Reads- 2024 NTT Arts NOVA


The Beauty Lies in the Hundred Postures of Embracing Disappearance

Siraya PAI | Theatre Critic


In the epoch of our digital age, snapshooting, replicating, and archiving have become exceedingly effortless. People use audio and visual recordings to reminisce about everything that has faded away, turning into proof of what once existed. To this extent, disappearance has unexpectedly transformed into a form of extravagance. Like a kind of paradox, how can we capture disappearance? How can we possess disappearance? Or perhaps, have we ultimately liberated ourselves from the notion of disappearance?


The technology for a digital backup of human consciousness (a sort of futuristic elixir?) has yet to be invented. “Death” remains the ultimate disappearance that we must confront, and the living must exert every ounce of their being to resist forgetfulness through the power of memory—whether through the sound of a voice, the scent of clothing, a particular dish, or an inadvertent utterance. Just as in YU Yen-fang's Propositions on Disappearance , which has been performed since its debut in 2019, embodying the minutiae of interactions with her departed father, and each reenactment becomes a trace repeatedly etched into memory. Alternatively, take the case of NTT artist-in-residence CHEN Wu-kang and his work Dance a Dance to Remember. Building upon years of immersion in Southeast Asian dance traditions and cultural contexts, this endeavor, starting from Taichung ASEAN Square, focuses on migrant workers, new immigrants, and international students settling in the central region. Through the collection of stories about death, it delves into how, when “life and death rituals” vanish in foreign lands, the “foreign/migrant” individuals recontemplate life and death.


The antithesis of death is the desire for life, and the living engage in rituals as an inherent response to combat the inevitability of death. The 19th-century Western art scene witnessed a brief fascination with “post-mortem portraits” as an example. Artists would gaze upon deceased individuals, envisioning them in their living circumstances and appearances, as if tangible portraits could reverse the corporeal demise. The Egyptians tried a similar approach, albeit rooted in the belief in the immortality of the soul and reincarnation. They preserved corpses as imperishable mummies. While the bodies didn't resurrect, they were left for posterity to observe behind display cases.


approach to the theme of death, in their play Flesh, presents four dark vignettes. Whether the actors apply mime makeup, lie in hospital beds portraying the deceased, or wrap their bodies entirely in surgical bandages resembling mummies, it seems to once again blur the lines between the flesh and the corpse, the living and the deceased.


Who says death only exists in the realm of the physical body? Sometimes, the loss of memory is another form of death. Rimini Protokoll, that has visited Taiwan multiple times and is well-loved by Taiwanese audiences, has consistently transformed seemingly ordinary and mundane daily life into a realm of theatrical magic with profound ingenuity. In their production All right. Good night., directed by founding member Helgard Haug, the performance delves into the last communication from the cockpit of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 before it mysteriously vanished over the Indian Ocean. Contrasting this with the director's father's journey through dementia, the narrative unfolds on dual tracks. Accompanied by the live performance of the Zafraan Ensemble, the production vividly portrays the disorientation of human consciousness, losing its coordinates and navigating through the labyrinth of memory loss.


If the death of the physical body or consciousness is not the end, how can human being transcend the boundaries of extinction to reach infinity? Two maestros, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Max Cooper, individually challenge the concept of “time” and offer seemingly divergent yet complementary answers. Sakamoto's ethereal noh piece, TIME, delves into the titled theme, almost foreshadowing his own impending mortality (as the composer himself was unable to attend the premiere due to illness). The story combines Natsume Soseki's literary works with traditional Noh theater, portraying a man awaiting the return of his deceased wife until the stones around him grow a lily, revealing that a hundred years have passed. The play's highly abstract narrative, akin to a dream, presents an alternative non-linear timeline, breathing in and out between the discordant beats of “Ranbyoshi” in Noh theater.

As for Max Cooper's 3D immersive audio-visual spectacle, Live 3D AudioVisual, it delves into the human longing for the “infinite” through a transcendent experience of sensory and conscious immersion. Both visually and aurally, intricate structures repetitively stack and proliferate, attempting to reconstruct cosmic order for a chaotic human world. Max Cooper's work resembles crafting architectural spaces through auditory elements, leaving one curious about the sonic effects upon entering the theater space.

Whether corporeal or not, technology has ultimately expanded the boundaries of human perception. This is a major highlight of the 2024 Arts NOVA series—a collaboration featuring the French art and technology duo Adrien M & Claire B, accompanied by Limousine; audio-visual work by Aka CHANG and HAN Cheng-yeh, the highly anticipated emerging artist HUNG Wei-yao, and Neo-Classical Chamber Ensemble reinterpreting Paul CHIANG's fantastical world of paintings. Each challenges the transitory nature of the theater and the proliferation of senses.


