Military Court and Prison is based on the transformation of Military Court and Prison , which stood across from Chen Chih-Jen’s childhood house, into the National Human Rights Museum. During the cold-war/anti-communist/martial-law period in Taiwan (1949-1987), KMT used this detention center to stage national violence, trials and to incarcerate political prisoners. Not until the lifting of Martial Law in 1987 did they stop holding political prisoners here. In 2002, the Democratic Progressive Party in power decided to register Military Court and Prison as a historical building and to concert it to Jing-Mei Human Rights Memorial and Cultural Park, which was open on 10th December, 2007.
However, some key documents of White Terror period have been buried or locked up in the National Archives. Either KMT or DPP has never dealt with White Terror history with true transparency when they are in power. Therefore, since the opening of Jing-Mei Human Rights Memorial and Cultural Park, conflicts, arguments, and controversies about human rights and transitional justice have never ceased.
To define “transitional justice,” Chen argues that all documents related to White Terror should be made public and the society should reexamine the ruling of the state apparatus from a historical perspective. During the cold-war/anti-communist/martial-law period in the past, the state not only cruelly suppressed any political dissidents with long-term imprisonment, but also operated “radical-thinking-removal surgery” on all free citizens’ brains through various regulations and policies. Without the experience to have a conversation with the dissidents, citizens gradually lose the motivation to imagine another values of life and a different social structure. With the development of capitalism in different stages and the adoption of new management, citizens are soon transformed into the accomplices of the cold-war/anti-communist/martial-law system, the domesticated low-salary workers in processing factories, consumers in pursuit of desire-fulfillment, and – after the lifting of Martial Law – the neoliberalism advocators as well as the propagators to reproduce such ideology of domestication.
Through the space of Military Court and Prison, a place where the state violence used to take place, and the Human Rights Museum, which might be included in a “mutually agreed” historical narrative, in the video Military Court and Prison, Chen raises a reflective question about the contemporary Taiwanese society – does the state apparatus continue building new “prison without wall?” Is the society undergoing another “radical-thinking-removal surgery” under the neoliberalism supported by capital and the state?
Military Court and Prison features fictional storyline and visual styles mixed with cinema, theatre, and performance art. Through the eyes of a political prisoner abandoned in the building of Military Court and Prison, as the court and the prison are about to be converted into the human rights museum, we see contemporary unemployed workers, migrant workers, foreign spouses, and the homeless in the space. Later, in the enclosed scene juxtaposed with court, prison, museum, and factory, they push a corrugated iron building, like a watch tower or a construction shack, as hard as they can. Their bodies clash with the iron plate, creating shocking sound until the violent noise becomes silence as the fable-like performance comes to an end. At this moment, the performers return to their real identities as unemployed workers, migrant workers, foreign spouses, the homeless, and social activists. On the empty space of the shred newspaper printed with various business-related information, they write down their names and how they are excluded by the management system of the society. In the end of the video, a nameless political prisoner played by a young social activist turns the government-issued legal forms to the empty side page by page, and leave several pens for others to continue the writing… The unfinished ending of Military Court and Prison suggests an expectation of on-going writing, arguing that in the contemporary “prison without wall” under the dominance of the state and capital, every dissident narrative made by an individual, with language or not, is an attempt to intervene.