An art exhibition in Taipei is highlighting ways to use natural ocean resources to develop global economic opportunities. This comes ahead of this week's referendum on a plan to allow casinos in Penghu.

“A Sea to Our Children” exhibits art works ranging from photography and oil paintings to sculptures and multimedia installations by five artists from around the world. It was put together in less than a month before the exhibition opened on Oct. 3.

“Our exhibitions are usually planned six months ahead of time and have always been solo exhibitions,” says Hsu Li-lin (徐莉玲), president of Xue Xue Institute, Taipei — the location of the exhibition and Taiwan's first private institution to function as a creative hub.

The show was put together in such a rush due to the referendum.

Hsu has always admired the Setouchi Triennale, a contemporary art festival held every three years on the 12 islands in the Seto Inland Sea, Japan, and had the opportunity to visit the event in 2013.

“I was overawed and deeply impressed by the determination the Japanese put into their work and how the government was willing to support the event in the long run,” says Hsu. “It was a very global platform that exhibited not only Japanese artists but also elite artists from all over the world.”

“It immediately came to my mind that there was also a place like this in Taiwan, and that was Penghu,” says Hsu. “So I have always had a kind of expectation for Penghu.”

When she learned on Aug. 22 that a second referendum on building casinos on Penghu was to be held on Oct. 15, Hsu knew she had to do something.

Another artist scheduled to exhibit at the institution from September to November unexpectedly had to postpone a show, and it was by chance Hsu on Sept. 7 met with Lin Shuen-long (林舜龍), a frequent exhibitor at the Setouchi Triennale.

During their conversation, Hsu came up with the idea of holding an exhibition to highlight the casino issue, the connection between the sea and people, while also tying in the spirit of the Setouchi Triennale.

“I asked Lin Sheun-long if holding such an exhibition would be possible for him to do, and he said ‘yes’ without hesitation,” says Hsu.


Photo Credit: Xue Xue Institute

The Penghu casino referendum

The Penghu Islands, an outlying island archipelago located in the Taiwan Strait, will be seeing its second referendum on a casino this Saturday.

This follows the first referendum on building casinos in the county, held on Sept. 26, 2009, in which 56 percent of the votes were cast against the proposal.

Under the Referendum Act (公民投票法) in Taiwan, the same proposal cannot be made within three years. On Aug. 22, the Penghu County Election Commission announced a second referendum would be held on Oct. 15.

Supporters of the plan say building casinos will help Penghu globalize and bring in more income for the residents while promoting local development. Opponents, however, say that gambling is a malign economic activity that would bring negative impacts to Penghu.

Results of the Oct. 15 referendum will be announced before Oct. 22.

Gambling is currently illegal in the Taiwan proper, but in 2009 the legislature passed an amendment to the Offshore Islands Development Act (離島建設條例), allowing outlying islands to establish tourist casinos if a majority of locals agreed through a referendum.

President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) oppose plans to open casinos on Penghu.


Photo Credit: Xue Xue Institute

Looking to the future

“Children will reap what adults sow,” says Lin Sheun-long. “If adults do good, then the children will turn out to be good. It definitely goes like this.”

The artist and the exhibition's curator Lin Yu-shih (林育世) believe the decisions adults make today will “have a subtle influence” on children’s values, which is another point the exhibition wishes to highlight.

“It’s an exhibition about looking to the future,” says Lin Yu-shih.

The curator says most adults are envious of the world the children of Penghu live in— a world without the temptation and sense of emptiness a material life brings.

“This is a utopia that could collapse at any moment,” says Lin Yu-shih, referring to the casino proposal.

Lin Sheun-long repeatedly says he can’t understand why people would support turning Penghu into a “gambling island.”

“How could politicians and financial groups do something like this? Penghu doesn't belong to them,” says the artist.

Both agree that the natural environment in Penghu can be used to attract tourists, but the government has been putting the resources in the wrong places, such as establishing night markets and other consumer attractions.

“People and the ocean can actually benefit from each other in Penghu,” says Lin Yu-shih. “Investing in the wrong area is more terrifying than not investing at all.”

Lin Sheun-long says if Taiwan wants to take Penghu to the international stage, then people need to think about how to translate the local culture into a global language everyone understands.

“We chose our own government, so we also hold responsibility,” says Lin. “There are a lot of ways to raise awareness to this, like the Sunflower Movement, but I want to use art — a softer approach — to make our society a better place.”


Photo Credit: Xue Xue Institute

"A Sea to Our Children" runs until Nov. 20 at Xue Xue Institute. Admission is free. More info is available here.

Editor: Edward White