What Place Remains?

Thoughts, questions, reflections

after TaPRA PG Symposium 2017 at University of Leeds

‘Silence stalks me’, she says.

How much alignment does a politician need between campaign promises

and what is actually delivered to leave a heroic legacy?

The performance of authenticity is not reliability.

Charisma is not indicative of wisdom

or the selfless ability to serve.

What qualifies as an excess of performance in politics?

What performances do we expect of politicians?

Let us unfetter language as we tune down the affect of sound

Silence apportions space.

Someone once said, ‘Silence is possible in an anechoic chamber,

but not with John Cage in it’.

The noise of our bodies, together, in space.

‘Does silence break word or do these words break silence?

You can choose silence but it never chooses you’

Can we dialogue through silence when words,

once articulated,

destroy all other potential words held in silence?

What is the ghost that lingers

in iconic theatres?

Can the national ever be separated from the historical?

Is the unfinished business Shakespeare’s,

Polykleitos the Younger who built the ancient theatre of Epidaurus,

or the people’s?

A longing for some place they lost…

‘One day, in the future, the chicken will become the most studied fossil’

for anthropologists.

How can we create art politically when

politics threatens to turn art into propaganda?

What invocations do we make with the pilgrimage to monumental places?

How does the anywhereness of convergent media

exacerbate our addiction to extract only that which is relevant to our lives?

To reduce what we experience to make meaning of it?

Can we stop wanting to win?

How does responsive design attend to meritocracy’s losers?

Must we be cruel to be invulnerable?

In other words,

can we play without being vulnerable?

‘The blog became a rear-view mirror’,

she reads for the author who is absent,

‘a space where the road behind me constantly foregrounded the road ahead

and the past was always present in the future’ (Pinchbeck 2016).

Can it be a meeting place where only one writes?

Is there place for conversations in a blog?

The journey we make is part of the ghosting

of place and places to be.

If you wait for something to be there for you,

it won’t be.

You have to make it up.

This is not a haiku

…these are just fragments of notes,
taken during Intersections 2017.
Adaptation as a Franken practice
Practice that seems closer than references
Revealing to trouble assumptions
Haptic ways of knowing. Thinking with your skin.
Touching is believing
To keep experimenting against the silence
To attend to affective alterities
The Imagination is also a place of struggle

RiDE: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance. Call for proposals Themed Issue: On Access in Applied Theatre and Drama Education (23,3. August 2018)

RiDE: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance

Call for proposals

Themed Issue: On Access in Applied Theatre and Drama Education (23,3. August 2018)

Guest Editors: Colette Conroy, University of Hull, UK, Adelina Ong, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, UK and Dirk Rodricks, OISE/University of Toronto, Canada.

This themed issue is an invitation to examine and interrogate access, an ordinary concept that grounds and motivates work across a variety of fields. One possible model might posit access as a physical act of opening a door to a pre-existing room: the politics of diversity in arts funding might be one example of this. Other notions of access could involve the dismantling of the conceptual and material world to make way for more fluid notions of access that alter the shape of society. Yet it may seem easier to understand access more by what it is not rather than what it is. The need for access is rooted in inaccessibility; through barriers. How might this deficit notion limit the ways in which we imagine access and accessibility in pedagogic, creative and research practices? How does one account for the relationship between access and power? Vincent Tinto (2008) posits that the utility in access lies in its ability to be a ‘revolving’ rather than an ‘open’ door. We extend Tinto’s theorisation to advocate for access and accessibility that is sustainable and persistently supportive.

Access is limited by capital but there are other dimensions to power at play in the ‘ever-shifting geometry of social/power relations’ (Massey 1994: 149), such as one’s ethnicity, gender, perceived mental health, physical impairments or learning abilities. But even as one is granted conditional access, does this reinforce the exclusion of others? Does access reinforce compliance to social expectations that suppress dissent? What role might theatre/drama play in creating such access, and what is the experience of space and place after gaining access? What control does one have within the sphere accessed, and is it possible to change the conditions of access for others from within? Are tradeoffs made in order to gain access, and if so, what is lost in the process?

