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Radical elements

Radical elements

Rotterdam programmer Gertjan Zuilhof was invited to curate a ground-breaking show in Taiwan’s staid National Palace Museum. Rotterdam programmers travel far and wide in search of films for the festival, but last year Gertjan Zuilhof added an extra job to his portfolio. The programmer, whose portfolio includes selecting some of the Asian films for IFFR, curated a mixed-media exhibition in Taipei’s usually staid National Palace Museum. The Museum usually focuses on traditional Chinese artefacts and artworks. But Zuilhof’s exhibition showcased works by an international line-up of contemporary artists, alongside installations by renowned art film directors such as Thailand’s Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Taiwan’s own Tsai Ming-liang. Echoes of the project, entitled Discovering the Other, show up in IFFR’s New Dragon Inns film series and programme.

Zuilhof spent five years planning the Taipei show in his spare time, and says he was initially surprised that the National Palace Museum was willing to go modern. 'The show is definitely a bit different from the rest of the Museum,' he explains from Taipei, during the show's first week. 'I was definitely a bit taken aback when they decided to go along with it. They asked me to propose a show for them, and I wanted to see how serious they were about it. I pushed my proposal to the edge to see if they would back out. But – to my surprise – they accepted.'

Zuilhof originally visited the National Palace Museum during a trip to Taiwan to source films for Rotterdam. The Museum then asked him to curate a standard film programme there. But when he saw the space, he thought it would be more interesting to do something different instead. 'They have an auditorium built like a cinema,' he says. 'There was so much space, I thought we could do something else with it.' The exhibits include Sydney-based Merilyn Fairskye’s States of Mind, a work about the homogeneity of international airports, and Tokyo-based Austrian artist Edgar Honetschlager’s L and R, a humorous view of Japanese culture. The show takes the form of installations, with different spaces and rooms dedicated to the work of different artists.

For IFFR’s New Dragon Inns series, which runs under the banner of IFFR's Free Radicals theme, Zuilhof has honed and revised – and in some senses reversed – the idea. New Dragon Inns features the work of established Asian filmmakers like Tsa Ming-liang and Wang Bing, as well as newer filmmakers like Yang Heng. The title of the series is taken from Tsai Ming-liang’s gloriously understated 2003 film which examins, in an almost wordless dramatic format, the decline of the once-great Taiwanese cinema industry. New Dragon Inns is intended to forge new hope: the cinemas may be closed, but there are now new ways to show films.

'The exhibition/film programme is about the mixture of visual arts and cinema, but also about the vitality of a continent,' says Zuilhof. 'No one will deny that a lot is going on in Asia, but little of the spatial work is seen on the other side of the globe. Developments in Asia in the field of film and visual arts are almost dizzying.' RJH