TAIPEI AND THE TACTICS OF EVERYDAY LIFE

Originally published by The News Lens.  

 Photo: Leora Joy

Photo: Leora Joy

"We should try to construct practices of vocation that can begin to address the deficit of felt powerlessness and to chip away at our capacity to interiorise power relations, to delimit by ourselves the realm of the possible." — Nigel Thrift "Non-Representational Theory" (2007)

Two-thirds of the world's population will live in cities by 2050, according to the United Nations.

But what makes a city? With longer lifespans than the people inhabiting them, cities seem everlasting: filled with cement and steel structures, high-rise towers and thousands of apartment blocks housing private lives.

They give the impression of being forever: permanent testaments to the public that make them home, monuments to people and their lives. But, make no mistake, despite their ubiquity, not all cities are as permanent as we think they are. Nor are they created equally, divvied up fairly, or even utilized as they were intended to be.

In the opening quote, Sir Nigel Thrift, a former Vice-Chancellor of Warwick University and a renowned expert in the field of human geography, encourages individuals to resist feeling powerless, but to rather utilize what is at their disposal, however limited it may be. Affirming that people live their politics on the ground, he reminds us that if these practices cannot be actualized, people will make do with what they have.

A city is an attempt at a kind of collective immortality. We die, but we hope our city’s forms and structures will live on. — Marshall Berman, author of 'Restless Cities'

Every part of society and culture can be studied: from art and laws to street plans, religion, and language. What is often overlooked in these studies is how they are utilized. In “The Practise of Everyday Life” -- a philosophical study on how people individualize mass culture -- 20th century historian, psychoanalyst, and cultural theorist, Michel de Certeau (who was also a Jesuit priest) contends that this oversight -- the lack of formal studies on how people actually use aspects of culture -- is a dangerous omission. Without it, we are left with an inaccurate appraisal of contemporary life.

 Taipei City. Photo by Reuters/TPG

Taipei City. Photo by Reuters/TPG

According to de Certeau there are two trends at play: strategies and tactics. Strategies are implemented by organizations and systems with “will and power” like governments and businesses. Tactics by nature are “defensive and opportunistic, used in limited ways and seized momentarily within spaces, both physical and psychological,” says curator and author Andrew Blauvelt in his book “Strangely Familiar”, which leans heavily on de Certeau’s research.

Just under three million people live in Taipei City – not including New Taipei City which is tightly wrapped around it – with Da’an District alone housing over 28,000 people per square kilometer. While this is nothing compared to Shanghai’s population of 25 million, it is still dense. The membranes between private and public wear thin, and become permeable. Lovers embrace on park benches. Space is a luxury. Migrant workers congregate in large picnic style gatherings around churches and train stations as they are afforded no communal spaces.

Some religious groups meet in parks to worship. Privacy is precious, and scarce. That's why there’s an abundance of love motels, KTVs, and private movie rooms you can rent for hourly seclusion. Walking past Chiang Kai-shek (中正紀念堂) or Sun Yat-sen (國立國父紀念館) memorial halls, you’ll observe teenagers dancing, choirs rehearsing, and small orchestras tuning instruments.

Extended families live together in small apartments (三代同堂). Children often grow up with aunts, uncles, and grandparents in their shared family home, and many young adults only leave after they marry. Neighborhoods are crammed, and this makes available many different kinds of business services in one area. Residents assert their limited space and personalize their small patch of territory by raising plants and caring for each other in neighborly ways.

This lack of privacy and limited space spark improvisation. New adaptations of public places occur. In “Strangely Familiar,” Blauvelt, writes that de Certeau's investigations into the “realm of routine practices, or the ‘arts of doing’ such as walking, talking, reading, dwelling, and cooking, were guided by his belief that despite repressive aspects of modern society, there exists an element of creative resistance to these structures enacted by ordinary people”. If a system or situation isn’t working for the people it is meant to serve, they will creatively make do with what is afforded to them.

 Working out in an open air gym on Elephant Mountain, Taipei. Photo: Leora Joy

Working out in an open air gym on Elephant Mountain, Taipei. Photo: Leora Joy

Resistance unfolds tactical solutions.

Here in Taipei, this resistance manifests in manifold ways. Firstly, illegal rooftop apartments - dinglou jiagai (頂樓加蓋) -- sprinkle the skyline of Taipei City. Housing prices in Taiwan are so expensive that Taiwanese media has said the average household would have to “neither eat nor drink” for over 15 years in order to buy property.

