Paint, lightboxes, C-LAB (former Air Force Base), Taipei, TW
Taipei public art project at Taiwan Contemporary Culture Lab (C-LAB), a former Taiwanese air force base situated in the heart of Taipei City. The buildings and the entire site are a remnant of WWII and the subsequent control of Taiwan by the Kuomingdan Army.
The work refers to the idea that all languages, signs and signals are also codes. Language, as our main means of communication, is used to create a dialogue between those who understand it. At the same time, however, it is an unintelligible puzzle to those who are not part of it. In this way, it is both inclusive and exclusive.
We communicate in secret – we communicate in codes.
In Codes We Speak: RED
The red and white checkered pattern on the wall and façade of the headquarters building references the international standard of using this pattern in civil and military aviation to mark obstacles at airports. They are marked in this way so as to be clearly visible for pilots under any circumstances. Using the bright colours in this way also represents a visual re-definition and removal of the wall as a barrier. In this sense, a signal is also issued to the neighbourhood, to the people passing by – a signal of opening up and invitation, a sign that the site has a new function. At the same time, a visual link to the history of the site as an air force base is created.
In Codes We Speak: BLUE
Past the entrance there are six blue lines – codes painted on the ground, each of them leading to the six buildings that will be used during the period of C-Lab. The lines are in ciphers – six different codes consisting of numerical, alphabetical or geometric shapes.
Line 1, leading to the former officers’ building, is painted in Morse code. Line 2, leading to the headquarters, translates the sentence “Welcome to C-Lab, the former air force base, Taipei!” into the Chinese Telegraphic Code. Line 3 contains a selection of WWII codes: from the famous “Enigma”, to the Japanese war code “BLUE” (giving the work its name) and “PURPLE” to code-words such as “Zebra” (the code for US-sponsored Chinese division in east China), the Manhattan Project (the development of the first nuclear bomb, later dropped on Hiroshima), or Operation Causeway (the US-planned invasion of Taiwan). This line leads to the “United Canteen”. Line 4 depicts the code created by the geometric shapes of the lightboxes in the work ‘WHITE’ (lightboxes that mark each of the buildings) – forming a line to the former Sun Yat Sen Hall. Line 5 visualizes the modern military phonetic alphabet as in “Alpha”, “Beta”, “Charlie”, etc. – it leads to the former Chiang Kai Shek Hall. And line 6 is the binary, digital code pointing to the gymnasium.
In Codes We Speak: WHITE
Advertising lightboxes are often seen in Taipei. They are signals that shout out to potential customers, drawing attention to a restaurant, a shop, a brand name. They are a common sight in the streets of this city – an urban code. By bringing them into the area of the former air force base, I was hoping to connect and extend the once secluded area, opening it up with a familiar urban element and thus creating an extension of the street.
The lightboxes are made in three geometric shapes for the C-Lab project: a square, a circle and a cross, giving each building a unique signature. Together, they create a symbolic code referencing the logic and mathematics behind secret messages and codes.
Rather than being filled with colours and words, the lightboxes in this setting remain blank . They stay white, as a symbol of the fact that the function and use of these buildings are yet to be defined. The past has created these buildings, but there is a blank space regarding how we deal with them now, and how we will transfer them into a tomorrow. A blank slate waiting for what is to come – a history waiting to be created.
Just as the lightboxes have a clear shape but remain blank, these buildings also have a clear existing “shape”, although they are now empty. In both cases, the following question arises: how do we fill these existing remnants of the past?
The past is like a code – it is often difficult to understand, but it has its own reasoning, as unfathomable as it might seem to us now. We cannot erase it, ignore it or just let it fade away and die. In particular, we as artists, curators, people working in the field of culture, along with politicians (or, in fact, anyone who is interested in critical examination) need to take another look at it, attempt to decipher it, re-interpret it, place it into context. By doing so, we can also deal with and preserve history – not in the sense of cherishing or glorifying, but in a way that gives it a new meaning and a new language.