Tainan, the old capital of Taiwan, has many old temples, but my expectation to find quaint and rustic temples met unexpected sights. Many local temples turned out to be tacky. I just couldn’t find any other words for them. Cheap graphics on thin plywoods had been added on the old surfaces, five-and-dime lanterns hung everywhere, and sketchy repaint jobs.
Walking through a narrow alley and finally reaching this temple, the first thing that jumped into my sight was this ugly electronic message board. I gasped and became speechless. But J., standing right next to me, said in a quiet voice, “Fascinating,” and started taking photos.
Seriously, is this fascinating? I wondered. The place was crowded with local devotees, holding long incense sticks and placing offerings on the table. Among seniors, there were businessmen and students. Their expressions showed me what I was unable to see.
The electronic message board said, “Guanyin the Bodhisattva is coming,” and then flickered to show another message, “Make offerings to the temple for your health and prosperity.”
This tacky appearance was, I realized, against modernism, a rational, scientific, and stylish aesthetics of utopia. Neither is this postmodernism because the “content” was not disconnected. Actually, the entire space was all about preserving the content, that is, belief. This is Baroque: cheap excessive graphics spatialize time so that it can protect itself from modernity, a force that rationalizes belief. Yes, this is fascinating.