 Ramshackle rooftop housing clutters the Taipei skyline. Photo:  Morley J Weston. 

Ramshackle rooftop housing clutters the Taipei skyline. Photo:  Morley J Weston. 

People often have to make do in their living arrangements, even if it puts their lives in danger. Often constructed of corrugated iron and steel cages, makeshift homes perch lightly on top of squeezed-together buildings. Balconies are transformed into enclosed rooms, while other property owners build over narrow lanes.

These shantytown rooftop apartments are fire hazards, and deemed unsafe to live in. In certain parts of Taipei and New Taipei, government-funded demolition teams are in the process of methodically tearing them down. A recent News Lens article affirms that this is a necessary course of action: over 10 people have died from rooftop fires. People, mostly foreigners and students, continue to live in them. This rogue strategy temporarily combats overpopulation, the absence of building regulations, and the inaccessibility of rental prices.

Another example of this tactic of making do with what is available can be seen in Taiwan’s infamous night markets: a must-see on every tourist’s list. Night markets are usually well regulated and vendors need permits to sell.

Yet some eschew the red tape and just show up with their wares. Unable to afford, or unwilling to own a shop front, many private merchants have carts or stands that are easily closed up for quick removal or storage. In Ximending (西門町), or Tonghua Night Market (通化夜市), the wide walkways filled with throngs of milling people will be lined with merchants selling xiaochi (小吃) -- literally small eats -- counterfeit apparel, a wide range of electronics and toys, and even carnival-style games.

 Mobile vendor ready to roll out. Photo: Leora Joy

Mobile vendor ready to roll out. Photo: Leora Joy

At any time, given warning of a policeman on patrol, these stands disappear smoothly, with nothing but darkened oil splattering on the tarmac to indicate they were ever there. They’ll set up again around a corner or return after the police have moved on. This informal occupation on the streets serves to meet the needs of individuals who cannot afford to go the legal route of obtaining permits.

A more positive informal takeover, can be seen in the way people utilize and accentuate public property to meet private needs. Gyms have been established along the tops and slopes of mountains: take a quick trot up to the open air gym on Elephant Mountain (象山) and you’ll probably see shirtless men pumping iron with leafy jungle fronds swaying behind them.

There is a fair amount of guerrilla gardening, manifesting in small vegetable gardens grown beside public roads or in empty lots awaiting urban development, a response to the inaccessibility of arable land. Stretches of the riverside paths that meander through Taipei are lovingly attended to, growing produce that feeds extended families. Community-run gardens are found everywhere in this city. Unsuspecting dead ends meet small corner parks that double as vegetable patches. Construction sites, flood banks and the island in-between the Zhongxiao and Zhongsheng bridges are all homes to such flourishing guerrilla takeovers.

 Tending an inner city communal garden. Photo: Leora Joy

Tending an inner city communal garden. Photo: Leora Joy

The inhabitants of all cities use and re-use what is offered to them. There’s an abundance of new ways to subvert rituals and regulations. These actions allow individuals to appropriate systems to meet their needs. Quietly subversive, most turn a blind eye to the tactics employed, or employ them themselves. These methods offer a substantial insight into a city's temperament and the inclinations of its inhabitants.

Amid this tempestuous state of global foment, who knows what subversive tactics will be needed to keep individuals and families afloat. “A city is an attempt at a kind of collective immortality” wrote Marshall Berman in an essay on urban ruin. “We die, but we hope our city’s forms and structures will live on.”

Places are temporary, politics are in flux, and as de Certeau says “stories about places are makeshift things.” Even these are subject to the erosion of memory. In order to be preserved a city must adapt. Growth is necessary, change is inevitable, but just how much change can be sustained? And how can these changes better serve city dwellers?

It would seem that finding ways to make a city work for its inhabitants has never been more important. But, as we've seen, Taipei will make do just fine, with its particular brand of creative resistance and the very keqi (polite) ways in which people discreetly ignore the rules, and are themselves ignored.

TNL Editor: David Green

THE LONG POEM OF WALKING TAIPEI

Originally published by The News Lens

 Photo: Leora Joy

Photo: Leora Joy

Describing a city is a slippery endeavor.

