Work of art – Taishin Arts Award

Taishin Arts Award recognises and develops the best Taiwanese artists. Executive director Yali Cheng explains why its work is so important.

Founded in 2002, the Taishin Arts Award acknowledges the best performing, interdisciplinary and visual art works created by Taiwanese artists each year. It provides a platform for those artists both within Taiwan and across the globe, bringing attention to the best talent the country has an offer. 

Supported by the Taishin Bank Foundation for Arts and Culture, each year Taishin Arts Award distributes three prizes: one for performing arts, one for visual arts and an annual Grand Prize that goes to an exceptional interdisciplinary work.

We spoke with executive director Yali Cheng to find out more about this year’s winners, plans for the future and the role that the award plays in the Taiwanese cultural scene. 

IAM: What are the main objectives for the Taishin Arts Award?
Yali Cheng:
The objective of the Taishin Arts Award – apart from honouring the best art exhibitions and performances of the year – is to fuel and propel the development of art. In other words, we want to enhance the public’s artistic appreciation for contemporary art.

To achieve the goal, we act as an art forum, creating a body of art comment and criticism that further popularises art and improves professionalism in the field. We hope that fine-quality art exhibitions and performances can form a new focal point in Taiwanese society, inspiring new directions, ideas and possibilities in Taiwan’s art scene.

IAM: Tell us about your history – how many artists have you worked with so far?
YC: Since its establishment, there have been 60 laureates, and the total prize money has amounted to around NTD50m (€1.43m). As for the 14 awards exhibitions we’ve held, 300,000 people have attended. Since 2017, we’ve replaced the exhibition with a special Taishin Arts Award website, which has had more than 200,000 views to date.

IAM: Who are this year’s winners?
YC: According to Huang Ming-Chuan, the chair of this year’s final selection committee, “the difficulty to select this year’s recipients has far exceeded my expectation. All the finalists displayed their individual brilliance that could not be overshadowed by one another.” He also praised the ability of the artists to, “deal with serious issues without a stern manner and to unfold vast imagination and interpretive space for the audience with truthful methods and without endorsing any absolute positions.”

This year Against Again Troupe collected our Annual Grand Prize (NTD1.5m) for their piece White Clear Song. It transformed the heaviness of the White Terror (Taiwan’s 38-year period of martial law) into a fluent, profound piece of sound theatre that combined story telling, folk songs and reportage. White Clear Song revisits history to relieve the individual’s grief after decades of silencing, using the power of oral history.

The Performing Arts Award (NTD1m) went to director Wang Shih-Wei for his work Masses. The piece deals with the idea of mass protest, asking the audience to re-experience and re-think the personal and the social elements that play out in a street struggle.

Finally, Chen I-Hsuen won the Visual Arts Award (NTD1m) for his solo exhibition Commissioned at Hong-gah Museum. The work reversed the roles of clients and freelancers while reflecting the employer-employee relationship and survival pattern faced by artists and cultural workers.

Winners of the 18th Taishin Arts Award: Performing Arts Award, Visual Arts Award, and Annual Grand Prize
Winners of the 18th Taishin Arts Award: Performing Arts Award, Visual Arts Award, and Annual Grand Prize

IAM: Tell us a bit more about your website – is it just a virtual exhibition space, or is there more to it?
YC: We launched the ARTalks website in 2013 and it has been our main hub since then. The website not only announces the nomination and selection process of the award, but it also acts as a forum for reviews of performances and exhibitions throughout Taiwan. These come from the nine ‘nomination observers’ that we have every year.

In addition, ARTalks offers the public access to arts and cultural information as well as professional reviews and viewpoints. Viewers are encouraged to participate in discussions and leave comments as well as make their own recommendations. From the inauguration of the website until now, the page views have surpassed 2.3 million.

Moreover, the website has launched an Art and Mind column that offers a Q&As, op-eds and analysis written by artists themselves, engaging a wider audience and taking artistic dialogue out of elite circles and opening it to the public.

IAM: Who sits on the jury, and what is the process for selecting the winners?
YC: The selection of the Taishin Arts Award adopts a ‘candidacy by nomination’ system. Nine nomination observers – including established professionals, art critics and curators from diverse fields – attend new contemporary art exhibitions and performances throughout the year and publish their reviews on ARTalks.

