我有幾件作品跟宗教斂財有關，2009年在橋頭白屋展出的《南部藝術家功德會》作品中，我在一棵讓人覺得拜了會很靈驗，很像「青仔公」 的榕樹下，綁一條紅布，也特地去鹿港訂做一對很大的香筊，放一個箱子寫了很大字：「斂財箱」，主神叫做「未應公」。我以宗教形式配合諷刺文字，對觀眾擺明就是要斂財，不要拜沒有用的！但我反而是所有參展作品裡收入最好的。還有一件小作品《有錢未必應》也與宗教斂財有關，觀眾丟錢作品就會跳一次夏威夷舞。另外，2001年的《存在的儀式》， 作品因觀眾接近感應時，會啟動齒輪軸 ，上方就很熱鬧的乒乒乓乓，又會動又有聲音。後來《存在的儀式2》中又結合了一些影像。《音果》 也與宗教有關 ，一開始使用的材料大多是現成物，之後為了抵抗氣候、時間與外力，再逐漸轉向以永久材為材料。
Before Talking about Gods, Let’s Think about Humanity
────── Jen-hung Liang
Religion and the King Boat of Sucuo
When I was a child, I lived in Sucuo where there are two temples: Chang-Xing Temple and Jen-Hu Temple. The former is known as the old temple whereas the latter is known as the new one. Since the place is called Sucuo, the family name “Su” should be the majority among local people. However, there are more people whose family name is Wang or Liang. For most of those bearing Liang as the family name, they are relatives. And since they live beside Jen-Hu Temple, they naturally become followers of the temple. On the other hand, those bearing the surname Wang live near Chang-Xing Temple located in the northern part of Sucuo village. Likewise, they are followers of Chang-Xing Temple. Even though it takes only about ten minutes to walk from one of the temples to the other, it is obvious that the belief in Sucuo is decided by geographical location.
Chang-Xing Temple worshiped Kings of Epidemics, but as some people wanted to worship other Kings, they separated from Chang-Xing Temple and built the other temple. As a child, I actually was a witness as well as a participant of the process. Before the new temple was built, we had to find a place to house the alter and the statues of gods. Since my uncle was a tâng-ki (spirit medium) who passionately took part in temple administration, some statues were placed at my home and other spirit mediums and Taoist priests would come to our house to do the rituals. I found the mediums very interesting, so I would imitate their movements such as fixing nails on wooden boards and sometimes with the encouragement of other children, I went so far that my hands bled. We used to think that if you became a spirit medium, you were invincible.
I went to the kindergarten affiliated to Chang-Xing Temple while my family was more related to Jen-Hu Temple. It was because when I learned from my neighbor that children who went there could get candy, I asked my mother to let me go to that kindergarten. At first, my mother thought it was a luxury for children to go to kindergarten, but after I threw a tantrum for a really long time, she took me there three days before the graduation. Chang-Xing Temple has one of its flanks (shen-shou also known as hulong in Min-style architecture) connect to a market where adults would buy children extra snacks. Every child liked to go grocery shopping with adults because of so and the reason that I enjoyed being in a temple is because I associated it with the snacks. It was not until the establishment of Jen-Hu Temple that I actually started to get more involved.
April Twenty-sixth of the lunar calendar, the birthday of Great King Lee, is the biggest day for Jen-Hu Temple. Those who work elsewhere will be asked by the elders to return for the significant celebration. The temple used to hold the sacrificial ceremony once per nine years, then it was changed to once per three years. We invite guests when the ceremony is held; otherwise, the event is mostly joined by the local. Back at the time when Taiwan was experiencing an economic takeoff, the ceremony was held on an unprecedented scale with crowds jammed the roads making it hard to return home, even on foot. People were better off, so they made the event magnificent with unlimited catering and the duration prolonged. The traffic could get so bad that people needed to park their cars at the neighboring village and walked into ours.
Sucuo is known for its King Boat and Sung-Jiang Battle Array in which there are thirty-six generals. All the formations, movements of exerting certain weapons and arrangement of the whole worship process are taught by professional masters. At first, the masters were not villagers living in Sucuo. Then, the knowledge was learned by the local people and passed down to younger generations. Generally, the leader of the array is the standard-bearer, and the second person holds twin axes. My uncle’s position was either one of the two. These temple events were also an entertainment participated by strong men in the village. As a child, I would run to the temple court to watch people practicing the formations after dinner. At elementary school, I joined the worship parade with the Sung-Jiang battle array. We children were in a robe distributed by the temple and held signs saying “Silence” or a stick with a papaya on the top. We were called the children’s troupe in the parade.
There is one King Boat worshiped in the temple, the price of this one is high. On the other hand, every year before the King Boat Burning Ritual, people station at the temple to make a rather humble king boat to be burned at the ritual. I have always admired the craftsmanship of these people since I was little. In the past, every piece of the boat was handmade, and these temporary craftsmen even used bamboo nails rather than iron nails we use today. Taking transportation and its use for parade into consideration, the wooden basic structure of this king boat should be strong, and the work involved is intricate.
