» Magazine Connecting Asia and Europe through arts and culture Thu, 29 Jan 2015 06:34:22 +0000 en-US hourly 1 By people / In cities: Bangkok | city profile Fri, 16 Jan 2015 08:45:04 +0000 David Fernández

This month culture360 contributor David Fernandez introduces the Thai capital city Bangkok. In this article he describes the current panorama of contemporary arts & culture, focusing mainly on the creative industries and especially in the generation of new alternative platforms of creative expression that are starting to attract international attention, apart from other renowned public-funded cultural outlets.   Read More

The post By people / In cities: Bangkok | city profile appeared first on

This month culture360 contributor David Fernandez introduces the Thai capital city Bangkok. In this article he describes the current panorama of contemporary arts & culture, focusing mainly on the creative industries and especially in the generation of new alternative platforms of creative expression that are starting to attract international attention, apart from other renowned public-funded cultural outlets. 

1Bangkok, Thailand´s bustling capital city, Southeast Asia’s second largest with 11m inhabitants, is trying to reinvent itself for the 21st century. Under the constant political turmoil and pressure from newly industrialized neighboring countries, Thailand´s authorities have tried to shift its future development direction from the previous industrialized led to the creative driven economy. As a result, the multi-faceted Thai metropolis has changed dramatically over the past years, turning into a creative environment that is different from what most people outside the country would expect.

Bangkok’s fast growth has caused a stark contrast between traditional and contemporary lifestyles. Following the financial crisis in 1997, Bangkok local officials quickly accepted the prescription that creative economy is fast-growing, value-adding and essential to economic development, and that creative people need special environments to flourish.

Nowadays, those conditions are clearly visible on the case of Bangkok, both by fostering creative industries such as design, fashion, film and gastronomy and drawing creative workforce from around the world. At the same time, it highlights also the increasing importance of the creative industries as an artistic and cultural expression, and recalls that they constitute an essential element of tourism, one of the main sectors in Thailand.

Moreover, the rise of creative collectives of highly educated and innovative people in Bangkok is noticeably shown as agents of change that replace and supports local governments as the engine of local development. Bangkok’s creative class is an active and dynamic community that enjoys customizing new global trends while revisiting local cultural heritage, presenting Bangkok as a hotbed of creativity, constantly redefining its cityscape as well as its cuisine, fashion and contemporary art scene.

“Bangkok possesses excellent conditions for incubating art scenes as it is relatively cheap, resources are of a good quality and the city isn’t zoned so carries a certain visceral and dynamic interest that should feed the creative mindset. – Brian Curtin, Independent Curator and art lecturer.”


Creative Bangkok

Since the late 2000s, primarily two public cultural institutions have been pushing the local creative/cultural scene: Thailand Creative Design Centre (TCDC) and Bangkok Art Cultural Centre (BACC). Both emerged with the aim of fostering creative and cultural exchanges, connecting creativity with business practices, promote cultural tourism and establish creative networks in Bangkok.

On one hand, since opening its doors back in 2006, TCDC has taken on the task of laying the groundwork for creativity stimulation and providing a knowledge center for Thai society, but also promoting “Creative Thailand”, a campaign to raise public awareness towards the creative economy concept and to promote the creative entrepreneurs as the key element of Thai economic driving force.

On the other hand, BACC, the hub of Bangkok’s burgeoning art scene, remains the catalyst of art and cultural understanding as well as a meeting place for artists, to provide arts & cultural programmes for the local community. The Center is considered today an invaluable hive to experiment, to open new grounds for regional cultural dialogue and networking and to create new cultural resources from both the public and the private sectors. It has been also intended as a venue for cultural exchange, giving Bangkok an operational base on the international art scene that has yet to reach regional significance.

 According to Ms. Nunnaree Panichkul, Senior Curator at Thailand Creative & Design Center “the cultural scene vibrant and colourful; I think we have seen many interesting projects happening around Bangkok, big and small, with a wide range of activities from plays to performance, from a small degree shows to full-scale exhibitions. More players and more spaces are making our city a place where you can enjoy all kinds of creative fun, if you know where and when to look for.” 