Access is a concern of cultural disability studies and disability activism. The aesthetics of access or access-aesthetics is a practice that assumes and interpellates disabled audiences, creating multiple and simultaneous rich and integral experiences that can be experienced differently but simultaneously by different spectators. Does access as an artistic discipline offer a formal as well as an ethical transformation of culture and cultural artefacts? Is access concerned with hermeneutics, with the appeal to meaning, or with the creation of a more inclusive sensorium? What impact might access-aesthetics (and participation) have beyond the artist’s intervention or performance? Access can be seen both as necessary (if we cannot gain access we remain outside) and also naïve; an insufficient response to the problems it seems to solve. Is access a political stepping stone or a theoretical trip hazard?

Access is not one single moment or just one thing. It is layered and relative to time and place. It offers the potential to place different aesthetics, pedagogies, and practices in conversation with each other. It allows for a multiplicity of stories because no two individuals have an identical relationship to the similar access they share. Sara Ahmed’s (2004) work on the ‘cultural politics of emotion’, offers a useful provocation to this issue: rather than what it is, what does access do? This call invites proposals that demonstrate how social theatre and drama education practices mobilise and engage with “access” conceptually and empirically. Contributions might address the following provocations:

How do artists, practitioners, educators, and scholars engage with issues of access in our aesthetic and intellectual practice?
Which practices take up or displace the values (and impact) of cultural capital or elitism in a neoliberal world?
What sorts of practices and operations enhance or enable access and accessibility?
Is access always a social good?

In responding to these questions, proposals might focus on:
The social (de)construction and performance of access/Philosophy of access
The ethics of access
Access aesthetics and sustainable social impact
Theatre, drama, and the politics of mobility, including access to free markets and movement of labour
Access, education, and drama in neoliberal times, including access agreements/legislation
Access at the intersections of social identities
Issues of “voice” and “story”
Access as translation
Access and the environment/environmentalism
Measuring access and accessibility
(Un)Tangling the “creative commons” – Drama research and public culture
Cultural disability studies
Limits, or expanded dimensions, to national imaginaries created by access.
Digital access/the intellectual accessibility of research and scholarship
DIY, makeshift, and “pop-up” theatres
Disruptive modes of creative enterprise

Format
The themed issue will feature a mix of research articles (c6000 words), documents ( up to c1500 words) and online outputs (10 – 15 minutes approximately). Documents may include project descriptions, manifestos, provocations, letters and/or photo essays as well as other modes of expression. Online outputs might include recorded conversations with and between researchers, drama educators and theatre-makers involved in cross-cultural multi-site projects, annotated clips of performance, etc. All research articles will undergo rigorous peer review, based on initial editor screening and refereeing by at least two anonymous referees.

Please send 300 word proposals for articles, documents and online outputs, with short biographies to Adelina Ong [adelina.ong@cssd.ac.uk].

Timeframe
Expressions of interest: 16th December 2016
First drafts: 1st August 2017
Final drafts: January 2018
Final copy deadline: May 2018
Publication: 1st August 2018

References
Ahmed, S. (2004) The Cultural Politics of Emotion, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press.

Massey, D.B. (1994) Space, Place And Gender, Cambridge, Polity.

Tinto, V. (2008) Access Without Support is not Opportunity, Paper presented at the annual meeting of the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development, University of Texas at Austin, May 26, 2008.

Please contact us with any questions or suggestions: C.Conroy@hull.ac.uk

For information about RiDE: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance and its remit please visit: http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/crde20/current

A Postcard: In Lieu of Being Home

On 31 March 2016 there was a Townhall meeting organised to discuss the artistic direction of The Substation.

The Substation’s tagline is ‘A Home for the Arts’ (The Substation 2016).

It is difficult to be so far from ‘home’, not being able to fully participate in discussions about its future. So these are some initial thoughts, in lieu of being present, being there. Being ‘home’.  

11 December 2015: The Substation’s new artistic director, Alan Oei, announces plans to phase out venue hire at The Substation and major renovations of the space so that it will be able to house two artists, for two months residencies throughout the year.

January 2016: The Substation announces the end of its dedicated film programme Moving Images, as well as First Takes, a platform where budding filmmakers presented new films to their first audience.

February 2016: Punk gig organiser Shaiful Risan laments the closure of well-managed, independent venues for ‘noisy people’ (Risan in Atmos 2016). Artist Godwin Koay points out that ‘we never owned this space’, a testament to ‘a failure of its many users to stand against pressures coming from state driven trajectories of growth’ (Koay 2016).

