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Artist village draws international talent

The Taipei Artist Village brings together pioneering artists from all over the world and in Taiwan. Jane Rickards spoke to some of its foreign artists in residence about their work and what Taiwan can expect from them in the coming months ...

Kim Rae Taylor

Many Westerners new to Asia are repulsed at the thought of eating ducks's heads and chickens feet.

But for Texan-born artist Kim Rae Taylor, they are a source of aesthetic pleasure.

In the collection of paintings she produced in Taipei, "Fowl is Food", Taylor depicts typical Chinese tidbits such as headless chickens, fish heads and chicken's feet in glistening oils and acrylic paint

"I am taking something that to most Westerners would be considered unappealing — or even ugly or disturbing — and reassigning it to something which I find aesthetically pleasing or even beautiful," she says.

Taylor gives her food portrayals texture through layering oil paints and pasting on other materials, such as cheesecloth to give the impression of fish scales and string to bring out a duck's rough hide. She also creates collages out of Chinese newspapers as backdrops.

Taylor, who has held group and solo exhibitions at New York's Lucia Media Gallery, Cincinnati's Suzanna Terrill Gallery and other places in the U.S. and Europe, says the preparation and presentation of food — particularly Chinese food — is an art form but most people do not realize this.

"For me it is a cultural aesthetic that carries over to art and design and identifies a whole way of thinking about your surroundings," she says.

Taylor, who has worked in design and animation in various parts of East Asia, was first inspired by Chinese food a few years ago when she saw red ducks hanging in one of Hong Kong's restaurants.

"I just started liking the forms," she says. "I like figurative painting — I am really influenced by artists such as Lucian Freud — and the ducks' forms are very figurative."

Xenia Mejia

Moody Taipei cityscapes in brick-red and white featuring images of framework, such as construction scaffolding and wrought-metal bridges, form the bulk of Honduras-born Xenia Mejia's work in Taiwan.

"She wants to go a little further than the beauty made for tourism. This is another kind of beauty which people consider ugly but for her it is important and she considers it dramatic," said her husband and fellow-artist Donaldo Altamirano, translating from her Spanish.

Mejia's works hang in the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, where she has held individual exhibitions in 2001 and 1999. Trained at the Escuela de Musica y Bellas Artes de Parana, the Belgian Ecole de Beaux Arts de Wavre and the Berlin University of the Arts, Mejia has held exhibitions in South America, the U.S. and in Europe.

Mejia says she is inspired by construction and "the way things grow." She is also interested in city scenes from unusual angles, such as the roof of an MRT station or building structures viewed from the top of a high-rise, and is planning a work involving masses of Taiwan's motor scooters, inspired by the island's massive industrialization and dynamism.

Mejia uses acrylic and ink on canvas, and prefers to explore the possibilities of painting with three colors or less.

Donaldo Altamirano

Nicaraguan painter Donaldo Altamirano says he is inspired by his unconscious when he paints.

"I try to let my subconscious take over ... to a certain point I avoid deciding what I am going to paint. I make no plans," he says.

He says he begins a painting by splattering a canvas with paint until the droplets suggest something to him.

"Then I interpret them," he says. "There could be several possibilities and I choose just one. There is a little trickery in that — why I choose one and not the other," he says.

He points to a painting depicting an outline of a man's form, red and pink ink splatters and formless shapes.

It is up to the viewer to decide what the shapes are.

"It could be a snake, a horse or a dragon in Asian culture. I prefer to suggest a multiplicity, I believe the artist ... does not have a privilege in interpretation," he says.

Altamirano is not only a well-known Nicaraguan artist but is also probably one of the few people in the world who is mentioned in a Salman Rushdie book.

Altamirano, who is also a writer and philosophy professor, was Rushdie's translator when Rushdie came to Nicaragua in the mid-1980s to research his non-fiction work on the Nicaraguan revolution, "The Jaguar Smile: A Nicaraguan Journey,"

Lindsay Cox

Australian Lindsay Cox says he was drawn to the art form of animation because of its potential to reach people.

"Animation is a great way to deliver a message. "The format is screen-based. You can be an independent animator and still be seen on TV, a commercial medium," he says.

Cox, who was admitted into Melbourne's prestigious animation and interactive media course at the RMIT University, first caught the attention of Melbourne's art world with his puppet animation "Whyspers", which won first prize in a national contest for animation students. He since went on to win Australian animation and film awards, and his works have been screened in European short film and animation festivals.

In "Whyspers", puppets made of polystyrene inhabit a bizarre universe. Messengers carry balls between giant humanoid towers erected to Gods. Their message delivery system gets corrupted by flying snakes, who masquerade themselves as the messengers to get into the towers, but the change is for the good and revitalizes the Gods.

Cox, who also studied Mandarin, said his inspiration came from studying Chinese.

"The towers are like the tower of Babel," he says.

Noting from his studies how Chinese has changed and mutated with time, Cox says the system in his puppet animation ultimately "is corrupted but corrupted for the good."

Cox, who is newly arrived in Taipei, says he plans to hold a series of projections featuring silhouette animations of moving figures on Taipei's tall buildings, possibly in Ximending or near large intersections. They will not be announced and are intended to take pedestrians by surprise.

Mejia and Altamirano are planning an exhibition. Cox is also planning video pieces to be screened on a television monitor at the village. Rae has returned to the U.S. but is in talks to return to Taiwan for an exhibition. For further information, contact the Taipei Artist Village at

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