TAASA Review Issues

September 1992

Vol: 1 Issue: 4
Editors: Heleanor Feltham & Christina Sumner

Cover Photo
Utagawa Toyoharu (1735 – 1814). ‘Portrait of a Courtesan’ (YUJO), 1780s. Hanging scroll, ink and colours on silk.

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Editorial

Heleanor Feltham

Recent discussions have brought into focus the issue of Australian artistic exchange with Asia, a topic which must concern all TAASA members, whether as participants or as art/culture ‘consumers’. Increasingly, academics, practicing artists, representatives of art schools, curators and arts policy makers are exchanging ideas and experiences and looking at the implications for artists, schools of art, and public and private galleries.

One point that inevitably emerges is that the amorphous, other-coloured, concept of ‘Asia’ is a wholly Western construct, and that few members of the diverse nations and cultures that constitute ‘Asia’ would define themselves as ‘Asians’. (But then how would we define ourselves? Primarily as Australians, but then as what? Europeans? Westerners? We don’t even have the advantage of a relatively coherent geological region, let alone a uniformity of culture.) Indeed, for many cultures the term can be regarded as an offensive unwillingness on our part to recognize cultural separateness.

With that distinction, and returning to dividing the world in two with all the insouciance of Spain and Portugal parcelling out the known world of the sixteenth century, it is still possible to look at ‘Asian’/ Australian cultural exchange. And on the positive side the policy-makers of the Australia Council can point to a swing from a mere 15% of its overseas programs budget expenditure on Asian projects in 1989 (the other 85% relating to Europe and North America), to an almost even distribution of funds between East and West. All this resulting as much from the need to facilitate an existing and increasingly strong demand, as from the new Australia Council directives. The recently opened Australia Centre in Manila (see our Letters page) is a good example of initiatives designed to promote cultural exchange and assist Australian artists to be self-sufficient overseas. Asia-based studios are also increasingly in demand, with the Tokyo studio now overwhelmingly the most popular venue.

Cultural relations are also increasing with funds going to initiatives such as ARX (Artists Regional Exchange program), travelling exhibitions, individual exchange visits and so on. Not least the planned 1993 Queensland Art Gallery Triennial which, in its planning stages, has already accumulated a data base of over 2000 items on Southeast Asia and Indochina – books, magazine articles, reviews and other material.

Unfortunately there is a downside to this, and it largely results from a failure to date to establish an effective network and base for the acquisition and distribution of information. Knowledge of traditional arts of many Asian cultures is often excellent. Knowledge of contemporary arts practice is more often fragmented and partial and this lack is exacerbated by a general lack of information. How often do we find out about an exhibition after it closes? How often does a visiting artist address an embarrassingly small audience because the rest of us had no idea the talk was on? How do we get access to critical appraisal of arts movements in Asia?

Equally what mechanisms are there to ensure that the Australian artist in Asia on an exchange program acts effectively and with understanding of local mores? In countries recently freed from, and sensitive to, the colonial process, the ‘artist in residence’ can look like yet another form of cultural imperialism. If the artist, unbriefed and unaware of local attitudes, then proceeds to offend the local community, who is to blame? The artist? A system that drops the artist in off the deep end as a pseudo-ambassador without the skills or knowledge essential to the task? An informational net-working failure?

One area where the groundwork for a more effective exchange is taking place is the art schools. Dedicated to the education of practicing, professional artists, their brief has gone far beyond simple training in art history and technical skills. Most are establishing international networks, instituting visiting artist and lecturer programs with strong Asian participation (The Canberra School of Art is particularly active in this area), encouraging overseas student enrolment and generally promoting cultural reciprocity.

Exhibitions, of the work of Asian artists and of Australian artists influenced by Asia, provide direct experience of ‘cultural exchange’, and act as a forum for debate. But exhibitions are also part of a complex two-way traffic that involves tourism, presentation of ‘approved’ cultural views, hidden protocols and broader political agenda. Art Gallery blockbuster or small private showing, exhibitions need to be ‘read’ with a degree of sensitivity and subtlety as well as ‘experienced’ – and without a forum for the dispersal of cultural information, without an effective system of networking and communication, that ability will be limited to a very small, select coterie.

Ideally this dispersal should involve other specialists, as yet poorly represented in these discussions; those with expertise in Asian language, culture, economics, politics and the like. And no matter how active, well-funded, or ‘trans-culturally virtuous’ our exchanges with Asia may become, without a means of distributing the knowledge gained by these processes, this activity will be vitiated and largely marginalised. If Australia is to become a viable unit of the Asia-Pacific region, then an understanding of the cultures of our region is essential and must of its nature include the expression of those cultures through both traditional and contemporary arts. The unrepresented group in all these discussions was the ‘cultural consumer’; those who visit the exhibitions, buy the artworks, watch the performances, read the articles, and, now and then, front up at the lectures; without being active participants in the cultural process. Unless this group is also linked into the network, is enabled to participate knowledgeably, Australian artistic exchange with Asia will remain a recondite and mandarin affair.

Table of contents

READERS LETTERS 

COMMENT – Carl Andrew

OBITUARY KEN AND YASUKO MYER – Edmund Capon

YASUKO MYER AND THE COLLECTION OF CONTEMPORARY JAPANESE PRINTS AT THE ART GALLERY OF NEW SOUTH WALES – Jackie Menzies

KENNETH MYER JAPANESE ACQUISITIONS AT THE ART GALLERY OF NEW SOUTH WALES – Jackie Menzies

10  THE TEXTILE TRADITIONS OF INDIA – Christina Sumner

13  BRAHMA TIRTA SARI – James Bennett

14  THE YIN AND YANG OF JAPANESE ARCHITECTURE THE KATSURA DETACHED PALACE AND THE NIKKO TOSHO-GU – Peter Ryland

17  THE ART OF BONSAI – Dorothy Koreshoff

18  ASIAN FILMS AT THE 39TH SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL – Heleanor Feltham

20  IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN OBJECTS IN PUBLIC COLLECTIONS
TRADITIONAL ART OF BALI – Sue Tuckwell: The Australian Museum
MIAO FESTIVAL JACKETS & JEWELLRY FROM CHINA – Claire Roberts: The Powerhouse Museum

23  WHAT’S ON Items on exhibitions and lectures

29  IDENTITIES: CHIN KHAM YOKE – Heleanor Feltham

30  AROUND THE GALLERIES – Lynette Cunnington

31  TAASA MEMBERS LIST 

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