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Interview with Isa Ho

img  Tobias Fischer

Your work deals with the hyper-reality of modern experience. Taiwan must be one of the most hyper-real places around, especially as it's developed so quickly economically and people have been thrust into a new way of life. How in control do you think people are of the characters they play in this society?
Taiwan is indeed a fast-changing place. It only took 60 years to transform from an agriculture society to an OEM industry, and even now focusing on the technology industry. The complex cultural experience, from the Japanese Colonial Period, U.S. aid, Sino-US diplomatic relations to today... The traditional concepts are kept in a closely-knit family and the neighborhood and each generation has its own impact since an experience in the new environment will always be tested under the changes. Between the conservative/open views and the traditional/modern concepts, the conflicting values are now testing the people in Taiwan. 
For example, I was asked by the family education that girls should not speak loudly, and obedience is very important as well. The eldest brother and sister should take care of the younger ones since there were mostly extended families in the early rural areas. My high school education was full of Confucianism; like Confucius, Laozi and Zhuangzi thought, ancient poetry. Later in the university education (after the declared martial law ended), I was trained that you must have your own self-awareness and work harder than others. And when I began the freshman life, I started to face all the competition, not to even mention about the loud speech, a clear expression, a correct logical way and so on.
I think many people have the same experiences like me. We must take account of the values from grandparents, mothers and fathers, and from the children's generation. Though it's all the same in the world that we all have different social status like mothers, wives, children, staff and so on, then, what if these criteria have conflict among the roles? That means we need to spend a greater effort in order to play them well. And we are also accustomed to it.

Fairy tales are a constant feature of your photography. Often it seems people in Taiwan will sacrifice the present and their enjoyment of life for the hope of a happy ending, particularly a picture-perfect marriage. Perhaps reality is just too difficult to deal with for most people. Why do you think there is this retreat into fairy tales?  
The so-called fairy tales are because they always bring us a better vision and always have a happy ending. Everyone in childhood was told that prince and the princess lived happily ever after which means the good outcome is also a symbol of marriage. It can be said that "compromise" in Taiwan has given full play to the traditional values of grandfather's generation. Women need to get married, undoubtedly, and of course, if they have to do so, looking forward to a dream will be a must, and a fairy tale is a spiritual pillar for them as well.

I dare say the disillusionment of fairy tales is the common experiences of modern women in Taiwan. Therefore the same experience applied to other logic or event experience will become very interesting for me. Whether male or female, there are too many things for us to compromise in the contemporary Taiwan society. In my works, the negative point has its positive emphasis which is “If you have to compromise, the psychological construction and adjustment must be kept up with the pace!” As you said, we are willing to sacrifice the life state and enjoyment just because we want to have a happy satisfactory outcome. If such a compromising way is only an appearance, I am afraid that it will be the root of social problems. As for the reason I think there should be a compromising state in the fairy tales, just as fairy tales always said, like grandparents told us, “the marriage is the final destination.”

You have written before of the 'irresistible legitimacy' of the 'diverse social regulations' that govern the human subject and the roles people must play. What are some of these regulations and why are they so irresistible? 
For example, we were born to be the children of our parents. And after having children, we become their parents. We are also the employees of other people. And once we get promotion, we become the boss of others, and so on. Whether doing well or not, we judge people by their EQ, ability, or if they have made their best effort. Even a fashion party plays the same games. You need to dress up according to the "Dress code", or you seem not to belong to this party. Speaking of the Confucian five cardinal relationships: ruler and subject, father and son, husband and wife, elder and younger brother, friend and friend. It's been a long time that the five relationships have supported our families and maintained the social order. I think they all can be called ”a competent play”.

In recent years, as the Chinese economy has grown so rapidly, Chinese artists have become very fashionable. And it seems there is always a demand for Chinese art, regardless of the quality; despite the fact that there is some good stuff going on. Taiwan has a more ambiguous situation. How do you feel about the rise of Chinese art as an artist from Taiwan?

In fact, Chinese contemporary art has faced considerable challenges in these ten years and especially the sudden bubble in the past two years. In the great change you can see the blurred image of Taiwanese. Taiwan contemporary art wasn't affected when the boom time came to the Chinese market and we didn't have much feeling when the Chinese contemporary art market bubbled. The rise of Chinese contemporary art let me see the culture difference from the artist's works and also made me re-think about my own position, the relationship between Taiwan and me. And the result itself is very interesting.

It's been good to see in Asia that a lot of artists are taking matters into their own hands to build independent platforms to make an exhibit work. It's also good to see the independent networks. VT Artsalon is an example of this. How did you get involved with the collective?
I think this is the result from a defective operation and structure in the art environment, therefore causes the fuzzy identities among the artists, curators, and the gallery owners. The structure of VT Artsalon itself is organized by several professional curators. But as for me, I don't get involved in any curatorial affairs because it's not my professional field. Because of the hard experiences from VT Artsalon members, we hope to offer great artists their own stage with our idealistic dreams and also build a platform with gatherings, communication, mutual support, and resource sharing. I'm very honored to join the team for my past four-year bartending experience and NPO experiences. Unfortunately, like carrying an elephant, I think I was overestimating my own strength.

By Ron Hanson

Ron is the editor of experimental arts magazine White Fungus featuring writing on art, music, history and politics, plus original artworks, poetry, fiction and comics.

Homepage: Isa Ho

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