INTERVIEW: Taiwanese Artist Highlights Global Climate Change Through QR-Code Art

INTERVIEW: Taiwanese Artist Highlights Global Climate Change Through QR-Code Art
Photo Credit: Vincent J.F. Huang

What you need to know

One of Taiwan’s less-known diplomatic allies, Tuvalu, is threatened by rising sea levels, and has inspired a Taiwanese artist to raise awareness of the issue through eco-art.

Taiwanese artist Vincent J.F. Huang (黃瑞芳) is bringing to light the effects of global climate change by constructing a QR code comprised of 7,000 mangrove trees.

Huang says many Taiwanese are not familiar with Tuvalu due to the lack of media coverage of the island and its relationship with Taiwan.Through this new eco-art installation, Huang aims to emphasize the need for not only local, but also international, support for Tuvalu.

In an interview with The News Lens International, the artist explains what inspired him to start the Art Mangroves Project and its significance.

The News Lens International (TNLI): When and how did you start developing a strong interest in global climate change?

Huang: I started focusing on environmental issues during my art practices in Scotland. This was back in 1999 when I was studying for my master’s degree. Around then is when I began doing more ecological art, or eco-art. Since 2010 is when I began a cooperation with the Tuvaluan Government to assist with my art. I wanted to help them get global society to focus on their climate crisis.

TNLI: Why Tuvalu, specifically? There are many other island-nations near and around Taiwan, but stood out about Tuvalu?

Huang: It was because of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Copenhagen back in 2009. This was when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted on how Tuvalu could be the first nation to disappear due to rising sea levels.

From there, I researched the tiny island-nation and was very touched by the dedication the Tuvaluan Government put in towards making a statement in Copenhagen. I remember them saying, “The fate of our nation rests in your hands.” Also, Tuvalu got a lot of media attention in 2009 because of the event.

TNLI: Upon visiting Tuvalu, was there a moment that caused you to create the Art Mangroves Project?

Huang: After the Copenhagen UNFCCC event in 2009, I went to Tuvalu in 2010. Immediately when I landed, I noticed how the rising sea levels had caused a majority of the coconut trees to die. This was because of the saltwater sinking into the sand near the trees. The visual impact hit me right there.

I also met a lot of local children during my one-week stay in Tuvalu. They always asked me, “Will my homeland disappear because of climate change?” After that I started thinking about what I could do as an artist to assist the Tuvaluan people, especially the kids. They are the next generation to continue living in Tuvalu.

TNLI: Why a QR code?

Huang: I collected mangrove tree seedlings and developed the idea of making it in the shape of a QR code. The 7,000 seeds will link scanners to a website discussing the climate crisis in Tuvalu. I want people to know it’s not about my artist business, and show them how Tuvalu isn’t the only country that will be affected. It’s a global crisis, after all.

TNLI: In your eyes, why is it Taiwan isn’t as educated on environmental issues?

Huang: Well, I feel it’s because Taiwan is very isolated globally, especially with global issues. Most Taiwanese aren’t familiar with the global scene, causing them to not care as much about climate change. They don’t know on how Tuvalu has a great diplomatic relationship with Taiwan. I think 90% of Taiwanese don’t know about the country.

TNLI: How has the crowdfunding campaign been going since you announced the project in early July?

Huang: So far nearly 1,000 people globally have visited my fundraising website on Indiegogo. A lot of them told me they’re touched by my project, but unfortunately very few people have donated. We have raised a total of US$1,305, and need a total of US$30,000 before the end of August. I will be heading to Tuvalu around then.

Because of the low funding, we have been in discussions with Taipei 101 management. They’re quite interested in making up for the price conflict around early August, possibly. We also reached out to the Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Also next week, we might have a chance to meet President Tsai Ing-Wen (蔡英文) and her team, too. However, they are only worried about whether or not this event will be successful because it’s on the small island-nation of Tuvalu.

TNLI: Have you witnessed a shift in public awareness on global climate change compared to before?

Huang: Most of the global society, around 80 to 90% of them, have never heard about Tuvalu. However, through multiple art projects I have done in Tuvalu since 2010, they’re more aware of the situation. I believe this shows you the power of art and how it can initiate change on a global scale.

To donate or find out more about the Art Mangroves Project, click here.

First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole