Toad Commons

2016. Toad Mountain, Taipei.

On September 30, 2015, Wang Hsuan took me to visit Toad Mountain. Toad Mountain is in Gongguan area, less than ten minutes walking from TheCube. When we got there, Che Lin was just coming down from the hill. A documentary filmmaker by profession, Che Lin has been living at Toad Mountain as a renter for several years. In 2010, residents of Huan Min New Village at the foot of Toad Mountain were relocated. In 2013, Che Lin founded Good Toad Studio, an activist group, and with the support of local residents, they started to negotiate with various forces to try to save Toad Mountain community from being disappeared.

Che Lin walked us around. When we were about to go, I saw on top of a hill on the east side of the village a large field of weeds, exactly the kind of habitat that I’d been searching for – surreptitiously laid-back in the busy city. I told Che Lin about my recent art projects with weeds. He said they were thinking about ecological activities. We clicked, and started to imagine a garden. We decided to call it Toad Commons.

Over the next few months, more people got involved: Wenshin, a landscape architect who just moved back from UK, Mingfeng, an entrepreneur and beekeeper, Tseng Yu-Chuan, a Shih Hsin University professor, and Weng Yicheng, an herbal medicine expert. The collaborative model of residents + activists + experts + students started to crystalize.

Next time when I came back to Taipei, Che Lin took me to visit local resident Ma’am Yeh. Ma’am Yeh cooked a huge dinner and there was no way we could finish all the food, so Che Lin started calling friends to come over to eat. Afterwards, every time I came back to Taipei, Ma’am Yeh would invite me over, and she always prepared plenty of food for us.

In early spring, the Head of Xuefu Area expressed her support for Toad Commons (officially she leased the land from the state).

After rounds of intensive discussions, we arrived at the following consensus. First, the goal of Toad Commons is to energize the community. Most Toad Mountain residents are over 70 years old. We need outside help, like university students, but it’s important that they work with the residents, rather than replacing them. Second, the land belongs to the state, and we are not allowed to plant vegetables, so we will plant edible wild plants. Third, the landscape should continue the spirit of the Toad Mountain community. Instead of following some top-down plan, it should be built slowly and meditatively, through an iterative process in dialogue with nature and history. I happened to find this kind of landscape – organic, diverse, and complex – in a 1931 painting at Taipei Fine Arts Museum, “After a Rain” by Kuo Hsueh-Hu. This painting became the carrier of our vision.

I proposed two ideas: save an area for weeds, and plant a slogan (ECOEQUAL), so that new concepts being discussed in theoretical circles could enter the community. To my surprise, people liked these ideas. This, perhaps, is my value as an artist in a community project.

Toad Commons now consists of three zones: Edible Landscape, collectively managed by local residents and university students; Avenue of Mountain Spirit, a weed habitat without human intervention; and an existing park area. These three zones also symbolize three energy styles: agriculture, foraging, and fossil fuel. A year has passed, and Toad Commons has just started.

Zheng Bo

September 3, 2016