Fragmented Arena

Despite TCDC and BACC consistent long-termed efforts, it seems like most top-down official attempts to centralize Bangkok’s creative scene have inevitably failed in the last decade. In contrast, a noticeable evolution has been experienced in regards the art & cultural contexts in Bangkok, mainly due to the fact that at large number of small, independent multi-disciplinary art spaces have been emerging lately all over the city.

I think the scene is fragmented, in terms of geography and communities. There’s still quite a divide between Thai and foreign creative communities, but it’s not black and white, and there’s a lot of crossovers. This growth feels organic; it doesn’t feel overly competitive or territorial, either. It’s quite cool that on a good night you can have a handful of “must-see” art events worth zipping all over town for. – Carl Dixon, Deputy Editor at BK Magazine

It is the case of Soy Sauce Factory, Thonglor Art Space, Brownstone Studios, The Jam Factory Bridge, Studio Lam, CEO Books and Cho Why to name just a few of the recent additions to the Bangkok creative map  – plus earlier ones like The Reading Room, The Space, WTF and Speedy Grandma. All very remarkable yet inspiring interdisciplinary outlets that evidence Bangkok´s current cultural resurgence and how the emerging creative community is responding to the traditional shortage of dialogue between music, theatre, film, visual art and other creative fields in Bangkok. Although in recent years the city has gone through very dramatic circumstances, the shared feeling is that Bangkok holds genuine potential and has still plenty of margin for creative development, not exempt from significant challenges.

The creative community in Bangkok is as vibrant as it has always been but maybe less so because of the ups and downs of the political situation in the past decade.  My main issue with the creative community is that it hasn’t engaged critically and creatively in Thailand’s sociopolitical climate that much (if at all). There are indeed some interesting and relevant works from the film community during the past few sociopolitical upheavals and their aftermath, but not much else from practitioners in other creative fields. This suggests a creative community/industry that is strangely apolitical and moderate (as opposed to the universal impression of the arts/cultural community as progressive/subversive). - Kyo Pathomvat, Director at The Reading Room Director / Art Lecturer

At a certain level, all the above-mentioned groundbreaking platforms are succeeding, with very little public support, to regenerate the local scene by stimulating cross-discipline collaboration between different local artivists and push the boundaries of Bangkok´s creative fields by taking art out of the box, exploring, provoking and inspiring while catering unconventional, challenging initiatives for a culturally savvy but still very niche audience.

I think it’s amazing that despite a total lack of support from the government and very little funding the community is growing. There are plenty of new spaces that are run by a small group of very dedicated and hard-working artists who struggle to survive financially… yet keep on producing work. I think this very clearly shows the determination and spirit of the creative community in Bangkok. Nana Dakin, Performer and Co-Founder of B-Floor Theatre.

Despite the lack of public funding and the overly niche audience, thanks to the determination of this new emerging network of independent cultural players, and simultaneously to the established network of platforms, as well as other foreign cultural institutions  – including Japan Foundation, Alliance Française and Goethe Institut – that continue to steadily nurture and support local creative development, Bangkok has become an ‘eventful’ city, able to start raising awareness in the global creative city networks while shaping this fresh perception that seeks new dimensions for its very own cultural cityscape.

Consequently, it is fair to admit Bangkok is still at the beginning of its arc toward being a leading creative city, in transit from publicly-funded traditional culture to the self-sufficient innovative cultural industries, but poised to establish itself as a hub within the global arena in the next decade, moving from the metropolitan creative city of the country to a cosmopolitan creative city of the world.

Bangkok’s cultural scene continues to plant small flags in small venues in the cracks between a hyper-commercialized mainstream and traditional arts that have been memorialized but also lack support. In a climate so antagonistic to serious commentary – and to innovation – most creativity dwells on design or decorative arts, and avoids serious topics, favouring romantic, everyday, Buddhist, supernatural, comedic or nostalgic themes. Art and theatre have had the most leeway – mass-audience film, TV and writing the least – but even coded symbolism is finding limits. The flourishing I’ve witnessed here are at a low ebb right now. It’s not clear what might emerge as the next wave. – Phillip Cornwell-Smith, Author of Very Thai and editor of Time Out.