I have called Taipei home for five years. It wasn’t meant to be that way. I moved here in October, at the start of heartbreak, at the beginning of autumn. The rice paddies in Yilan – where I was staying on a stranger’s floor – had been harvested of their verdant green. What remained were irregular rectangles of gunmetal water reflecting a leaden sky, punctured by the occasional gray cement building. I found great comfort in those flat asymmetrical lines. The romantic in me found solace in the cold slabs of industry strewn around.

Vignette # 19
A girl crying on the MRT photographs herself, applies a filter and posts it on Instagram. She then checks it compulsively for the next three stops.

I found a job and an apartment at opposite ends of Taipei. I took trains and buses to work and back, walked between the spaces that weren’t covered by public transport, then repeated. I got a second-hand bicycle and traversed Zhongzheng bridge (中正橋) twice daily, even in the rain, to reach work in New Taipei City. Crossing that bridge confirmed how alive I was – feet pedaling furiously, breath heaving – and how near to death I could be – grazing buses with my handlebars, feeling the rumble of the bridge under my wheels.

Vignette # 2
The rotund man who paints the electricity boxes working near The Fine Art Museum.
 Photo: Leora Joy

Photo: Leora Joy

Vignette # 45
An independently owned fruit and vegetable stand stays open late, and is lit up just for my viewing pleasure.
 Photo: Leora Joy

Photo: Leora Joy

I have begun to see Taipei as a series of vignettes. Sometimes, the best way of describing this city is by small images without definite edges that fade into the background, quickly replaced by the next, and the one following that, as if you are cycling through the scene.

When did you last go for a walk?

In "The Practice of Everyday Life", a slim volume on how people individualize mass culture, author Michel De Certeau dedicates a chapter to the “long poem of walking” in the city and picks out how perambulating confers a specific kind of ownership of the streets. A walker constitutes a “near and a far, a here and a there” and the simple act of walking “affirms, suspects, tries out, transgresses, respects ... the trajectories it ‘speaks’”. Walking creates pockets of space and time to reassess and consolidate. It offers creative respite. It allows glimpses into lives that are not yours; vignettes of what’s happening parallel to your scheduled hours.

Vignette # 9
A delivery man slings a pig carcass over his shoulder in order to slap it onto a butcher’s table before the morning market.
 Photo: Leora Joy

Photo: Leora Joy

Vignette # 13
Old men on bicycles balancing grandchildren and perhaps also umbrellas en route home from school.
Vignette # 38
A bare-necked teenager sits on her boyfriend’s lap in the darkest corner of the 228 Peace Park, near the small pond with the bridge.

Walking is a free pleasure, a practical means to an end, and for some, it is a way of lifeWalking business meetings have become a thing. Recent studies have shown that the age-old act of walking leads to improved creative consideration. Darwin had a “thinking path” and would knock a pebble from a small pile at the completion of each circuit. Some problems took two pebbles, others four. Friedrich Nietzsche said: “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking”. I would walk long distances to leave myself behind. I’d stalk Taipei to get out of my head, to kill time, to reach my destination.

I’ll walk to get lost, to aimlessly wander.

There’s a term for this capricious city strolling. The word flâneur started gaining popularity in France in the early 19th century, and describes a quintessentially masculine figure of privilege and leisure who strides cities with abandon, because he can. The flâneur is separated from the city -– he observes; and yet is of the city – going by unobserved. He has it all. This freedom of movement, vehemently denied to respectable women of the time, could be used to reflect and portray the metropolis; historically mostly in writing or painting. Think Charles Baudelaire and the Impressionist painters like Gustave Caillebotteand Édouard Manet.

Vignette # 33
Closing time at the hairdresser.
 Photo: Leora Joy

Photo: Leora Joy

Vignette # 44
Garbage trucks that trail clouds of garlic and “Für Elise”.
Vignette # 5
Three young men on scooters in sharp suits, white shirts, long shoes. A phone tucked in between cheek and helmet. One cleaning his nails, the other talking hard, the third staring absently at the traffic lights.

Susan Sontag - writer, critic, teacher - notes, in her study “On Photography” that since the advent of handheld cameras in the early 20th century, any man can become a flâneur. The pedestrian photographer is an “armed version of the solitary walker reconnoitering, stalking, cruising the urban inferno, the voyeuristic stroller who discovers the city as a landscape of voluptuous extremes. Adept of the joys of watching, connoisseur of empathy, the flâneur finds the world "picturesque." While this version of the flâneur certainly shows democratic progression, it is still not all fair in ambling and observing.

