By Pawit Mahasarinand
Special to The Nation
PERFORMING artists and producers often associate the suffix “ AM” with “Arts Market” and there are several of those in this region where they meet and discuss new projects or make business deals for existing projects. Coming in the next month alone are APAM – the Australian Performing Arts Market, Brisbane and TPAM: Performing Arts Meeting in Yokohama. The latter, interestingly, was originally short for Tokyo Performing Arts Market but to reflect the fact that the commercial value has been toned down and that it has a new location, it’s added the subtitle while keeping the already famous acronym. And of course, there’s also our very own BIPAM, where the AM also stands for Arts Meeting, the inaugural edition of which has held last November.
The recent ADAM in the Taiwanese capital was thus something as a surprise as the acronym actually stands for, appropriately enough, “Asia Discovers Asia Meeting for Contemporary Performance”.
US based Indian dance artist Sujata Goel presented her work-in-progress "Self Love".
Co-organised by the Taipei Performing Arts Centre (TPAC) and Taipei Culture Foundation, ADAM aims to be a network that supports “international collaboration between artists” and creates “a friendly interface between artists and institutions”. It’s also a network which “considers and works within the context of the Asia-Pacific today – artistically, culturally and socially”. ADAM focuses on partnership and “is open to connections with other arts networks and organisations” including those outside the region.
It’s worth noting here that while the completion date of the construction of the state-of-the-art and purpose-built TPAC is not yet certain, the preparatory team has been working on the software for a few years now. That’s very different from the situation in Thailand where we often have the hardware first and think of the software later.
At the core of ADAM is the Artist Lab, to which 10 Taiwanese artists and 10 artists from other Asia-Pacific countries from various fields of contemporary arts were invited. This was a 10-day residency during which they not only had time to become acquainted with one another but also to create small projects under the supervision of a group of international facilitators, namely Helly Minarti, Arco Renz, Leisa Shelton, Tang Fu-Kuen and Yao Lee-Chun.
Taiwanese dance artist Chen WuKang showed what he and Pichet Klunchun have been working on in "Body Tradition".
Over the last four days of ADAM, international producers, presenters and programmers watched their presentations as well as other works-in-progress and finished works. Some also presented their organisations or festivals. There was also time for speed networking, in which they signed up to have a one-on-one meetings at a table for 10 minutes, in addition to four concurrent roundtable discussions on current issues in performing arts.
Henry Tan, co-founder of the Bangkok-based art initiative Tentacles, was the only Thai participant in the Lab, and he noted: “It’s a great opportunity for a young artist like myself: ADAM provided ample time, opportunity and financial support for us to experiment. Apart from getting to know and learning from fellow Lab artists, a few of whom I’m still in touch with, the last four days also allowed me to network with more people. A problem was that we had to create something for them [producers, programmers and presenters] to watch and I wish the focus could have been solely on the process of working together. Recently the organiser also asked if we wanted to propose any project but I’ve been so busy with other projects I haven’t had time to think about this yet.”
Berlin-based Singaporean multidisciplinary artist Choy KaFai, right, explained how his new “Dance Clinic Mobile” worked.
Tan sees the possibility of such a platform for interdisciplinary collaboration in Thailand if, “financial support is forthcoming and the facilitators stay open-minded and do not try to put any frames on the artists”.
Also at ADAM was Thong Lor Art Space’s managing director Chrisada Sambandaraksa who’s been to many networking platforms and arts markets in the region.
While appreciating ADAM’s different format, Chrisada admitted to not being quite sure whether ADAM is actually for artists or others [programmers, producers and presenters].
In addition to presenting Sodsai Pantoomkomol Centre for Dramatic Arts to ADAM participants, I listened to a 90-minute roundtable on “Bodies and Cultural Identity”.
Taiwanese queer theatre collective Miss Misery introduced its work to a familiar Thai colleague at “Speed Networking”.
Among the panellists was Indian dancer and choreographer Sujata Goel who now makes a living as a yoga teacher in the US. If this name sounds familiar, that’s because Bangkok audiences watched her solo “Dancing Girl” at “Our Roots Right Now” five years ago. She’s also conducting research on why people are coming to yoga classes – what they’re looking for in their mind, bodies and hearts. She refers to this as a “crisis of the self our modern society seems to be needing,” and has found herself in the market that’s selling selfhood and happiness, among others. Her solo “Self Love” [the work-in-progress of which was presented two days later] is “an investigation into the industry of the self in this major phenomenon of yoga”. As an Indian yoga teacher, she noted that it’s interesting to look at this culturally. She explained, “I have to learn how to perform this character. I’ve been trained in traditional yoga, a very stern kind, but my [American] students don’t want that.” As a result, she needs to appropriate and construct an identity for herself. She also noted that this is an old story, one dating back to the time of imperialism and colonisation.
Thai artist Henry Tan spoke at the artist roundtable "Cultivating Artists: What Do Artists Need Institutionally?".
With the support from Ministry of Culture’s Southbound Policy, another panellist, Taiwanese dancer-choreographer Chen Wu-Kang, started collaborating with long-time friend Pichet Klunchun [the work-in-progress of their “Body Tradition” was also presented a day later], noting: “I thought his traditional [dance] background would probably answer some of my questions; but it didn’t. All the questions I had he’d come back with very Zen answers.” He then explained that this work asks how the traditional body should be –or whether there is actually one – and if there is such a thing as cultural identity.
The artist roundtable on “Bodies and Cultural Identity”
Chen added that, in terms of government support, his compatriots are in better condition than many other Asian colleagues, citing an example of another project on “Ramayana” on which he and Pichet are working. But he also noted: “They’re trying to get us out but not many people want to take us,” and that “if a festival in Europe wants to invite us, who would want to see an Asian group doing modern dance if you don’t do it with a cultural identity with which they’re familiar?”
Goel then commented that exchange is a game artists have to play, noting that “Most of the time, it’s [exchange] is performative” and that “I’m waiting for exchange in dance to go beyond identity politics.”
Good thoughts aside, here’s an example of how ADAM is working quite effectively as a network.
In early November before the start of Bangkok Theatre Festival (BTF) 2017, the curtain raiser of which, Oriza Hirata’s “Bangkok Notes” was at Sodsai Pantoomkomol Centre for Dramatic Arts, I received an email from a Taiwanese theatre director, a core member of Shakespeare’s Wild Sisters Group. He has frequently visited Bangkok– for pleasure, not business, like many other international artists.
My invitation to him to “Bangkok Notes” led to our first meeting and in late November we met again before I watched his company’s “Caged Time” in the National Theatre and Concert Hall’s (NTCH) parking basement.
This week, he’s in Bangkok to discuss a possible collaborative project for a comparative study on our Hanuman and their Sun Wu-Kong. Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to watching another work by his company at the Esplanade’s Huayi: Chinese Festival of Arts in Singapore next month and yet another work a month later at NTCH’s Taiwan International Festival of Arts (TIFA).
To keep updated with TPAC, visit www.TPAC-Taipei.org.
The writer’s trip to ADAM was fully supported by TPAC and Taipei Culture Foundation. Special thanks to Elaine Liu, Austin Wang and Tang Fu-Kuen.