The origin of Taiwan literature and traditional arts that feature ghosts or monsters can be traced back to the animistic belief imbedded in the culture of Taiwan. In recent years, the “monsterology” of Taiwan has been forming itself under the efforts of literary writers and local communities of monster studies. In this context, what kind of role does VR technology play? Or, through what kind of original discourses can VR contents respond to the rising of monster studies, create a cross-disciplinary collective unconscious, and give birth to art of its own kind in the contemporary scene of Taiwan?
Island of Magic and Mystery — Supernatural Literature of Taiwan , an exhibition organized by the National Museum of Taiwan Literature in 2018, presented a thorough genealogy of Taiwan monster studies which covered the monster literature of Taiwan from the 17th century to contemporary times. For example, in 2014, writer Ho Ching-Yao published Phantom Harbour, a novel on the monsters of Thô͘-kat-khut, the mysterious, abandoned harbor in Taichung. After that, he also published another book of Yaoguai Taiwan and an album of cross-disciplinary collaboration: Formosa Yokai Melody. Founded in 2015, Taipei Legend Studio has put together Yaoism, a book on the monsters of Taiwan, and a board game, Legend Has It. Lo Chuan-Chiao, writer and member of the Studio, also published The Murders in Mandala and The Return of Kimtshái. With an ambition to promote Taiwan’s culture, these works strive to popularize the monsters of Taiwan as well as relevant studies.
Comparing to literary works that highlight contextual studies and cultural creativity, visual artworks featuring Taiwanese ghosts, under the influence of western animism, focuses more on finding the philosophical language as curatorial concepts and discourses. Curated by Anselm Franke, the 2012 Taipei Biennial Modern Monsters / Death and Life of Fiction, and the Animism at OCAT Shenzhen, China in 2013 both contributed to the trend. Influenced by the two exhibitions, visual art in Taiwan seems to have focused specifically on pre-modern content as its response to colonial modernity. Gradually, ghosts, monsters, and shamanism become recurrent motifs in the curation and works of visual art in Taiwan, while more and more curators and artists manage to incorporate cross-cultural projects and field research on traditional Taiwanese cultures into their works. Shamans and Dissent in 2013, The Return of Ghosts in 2014, the 2017 Soulangh International Contemporary Art Festival, Kau-Puê, Mutual Companionship in Near Future, and Stories We Tell To Scare Ourselves With in 2019 are a few examples.
Literature and visual art, which have chosen quite different paths to approach the “monsterology” of Taiwan, finally came across each other in the July of 2019, when Gong Jow-jiun, Lo Chuan-Chiao, and Wang Chia-Ling from the National Museum of Taiwan Literature founded Yao-Guai Academy with the momentum gathered after Island of Magic and Mystery – Supernatural Literature of Taiwan. In the July of 2019, Yao-Chi City, Taiwanese Paranormal Literature and Contemporary Art Exhibition at C-Lab has managed to open dialogs among literature and visual art, architecture, hand-drawing, sound, performance, as well as VR/AR moving images. From then on, the contemporary scene of Taiwan has been waiting in anticipation to see whether, in the mesmerizing world of monsters, a distinctive symbol of Taiwan’s subjectivity would eventually be born.