Surplus Buildings: From Marx’s Dancing Tables to the Dancing Architecture

When Karl Marx wrote, “…recall that China and the tables began to dance when the rest of the world appeared to be standing still,” these dancing tables are the result of the capitalism with excessive manipulation of surplus value. What is being mediated is not only the commodity but also the human social relation, which is reified as a thing, personal, labor, and building and organized an alienated way of life. Marx’s “Dancing table” is much more prevailing than spiritualism table séance, because these capitalistic “tables” can turn and stand on its head in shaping the nature, altering nations, and perhaps spinning the whole globe.

Indeed we are in the logic of Georges Bataille’s general economy, where the excessive production and the marginal consumption become the dominant form of sovereignty. Surplus buildings, which can be taken as temporal infrastructures, ruins, spectacles, haunted houses, and the underworld construction sites, offer us clues of where we are standing in the history since Bauhaus’s claim the architectonic building of the future in 1919. In this exhibition, we are looking at the surplus value of architecture, impacting much more powerful than the use value, produces the uncanny effect.

Yu-Hsin Su’s “Water Sleep II”, she conducts a cognitive remapping of Akaike River which went underground and unitized as sewer system since the Japanese colonial period in Taiwan in historicizing the urban space. Her work is a criticism for the logic of maps, which always implied the visibility over the invisibility and the underground through visual governance. While Chin-Yun Kuo’s “Cartographer”, revisits an abandoned temporary housing near an indigenous tribe and tells its story of more than a hundred year. The house was haunted by the ghosts from all times since Qing Dynasty to the contemporary, from mountain hikers, Japanese soldiers, legendary dwarves, Truku people, and Burmese foreign workers.

Ella Raidel’s “Ghost Hits Wall” is an artistic research project on Chinese new ghost cities. The need to maintain and boost economic growth in its surplus production results in cities being built more than needed and turning into immediate ruins. New ghost cities reflect the surplus caused by capitalism and its destiny of over-urbanization. While Chien-Chi Chang’s “the Architecture of Isolation” investigates the overnight Burmese capital in order to assert totalitarian biopower over her people. Today Myanmar is a killing panopticon, gazing from the Big Brother center, Naypyidaw. 

Hongjohn Lin

Hongjohn Lin is an artist, writer and curator. Graduated from New York University in Arts and Humanities with Ph.D., he has participated in exhibitions including Taipei Biennial(2004), the Manchester Asian Triennial 2008, the Rotterdam Film Festival 2008, and the 2012 Taipei Biennial, Guangzhou Triennial(2015) , and China Asia Biennial(2014) . Lin was curator of the Taiwan Pavilion Atopia, Venice Biennial 2007, co-curator of 2010 Taipei Biennial (with Tirdad Zolghadr), and numerous curatorial projects such as Taizhong’s The Good Place (2002) and Live Ammo(2012) . Lin is serving as Professor at the Taipei National University of the Arts. For the past 10 years, he has been working on project based on George Psalmanazar, A fake Taiwanese in the early Enlightenment. He is interested in transdisciplinary arts, politics of aesthetics, and curating. His writings can be found in Artco magazine, Yishu magazine, international journals, and publications of Art as a Thinking Process(2010), Artistic Research(2012), Experimental Aesthetic(2014), Altering Archive: The Politics of Memory in Sinophone Cinemas and Image Culture(2017). He wrote the Introductions for Chinese edition of Art Power (Boris Groys) and Artificial Hells(Clair Bishop) . His books in Chinese include Poetics of Curating (2018), Beyond the Boundary: Inter disciplinary Arts in Taiwan, Writings on Locality, Curating Subjects: Practices of Contemporary Exhibitions.

The Architecture of Isolation

video installation and documentation, 2021

On the night of February 1, 2021, the military leadership of Myanmar began its long-planned war against its own people. Communications were cut off. Internet, TV and radio were silenced. Elected leaders slid into hiding. In a fair and honest election, three quarters of the voters in the nation of 55 million had demanded democracy. And the military leadership, the Tatmandaw, was ready.

The Tatmandaw had concluded long before that the Burmese people – and the democracy they longed for – were the enemy. They decided to use the architecture of isolation: Keep the government away from its people, and the people away from government. Nearly two decades before the coup, heavy construction equipment began secretly arriving in a vast jungle near the heart of Myanmar, far from the cities. Soothsayers and generals designed a new, 2000-square-mile capital five hours from the capital of Yangon, with mansions for the military and streets wide and straight enough to land jet fighters. To underscore the grandiosity of the plan, they built an exact replica of Myanmar’s most revered pagoda in Yangon. They called their new capital Naypyidaw, Seat of Kings.

So when a million people poured into the streets of Yangon in February to protest the coup, when soldiers started shooting and cities caught fire and civilian casualties grew into the thousands, the junta was safe in its splendid isolation. As planned. They had also laid plans to isolate people from one another. Months before the coup, the military purchased spyware that allowed them to tap phone calls and texts and trace dissenters. The regime soon shut down social media that allowed protestors to communicate. People became afraid of one another, of being disappeared. It felt like the Bad Old Days, before the country’s decade-long flirtation with democracy.

