fbpx
Thinking and Talking about Arts and Culture in Southeast Asia

AE x Goethe-Institut Critical Writing Micro-Residency: Meet the Writers (Part 1)

We recently announced our selected resident writers for the inaugural AE x Goethe-Institut Critical Writing Micro-Residency, focusing on the development and promotion of critical writing about arts and culture in Southeast Asia. They are: Nhuan Dong from Saigon; Dwiki Aprinaldi from Yogyakarta; Eddie Wong from Petaling Jaya; Wilda Yanti Salam from Makassar; Mariah Reodica from Las Piñas; and Rebecca from Singapore.

Through this residency which runs from May 2021 to May 2022, we hope to support the work of independent writers in the region, especially those who are passionate about arts and culture and yet lack the resources and opportunity to nurture that passion.

We’d like to thank everyone who sent in their applications to our open call. We were heartened to received 107 applications, highlighting the wealth of talent and ideas that can be found in this region.

In this first of a two-part series, we speak to Nhuan, Dwiki and Eddie, who are the first three writers to embark on their two-month digital residencies, where they will produce an article in their own areas of interest.

[The interviews have been lightly edited and condensed.]


Nhuan Dong from Saigon, Vietnam. [Residency period: May-June 2021]

1) Please introduce yourself, in your own words. 

Born and raised in Saigon, I am an aspiring art writer and an Art History enthusiast-advocate. My ongoing, self-motivated research tracks the spontaneous developments of contemporary art in Vietnam and the diaspora as well as the academic discourse on the subject. I am also paying attention to the individual and transnational advancements of art in Asia, especially Southeast Asia, through autodidactic learning methods. My present writing interest is synthesising and analysing the contributions of female art practitioners of Vietnamese descent, with a focus on artists that work with image-based media. I am currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, but have been staying in my home country since the start of the academic year because of the pandemic. 

I started freelance writing in March 2020. Since then, I have contributed to various local platforms such as Saigoneer, Matca, Hanoi Grapevine and Art Republik Vietnam (ARV). In June 2020, I was awarded the winning writer of ARV Next Gen Contest 2020, celebrated amongst 18 other emerging and established art professionals.

2) Where did your interest in the arts come from? 

I have always been inspired by art in general since I was little. There is a memorable story about my art-centric aspiration that I was once told. When I was still a crawling baby, my family presented me with three objects which symbolised three career paths – one of which I cannot recall, but the other two were a pair of scissors, for fashion, and a stethoscope, for medical. I chose the former. I grew up with this goal of owning my own fashion brand. My father bought me a digital camera in secondary school and I took to experimenting with photography and creating mostly on VSCO. Coming into high school I used to think that I would settle with photography as my future career. Besides art making, I would gradually delve into the local contemporary art scene by visiting museums, galleries and art happenings around Saigon. This effort led me to re-evaluate what I would want to do in the future. In my senior year, I switched to studying Art History and strived to pursue a path that focuses on art writing and research.  

3) Tell us something not many people know about the arts in Saigon/Vietnam.

What I can say from my observation is that the city deals with two distinct levels of art “membership”: the insiders – those who are within the art community, and the outsiders, those who are not. Of course, there are also people who are stuck in between these two extreme polarities. Consequently, art events operate on this exclusivity – there are the public ones, the not-so-public but accessible ones, and finally, the secret, hidden ones. One can only know of the existence of the latter forms through Instagram/Facebook or oral transmission. Thus, the next time you pass by a group of people sitting on a pavement, chit-chatting on small stool chairs, looking through a hole in a small purple box as if watching something inside, that might be an live art event (this actually happened; Te Rẹt was a mobile short film screening and one of the most spontaneous events I’ve ever gotten the chance to witness and join).    

5) How would you describe the arts media/arts criticism landscape in Saigon/Vietnam?

In recent years, both arts media and readership have shown promising signs of increasing, from established arts-centric publications like Matca and Hanoi Grapevine and new ones like Art Republik Vietnam and Măng Ta journal to multi-genre, culturally engaged news agencies like Saigoneer and Urbanist Hanoi and many autodidactic, social media-based sites. Together they promote the arts and culture appreciation from the public. However, there is definitely much room to grow in terms of both critical writing and reading of arts. 

