Hong Kong Cultural Centre recently hosted international artists, scholars and cultural workers of different generations for an open discussion of cultural exchange issues. /Photo courtesy of Zuni Icosahedron
Hong Kong Cultural Centre recently hosted international artists, scholars and cultural workers of different generations for an open discussion of cultural exchange issues. /Photo courtesy of Zuni Icosahedron

From Think Tank to Practice – and back

Art April 09, 2018 01:00

By Pawit Mahasarinand
Special to The Nation
Hong Kong SAR, China

6,943 Viewed

A recent four-day conference linked the Chinese diaspora to the rest of the world and bridged academic training and research with actual practice

LED BY CO-ARTISTIC directors Danny Yung and Matthias Woo, Zuni Icosahedron, Hong Kong’s leading experimental, and multi-disciplinary, arts company, has been organising the Hong Kong-Taipei-Shanghai-Shenzhen City-to-City Cultural Exchange Conference and Asia Arts Net since 1997, when Hong Kong returned to the sovereignty of China. 

An internationally acclaimed artist as well as a scholar, cultural administrator, independent cultural worker and creative industry operator, Yung once said that the historic handover “would be a cultural opportunity to initiate an important discourse on Chinese culture, Chinese and foreign cultures, as well as Eastern and Western cultures”.

Hong Kong Cultural Centre recently hosted an open discussion of cultural exchange issues. /Photo courtesy of Zuni Icosahedron

The recent Four-City Conference, as it’s commonly referred to, expanded its scope to become “Hong Kong Belt-Road City-to-City Cultural Exchange Conference”, with the aim of “promoting arts and cultural exchanges and collaborations among the respective cities, and to provide an impetus to the new paradigm of multicultural interactions between the East and the West”. 

In her opening speech at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre’s (HKCC) Grand Theatre, Hong Kong SAR chief executive Carrie Lam noted: “For a few years now, much has been said about the Belt and Road Initiative and many conferences have been held in Hong Kong harping on this important theme. But placing ‘culture’ as the theme of a Belt and Road conference is both pioneering and commendable. 

“The Belt and Road Initiative is not only about trade and business. One of the five main areas of connectivity that this Initiative aims to boost is a people-to-people bond,” she added, then quoted chairman of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee Zhang Dejiang’s observation that Hong Kong has been an important window for cultural exchanges between the East and the West given their open and inclusive cultural atmosphere.

“My government will continue to provide the policy and resources for transforming Hong Kong into Asia’s cultural hub and take advantage of our cultural foundation to promote people-to-people interactions along the Belt and Road,” Lam added.

At the HKCC’s Studio Theatre, the first two days marked the 20th anniversary of the four-city conference, where the main speaking language was Putonghua with English simultaneous interpretation. That was reversed for the latter two days when more international arts scholars, practitioners and cultural administrators spoke. The theme was “cultural exchange and city branding” and both parts were divided into four forums in accordance with four sub-themes. These forums explored the challenges, evaluation and way forward of, first, international arts events and arts festival organisations; second, government and legislatures; third, universities and research institutes; and last, foundations, public media and awarding bodies for arts awards on enhancing cultural exchange and city branding.

On the first two evenings, when chairs and tables were removed from the floor of the studio, conference participants and the public witnessed an example of cultural exchange in “One Table Two Chairs”, a concept for interdisciplinary and intercultural collaboration initiated by Yung. Such renowned international artists as classical Chinese opera master Ke Jun, classical Javanese dancer and choreographer Didik Nini Thowok, Israeli contemporary theatre director and choreographer Saar Magal and New York-based Japanese choreographer Yoshiko Chuma showcased what they had been working together with international participation from the Eurasia Young Performing Artists Cross-Cultural Exchange and Education Programme, members of which had previously been to workshops and masterclasses in Zurich and Taipei. On the third evening at the grand theatre, we watched the conference’s co-curator Woo’s “Architecture of the City”, a music theatre performance inspired by Italian architect Aldo Rossi’s book of the same title, as part of Zuni’s biannual “Architecture Is Art Festival”.

Jitti Chompee

Thailand was well represented in all aspects of this conference. Young artist Junior Dearden, a graduate of the Patravadi School in Hua Hin, was part of the aforementioned exchange and education programme and performed in both Magal’s and Chuma’s creations for “One Table Two Chairs”. Contemporary dancer and choreographer Jitti Chompee arrived early in the SAR to work with two acrobat students from the National Taiwan College of Performing Arts for his work in the same platform.

Member of the Bangkok Art and Culture Foundation’s board of directors Chatvichai Promadhattavedi and the foundation’s office manager Nongratt Thanjitt also spoke, commented and moderated different forums at the conference. National artist Patravadi Mejudhon was present and actively shared her thoughts. 

Chatvichai Promadhattavedi, Danny Yung and Junior Dearden at the conference

In the end, the conference was more than a think tank but also a spark for an international network of arts and cultural practitioners and scholars. This can be sustainable if governments of other cities or countries pick up this initiative and develop on it, instead of starting a new network. For me, most noteworthy is the fact that young artists, most of whom are still students, were not only attending workshops, masterclasses and rehearsals and performing for the conference participants and the public, but also openly sharing their thoughts and opinions in the conference’s last session. In many cities and countries, the gap between arts academia and professional practice is becoming wider. For example, one arts department chairperson resigned because her colleagues reached a consensus to continue to teach the way they had been doing and leaving professional artists to continue doing whatever they want. In addition, the gap between artists, who seem to be unable to receive enough state support, and cultural administrators, who appear to create new policies every few years, is also getting wider.

Patravadi Mejudhon

And for this, Yung has a good suggestion, writing in his preface to the city reports on cultural exchange: “As an artist, one ought to constantly expand the horizon through the crossing over of many roles. It is through crossing over many different roles that we become enriched by our experience. Enriched by more experiences, we can remain calm and rational, and be more outspoken in addressing issues of cultural policy and institutions, economics and politics, and taking up the role of reflecting on social responsibility.

“In the very first place, creativity is in fact about commentary, communication and advocacy. Yet we know that as we can go onstage, we can also detach ourselves and go offstage in order to return to the role of an ordinary citizen. In this way, we affirm our duty as artists who are capable of independent thinking and dialectical investigation in a detached manner.”

The writer’s trip was fully supported by Zuni Icosahedron and the Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University.


For more information, visit www.ZuniSeason.org.hk. To read reports on cultural exchange written by experts from Bangkok to Zurich, go to Issuu.com/zuni_icosahedron/docs/city_reports.