Started in 2012, By people / In cities is a series of articles and interviews that aims to enhance the understanding of art and culture in Southeast and East Asia through individual stories and perspectives including artists, cultural practitioners, and policy makers.


David Fernández is a Spanish-born contributing writer based in Bangkok, Thailand. Currently working as freelance arts & cultural project manager and digital media consultant for EUNIC Bangkok, he is also one of the co-founders of Cho Why multi-disciplinary project space. He previously co-founded Le Cool Bangkok arts & culture webzine and worked as content director. Formerly, he served as cultural attaché at the Embassy of Spain – Cultural Office in Bangkok.



The post By people / In cities: Bangkok | city profile appeared first on

]]> 0
Inspiring Tokyo. Culture, Innovation and Internationalisation Mon, 12 Jan 2015 02:54:28 +0000 Herman Bashiron Mendolicchio

Pushed, on one hand, by the need to extend cultural bridges and internationalise its collaborations and activities and, on the other hand, by the strong pressure to envisage and shape the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has organized – through its cultural arm, the TCCP, Tokyo Culture Creation Project – a very inspiring and stimulating Conference and International Visitors Programme.  Read More

The post Inspiring Tokyo. Culture, Innovation and Internationalisation appeared first on

Moments of the Tokyo Conference 2014

Moments of the Tokyo Conference 2014

November is one of the best months to visit Tokyo and one of the most intensive and exciting for its cultural and artistic activities.

Pushed, on one hand, by the need to extend cultural bridges and internationalise its collaborations and activities and, on the other hand, by the strong pressure to envisage and shape the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has organized – through its cultural arm, the TCCP, Tokyo Culture Creation Project – a very inspiring and stimulating Conference and International Visitors Program.

In its fourth edition, held in the capital city of Japan between November 6th and 15th, the TCCP and its partners have developed a very intensive program that began with the international Conference titled “Culture and Social Innovation: Cities of Cultural Creativity and Festivals”.

The conference, held as one of the events that mark the 20th anniversary of Tokyo-Berlin city partnership, was mainly focused on the issue of Festivals, their significance in cities and their contribution to cultural development. Some of the questions addressed, analysed and discussed during the conference were: What is the significance of holding festivals in cities in this modern 21st century world? What is the new value that is generated from festivals? What is the significance of festivals for the residents of a city? What is expected of the cultural policies and projects of local governments in the organization and support of festivals? What kind of festivals do we need in Tokyo from now on?

In the opening address, Mr. Kohei Torita, from The Tokyo Metropolitan Government, confirmed that the conference aimed to strengthen international cooperation and that the local institutions were meant to make Tokyo internationally renowned for art and culture. The city of Berlin co-hosted the event and Dr. Konrad Schmidt-Werthern, Head of the Department of Culture in the Senate Chancellery in Berlin, emphasised that many international artists choose to live and create in the cities of Tokyo and Berlin, stressing how artistic stimulus is essential to renovate societies.

The first keynote speech by Dr. Thomas Oberender, Artistic and Managing Director of Berliner Festspiele, addressed the origin, the character and the social contexts of festivals. Talking about several examples in history, from religious to cultural festivals, and about distinctions regarding sizes and contexts related to small or big cities, Dr. Oberender said that at the core of festivals we find the circulation of artworks and the creation of temporary communities. According to him, festivals create a different experience of art: on the one hand they provide the “extraordinary”, on the other hand they build the community. Festivals are continuous exceptions to the general rule, serve self-assurance and are network nodes. Another interesting point offered by Dr. Oberender was that festivals interact with traditional infrastructures and complete them. As one of his last remarks, the Director of Berliner Festspiele defined the 4 “i” of Festivalisation: internationality, intermediality, interculturality and interdisciplinarity.

