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M1 Patch! 2020: Artist Farm 2020 《艺术农庄》 (Review)

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It is the journey, not the destination, that takes centrestage in Artist Farm 2020. 

Following in the footsteps of last week’s Playwrights’ Bootcamp, The Theatre Practice (TTP) rounds off their 2020 edition of the M1 Patch! festival with the third edition of Artist Farm. Led by TTP Artistic Director Kuo Jian Hong, Artist Farm unites a group of nine artists and three dramaturgs to experiment and work with each other to find common ground in their practice and intended outcomes.

The result of all this is three decidedly experimental public presentations by the three teams of artists, the product of one week of creative sparring and development every day. But unlike most theatre productions where the audience is prioritised, instead, it is the artists’ journeys that are privileged here, where even the process of what each team went through each day is detailed in a slideshow before each presentation.

Taking place completely online this year makes for some interesting outputs from Artist Farm, with two out of three of the pieces capitalising on digital formats to present the work. At the heart of each process is the concept of play, with each artist coming in to the project with an abstract idea and exercise to demonstrate their artist goals. Isabella Chiam, for example, focused on recognising each artist as individuals through a call and response exercise; FERRY used cartography as a medium for self-impression; while Woo E-Hui focused on how actors could set up lighting better in their own homes to accommodate digital performances.

The challenge of Artist Farm then, is in bringing each of these unique, individual viewpoints together to form a coherent piece achieving all three artists’ aims, finding purpose and meaning in their collaboration beyond collaboration for collaboration’s sake. As an incubator, Artist Farm is all about nurturing each artist’s practice, learning how to use their differences as a strength rather than point of difference, and a rare opportunity for artists to really focus on their artistic process rather than stress out over producing a ‘perfect’ final work.

Of course, even if the works aren’t final, each team has produced highly original new pieces in their public presentations. In the first presentation, Where Is Here, artists Fang Yi-Ju, FERRY and Woo E-Hui, and dramaturgs Ng Mun Poh and Thong Pei Qin created a ‘choose your own adventure’ style interactive performance, where audience members get to vote between Paris, Taiwan or Singapore, letting Fang Yi-Ju act. as if she is in one of the chosen places. Yi-Ju’s performance is charming and quirky enough that we remain transfixed, curious as to how she will perform the next scene, emphasising the power of imagination in turning the simple into the extraordinary.

In Prime Number, artists Isabella Chiam, Sam Kao and Wang Liansheng, and dramaturgs Thong Pei Qin and Sim Xin Yi worked together to produce an abstract video work, where a woman tends to a tiny tree devoid of leaves. As she sticks leaves onto the barren branches, a split screen shows us a desk where one of the artists is typing on a laptop, seemingly stricken with writer’s block as we read his words attempting to narrate the woman’s acts. All this happens while emotional piano music repeats over and over again in the background, and we think about themes of solitude, loneliness, and the need for human contact and care to get through the most difficult of times.

Finally, in The Living Zoom, by artists Ang Xiao Ting, Beatrice Bresolin and Mitch Advent, audience members are requested to join a Zoom meeting and enter gallery view, where the artists takes them through a series of simple acts and responses to questions posed. Touching on themes of grief, The Living Zoom finds poignance forming a temporary but powerful sense of community over learning about the shared loss fellow audience members have gone through.

Having watched the first result of audience presentations, the teams will continue to refine and sharpen their pieces over the weekend, further emphasising the fact that these are works-in-progress, and that the artistic journey is a constant, ever growing process where there is always room for more. Artist Farm is a fascinating project for both artists and audiences, an uncommon chance to give us space to understand the pieces by lending us insight into what goes on behind the scenes, and to better appreciate what it means to be an artist and collaborate as these ‘farmers’ reap the fruits of their labour.

Artist Farm runs from 28th to 30th August 2020 as part of the 2020 M1 Patch! A (Live) Theatre Festival of Play. For more information, visit their website here.

M1 Patch! A (Live) Theatre Festival of Play runs from 18th July to 30th August 2020. For more information and full list of programmes, visit their website here

 

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