Vignette # 17
A young girl in pink tucked between her mother’s legs and the scooter’s handles, while behind them both, older brother holds too-long legs out to stop his heels from dragging.
Vignette # 9
A large man working at a fried chicken stand is playfully hit on the arm by a friend. Holding a handful of string beans, he slaps her with them. They both throw their heads back and laugh.

In "Flâneuse", part memoir and part reflection on women walking in cities, writer Lauren Elkin acknowledges that there is no flâneuse – no female equivalent to the flâneur. Elkin, a walker of many mega cities, knows a good wander is liberating, and that cities offer so much creative potential because people are fascinating. Elkin’s book contains essays on women who have roamed widely and created art that is often tied to those places. Virginia Woolf wrote in a diary entry in 1928 that London “perpetually attracts, stimulates, gives me a play & a story & a poem, without any trouble, save that of moving my legs through the streets”. Elkin patrols Woolf’s London, mulls over Jean Rhys in Paris (author of the brilliant, much prescribed setwork book “The Wide Sargasso Sea”), and literally retraces Sophie Calle’s steps when she followed a stranger in Venice and documented the experience.

Vignette # 31
A flâneuse snaps her reflection in a pathway puddle in Da’an Park after a typhoon.
 Photo: Leora Joy

Photo: Leora Joy

Vignette # 25
Three women gossip around a traditional medicine poster in Tonghua Night Market.
 Photo: Leora Joy

Photo: Leora Joy

Vignette # 17
Sleep overcomes a man sitting on the steps of Exit 4 at Zhongxiao Dunhua MRT Station.
 Photo: Leora Joy

Photo: Leora Joy

Though I still walk and cycle Taipei, it is not just to reach my destination, or to escape myself. Now I traverse with an eye to photograph the streets and scenes. Taipei is rife with rich visuals. To quote Sontag again: “Photographs really are experience captured, and the camera is the ideal arm of consciousness in its acquisitive mood.” Five years on I am still surprised by the little vignettes Taipei offers. Perhaps more so. This city is a sensory stimulant. Taxis smear past bright and buttery in the rain, garbage trucks waltz out tinny renditions of songs once familiar, and even monks have business cards.

Now, I walk for the pleasure. Environment matters; it is determinative and reflective. It helps clarify who we are, and then mirrors it back to us. I am cast in its angles as I step its streets. I am a product of this place. Walking generously allows ownership of ground gained. Open hands, both palms up, we are offered the long poem of walking Taipei.

To see more #taipeivignettes go to instagram.com/loveleorajoy 

TNL Editor: David Green

IS THIS LGBTQ RAINBOW FRAGMENTED? REVIEW: SPECTROSYNTHESIS EXHIBITION

Originally published by The News Lens

 Xi Yadie, 'Sew' 2017 Courtesy of the artist. 

Xi Yadie, 'Sew' 2017 Courtesy of the artist. 

There were lots of ethnic Chinese penises on display at “Spectrosynthesis - Asian LGBTQ Issues and Art Now.”

I didn’t mind that at all — at first.

The exhibit was framed as the first show to exhibit queer Asian art. Curated by Sean C.S Hu (胡朝聖) and backed by Hong Kong collector Patrick Sun and his Sunpride Foundation, Spectrosynthesis coincided with Art Taipei (Oct. 20-23), Asia’s oldest art fair. The show, which ran from Sept. 9 to Nov. 5, aimed to be a timely presentation of LGBTQ art reflective of Taiwan’s progressive values.

The title of the show employs a merging of the the theme of a “spectrum of light” and light as a necessary and “everlasting source of energy” for survival.

Spectrosynthesis was held at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). This choice was political: Hu was well aware that by exhibiting at a government-run museum like MOCA Taipei, it would mirror the legislature's attitude towards the LGBTQIA community and its issues.

“In our mind, we hope to push the Taiwanese government to protect equal rights for the LGBTQ community through this show,” said Hu in an interview with Ketagalan Media.

 Photo: Leora Joy

Photo: Leora Joy

The title – “Asian LGBTQ Issues” – is misleading; this show only addresses the ethnic Chinese LGBTQ community. Hu maintains that since Asia is so large, limitations on who to show had to be set. They decided to only include ethnic-Chinese artists from Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and the international diaspora. The language, culture and history of the artists are similar, but nowhere near representative of Asian queer art as a whole. Why does Spectrosynthesis purportedly represent Asian LGBTQIA issues but only use ethnic Chinese artists to do so? Perhaps it’s because “Ethnic Chinese LGBTQ Issues” doesn't have the same ring.

