By Tatler Hong Kong
March 03, 2021
What will art exhibitions and concerts look like in a world that is forever changed? We asked the experts to weigh in
As institutions around the world grapple with the still unfolding consequences of a year of darkened theatres, dwindling resources and the mental scars of all that has been lost during the pandemic, it is always worth noting that arts and culture will find a way to endure, adapting to adversity—as painful, or uplifting, as that process may be.
Even in dark times, artists have reacted with stirring creations, performances of operas and ballet have shifted from live to online, the big screen has been transferred to the small screen, and music has become a form of therapy, sometimes filling the streets as a means of human connectivity during the worst days of social isolation. There may be many challenges ahead, but inspiring examples of creativity and endurance still happen every day, as the editors of Tatler acknowledged while compiling this year’s Culture List, a selection of the 100 artists, collectors, creative directors and entertainers who have had the most visible impact on the arts this year, both locally and globally.
The list, part of the Asia’s Most Influential series that appears online at tatlerhongkong.com, includes figures like Ann Hui, the Hong Kong director whose achievements in filmmaking were honoured at the Venice International Film Festival in 2020 and the subject of a documentary, Keep Rolling, released last year; Cheng Tsung-lung, whose first full work since he took over as artistic director of Taiwan’s Cloud Gate Dance Theatre was inspired by the sounds he heard while his company was isolated upon returning to Taipei at the beginning of 2020; and Joe Sidek, the organiser of multiple culture festivals in Malaysia who introduced an online platform for Penang artisans last summer.
Their industries have been profoundly altered by the pandemic in ways that will undoubtedly have ripple effects for years to come. Here, Tatler invites many of the Culture List honourees to discuss the changes they see happening now, and where they think culture is headed in 2021.
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“In the current situation, I don’t think art should respond so directly, because it is not a political concept or a propaganda slogan. It may take some time to incubate. Art is art after all. If it is given a purpose and function other than itself, it will then deviate. For me, art has always been healing. In the most critical moments or the most helpless times in your life, in fact, art always shows up and offers help. For me, it truly constantly stands with us.”
“The pandemic was an alert, reminding us to reflect on whether we are on the right path. With the cancellation of our performances, our busy daily schedules were replaced with back-up plans. My dancers and I had more time to truly slow down and create. We took second thoughts on things we were accustomed to: does this need to be changed? How can we change it? We prepared, trained our bodies more delicately and quietly, and thus explored the true nature of the art form of dance. The world is evolving towards a more digital era, which is very good. However, we should also recognise our bodies and emotions more deeply and thoroughly in order to remain true to ourselves.”
“All these months of closures and the banning of live music mean we are in a much more desperate situation, and unfortunately the end is not yet in sight. But I am an optimist as I think in many ways people have realised even more that they need great songs to cope with life. And that there are, in fact, more people looking for music, songs and bands to connect with online. Some of the songs I’ve listened to and music videos I’ve seen in the last few months by Hong Kong musicians and bands are testament to how many passionately creative individuals there are in this city.”
“Hybrid. Digitisation. Phygital. These are words we are going to hear over and over, like it or not. The arts have to innovate in order to survive. Different forms of delivery are going to be here to stay. One upside to that is that audiences reached can now be global, not just local. On a macro level, we have to make a case for the economic importance of the arts. Can you imagine having survived lockdown without books, music or Netflix and the like? All those shows were created by artists. Going forward, I believe artists around the world are galvanised to make the case that investing in the arts is as important as investing in education, manufacturing or defence.”
“Lots of people in the industry are now working on TV series. I will work on documentaries or TV series and films for a while if I find appropriate subjects and can find financing. So long as there are subjects, there will be work in the creative media. We do not lack subjects nowadays because the world is undergoing cataclysmic, colossal changes.”
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“I believe it is essential to focus our available resources and efforts on sustaining our community of artists. At Para Site we initiated several projects meant to sustain the Hong Kong art community, both financially and in terms of exposure, including the PS Paid Studio Visits, a free-to-attend, online series of virtual studio visits that has featured over 80 artists (who each receive a fee for walking us through their work) and the No Exit Grant, which was awarded to 25 local artists to support living costs. As for the developments in the post-Covid-19 era, I hope for two directions: on one hand, after so many of our certainties have been shattered with so much ease, we should exponentially increase our ambitions to confront the structural inequities of our world; on the other hand, shared physical presence, the collective experience in art spaces, the proximity and contact of other bodies that we have all been so deprived of, will decisively return at the centre of the art world.”