Where are the places for practices that challenge our understanding of what ‘art’ or ‘performance’ is in Singapore? Are these places negotiated, or claimed/appropriated? Is a ‘Home for the Arts’ built or allocated?

I remember the Substation, including its garden and the S11 nearby, as a place that supported a diversity of local artists who were pushing the boundaries of disciplines in their effort to express themselves. I remember the garden as the site of the first SRT Young Company performance directed by Wendy Ng in 1997. As an untested actress feeling my way around the theatre scene in Singapore, the garden was a place for exploration. The beautiful trees offered their branches for mischievous climbing (though you had to be prepared to get bitten by ants) and its roots offered a place to curl up in when you needed some solace (mosquitoes notwithstanding). I would return many times to The Substation theatre (Fall of the House of Usher (1999); Saturday Night (1998); Performing Words (2003)), its garden (Peace Concert (2003); a monologue from Caryl Churchill’s Cloud 9 (1999)) such that when I started to understand what my practice might be, The Substation seemed like the best place for testing that practice through performances like Postcards from Persephone (2000), projects like Digital Compassion ‘02 (2002) and ‘street x art’ experiments like Pulp (2003).   

Over and above that infrastructural support provided by The Substation, was the ecosystem created by the many Substation artists, and practitioners, who took the time to challenge young practitioners like me, always informally, at places like S11. Lee Weng Choy once said in an interview,

Art is a public conversation. Art is about having a public, no matter how small that public is. That’s been at the core of what The Substation does: it allows for individualism and it recognizes that individualism has to have its public, and its community. We’ve always been doing that; it’s a role that hasn’t lost any relevance or urgency (Lee in Martin 2013).

Are these places for untested artists disappearing? Is this what made The Substation a ‘home’? And if a home for provocative expression is something that many artists seek to defend, what are the shared responsibilities of nurturing an environment for the arts that enables this expression?

At the same time, I am aware of the trappings of comfort, familiarity, belonging – concepts that one might associate with the word ‘home’. Acceptance that can turn into tacit conformism. At Space, Spaces, And Spacing, a Substation Conference in 1995, T. Sasitharan cautioned against subscribing to the narratives of smallness that limit our imagination. He also said that ‘the worst thing about this lie…tied to the story of smallness, is the notion that space here for the arts too is necessarily small and limited. And we have bought this without subsequently learning the strategies of reclamation’ (Sasitharan [1995] 1996: 55). This narrative of smallness is an idea that feels quite relevant today, in light of the Townhall meeting, even as Sasitharan reminds us that ‘culture and the arts are hardy, desert flowers, quite capable of blooming if they have to in barren, hostile landscapes’ (Ibid.).

Is the Substation the only place where untested artists who have yet to build a body of work can enter into meaningful conversations with experienced arts administrators and discover collaborative ways of making with more established artists/practitioners? Are there other places where one might meet with more established artists who are still exploring the limits of their practice and in doing so, be challenged to deepen their own practice? And if not, should this not prompt us who care about the growth of the arts community in Singapore to create more opportunities for emerging artists to do so? Perhaps, like bell hooks once said ‘I had to leave that space I called home to move beyond boundaries, yet I needed also to return there….At times, home is nowhere. At times, one knows only extreme estrangement and alienation. Then home is no longer just one place. It is locations.’ (hooks 1990: 148). Home is a place that is made and often, it is through struggle that one secures some semblance of the environmental conditions that one associates with home.  

So even as I recognise that the Substation was ‘home’ in many ways for me, I’ve gleaned (through various conversations with young artists, certainly not a critical mass) that this is what seems to be lacking in Singapore now. There’s need to create more places for young artists to engage with, and possibly collaborate with, those who are established and who continue to grow their practice in the arts community. The Substation should not be the only place where this is possible. It should be one of many and it is up to us to make it so.

Finally, some thoughts and responses to the FAQs and the information releases that have been put out over the last month:

#1 The Substation hasn’t changed. Everything has!

A Home for Making, Not Showing

6. The Sub has become a home for showing – exhibitions, programmes, screenings, etc. It is providing content rather than artistic vision…

7. The Sub should refocus on how to fulfill Kuo’s vision of making – putting process, practice, thought and experimentation above the final product – in the complex landscape.