It took three years to garner artists for this exhibition. Around half of the works that were on display at Spectrosynthesis are from Sunpride’s collection. “It is not easy to look for artists or artworks that deal with this LGBTQ issue in Asia,” Hu told The Art Newspaper in September, “We spent time doing field research, artist studio visits, and talking to artists’ agents.”

They found over 60 artists they wanted to show but had to cull to 22 as Hu didn’t want to “push [anyone] to come out in the exhibition.”

Given certain “laws and taboos” there was a scarcity of available and willing artists. Hu notes that you have to ask the artists “if they feel comfortable” having their work included in an exhibition of this nature.

This is a valid concern as many countries in Asia are still slow in their recognition of LGBTQ rights: China has banned depictions of gay relationships on media, while in South Korea, Christian groups have intensified campaigns against homosexuality, and earlier this year a Korean army captain was sentenced to six months in jail for having sex with men. Could these limitations have had an impact on the kind of art that was on display? If Hu and Sun had to get approval from the artists, could it just be that mostly gay men acquiesced?

When looking at an exhibition it is always important to think about whose voices are being represented and whose are absent. Only ethnic Chinese artists are on the bill, but is anything else lacking?

The sexuality and sexual orientation of the artists aren’t specified. This makes sense. Gender is a spectrum, and all sexualities are points on this continuum. However, of the 22 artists showcased, only three identified as female, and one is openly trans. Is this lack of representation inequality masked as inclusivity? Should this be addressed?

Many complaints regarding representations of LGBTQ in media and art have been about the exclusive focus on the concerns of those who are primarily male, decidedly white, and overwhelmingly middle class. Abbie E. Goldberg, editor of The SAGE Encyclopedia of LGBTQ Studies notes this trend, as does Megan E Springate, editor of LGBTQ America. I am certainly not trying to hold anyone accountable to a specific sexual orientation, but it still niggles me – are there other voices that can be added to this conversation? I can mostly see gay males sharing their experiences. Why is there only one artist on the bill who openly identifies as transsexual? What about more female-oriented views?

 Photo: Leora Joy

Photo: Leora Joy

While this decision to use only ethnic Chinese artists is a tightening of the lens, the works in this show are far from homogenous. Hu wanted Spectrosynthesis to open up dialogues that give the public a greater understanding of the various issues the LGBTQIA community faces. The works are unified by one broad theme: the spectrum of light.

There is no lack of variety in the subjects addressed, and in the curatorial statement, Hu sweepingly affirms the art covers topics like “identity, equality, exploitation by mass media, social predicaments, comments on individuals/groups, human desire, as well as life and death.”

Whoa. That’s everything.

The artworks are certainly multifaceted; but with only ethnic Chinese representation of LGBTQ issues — manifested in lots of penises — and not enough inclusivity, perhaps this spectrum of light fragments in parts.

A selection of works

 Tzeng Yi-Hsin, 'Olympia' 2014. Courtesy of Tzeng Yi-hsin

Tzeng Yi-Hsin, 'Olympia' 2014. Courtesy of Tzeng Yi-hsin

Throughout the show there is a fair amount of referencing and contextualization. This could be from a desire to firmly ground Asian LGBTQ art in the canon of western art, but it is also the age-old practice of remixing and appropriation. The most obvious example of this referencing is also one of the first images on display at Spectrosynthesis. Tzeng Yi-Hsin’s (曾怡馨) “Olympia” is a large photographic print whose title alone contextualizes and grounds the viewer. Tzeng’s “Olympia” shows a nude young man in the famous reclining pose with his housemates arranged around him.

 Wen Hsin, 'Half-Blue' 2013. Courtesy of Double Square Gallery

Wen Hsin, 'Half-Blue' 2013. Courtesy of Double Square Gallery

Some of the artists on display are open about their sexuality, and use it as a springboard for their work. One of the best examples of this is in Wen Hsin’s (溫馨) “Half” series that was inspired by a mastectomy she underwent in 2013. She is quoted in the exhibition catalogue as questioning whether when “I remove everything that makes me look like a woman, am I a man, then?” The deconstruction of gender duality is explored, and the participants involved in the series open up to the camera and share their stories.

