You are here

FINDING A PLACE ON THE ASIAN STAGE

Alison Carroll and Carrillo Gantner

Platform Paper 31

Alison Carroll and Carrillo Gantner

Font Size: (-) (r) (+)

‘Should we care more than we do about our neighbours in the Asian region?’ ask our authors, who have spent a lifetime in such engagement. This has been called the Asian century and our geography gives Australia a unique opportunity to take advantage of not only the energy so evident in the Asian region but also the rich, exciting treasure trove of arts practice there. But too few of us in the arts acknowledge this or take steps to increase our knowledge, understanding and engagement. In practical terms, there has been a decline in public support in some quarters over the last twenty years, and at best an up-and-down support in others. This paper puts forward a Ten Point Plan for action, and proposes the establishment of a new overarching Australian International Cultural Agency to spearhead a new strategy, the co-ordination of resources and forward planning.

 

You must be logged in to read this full article. Please click here to sign in or join the Currency House website

To view online copies, please login and navigate to selected/purchased paper. Online copies are not downloadable and are only viewable online.

About the Author

ALISON CARROLL, AM was founding director of Asialink Arts 1991–2010. She has initiated arts programs for Australian artists in 19 countries of Asia in visual arts, performing arts, writing, and arts management.

We do not believe that any Australian government of the last two decades has been ‘anti-Asia’. On the contrary, in this period our growing economic dependence on the region has highlighted Asia in Australia’s consciousness. We think it fair to say, however, that our governments have generally failed to appreciate the benefits of the kind of wider and deeper engagement that comes from cultural and broad people-to-people links. When talking about Asia, governments think and talk in strategic and, even more, in economic terms. In a similar way, Australian business thinking tends to be transactional and shortterm. There is pitifully little recognition of the longterm strategic or even financial benefits of building broadly based relationships through culture, education and other value-based programs if an immediate dollar value is not on the table.

 

Comments

David Pledger is artistic director and executive producer of the
pioneering intercultural collaborative group Not Yet It's Difficult, based
in Melbourne, which works as a research unit and producer of events.

Although it has taken our political culture twelve years to realize it, we now know that this is the Asian Century. So, if Australia wants to be a part of it, it needs to get its skates on. Alison Carroll and Carrillo Gantner have been suitably shod for two decades and more, and their extensive experience in Asia lends genuine authority to their words and recommendations.

In detailing Australia's cultural engagement through the prism of the performing arts over the last generation or so, they mount a strong argument for the primacy of future engagement in Asia and provide strategies and structures to implement it in their Ten Point Plan.

The centre-point is an Australian International Cultural Agency (AICA) that sensibly steps off the Asian continent into multi-lateral waters. With a nod to Institut Français, the British Council and the Goethe Institut, the AICA would engage internationally with artist-led programs. The way in which this agency might be structured is detailed in the paper, and provides a good starting point. In my opinion, the Goethe Institut is the best model for Australia. In Asia, particularly, it has created untold goodwill through established programs of engagement between Germany and Asian countries via a 'canaries in the coalmine' approach (with artists as the canaries) and newer programs between developing Asian countries that are independent of core German participation. Theirs is a sophisticated response to fast-changing regional dynamics.

One of the important arguments the authors have put forward for an international cultural agency is that Australia can be 'confusing' to people in Asia because of our 'indigenous/British/immigrant/transnational culture'. This is true. Having worked in Asia for twenty years I have gotten over my surprise at how little Australia is understood there, and on the flipside how little this is understood in Australia. The complexity of Australia's cultural make-up is often confused by the noise of nation-state marketing. One of the key elements in any relationship

is the ability to listen. In a recent forum Asia + Europe = Australia the EU Ambassador to Australia elegantly outlined our 'great Australian qualities', and then asked, 'Do these qualities get in the way of listening?' An international cultural agency could distil key messages and open up processes, greatly enhancing our listening capacity, and so improve the quality of engagement across all sectors.

