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淡水 (TAMSUI)
TWILIGHT

THOUGHTS





TEXT Yingbi Lee
WORK
淡水 (Tamsui) Twilight by Nine Yamamoto-Masson
LOCATION
Tamsui, New Taipei City, Taiwan



“The place I lived in was an old chicken coop. On one side of was the riverbank and the river; an area not yet part of the nature reserve, hence there were many more traces of human life and construction, some of it long abandoned or discarded. On the other side was the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) train tracks, a loud high-speed road, and a rapidly-built part of the city common to the edges of big cities, with massive apartment blocks made of concrete.

A few months prior I had experienced a violent assault; it was a welcome change to be in this environment. Every day I would observe the packs of street dogs, cats, the waterbirds, the bugs, the weeds, the river… I began to recognise the dogs—I think they did too—and understand which areas were the territory of which pack. Some would walk with me for a bit if I went to the train station or came back.

Three feral dogs had become used to hanging out at the artist residency, but they were not entirely domesticated. I was very fond of them; I became close to a goofy black cat and a sulky, moody large grey-black dog called Nyao-Nyao. They slept in my room every night for the rest of my stay there.

At night sometimes the wild dogs would howl; Nyao-Nyao, sleeping right by my bed, would wake up and become very alert, and howl back. This happened almost every night. I did not know what they were communicating about, but I knew I would never forget these moments.”

— Nine Yamamoto-Masson on 淡水 (Tamsui) Twilight

The banks of the Tamsui River are archives of Taiwan’s complex history. Tamsui, the village, overlooks the Taiwan Strait near the mouth of the river, to the northwest of Taipei city. Originally settled by the Ketagalan people indigenous to Taiwan, Tamsui entered the control of Spanish and Dutch colonial forces in the 17th century, then the Japanese in the late 19th and early 20th century. Other powers that have left their traces in Tamsui include China, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

Through the lens of Taiwanese popular music over the centuries, Nancy Guy identifies Tamsui River as a key figure for nature in the Taiwanese imagination—one such song being “淡水暮色”, or “Tamsui At Dusk”. Written in 1958, Tamsui at Dusk captures the shared experience of night falling over the town by its lyricist and composer, from shifting colour and sonic palettes to the daily riverside rituals o the local community.

As Taipei expanded and urbanised, the Tamsui became subject to degradation, biodiversity disappearing in favour of domestic, industrial and agricultural waste. Guy notes that the river which had once been an active site for social and subsistence activity gradually faded from popular representation, or began to be lamented as a toxic, polluted waterway. Further removing the Tamsui River from the centre of awareness are infrastructural works like the concrete walls along the river as it flows through Taipei. Erected by the Japanese as a mechanism for flood mitigation, the walls speak to human attempts at mastery over nature , as well as our subservience to the logics of efficiency.

Taken during the winters of 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017, the images of 淡水 (Tamsui) Twilight document a different kind of penumbral transition to “Tamsui at Dusk”—one where the meeting is between pollution and nature reserve, urban construction and neglect, and Tamsui’s tangled colonial history and the present. Nine observes: “The ecosystem, flora, and fauna in some sections of the river is dreamily idyllic—in the bounds of the protected mangrove reserve—while in others, the situation is much more difficult due to pollution and neglect.”

In the shadows of the city rising on one side of the river, Nine enters into community with the river and its surrounding ecologies, most notably the street dogs whose presence and history are linked to dog breeds brought over by Spanish, Dutch and Japanese colonisers, and the native Formosan Mountain dog.

In a way, the wistful and poetic quality of Nine’s work parallels the notions of unrequited love and longing that weave through “Tamsui at Dusk” and other songs of the period. While perhaps not the same scenic image of a riverbank bursting with human life and energy, 淡水 (Tamsui) Twilightfinds beauty in the present environmental materiality of the river. Just as vital as portrayals that evoke nostalgia for the beautiful Tamsui River of yore, and those which foreground the urgency of acting on pollution and waste management, this one gently asserts that the river remains a viable site for human presence and affection.






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