maotai and Peking
duck I will sign everything."
Hence, the forced dominance
of the Chinese nationalists Kuomintang (KMT) over Taiwan had obviously
been selected. In 1979, it was attacked by the "Tangwai"-movement
("outside-the-party") first on its most imaginary side,
the claim to still represent the whole of China. Until 1986, this
resulted in the development of the Democratic Progressive Party
(DFP), the first opposition party, whose founding was tolerated.
On the anniversary of "2.28," the first public discussions
were granted, in summer of 1987 martial law suspended and the
first visits of relatives in China allowed (just think of the
hesitating opening of western and eastern European governments
in this case, or North and South Korea until the present day).
Thereafter, the four-day republic of 1895 more and more developed
to a democratic system of western orientation. A local Taiwanese
becomes president, dissidents are released, peaceful negotiations
for Taiwan’s independence are no longer punished, and with
more flexible foreign politics, the sole claim for representation
by the KMT is actually given up. In the nineties, there are the
first free elections, foreign journalists are allowed to enter
the country, the first national holiday is celebrated without
military parade, and the government cautiously takes up semi-official
negotiations with Peking and prepares Taiwan’s re-entry
into the UN.
than 70% of the population speak the "Minnan" - dialect,
today’s Taiwanese, but they come from the Chinese province
Fujian, 10% from the Chinese province Guangdong (dialect: "Hakka"/"Kejia"),
and only 1% are natives (Malayo-Polynesian languages), the remaining
15% consist of the above-mentioned mainland refugees and their
offspring. The various Taiwanese tribes (Foklos, Hakkas and Aborigines)
take their time in positioning national-insular social links above
ethnical-linguistic ones. The first re-elections of the national
assembly gave KMT 71,2%, and DFP 24%. (1991), the first re-election
of parliament since 1948 gave KMT 53%, DFP 31% (1992). The official
language is still Chinese, and there are still many valuable prey
items of the thousand-year old Chinese history in the National
Museum of Taipei. The distance to Mainland China (Xiamen, Prov.
Fujian) is approx. 150 km. The size of the island amounts to 36.000
km2. There are almost no mineral resources, but a population of
meanwhile 23 million people and also the world’s monopoly
in the semiconductor industry, a technique giving superiority.
Thus, the area offered a unique density to install bunkers, defense
weapons and missile bases, against desires, which can easily be
read from the following:
The Chinese government
will undo the intrigue by the Taiwanese separatists (17.12.2001)
Mainland China has
made its decision and is prepared to undo every intrigue by the
Taiwanese separatists, who want to disunite the fatherland.
This is what the head
of offices of the State Council for Taiwanese affairs, Chen Yunlin
said on December 16 in Beijing, at a reception on the occasion
of the 10th anniversary of founding the society for the relations
between both sides of the Taiwan street. Chen said that the interests
of the Taiwanese people would be damaged by the Taiwan authorities,
if it further provoked the "One-China" principle or
even planned new separatist activities to create tension and confrontation.
Moreover, Chen prompted the Taiwanese authorities to look reality
close into its eyes, to consider the interests of the Taiwanese
people and to acknowledge the One-China principle.
This is where the contemporary
version of the One-China principle is played, avoiding every official
recognition of "Taiwan as such," Peking duck sauce still
dripping on the floor of the banquet, on the other hand still
to be argued beyond interests in economics and other influences.
According to the press release, this doctrine lies in the interest
of the Taiwanese. This is true as long as they do not sustain
the pressure of such a strategy, maintaining the hope that they
themselves can choose the history of the next 100 years for the
first time, by creating it and writing their own archives. Representing
the Chinese world cultural heritage could definitely be something
to neglect, if mainland China in Peking will be broader for the
autogenous re-annexation to its glorious old an non-communist
history, hence a desire for nothing more and nothing less than
one’s own way to a hybrid, but merited and really possible
autonomy. This improbability equals the extent to which Taiwan
made itself an indispensable supplier of microchips. What is created
in Taiwan is a phenomenon of modernism and, thanks to the island
situation, one of the most modern in Asia in general. This is
also why everyone is grateful for the recognition of facts from
the northern or western parts of the big globe and this is also
, who knows why, when G. P. Thomann seriously comes into play:
Taiwan's protest over the issue of its name at the 25th Sao
Paulo Biennial Art Exhibit in Brazil took a dramatic twist on
Sunday, as six countries donated an English letter each to form
the word "Taiwan" for the nation's exhibit hall. A
Chinese-language newspaper reported yesterday that the innovative
protest action was the brainchild of an Austrian artist, George
Thomann, who took the initiative in urging other participants
to take an English letter from each of their respective exhibition
nameplates to donate to Taiwan. Thomann took the letter "t"
from Austria's nameplate and artists from five other countries
followed his lead. The report said Canada donated the letter
"a," Croatia donated the letter "I," Puerto
Rico donated an "o" -- which was cut into two pieces
to form the letter "w," Singapore donated another
"a" and Panama donated the "n."
effort was then attached to the nameplate on Taiwan displays
shortly before biennial opened. The Sao Paulo biennial is one
of the world's three most important exhibits of contemporary
art. The Taiwan display was originally labeled as "Chien-Chi
Chang, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taiwan." Chang, a renowned
photojournalist, is the only Taiwan artist whose works are being
exhibited at the biennial. Three days before the opening of
the show, Brazilian organizers abruptly removed the "Taiwan"
from the nameplate without giving any explanation. Chang protested
by closing the Taiwan display and sending a protest letter in
English to the organizers. Copies of the letter were given to
the 190 participating artists from around the world to solicit
by plastering a bulletin on the closed door of the Taiwan display
on the eve of the opening of the art show calling for donations
of English letters.
donation made by the six countries has enabled us to reopen
our exhibition hall in time to meet the raising of the curtain
on the biennial show," Chang was quoted in the newspaper
report as saying. „The unprecedented move has left the
name plates of each of the donor nations with one letter missing
from their respective national titles," Chang said. "But
their missing letters have helped add an `artwork of protest´
to the dazzling array of exhibits on display here." Huang
Tzai-lang, director of the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, who is also
in Sao Paulo, said that the new word "Taiwan" on the
nameplate is a creative work of art. "We admire the artists
from the six donor countries for their courage in standing up
to support our protest," he said.
Thomann might be a
nobody, but not an everyman. He couldn’t accept the destruction
of a contemporary modernism and quickly invented a semiotic counter-recognition
through an international pool of artists – totally without
an institution behind – and danced polka on his own banquet.
Art also derives from communication. The Chinese delegation, who
managed to make the director of the São Paulo biennial
act in a very distinct, unintelligent and very inelegant manner,
might have wished that Thomann never existed. That their wish
has been fulfilled for ages can no longer cheer them up.
Andreas L. Findeisen
teaches at the department for cultural philosophy and media theory
of the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna.
Snow, Red Star over China, Grove Press; Revised edition (March
1973), quote p. 110
George Kerr, Formosa Betrayed, Da Capo Press; Reprint edition
(June 1976) Home Rule Movement
basic data on Taiwan from a Taiwanese perspective: http://members.tripod.com/~Tw_De/html/TWPAPERg.htm
basic data on Taiwan from a mainland China perspective):
The homepage of the Taiwanese civil rights movement: World United
Formosans for Independence (Wufi)