The second keynote speech, delivered by Ms. Eriko Osaka, Director of Yokohama Art Museum, focused on a timeline of art biennales and triennales, highlighting the growth of these events in Asia in the last decades. In her presentation Ms. Osaka offered a general overview of the international contemporary art festivals and, more specifically, the evolution and expansion of Japanese biennials, triennials and art festivals. The change in the topography of contemporary art – which now sees Asia as a major player for art events – came along with a fast economical development in Asian countries. According to her discourse, contemporary art improves the quality of life and society through the power of creativity and imagination.

In the panel discussion, several international guest speakers debated, among other issues, the importance of arts for cities development; the role of festivals to make cities more attractive; the role of art and culture within the Olympic games; and the way how governments and local institutions think about festivals as opportunities for cultural, social and urban development.

Louise Jeffreys, Director of Arts at the Barbican Centre in London, talked about her experience of connecting the Barbican to the Cultural Olympiad in 2012. She stressed 5 key points that were essential for the vision and development of the international programme of the Cultural Olympiad: Quality, Local & Global, Partnership, Generosity and Legacy.

The presentation of Mihye Lim, from the Seoul Foundation for Arts and Culture, provided a general overview about how the government and local institutions in South Korea are investing hugely in art and culture. Economic growth, arts and creativity development, the improvement of the cultural life and togetherness in megacities like Seoul, are some of the goals of the current South-Korean cultural policy.

Yusuke Hashimoto, Program Director of Kyoto Experiment, talked about the last edition of the International Performing Arts Festival in Kyoto and stressed how one of the main aims of this event is to refresh the cultural identity of the city. Katsunori Miyoshi, Director General of Arts Council Tokyo, presented some of the activities of the public institutions he represents and described the Tokyo’s cultural resources. Mr. Moyoshi talked about specific events like the Roppongi Art Nights, and explained how the Arts Council Tokyo provides grants and support to artists and cultural professionals.

The conference represented a significant opportunity to discuss different values and to compare different cultural mechanisms at international level. Issues like access to culture, the role of art and culture within the different communities, the question of participation, the concern of funding, the intrinsic risks of festivals – that are often considered insecure structures – as well as the role, position and responsibility of the artists and the different cultural professionals, were taken into account during the discussion. Unfortunately a very short time was left for the audience and the discussion would have been surely richer with a greater involvement of the cultural professionals who attended the event.

In any case, what is most important is to stress how thinking together, sharing opinions, identifying areas of common interest, and strengthening international relationships are all essential keywords and goals in order to build a solid critical knowledge and shape the future of cultural collaboration.

The efforts of Tokyo and its local cultural institutions should go in this direction and make the best of its cultural investments in order to open up and maintain a space for international and constructive discussions and exchanges.


Useful links:

The post Inspiring Tokyo. Culture, Innovation and Internationalisation appeared first on

]]> 0
Green + Arts + Culture + Mobility: Towards an international equation? Thu, 11 Dec 2014 08:01:26 +0000

Contributed by Marie Le Sourd In one year, the 21st UN International Conference on Climate Change will take place in Paris from 30 November to 10 December 2015. Despite...  Read More

The post Green + Arts + Culture + Mobility: Towards an international equation? appeared first on

Contributed by Marie Le Sourd


In one year, the 21st UN International Conference on Climate Change will take place in Paris from 30 November to 10 December 2015. Despite some strong and evidence-based call for action (see the recent IPCC statement) and recent encouraging political advancements (like the recent USA-China Joint Announcement on Climate Change), one can be pessimistic about the concrete political decisions and related actions which will arise from this international conference.

However, this Conference is considered as a great opportunity for the Paris-based organisation COAL (Coalition for Arts and Environment) and UK-based Cape Farewell to give more visibility to the actions of the arts and culture sector around key global environmental issues. Both organisations are therefore jointly coordinating with local European and international partners, the ARTCOP21 taking place alongside the International Conference on Climate Change. This programme – artistic, collaborative and innovative – will include 5 key moments: a special edition of the COAL Art Prize; a conference of creative parties; a series of massive and participatory installations; an artistic path throughout Paris and its suburbs to raise awareness among the public about environmental challenges; and a professional workshop with policy makers, funders and representatives from the cultural and creative sectors. The idea behind the ARTCOP21 is to highlight the role of the arts and cultural sector in raising awareness on environmental issues, while promoting innovative solutions by civil society organisations in order to embrace the challenges at stake.