6) Can you share more about what you are interested to explore during your residency?

My proposal continues my ongoing research on female art professionals in Vietnam and its diaspora. I will focus on the image-based practice of female artists of Vietnamese heritage around the turn of the 21st century, with an aim of fostering discourse on the little scholarship that recognises their oeuvres. I will discuss artists whose works seem to have not been publicly acknowledged in Vietnam but elsewhere, predominantly the United States. The resulting essay will ideally open up an insightful discussion for further research regarding these artists and their oeuvres and act as a mini-archive which (re)introduces their works to the contemporary audience, especially that of Vietnam.

 

Dwiki Aprinaldi from Yogyakarta, Indonesia. [Residency period: July-Aug 2021]

1) Please introduce yourself, in your own words. 

My name is Dwiki Aprinaldi and I’m a writer, translator, and editor – but above all else, I prefer to define myself as an audience. I studied media and journalism at Universitas Gadjah Mada where I graduated in 2020. Besides watching films, I occasionally write about film and its ecosystem, mainly examining the underlying aspects of a trend that emerges and questioning the possibilities that can be achieved by cinema itself. My writings about film mainly cover the intersection between – but is not limited to – its historical, political, socio-cultural, and economics that underlies it. And luckily enough in 2019, I received an award for the best writing in the film article category from the Center of Film Development, Indonesian Ministry of Education and Culture. The latest research I’ve been working on is about heteronormativity in post-New Order Indonesian Islamic cinema, which is currently in the process of being published.

2) Tell us something not many people know about the arts in Yogyakarta/Indonesia.

To name a few, an enormous amount of works made by leftist artists were destroyed and underwent tight censorship during the Suharto dictatorship in the New Order period – crippling the extensive part of the nation’s historical and cultural traces that have been formed for a long time. In the same era, women artists had to masculinise their works (or even themselves) to be able to work under patriarchal industries. Sinematek, the centre for Indonesian film archive, (and ironically, the first in Southeast Asia) home to roughly 2,750 celluloid films, couldn’t any longer be defined as ‘home’ anymore due to underfunding, and other similar sad situations. I assume that similar stories have also happened to other countries in Southeast Asia.

3) What’s the most challenging thing for you as an arts writer?

Undoubtedly: making the ends meet. So many writers (mostly the young ones, at least in Indonesia today) who are dedicating themselves to art criticism are likely juggling multiple jobs and burning themselves out in the process (including yours truly). This is mostly because of how the ecosystem hasn’t, or finds it difficult to, appreciate writers for all their worth. The market logic doesn’t assure a fertile ground for criticism, unless, for instance, one scales their writings down merely to flowery words of advertisement copy. And secondly, there are hardly any initiatives, support, or even policy from the government that support criticism. There is an alternative, i.e. to create arts media that isn’t entirely dependent on advertisers or grants, established with enthusiasm with a slogan such as: “by the people, for the people”. But how willing are people, collectively, to sustain this kind of media from its inevitable end? Maybe only time, or class consciousness, will tell.

4) How would you describe the arts media/arts criticism landscape in Yogyakarta/Indonesia?

On popular media outlets in Indonesia, what are labelled as film reviews are mostly just plot summaries. These are usually written in short format, with little depth, lack of context, and weak arguments that often come from personal impressions rather than quality assessment. It perpetuates negative assumptions about film criticism, and makes such work seem like a shopping guide rather than a medium for discourse enrichment (although obviously, we can’t leave its commercial function behind). In the meantime, media outlets that are still trying their best to publish good writing become unproductive in the end because they don’t attract many readers, let alone advertisers. Economic interests and good quality criticism seem like two things that are hard to achieve hand in hand here in Indonesia.

5) Can you share more about what you are interested to explore during your residency? 

I’ve always believed that human civilisation has been controlled by storytellers, interconnected by translators, and flourished by imagination. Film is an effective medium (if not the most contemporary form of art) capable of attesting that belief. Considering more or less the same cultural imperialism that is working against us, third cinema traces that began appearing in the mid-20th century, and de-democratisation that is happening sporadically, my questions are: do Southeast Asian storytellers still have any chance to be able to make their own distinct audio-visual culture? And if not, what are the reasons, obstacles, and challenges they face? In this residency, which involves exchanging ideas with fellow arts writers, I hope I can somehow find the answer to these curiosities.

