by YU Wei, WANG

History is the garden of forking paths leading to the future. That is to say, our future rests upon the way we remember the past.

No memory is so special as that of “dirt.” Our discussions about dirt actually carry opposite undertones – cleanness, hygiene, and order. According to the anthropologist Mary Douglas, “dirt is the byproduct of a systematic ordering.” What dirt represents is not so much its intrinsic dirtiness as its inherent contradiction to such a systematic ordering. In this sense, the concept of “dirt” involves not only the physical dimension but also the social, political, and even religious ones. Political governance, social structure, and cultural custom ergo fall under the pervasive and enduring influence of the purification enacted along these dimensions.

Dirt as a noun has been defined divergently by different nations, cultures, communities, regions, epochs, and ideologies. To think of it as a verb, it further refers to stigmatizing, pigeonholing, producing stereotypes, or even meaning to disturb the mainstream culture.

In “City Flip-Flop,” a meticulously choreographed event by C-LAB, the sub-theme exhibition “Stained” treats dirt as a deeply significant cultural concept as well as its starting point, trying to investigate this concept’s kaleidoscopic appearances in various aspects (e.g. our quotidian existence, language, living space, consciousness, and ritual). How does dirt exist in our society, and how do we understand, reject, and accept it? On top of that, how does dirt transmute into an alternative strategy against the cultural mainstream? Moreover, how does the concept of “public hygiene” become a manifestation of modernized order, a rhetoric of social control? Through revisiting, tracing, and reinterpreting these historical stains, the“ Stained” is dedicated to stimulating reflection on the problems of the old and the existing orders, and the imaginations of a new one.

This curatorial project embodies a perfect fusion of contemporary art, historical archive, and field study. It features a series of brand new commissioned works by the artists, including WANG Ding-Yeh, LEE Tzu-Tung, CHIN Cheng-Te, Dan ISOMURA, SASAKAWA Haruko, LIU Yu and WU Sih-Chin. These artists seek to address the question as to how dirt is constructed as a distinct quality respectively from the perspectives of disease, body, identity, gender, spirit, and morality. Why do we stigmatize others? How can we transform dirt into a weapon of self-empowerment? Taking the form of residency research, the artist duo Working Hard (KUO Po-Yu and SHE Wen-Ying) is also invited to rediscover the meanings of dirt and cleanness by probing into the National Museum of Taiwan History’s (NMTH) collection.

Occupying the lobby on the second floor of the Zhongshan Hall, “Archives of the Stained” is a research project run by the NMTH and C-LAB. Based on the concept of dirt, this project collates related literature and historical materials produced during the Japanese colonial period and the recent past, thereby mounting an excellent display of historical archives concerning a concatenation of issues such as diseases, public health, vagabonds, sex workers, people with mental illness, folk rituals, and hygiene expo.  “Archives of the Stained” resembles not only an appendix of this exhibition that functions as an invaluable source of cultural-historical reference beyond the context of contemporary art, but also a colossal prism embedded in the exhibition room that refracts dirt into different interpretations.

To sum up, this exhibition aims at grasping the complicated and diverse meanings of “dirt” in a house of mirrors, insofar as to portray the stains that were recognized, defined, pigeonholed, reduced, and left in social spaces. These profound and long-lasting stains may be indelible, yet we can still create a hopeful future with new ways of remembering.

Working Hard
(KUO Po-Yu, SHE Wen-Ying)

CHIN Cheng-Te

LEE Tzu-Tung


WANG Ding-Yeh

LIU Yu,WU Sih-Chin


Archives of the Stained

©City Flip-Flop     

Taiwan Contemporary Culture Lab

No. 177, Sec. 1, Jianguo S. Rd., Da’an Dist., Taipei City 106, Taiwan (R.O.C.)