Lauranne Germond, Director/Co-founder of COAL says: “The ARTCOP21 will mostly take place in Paris and its suburbs (region Ile de France). The idea is however to position this programme at a European and international level and hence to include artists, creators, change makers from Europe and the rest of the world to reinforce one key message: the need to voice out a multiplicity of approaches and innovative solutions coming from the arts and cultural sector to answer the complex environmental issues we all face today at various levels”.

This international approach is needed to avoid transforming the subject of art and environment into a “luxurious western form of concern”, to quote the Budapest-based producer Anna Lengyel during the session “Green international cultural exchange, International Mobility versus Virtual Cooperation?” at the IETM Asia Satellite Meeting in Melbourne on 13 May 2014. According to the organisers, IETM and the Australia Council for the Arts, the title of the working session was intentionally controversial in putting into perspective the terms of “virtual” and “green”.


IETM green day

IETM green day

This session gathered panellists from Australia, Indonesia, United Kingdom and Belgium. Good examples of artists’ projects were presented: the Going Nowhere project on how artists, creators and audiences engage with international creative exchanges between UK and Australia without moving on a plane or on board of any other transportation means, and the green initiatives by ArtsAdmin in the United Kingdom.

Some of the speakers like Kristi Monfries, curator and art manager (Australia/Indonesia) also highlighted issues such as heavy pollution, garbage management by public authorities, plastic overuse, saying that these “are at our door step and remind us at every moment of the environmental challenges that today’s world is facing”.

The question of a more “controlled” mobility or at least a more rationalised one seemed more easily considered by artists and cultural professionals who have the choice to think that way and have the financial means to do so. From a South-East Asian point of view (except for Singapore) opportunities to travel are still limited for the majority of cultural professionals due to a general lack of funding support for cultural mobility. Being “green” is a de facto situation much more than a real choice. The green aspect of artistic practices was also highlighted through some examples of artists in residence programmes. Mella Jaarma, co-director of Cemeti Art House in Yogyakarta, Indonesia talked about artists working directly with local people and/or craftsmen in order to use local materials and knowledge in their artwork and/or process. The intention for artists coming to Yogyakarta is to make the mobility experience and its impact more relevant than the travel itself and to maximise the potential of their experience also for the local communities.

This idea recalled one of the key points shared during the “Workshop on green issues for the sustainable support of cultural mobility” held in Berlin on 12-13 March 2014, as part of the EU-funded project GALA (Green Art Lab Alliance) coordinated by Julie’s Bicycle and DutchCulture/ TransArtists*. As highlighted by Sholeh Johnston from Julie’s Bicycle, mobility experiences have to happen beyond the travel itself. Therefore there is a constant need to dialogue about the format of the mobility (touring, co-production, residencies etc.) and the whole process of production, in order to maximise the impact of the travel for the artists, the organisations and the audiences involved.

This workshop attempted to better link initiatives from the sector and policy orientations to embed green criteria in the way funding is allocated to cultural projects (including those with a cultural mobility component). In this regard, two recent reports have highlighted the possible connections between the cultural sector and innovative green solutions and the actions by governmental agencies and Ministries:

- The D’Art report, The Art and environmental sustainability, An international overview by IFACCA (International Federation of Arts Councils and Cultural Agencies) and Julie’s Bicycle provides a snapshot of national policymakers’ level of engagement with environmental sustainability with an emphasis on policies, not on artistic content or wider arts practice;

- The report Culture shift: How artists are responding to sustainability in Wales commissioned to the Arts Council of Wales aims in a somewhat complementary way to the above report at identifying initiatives, networks, artists of what is becoming an “emerging sector”.

