Sunday, January 23, 2011

Award-winning New Year print designs celebrate Year of Rabbit and Republic of China’s founding centennial

By Nancy T. Lu

Good wishes spring forth and multiply fast when the Lunar New Year approaches. The Year of the Rabbit has inspired many original New Year Prints and all of them have been conceived and created to convey absolutely auspicious messages.

As in the past, the Council for Cultural Affairs through the Taiwan Museum of Art has singled out to honor with awards the finest entries in the latest search for New Year prints inspired primarily by the Year of the Rabbit.

Of the top six entries, Lu Yan-hui’s “The Rabbit Takes Off and Advances with Vigor” shows an abstract rabbit outline against a background of peony-covered Taiwan fabric. In Chinese culture, the peony is the king of flowers. It is also the flower of riches and honor. It finds its place as one of the flowers representing the four seasons. It, in fact, it is associated with spring. The peony, too, is recognized as an emblem of love and affection as well as a symbol of feminine beauty.

Chen Mei-yun’s “Auspicious Rabbit Celebrates Centennial” goes all out in heralding the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of China (ROC) on Taiwan. A peony appears on the upper right corner of the flag. In the lower right is a rabbit with the Chinese character for “spring” on it. “Chun” when read in Mandarin is a homonym of the Taiwanese word for “surplus” or “abundance.”

Meanwhile the peach of longevity and the “ru yi” (“as you wish”) scepter likewise convey greetings most appreciated at the start of a new year. The plum blossom, chosen as the national flower of the ROC because of its five petals representing five clans (Chinese, Manchus, Mongolians, Mohammedans and Tibetans) and “Five Power Constitution” of the Chinese Republic, springs forth on a leafless tree branch in winter.

Chen Qiao-yu’s “Ten Thousand Rabbits of Good Fortune Welcome Century Milestone” features plum blossoms on four corners. Red, a hue reserved for happy and festive occasions, is the only color used in this New Year Print launched in a historical year.

Huang De-cheng’s “Good Persimmons Multiply Twofold” carries the message of joy spreading in the New Year. As a bright-colored fruit symbolizing joy in Chinese culture, the persimmon appears often on Chinese cups and bowls.

Ouyang Wen-hui’s “A Gentle Breeze is Freely Blowing” highlights a furry and playful rabbit sprawled in familiar and comfortable environment, thereby summing up the mood and spirit in the year ahead.

Cai Chun-yi’s “Jade Rabbit Announces Good News” captures the mood of a nation turning 100. Exploding fireworks on the Taipei 101 landmark usher in a year of celebration in exciting color. Taiwan keeps moving forward with power and speed like the bullet train on the high-speed rail.

Happy Year of the Rabbit to all!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Rabbit seen only through a magnifying glass emerges from miniaturist Chen Forng-shean's hands to delight everyone

By Nancy T. Lu

Most people aim big in their endeavors. Chen Forng-shean has chosen to be different, devoting a lifetime to the pursuit of the opposite. The creation of scaled-down objects is his obsession. In fact, the smaller the size of the item, the greater the satisfaction it brings him.

Chen, a rare find, is a miniaturist from Xinchu, Taiwan. As the Lunar New Year approaches each year, he unveils his delightful masterpieces, which are often inspired by the zodiac animal of the year. They are barely visible to the naked eye

To welcome the Year of the Rabbit, he took resin and transformed it into “the world’s smallest rabbit.” Take note: the lovable creature measures only 0.5 mm in size. It is even more tiny than the eye of a sewing needle. Chen spent three months to produce a carrot-eating bunny. The rabbit, including its facial expression, can only be seen and appreciated under a magnifying glass.

Chen had the native rabbit in mind when he buckled down to make his rabbit conversation piece. He described the furry white animal as having a cleft palate, developed front teeth, short tail, long ears, short front legs and longer hind legs.

