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Taiwan Scholarship Feedback by Australian Recipient Candice Xiaobing Jee

The Ministry of Education offers Taiwan Scholarships to eligible outstanding Australian students who wish to enroll in a degree program in Taiwan. This can be a bachelor’s or master’s degree program, or a PhD program. The Education Division of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Australia asked Ms Candice Xiaobing Jee to shed light on her study experience in Taiwan as a Taiwan Scholarship recipient.

Candice completed a bachelor’s degree at Curtin University in Perth, the capital of Western Australia, then trained in the field of visual arts at the Berlin University of the Arts in Germany. She wanted to study in Taiwan to deepen her knowledge of the Chinese language and culture, and received a Taiwan Scholarship to help her do so. She describes her experience so far below.

My time so far spent in Taiwan through the Taiwan Scholarship has been a stunning year with vast input for my artistic development. In addition to the generous support from the Taiwan Scholarship to attend the Master of Chinese Arts at the National Taiwan University of Arts, I was also successful in receiving the Ian Potter Cultural Trust Grant for my studies in the second semester, to further grasp the possibilities I have studying in Taiwan.

When introducing the Master of Chinese Arts at NTUA, the dean of our faculty told us to treat Taipei as our campus for learning, and my year here has been dense with diverse and unexpected encounters. Apart from classes in my chosen course –discussing Taiwanese history, literature, and introductory courses to calligraphy, ceramics and Chinese painting – I have also been attending Mandarin Chinese language classes at the Mandarin Learning Centre at National Taipei Normal University, and an East Asian Art History course at National Taiwan University.

Outside my classes at these universities, surprising exhibition-making possibilities have presented themselves to me in Taipei. I have discovered a community of artists interested in engaging links between Taiwan and other cultures in the Pacific Ocean, for example Okinawa. My art research explores exchanges and divergences in aesthetics and cultural identities, so working with such people has been an interesting extension.

I was invited by my colleague Yoshiko Machida to participate in her Coral Island Art Project, which took place both in Taipei and on Ikei Island of Okinawa in June 2016, and I was given the opportunity to create an art installation on Ikei Island over a period of ten days. I used current research about the Chinese garden being a potentially mutable artistic form and created a temporary garden on some abandoned land on the main street of the island. This referenced the shared environment, histories, and cultures that exist between Taiwan and Okinawa.

Following this, I was invited to be an artist in the exhibition “森人Tree Tree Tree Person: Taroko Arts Residency Project”, curated by Chen Cheng-Tao over the summer (July to September). This exhibition connected the Taipei Contemporary Arts Centre (TCAC) exhibition site in Taipei to the extremely remote Dali and Datong villages in the Taroko National Park.

I met the curator-artist Chen Cheng-Tao by chance visiting a previous exhibition opening at the Taipei Contemporary Arts Centre, where he told me about his idea to create a very isolated residency in the mountains by the famous Taroko Gorge, in order to generate new ideas regarding interactions between nature and humans. Cheng-Tao introduced me to the location and the Taroko rattan-weaving artist Masaw Dumuen, and this led to our co-operation for my project named “Garden Conservation”.
This was inspired by observing the flowers in the gardens of the Taroko tribe people in the mountain, which led to my questioning what constitutes the idea of “original nature” in a national park. Departing from the notion of the Chinese Garden, I grew plants in TCAC and helped cultivate a garden in Masaw Dumuen’s ancestral home in the National Park. At both sites, plants from different origins were acquired as “ready-made” sculptural objects. and then combined together with Masaw Dumuen’s basket works in installations and actions that think about the idea of cultural heterogeneity and change This included bringing a Japanese maple tree from the flower market in Taipei to the Masaw home in Taroko National Park, and planting it in a commissioned basket by artist Masaw Dumuen next to an indigenous Yellow Vine tree from the mountain.

The complexity and richness of participating in Chen Cheng-Tao’s project is hard to describe in few words. An interesting point is that learning Mandarin Chinese was imperative to communicate with the community of Taroko, and it allowed me to learn more about another culture that exists within Taiwanese identity.

Studying in Taiwan and these exhibition experiences have allowed me to come into contact with a variety of inspiring people within and from outside of the art community. I am looking forward to furthering and consolidating these experiences over this coming academic year. As expected, the study of language and culture is gradual, and I am continually feeling very fortunate to have a substantial period of time to explore ideas of cultural heritage as an Australian Chinese artist. Thanks again to the Taiwan Scholarship for giving me this ongoing challenging and fertile opportunity to be here.