The AAA has been building its collections and network for Asia through a team of researchers scattered around Asia, and by participating in art events and conferences throughout the world. My participation in this workshop Pilot Project AIR Asia -Mapping Asian Artists' Mobility, was therefore one of our regular activities, yet for me it was only the second time to take part in this kind of international programme. As it was mainly designed for the workers involved with Artist-in-Residence (AIR) associations in Asia, my participation was mostly as an observer.
'Why come together?' asked one of the organisers, Margaret Shiu, a Hong Kong-born Taiwanese artist and an art NGO administrator, in her welcome speech. This question became even more relevant as a big typhoon hit Taiwan, interfering with our scheduled programme and forcing us together. It was the biggest storm in the last 5 years, and it brought with it unforgettable memories of heated discussions amidst a heavy rainstorm.
Incidentally, one night before the workshop started, another international forum, See-In: Hai-An Street Museum, took place on the street of Hai-an Road in Tainan. You may remember that I reported on this in our newsletter last year (August 2004). The outdoor installation project (http://hasm.tumblr.com/) has developed since its first phase in the spring of 2004, and now has an art bar rooted in the local community. It also won the Special Jury Award of Taishin Bank Arts Award (whose international jury included Yuko Hasegawa, Hou Hanru and Lewis Biggs) this spring, proving it to be a truly valuable ??public' art project.
But I digress. The first couple of days of the workshop, held at the Tsung-Yeh Arts and Cultural Center, a complex of wooden buildings dating back to the Japanese colonisation period, saw power point introductions of the AIR programmes and art spaces in Asia. Participants totalled around 40, including observers from Taiwan. We spent the afternoon of the first day discussing the specific environments of individuals and organisations. One thing that became apparent was the changing definition of 'artist' as a result of the AIR phenomena, whereby artists are expected to work with the community they are visiting. No longer do people think of artists with berets, secluded in garrets; instead artists have had a new role forced upon them, that of cultural ambassador. Break out sessions in the afternoon saw us divided into groups to discuss four different themes: 'Engaging Artists & Communities', 'Multi-Directional Exchange', 'Artist in Society', 'Ethnical Responsi bility'.
For the welcome dinner, we were invited to the An-ping Tree House, which I have also introduced before. In the renovated building of the House, we had buffet-style Tainan snacks, such as the famous Dou Hua (soft bean curd with sweet syrup), Tantan Noodle and fried ??Coffin' bread with seafood stew inside. The set up was amazing with professional chefs cooking for us on the spot.
On the second day, we were originally supposed to move to Taichung and Miaoli, but due to the typhoon, the organisers decided to stay in Tainan City. My original plan was to leave the tour at around noon, but all transportation had come to a halt. Thanks to the National Tainan University of the Arts, we had the privilege of using a meeting room in the brand new art gallery of the university (http://www.tnnua.edu.tw). By the time we arrived at the building, the rain and wind had become very strong and we had trouble even getting into the building from the bus.
After viewing an international art exhibition, Border-crossing: the Shadow Dance of Cities, in the gallery, we heard summaries of the previous day's group discussion. One of the points that interested me was the issue of whether it is better to send artists or cultural workers abroad, or whether to invite overseas artists to do residencies in one's respective country. In the Mongolian case we heard, they preferred to invite artists to carry out residencies in their county, so that more local people can benefit. But this attitude does not apply to every community, taking the US as an example, where visitors are expected to do the learning, not the teaching!
The Australian organisation, Asialink, for example, has been taking the opposite approach by mostly sending Australian artists to Asia. However it is currently considering the possibility of facilitating more artists to come to Australia from Asia, to create a more balanced two-directional exchange.
In the last session this day, we were once again divided into groups. The theme of the group I joined was, 'Central Vision for Intra-Asia Network' and was led by San San Wong, an art consultant from the US, and Margaret Shiu. The other group was led by Nicholas Tsoutas, the Executive Director of Artspace in Australia, and considered 'Asia as Center'. Based on the premise of forming a new entity for the AIRs in Asia, we discussed vision, values, mission, structure, execution and programming.
The typhoon raged through the night, but we were oblivious to it thanks to the hospitality of a local family, with dinner, Karaoke and endless photographic sessions.
On the third day we visited Stock 20 (http://www.stock20.com.tw) in Taichung for a couple of hours. This great art space which houses theatre and residency facilities may have to close, due to the high-speed railway cutting through their compound. During lunch there, I noticed Australian and Japanese participants having a meeting to discuss future possibilities for collaboration. It was good to see this kind of spontaneous collaboration arising from the programme.
By day four, the typhoon had cleared up, and we ended with a public conference at the National Taiwan Normal University in Taipei. The organisers are currently finishing the minutes of the conference, so my travelogue should stop here and look forward to the forthcoming publication.
After the workshop, I thought about how we, the AAA, could help facilitate this new network entity. One obvious possibility is to link their future website and our database. Some technical issues remain, but making full use of our existing database seems to be a good approach so as not to have to reinvent parts of the wheel.
Recently, the participants formed a newsgroup for discussions and exchange of ideas for the next step of this project. Also plans are underway to have a second meeting next year in Asia and an annual meeting of Res Artis in Berlin will be held this month. For now, the seeds of a new network has been planted by a gathering of people in the middle of a typhoon and there seems to be plenty of reasons for "why come together?" as more and more artists move back and forth across Asia.