December 16, 2009

Museum day

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The parental units and I decided to go get some culture today.  Cai Guo-Qiang (蔡國強) is having another retrospective show in Taiwan - named Hanging Out in the Museum (泡美術館) - at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum (臺北市立美術館). There's been a lot of talk about this exhibition for a while, so I was pretty excited to see it.

I must admit that I didn't know a lot about the artist, because I don't follow contemporary Chinese artists.  I knew about his solo exhibition at the Guggenheim New York last year, where the artist hung 9 cars in the museum's atrium with blinking lights protruding from them - as if the cars were exploding.  The piece - Inopportune: Stage One (不合時宜:舞台一) - uses those light tubes that one sees all over China, where they are arranged in a exploding pattern to simulate fireworks.  It now hangs in the atrium here in Taipei.

The other work I knew about was Head On (撞墻), which was commissioned by my former employer for their collection.  The collection of 99 artificial wolves running head on into an invisible wall is quite impressive.

The artist's playful side is evident as soon as you enter the museum.  Once the visitors have finished admiring Inopportune: Stage One (不合時宜:舞台一), they are directed to an outdoor patio for Cultural Melting Bath: Project for the 20th Century (文化大混浴:為二十世紀作的計劃).  You see a wooden hut with a couple of benches and a few lockers inside, and 2 shower stalls next to the hut.  Sitting amongst a collection of rocks is a big jacuzzi that seats 5.  Apparently you can apply for one of the two daily sessions of hot-tubbing, where you hang out (a play on the Chinese slang 泡) with complete strangers for an hour.  I wonder how many people have actually participated?

The artist is well-known for his work involving gunpowder.  Whether it's lighting up gunpowder-drawn patterns to create images on substrates, or creating explosive trails for visual effect, he uses up tons of the stuff.  There are a number of films showing both the creative process behind some of the work, as well as showcasing the visual displays themselves.  Of course, there were also footages of his most famous works in terms of fireworks display - as Director of Visual and Special Effects for the 2008 Beijing Olympics (where the footage of the giant footprints were faked) as well as the 60th anniversary celebration for the PRC national day this year.

As I looked at both the films as well as the finished works themselves, a question kept hanging around: what was it that spurred the artist to experiment with gunpowder - essentially a destructive instrument - in his creative process?  Perhaps it's because he grew up with neighbors who were in the fireworks business.  Maybe, like many little boys, he just liked blowing stuff up.  While I enjoyed the visual effects from his fireworks and some of the controlled explosions, I can't say that I'm a fan of his gunpowder-on-paper work.

We actually spent a long time at the museum, as we ended up watching all the film footage.   3pm rolled around, and it was time for us to grab some lunch!  Mom suggested that we head for the National Palace Museum (故宮博物院), since the Grand Formosa Regent group had opened up a new dining pavilion there after the museum's last renovation.

Silks Palace (故宮晶華) has 4 levels of dining in a modern glass structure.  I wasn't interested in Cantonese dim sum, so we naturally went to the Taiwanese Food Court (府城晶華) in the basement.  We sat on low, traditional wooden benches and ordered up a storm...

My Miaokow rice cake cooked in barrel (廟口米糕) came in a cone rolled from bamboo leaf.  Kinda cute presentation.  While the stick rice tasted fine, I realized that I would keep getting disappointed every time I order this dish.  My preference is actually for the oily stick rice (油飯)...

The bowl of traditional ground pork rice (古早味肉燥飯) was really, really good.  Plenty of little cubes of fatty pork belly, and mostly skin and fat...  Couldn't ask for better!

Of course I had to order more fatty pork!  I thought the marinated pork with bamboo shoots (古早味筍干封肉) was pretty darn good.  The skin had taken in lots of the soy marinade, and everything was pretty soft.  But the marinated pig trotter (古早味滷豬腳) was even better!  Unlike many Taiwanese versions of this dish - where it was slightly undercooked and chewy - here the skin had been braised until it became very soft.  I greedily piled both types of pork fat into my bowl.  Oh and there was lots of marinated bamboo - the typical stinky Taiwanese kind...

The An Pin's fried oysters (安平蚵仔酥) was not bad, without the usual thick coat of powder.  The plate of blanched iceburg lettuce (燙青菜) had the usual ground pork sauce on top.  And dad's milkfish stomach porridge (安平港虱目魚肚粥) looked pretty good, but I didn't try it out.

It was too much food...I shouldn't have ordered the oysters as an afterthought.  But I guess since it was gonna be my only proper meal of the day (we finished lunch at 4pm), I could live with stuffing myself...

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