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SCAN: Asia Art Archive at The Substation

Archiving history face to face

Keith Gallasch talks to Angela Seng

Angela Seng is the Asia Art Archive Librarian, one of 4 full-time staff employed by this unique, not-for-profit, Hong Kong-based organisation. As well there are part-time researchers in Beijing, Taipei, Tokyo and Singapore who conduct interviews, write profiles, attend openings and take photographs. Seng says that this face to face contact is vital for the archive, ensuring a palpable presence and encouraging artists, companies and galleries to contribute materials. At MAAP the archive was certainly making its presence felt, installed in The Substation's gallery space and inviting artists to visit, to meet staff and to donate catalogues, programs, brochures and photographs. Its first and current executive director, Claire Hsu, founded the Asia Art Archive in 2000 in collaboration with Chang Tsong-zung and Ronald Arculli.

The Asia Art Archive (AAA) is both a physical 2,500 square foot office and library in Hong Kong, freely accessible to the public, and a virtual space offering online catalogues (the first became available in March 2003) and a database. For the moment the archive is not collecting videos and DVDs of performance.

Angela Seng herself is responsible for the cataloguing, aided by 2 part-time assistants. Keeping up with the influx of material is hard work, especially given the broad definition adopted by the archive of what comprises Asian art, but Seng is eager for more material, and that's why she's at Substation. AAA covers not only artists working in Asia, but also Asian artists working in Europe, America and elsewhere.

AAA is building its initial collections by region acquiring printed material from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macao and then focusing on two or more new countries each year, to include South East and South Asia.

There's also strong interest in artists from non-Asian countries producing work about Asia or influenced by Asian aesthetics. Australia alone could contribute a substantial amount of material, especially from works of the 1980s onwards.

In Asia, the 1990s have provided a treasure trove of materials, however those of the 1980s, says Seng, are more difficult to collect. The plethora of underground activity in a number of countries in the 80s was more likely to yield ephemeral leaflets rather than catalogues.

How does AAA function financially? Seng explains that the archive was established with a one-year development grant from the Hong Kong government but the majority of funds accrue from a number of sources: sponsorship from the Hong Kong Jockey Club (specifically for the collecting of books and materials on Hong Kong arts), donations, individual and sizeable corporate memberships and annual fundraising events. For the latter an auction is held with donations of works from artists and an accompanying for-sale exhibition catalogue.

The archive's other activities include major symposiums on the collecting and archiving of Asian art, with guests from the region as well as from Australia and New York's MoMA. AAA is also a publisher: its massive catalogue of an exhibition of contemporary, exhilarating and often provocative Chinese art was co-produced with Espace Cardin, Paris. Contemporary Asian Art Forum: Links Platforms Networks (2004) is the published account of the 2003 forum of the same name. It includes papers from Lee Weng Choy (The Substation), Alison Carroll (Asialink) and Heri Dono (Yogyakarta-based artist) among others.

In "Asia: A Collaborative Space 'Under Construction' (Contemporary Asian Art Forum: Links Platforms Networks), Yasuko Furuichi of the Japan Foundation, Tokyo comments on "the relationship of interdependence within the region, as countries broadly and deeply influence each other's societies and cultures." He sees this as part of "a search…for Asian art that does not represent a western definition…but is defined by Asians themselves." The Asia Art Archive reaches well beyond Hong Kong to embody both this spirit of positive interdependence and provides the opportunity to grasp the range and particularities of contemporary Asian art.

Asia Art Archive, 2/F no.8 Wah Koon Building, 181-191 Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong; tel (852) 2815 1112; fax (852) 2815 0032; [email protected];

SCAN, Asia Art Archive, The Substation, MAAP in Singapore, Oct 27-Nov 13

RealTime issue #64 Dec-Jan 2004 pg.

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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