Sites: 9th Shanghai Biennale’s Zhongshan Park Project, Shanghai Power Station of Art, Zhongshan Park in Zhangzhou, China, Chance Garden, Tamsui, Taiwan.
After the Treaty of Tianjin, Tamsui, Taiwan was opened for foreign trade. In 1867, the British began leasing Fort San Domingo in Tamsui, made it their trade consulate, and signed a permanent lease with the Qing court. Second floor of the fort was turned into the consulate office, accounting office, secretary office, and VISA processing office. The bottom floor was used as a detention facility. Due to the British’s right of consular jurisdiction, when crimes were committed by British people in Taiwan, they were protected from being punished by the Qing official; instead the criminals were convicted by the consulate and detained at the dungeon in the fort (1) and deported back to England.
Statues of Prisoners
The fact that, in addition to the statue of a Dutch official sitting on a stone bench, there are also statues of prisoners located both inside the old prison cell and also out at the courtyard of Fort San Domingo has sparked my curiosity. Why was it decided for the statues of two prisoners to be installed within the spread-out space within the fort?（Precisely speaking, there is a prisoner statue inside the prison cell and also one outside, signifying there are the same person and conveying the notion that “a prisoner was detained here”.）There are no statues on the second floor where the offices were nor is there one inside the consulate; the statues are only placed inside the prison and also outdoor at the courtyard where the prisoners were permitted in. The anonymous statues have stood there unquestioned for years. It always seemed quite absurd to see tourists taking photos with their hands on the shoulders of the prisoner statutes, as their bright smiles juxtaposed against the statues’ melancholic faces. I am deeply drawn by this profound sense of irony, with the anonymous British prisoner statues pulling me in to a space-time transcending black hole.
The Dutch governor and the British prisoner existed in different eras separated by nearly three centuries; however, they are now concurrently placed inside Fort San Domingo. It is quite easy for us to understand the purpose of erecting a statue of the Dutch governor inside the fort (2), and England also had a close connection to the fort (3). However, inside today’s Fort San Domingo, representing the British is not a figure similar to the status of the Dutch governor but two anonymous British prisoner statues. Furthermore, the prisoner statue inside the courtyard where prisoners were permitted is gazing at the fort before him and not at the far distance beyond the horseshoe-shaped stone walls around him. I am not sure if the positioning was intentional during the installation of the statue, for the gaze of the prisoner statue to be fixed on the main building of the fort. This emotional composition infused with profound significance is clearly pointing at the fact this prisoner statue has completely abandoned the “body of the prisoner”. It’s (rather than his) existence is intended to fulfill the large physical existence of the heritage site of Fort San Domingo, which differs from the physical existence of the architecture; it is pointing at the existence of the site in the past 360 some years. Therefore, before people come to the subjective awareness for their position of seeing, they have already directly come to believe in what they see before them, as they passively follow this “route for seeing history”. If the statue of the Dutch governor is analogous to an objective narrative, the statue of the anonymous prisoner is then a sentimental strategy.
The purpose of installing the prisoner statues is merely for them to act as a channel for visitors to travel back in space-time inside this historical site, as a slightly emotionally charged focal point that is nostalgic for the “bygone times”. Most people think that a “visible body” is required in order to solidify the existence of the self, which can lead to close connections between the current reality and the past. Although it is actually unnecessary (as a sense of connection does not need to be produced under such approach), it is even a bit pretentious; however, the following thoughts are extended from those empty statues with dynamic expressions and also from visitors’ interactions with them:
When a historical heritage site becomes a tourist destination, the interaction between the government and the public is almost precisely executed, with one side giving out hints and the other side completing the execution. The hints and executions are easily recognizable, as they mostly encompass exploitation of historical anecdotes of the land, which are thought to be a way to experience the past (besides the indispensable sense of melancholy sparked by time, the experience is quite empty). Such excessive emotions appear rather cheap, and furthermore, the subjective body is completely lost as the self is immersed in such historical narratives.
After approaching the historical site’s docent with further questions, it was discovered that the statues were erected in 2005, and are not specifically made after any British prisoners that were once detained here. The name and features of the Dutch governor (or other officials that were once stationed at Fort San Domingo) can be looked up; however, there are no records of the facial features of past prisoners. Under such circumstances, these prisoner statues are, nonetheless, still erected inside this historical site, as a body is peculiarly bestowed upon the collective anonymous in history, even though this body and those features do not really belong to him (them).