There are many legends about Jen-Hu Temple. For instance, there was a senior whom we called Uncle Clay Ox. It is said that if he pointed his finger at a sword, it would pierce through the ground. Nobody knows whether it is true or not; nevertheless, people believe that with these legends, the temple will attract crowds of followers. Another legend is that once during the parade, the iron stick ball was thrown so high that it fell on the audience and hurt a child. As a tâng-ki blew charmed water, the child suddenly stopped crying!
Chianan Irrigation sits right at the back of Jen-Hu Temple, so the temple court was used for drying grains all year round except for the irrigation period. Every August Fifteenth, village children would gather at the court to perform “Summoning (kuan) of the Frog Spirit.” During the ceremony, one child would be asked to tie a kerchief on the head and crouch on the ground while other children held joss sticks and formed a circle to strengthen the psychokinesis for summoning. Those with lighter astrological weight at birth were subject to be possessed (huat). Though it is hard to put into words, in my opinion, “kuan” is participants’ state of mindfulness preparing for or gathering psychokinesis whereas “huat” is the moment when a god or unknown spirit successfully possesses the child.
Before I read about how Dr. Sun Yat-san broke a god’s arm to break superstition and idolism in elementary school, I had always been in close contact with religious ceremonies, rituals and legends. Even though my life was heavily influenced by traditional belief, I was touched by the article for religion had failed to provide solid proofs to convince me. For example, people asked gods for wealth yet they were still very poor. In addition, while the biggest building in every village was a temple and that most people spent their money on belief, yet they just followed whatever they were told to do. For me, donations should be the result after you are truly touched by the gods and it is all about sincerity not competing and showing off. I sometimes donate to temples, but the only reason is to make my father happy.
Back at the time when everyone was a farmer, to have a common religion allowed people to have something to cling to when confronting the uncertainty brought by the nature. This is great. In my point of view, other than the religious function, temples also served as an activity center where people gathered together for communication and entertainment. They played an important role to keep the harmonious relationship among villagers. Nowadays, parks larger than temples are easy to find and they have replaced the role of temples. As a consequence, the functions of temples also change.
Now Sucuo has changed to a completely different place. This happens to almost every rural village. Few decades ago, it was rare to have a two-story house, and mine happened to be one. When I was a child, I used to sketch on the second floor and overlooked the whole village. With red tiles covering all the roofs, the view was astonishing. However, I can barely see a red-tiled roof now when I climb up to the second floor, because neighboring houses are all taller than mine. I think it will only get worse. I used to go back and join the pilgrimage or the King Boat Burning Ritual, but not anymore. These events have become nothing but a form. In the beginning, the purpose was to make everyone happy at celebration. As the events grow bigger, now it is more about the donations than the events themselves.
Compared to Taiwan, the changing of European villages has been very slow. Time seems to stop there for several reasons: first of all, permanent materials are taken into consideration as a building is constructed; second, with the dry weather, buildings are better preserved; last but not least, with a strong cultural foundation, European countries tend to keep things that may not be useful but have cultural values. Because culture has not been our priority, we do not have this concept in Taiwan. What we ask for is the accumulation of wealth and how to make a living. As a consequence, it is inevitable that the villages change rapidly in order to meet the needs of the people.
Even though I am not for the gods, I still visit temples to chat and have a cup of tea with the elders. Temples in the countryside still has the function to keep this harmonious relationship among people. In addition to religion, memory is also key to bring people together. Memory of the past seems to revive our ability to connect.
Memory, Environment, Body
The cultural and geographical environment of Sucuo along with its temple totem and belief have inspired me in terms of imagination and creation. My first satisfying drawing in elementary school was a dragon. In the countryside, we usually slept in an open space with a wide bed for numerous people. If there was any empty space, there would be a board that resembled the exhibition board in an art museum. That was where I glued this dragon drawing. It was there for a very long time. Whenever people asked me to take it off, I rejected and glued some more afterwards.
When I was in the fifth or sixth grade, I used jute stems to make a boat. In the past, the demand for jute ropes was huge, so jute stems were all over the place. The skin of jute stem is made into ropes. As for the end part where it is soft, we cut it into two to make toilet paper while the rough part was used as logs for making fire. Our village sat next to Zengwun River that flooded every year, so after I finished my boat, I hoped that there would be a flood. As my hope came true, I saw my boat floating on the water and it floated the way exactly as I wished it to be. It looked beautiful.
In the old times, the roof of the house was made of tiles. The tiles that fell down every year became a carving tool, all you need is to find a sharp one. During harvest season, my courtyard was used to dry grains, and I would draw in harvested field with sticks and tiles. I started with drawing hopscotch boxes, then I started to draw animals. Among all animals, I admired wild beasts such as tigers and lions the most. I drew dragons for pretty much the same reason as people said they were the most powerful. Children used to play a game at the courtyard. We would draw a line on the mud ground, and each of us had to throw a seed of longan fruit or that of an olive. If your seed was the closest to the line, you might have others’ seeds. The more seeds you won, the more superior you would feel. Paper cards and glass balls were other toys we played later. At that time, grownups thought those were just unwanted seeds but we children treated them as treasure.