These documents are conceived in a pro-active way and seek to share good practices as well as to encourage collaborations and partnerships at all levels (local, national and international) to tackle these global environmental challenges. Ian Rimmington of Arts Council of England said during the above mentioned training in Berlin: “Think long-term: as long as people are getting in the right direction, this is fine!” And this “right” long-term direction shall definitely encompass a more international, holistic and cooperative approach while taking benefit of the experiences and initiatives of the cultural and creative sector worldwide. A topic that will be definitely tackled in the up-coming ARTCOP21! Stay tuned!


*ASEF culture360 is one of the media partners of the EU funded project GALA.  The final meeting of GALA will take place in Glasgow in March 2015, hosted by Creative Carbon Scotland. See more at:

The post Green + Arts + Culture + Mobility: Towards an international equation? appeared first on

]]> 0
Asian Intercultural Theatre Conference 2014| Interview with Phillip Zarrilli Tue, 18 Nov 2014 02:38:14 +0000 Valentina Riccardi

As part of the media partnership with the Intercultural Theatre Conference that will be organised on 25-28 November in Singapore, ASEF culture360 has interviewed one of the keynote speakers...  Read More

The post Asian Intercultural Theatre Conference 2014| Interview with Phillip Zarrilli appeared first on

Phillip Zarrilli with some of his students

Phillip Zarrilli with some of his students

As part of the media partnership with the Intercultural Theatre Conference that will be organised on 25-28 November in Singapore, ASEF culture360 has interviewed one of the keynote speakers in the conference, Phillip Zarrilli, internationally known as a director, actor, and actor-trainer.

Phillip is the founding Artistic Director of The Llanarth Group in Wales, UK. His current directing credits include Guest Director at the recent Taipei International Festival 2014, where he directed Kaite O’Reilly’s the 9 Fridas with Mobius Strip Theatre, and Nordland Teater in Norway where he will direct Ota Shogo’s The Water Station. He is Professor Emeritus of Performance Practice at Exeter University, UK, and teaches regularly at Intercultural Theatre Institute. His publications include Psychophysical Acting: An Intercultural Approach After Stanislavski and Kathakali Dance-Drama: Where Gods and Demons Come to Play.

He talked to us about his keynote titled ‘Inner movement between practices of meditation, martial arts, and acting: a focused examination of affect, feeling, sensing and sensory attunement in the context of intercultural training.’


Could you tell us more about your work with the Intercultural Theatre Institute (ITI)?  What is your approach to theatre training in the context of Singapore and Southeast Asia?


I have a lengthy history of working with ITI/TTRP. My relationship began when I first met Kuo Pao Kun at a conference in Australia in the mid 1990s; this continued with a first visit to teach an intensive workshop in my approach to intercultural actor training using Asian martial arts as a pre-performative approach to training the actor’s (embodied) awareness, attention, and concentration.

Because I have developed an approach that begins from the techniques, elements and principles of Asian modes of embodied practice (martial arts and yoga), my approach to theatre training in Singapore/Southeast Asia does not differ from what I do elsewhere—such as my recent intensive six weeks training professional actors in Taipei as part of a production of the 9 fridas for the Taipei Arts Festival, 2014, or in Norway at a recent intensive with students at the Norwegian Theatre Academy.

What differs is the actual process of clarification of how to use the elements and principles as they are applied to the specific acting problems which I am working on at the time.


Going back to the theme of this year’s conference ‘Methods, techniques and strategies of making contemporary theatre’, which aspect of the theme will your keynote speech focus on?

My keynote address at this year’s conference focuses on “inner movement”, that is, how certain modes of Asian psychophysical training can be taught to sensitize and open the actor/performer to affect, feeling, and sensory attunement in an intercultural context.

I address the question of how one learns “to be sentient” and “open up a world” in performance. I elaborate the importance of how teachers/directors must help guide students through a process of understanding (in an embodied/practical way) the elements and principles of such trainings so that they are useful in their future creative work.


Phillip Zarrilli with some of his students

Phillip Zarrilli with some of his students


What should be, in your opinion, an essential part of the intercultural training of any aspiring actor today? 