 Xi Yadie, 'Sew' 2017. Courtesy of Xi Yadie

Xi Yadie, 'Sew' 2017. Courtesy of Xi Yadie

Xi Ya Die (西亞蝶) shares his personal story through his autobiographical paper cutouts. He is a gay married father living in Beijing who makes his living as a farmer. His large colorful cuttings depict joyful copulation and the purity and pleasure of sexuality, camouflaged by innocent color tints. There is a guilelessness apparent in the flowers, birds and traditional symbols he uses. His work is openly gay and honestly defiant of the censorship regarding LGBTQ issues in China. Xi Yadie told The Advocate, “Sometimes people like to fight with nature. Sometimes you have to work with it."

 Samson Young, 'Muted Situations #5: Muted Chorus”'2014. Courtesy of Edouard Malingue Gallery

Samson Young, 'Muted Situations #5: Muted Chorus”'2014. Courtesy of Edouard Malingue Gallery

Samson Young’s (楊嘉輝) gorgeous aural piece “Muted Situations #5: Muted Chorus” beckons you throatily from across the top floor gallery. I was so intrigued by the sound of it that I actually missed Hou Chun-Ming’s (侯俊明) “Man Hole,” which takes up an entire room. I returned, twice, to make up for this glaring error. Young represented Hong Kong at this year’s Venice Biennale. “Muted Chorus” doesn’t directly address sexuality but the work rings clean and sharp on the suppression of certain voices in media and society. The musical notes are suppressed so the only conspicuously audible sounds are the singer’s inhalations and movements, and the rattling of musical scores.

 Hou Chun-Ming 'Man Hole' 2014-2016.  Courtesy of Ho Chun Ming Studio

Hou Chun-Ming 'Man Hole' 2014-2016.  Courtesy of Ho Chun Ming Studio

“Man Hole” is a daring body of work by Taiwanese artist Hou Chun-Ming (侯俊明). Started in 2014, “Man Hole” is formed by large hanging scroll-like body images of 13 Taiwanese LGBTQ interviewees. Each hanging has two sides. The white sides reveal the self-analyses of the interviewees, drawn while naked and crouched over the paper. The black side shows Hou Chun-Ming’s interpretation of their self-portrait and includes details from their stories in the interviews. Visitors can weave their way through the hanging forest of scrolls.

TNL Editor: David Green

LET'S TALK ABOUT LUST: 'XCONFESSIONS' FILM REVIEW

Originally published by The News Lens

 Credit: Erika Lust Films

Credit: Erika Lust Films

Last week, I watched porn in a sold-out theater.

At the door, we were met with disclaimers we had to sign relinquishing the cinema of its responsibility for any psychological and physiological illness caused. We were quietly ushered in and down to the second row. Close up. The opening scenes had already started as we took our seats. Watching erotica on the big screen proved to be sexy, funny and at times awkward, but it felt good. Best of all, it was porn made for women, by a woman.

"XConfessions", directed by Swedish director Erika Lust, is an official selection in this year's Women Make Waves Film Festival (WMWFF) – the biggest film festival in Asia dedicated to supporting women. It advocates for gender equality and celebrates the achievements of female talent, while exploring different aspects of women’s lives. Now in its 24th year, the 2017 Festival (Oct. 13-22 at Spot-Huashan Cinema in Taipei) featured a lineup of documentary, short, feature, experimental, and animated films from around the world. They covered a wide range of genres, issues, and representations of women — including women in porn.

Started in 2013, "XConfessions" is the first crowdsourced project in the history of adult cinema. Each month, Lust handpicks two viewers’ anonymous confessions to produce into explicit shorts. Write to her if you fancy having your desires rendered large screen.

Born Erika Hallqvist in 1977, the new adult cinema maker, writer, mother, and sex educator now works out of Barcelona. A student of political science, feminism and gender studies at Sweden’s Lund University, it was only later that she turned her attention to film and directing. In a 2013 TedxVienna talk, Lust says she first read of the idea that porn is a “discourse about sexuality, masculinity, femininity, and the roles we play” — but that men had hijacked the conversation — in Linda Williams' book, “Hard Core”. Lust’s first short “The Good Girl” — a fantastic play on propriety — was made available for free online. Soon after, she received a call from her mother asking what the neighbors would say. “The Good Girl” attracted millions of downloads in just a few days, and the immediate success prompted her to pursue an erotic film career.

