Betelnut Tree, Bird's-Nest Fern and African Snails is Ting-Tong Chang’s latest project created in 2020. It documents the artist’s two-week stay in a mountainous area, where he collaborated with an Amis tribal hunter and created a dwelling place there using locally sourced materials. They also placed traps and made inventive survival apparatuses. Through an installation consisting of a semi-documentary two-channel video and the dwelling place and apparatuses created, Chang presents connections between the following three indigenous species found in Taiwan’s natural landscape: betelnut tree, bird’s-nest fern, and African snails. He seeks to use an object-oriented perspective to reevaluate the trajectory of human history, with experiments conducted on transforming “art skills” into “survival skills”.
Betelnut trees were first imported by the Dutch into Taiwan, but betelnut consumption was banned during the Japanese colonial period. As industrialization took off, betelnut became popular amongst the labor class for its energy boosting effects. Bird’s-nest fern is a wild edible plant native to Taiwan and has become an expensive organic produce as people become more health conscious. The horticulture of bird’s-nest fern has also impacted the ecological landscape of betelnut groves. African snails were introduced by the Japanese government from Singapore as a meat substitute; however, Han Chinese biases have turned the snails into a major agricultural pest for the bird’s-nest fern. The symbiotic relationship between these three species seems to be due to natural evolution; however, in reality, it is a human-induced product shaped by interconnected political, economic, and cultural structures.