Feature Story (26/5/2010)
Israeli artist transforms old Taipei market into giant art installation
Shoppers strolling in the bustling Gongguan business district of Taipei will be surprised to find that the original earth-yellow Shuiyuan Market has been transformed into a giant colorful art installation. This piece of magic has been performed by internationally renowned Israeli artist Yaacov Agam in a redecorating project as part of the ‘Taipei Beautiful’ program.
Artistic decoration is always one way to beautify a city. ‘Heart of the Fountainhead’, the newly-erected installation on the exterior of the market, is touted as the world’s largest square polymorph design.
“This colorful and vibrant artwork is a testimony to the friendship and collaboration between Taiwanese and Israelis,” said Raphael Gamzou, the head of the Israel Economic and Cultural Office in Taipei (ISECO). in the inauguration ceremony for the art work on May 9, 2010.
Constructed with a budget of NT$60 million, the design employs 177 different colors and utilizes new materials chosen in consideration of the frequent rain and high humidity in Taiwan.
The central piece is composed of a composite aluminum-plastic panel made of a polyethylene core material fixed between two coated aluminum sheets. It’s lighter than conventional materials, fully recyclable, and allows colors to last longer.
The exterior of the installation is coated with ‘Dryvit Demandit’, a non-thermoplastic coating that prevents airborne dirt from attaching to the surface and will minimize the need for maintenance in the future.
As one of Taipei’s oldest markets in the bustling Gongguan area, Shuiyuan Market has long been a center of vitality and business. Yet the original exterior of the building lost its sense of harmony with the streets and surrounding structures after extensive renovation in the neighborhood.
The Taipei City Government (TCG) therefore included the market building as one of the major landmarks in its “New World of Gongguan” urban renewal project and “Taipei Beautiful” renovation campaign. TCG also promised to complete the renovation of pedestrian crossovers and traffic flyovers before the opening of the 2010 Taipei International Flora Expo in November.
“We live in our cities surrounded by visual aggression. In Taipei, this aggression is accompanied by very visually ugly and repulsive air conditioning units,” said Agam in the inauguration ceremony.
Thus he began by wrapping up the earth-yellow building in rainbow colors. These can be appreciated from three angles. Seen from the left side, blue and white stripes simulate the waves of the ocean. From the front, rainbow colors are reflected on the waves, gleaming and spirited in their movement. And from the right, all the colors blend together to symbolize the diverse culture of Taipei.
Agam is an Israeli and an internationally renowned artist who is considered a pioneer in kinetic art. He is also known for his many public art projects in major cities around the world, including ‘Monumental Fountain’ in the La Defense district of Paris, the fountain ‘Fire and Water’ in Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv, and ‘Villa Regina’ in Miami.
His cooperation with Taiwan dates back to two years ago when he erected colorful columns titled ‘Message of Peace’ at the Main World Games Stadium in Kaohsiung.
To allow locals to become more familiar with Agam’s creative artistic ideas, this major representative figure of contemporary artist delivered a speech May 11 – also his 82nd birthday – at Taiwan National University, giving a glimpse into the world of art as he sees it.
“Visual language is a common language that all humans can understand regardless of our ethnic groups,” said a smiling Agam to start his speech.
To explain this idea, the 82-year-old artist showed a plastic water cup and asked audiences to give it a name. The answer came in Chinese first. Agam continued to request answers in other languages, trying to convey the idea that language can be an obstruction to mutual understanding. “But you all know what it is when you see it,” he continued.
Agam further elaborated on this idea by citing the Noah’s Ark story from the Bible. “I infused the environment with all the colors of the rainbow to remind contemporary people of the Biblical covenant between Noah and mighty God on behalf of all living things”, he noted.
“The ark shape and the colors of the rainbow represent various ethnic groups,” he said. The rainbow is also a symbol of peace, in his opinion, that conveys love and art.
Agam focuses his art on movement, incorporating the dimensions of time and change. In his opinion, everything is in constant change – the light of day, the clouds, and the running river of people in the street.
“My art is a tribute to life and change with people according to their time-space relationships,” noted Agam.
“I’m dedicated to creating unexpected movements and interaction with viewers,” said Agam as he showed several slides of his works. He encouraged viewers to change the original setting. Through this method, his works successfully exhibit four-dimensional features—changing along with time, he noted.
Heart of the Fountainhead is the first super-size polymorph creation in Asia, a work which the Deputy Director of the Taipei City Department of Cultural Affairs expects to serve as an inspiration to local artists, said the official on May 11.
Several viewing positions are recommended to appreciate this brilliant local landmark. One is to climb up to the overpass just before the Shuiyuan Market, where viewers can take a closer look at the rich rainbow of colors reflected on the sparkling waves from the front side.
Strolling on the sidewalk in front of Taipei Municipal Mingchuan Elementary School is another good choice, allowing you to see the changing patterns as you walk by.
Located on Roosevelt Road Section 4, Shuiyuan Market is the center of the Gongguan business district, accommodating various stands selling fruits and household goods on the first floor and fresh vegetables, meats, clothing and accessories on the second floor.
The surrounding neighborhood is abutted by several of Taiwan’s leading higher educational institutes like National Taiwan University and National Taiwan University of Science and Technology, as well as alternative bookstores such as Tang Shan, Wen Jin Tang, Jing Jing and Fembooks.
In addition there are a number of music spots with a wide variety of experimental styles, including the Riverside Music Café, Kafka Café, Witch House and The Wall Live House, making Gongguan a unique spot with irresistible charms.