10:00am-6:00pm, October 24 — December 13, 2015/ admission free
LO Yi Chun
Voyage to the Homeland
Dried banana peels, carton, mixed media, size variable
photo: YAMAMOTO Tadasu
World History of Banana
LO Yi Chun’s interest in natural environments and local communities was triggered by her participation to the international environmental art project in 2010. Since then, Lo has been developing three series of artworks, which deal with environmental issues and various factors in our contemporary society causing them. In one series, Lo creates environmental artworks, focusing on the characteristics of the places where the works are installed. In another series of artworks, Lo refers to as Gardening Program, she reproduces the natural habitats, replicating the area where the works are to be installed, in miniature gardens. The last series is artworks made using banana peels, which is the series Lo worked on at ACAC. Lo always uses natural materials as her primary artistic language. She creates works by incorporating the background histories those materials carry, using the context of the culture where the works are shown and working with the histories of the materials and how they gained meanings specific to that location. Needless to say, the reason Lo uses the natural materials in her works lies in her interest in ecology. At the same time, her works often pose questions about our contemporary society while making reference to its history. In these cases, the natural materials function as uniform mutual materials to connect the past and the present time, and they help to emphasize the degeneration of matters and the transition of the situations through time.
The work Lo created at ACAC Voyage to the homeland is a part of the series of works made using banana peels, which she has been working on for the past few years. Lo said she started using banana peels in her work when she participated in Artist in Residence (AIR) at Bank Art in Yokohama in 2013. As the first time she produced artworks while living in Japan, she chose the main agricultural export of Taiwan, bananas, as her material to symbolically portray the relationship between Japan and Taiwan. Lo presented 芭娜娜・バナナ・Saging (Banana in Taiwan, Japan and the Philippines), a historical depiction portraying the thriving banana market in Taiwan in 1950’s. Since the Meiji era, Taiwan had been the primary country for Japan to import bananas from, and when the Japanese people talked about bananas, they were automatically referring to the bananas from Taiwan. However, since 1970’s after political regulations were enforced to open up the banana import market, the position Taiwan held within the Japanese banana import market has been taken by the Philippines and other countries. The scene of the banana market depicted, using dried, darkened banana peels implies that the thriving and idyllic banana market is now lost in the past. In contrast, it evokes what was brought about afterwards; the relationship between the two countries affected by the shift in international politics and commercial transactions, and the change in people’s life and their awareness.
In Voyage to the homeland, Lo interprets the program title Navigation & Trajectory as journeys and migrations. Through juxtaposing historical migrations and migrations happening now, she portrays the relationship between the history of migration and the political powers. As a way to push material experiments further than with the two-dimensional works, which she has been making for a while, Lo challenged herself to create three-dimensional works with banana peels.
Five small, simple rowing boats, made with dried banana peels hang at slightly different angles as if they were sailing adrift on the sea. Still visible on the banana peels are the labels indicating countries of origins and revealing these objects are banana peels, from a distance, they could be taken for boats loosely woven out of tree barks. Each boat is accompanied by a booklet, which contains one chapter of a short five-part text and a photograph. Objects relating to the content of the booklet go together with each boat. The story begins with Columbus’ journey to the New World, shifts to migrations of immigrants and refugees, and continues to a chapter alluding to the European migrant crisis.
The banana boats with their minimal forms and woven structures evoke all kinds of possible difficulties which can occur on journeys, and some of the episodes in the story presents humanitarian problems faced by those who migrate. The small boats, made by loosely connecting banana peels, one by one, remind us of vulnerable boats, their passage blocked, by rough diplomatic waters, on the verge of falling apart and the anonymous people who still continue to migrate under these conditions. Though the accompanying texts directly address the current topics, each episode functions as a fragment in the history of migration and is absorbed into a larger picture. This suggests that all conflicts and troubles are universal and not merely topical. While dealing with the current topics this work demonstrates, just like her previous work, that Lo is interested in the changes in daily life and the influence on individual people brought about by those topics rather than being concerned with the topics politically. If this stems from her interest in ecology, then for Lo the environmental issues do not only refer to the issues in the natural environments, but also the changes of our environment through human activities.
Bananas, adopted as the material for her works, potentially express Lo’s identity as Taiwanese, and also function as a global and local common language for people like us, who live in the contemporary consumer society. In Japan, bananas trigger nostalgic childhood memories of the time before and after the Second World War. Also, a few decades ago when Japan started to show the economic prominence internationally, “banana” was a derogatory term for Japanese people, being yellow outside and white inside. Bananas are a globalized agricultural produce, due to their being traded internationally, thus they have a universal presence in our contemporary society. At the same time, bananas have a deep connection to the every country’s modern history. This work deals with the current topics every one of us is familiar with and makes reference to the history of migration. Meanwhile, when we apply local meanings and histories to “banana” the work starts to give different meanings to different histories of “migration.” It seems “banana” functions as a play ground, allowing different local images of it to come in to play. And by doing so, the banana brings out both the macroscopic and microscopic interpretations of itself.