Yeung Chun-kong Daniel is a Hong Kong-based independent choreographer and curator, Artistic Director of ‘Hong Kong Dance Exchange’, Council Member, Chairman of Art Form Group (Dance) and Vice-Chairman of Art Form Group (Art Criticism) of Hong Kong Arts Development Council.
Translator: Lee Hoi-yin Joanna
International perspective? Or just ‘a market spectacle’?
In response to ‘Performing Arts: The “Good” of Going International’
Instead of regarding the ‘good’ which Lee Hoi-yin Joanna touches on as an index for the Hong Kong Arts Development Council (ADC), it is probably more a ‘necessity’— to occupy the critical location and to play the role of the international cultural hub, Hong Kong must persistently explore the space for survival and visibility. (Especially when Hong Kong, after the handover, has continuously been pressurised economically, politically, and socially, rendering its role and voice in the international scene about to vanish… )
21 years ago, Mui (Cheuk-yin) and I were invited to perform at the pivotal ‘Lyon Contemporary Art Biennale’ (Biennale). Many outstanding artworks from various Asian countries and cities were presented under the ‘Silk Road’ theme, including those with distinctive cultural characteristics from Taiwan and Hong Kong. However, in Lyon, Mui and I had to show up in exchange activities as ‘orphans’ (Mui’s description back then) while the Taiwan government organised wide-reaching publicity, touring performances, exchanges, pre- and post-show events in support of her artists delegation. Taiwan was thus acclaimed for the respect for and promotion of her art in comparison with other (for example South East Asian) countries.
Taiwan takes good care of her artists while she is treated in the same manner as other national participants in international art events. Hong Kong, which prides herself as being international and is merely a strait apart from Taiwan, has always limit herself in the so-called ‘cultural desert’ when it comes to similar matters. It has taken Mui 20 years to advocate the idea of government-led delegations, through the execution of ADC, to visit the overseas. Thus, came opportunities which had never been enjoyed by artists of previous generations. Hong Kong finally has her very practitioners’ delegations to promote her cultural characteristics in the way as other national and Taiwan delegations do.
Another key consideration is ‘art market’. To be honest, I haven’t considered participating in the few art markets discussed in Lee’s essay. I was there because my dance piece has been selected by ADC and tanzmesse as a representing performance of Hong Kong. It was my obligation to be there to demonstrate. Such art-administration-led planning, the skills required for hiring and selling venues, pushy publicity, and the intensive ‘bargaining’ between administrative parties, make ‘going international’ a spectacle of trades. I am against the notion of turning artists into shelved commodities in supermarkets.
A few years ago, the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority and other cultural organisations actively coached the artists in the know-how of pitching sessions, such as the code-of-practice and habits of transactional expositions, and the taste and language of art administrators. Such ‘role-playing’ frustrates me — I started my career as an art administrator but back in those years, my ‘bosses’ were the artists and artworks! Following Lee’s argument, we should grow and adapt according to the ‘good’ for the artists. It should not be up to the same group of international administration ‘regulars’ to judge what is ‘good’ art based on and only on their standards.
Is it ‘anti-art’ to evaluate along economic dimension to ensure that art markets are ‘efficient, good-looking, and utilisable’? There was once when I met a festival programme buyer at an ‘art market’. She complained to me that there were choreographers who tagged along and were in her way of spending good times with her peers that she regarded as friends. When art markets become the occasions for executives to meet and eat and be merry with their acquaintances, it explains why some artists find, themselves and their artworks, being used as marketing tools.
‘While to go international or not is supposedly a personal artistic choice and has no inevitable relationship with the creative concept and the quality of the work…’ I suggest we deliberate this viewpoint. ‘Going international’ must be an equal opportunity for all so that a phenomenon becomes visible to us. May the ‘individual’ in everyone of us and the various artworks come together to accomplish the ‘we’, in which the individuals strive in their own ways.
Mentioned in the essay are contemporary dance pieces and data analysis. Contemporary dance has its roots in western traditional culture and is now one of the major cultural activities in western societies. Lee’s reference to the Australian dance market cannot be directly compared to that of Hong Kong. Contemporary dance audience in Hong Kong is the minority among the minority… Comparatively speaking, as there is a big enough group of Cantonese opera audience in Hong Kong to support the local market, it will not invite the criticism of why Cantonese opera is not introduced to the international market as a much sought-after product.
In what manner should Hong Kong, still in her ‘post-colonial stage’, present a unique aesthetic viewpoint against a holistic context? Should we follow the Euro- or US-centric imperialistic market? Or should we make sense of the Hong Kong market by taking direct reference to Australian data?
The certainty is, the more we restrict ourselves to the markets which adhere to the standards of cultural-imperialistic expositions, the more we confine our ability to narrate our own aesthetics. Even considered from a marketing perspective, textbook descriptions such as the conglomerate of the east and west or the co-habitation of Chinese and the foreigners should be more than merely slogans. Our strength lies exactly in the high population density in a small city — Hong Kong is a unique convergence of the many. What is holding us back from establishing our own market rather than attaching and bowing to a few imperialistic markets?