Not until the teacher starts counting down the number of days to the final exam on the blackboard do you think of opening the recycled textbook to start studying. Not until you have already started to get your first resume together to apply for your first job do you rack your brains in the middle of the night thinking, “where did I put that diploma?” And it is not until the rare class reunion where you will see your glamorous ex-lover that you remember the love letters that you shouldn’t have crumpled up and thrown away on that night that you broke up...
Clearing out old closets and cabinets to get rid of the old and make way for the new, whether due to lack of storage space or to a personal resolution, it is inevitable that one will have to choose whether to keep or to throw away valuable furniture and antiques, priceless letters and cards. This is an experience everyone has, whether as an individual or as a group. Regardless of whether one’s rich life experience seems like a museum, no matter how carefully one goes about organizing the material, there is always cause for regret at some point in the future.
A Symbiosis of Art and Religious Practice When leading a peripatetic life, it is easy to rely on one’s mental record if it only lasts a year and a half. But when looking back at a long and varied life, one discovers that putting it in some kind of order is not so simple. Right now, as the members of the UTheatre are about to leave the stage after the applause of the final curtain call, they are facing the pressing challenge of document preservation. The first incarnation of the UTheatre was founded by instructor Liu Ruo-yu in 1988 under the name “Yu Theatre”. Twenty-two years after its founding, it has stepped across the threshold from the twentieth to the twenty-first century, with the natural mountain scenery of the Muzha District as its performance stage.
When they beat the drums, the sound seems to be coming from within the mountains. Tian Li-ching, current archivist for the UTheatre, said, “UTheater has a stage in the mountains; it is one of the very few performance groups Taiwan that has an outdoor rehearsal space.” UTheatre Artistic director Liu Ruo-yu early in her career trained under Jerzy Grotowski (1933-1999), seeking an automatic performance rooted in the changes within nature; consequently, when creating her troupe, she sought out a rehearsal space in the forest in which to make this happen. From early on, members of the troupe would start work at dawn, practicing tai chi and meditation. There was no running water or electricity, and at dusk they would have to go back down the mountain to fetch water. It was a pure, ascetic practice, and little by little, daily life there became integrated into art, a spirit that continues to this day. Since 2006, there has been an annual performance on the mountain stage, regardless of the weather and heedless of the winter cold, and this place in the mountains is the starting point for each new production, ensuring that the aesthetic form of interaction between the natural and the human is properly preserved. In 2007, Taipei City Government even formally designated the UTheatre Mountain Stage in the Laoquanli mountain area as a cultural landmark. UTheatre is not just associated with the mountains, but with the countryside as well. In 1996 the troupe started out on foot from Kenting, giving drum performances at night, and walking during the day, and over the span of 28 days visited 25 towns and villages in western Taiwan. The next year they walked 800 kilometers over 25 days throughout eastern Taiwan, keeping up an impressive pace and actively participating in local cultural and religious festivals. The third excursion took place in 2008 and over 50 days they circumambulated Taiwan, covering around 1,200 kilometers and visiting 100 villages, giving 30 itinerant performances. The U Theatre’s journey around the circumference of the island in such a down-to-earth way was really a form of walking meditation, or “yun jiao”, with an element of spontaneous performance in it. Like a ceremony commemorating the passage into adulthood, they journey marked the beginning of a new stage in their work, making contact with the vitality of the earth, and reconnecting with Taiwan’s hidden strength.
The opportunity to create a digital archive: rescuing documents demands immediate action
The value of a document lies not just in its antiquity, but in how it bears witness and remembers. Fragile and light paper also bears the huge weight of history. The primary task of a theater troupe is their creative practice; after that comes public performance, and after that, documentation. For the members of UTheatre specializing in performance arts, whether meditation, tai chi, or drumming, it is hardly ever a matter to be dealt with but when it comes to preserving very valuable cultural property, it is a questions that urgently needs to be addressed.
Flyer for UTheatre’s “Yun Jiao” or walking tour of Taiwan
All it takes to summarize the many problems of document preservation for UTheater are a few keywords: “Muzha”, “22 years”, and “mountain area”. In performance, art and spiritual discipline can transcend the limitations of space in time; but when collecting documents for archiving, there are critical problems of damp, dispersal, and disorganization. The theater director described the situation in this way: “UTheatre has been around for 22 years, but it is unfortunate that because the company has moved several times, some of its records have been scattered, and since many documents were not stored in an organized way, we have had to go back to our original offices and dig everything up again.” It isn’t just the physical clutter that is the problem. Taiwan’s situation in a subtropical zone means that the high humidity easily gives rise to chemical reactions, and records that have absorbed moisture are prone to mold. The old posters, leaflets, newspaper clippings, scripts, and other such records that have survived must also be organized and classified, so one can imagine the many challenges that the archiving plan faced.
