Stones with Emotion ── Bringing the Beauty of Taiwan to the Global Stage
Text and photography by Xu Qianhe
The article is provided by the Taiwan Digital Archives Request-for-Proposals Project, the subsidiary project of Taiwan Digital Archives Expansion Project
Going down the forest road in the mountains and through the old Niudong (lit. Ox Hole) tunnel, with the Yema River lying ahead, we wound along Country Road No. 69 in Yuchi Township before reaching Nei-Jia-Dao Highland, where there were several stone sculptures on the roadside, leading to the house of the famous naive artist Lin Yuan. Upon entering the gate, the first thing we saw were stone sculptures scattering the yard, which seemed to grow from the ground. There was a crisp scent of grass and wood in the air, and a globe on the side of the yard, making us wonder why such a device was kept outside. Lin Yuan’s grandson, Li Rihou recounted with a smile, “My grandfather made it to keep the visiting children from getting bored,” with hands fiddling with the globe, which glistened with sunshine when turning. From the other side of the yard, mixed-media pieces of art vying for my attention. Some of them smiled, some frowned; some were deep in thought, some carried on conversations. I thought I even saw one wink. Most were creations made of materials that could be obtained anywhere, which, after being put together, radiated an indescribable vitality.
Inside the house, even the memorial tablets of his parents in the worship hall were carved by Lin Yuan himself, with his embroideries and paintings hung alongside. Lin only started carving stones at the age of 66. He rose to fame after being discovered by Huang Bingsong, president of New Era Art Resort and Spa. After Huang first came across Lin’s art in 1980, he was mesmerized by Lin’s work. He described the discovery experience as “being stunned by stones.” The impact of Huang’s discovery has lasted for decades. From buying and collecting Lin’s works to founding the New Era Stone Sculpture Park and Lin Yuan Museum, Huang has introduced Lin’s work to noted artists at home and abroad, including the French modern artist Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985), Yang Yingfeng and Zhu Ming, among others, who all admired Lin’s exceptional artistic expression. Huang states, “If there is anything worth promoting as the representation of Taiwan, it is Lin Yuan’s art.”
Moved by Huang’s enthusiasm, Professor Bain Rueyfen of Da-Yeh University also began forging a connection with Lin Yuan in 2004. “Let Taiwan and its story be seen globally through the accomplishments of common people,” said Bain. This belief led her to curate “Art Brut in Taiwan — Digital Archive Project for Lin Yuan’s Works and Life.” The first time she came across Lin’s stone sculptures was in 1990 when she was looking for teaching materials for the production of rural art, and this encounter led her to projects on rural villages, which touched the professor and gave her insight into rural life in Taiwan. Insisting on simplicity and maintaining the essence of her project, Bain has continued her research into Lin’s art with the support of New Era President Huang, Huang’s family, research assistant Huang Yuzhen, and photographer Zheng Guoyu. The project has had its obstacles, but Bain has remained upbeat throughout. She shared a smile with her research assistant while discussing having limited funding, developing a 3D photography platform, and being unfamiliar with new art techniques and theories. 
Sunny with Thin Clouds — the Best Weather for Photographing Stone Sculptures
Lin Yuan’s works are rich in diversity; he is highly accomplished in stone and wood sculpture, slate painting, embroidery, painting, and assemblage art. This diversity, so appealing from an artistic standpoint, is also what has caused difficulties in the preservation and digitization of his works. The project floundered in its first year: in order to overcome the technical problems, the team attended seminars, lectures and workshops of various kinds, as well as discussing the issues with professional photographers. They settled on a 3D photography software platform. “Once we learned it, we understood it, and gave it a try right away. Just one demo of the software was enough,” Yuzhen said with confidence. “3D object photography means joining 164 images to provide a complete 180-degree view.” She talked about the technical calculations as if she were reading her grocery list. A set of digitalization methods was gradually developed through trial-and-error. The process the team went through set an example for other digital archive projects — several teams executing similar projects have enquired about their techniques and methods.
After overcoming the technical problems, it still took a long time before the team was able to photograph large works outdoors. “Sunny with thin clouds” is the best weather for taking photographs, according to photographer Zheng Guoyu. In order to present Lin Yuan’s art in its best light, the team waited patiently through rain and shine. “Really, everything is up to Heaven,” Yuzhen said with a smile. 
If the photography work was outsourced, it could reduce the cost of the project, but the opportunity for talent cultivation and technology development would have been lost. This development was important to Bain. “We kept trying and absorbing different experiences, constantly making adjustments, and we became more confident in ourselves as the project moved on.” With this determination and perseverance, the team made digital images for nearly a thousand pieces from 2008 to 2010, including 200 3D images, and built the website “Art Brut in Taiwan”, featuring the stone sculptures, slate paintings, wooden sculptures, embroideries, paintings and assemblage art, among which the images of stone sculptures can be enlarged and shown in 180-degree 3D. 
Cultivation on the Internet
Reflecting on how far the project has come, Bain said, “I still often feel touched by Lin Yuan’s genuineness.” What Lin said and did with his art has left an indelible mark on the team’s daily life. Everyone is able to ignite the energy of life through art. While creating an inventory, Yuzhen spent a lot of time identifying each stone sculpture, carefully examining various aspects of the old photographs and sculptures. It could have been a tedious project, but Yuzhen said, “During that period, whenever I saw the stones, I could feel Lin Yuan’s emotions in it.”
The team has continued to brainstorm how the public can access to Lin Yuan’s art, hoping to serve as a medium so that more people can learn about rural artistic accomplishments in Taiwan. The spread of knowledge about Lin could lead to the discovery of more obscure Taiwanese Art Brut artists, such as a grandmother good at needlework, a grandfather who makes pottery, or a father and mother who love painting. All kinds of creators can gather to form a community where they can exchange ideas through in-person contact or workshops. The team hopes to create a platform to facilitate interaction between people’s artistic creations and criticisms online. This not only encourages the discussion of new issues and enriches the content of the Art Brut in Taiwan website, but also makes it possible to integrate with other international communities to open a conversation among artists around the world. Though the project is about to enter its third year, Professor Bain still has new ideas popping into her head. 
Lin Yuan took up the chisel to carve stones at the age of 66, and thus sowed the seed for Art Brut in Taiwan. Through the diligence of President Huang, Professor Bain and the project team, “Art Brut in Taiwan — Digital Archive Project for Lin Yuan’s Works and Life” has continued the cultivation by means of digitization technology, in the hope of helping extraordinary works by ordinary people in Taiwan flourish. 
Deng, X. Y. (2009). Pursuit of Simplicity, Lin Yuan. Taipei City: Lion Art.
Jiang, M. X. (ed.) (2007). Stone — Works of Lin Yuan. Taoyuan County: Chan Liu Art Museum.
Huang, Y. (2006). Live and Create — From Lin Yuan to Huang Yuan. Nantou County: New Era Art Resort and Spa.