Fearless Atayal by Lin Yu Chih

When city-dwellers from Taipei (in Taiwan) want to take a breath from their hectic lifes in the megalopolis, they can take their cars and drive some thirty kilometres southwards. Following winding roads, up into the mountains, they will reach the pristine wilds of Wulai. This township is offering access to a stunning gorge with primaeval forests, hot springs and a river that is promising them to take all big city worries away. Hotels and so-called resorts are providing luxurious accomodation. There are also food stalls and souvenir shops proposing specialities and handicrafts from the culture of the locals, who are descendants from indigenous peoples that have been living up there for ages: the Atayal.

© Lin Yu Chih

In his photobook “Fearless Atayal“, Lin Yu Chih is depicting the Atayal people. He does not show them in the restaurants where they are serving guests from Taipei or among the kitchy simulacra of aboriginal culture in their souvenir shops. Instead, he portrays them in the immediate surroundings of their own homes, in the outskirts of Wulai, presumably a little bit upstream. We see the river bends and eating-houses where they are taking a breath themselves, out of sight of the tourists. We are in their world of everyday. 

© Lin Yu Chih

The book draws a great deal of attention to the scenic landscapes in which the Atayal community has settled. We are looking at clouds of steam that are hanging above the hot springs, clouds of rain that are hanging in the air. Sometimes, it feels as if we are peering right into pre-history. Then, we understand that the recurring vistas, throughout the book on the left hand pages, are working as a frame, the very same inescapable one, that has framed the Atayal’s lifes for ages and agesIt makes that we find ourselves off the beaten track. If you want, Lin Yu Chih is leading us to the fringes of Taiwanese society, away from the centre where the economic boom has brought development, comfort and global culture.

© Lin Yu Chih

Talking about the centre, I have read that in Taiwan, in the eyes of “the centre”, the Atayal are not doing very well. It is said that they belong to an “unproductive community”, it is said that they lack the “right” skills and competences. Although many of them have tried to build a life in the megalopolis, it is said that they eventually end up in Taipei’s poor quarter gangs.

Fair enough, but these perceptions bring us to the highly interesting subject of how “the Centre” of a society tends to homogenize the identities of the individual and tends to frame the one who remains different as a good-for-nothing or even worse, as a noble savage. There are better ways to treat “the Other” and Lin Yu Chih knows them!

© Lin Yu Chih

Each time we turn a page, we meet someone else. And each person brings about his or her mystery. We see a lady picking herbs that will become substances of medicinal remedies that are unknown to us; someone is wearing a nice suit but he is also killing a pig; we see a guy carrying a revolver for a purpose that is unclear; more than one person bears facial tattoos whose significations we cannot decipher. Someone is diving into the river, he is spreading his arms just like a bird. I have the feeling that these men and women, as they are caught in their curious activities, all feel connected to an unfathomable world that gives them a kind of self-assurance. As if in the periphery life can be tasted without fear.

At the same time, Lin Yu Chih does not turn a blind eye to their precarious position. We see folks who are “going down to the river”. But they don’t go as a couple. They are alone. Someone is floating around in the river, face down. Someone has washed ashore. Other Atayal are high on liquor, the bottle seems to be their way to accept the things of life. There is a spooky feeling of alienation, even despair that is threatening the situation everywhere.

© Lin Yu Chih

The multilayered portrayal of this community turns the book into a rich experience. And so does the complexity of the concepts behind the design of the the book. For example, the story is followed by a second part consisting of straightforward and beautiful portraits, printed on a different kind of paper; The cover lets itself unfold, revealing the landscape in a pleasant, tangible way; My copy of the book was also provided with a little, seperate enveloppe containing three digital prints. Last but not least, the Italian publishing house (Origini) also included excerpts from the great novel “Christ stopped at Eboli” by Carlo Levi. The analogies from different times and from a different continent are challenging but they work very well. Yes, The Fearless Atayal, is quiet an experience!!!

© Lin Yu Chih

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