 'Meow: Kitten’s Orgy' is a sensual feast and one of the best performances.

'Meow: Kitten’s Orgy' is a sensual feast and one of the best performances.

Lust's shorts are based on real people’s relatable fantasies. The scenes build slowly and include thoughtful visuals. There is always a storyline, though often no dialogue or subtitles. Throughout them all, a distinctive tongue-in-cheek humor pervades. “Meow: Kitten’s Orgy” is one of the best performances. Four women languish feline-like around a sunny apartment, slowly stretching out and becoming animated, then increasingly pleasure-seeking. They lap (vegan) milk, paw at curtains — and each other — and when one unearths a vibrator with a furry tail from the side of a sofa, the real fun begins. There is a playfulness and spontaneity that a lot of adult cinema lacks. The performers are laughing and kissing, evidently having fun. Lust pays attention to audio too: there’s a good mix of music and relatable sex sounds. Overall, these shorts show natural-looking people having sex in interesting ways, and while this shouldn’t be novel, it still is.

“I just like to show women as I see them — as sexual complex beings with their own ideas about sex” says Lust in an interview with the Come Curious YouTube channel in May this year. Her philosophy for new adult cinema, as cited on WMWFF, is based on four main ideas: women's pleasure matters, adult cinema can have cinematic value, there needs to be more diversity of body type, age and ethnicity reflected in erotica, and the production process has to be ethical. "XConfessions" proves this can be done.

Taiwan’s sexualscape is experiencing dramatic changes, wherein young people, especially women, enjoy greater gender equality compared to the past. This is reflected in prime time TV commercials that depict males and females in non-stereotypical gender roles, (remember that McDonald’s coming out commercial?) and also in politics, where women are assuming prominent positions of power. There is no better example of this than Taiwan’s first female president Tsai Ing-Wen (蔡英文), and her colleagues in the legislature. Upon her inauguration last year, some 38 percent of Taiwan’s legislators were women, compared with 20 percent or under in the various branches of U.S government. “Everywhere, except in the porn industry, the role of women is under debate” Erika Lust states in her 2014 talk at TedxVienna. “It’s time for porn to change. For that we need women.”

The audience is certainly there. According to one of the world’s most popular free porn sites, PornHub, women make up a quarter of its global audience. As such, the industry is finally starting to take the female audience seriously. So what do all these women want to watch? Adult cinema that better represents their own sexuality and fantasies. Women can relate to other women having a good time so it is easy to see why the lesbian category is a favorite.

Yet almost all heterosexual porn is conditioned to satisfy male fantasy. Erotica is less threatening; it is non intrusive, and generally gentler. “I show touch, intimacy, connection,” Lust says. “I show the eyes. Women look for the man’s expression, not just his body.” When browsing porn online it is easy to stumble upon what Lust describes in the Come Curious interview as “ugly nasty” visuals of women being punished: spoken to in abusive terms, choked, and generally impassive to the sex they are having. Role play is important, sex can still be rough, hard and submissive, fantasies can be played out, and it can still be feminist friendly, she asserts. No sexual activity is “unfeminist” so long as it’s mutually and enthusiastically consented to. Lust maintains that the sex can “stay dirty but the values have to be clean.”

Taiwan's values are gaining worldwide recognition for being the most progressive in Asia. Earlier this year the constitutional court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage and on Oct. 28, tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Taipei in support of the annual Pride Parade. Meanwhile, Taipei’s Museum Of Contemporary Art hosted a watershed Asian LGBTQ exhibition: Spectrosynthesis, featuring artists from Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Openly gay and lesbian soldiers are free to serve in Taiwan’s military, while the “Ministry of Education requires textbooks to promote tolerance for gays and lesbians,” according to a New York Times report. Moreover, Taiwan has a forward thinking, robust democracy — all reasons why it is considered a beacon of liberalism.

It seemed appropriate, then, to be watching porn made for women in a sold out Taipei theater with strangers, and the experience opened new internal dialogues about sexuality and representations of women on screen. People have grown tired of waiting for change, and with WMWFF, they are beginning to make waves for themselves. From my seat in the crowded Taipei cinema, I can see that women don’t just want to be looked at anymore, they want to look. So Taiwan, who wants to talk about lust?

TNL Editor: David Green