In the past three decades, Chen Forng-shean has built an amazing collection of miniature items. He displays many of them in his private museum at No. 17, Lane 207, Ankang Road, Sec. 1, Xinchu City. All those who have had the privilege of dropping by have been totally impressed by his skill. His accomplishments are indeed for the Guinness Book of World Records.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Breton singer Yann-Fanch Kemener traces trail of “Nan Kuan” expert Tsai Hsiao-yueh, later meets designer Sophie Hong and erhu artist Liang Wen-pin

By Nancy T. Lu
East is East and West is West. But artists of different art forms and genres can make the meeting of the two happen with interesting result.

Yann-Fanch Kemener, one of the best-known voices from Brittany in France, touched down on Taiwan soil for the first time in December for a two-week visit. The specialist in traditional vocal music called “Kan Ha Diskan” (translated “call and response singing”) headed straight for Tainan to trace the trail of Tsai Hsiao-yueh, a singer of the most refined ancient Chinese music called “Nan Kuan” (southern pipe).

Tsai did a first recording of “Nan Kuan” ballads with an ensemble of musicians from Nansheng Association for Radio France in Paris in 1982. The critical acclaim received by this first “Nan Kuan” music album led to subsequent recordings for two more volumes in September and October 1991.

Kemener, himself involved in Breton roots revival, spoke in Taipei of his great admiration for Tsai’s traditional singing whom he first heard through her “Nan Kuan” recordings. He had made the special trip to the southern city of Tainan in Taiwan to hpoefully find her and interact with her. But he never met her. Instead he had very friendly encounters with people who knew her. In fact, he encountered Chen Hung-ming, a 92-year-old pipa or lute player who was in Tsai's entourage of musicians when she went to do recordings for Radio France in Paris thrice.

Kemener, one of just a handful of existing recognized mentors in traditional Breton singing, has likewise done many professional recordings of ballads in a language which he described as of Celtic origin and totally different from French. He performs in live concerts usually with a cellist or a pianist.

Born in Sainte-Tréphine (Côtes-d'Armor) in 1957, Kemener participated in the revival of the Kan Ha Diskan in the 1970s and 1980s. He helped in preserving the traditional songs by collecting and singing them in his beautiful and powerful voice. In Taipei, he expressed his interest in finding a publisher for a collection of 200 ballads in due time.

Kemener hailed from a family of tillers of the soil. Although exposed to a life of hardships, he found everyday joy in singing. Traditional singers of Brittany particularly fascinated him from childhood. He listened closely, eventually even taping their singing.

While in Taipei, Kemener tracked down top Taiwanese fashion designer Sophie Hong whose chic clothes he first discovered in Brittany and, in fact, has taken to wearing in his concerts and public appearances in the last 10 years. At Sophie Hong’s boutique in Taipei, he shopped to his heart’s content for his new wardrobe fashioned out of Chinese silk treated and processed using an ancient method for his coming performances in France.

One evening Sophie Hong invited him to dinner at the famous teahouse and restaurant with history called Wistaria. The setting was once the hub of workers in Taiwan’s earliest democracy movement. Christophe Gigaudaut, the French diplomat overseeing cooperation and cultural affairs for the French Institute in Taipei, joined them.

Sipping of aged Puerh tea circa 1950 from Lanchang -- said to have been wrapped and kept dry in a special straw mat of the region – combined with erhu music entertainment by Liang Wen-pin, a gifted artist of the two-string instrument and also a conductor of at least two Chinese orchestras in Taiwan, made the East-West encounter truly memorable for all.

After bowing classical Chinese musical notes inspired by the romance of the “Butterfly Lovers” Liang Shan-po and Chu Ying-tai, the erhu artist ventured into music suggesting the excitement of horsing around.

The moment finally came for Kemener to fill the air with his Breton style of singing. He sang in his native dialect and Liang caught up with him in his music-making by repeating his tune like a refrain after him. Was this like the “Kaner” singing and the “Diskaner” responding in a unique performance of “Kan Ha Diskan”? .

Kemener was drunk not with whisky nor with the special tea poured for him. He felt overwhelmed by the experience of traditions of East and West meeting in his rendezvous with newfound friends in Taiwan.

He earnestly expressed interest in returning despite his fear of flying to teach and conduct a workshop in his area of musical expertise.