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May 26, 2017

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Dreams of a bamboo master

Bamboo is a common building material in Taiwan and is often used for scaffolding. The main reason is that the eco-friendly component is very strong, but also light and flexible. It also grows very quickly, making it cheap to use.

"The tenacity of bamboo is undeniable," stressed Wang Wen-Chih (王文志) while at the same time pointing to the material's Achilles heel — the rain, which decomposes bamboo quickly. The Taiwanese bamboo master is again passing down ancient skills to a team of designers at the 29th Woodford Folk Festival in Queensland, Australia.

"Woven Sky" was an installation for the 2013-14 festival, designed in collaboration with Cave Urban. The bamboo tunnel installation woven together like a basket was constructed from 600 poles of bamboo and 70 radiata pine logs, all harvested within a 20-km radius of the site. The structure rises to 15 meters high and is about 100 meters long. Taking 40 workers and volunteers 3 weeks to build, "Woven Sky" served as an entrance point to the Amphitheatre at Woodford Folk Festival.

"The response over 'Woven Sky' was quite positive and they even asked if we could finish two more sculptures so that we could also attend their closing ceremony," said Wang, who noted his unique way of using the material. "When attaching bamboo, non-Asian architects generally don't weave it, but we weave it."

This year's "Woven Cloud" (浮雲) also aims to capture the imagination of the participants in the festival by further exploring the concept of "entry spaces" within the festival. The new handmade sculpture takes the form of a circular, woven cloud structure topped with a cloud-shaped bamboo sculpture in the same area leading to the festival precinct.

"I invited people from Taiwan to come with me because they were all childhood friends from my hometown and it was just how our team worked," he explained. The other 40 volunteers were hired by the organizers.

Wang's earlier works were mostly made of wood, but after numerous exhibitions, he realized that wood was not that cost-efficient and the preparation was quite time-consuming. Then around 1997 he chose to shift to using bamboo because it was mostly symmetrical and handy for construction. Plus, the artist remarked that he grew up in a mountainous area with bamboo everywhere, so he was familiar with the texture and characteristics of the material. In 2003, he designed part of Neihu Park with bamboo, but back then not many architects did so. "Nowadays, it seems like it's become more popular than wood," he concluded. ■

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