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Curatorial Background Section (Statement)

For this year’s Taiwan Biennial, invited artists contemplate creative works that spotlight biological themes with a focus on the twelve forms of life from the Buddhist Animal Realm of Existence: “born from eggs or from the womb, whether produced from moisture or from transformation, whether they have form or are without form, whether they have thought, are without thought, whether they are neither with nor without form, or are neither with or without thought.” In light of the tragic global ecological destruction as a result of the human plunder on animal habitats, and human domination over animals in pursuit of civilization and economic growth, the world is currently in the throes of a raging coronavirus pandemic that the World Health Organization is desperate to contain, even as international borders continue to close. The number of confirmed cases increases by the day, and death tolls are now comparable to acts of war. Whether the virus is a natural scourge or act of God, the devastation has inarguably been exacerbated by baser-than-bestial human political wrangling and irrationality.

The Chinese exhibition title禽獸不如 (baser than beast) alludes to an anecdote from the Warring States Period, of a frequent guest of Lord Mengchang who often expressed contrarian views. When popular opinion on a case of patricide condemned the killer as sub-bestial, this gentleman argued that the killer was not worse than, but equal to an animal. He argued that patricides are common among beasts unaware of their own paternity, but all recognize their mothers. Matricides are far less common; hence, those who kill their fathers are beasts, but those who kill their mothers are baser than beasts. Compared to animals, human greed is insatiable. Animals hunt and compete to satisfy hunger and thirst; they don’t kill or attack unless their territory is threatened. But human beings throughout history have driven other creatures into extinction to satisfy their gluttonous desires. The 77 billion humans on Mother Earth comprise a mere 0.01 percent of earth’s organisms, and if all of the earth’s history is condensed into 24 hours, our anthropocentric existence accounts only for the last four seconds. Yet, in the brevity of this instant, 75 species now become extinct each day. With the onset of human dominion, 83 percent of the species (excluding those loss to the five historical mass extinctions) have become extinct, while overdevelopment and pollution have caused dramatic changes in the climate. If doomsday arrives as portended, it won’t be an act of Satan or God’s judgement, but the direct result of human evil.

Seven subthemes serve as points of entry for this year’s Biennial, and are a reminder to the public to reflect on the devastation that confronts all of beings on Earth. This is a call to practice the Ten Wholesome Actions of Buddhist faith: do not kill, steal, lust, bear false witness, drink, be duplicitous, slander, covet, be malevolent, or cling to ignorance. Of these, abstention from killing and being covetous are the most important. As one of the earth’s lifeforms, humans must regard all precious lifeforms with empathy. The struggle to keep evil and damnation at bay in the Karmic Wheel of Reincarnation is eased by following the Noble Eightfold Path (Right View, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Conduct, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration) to alleviate material desires, lighten the burden of the Ten Evils, regard all beings as equal, adjust the 51 mental concomitants, and enlighten the pain of the sentient being. By transcending the impermanence in the sea of suffering, there would be joy in the Dharma Realm. Being kind toward all life is the key to our longevity, and a blessing to all our descendants -- this is the core curatorial value of this year’s Biennial.