Another plank in the Ten Point Plan is The Middle Way whereby funding is allocated to projects past 'first contact' stage which is the point where the funding branch for most international engagements currently ends. The Middle Way proposes $3million funding so that 'creative collaborations between Australian artists and colleagues in the region are supported to develop new projects and present them to audiences in the participating countries and beyond'. This shows great faith in the capacity of artists to lead, and an acknowledgement of their legacy over the last twenty years. The authors understand deeply that Australia's artistic and cultural intelligence comes directly from artists in the field, and this is a resource that needs to be cultivated and applied more broadly across the cultural sector.

In their marriage of values, language and tone, Carroll and Gantner locate the artist as central to the discourse and policy of cultural production in Australia, and within the rather mercurial international paradigm in which we now find ourselves. It is an excellent companion piece to Rupert Myer's on the visual arts in the March edition of Art Monthly. In both cases, a view of the artist is put forward as both creator and receiver of art and culture. In this view, artists are adventurers, farmers of the imagination, antennae for new ideas, and processors of possibility. They can make things out of nothing at all. Give them real agency, and they will turn their power of alchemy to creating things that are extraordinary and to collecting cultural intelligence that has ramifications far outside the arts.

So, however good the Carroll-Gantner Plan is in the context of a debate about why Australia needs to engage culturally with Asia and how it might best do that, it is possible that its greater influence is in shaping our larger cultural policy debate. Because the values it espouses and the language it uses are an antidote to those which have dominated our thinking over the last generation, a thinking shaped by a viral strain of managerialism seeded in many of our funding agencies.

For artists, this has meant considerably more financial resources have been put into managing, marketing and producing an artistic work than in actually making it. Before an idea is allowed to grow, to see whether or not it has genuine potential, it is often marketed, managed and produced within an inch of its life, and this unproductive alchemy is integrated in and often perceptible in the work. It is directly linked to a certain kind of infrastructure that tends to devolve artists and artistic practice to a marginal rather than central activity. The values that have come to define the Australian arts ecology are risk-averse, infrastructure-heavy, artist-resistant and compliance-obsessed.

The Carroll-Gantner paper offers new values. Excitingly, these may also be visible in recent recommendations regarding the Australia Council. If they are implemented, it will not only give that organization an opportunity to enter the twenty-first century, there will necessarily be an important shift in its language and values which places artists closer to the centre of the cultural conversation. It may also signal an important shift in the way Australia perceives itself as a cultural entity and the way in which the rest of the world receives Australia as a cultural agent. Perception and reception are the key binaries, and the role of the artist in fashioning these is crucial to our realizing the full benefits of Australia's place in the Asian Century whether in Asia, elsewhere in the world or at home in Australia.

Professor Paul Cleveland is director of the Queensland College of Art, Griffith University, Brisbane

While the authors have outlined what they believe as serious problems with Australia's cultural engagement with Asia they have taken a very narrow view of what they believe culture should include. Some of the comments regarding arts professional training within tertiary education are valid but it is important to understand why they have occurred. To a large part university programs are predicated on perceived student demand. Griffith University was one of the leaders in providing Asian studies since the 1970s. In fact it was one of the first programs Griffith offered. Innovative as it was at the time, since then enrolments have been low. Being part of a market-driven economy, they cannot survive unless there is sustained demand for such programs.

All universities in Australia have some degree of engagement with Asia whether it is through international enrolments, exchanges or cultural immersion programs. These all tend to enrich the classroom dynamic and are indirectly attributable for acceptance of Asian cultural tastes by Australians. Visual arts education is seen as a global activity and while events such as the Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art are seen as significant showcases of cultural exchange and are incorporated into visual arts curriculum, they are no more significant than other blockbuster shows from Europe or the Americas. All these are viewed by students with awe at their exoticism, most likely due to the geographic isolation of Australia.

One of the most interesting phenomena has been the influence of Asian students in arts discourse. For example, while western peoples find it difficult to appreciate the artistic significance of Beijing opera, so do contemporary Chinese students. Many Asian students have little appreciation for aspects of their own culture. I had a Chinese PhD student who was designing a computer game to explain Beijing opera to Chinese children using cute characters. The rationale for this was the Chinese government's concern that children no longer saw the relevance of some of their own arts institutions. If that is the case it raises the question: how relevant are they to the rest of the world?