Childhood memory affects my creation. In 2003, I took part in Kenting Wind Bell Festival. That was when I began my creation inspired by wind. Katabatic wind in Kenting is as powerful as a typhoon, so I made a boat carrying five hundred wind bells which rang fiercely when the wind blew. After that, I joined the festival almost every year. In 2004, I made a fish at Liuqiu Shiang, and the stronger the wind was, the bigger movement my fish reacted to it. The fish changed directions with the wind so that fishermen could judge the weather condition simply by watching how it moved. What I learned from it is that I would rather be more concerned about the environment. It is more realistic and simple, not to mention that we are actually challenged by such an issue.
The design and construction of my studio illustrates my concern about the environment. Water on the roof is gathered and aquatic plants are grown in order to avoid eutrophication. Solar panels are set on the rooftop, and there is no gas boiler in the studio, only firewood is used for boiling water.
In nature, there exists certain conditions whose variables are very complicated. As far as I am concerned, compared to nature, human beings are not as complicated so that we have to face it in a much simpler way. That is the reason why I would integrate many different and complicated variables and come up with a very simple method to respond.
The city is like a farming pen, living in which people get whatever they need. In the mind of city people, all you have to do is put the money into the pockets of capitalists and they would get everything done. Even though I grow up in the countryside, it is easy for me to develop bad habits as I live in the city. All my senses become blunt. I love to be in the nature because of the simplicity and sheer joy.
When our body embraces the environment, there is a certain mechanism that would run automatically. There are cases that people would start spinning without stopping. It once happened to me. I thought I could sleep to make it stop, yet I could still spin in bed! In other words, when we release our body and let the environment take control of it, something good would happen. There is a saying that the “chi” of pine trees is so strong that people with weaker physique would embrace them to make themselves stronger. What your body gives to the nature, it returns with ten times of rewards.
Whatever is Requested Might Not be Granted
Technology and power are applied to my creation to converse with the nature. If my work echoes to the society, culture or religion, I would like others be prompted to think about their value systems. Usually when people encounter unsolvable problems, they would turn to gods since it is most convenient to make gods undertake all the responsibilities. I would rather turn to people for help. If I ask myself or other people for answers, I would have to think actively. Even though the problem is beyond my capability, I think this is the necessary process for us to identify a solution.
Some of my works are about religious racketeering, one of which was on the exhibition Southern Artists Charitable Organization at Bywood Art Village. I chose a banyan tree that was seemingly efficacious and worth worshiping. I tied a piece of red clothe on it and ordered a huge pair of moon blocks at Lukang to go with the installation. Near the tree, I put a box with big words saying “Racketeering Box,” and the god I placed there was called the “Requests-Never-Granted God.” By using a religious form and sarcastic words, my intention was explicit that it was a scam of money and people should not worship the useless god. Surprisingly, compared with other works at the exhibition, this one made the most money. Another small piece of work which deals with the same topic is called Unanswered Wishes. When viewers threw coins at the work, it started to do Hawaiian dance. There is still another work called The Ritual of Being Existent in 2001. Whenever a viewer walked by, its sensor would trigger its gear to move and make sounds. Later I added videos to make the second edition of The Ritual of Being Existent. Yin Guo (with its literal translation as “sound effect,” and its transliteration as “karma”) is another piece to do with religion. I started my creation with existing objects, but for the purpose to overcome challenges imposed by weather, time and external forces, I gradually turn to permanent materials.
Honestly, the idea of building a temple sometimes comes into my mind. I would use the temple to touch on certain topics. I would grant all requests but make it clear that everything is a lie. There will be no statues of gods in my temple so as to break idolization of gods. However, miracles are must. I will create miracles through manipulation and make it public that this temple is for racketeering and nothing else. In fact, Unanswered Wishes is a pilot to validate my theory that if people are so blind as to give me money, it makes sense that through appropriate manipulation, they would donate a fortune to me once they have faith in me and in the fake temple redefined by me.
Most income of a temple comes from donation of villagers. However, if a temple wants to gain more, it has to reach out. Some temples can make a fortune by attracting lots of followers while others cannot. As long as you can create gods that everyone believes in, it brings you the money, loads and loads of money pouring into your pocket non-stop.
If I am to build a temple, I will make it one featuring high-tech. Technology and mystery have one thing in common, that is, people think they are true and believe in them. In my opinion, the architectural construction of a temple should be changing. Water-Moon Monastery named by Master Sheng Yen is the best example. The master’s proposal is a breakthrough in religious space. Unfortunately, most temples in Taiwan fall under the control of administrative people and artists or architects do not have a say in a temple’s religious and architectural expressions. They are asked to simply follow directions. I feel sorry that even if there are numerous temples in Taiwan, they are imitation of those in China. They literally have nothing to do with the environment and weather in Taiwan. Whether the temples are located by the sea, in the mountains, or in the city, they all look the same and it is so wrong. My temple will be so abstract that no one can tell if it is a temple. I want to make a complete overturn which then forces people to think. I am concerned about people, so before talking about gods, let’s think about humanity. It is only by doing so can we retrieve our ability to think critically.