ARTalks then announces seasonal nomination lists by the nine observers, with an annual total number of approximately 100 nominated works. That is then narrowed down to 15-20 finalists. The final selection of the Award takes place every May to June, with seven jury members. The jury includes some of the nomination observers as well as experts from the Taiwanese and international arts communities.

IAM: What support do you offer the winners – aside from the cash prize – and how does winning the award help boost an artist both nationally and internationally?  
YC: In addition to the actual awards, Taishin Bank Foundation for Arts and Culture has launched a scheme called ‘Promotion Programme for Taishin Arts Award Finalists’. Artists that have made the Taishin Arts Award finalist list can apply for a subsidy, up to NTD100,000, to promote their finalist projects or their new creative projects.

The foundation supports laureates and finalists by organising arts and cultural programmes for the corporate employees and setting up artist workshops, which further engage the corporate employees and the public in contemporary art. The foundation also supports artists, helping them to expand their work internationally.

For example, the former director of the Singapore International Festival of Arts, Ong Keng Sen, led a special curators academy during the 2018 Art Stage Singapore with our artists.

Yali Cheng, executive director of the Taishin Bank Foundation of Arts and Culture
Yali Cheng, executive director of the Taishin Bank Foundation of Arts and Culture

IAM: What are some of the success stories from your laureates?
YC: Choreographer Cheng Tsung-Lung’s On the Road (2011) was awarded the Annual Performing Arts Award in the 10th Taishin Arts Award. One of the final selection committee jurors, Martin Wechsler, who was the director of programming for New York’s Joyce Theater, then invited Cheng to perform the piece at the theatre, which won both critical acclaim and much positive feedback.

In the same year, the artistic director of Cloud Gate Dance Company, Lin Hwai-Min, invited Cheng to be Cloud Gate 2’s assistant artistic director. Since then, Cheng repeatedly led the dance company to perform in Europe, the US, Asia and Australia before eventually becoming the artistic director of Cloud Gate Dance Company in 2020.

IAM: What plans for you have for future editions?
YC: In 2022, the Taishin Arts Award will celebrate its 20th anniversary, and the foundation plans to form a 20th-anniversary preparation team to curate a retrospective and carry out an evaluation and research plan of the Taishin Arts Award to more precisely pinpoint its future direction.

Meanwhile, through the joint forces of ARTalks and the Award, we hope to continue the dialectic of artistic diversity and the dialogue between arts and society. It is our hope to accompany the pioneering artists and serve as a crucial prism to refract Taiwan’s diverse culture and carry Taiwanese contemporary art to a higher peak.

Annual Grand Prize Winner
White Clear Song
Against Again Troupe
Transforming the heaviness of White Terror archives into a fluent, profound sound theatre, Against Again Troupe’s White Clear Song is an artful blend of story-telling, folk songs and reportage theatre. The work recounts the stories of victims through monologues, dialogues and singing on a makeshift stage with effective symbolic images and flexible mise-en-scène by four performers.

White Clear Song © Chien-Che Tang
White Clear Song © Chien-Che Tang

Visual Arts Award Winner
I-Hsuen Chen
Commissioned – I-Hsuen Chen Solo Exhibition reflects on the art eco-system, where the artist and his peers are interconnected and mutually supportive in daily life. Intermingling participatory co-productions, extravagant actions, music and motion images, Chen turns the video installation into a vivid movie scene, bringing the real world into the museum.

Commissioned © I-Hsuen Chen
Commissioned © I-Hsuen Chen

Performing Arts Award Winner
Shih-Wei Wang
Shih-Wei Wang’s Masses is a collective performance featuring abundant creative energies of four outstanding artists. The production fully exploits the spatial potential of the venue. Watching from afar or immersed in close range, the audience is invited to bravely face the nuances of personal life amid street protests. The performance sincerely examines the self-awareness, passion and alienation of individuals assembled en masse.

Masses © Cheng-Hsiang Liu
Masses © Cheng-Hsiang Liu