As The Substation moves towards research-oriented (and process-focussed) Artists-in-Residencies (AiR), I wonder if there might be a false binary drawn here between ‘making’ and ‘showing’ in performance/practice-research. As an applied theatre practitioner and researcher my experiments often take the form of workshops that inform the practice that I’m developing. The workshop is a form of sharing (‘showing’) what my practice is, even though it is still a practice-in-the-making. And I gather, from what I’ve heard/seen of my colleagues who are engaged in practice-as-research that some form of showing (conference presentations, work-in-progress sharing sessions) is an important part of making for them. In Central School of Speech and Drama, there is also an annual showcase for Practice-as-Research PhD candidates called Collisions. Collisions feels like a work-in-progress showing with the valuable opportunity of opening up the research process thus far to the audience and inviting perspectives that very often are a useful source of ideas when one gets stuck. So while it might be useful to highlight to funders that the AiR will not be outcome-oriented, perhaps it is also worth keeping in mind that making and showing are not exclusive, and can occur simultaneously, organically expressing itself as mixtures of both in performance/practice research.

#2  Mar 4: Artists have real stakes

Reading through the transcripts of the earliest Substation Conferences (Lee 1995; Lee 1996; Kwok et al. 1999), the Substation’s 25th anniversary book (Wong 2015), and the two documents on The Substation’s website: ‘The History of The Substation’ (Wong [no date]) and ‘The Role of The Substation in Singapore’s Arts Scene’ (Lee [no date]), I get the impression that The Substation, and many of its Associate Artists, have always been conscious of the ways in which their practice has ‘real stakes’. This was not just an awareness and aspiration regarding the role of the arts in Singapore. They were also very conscious of how the global and the local are fluid, constantly changing yet mutually constituted, not just within the arts, but also on many intersecting social and political issues of concern.

The Candlelight Concert for Peace at the Substation in 2003 might perhaps be cited as one such example. Even though there were those, including former journalist Chua Lee Hoong, who dismissed the event as a ‘postured defiance of societal norms’ and stated that she would rather donate the money saved on candles to Mercy Relief (Chua 2003), given the restrictions placed upon protests in Singapore (then?), such artistic events made visible the ‘we’ who opposed the pre-emptive war in Iraq.

FAQs:The true measure of when it’s successful again is when its independent voice can resonate at a national level.  For us to do that, it also means that it cannot just be the arts community supporting The Sub. It needs a larger traction of middle class Singaporeans so that for instance, when we have disagreements with the State, it cannot arbitrarily pressure us. But that is not to say that we are deliberate troublemakers, but that we want to be able to talk about difficult things in serious ways using the arts – to discuss about issues in measured and balanced ways’ (Oei 2016).

In desiring to cultivate a certain middle class profile of supporters for The Substation, there seems to be an assumption of some majority consensus in opinion amongst middle-income individuals. But this seems misguided, particularly when people often take positions on issues that concern a loss of place (like MacRitchie) based on personal values that may not be related to social or cultural capital that relates so neatly to income levels.

The ‘we’ present at the Candlelight Concert for Peace (2003) was constituted by people of all income levels, mostly across the arts community but there were also those who would not consider themselves artists. They felt it was important to be there, to visibly form the ‘we’ who did not support the war. To borrow from Judith Butler’s speech at Occupy Wall Street, where every line was repeated (in italics below) by the crowd so that all gathered could hear the message:

We’re standing here together making democracy

We’re standing here together making democracy

Enacting the phrase

Enacting the phrase

‘We the people’

‘We the people’ (Butler et al. 2011)

This was not a ‘we’ formed by consensus. This was a ‘we’ that had many different perspectives on alternative economic systems and what ‘fair’ might be. But that pluralism is representative of ‘we the people’.

And as The Substation strives towards making ‘its independent voice resonate at a national level’, I would argue that it is important to remember that the ‘we’ emerges from people who care enough, regardless of ‘class’. Courting influence should not be undertaken at the expense of Substation’s credibility (built up over the last 25 years through its support of diversity) in representing that collection of alternative voices regardless of how niche they might be.

And losing that credibility would be a shame because, I suggest, that representing the complex pluralism of the ‘we’ and persuading people to care enough, is precisely where the influence of the arts lies.

