What is Absolutely and Critically Needed
Kee Hong Low: We should give Pichet a clap for that. In a sense I have known you for so many years, and really this is for me the first time that you have so publicly articulated. In fact, for me, this echoes a lot with artists in the room here right now, in terms of what they are dealing with every day, which is why it is not okay to say that we will accept this situation in this part of the world. And by extension I don’t think it is just Southeast Asia; in many parts of the world we are facing the same thing, maybe to different varying degrees, but it is very, very similar. You are right. Most of the funders or people who give the money to the artist or to make work or whatever, whether it is a festival or a presenting house, it is all mostly governmental or whoever’s pocket money, which is why for me in a sense it is very critical for artists to stand up and say that it is not okay, you do not accept the situation.
Now I live in Hong Kong. I am hearing the same stories, but nobody really wants to put themselves out there. What you are saying to your dancers — if in TPAM the premiere fails and then… sorry, even though potentially it is already going to Melbourne and Singapore — makes a very, very clear choice moving forward. As we move forward with it I want to ask the both of you now, before we open to the floor, from your point of view, what is it do you think that should be there? What are you asking or expecting the circumstance, the scenario, or your environment to change, because this will implicate the producers that are in the room right now for us to think?
Then it is I think our job as producers to find — I wouldn’t be so daring to say solutions, but I think to find the combination of solution scenarios so that we can start to really talk about the situation where it will be okay. We will not be able to copy whatever is happening in Europe or in America or elsewhere, because it is a very different context and we don’t have the answers to exactly what the scenario that we can do is. We can only solve it at the very project level at this moment in time, so the discussion surrounding Pichet’s project in the last session was really to find solutions for that, but what we are talking about here is a larger situation, and so I want to really hear from you. It is also not about wish list, let us be very clear, but what are some of the critical things that you need that must absolutely be in place for you even before you begin to think about making a piece of work?
Maybe Pichet can think a bit and then we ask Mark, because there is translation going on.
Mark Teh: It is not a wish list, right? So I can’t ask for “more.”
Kee Hong Low: What is critical.
Mark Teh: Right. It should go on a T-shirt… Because of the nature of the work that myself and my collaborators do, we need that research time. As Kee Hong mentioned earlier, artists are researching all the time anyway, so that is not the kind of time that I mean, but I mean the time to sit and have contradictions in your body and in your mind, and in your work and in your research, because that takes time, that needs time to unravel and to think through, and there are many contradictions, political ones, artistic ones, ways of working, methodology.
When I say this I am also thinking of different formats of presentation, because again we make films, we make exhibitions, we make performances, and sometimes a talk or a lecture is also work that is enough, sometimes ideas only need to be spoken out in the world and that is enough, they don’t always have to be a performance or an exhibition. I think it is very, very important to have this more liquid idea of what eventually meets the public. I think this is very important for us right now, that is within our own process.
I think we are learning a lot from the experience of taking the show to Gwangju last year — we went to Kerala last month, which is a communist state, the first democratically elected communist state, so it couldn’t have been more different from Gwangju, just in terms of the scale and the money and the festivals. Now we are here at TPAM, where you are not opening an entirely new space like in Gwangju, like this alien spaceship that just landed in Gwangju.
We are also revisiting our own suspicions because as activist and very political people in the group, we are highly suspicious why you are interested in our story, why you are interested in our work, why you want to frame it. I am interested in the programmers’ frame. I want to know why you want to show us, how you are showing us and what the context is because context is so important to our work. In Gwangju there is the historical context, but because that was a new space, new festival, this was very, very difficult for us. We maybe need to visit the places and to find local contact or, how do you say, historian or dramaturge or activist or perspective. This is very important for us. It is uncomfortable for us to plunk ourselves into other places and say, “Here is the show!”
Kee Hong Low: Then maybe this is a situation where it implicates really the presenting houses or the commissioners and the festival directors and the curators to also relook at their own institutional agenda. Basically you have boxes to tick, and there are usually boxes that are counter to really what the artists is working on or the process of the artist, and in fact most of the time they completely destroy what the artist is doing.
