Having relocated from Belgium to Taiwan in 2021, I’ve seen how well the island has managed to keep its pre-pandemic lifestyle, thanks to its efficient policies, community efforts and geographical isolation. But my outsider optimism isn’t always shared by the locals, who are feeling increasingly isolated by ongoing government-imposed travel restrictions. Such regulations obviously also have a huge influence on an international sector like the performing arts. In the last couple of years, Taiwanese stage productions have only rarely been seen outside the island, and vice versa. But something has been brewing inside Taiwan’s safe cocoon: a necessary transformation.
For many good reasons, Taiwanese performing artists are taking the step to VR. To be able to present their work abroad despite the disruptions of the pandemic. To look for less environmentally damaging alternatives to touring. To experiment with and cultivate new available technologies. VR shows are indeed an artform with still great potential for development. And artists in Taiwan, whether filmmakers, choreographers, theatre directors or photographers, find themselves on exceptionally fertile ground to engage in this new form of artistry. Not only has the island developed a leading position in the global ICT industry over the last decades, there are also a number of government-supported organisations that actively boost the rise of VR art. These favourable conditions are reflected in the success of Taiwanese VR shows at last year’s Venice VR Expanded, the Virtual Reality selection of the Venice International Film Festival. Seven out of 36 entries were produced or co-produced in Taiwan. Five out of those seven were made with the support of the Taiwan Creative Content Agency (TAICCA), the intermediary organisation supervised by the Taiwanese Ministry of Culture promoting the development of Taiwan’s intellectual property through consultation and funding. Another important facilitator for VR projects is the Kaohsiung Film Archive, located in the south of Taiwan. This government-funded institute offers not only comprehensive support to VR projects through funding and talent cultivation, but also showcases VR works at their VR FILM LAB (‘The first experimental VR theatre in Taiwan’) and through the VR competition at the annual Kaohsiung Film Festival.