What stimulates the public is the borrowing of cultural icons that have perceived value. Manga and anime are great examples of an Asian cultural product which has influenced western notions of animation, games, graphic novels and a myriad of other things. It is fascinating how many prospective animation students apply to the Queensland College of Art's animation program with a portfolio of manga drawings. Culture is based on historical traditions and is ever changing as part of a dynamic global process. In that context manga and anime although originally a reflection of Japanese culture has replicated itself to attract a global market. The profit motive is a strong driving force for this kind of cultural reproduction. Another important factor in the migration of Asian popular culture is the changing global demographic where the teenage generation are all consuming the same cultural products. A great example of this is the Hello Kitty phenomenon which has swept the globe.2 Made by the Japanese Sanrio company it produces 20 thousand varieties of merchandize of which 10 thousand are aimed at the western markets. Such influences are very powerful but tend to be dominated by popular culture rather than 'high culture'. Popular culture exerts a strong influence on contemporary art production.

Australian universities engagement with Asia is often not concerned with identified courses within programs but about a more holistic approach to an inclusive curriculum. I can point to a number of examples of this within Griffith University. Events such as the Asia Pacific Triennial and the Asia Pacific Screen Awards are incorporated into the curriculum of the Queensland College of Art and the Griffith Film School with artists engaging in workshops as visiting scholars. The Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University hosts the Encounters project which explores cultural connections between Australia and its close neighbours. In 2010 Encounters explored the connection between China and Australia with over 160 performers and artists collaborating between the two countries. This year similar collaborations will take place between the Indian subcontinent and Australia. The Griffith Asia Institute also hosts Perspectives which takes the form of a public seminar series examining contemporary Asian/ Pacific culture, politics and society.

Far from offering a token approach to Asian culture, the education sector has found it to be a simulating and important adjunct to western traditions. The few examples given testify to the diversity of that activity. The investment in financial expenditure and time associated with such activities indicates the commitment universities have to spreading cultural diversity within the tertiary arts sector.

Jonathan McIntosh is assistant Professor of ethnomusicology at the University of Western Australia.

In Finding a Place on the Asian Stage, the authors argue that the teaching of the Asian performing arts at tertiary level is imperative because, they say, such knowledge will enable students to better understand and empathize with others should they choose to work in Asia (p. 53). Despite such a call for action, Carroll and Ganter (p. 53) state: [I]s it not extraordinary and depressing that no Australian tertiary institution [provides] professional arts training or more general performing arts
studies… or has made any serious effort to develop core curricula offerings around the arts in Asia?

While I fully support their call for a greater pedagogical focus in higher education, it is perhaps unfair to state that Australian tertiary institutions have been lacking in their efforts to promote the Asian performing arts. Indeed, like their European and North American counterparts, Australian academics play a vital role in promoting Asian artistic forms. For example, as agents or 'go-betweens', academics are often responsible for establishing reciprocal arrangements between Australian and Asian institutions. Such agreements often serve to promote exchange opportunities for Australian students to study in Asia as well as facilitate opportunities for Asian artists, musician and dancers to work with students in Australia. Academics also work in both Australia and Asia as advisors, as agitators (for arts administration organizations and venues) and as cultural ambassadors (certainly through teaching, but also by contributing to books and articles, concert programme notes, CD or DVD liner notes, pre-concert talks, radio and television documentaries; and by publishing original audio-visual field recordings).

Consequently, academics are essential to the process of promoting wider and deeper engagement with Asia. Initiatives that promote the arts of Asia exist in many Australian tertiary institutions, particularly in those that employ ethnomusicologists who specialize in Asian musics: for example, Macquarie University, Melbourne University, Monash University, Queensland Conservatorium, University of Adelaide, University of NSW and University of Sydney. As an ethnomusicologist employed in the School of Music at UWA, I would like to illustrate briefly how the Asian performing arts are included in the music curriculum here. Moreover, as an academic who researches music and dance in Bali, I am intimately involved in the School's promotion of the Asian performing arts through its research, teaching, concert scheduling and community outreach.

