Interview #07

Serving Up Public Picnics Up on a Platter!

Taipei Picnic Club

Written by RMM
Photos by Taipei Picnic Club

It’s the spirit and not the food that makes a picnic special: a casual and simple meal on a nice lawn is all you need to have a good time– that’s what the Taipei Picnic Club (TPC) wants Taipei residents to enjoy. With up to four events every year, the TPC’s biggest picnics are held in Spring and Autumn at large parks to accommodate the growing number of participants.

This ‘club’ that celebrates the moveable feast, is the brainchild of five friends who met while studying in London. Inspired by how cultures could influence creativity – co-founder Dave Chen cites how Northern Europe’s indoor-centric culture led to a focus on furniture design – TPC was established to foster an urban culture where urbanites could interact with their environment. Since Taipei is mostly comprised of urban space, the founders felt it was important to create a space where residents (from all generations and walks-of-life) could develop a culture where they could imagine the city’s future while being aware of its past.

Dave tells us more about TPC and what the picnic events, which try to have a different theme each time, aspire to be.

RMM: While most of your picnics take place in public park spaces in Taipei, are there any “unconventional spaces in the city where you’re dying to hold a picnic?

Dave: We’ve tried to explore various venues like rooftops. It is common to find illegal constructions on Taipei rooftops, which the government has made every effort in preventing. But for us, we want to improve the functionality of these rooftops to prevent such construction in the first place. That was why we once launched a picnic event on a rooftop to inspire public discussion on the utility of spaces like this.

Apart from picnics, we have beer festival in summer and Christmas market in winter. These two events do not necessarily take place in parks. Hence, we are able to explore more fun locations. Like our beer festival in the summer of 2015, we also held it on a rooftop. In 2016, we wish to move closer to the nature with activities like camping.

RMM: You mentioned in an article that when you first began picnicking in Taipei, the older generation would give you all strange looks. Seeing that ‘public spaces’ shouldn’t have such strict rules on what is ‘acceptable’ behaviour (within reason of course!) --- how is TPC making public spaces more ‘public’ for people?

Dave: Taipei citizens, in certain aspects, are pretty conservative -- sometimes they perceive some behaviours as unacceptable unless everyone else does it. That’s why some people found it strange when we first picnicked. This inspired us to hold a mass picnic event so that gradually, the public would find it less weird. Picnic has even become trendy now! Recently, we gathered at a riverside park where the groundskeeper not only offered us free garbage bags, but also kindly helped us collect the bags after we packed them.

RMM: How can public spaces and parks in Taipei be more conducive for creative, vibrant lifestyles?

Dave: The oldest park in Taipei was built as early as in 1896. For a prolonged period of time in the 1910s, there was a massive number of parks being constructed all over the island. People at that time were very receptive towards parks. However, such kind of discussion has nearly disappeared in the city due to the lack of imagination on how parks can be used – so the design and function of parks in modern Taipei are nearly identical.

The crucial objective of TPC is therefore to stimulate the public’s imaginative power towards public spaces. By holding all sorts of activities from mobile libraries, speaker corners, film screenings to art workshops, musicals and dance performances, and cooking classes, we hope to see possibilities for interesting things to happen.

RMM: What are your dreams for TPC? What do you think would make a ‘Taipei-style picnic’?

Dave: Actually, one of our major goals right now is to establish a Taipei-style picnic! We wanted to introduce Taipei’s culture in the 1920s, so that’s our theme for the 2015 fall picnic. It was held 17 October, the day that the Taiwanese Cultural Association, which was created to preserve local ‘Taiwanese’ culture, was founded. In the future, we will hold more vintage-themed picnics to promote Taipei culture. Traditional glove puppetry and snacks may become new elements of our events as well.

As for TPC’s dream, we don’t have an answer yet. Since it is all about public participation, we hope to follow the public’s footstep as we develop, instead of leading people to any particular direction. However, our core value will always remain the same – to transform Taipei into a more liberal and interesting city.

The team of Taipei Picnic Club

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