'THE GOAL OF the exhibition is to give a message that war is worthless and peace is priceless.' With these words Lee Juhfeng, commissioner of Kinmen County in Taiwan, inaugurated the island's new Bunker Museum of Contemporary Art (BMoCA). Organisers scheduled the opening for September 11 on land that is no stranger to bombardment. During the Hot and Cold war between Taiwan and mainland China, the island of Kinmen - about a kilometre off the coast of the mainland's Xiamen City - became the pawn in a cross-strait chess match. During the most grisly battle, on August 23, 1958, Kinmen suffered 10,000 dead. Lee says almost 1.5 million bombs have been dropped on the island. In response, the Taiwanese military constructed an intricate network of defences, including a system of landmines, a subterranean river, and the numerous bunkers that form the stage for BMoCA's exhibition. 'Against the backdrop of recent terrorist activities in Russia, turning this former battlefield into a place of art carries special significance,' says curator and artist Cai Guoqiang. 'We're not just making an exhibit - we're also working on something that's building a new culture.' Fujian-born and New York-based, Cai's list of achievements include the 48th Venice Art Biennial's Golden Lion Prize. He's probably best known for his pyrotechnical fetes, such as the 2001 display that opened the Apec summit in Shanghai. Cai chose the bunkers as part of his 'Everything is a Museum' series, in which artists turn alternative spaces or remote communities into unconventional exhibition sites. He says the BMoCA project is receiving equal support from Taiwan and mainland China. 'I've talked to [mainland] Chinese officials and they said that it's OK to cover this in Chinese media - that they have no problem with it.' But the spirit of co-operation hasn't reached all levels. Two mainland artists whose work appears at BMoCA were refused visas by Taiwan to attend the opening. Nonetheless, there's hope that BMoCA and similar overtures towards peace will serve to improve cross-strait relations. Lee recites a list of recent reconciliation events. 'We both sent fishermen to the middle of the sea,' he says. 'The mainland fishermen gave us moon cakes and we gave them our famous sorghum wine. We have also released fireworks simultaneously, with the intention of replacing gunpowder with art powder. We wanted to show our feelings of unity with people across the straits, to replace war with music.' For his piece Soft Target, Beijing-based artist Wang Jianwei lined the floor, ceiling and walls of the bunker with thick sheets of foam, lending a supple quality to the once rigid space, while also giving visitors the sensation of claustrophobia that soldiers stationed there may have felt. Wang Wenchih's Dragon Dares Tiger's Lair extends a bunker with a bamboo and rattan structure shaped like an artillery-shell that soars 15 metres into the air. Director and artist Chai Minleong, who won the Golden Lion award for Vive l'Amour at the 1994 Venice Film Festival, also stretches the boundaries of how one views the bunkers in his work Withering Flower, which shows the most breadth of the exhibition spaces in three seemingly unconnected parts. The first uses a bronze statue of Chiang Kai-shek, which Chai faces towards mainland China. The second transforms an offshoot of the main bunker into a cinema screening his film The River, which tells the tale of a father and son who unwittingly have a sexual encounter in a dark bathhouse. The third is a performance art space based on a short story by Chang Ai-lin, in which a young woman suffers a slow and tragic death. Chai uses three men in G-strings crawling through the audience to exemplify the protagonist's disease. In her transformation of the bunker site, Luxembourg-based artist Tse Su-mei tries to negate the bunker altogether. Her work Some Airing ... uses a large rotating propeller that fills the bunker, preventing entry. This is a literal airing of the negative history associated with the bunker, Tse says, which 'allows Kinmen people to now use the island and bunkers in a new way'. Yin Ling chose to shatter the island's sordid past with an act of love. Yin's interpretation of love took the form of a mock fornication with a skeleton on a bed, flanked by effigies of Mao Zedong and Sun Yat-sen. By contrast, Lee Ming-wei says he wanted to remain respectful in his work. 'Artists have to be very responsible about what they do,' he says. 'In using this power that we have, we have to be very careful. We can't simply say, 'This is my art work. Take it or leave it'.' Lee chose to leave a footprint on the island that was both light and yet significant. Rather than use a bunker, he chose the site around an abandoned mansion to install audio devices that retell snippets of the island's history and folklore. The recording invites listeners to find residents who can tell them the rest of the story, and their interpretation of the island's history. Perhaps what is most successful about the exhibition is the dialogue that began among islanders, who represent the full spectrum of opinion regarding BMoCA. 'I have no opinion about the exhibit and I don't wish to see it,' says a bus driver who spent three days chauffeuring viewers from bunker to bunker. For three days he held true to his word, barely glancing at the exhibition sites from his perch. Others were more supportive. 'I don't understand a lot of the art, but I think it's good for Kinmen,' says one local. Commissioner Lee is optimistic. 'We have to look at it as an investment in ourselves as Kinmen people,' he says. 'How do we see ourselves after 1,600 years on the island? Where do we want to grow? We must decide what direction we want, and this direction doesn't fall from heaven. It's something we need to decide for ourselves.' For art lovers who tire of the traditional biennial circuit and grandiose museum exhibitions, BMoCA offers a radical new approach to the way curators mount an exhibition and the way we think about art spaces. The uncertainty of BMoCA's future adds urgency to catching this show before it becomes another chapter in Kinmen's convoluted past. Bunker Museum of Contemporary Art - 18 Solo Exhibitions, 60 Minsheng Rd, Jincheng, Kinmen. Inquiries: (886) 82 325630 or go to http://bmoca.kinmen.gov.tw/eng . Until Jan 10.