Historically, links with Asia have played an important role in the development of the UWA School of Music. Sir Frank Callaway, the foundation Professor of Music at UWA, arranged many influential events focusing on the Asian performing arts, including two highly-successful Indian Ocean Arts Festivals (1979 and 1984). Performers travelled from South and South-East Asia and East Africa to participate in public performances and contributed significantly to the UWA music curriculum. It was during this period that UWA acquired a contemporary Javanese gamelan ensemble that was used collaboratively by visiting Indonesian artists and professional musicians from across Australia. Following Sir Frank's retirement in 1984, and with no funding available at that time for a permanent position in ethnomusicology, the School chose to allocate its resources towards the Western art music tradition. But in 2006, ethnomusicology was reintroduced alongside other exciting areas, including music psychology and community music outreach. By enhancing and extending the existing classical performance-based curriculum, this move demonstrates how the UWA School of Music has responded to international best practice at tertiary level.

Now all UWA music students undertake core units in ethnomusicology and popular music. The teaching of various Asian performing art forms, be they traditional or contemporary, are integral to these units. Furthermore, a specialist elective unit in the music of South-East Asia enables students to gain a deeper understanding of music, dance and theatre practices of this region. As part of the aforementioned units, students also have the opportunity to participate in a Balinese gamelan ensemble and a Balinese dance workshop. As a result of their participation in the Balinese gamelan ensemble, one student commented that this 'hands-on' approach to learning 'lets you see world music from a first-hand perspective'. And another that 'the [ensemble] allows you to experience it all. Doing, instead of writing'.

As a result of his participation in the Balinese dance workshop, a male vocal student also revealed how the experience served to break down some 'resistance that we [as classically-trained music students] have towards other styles of learning […] with luck it also demonstrates to all students that [the Western art music tradition] is not the only musical culture with "value"'.

These academic units have had clear positive outcomes. In 2011 the School established a reciprocal relationship with the Indonesian Institute of Performing Arts (ISI) in Denpasar, Bali, one of Indonesia's leading tertiary institutions. As a result of this development, the School is to purchase a new Balinese gamelan ensemble to further strengthen teaching and research ties between UWA and ISI. Not only will guest artists from Indonesia be sure to ignite renewed interest in the arts of Indonesia but the acquisition will facilitate exciting concert performance opportunities and new outreach programs between the university and secondary schools throughout WA. The UWA School of Music is already involved in innovative cultural enrichment programs at both Helena College and John Curtin College of the Arts, two independent secondary schools in the Perth metropolitan area. These programs, which provide instruction in Balinese and Javanese music, dance and theatre, will be instrumental in attracting future students to pursue music in UWA's new undergraduate course of study, introduced in 2012. Contrary to Carroll and Ganter's assertion, the new UWA undergraduate course of study aims to ensure that all students develop a broad, international outlook, and graduate with appropriate skills for the challenges of a changing world.

This response is intended to provide a case study suggesting that institutions, such as UWA, that have a historical commitment to promoting the Asian performing arts, continue to value this educational mission. Without doubt, the UWA School of Music actively fosters student interest in the traditional and contemporary Asian performing arts as part of its reinvigorated curriculum. Indeed, by developing reciprocal relationships with fellow institutions in Asian nations, fostering a cohort of multi-culturally minded students, and delivering a music curriculum that promotes skills essential to the development of globally-minded students, UWA and other Australian universities with similar orientations are vital to the education of Australian students who will take their place in pan-Asian society.

1 Lyndon Terracini, 2011 Peggy Glanville Hicks Address, http://newmusicnetwork.com.au/PGH/LT11.html 2 ASIAN POP How Hello Kitty Came to Rule the World, http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/g/a/2004/07/14/helkit.DTL&a... 2012.