Saturday midnight. Section 4, Roosevelt Road, Taipei.
Hipster-look people appeared from around, gathering outside the Korner nightclub, a creative space for electronic music and visual artists. They all lined up for the international release party of White Fungus magazine’s fifteenth issue, which featured New York performance artist Whitney Vangrin’s first-ever performance in Asia. Four hundred people packed the nightclub until 5 a.m., enjoying performance art, live electronics, noise and techno presented by artists from both Taiwan and abroad.
In its twelfth year, White Fungus celebrated the release of its fifteenth issue.
Founded by brothers Ron and Mark Hanson in Wellington, New Zealand in 2004, it has been based in Taichung, Taiwan since 2009, aiming to introduce Taiwanese artists to the world, and increase the visibility of Taiwan’s artworks in the international art scene. It finally won global recognition after being selected for the exhibition of Millennium Magazines at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2012, making it the only publication from Taiwan in the exhibition. In the next year, the independent magazine signed a worldwide distribution contract with WhiteCirc in London and started to sell in more than 20 countries.
Ever since Ron and Mark moved to Taiwan, they have been working as English teachers to earn the fund for White Fungus. In the pace of approximately one print per year, the two brothers spent all their off-work time on the magazine. As an independent publication, they didn’t attract much attention in their first few years in Taiwan. However, after covered by a mainstream financial magazine in Taiwan in 2014, White Fungus’ reputation skyrocketed overnight, and the sales of the magazine increased by three times afterwards.
“I remember I was the first one who ‘liked’ the article (on Facebook), and I saw the number of ‘likes’ shot up from one to tens of thousands. That was really cool,” recalled Ron.
The reputation rapidly built up locally and internationally in recent years did not deteriorate White Fungus’ integrity. The latest issue of the magazine has not become more “palatable,” but investigates contemporary art and music carefully as before.
It highlights a 26-page coverage on Taipei sound art pioneer Lin Chi-Wei, who played a pivotal role in the pioneering generation of Taiwanese noise artists in the 1990s. The feature reviews Lin’s portfolio thoroughly, which includes his most widely performed work Tape Music. The essential form of the experimental work consists of a long “tape” of ribbon on which words have been written in Chinese characters (So far he has created various versions in eight languages). Participants become multi-headed tape machine through reading out the words on the tape and loop it from hand to hand, creating resonant, machine-like sounds.
In her live performance at the White Fungus fifteenth issue release party, Whitney Vangrin cried, screamed, licked ice, and even burnt her tongue with a lighter. Witnessing how “Vangrin’s art employees various materials to a degree collapses apparent divisions between mind and body,” the audience at that night were overwhelmed by the emotional tension she generated via her physical movements. The feature of Vangrin in this issue gives us a closer look at Vangrin’s abundant works, analyzing the talented artist’s experimental performances along with the relevant thread from the social development of performance.
“Our mission is to build the linkage between Taiwan and the world.”
With their down-to-earth hard work in the past twelve years, Ron and Mark have gradually placed themselves in a unique position in the global artscope. In Taiwan, they have become immersed in the local art scene, and were even invited to give a talk by Fubon Forum. In New Zealand, they have been recognized as the bridge connecting New Zealand with the Asia via art by the government, who often invited them to attend local art events. In terms of social media, the legendary Japanese experimental music artist KK Null also promoted White Fungus on Instagram. Increasingly expanding their connections in the field of independent art, they have made White Fungus, the Taiwan-based brand, the linkage between Taiwan and the world.
They have held interdisciplinary art events across the world, including New York, Berlin, Tokyo, Beijing, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taipei. “When people talk about Asian art, most of them think of Tokyo, Hong Kong, Beijing, but we hope to put Taiwan on the world map of art as well,” said Ron excitedly. “There are always new things happening in Taiwan. People just don’t know about it. Maybe someday people will say ‘Hey, White Fungus is from Taiwan. Let’s go to Taiwan next time!’”
In a recent interview by MagCulture, a website and London-based studio devoted to editorial design, Ron talked about the current status of independent publishing in Taiwan, introducing dynamic art spaces such as The Cube, Pon Ding, and Boven. “I look forward to the growth of performance art in Taiwan,” said Ron.
What’s the next step of White Fungus? Ron hopes that in the near future, they can create their own space in Taichung, which will allow them to not only have an office and strengthen brand image, but also establish a platform for artists to perform and interact with each other. He explained, “We want to provide artists a stable platform, instead of a one-time coverage or stage. Through this platform, artists can connect with each other and build long-term relationships.”
From his perspective, although people often talk about “building connections,” but more often, it has been an organic process for them to reach the right people through exploring deeper and broader in what they do. “We’d love to get to know more young and talented artists, and our platform can also encourage them to get on stage to perform. I believe they will become mature within a few years with enough opportunities,” said Ron.
Conflict between profit and integrity? “We stick to our own principles.”
Although both Ron and Mark want to take publication as their full-time job, it is still a dream yet-to-be-realized. As the mainstream media embracing digital publication, they not only insisted on printing hardcopies for the past twelve years but selected advertisers very carefully, making White Fungus an almost advertisement-free magazine. “Advertisement has always been our weakest link. Advertisers often have a very specific piece of product that they want to promote. It can be a pair of shoes or piece of cloth. But we don’t want to undermine the quality of the magazine for a few pages of commercial ads. We want White Fungus to be a museum-level publication, and when young people of the next generation go to museums, they will pick up our magazines and say, ‘Wow, this is so cool.’”
It seems that fame didn’t make Ron and Mark become “practical,” and the age of social media didn’t distract them from working on their own pace. Apparently, they choose to stick to their own principles and ideals. “The process is very struggling, but this is life,” said Ron. “After all, everything starts from zero. No matter what you want to achieve, you just have to be patient. Very patient.”
About Ron and Mark Hanson
Now based in Taichung City, Taiwan, New Zealander brother Ron and Mark Hanson founded the independent art magazine White Fungus in Wellington, New Zealand in 2004. Ron, the chief editor, obtained his Master’s degree in Art History at Victoria University of Wellington. Mark, the art director, studies design at Massey University. They first came to Taiwan in 2000, and moved to Taiwan in 2009 along with their magazine.
Besides White Fungus, they also published another independent magazine Subconscious Restaurant, which focuses on Taiwan’s avant-garde sound art.