From my perspective, the most important elements about any mode of training today include:

(1) that a programme of training integrate one or more ‘traditional’ psychophysical training(s) and contemporary modes of performer/actor training, selected to address aspects of a complete training of the contemporary actor/performer (e.g., awakening the actor’s embodied awareness; engaging their active imagination; helping them understand structures of performance and dramaturgies in the plural, etc.);

(2) that some form of foundational, in-depth, pre-performative psychophysical training be undertaken for a sustained period, i.e., that such a training is daily for at least two hours, for a minimum of five days per week, and for at least 9/10 months (ideally this would continue for an additional two years;

(3) that students learn to work with a wide variety of dramaturgies and are both expected to be “interpretive actors” (working with play-written texts) AND as “creative/devising actor/performers” learning how to structure, create, and make their own work in their own cultural context.


See also:

The post Asian Intercultural Theatre Conference 2014| Interview with Phillip Zarrilli appeared first on

]]> 0
The National Gallery Singapore | A Conversation with Jean-François Milou Mon, 17 Nov 2014 08:06:23 +0000 Bharti Lalwani

Art critic Bharti Lalwani interviews Jean-Francois Milou, lead partner of the StudioMilou about the design of the new National Art Gallery Singapore, to be inaugurated in 2015.  Read More

The post The National Gallery Singapore | A Conversation with Jean-François Milou appeared first on


Site progress, concept sketches and Francois Milou on site
Photo credit: Fernando Javier Urquijo, studioMilou Singapore


A French architectural firm, with branches in Paris and Singapore, studioMilou specialises in the design of museums and cultural spaces. Led by principal architect and lead partner Jean-Francois Milou, the firm works with adaptive reuse of historical buildings, seeking imaginative solutions while respecting the building’s historical fabric, meaning and surroundings.

Among a number of prestigious undertakings, Jean-François Milou has worked as a consultant to UNESCO, and for the French Government on projects in India, Nepal, Indonesia and Georgia.

studioMilou beat out 110 entries in winning the competition to design the National Gallery Singapore (due to open in 2015 for the 50th Anniversary of the independence of Singapore). Singapore’s latest institution will host the National Heritage Board Collection of Modern Southeast Asian art within iconic architectural structures – former City Hall and Supreme Court building – that embody the colonial history and heritage of Singapore. These once intimidating edifices will for the first time allow its public free access when launched  as a National Gallery for Modern Art in 2015.

Art Critic Bharti Lalwani finds out more about the aesthetic direction of this new institution.


(Key- Jean-François Milou: JFM, Bharti Lalwani: BL)


BL: Unlike new museums that are built from scratch, studioMilou is converting existing heritage buildings into a museum for Modern and Contemporary art from Southeast Asia (SEA). Jean-François, let us begin with your strategic plan for the architecture of the National Gallery Singapore (NGS).

JFM: Most of the galleries and museums built today, if not all, are built from scratch, often as iconic free standing landmarks, which in some cases lack real attention to existing contexts and landscapes.

Singapore is making a strong statement in reusing two major national monuments to create this visual art institution, or let’s say to grow an art institution from an existing and significant historic and cultural landscape: the former City Hall and the former Supreme Court of Singapore. This decision to reuse the two buildings has been criticised by some, but I believe it is a chance to grow something more organic from a real and complex existing fabric of culture, spaces and information. This necessary negotiation between the architecture, the collection, the curatorial discourse and the city as it is seems to me, is more interesting.

To answer your question, my position as the architect is to create a building which does not compromise on quality down to the smallest details, or on what a national institution of this status should be with respect to its facilities and to the complex historical fabric of the two buildings.

The two layers of design – the Gallery and the monuments – are merging in a new architectural landscape, one that is peaceful, even, flowing in natural light. We hope to create an environment where people of Singapore and museum goers from further afield will experience sufficient sense of calm while mediating the architecture and the collection. In order to accomplish this, I have given priority to a sense of unity as compared to juxtapositions, to an elegant backdrop filled with natural light and designed to accommodate what will be an evolving institution with multiple configurations for exhibitions and events.