Returning to the Townhall meeting: I couldn’t be there, to physically form the ‘we’ concerned about matters of ‘home’. So this is a virtual postcard that hopefully contributes a little to that conversation. And if all this was already covered, already discussed, please do share so that those who cannot be there might have some news of ‘home’.

Bibliography

Atmos (2016) Perspectives: The Substation, atmos, http://atmos.sg/perspectives-the-substation/ (accessed 31.3.16).

Butler (2011) Judith Butler At Occupy Wall Street. Liberty Square, New York City. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVpoOdz1AKQ (accessed 31.3.16).

Chua, L.H. (2003) ‘Me? I’d Rather Save The Money On Candles…’, The Straits Times, 2.4.03: 18. http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Issue/straitstimes20030402-1.aspx (accessed 31.3.16).

Koay, G. ‘We never owned this space: Beyond the rupture of the New Substation’, Medium, 2016, https://medium.com/@godwinkoay/we-never-owned-this-space-8f864dc05eed (accessed 31.3.16).

Kwok, K.W., Kwa, C.G., Kong, L. & Yeoh, B.S.A. (eds.) (1999) Our Place In Time: Exploring Heritage And Memory In Singapore, Singapore, Singapore Heritage Society.

Lee, W.C. (no date)

a) Artistic Mission, the substation, http://www.substation.org/about-us/artistic-mission/ (accessed 9.3.16)a).

b) The Substation’s Role in Singapore’s Art Scene, . http://www.substation.org/wp-content/uploads/The-Substation%E2%80%99s-Role-in-Singapore%E2%80%99s-Art-Scene_LeeWengChoy.pdf (accessed 31.3.16).

Lee, W.C. & Davis, L. (2003) An Active Civil Society is Central to the Anti-War Cause, think centre singapore, http://www.thinkcentre.org/article.php?id=2024 (accessed 4.3.16).

Martin, M. (2013) ‘The Substation! Old photos! Small talk with the artistic directors!’, TODAYonline, http://m.todayonline.com/blogs/forartssake/substation-old-photos-small-talk-artistic-directors, 18.01.13 (accessed 8.3.16).

Oei, A. ‘BACKGROUND / EARLIER PROPOSAL MAY 12 2015’, Scribd, 2015, https://www.scribd.com/doc/300578396/BACKGROUND-EARLIER-PROPOSAL-MAY-12-2015-By-Alan-Oei (accessed 5.3.16).

Oei, A. (2016)

a) Mar 4: ARTISTS HAVE REAL STAKES, facebook, https://www.facebook.com/thesubstation/posts/1213880811976194, 04.03.16 (accessed 1.4.16).

b) FAQs –The Substation Walk-in Sessions 2016, facebook, https://www.facebook.com/notes/the-substation/faqs-the-substation-walk-in-sessions-2016/1215580978472844, 07.03.16 (accessed 01.4.16).

Sasitharan, T. (1996) ‘Art Here: What Price Space?’ in Space, Spaces, And Spacing: The Substation Conference 1995, Singapore, The Substation

Wong, A. (no date) The History of The Substation, The Substation, http://www.substation.org/about-us/history/ (accessed 03.03.16).

—– (ed.) (2015) 25 Years Of The Substation: Reflections On Singapore’s First Independent Arts Centre, Singapore, The Substation/Ethos Books.

 

Dreaming @Substation S11

10pm
this is when it begins.
hunger makes the food taste good.
everyone’s there
after rehearsals or an opening
unwinding over food and
milo-ping.

casual conversations
fall into reminiscing
18@Substation S11
I learnt about theatre
that mattered.
it was better than clubbing.

tables join
straws are wound into roses
that unfurl into ribbons
a vague, seemingly ridiculous idea
finds collaborators and
a project takes shape.
the last bus passes,
but it doesn’t matter.
capturing that moment
when an idea finds its form
means more
at S11.

3am
the rain beats down.
I faintly remember the sound it made on the tin roof.
the smell of hot soup.
how windy it can be when it rains.
warm-up with another teh alia.
someone starts drumming on tables and singing
and I start to join in.

on a cold rainy night @Substation
S11 throbs with dreams.
some intensely saturated green neon sign.
shifting forms
bleeding into bright white light…
where nothing seemed impossible.