Even before the pandemic, the Singaporean arts group Emergency Stairs and its Artistic Director, Liu Xiaoyi, have been an active practitioner of international collaboration and cultural exchange. In 2019 alone, for example, they visited 11 cities including Ho Chi Minh City, Yokohama, Bangkok, Phnom Penh, Kuala Lumpur, Yogyakarta, HongKong, Shanghai, Bali, Kotlik and Jakarta, embarking on a series of creative, research and exchange trips.
However, the arrival of the pandemic interrupted all the international collaboration and cultural exchange.
Emergency Stairs still enabled meaningful interaction, and continue to connect and provoke. Starting in 2020, Liu Xiaoyi and two other young Chinese cultural leaders – Wang Chong, theatre director fromBeijing, and River Lin, performance artist from Taipei – embarked on a two-year-long series of online conversations called Trialogue. InJanuary this year, Liu Xiaoyi also worked with five of the best artists from across Asia to create an online creation, The Spirits Play Online, using Kuo Pao Kun’s The Spirits Play as a starting point.
Come 2022, Singapore is re-opening its borders and the world is entering the Post-Pandemic Era. The cultural and artistic community is also treading on thin ice as it explores the possibility of resuming international exchange. Against this backdrop, Emergency Stairs and Liu Xiaoyi began to receive invitations to participate in different forms of international exchange.
The first was an invitation from Zuni Icosahedron, an experimental art group from Hong Kong. After last year’scollaboration, Mr. Danny Yung, a pioneer of Chinese experimental art, invited Liu Xiaoyi to Hong Kong againtobetheartist-in-residence of Zuni-Icosahedron and to start a series of creative, research and educational work. Thisisarareexchange against the backdrop of the fact that Singapore and Hong Kong are not yet truly open for customsclearance,and those visiting Hong Kong from Singapore still were still subject to quarantine.
In conjunction with Zuni-Icosahedron, Liu Xiaoyi will also participate in a series of international exchanges, includingthe InlanDimensions International Arts Festival in Poland in September, and a cultural exchangeprogrammeinThailand in November.
Summer Works Festival, one of Canada’s most vital platforms for new performance and artistic development, has also invited Liu Xiaoyi to be one of three international curators for its Artists at Work programme. The festival, which has been held for 32 years in Toronto, is still in the exploratory stage of international exchange in the wake of the pandemic. Summer Works invited Liu Xiaoyi to put forward a “essential viewing” artist, and the curator from Singapore recommended Xiao Ke, an artist who had just survived the Shanghai closure. Xiao Ke, who has been described as”the most ruthless female dancer in China,” will work with Liu Xiaoyi to create a work called The Other Side of the Story, a series of online collaborations about The Great Firewall of China
The Tokyo Festival FARM, a perennial event of Tokyo Festival, has also invited Liu Xiaoyi to be its lecturer this year. The event is open to young artists aged 18 to 35 from all over Asia. Liu Xiaoyi will conduct online workshops for participating young artists this September to explore the possibilities and future of digital creation.
Xiaoyi’s Writing with AI project has also resulted in invitations from a number of overseas organizations. Sea Shorts Film Festival, as well as Luxelakes A4 Art Museum (Chengdu) and Chronus Art Center (Shanghai) fromChina, have invited Liu Xiaoyi to hold online lectures and workshops to share his experiences with AI writing.
In addition to invitations, Liu Xiaoyi has also been thinking about new forms of international exchange in the post-pandemic era. The Emergency Academy, which initiated by him during the pandemic, started its second edition in June this year. The online platform, which aims to train future cultural leaders, has welcomed 24 artists from 1 2cities.
Online exchange is indeed more economical in terms of resources and more convenient in terms of long-distance communication, but it also weakens the possibility of embodied connections and intimate collaborations. It is still a long journey of discovery as to where international collaboration and cultural exchange could go in the post-pandemic era.
About The Other Side of the Story Curator: Liu Xiaoyi Co-creator: Xiao Ke, Liu Xiaoyi Since 2000, China’s Great Firewall has divided the Internet into two worlds, “inside the wall” and “outside the wall”. Websites or applications that are already part of everyday life for many people, such as Google, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp, etc., are included in the blocking list. In addition, the wall also has its unique ways of regulating speech, such as text censorship based on sensitive words. “Inappropriate” comments containing sensitive words will be blocked, restricted or deleted; worse, there may be unpredictable consequences for the publishers.
There is a digital Berlin Wall separating mainland China from the world. Firewalls are certainly a barrier to communication, creating misperceptions and assumptions about each other on both sides. Chinese netizens refer to breaking through online censorship as “fān qiáng” (climbing over the wall). It is estimated that about 5 percent of Internet users in mainland China still use sites such as Facebook and IG via VPN software. These “temporary jail breakers” may spend 30 minutes a day establishing some kind of communication and connection with the world. And the majority of those inside the wall, have to create metaphorical expressions and creative communication as a form of self-protection in order to avoid regulation.
Here, unexpectedly but ironically, the 24-hour disappearing feature of Instagram’s Story has the potential to become a kind of “read-it-and-burn-it” self-protection. Thus, these two creators, each on the inside and outside of the wall, will explore the other side of the story through the Stories feature. Let’s see how they approach a game of wall climbing, an exercise in creating metaphors, an experiment in self-censorship and self-mockery.
More information about Emergency Stairs available here