ONG KENG Sen’s four-year term as the director of Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) finished last year, and both audiences and artists noted how the event was very different from other similar festivals, not only in Southeast Asia but also in Asia as a whole. Two simple, yet significant, facts are that it’s strongly based on context and, as a result, the programmes were not divided into such familiar categories as theatre, dance, music, film and visual arts, as many works fit into more than one category.
During Singapore Art Week in late January, his company TheatreWorks joined with the Goethe Institut in holding a five-day “The Curators Academy”, with support from Taiwan’s Taishin Bank Foundation for Arts and Culture.
PHOTO/HOONG WEI LONG
Southeast Asian participants, who were selected from either their applications or by invitation, attended, for example, classes with Sigrid Gareis, initiator of Salzburg University curating programme, Stefan Hilterhaus, director of Pact Zollverein, in Essen, Germany, and Shermin Langhoff, director of Maxim Gorki Theatre in the German capital, and worked out potential thoughts on curation. They also attended “Capture Practice”, a video installation by Israeli choreographer Arkadi Zaides as well as Apichatphong Weerasethakul’s projection-performance “Fever Room” and Tsai Ming-liang’s new films “No No Sleep” and “Autumn Days”, with the internationally renowned film director in attendance.
Taiwanese composer Lin Kuei-Ju, whose “Kuang Qi” was part of Bangkok Theatre Festival last year, presented a lecture-demonstration of “Dear John”, her Taishin Award winning work.
PHOTO/ HOONG WEI LONG
Among the Thai participants was B-Floor Theatre’s Sasapin Siriwanij, who’s curating a new festival addressing the subject of violence, scheduled for next year. She reflected on her academy experience, saying, “I learned that although curating sounds big and important, the ‘best’ strategy is to be clear with yourself, If you can answer yourself clearly as to what you want to do and why, then you’re at a good starting point.”
As for how to apply the knowledge and insight she gained from the academy to her first festival, which has the working title “Eyes Open to Violence”, she noted: “In fact, what we discussed throughout the academy spread out in many directions conceptually. And so, more than anything, I’d take the feeling of determination and self-empowerment that I got from the academy to fuel the work.”
With her professional background firmly in theatre – and having won an IATC Thailand award for best performance by a female actor – she noted that, like Sifa, artists and curators in this academy are working in various disciplines of arts.
“This helped expand my mind and I loved that. Being put together in the same environment to see examples from other fields helped me realise that what happened elsewhere could also happen to me, to us. The only limit to what you can create is the limit of your imagination.”
To make sure that the participants can then put these valuable thoughts into actual practice, Asia Network Asia (ANA), which is being operated by TheatreWorks, guarantees three micro-grants, each worth up to US$10,000 (Bt312,000) for the selected projects proposed by the academy participants.
The writer’s trip was fully supported by TheatreWorks. Special thanks to Ong Keng Sen, Tay Tong and Mervin Quek for all kind assistance.
CURATION THOUGHTS ONLINE
Visit CuratorsAcademy2018.wordpress.com to read what artists and curators shared there.