Myanmar today is once again a panopticon, a prison with no privacy, in which cruel, all-seeing Big Brother controls the populace with unpredictable arrests and shoot-to-kill tactics. The result is that the nation has largely shut down. The economy is barely functioning. And whereas in the past massive protests have focused international attention on Myanmar’s problems, the rest of the world has had problems of its own. So as fear rules and cities collapse and protestors gather, only one place seems untouched. In Naypyidaw nothing has changed. There were no protests, and not a blade of the freshly mown grass was disturbed. The seat of the general-kings is both comic and tragic–a starched military base dressed in a tutu. The villas and government ministries and hotels gleam behind gardens and vast lawns. But there is no life there. The streets are empty.

©2021 Chien-Chi Chang

water sleep II Akaike river under Xizang Road

10’27’’, video installation, 2019

Maps are controlled by nation-states: who creates them, what they will look like, how they will be read, and how they will be shared. water sleep II Akaike river under Xizang Road (2019) is an essay film which the artist guide us to find the lost river in historical maps. Taipei/Taihoku City Planning Map with Bird’s-eye View (1935) and Taihoku Aerial Map, American Army 14th Air Force (1944) represent the colonial history of Taiwan. The process provides another reading through decolonizing gaze of maps and turns the focus toward evidence of objective portraits of the landscape.


video installation, 28’31’’,2020

Stepping on this blank zone in October 2019, I wanted to know if I, as a modern Homo Sapien, have the animal instinct to follow the same path of my traces. The route that Truku people migrated to east had already met the colonial modernity at the end of the 19th century. The colonizers established an army to conquer Truku tribes in taking the very same route of the migration. The colonial governance hit the tribal world almost like a pandemic disease, and no sooner had they implemented the census, jurisdiction, and tax system. In order to obtain food, the aborigines followed animal trails to expand their hunting field. In Truku’s oral history that there were black dwarves living here long before they came here, and this land they inhabited was not their discovery.

The colonists followed the same trails to expand governance, and on the other hand, they required fine colonial engineering that eventually including land surveys, anthropological and topographic investigation, and cartography. In this land of hardship, the implementation of governance techniques needed to create a fictional collective consciousness that overrode individual will to construct an ideology that “dehumanized” the aborigines on the land. Only by claiming the “barbarism of the savage” could legitimate the enforcement of state formation. These traces of control have already occurred on the land that is now scarcely traced and hard to reach.

At the moment when this engineering of modernization is completed, The cross-island highway constructed by the following regime who took over the island has detoured and no longer cut across this place. The land that we called nature, that covered by secret forests, full of the few remains of schools and police stations left by state formation engineering, and countless survey points.

When I arrived at the old Qlapaw tribal site, I accidentally discovered the abandoned hut of a mountain farm. It was a shelter built with canvas printed campaign portraits, bamboo and wood of various lengths. It looks like a nest woven with plastic straps in order to lay eggs by parent birds who weave its nest in the wastes of the modern world. It had been the base of the Qlapaw hotel of the national park, for 60 guest-occupancy with a dining hall and a bathhouse, that altogether built on the site of the original tribal house by Japanese occupiers. Today, this hotel of national park, nicknamed the “Qlapaw Club” by the explorers of the colonial heritage, is left with a stone-built three-burner stove. Over the centuries, dwarves, beasts, Truku people searching for hunting grounds, explorers of the Japanese army, Burmese and their descendants, as well as lost migrant workers — who altogether arrived, expelled, and were displaced from a foreign land — settled in the high mountains. After the reigned map drawn by the cartographer dispatched by the state no longer cares about this place, what remains are the wanderer’s ghostly nomad, drawing a meandering map on the blank zone. 

By Cetus Chin-Yun Kuo

Ghost Hits Wall

Video Installation, 10’38’’, 2021
Image: Ella Raidel / Sound: Sander Saarmets

Ghost Hits Wall is part of an art-based research project on Chinese ghost cities under the title Of Haunted Spaces (2016-2019). The footages were shot in a combination of acting and documenting to indicate the phantasmatic aspect of the global capitalism. In China, the need to maintain and boost economic growth in its surplus production results in cities being built more than needed. The subject investigated is how global capitalism is affecting and haunting the living conditions of our time. Urban spaces, which were once a grandiose vision for boosting prosperity in the collective fantasy, have now become exhausted and empty sites.

Organizers: Waley Art, Taiwan Cultural Industry Association 

Sponsors: National Culture and Arts Foundation, Department of Cultural Affairs Taipei City Government 

Director: Tsai-Hsun PENG 

Curator: Hong-John LIN 

Participating artists: Chien-Chi CHANG, Yu-Hsin SU, Chin-Yun KUO, Ella Raidel

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