A woman raised on the East coast of Taiwan. A woman who writes poems, hikes, and films, who likes bare feet and everything wild. Her poems were published in Asia and the United States. So far she published four poetry collections: on/off, No Daddy, Chariots of Women, and So Many People Die While I’m Hugging You Tightly.
Artist’s Residency Experience:
Cove Park, where the Scottish Highlands begins, is located on a remote peninsula. The quiet site, which faces Loch Long, has slopes of verdant grass where cows and sheep roam. Colorful algae, pebbles, and shells scatter across the coast, whose tidal range is as much as eight meters. The scenery here is dazzling. I often went across the grass slopes, hiked to the river valleys, strolled along the coast barefooted, and biked along the coastal roads. To me, such physical labor compliments the hard labor of my creative work.
My first lesson here is the weather. While researching on Cove Park in Taiwan, I learned that the average temperature here in May is between 5-15 degrees Celsius, so I brought a lot of winter clothes with me. Nevertheless, it was 23 degrees when I got off the plane. I was sweating in the excessive garments that I wore. The next day, however, it rained, and the temperature dropped. I even put on a scarf and a wool hat. It was sunny on the third day, and I went out to film. Heavy rain suddenly arrived, and my fingers were frozen stiff that I couldn't unbutton my shorts in the toilet. On the fourth day, rain clouds filled the sky in the morning, so I cancelled my filming plan. As it turned out, by 4 pm, the clouds and the mist had disappeared, and the weather couldn't have gotten better! Each day, the weather taught me a little bit more: be swift, be present, be humble, and be ready.
There are no stores near Cove Park. The closest shop is fifteen minutes’ drive away; a round trip on a bicycle takes about an hour (including a ride up and down steep slopes). Here, nothing can distract an artist's work but highland cattle, birds, and the ever-changing scenery by the lake. If I wanted to eat, I had to order the ingredients online, receive the delivered packages, and cook for myself. (Residency is, in a way, beneficial to the local economy.) The countertop where the stove sits is too tall for me - at the height of 156 cm, I couldn't see everything in the pot standing on my toes. I had to utilize my senses of hearing, smell, and intuition just to cook properly. The stove and the pot, again, posed a form of physical training for me that compliments the labor of my creative work.
The administrative staff at Cove Park offers sufficient support as well as significant flexibility for the artists-in-residence. They seem to understand that, artists swing, like a pendulum, between caring about nothing but their work and the need to socialize. It depends on the state of mind and the progress of their work. Therefore, the activity center at Cove Park has a common hall and a large kitchen, where artists could cook and dine together. They could exchange the pains and joys of artistic work. Or, since the individual studios are equipped with smaller kitchens, artists could prepare simple meals there. For a month of residency, there were one barbecue and two potlucks organized by various people. I participated in two of the events, but I had to miss the third. Because I had spent the entire day thinking, and I had to ride out to clear my head. Some artists, however, trapped themselves in the studios, and interacted with no one. In short, artists and creators each have their pet peeves, tempo, and ways of doing things, and Cove Park can accommodate all.
The focus of my residency is to experiment on my video poetry. I wanted to reverse the creative process: In the past, I usually started with texts before editing and piecing the footage together. This time, I wanted to start with audio or visual content before adding texts (or not adding any writing at all). I wanted to see whether the reversed process would produce anything different; more organic, even. I wonder if I could sharpen my senses for sounds and images. (I have worked on texts for the longest, video second, while only paying attention to sounds recently.) I especially wanted to focus on sounds. I feel that, for our generation, the omnipresence of smartphones forces us to rely heavily on sight more than ever, while we rely less and less on hearing. Last year, I suddenly became interested in the strangers in my body - my ears. I decided to practice listening by opening my ears and closing my eyes. It was, at first, just a random thought, but had led me to several exciting encounters, which motivated me to experiment on reversing my creative process.
The sound scene at Cove Park was quite unique. I was surprised listening to the birdsong here; the birdsong in Taiwan is rich and diverse, but something was distinctly different at Cove Park. Which is it? I carried that unanswered question with me. It wasn’t until days later that I understood all at once. A space is like a vessel, each with its distinctive shape, which allows energy flows in various forms at various speeds. A space encourages the body (the ears) to adjust, allowing the sounds to go through. Such realization, to me, is not acquired through texts, derived from a formula, or "learned." Instead, the idea dawned on me as a physical experience. It is an epiphany occurred to me only because I was physically present, and I felt the difference myself.
When I collect sounds and images with my camcorder in the wild, I also noticed that smell is the most essential element that cannot be captured or recorded. Cove Park in May enjoys blossoms of golden gorse flowers. Local residents told me that the flowers smell like coconut in warm weather. As I have a sensitive nose, I feel that in warm days as well as cold days, the flowers give off a luscious coconut smell. But the camcorder is entirely useless on this front; only my allergic, runny nose that sneezes and my brain could capture and record the scent. On another note, the colors captured by the camcorder were off, too. The colors did resemble real flowers after adjustments, but they are still artistically inaccurate. A seemingly almighty camcorder is useless in capturing smells, useless in recreating the effects of colors on a human body, and useless in conveying an open space! This reminds me, though, that creating art starts where no instruments could do the work for you. You limp forward, bit by bit, attempting to create something just as our omnipotent maker of the universe. Of course, there is no way for us to reach that goal; but we dare to dream of approaching that incredible fear and joy, beyond imagination, of creation. Creating art starts where no instruments could do the work for you until you could no longer work.
It is worth applauding that the residency is the first collaboration between Taiwan and Cove Park in the UK. Most artists in Taiwan participated in literature residencies in the US because of the close ties between the two countries. Taiwan is deeply influenced by American culture as well due to historical context while other parts of the world were often left neglected. This residency is an opportunity for us to connect with Europe, allowing artists to expand their horizon. We got to exchange with European artists, knowing more about them and showing them about us. It is such a joy!
The staff members of this project offer generous and swift assistance to each of my inquiries. I am very much appreciative. As a lucky “lab rat” for the residency, I have two recommendations for future improvement:
1. Allow artist-in-residence to contact Cove Park directly as soon as possible. Unless there is a language barrier, streamlining the process could save a lot of time.
2. It was my first time visiting Europe, not to mention that Cove Park is not a typical tourist attraction, I spent about two weeks getting to know the environment and communicating with local residents before diving into my work. I feel that a one-month residency is too short, and it's a shame that the experience ended hastily. Six weeks to two months would be more ideal; this way, the plane tickets would be more worthwhile.