The month-long showcase is being held across two venues that reflect the city’s ongoing transformation into a cutting-edge metropolis.
Taiwan’s leading port city is putting a unique spin on a beloved annual event whose opening coincides with Chinese New Year. Held from February 1–28, the 2022 Taiwan Lantern Festival in Kaohsiung has returned to the vibrant southern metropolis after two decades elsewhere. The latest edition also marks the first time the Taiwan Lantern Festival will be held across two venues; with a combined area of 100 hectares, it’s the biggest-ever showcase in the history of the event. More than 180 illuminated art installations, some of which will be retained as permanent pieces, are on public display. All blend design and sustainability with a creative use of technology, highlighting the festival’s broad international scope while championing the unique identity of Taiwan.
Kaohsiung grew up as a harbor city around the estuary of the Love River, and the past couple of years have seen part of the port area transformed into a recreational zone anchored by the avant-garde Kaohsiung Music Center, which opened only in October. Love River Bay will host more than 20 lanterns, while the second venue is Weiwuying, a former military camp turned 47-hectare ecological park. The latter is a leafy refuge for city-dwellers that’s also home to the ultramodern National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts, a must-visit in its own right.
At Love River Bay, Australian design studio Amigo & Amigo’s work, Trumpet Flowers, is an interactive delight for the young and the young-at-heart. This playful installation was first exhibited at the 2018 Sydney Light Festival, and comprises an assortment of two- to six-meter trumpet flowers that double as giant wind and percussion instruments. Pressing any of the installation’s 27 keys will release instrumental notes recorded by talented musicians in Sydney, played in time with the changing lights of this fantasy garden on the pier.
Another art piece worth looking out for is ûn-king / Monument for Unknown Taiwanese Veterans by locally based studio piànn-tiûnn. The artwork pays tribute to Khoo Chiau-eng / Syu Jhao-rong, who protested against the forgotten status of Taiwanese veterans through an act of self-immolation in 2008. Complemented with a dynamic performance involving religious ceremonies, the display draws attention to the country’s war heroes and amplifies its message to the younger generations through its inventive use of comics, LEDs, and neon lights.
Over at Weiwuying, many of the lanterns have been designed to spotlight Taiwan’s rich aboriginal heritage. Historians generally agree that Austronesian peoples embarked on a great prehistoric migration out of Taiwan, spreading across Maritime Southeast Asia and the Pacific Ocean over the course of millennia. Their remarkable skills in navigation brought them as far as Hawaii and Easter Island, while some even crossed the Indian Ocean to reach Madagascar. The indigenous peoples of Taiwan have been living on the island for at least 6,500 years, and despite outside pressures, many of their cultural practices have been passed down to this day.
For this festival, Etan Pavavalung — an artist from the Paiwan tribe — chose to present Fragrant Wind from Austronesia. The installation takes the form of a bulbous metal sculptures adorned with swirling patterns, conveying the mystery of nature’s textures and the pure, eco-friendly life philosophy present in many Austronesian cultures, which often prize a close relationship with nature.
Meanwhile, Tsai Yi-Ting has contributed Lighting Flowers, a stunning field of plant-like lanterns that celebrates Weiwuying’s metamorphosis into an inviting oasis where city-dwelling children are able to commune with the natural world. Swaying with the wind, these bionic flowers also symbolize the hopes of humanity planted in the earth, and point to a future where artificial life-giving plants may eventually become a reality.
Not to be missed is the festival’s signature lantern at Weiwuying. Inspired by the city’s Fengshan district (the name means Phoenix Mountain), Flying Phoenix is the result of a collaboration between designer Benson Lu and acclaimed Taiwanese calligrapher Dong Yangzi. The majestic lantern combines the art of calligraphy — expressed as the Chinese character for phoenix — with bold Taiwanese flair. In a nod to the island’s endemic fauna, the mythical bird is represented as a local pheasant that lives in the alpine mountains of Taiwan. This larger-than-life pheasant appears to spread its wings as it prepares to take flight from a peak covered in auspicious clouds.
Given the immense challenges experienced by the whole world in the past two years, these lanterns are a symbol of hope, signaling brighter days ahead as we collectively seek a path out of the Covid-19 pandemic. The showcase also acts as a timely reminder of what awaits us when travel restrictions are finally dropped. What’s clear is that the latest Taiwan Lantern Festival offers a novel way to appreciate the dynamic city of Kaohsiung — and Taiwan itself — in a whole new light.
For more information, visit tw-light.tw.
This article was brought to you by the Tourism Bureau of Kaohsiung City Government, Taiwan.