 

Eddie Wong from Petaling Jaya, Malaysia. [Residency period: Sep-Oct 2021]

1) Please introduce yourself, in your own words. 

I’m a computational media artist, researcher and educator based in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia. I studied at Goldsmiths University of London where I obtained a MA in Computational Arts (2019-2020). I began my career as a motion designer, animator and later as a lecturer teaching on and managing undergraduate Arts and Design programmes. I’ve spent time in Australia, New Zealand and then the UK, returning to Malaysia last year and was excited about the thriving arts scene.

I consider myself an amnesiologist (from the root word ‘amnesis’ meaning to remember). I investigate the forgotten, lost, or erased. I’m interested in the interplay of absences, silences and interstices of social imaginaries. Through algorithmic processes, machine learning, video and installation, I bring forth disappeared worlds, peoples, and futures into becomings.

2) Where did your interest in the arts come from? 

Youthful distractions such as sci-fi/horror fiction, comics, music and cinema formed the bedrock of my enthusiasm for contemporary art, critical theory and philosophy. Producing my thesis project at Goldsmiths further exposed me to the emerging trajectories of arts, politics and edge technologies. 

For my artistic research, I delved into personal and collective memories; postcolonial condition; data-driven surveillance and my Southeast Asian heritage. During this time, I discovered family secrets; about how my grandfather was communist guerrilla who fought and was killed by the colonial government. This led me to examining dark chapters in Malaysian history and the many artistic interpretations that it inspired. Through art, I can emerge from my cultural milieu and to see what another person sees, and to experience the country as a familiar landscape but yet curiously alien.

3) Tell us something few people know about the arts in Petaling Jaya/Malaysia. 

When discussing arts in Malaysia, one can hardly avoid digressing into subjects related to politics, race and government wrongdoings. These subjects occupy the national consciousness and mainstream conversation daily. Authorities do not tolerate critical voices and dissent, which is an essential feature of a healthy art culture. A recent case highlights this reality. Police arrested Fahmi Reza, a renowned art-activist, for ‘insulting’ the queen by uploading a satirical Spotify playlist featuring songs that were considered an affront to royalty. The artist is being investigated for breaking Malaysia’s sedition and communication laws. Undeniably, the diversity of Malaysian social and cultural background enriches the arts. But there’s a fragile difference between what we call diversity and division. The multiculturalism we’ve always taken pride in is paradoxically both our strength and weakness. 

4) How would you describe the arts media/arts criticism landscape in Petaling Jaya/Malaysia? 

There’s a dearth of arts writing in the mainstream media. Art criticism as a professional endeavour is almost nonexistent except for loosely formed communities that comprise independent art writers and cultural commentators who are passionate about the arts. In traditional media, they consigned topics about art to the lifestyle section. Faring better are the many online platforms and social media dedicated to reviewing and promoting art events. The segmentation of art communities according to a rigid dichotomy between independent and institutionally approved artists is one impediment to establishing an artistic and intellectual culture. 

5) Can you share more about what you are interested to explore during your residency? 

I’m interested in investigating the aesthetic phenomenon in art that draws from the traumatic event in Malaysia’s history – the May 13, 1969 race riots. The phantom of May 13 persists in haunting our social memory. What are the implications of this event on the artistic responses by artists? Building on ethnographical and philosophical grounds, I aim to produce a critical art-fiction that is both about the art and behaving as art.  

As a starting point, I’ll draw from the work of minority and diaspora Malaysian-Chinese artists who have developed divergent cultural identities both locally and abroad, referred to as Mahua. I’m curious about the way they blend realism and superstitions in their work that often carries an undertone of mourning. My goal is to construct an innovative perspective and critical language to explore, address and analyse these artworks and artists that speak to the multiplicity of social, economic, political factors inherited from the events of May 13.


The inaugural AE x Goethe-Institut Critical Writing Micro-Residency 2021/2022 is organised by ArtsEquator and Goethe-Institut Singapore. Follow the journey of the writers here

Comments: 1

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *