“Do we need design in Taitung?” is the main theme of the Taitung Design Center's latest exhibition, and through this question I have a review on the past achievements. It is indeed a good question. It reminds me of several Taitung design projects I involved in recent years, and I asked myself the same question at that time. If it was in Taipei, we wouldn't doubt it, since design is inherently a cultural element of Taipei. However, I think the matter is not whether it is needed or not, but to find out the different meaning of design in this city.
When most people think about Taitung, the images that first come to their mind are all types of impressions of the "indigenous people". Not only does Taitung give the impression, but also Hualien. Even that more and more foreigners have moved in and the township has become more urbanized and modernized, this distinctive cultural mark remains true. It is indeed not easy for a place to lose its original cultural inertia simply because of a new demographic composition or national identity. If we take the tribal culture as the representative to symbolize and embody the character of the Hualien-Taitung region and use it to deduce the regional differences of the meaning of design, I think it would not be too far from the truth.
圖片｜《山野原味》原住民族食農文化展 Picture｜Original Mountain Feast
“Design” is the product of urban civilization and it is never a concept existing in the tribal-charactered eastern Taiwan. There is no "design theory" here. The culture here believes that creativity is a divine gift for all people. Every person is unique, and there is no common law that must be followed. There is also no concept of "design form" here, the inspiration of form inherits from nature and ancestral culture, which is not influenced by the academy frameworks or trends. There is also no standard process of "design thinking". People here believe that design only needs to solve the problems of life, unlike designers from big cities who try to solve the problems of the world.
圖片｜《現代台東》展 Picture｜Modernity of Taitung exhibition
While modern cities have developed civilization, the tribes still maintain their cultural appearance. There is always friction between the two coexisting, and the difference between their identities makes them hard to integrate. In the realm of culture, people are sensitive to every detail of changes in their life. They innovate emotionally and intuitively, showing their artistry while solving problems. Design and art are interchangeable. However, in the civilized world, design is always established based on a knowledge system. They emphasize precision, efficiency, and division of labor. Aesthetics follow and manifest the rationality of science. This shows that the meaning of design is very different for them two.
In order for the Design Center to be effective in Taitung, I think it cannot be done without localization. Localization means tribalization, and tribalization is extremely difficult because tribes are xenophobic by nature. They have to be xenophobic so that they can defend themselves. One of my friends in the music industry is half Paiwan but was born and raised in Taipei. The more he learned about his origins, the more he wanted to return to his homeland. Despite that he had prepared his mindset, it still took him more than three years to get used to it and to feel the tribe's acceptance of him. The tribe does not accept foreigners easily, even their own children, let alone a group of designers from a different culture who are excited to reshape their culture.
圖｜Raw Trip 2.0《黑潮漂流計畫》 Picture｜Raw Trip 2.0
The reason why tribes are so difficult to get along with is also the reason why they have stood the test of time. To integrate into a tribe, one must be able to accept the social relations of the division of labor in its closed system. This is how tribes maintain their strong cultural bonding power. Despite its high cohesion, the tribe also has a vulnerable side. After all, we can still see traditional cultures being invaded all over the world. Even if the culture could not resist, it will be very stubborn, or at least they can be unsupportive, uncooperative, and indifferent. Such a response will undoubtedly be a hit on the design center which is trying to bring the design to public domain.
I fully support introducing design thinking to Taitung. With the artistry of design, we can create lots of uniques, especially for the overall and systematic policy execution and infrastructure development. However, if we do not “tribalize” the design thinking, we would make Taitung no different to an ordinary modern city. At this moment, what Taitung needs is a design language that puts aside the design custom of big cities, and allows young people from the tribe to use this language. Since they have the ability to connect with local culture and to promote more local participation. If so, design might have a chance to bring dramatic impact to the tribe, and the need for design would not be an issue then.
圖｜舊台東轉運站光牆空間裝置 Picture｜old Taitung Bus Station light wall installation art
文｜鍾秉宏 Chung, Ping-Hung 圖片提供｜鍾秉宏