Yet, what lies beyond the human scope? Those hazy and elusive realms, much like the acclaimed work Lunar Halo by Cloud Gate's CHENG Tsung-lung. Drawing inspiration from the stark landscapes of Iceland, this performance incorporates ethereal post-rock soundscape by the iconic band Sigur Rós, summoning ancient prophecies into a future world.

Whether disappearance is inevitable or still evokes a sense of yearning, the hundred ways in which humanity embraces disappearance are truly beautiful.


If Sound Had a Body, If the World Were More Than Just a Backdrop

Po-Wei WANG | Artistic director of Digital Art Foundation, Taiwan


In intuitive imagination, sound is perceived as transparent and intangible. However, at every moment, sound always arrives with the body, constructing the world around us as a background. It is because of this that we often experience an illusion – when we desire to focus on listening, we must close our eyes, as if by doing so, we can reset the coordinates of the world, isolating ourselves from all intermediaries between us and the source of the sound, allowing us to immerse ourselves in the realm unfolded by the sound. In contrast to this pure concept of listening, the audio-visual artist Max Cooper holds a completely different perspective.


In Live 3D AudioVisual, Max Cooper not only wishes the audience to keep our eyes open but even compels us to widen our eyes, to  see the immersion and sense of infinity created by sounds, and to see what kind of world it might be! Across various cultural domains, he contrives visual expressions of infinity, such as the Kabbalah in Judaism, Cantor's theorem of transfinite numbers, and visual perspectives in art. Building upon information, these diverse worlds share a common origin yet unfold their evolution independently. Through cleverly intertwining sounds and visuals, the infinite world appears as the body of sound, continuously morphing into myriad forms in front of us.


Before entering the information age, people primarily experienced the world through various other mediums. In the Bible, God says, “Let there be light,” and light emerged from the divine sound, opening the curtains of the world. This is also why, in many miracles, light and sound often appear together. Light, with its brightness and radiance, becomes the primary carrier of artistic or religious spirit. When combined with sound and music, it often elevates the sense of reverence that this spirituality imparts to people.


Neo-Classical Chamber Ensemble collaborates with choreographer HSIEH Chieh-hua, who has long been dedicated to the cooperation of performing arts and technology, in the production Pursuing the Light Ahead—Into PAUL CHIANG. The performance takes inspiration from the artworks of abstract painting master Paul CHIANG, such as Notre Dame de Paris, Hundred Year Temple, Pisilian, and Silver Lake. The central theme of the performance revolves around the crucial element of “light” in these paintings. In this production, the intertwining of music and light parallels the union of spirit and body, providing fertile ground for the thriving of imagery and narrative. As the divine radiance becomes a symbol of the spirit, the intangible force simultaneously touches our souls and shapes the rich texture of our spirits.


Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan's CHENG Tsung-lung discovered, in creating Lunar Halo, that the rapid advancement of technology in an era of uncertainty has left people in a state of “when moon halo appears, the wind stirs,” constantly feeling restless. Through collaboration with the Icelandic band Sigur Rós, the dancers in Lunar Halo seem to exist in a sonic world where unknown entities lurk, ready to emerge from the darkness at any moment.


In such a highly uncertain world, audio-visual artist WU Ping-sheng hopes that, as audience members of The Boundary of Sense, we are not mere spectators but daringly step forward to reassemble our unified senses. He invites us to enter the otherworldly space he has crafted and explore new ways of perception.

Diverging from the diffusive nature of “light,” lasers, as a form of linear light, often symbolize rationality with their cold and decisive construction that cuts through space. For artist Aka CHANG, lasers are not only the origin of rationality but also the architects of the mind and soul. In his collaboration with HAN Cheng-yeh in December Nite, accompanied by HAN's music, we explore the poetic origins within a space enveloped in mist and imagery.


Certainly, we don't necessarily have to contemplate our own situation from the standpoint of origin (whether it be rational or the origin of the world). Équinoxe, a collaboration between Adrien M & Claire B and Limousine, offers another possibility: perhaps our lived world is a world of representation, and only by seeking the ordered structure behind the representation can we catch a glimpse of our own circumstances. In the three-dimensional space of cubic projections, performers navigate through an integrated world of the virtual and the real, unveiling layers of “meta” world structures, providing the finest interpretation of the constraints and freedoms within each context.


However, in the moments closest to death, the world reveals itself to us in a clearer and purer manner. During his serious illness, the legendary Japanese music maestro Ryuichi Sakamoto, through his retrospective work TIME, akin to a review of his entire life, allowed sound to directly touch the soul. Artist Shiro Takatani, pioneer of Butoh Min Tanaka, and the Shō player Mayumi Miyata, together with Ryuichi Sakamoto, they collectively slow down the world, as if taking a final retrospective gaze before death.