John Kestner

Ghost River of Dazhi

Dredging up lessons from the past


A river running through Taipei with a rich culture on its banks was rerouted. The urban area that sprung up as a result bears few, fading reminders of the local river life.

This is a proposed public art installation in the Dazhi district of Taipei, along a road where the Keelung River once ran before it was moved for flood planning purposes. I led a team of nine designers, architects and urban planners from MIT and Shih Chien University to research, plan and prototype this in a two-week exercise.

We came up with a series of mysterious, hidden, and playful reminders of the river life that had existed in this place before urbanization, rendered in placid blue and glow-in-the-dark paints.

The interventions were designed at every scale, from personal to birds-eye view. We did a guerilla installation of many of the smaller pieces over a night, using blue and UV paints and electronics to modify road signage in shifting, playful reminders of life along the old river.

QR stickers were encoded with poetic and cryptic messages (decodable by common cameraphones) and placed in locations to encourage residents to hunt for nearby pieces and learn more about local history.

This project was fun. I was taken out of my comfort zone and dropped into a group of strangers with no structure or roles. We were given two weeks to conceptualize, prototype, and present a work of art. I picked up the leadership role and channeled the team's amazing creativity into a multifaceted project, and left with some excellent chili oil from my new Taiwanese friends.