The Art Scene’s Movers and Shakers: Theatreworks Curators Academy
The inaugural Theatreworks Curators Academy comes to a close for now, with plenty of food for thought.
SINGAPORE – Even as new SIFA Festival Director Gaurav Kripalani steps up to the plate for a new era of the festival, his immediate predecessor still certainly has plenty on his plate, as Ong Keng Sen heralds an all new programme of his own: the inaugural Theatreworks Curators Academy.
In our interview with Keng Sen, we learnt that the fine art of curatorship isn’t something just anyone can do, and that there was a huge gulf that separated a mere programmer to a curator, who actively pushes and stretches at the very limits of the arts scene. Gathering 20 participants from all around the world, the Academy was a first for its kind in the region, taking place over 5 days at 72-13, the home of Theatreworks. With the aim to inculcate in its participants the ability to think beyond curation alone and develop context and critical thinking, the participants went through intense workshops, lectures and dialogues over the five days while in the presence of some of the foremost curators and trainers around the world, ranging from Maxim Gorki Theatre’s artistic director Shermin Langhoff to curator Adrian Heathfield.
Not every single one of the participants were curators to begin with – it seems that the term curatorial lies not so much as a job title so much as a means of thinking and informing the way one performs as a member of the arts community. Participants hailed primarily from Indonesia, a country whose arts scene was grown primarily from the ground up, while other participants included choreographers, interdisciplinary artists, and arts managers, originating from Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines.
Although we did not participate directly in the academy itself, we headed down to 72-13 over a couple of days to observe various lectures and talks to see just what it was these participants were going through. What it did remind us of was something out of a university crash course, and we say that in the most respectful way possible. Attending Cemeti director Agnesia Linda Mayasari’s talk, we were given a full backstory of Indonesia’s art scene in the microcosm of the history of the Indonesian Dance Festival and how it changed over the years, and ultimately asked if we had lost something close to life and a country’s culture itself as we went increasingly global in the progress of arts.
On the second day, Vietnamese photographer Dinh Q. Lê discussed concepts of Conscious Realities, where issues of the global cosmopolitan arising in lieu of the local arose, and how one could even define a curatorial success, in terms of its impact on society itself. And on the third day, former Singapore Art Museum Director Tan Boon Hui came down to deliver a talk about the Asia Society Museum in New York, an organisation he is now director of. Speaking of the representation of Asian art in the programmes from the Asia Society, he presented a number of seminal performances and genre-busting works, and perhaps, was one of the clearest and most enlightening talks of all, as he had seemed to successfully find a middle ground for curation in melding the traditional with the modern, paying homage to history while pushing boundaries still.
Beyond talks, Theatreworks also brought in a number of works that ran during the Academy itself across various venues. Many of these works were interdisciplinary in nature, transcending their very medium to question the idea of genre and its limitations. On opening night, Israeli choreographer Arkadi Zaides presented his 2014 video-dance piece Capture Practice, which ran at 72-13 throughout the Academy’s duration. An 18-minute video-loop over two channels, Capture Practice juxtaposes footage from the Camera Project of Israelis in the West Bank with his own video capture as he extracts the movements seen in that video in his own studio, isolating the somatic movement from the context which it is placed in to confront the influence of the occupation on bodies.
Film continued to play a major part in some of the other works presented at the Academy, from master of slow cinema Tsai Ming-Liang’s Double Bill of No No Sleep and Autumn Days, where Tsai himself was present to answer questions and expound on the process behind his filmmaking, speaking about Japanese producer legend Teruyo Nogami and Tsai’s own muse Lee Kang-Sheng, who were the subjects of Autumn Days and No No Sleep respectively. Award winning Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Fever Room was also brought in and shown at the Victoria Theatre, utilising both film and theatrical projection and lighting to create a full on 360 degree, atmospheric effect, while independent Taiwanese choreographer Liu Kuan Hsiang’s experimental theatre-dance performance Kids ended off the Academy at the SOTA Studio Theatre.
Although heavy in academically challenging content, for those who venture forth and allowed themselves to be a part of the Curators Academy, it certainly was a rewarding experience. By reading between the lines and unpicking what each speaker had to say, one feels almost as if they underwent some form of rigorous paradigm shift, expanding our breadth of knowledge and awareness of what was going on in the various arts scenes of the region and their various histories. Watching the performances and seeing these art works felt like a true revelation of the new ways that art itself could be perceived and manipulated, and it gave us the belief that these participants would take away plenty from this and go on to apply it to their own practices in future.
Although the programme itself has ended, the Curators Academy is far from over. As a two year programme, the next step of the Academy will see three projects from the participants’ proposals to be produced into three local festivals in 2019, partially funded by Arts Network Asia. One imagines that in the future, the Curators Academy can only grow and accommodate even more participants, hopefully with more local representatives as well, and continue to act as a call for more discerning, critical eyes amongst the regional arts community in the years to come. U