Could it be that the right to express one’s existence has been returned to the anonymous? No, that is not the case. “Return to” is not a selection for the subjective consciousness of the body, as the self-consciousness for the body’s existence can only be realized through self-awareness. These bodies were constructed, and in the future, they can only be regarded as a symbolic body (similar to the fact that these prisoner statues are destined to continue to exist in solitude). This body (statue) that has been bestowed upon seems to have been cursed without any chance of breaking the spell. Upon first look, it seems to be a false illusion of resurrection, but what should to be resurrected is not those anonymous people of the past but those of us in today’s real world - in other words, the collective body and not the body of the prisoners. As I gaze into it, under the grand narrative, my body was able to experience the emptiness and the neglect of the body of this anonymous statue. As tourists continue to take absurdly intimate photographs with the statues, I feel a sense of helplessness in these prisoner statues (or the collective anonymous). These anonymous bodies are like a black hole, and no matter where I would be standing in the fort, as I catch a glimpse of one of the statues, it would feel like the entire space was collapsing towards it. I had to construct a wormhole for traveling back and forth in history beyond the black hole (but the black hole would not seize to exist despite of it). Logic for the rhetoric of the self and the existence of the self must be confirmed under the logic of the grand history. Otherwise, these prisoner statues will merely become ourselves in the future, unable to move and still unable to speak.
History is construed by those accounted for and those with preserved legacies. Anonymous people (prisoner statues are anonymous people of the past; tourists are anonymous people of the present) are bound to weave in and out of various chapters in history; however, in the past and extending to the future, those that are anonymous are and will continue to be buried in history and ultimately disappear. Those that will be anonymous in the future will carry different historical identities compared to the anonymous prisoner statues in the fort, with them passing each other by in history’s transient moments. As endless visitors take turn taking photographs with the prisoner sculpture in the courtyard, they are also taking pictures with themselves. They may think that they are conversing with history by transcending space-time by being in this historical site, but are unaware that they are the ones that have lost the right to speak, because they are simply being sucked in to the bottomless black hole of nostalgia; other than that, what else is there? Seeing this realm of overlapping space-time through this anonymous prisoner sculpture and compared to several fragmented colonial history embodied by this land, it tells of an alternative relationship of being imprisoned by the colonizer.
With the statue being a prisoner of the colonizer, it also represents the heroic status of the colonizer, and similarly, the statue of the Dutch governor, someone who used to control Fort San Domingo, reflects the colonizer’s victory. When such statue was implemented by the successors of those that were once colonized, it further tells the existence of the prisoner is not merely about the captive; it is actually a heroic declaration in today’s day for being liberated from colonization. Therefore, such statues are erected as we detach from being connected with the colonizer. Whether the statue is of a past hero or prisoner, it, nevertheless, is insinuating our victorious state for being free from colonization, but we are still imprisoned by history. We attempt to resurrect history via prisoner statues (even if the outcome is an illusion), as we try to recreate a heroic declaration for the post-colonial era. The result is a historical spectacle due to the touristic agenda that the site offers.
The description plaques and the guided tours in the historical site are all based on a grand historical context. From Spanish and Dutch colonial periods to Ming Dynasty under Zheng He’s commanded, leading to the British’s residency at the Tamsui Port, Japan’s occupation after WWII, and US and Australia’s temporary control, Fort San Domingo’s over three centuries of history is an apparent linear course. However, as I gaze at the prisoner statue, I see an ejected space, a force that sucks me in, with the possibility of creating a dialogue with this wormhole for traveling in history. This is not merely just about history; it is about the phenomena prompted by history. With the hands of the prisoner statue on his back and his melancholic eyes staring at the far distance, this face before me is not of a specific prisoner; it is the collective face of all the lives on this land from the past 360 some years (and extending into the future).
1：The dungeon is built with red bricks and divided into four cells. On the thick wooden door is an opening that was used for delivering food and a round peep hole with adjustable metal shutters. The hole was used by guards to monitor the prisoners. In addition to a kitchen, a bathroom, and a toilet, a courtyard was designated for prisoners to access once a day, with a 3.6 meter tall stone wall surrounding it.
2：Although in its more than 360 years of history, Fort San Domingo was occupied by the Spanish, Dutch, British, Japanese, Australians, and Americans (the latter two nations were temporary proxies), but its name, which is locally referred to as the Red Hair Fort, is related to the Dutch. Chinese people used to refer to the Dutch as “red haired people”, which led to the fort’s local name, Red Hair Fort.
3. Regarding the red façade of the fort that we see now, in 1867, the British signed a permanent lease of the fort with the Qing court and took over the fort, made it their trade consulate, and painted the Dutch-constructed fort red. During the Japanese occupation in Taiwan, the British also obtained the right to lease the fort from the Japanese. After the Pearl Harbor incident in 1941, the Japanese took over the fort till its surrender in 1945. In March of the following year, the British took over the fort again till 1972.