Rules of natural selection

Weekend Glitz | Trista Yeung in Taipei 3 Mar 2017

Taiwanese-American Julie Hsieh Yuan- Ru has taken a most peculiar path in pursuit of her deep passion for art. She was born in Taiwan, but her family relocated to the United States when she was just six.

Ten years ago, she received her license to practice medicine in the United States and she has been a family doctor ever since. Blessed with two kids, a husband employed as an IT professional and a house in Seattle, she had it all. But her passionate interest in art prompted her to take some risks.

"I've always had a special affinity to art. Art is a universal language which can connect people with different backgrounds and experiences. I am inspired by art's unlimited possibilities and I want to promote this idea to the world," Hsieh said.

Two years ago, she headed back to Taiwan to pursue a career as an artist. She established the Yuan Ru Gallery in Taipei's Nanjing East Road in the hope of helping local artists get into the international limelight.

She and several Taiwanese artists are participating in Art Central Hong Kong on March 20 to 25. They are also taking part in various world-renowned art fairs, including the Tokyo International Art Fair and Art Sante Fe in California.

Using "Apocalypse Nostalgia" as theme, Hsieh, prominent Taiwanese artists Jun T Lai and Lien Chien-Hsing, as well as Baptiste Tavernier from France, are presenting works that focus on environmental conservation and underscore the urgent need to protect Taiwan's beautiful nature.

Sculptor Jun T Lai knows very well the importance of conservation. Five years ago, she set up her second studio in Dulan, Taitung city. The coastal area, facing the Pacific Ocean and surrounded by woodland, is known as one of the last secluded havens for the native Amis tribe.

"I get recharged by the beautiful scenery outside the studio. Every morning when I walk outside the studio, I see shimmering lights reflected by the ocean surface and hear the tweeting sounds of birds that fly in the woods. They remind me how wonderful life is," Lai said

All these elements serve as inspiration in her artworks, which are mostly geometric sculptures of transparent acrylic glass. In 1997, she discovered an interest in sculptures and three-dimensional installations - opening up opportunities for her to create public art. Today, her works are found all over Taiwan, including train stations, airports, universities and public parks.

Lai's Ocean Garden is no stranger to Hongkongers as it is displayed in Tsing Yi's MTR station. "Nature has a mysterious power that can invigorate your heart and mind. I want to transfer this positive energy into my artworks. The transparency enables my works to reflect natural light, creating a radiant interplay with the colors painted on the surface," Lai said.

Her most recent work, Shiny Love: Maritime Treasure, manifests her signature technique. The 240 cm-by-120 cm artwork changes colors according to lights and shadows. The mirror-like surface reflects viewers' facial expressions.

Artist Lien Chien-Hsing shot to prominence in Taiwan by merging his realistic landscapes with human-like animal characters. The Chinese media have described his unique painting styles as "magic realism."

Born in 1962, Lien grew up in the Taiwanese port city of Keelung, where he witnessed the fishing industry's collapse due to overfishing, as well as the decline of the gold, copper and coal industries in the area as mining depleted natural resources. What he saw led him to come up with the idea of transforming a damaged cityscape into an imaginary world ruled by animals instead of humans.

"It seems that the world has edged closer to an apocalypse in recent years. There isn't much that artists can do to stop the damage, but I still hope my works can stimulate people's affirmation for our homeland, as well as record the original beauty of this place," Lien said

He embeds urban images in natural surroundings. Lien's Arctic Elephant Roams the Taipei Basin depicts a penguin next to a swimming elephant as rising sea levels flood Taiwan due to climate change.

The Adventures of Teapot Mountain shows cats paying homage to an elephant- shaped airborne land mass. It provides a reminder that every human being is part of mother nature and should share the responsibility of protecting the environment.

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