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“I have strong faith in the power of the performing arts, and that the industry will continue to thrive after the pandemic. In fact, the pandemic has proven that in times of crisis and despair, the community relies even more on the performing arts, and arts and culture in general, to enrich their lives. The industry has proved its resilience and creativity in trying effective ways to bring a variety of performances to the audience around the world. I believe the industry will keep up this momentum and continue a global trend of engaging more audiences through digital means. The academy has been actively integrating technology in the performing arts in the past few years. Now that the pandemic has stressed the importance of digital technology, we will continue with this focus to enrich our curricula and performance content with arts technology in mind.”
“Plagues and pandemics have been with us since time began. Artists are generally resilient. Some will recover, some won’t. Some will change their practice, others will continue what they have always done. The scene will change because the world has changed and us with it. And we have to prepare for this changed world we are going to inhabit. I think artists will help people understand and negotiate this new world through the art they make. People say, ‘Oh, this pandemic means artists will have to learn to innovate.’ But that’s not true. To be an artist is to be an innovator. To create is to innovate. What will elevate Malaysian theatre to a global scale is enough fearless, eccentric, literary, talented, imaginative, driven, maverick, visionary, well-read, stubborn, fierce, compassionate, emotionally and intellectually intelligent and creative people taking—and getting—the freedom to create.”
“Slowing down, travelling less and using various digital platforms to connect will also see new forms of creative work [emerge]. Artists and creative thinkers will use the tools at hand to reflect on this time, and this forms part of that recovery that we are all yearning for as well. Going forward, all museums will embrace the parallel strands of digital and physical experience. At M+ we have been very clear that our digital museum has to be as active, developed and sophisticated as the physical museum. There is real pleasure in the social activity that the museum offers with the object-based experience at the heart. The digital aspect complements and elevates the relationship between the two.”
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“What has been affected by the pandemic is how we connect with artists. Last year, we missed some opportunities to physically meet up with artists we’ve been focusing on. Hopefully we can resume these activities soon. The move to an online sales format has brought in a new generation of buyers, with a large percentage of them being millennials. These newcomers are more open-minded in terms of what to collect, as witnessed by the rise in popularity of pop art and street art. They are also not afraid of taboos such as LGBTQ issue-related themes, as the older generation might be, and this all-embracing attitude has engendered a sense of openness and inclusivity within the art world.”
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“The path of artistic creation is never easy, but I believe most Hong Kong people thrive on changes. As long as we hold onto our passion, we can definitely, slowly recover. Streaming shows live is already the new normal. We used to design and adjust our shows based on how they were presented on stage. However, theatres have closed several times [during the pandemic]. In order not to waste everyone’s efforts, we streamed Convergence—A Journey of Chinese Dance & Martial Arts and grand original dance drama Mazu online. Both we and the audience are still getting used to this, but I believe in the future dance productions will be created based on two different modes: live on stage and online streaming.”
“I’m hoping we have a wave of our own hallyu [a Chinese term referencing Korea’s influence on pop culture] in the Philippines, but we need support, and I don’t think it’s just money. Money is a huge part of it, obviously—I think there were funds allocated for hallyu from the government [but] the talent here isn’t lacking. We need help, we need support, we need to know that there is a force behind artists to encourage us to make this wave happen.”
“To quote Charles Darwin in On the Origin of Species, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent; it is the one most adaptable to change.” I think these words resonated with me the most when it came to 2020 because, historically speaking, catastrophic events have happened all over the world, and while we as humans didn’t necessarily escape them unscathed, we came out of them nonetheless. This applies to the present moment as more people have started jumping on the digital bandwagon, including those in the arts industry. However, if we compare the visual or performance arts to commercial heavyweights like sports or fashion, it’s no secret that we need to catch up and wake up. But before we improve upon our technology and our online presence, what we really need is to first build our brand properly by way of a more solid narrative that’s culturally unique to Malaysia, and to sell that narrative to our very own people. To stand out in the digital age, you can’t just copy stories any more. We need to strengthen our cultural identity, because that’s who we are and what I want to share with the rest of the world.”
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