From canvas to stage – Where ARTERI started and where it’s going
Whereas today’s ARTERI works to support and promote local performing arts, the first ARTERI focused primarily (though not exclusively) on the visual arts both in Malaysia and South East Asia. The original ARTERI team included two curators: Eva McGovern and co-founder Simon Soon. Here they both talk about life during and after ARTERI, and their feelings about the site’s revival.
What have you been up to since readers last heard from you on ARTERI?
Simon: In 2011, after two active years of blogging, ARTERI entered into a phase of gradual demise. The reasons for this are many. On my end, I accepted a scholarship to pursue further studies in Southeast Asian modern art history. This also marked my loss of interest in contemporary art and my withdrawal from active involvement in the contemporary art ecologies that sustain it. I returned to my first love, which is making sense of art from the recent past.
Eva: I continued to write and curate, working as the Head of Regional Programmes for Valentine Wille Fine Art until the last gallery closed in 2014. I now live in Manila, Philippines and have been working with the international auction house, Christie’s, as the Consultant for the Philippines handling business development across all departments. I have also been working on a publication entitled: No Chaos No Party: 28 Artists in Metro Manila. This is an interview based project focusing on a diverse group of contemporary Philippine artists who share what it is like to live and work in a perfectly imperfect city such as Metro Manila.
What did the original ARTERI mean to you?
Simon: When ARTERI was established in 2009, the interest was in developing a public for the visual arts through a kind of blogging experiment to ‘follow art wherever it goes’. On many fronts we succeeded splendidly and have produced articles that range from serious to jokey, from gonzo to reflective, from tabloid/sensational to highbrow. It is this mix and uneven quality that marks the success of the blogging initiative, while ensuring that the blog remained an endless source of entertainment, both for us and the audience, throughout its run. ARTERI was valuable in that it taught me not to turn every opportunity into an act of rationalising or moralising about art and its relevance. Art can make little and no sense too, whether it is in a form of frivolous gesture or in a form that is intellectually opaque. We each take different things from it.
Eva: I joined ARTERI when I returned to Malaysia after living and working abroad for many years. At that time it felt like there were quite a few people who had entered this new phase like me (including the ARTERI editors) so it was an exciting period where we wanted to contribute something meaningful, accessible and fun for our community. And I’d like to think that it was fun and meaningful and accessible and we learnt a lot from each other as well as from our contributors and audience. It wasn’t easy to keep the site going or always agree on the direction, but we tried and I miss sparring with Simon and Sharon over content, projects and the state of the Malaysian and regional art scenes.
How do you feel about ARTERI’s revival and new direction?
Eva: I am very happy that ARTERI will have a second life, and that our archives will be available to the public. There was a huge amount of content generated that captured a particular moment in time that will be useful for new and existing audiences to access. I hope that the new direction goes from strength to strength and wish the new ARTERI team all the best!
Simon: I am cautiously excited about ARTERI’s revival. While the focus on performing arts is an indication of a healthy growth of the ‘industry’, I am also wary of the increasing professionalisation of the arts. The language that is used to speak of this field, as ‘industry’ or as ‘community’, is unsettling for someone who feels that such goals could inadvertently shape the culture industry into a depoliticised handmaiden of the neo-liberal economic engine. Perhaps the original mandate needs to be followed much more attentively, which is ‘following art wherever it goes’. This means an act of active listening and research. Also, no one should dictate the terms of how art can and should be engaged. In doing so, one dwells within the realm of possibility, and entertains both prospect and prohibition, without being entrenched in one’s own idealism. Idealism after all forecloses all other possibilities that do not align neatly with its vision.
About Simon and Eva
Simon Soon is a dilettante interested in twentieth century art and visual culture of Asia. He has completed a PhD at the University of Sydney under an Australian Postgraduate Award scholarship where he wrote a thesis on left-leaning art organisations in Indonesia, Malaya, the Philippines and Thailand between the 1950s and 1970s. He is also a member of the editorial collective of SOUTHEAST OF NOW: Directions in Contemporary and Modern Art, a new refereed journal to be published in 2016. He will be joining the University of Malaya as senior lecturer at the Cultural Centre.
Eva McGovern has a background in art history, curating and writing. She has worked across museums and commercial galleries in London, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Jogjakarta and Manila. Currently she is the Christie’s Consultant for the Philippines and is editing an interview focused book on contemporary Philippine art due for publication later in 2016. Eva is based in Manila, Philippines, but misses Kuala Lumpur a lot.