Poster for a UTheatre performance in Macao
Professor Ke Hao-ren, Program Director of the “UTheatre Artistic Assets Digital Archive Plan”, explained how the program came about. “Actually, UTheatre was well aware of the importance of preservation, but there has not been a force behind them advocating this. Digital archiving provided the impetus for them to consider it.” In addressing the issue, he has a fine-tuned method. Three years earlier he implemented the “Cloud Gate Dance Company Artistic Assets Digital Archive Plan” and also a Li Tai-xiang digital archive plan. He thought that the next digital archive project should be the U Theatre, which like Cloud Gate was also very much in the public eye. Professor Ke laughed, “In 2008 when the National Arts Awards were just being announced, I discovered that UTheatre was among those being honored, and I made an effort to get in touch. It was very lucky, and we really clicked.”
Artistic creation is both monumental and fragmentary; the traces of it that have been preserved, of its sound and fury, its fears and anxieties, its shaky foundations, are transmuted in performance, and become delicate and moving when experienced by the audience, who thereby achieve a certain kind of spiritual resonance. The creator’s memory and experience are the triggers for emotional states, and when images in the deep places of memory unleash artistic inspiration and rise to the surface, the whole becomes animated. Although both Cloud Gate and UTheatre were recipients of the National Arts Award, they differ in both substance and spirit, and their sources of artistic inspiration are different as well, a difference also seen in their respective Internet platforms.
UTheatre’s official website and the digital archive s website are linked together, and news relating to upcoming performances is propagated via Facebook and the website Wretch. Professor Ke is considering adding more interactive features to the website, and with UTheatre needs the primary consideration.
A passionate group of artists takes pains to create a digital archive
Displaying this theater, built with bare hands stone by stone in the mountains, was also within the framework of this digital plan, even if just rehearsals and empty scenery A photographer went in December of 2009 to take images of the mountain theater, and turned them into a panoramic image. A film was also produced of one of the group’s public performances. “The day of the performance was bitterly cold, windy and rainy,” said Professor Ke. “Chen Jian-xing, a member of the implementation team who was based on site , even caught a severe cold. But thanks to the work that day we were able to get these precious images and use them on the website.”
The team members working on the plan on that cold and rainy day did not simply see it as a pure exercise in documentation, but also one of mental stamina. The team implementing the “UTheatre Artistic Assets Digital Archive Plan” contained not only a team member based on-site at NTNU, but also had the assistance of Zhang Xu, who was based at the theater group’s HQ.
Zhang Xu at work
“Although Zhang Xu did not have any previous experience in digital archiving, he did have some background in information management, and was also experienced in digitization,” Professor Ke thought it was necessary to find an assistant who had knowledge of UTheatre, and so Zhang Xu, who had once worked for U Theatre as a volunteer, became a close assistant to director Tian Li-ching. The wearying process of turning over so many newspaper clippings and historical documents gave Zhang Xu a complete grasp of UTheatre’s origins and development, as well as its core values, and the nuances conveyed in their performances.
For the first year of implementing the plan, the task will be representing the “mountain theater”; in the second year, the “Taiwan Walking Meditation” will be integrated into the archive plan. As the group gradually gets a better foothold on the project and it proceeds at a steady, incremental pace, the digitization plan is beginning to resemble more and more the “Taiwan Walking Meditation” in its regular pace and down-to-earth implementation. Director Tian believes that as more and more Internet users who interested in this dance company explore the online digital archive of the UTheatre, the latter will become a platform through which they will become better known.
Artistic Director Liu and Drumming Master Huang Zhi-chun, are two people who have turned the enlightenment from religious practice in life, through drumming, into a form of questioning from the inner self, leading to repeated creative breakthroughs. However, they never expected that the creative flame they brought about would inspire the members of the digital archiving project team: the team’s reporter has decided to change track and become a staff member in the archive; supporters who have served as volunteers have also joined the digital archive project team; and an engineering graduate student has begun to write web pages with an art and cultural air. Professor Ke says, laughingly, “Before there was one graduate student who did not even know about UTheatre, but now he is a fan, and buys tickets to see the shows.”
The interweaving of art and digital archiving has created unexpected possibilities, both inter-personal and through online platforms, and when the UTheater performers strike the drums and create a wave of sound, it is not just the mountain theater that reverberates, nor even other stages in the land, through their digital presence on the web, people throughout the world are touched by the power of their art.
Publisher：Fan-Sen Wang, Vice President of Academia Sinica Editor-in-Chief：Zong-Kun Li Publishing Department：Taiwan e-Learning and Digital Archives Program, TELDAP Executive Editor：Sub-project: Digital Information - the New and Creative Way of Communicating Mailing Address：The Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica
No.130, Sec. 2, Academia Rd., Nangang District, Taipei City 115, Taiwan TEL： (02) 27829555 ext:310 or 183 FAX： (02) 2786-8834 E-mail：email@example.com
Issue：TELDAP e-Newsletter (April, 2011) Publish Date：04/15 /2011 First Issue：02/15 /2007（Published on 15th every 2 months）
The copyright of all contents in this e-Newsletter belongs to TELDAP,Taiwan. The e-Newsletter publishing system is supported by the Core Platforms for Digital Contents Project for TELDAP.