Graphis #330 Nov/Dec 2000
Taiwanese designer Liu Kai doesn¹t think that society is going downhill, he thinks it has hit rock bottom. Today, everyone marvels over the effects of computer graphics, embraces the high speed of daily life, and revels in decadence. But Liu Kai, born in 1957 and raised in the heart of historical Taipei, wants to show them something better.
Growing up around Tihua Street, the original market spot for easily transported dried foods, imported (legally since the 19th century) from Mainland China, Liu Kai draws upon this traditional, humanistic atmosphere in his work. Today, the neighborhood businesses, complemented by trade in Chinese medicine and textiles, are still going strong. Without inching even slightly towards conservatism, Liu Kai uses icons of traditional culture to blast tradition, or at least make his audience question which kind they are following one.
Although he has worked for the National Culture and Arts Foundation, and Aesthetic Taiwan Culture International, Liu Kai has clients who are predominately alternative performing artists at the forefront of change: Cloud Gate Dance Theater, Crystal Records, the Performance workshop Theater Taiwan (PWTT). Still, he is not a heavy-handed, somber liberal. From 1986 to 1999, Liu Kai was the project designer for a dozen PWTT plays, which were created collectively through structured improvisational rehearsals. One of these, "Secret Love for the Peach Blossom Spring," dissects the social situation with such a tender eye that the individuals on stage, even while delineating the tension between Taiwan and mainland China, are lighthearted enough to deliver the message without pain. The yearning for a utopian "peach blossom land" is tormenting for the older generation of Taiwanese who lost the China they knew. But the structure of the play, including the elements that make it universal: the distant past, the present, comedy and tragedy, expand this yearning to a parable all of us can share.
Liu Kai's work does the same. He refuses to be drawn into the gloom, celebrating, instead, the lives of ordinary Taiwanese and encouraging them to expand their dreams to include both contemplating and combating the disturbing tendencies of modern life.