I am saying this because in fact when governments start to have very clear agendas of what they want to do, they actually impinge upon how artist are thinking of making work. I will put it onto the table because, firstly, in Gwangju obviously it is a new theatre that positions itself as an Asian Arts Theatre; is it because it ticks the boxes that Baling was in it? Secondly, now TPAM has shifted the entire focus to look at Asia, and to look at Southeast Asia, because very clearly it was a mandate from the Tokyo Olympics money and Asian Center to look at Southeast Asia. These are very, very dominant agendas that we have to question. We take it, and therefore, there is money we can give to the artist to facilitate this process, but in fact we should go back to the fundamental question of why and for what the fuck you are giving me the money, because we have never asked this question.
I belong to a very massive institution now, and we are trying to ask this question. It is not going to be easy, but I think this co-production process through this kind of discussion has started on this, say, trajectory to really question these things and not to take that for granted. Also Stephen Armstrong is putting up this massive triennale called Asia TOPA again with an anxiety of Arts Center Melbourne to position itself within Australia as the king of Asian contemporary work versus all the other festivals around and cities. These are very hard questions that I think you as an artist who works with producers and presenters have to ask, and we must engage in this dialogue. If you don’t, I think this whole exercise of trying to find the system will be useless; we will go back to whatever has been going on, and it is not making any change, and the situation will still not be okay after 10 years. Pichet, I want to come to you now.
Pichet Klunchun: Okay, producers and artists. Now I think the producer changes, maybe every three years, four years, 10 years, because the producer has got the money from the government. The government has a point of view or an idea, and they shift or create a new concept or new idea, and throw that onto the artist. For the producer it is normal, I think. It can happen every four years, every ten years, absolutely. The question is the artists; will you play this game or not? If you play this game, you will die soon. You should stay in your own journey and your own belief, what you want to do for your art, for your community, for the future. You want to go straight in one line. If you are looking for the budget and try to change your mind or your work to get it, I think that doesn’t work.
Dancing with Death, when I knew that the co-production would happen, I said, oh my God, I couldn’t believe it. It has happened, and then I said, okay, because in the beginning we didn’t look for the co-producer. We wanted to make this production because I was interested in death. What is the dancing, what is the dead? The dance is — I am working on it, and the dead is me, because we are part of it. We do something with dance, and then we are dying soon. I think this is a very big topic for me, and this is very interesting. I wanted to work on this, and nobody knows about it. Who knows about it? Tell me. Who has experienced it before? We are equal. Nobody knows.
After you are dead, what happens? I want to know, and then research is starting, and then go on and go on and go on. And then I found so many interesting things about death — it is like the Buddhist chanting, talking about the concept of death. According to my research, the spiritual and the god are different. When you are talking about the god, the ghosts are the body and it is a chain. If you are talking about the spiritual, it is energy, it is something moving, something you could not identify what its color is, how far, how deep it is, how is what. That is why the set is like that. The set is with all different heights. This is after death. I think your question was about this.
Kee Hong Low: I would just like to quickly give the context of that because I think as Pichet is talking about death, while in Buddhism of course it is a cycle, for him it is not about the cycle; if you understand what it is, there are a million exits. Actually for me the work itself is a metaphor for the discussion that we are having now; we are all trapped in this sort of circular loop in producing, making work, showing it and so on and so forth.
I want to say here that I appreciate my colleagues who are very honest in terms of where they are coming from and their sources of money and their agendas to openly discuss this, because I think this for me is the first — I will use this as a metaphor — the first step of the “enlightenment” for this “exit,” because if you do not first understand that we are in this thing, we are not going to get out. We should first acknowledge that we are all playing this game, then the first door will open, and then we keep digging to find death till we come to the point where we find the million exits that he talked about.
Pichet Klunchun: I have been talking with Kee Hong about one exercise. After meditation for six months, which may be the circle, we created the exercise. We call this a million of exits, because while we tend to think that the circle is without an exit, in fact the circle is a million of exits. When you find one exit, you will see a million.
If you saw the production, I think you noticed that the dancers were able to go anywhere. When you see it, you don’t see the body moving, you see the movement, you know the movement. You can get out to anywhere and you can connect to anything. We call the circle a million of exits. This is the principle of the company in the next production.