Beyond the Border: Ocean / Beyond the Border: Tide

Artist: Shuen-Long Lin
Location: Naoshima Island and Shodoshima, in the Seto Inland Sea, Takamatsu City, Japan
Year: 2019
Researcher: Ray S.C. Chu

The artwork Crossing Borders: Seas takes the form of Indian Barringtonia Tree fruits washed ashore by the sea. It tells the story of human migration along the Kuroshio Current tens of thousands of years ago, using driftwood abandoned by typhoons as its structural and material components. This not only reflects environmental awareness but also aligns with the Setouchi Triennale's advocacy for "Ocean's rights."

Additionally, it resonates with the central idea of local revitalisation and art intervention in remote areas to invigorate local communities. After the artwork's completion, it was featured on the cover of the yearbook of the art festival. The piece was brought to life through a series of island-hopping pilgrimage and blessing activities led by a Taiwanese performance group and through workshops involving public participation.

The artwork Crossing Borders: Tides focuses on children who suffered during times of war. It consists of 196 statues of children made from natural materials such as sea sand, glutinous rice flour, brown sugar, hemp fabric, plaster, and metal components. These statues were created collaboratively by artists, volunteers, and local residents. Each of the 196 child statues represents a nation recognised by the Japanese government. On the front of each statue, the distance from a capital city of a particular country to Shodoshima Island is written, while the back features latitude and longitude coordinates. Inside each statue, there is a rusting metal plate with the name of the country and an everlasting white rose. Each child faces the direction of their home country and stands exposed to the elements – wind, sun, rain, and tides – gradually dissolving to reveal the metal plate and white rose, resembling a series of tombstones. The children vary in gender and ethnicity, each with a smiling face, as they always believed in this world.

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Both of these artworks, created in 2013 and 2016 for the Setouchi Art Festival, became the most discussed pieces of their respective years. The former became the cover of the festival's handbook and the subject of curriculum content in Japanese elementary school textbooks. The latter was became part of the curriculum in Japanese middle and high schools, and featured in NHK special reports (Japan's only public media organisation).

The humanistic and historical-cultural messages conveyed in these artworks have been an inspiration to people in the Setouchi region who were facing a decline due to depopulation. These works have also moved all visitors by highlighting the journey of human civilisation and communication.

These two artworks are part of the Crossing Borders series, and starting in 2009, Crossing Borders became the main theme for Shuen-Long Lin's works at these two Japanese art festivals. The accompanying "subtitles" for this series are Village (2009), Mountain (2012), Sea (2013), Tides (2016), Bonds (2018), and Waves (2019).

The word "Crossing" in Crossing Borders represents Shuen-Long Lin's personal journey of physically crossing different countries and locations while learning and absorbing the history and wisdom of people living in different regions. His humble personality allows him to better understand and empathise with others, treating friends from all corners of the world as subjects of his learning. His works do not require complex academic theories or discussions; they are designed to elicit empathy from nearly everyone, regardless of whether that empathy evokes happiness, sadness, or contemplation.

In Crossing Borders: Sea, the discussion revolves around the relationship between the ocean and human emotions. Shuen-Long Lin connects the shared memory of people living in different countries and regions through the drifting of a single seed, aiming to promote mutual understanding and communication among humanity.

In Crossing Borders: Tides, the artwork symbolszes every life on Earth and the destinies they face through 196 child statues. The children's statues represent their "existence," but under the assault of ocean tides and storms, "death" is an inevitable fate for these children. The 196 children made from sea sand, seemingly isolated on the beach, were originally part of a larger group, suggesting that they were companions to one another. The disappearance of their physical bodies is not a true death but a form of "transformation." After the statues erode, a porcelain white rose emerges. These roses symbolise an eternal and peaceful hope, reflecting Shuen-Long Lin's contemplation of our currently "polluted" world. He hopes for a future where we can return to a pure, fragrant, and "sacred" world.

These two works have not only become the focal points of art festivals but also continue as a testament to an idea. There have been requests for permanent preservation by local residents (along with inclusion in school curriculum).

Crossing Borders - Sea returned to Taiwan for a series of activities in the following year, 2014, and in 2016, becoming a permanent public artwork in the port district of Takamatsu City.

Crossing Borders - Tide has touched the hearts of many, making people realise the importance of world peace. There is currently an exhibition project in progress in Europe, and we hope that more people can appreciate this piece.

Progress Agency