BL: Could you provide specifics of the architectural accentuation?

JFM: Yes, the surface area of the new institution will be 60,000m2, with a budget of around 500 million Singapore dollars. We are joining these two buildings via a new roof structure, a kind of veil that seems to float above the roof level of the two independent structures. This complex draping glass-and-steel structure  will filter the intense light of Singapore and create new spaces bathed in natural light. This is designed in such a way that it complements the system of levels of the façades of the former Supreme Court and City Hall buildings.

So on one hand it is a very ambitious architectural project of creating new entrances, new roof top piazzas under a complex and sophisticated fabric of metal and glass, while on the other, it is a very respectful and modest restoration of two existing historical buildings. Hopefully people of Singapore will have the impression that the existing building have been returned with minimal intervention, recognizable yet modern.


BL: But as they are steeped in Singapore’s colonial history, how do you intend to transform and shape our experience of these imposing structures as sites of contemplation for art, while keeping the integrity of the building exteriors intact?

JFM: Again, the project will conserve much of the existing structure, which consists of many different spaces, some very large, some very small, some designed as simple white boxes and some more as heavily decorated historical spaces. This succession of different spaces of diverse character will create options for varied curatorial approaches. This variation of spaces (scale, character, etc.) can as well be a way to reflect the various contexts of South-East Asian art if sensitively treated in relation to the art displayed. But as just mentioned in replying to your question above, the unity of the design approach within the interiors – to be given in particular through the use of limited materials and colour schemes – will be one  of the main ways the design creates spaces which are in many instances conducive to contemplation.  And, the roofing structure, a filigree metal form draping gently over the buildings, is also designed to filter the light and create a gentler interior whereby the sunlight itself gives a sense of continuity between the two buildings, and softer ambiance.

There is minimal impact on the architecture of the two buildings which includes a rooftop landscape composed of areas open to visitors and new walkways between the buildings. As such, it radically changes the circulation and allows visitors new perspectives. The competition jury particularly appreciated this elegant aspect of our design and how it could radically transform the visitor experience while changing very little in the buildings themselves.

Speaking more specifically about individual spaces, that requires the curators acknowledging the character of each space and feeling confident enough to play with the dense wood panelling in some of the rooms, the white walls in others, all with full respect for their significance for the public. By taking on this variation, which reflects more about the original structures than anything else, the Gallery can create an interesting visitor experience blending the collection, the buildings and the cityscape.


BL: You have reinvigorated some century old buildings in Europe, the most recent being the Carreau du Temple in Paris.  The two heritage buildings of Singapore are nearly as old. Are there certain structural issues (exterior and interior) when dealing with such sites?

JFM: Yes, many, and studioMilou’s teams in Paris and Singapore have always taken an approach that tends to share something of a researcher’s intensive interest and an artisan’s intimate concern when it comes to the restoration and adaptive reuse of buildings.

When dealing with heritage and existing buildings, architects have to spend a lot of time not only researching and exploring solutions which avoid ‘harming’ buildings, but also explaining their approach to their client whilst convincing them, or the partners of the project, or the agencies about design decision here and there.  This process reflects the expectation of the civil society when it comes to the conservation of important historical monument.

One of the main challenges is to incorporate the requirements for new modern exhibitions and performances (security, fire safety, climate control, etc.) in a traditional building without compromising the integrity and the authenticity of the building itself.

Additionally, all rooms are different with different settlements, so each room, each door, each window is a small project in itself. Part of the work almost involves being a bit like an archaeologist, and part of the work is to be an architect.  It takes time.

With each project, our firm has sought to go beyond the notion of pure conservation, instead striving to offer solutions that combine our conservation skills and practices with practical and contemporary architectural approaches inspired by the reality of places and the circumstances of the projects themselves.  Le Carreau du Temple, recently open in Paris, and the National Art Gallery Singapore bear witness to this approach whereby we endeavour to respect the original buildings while offering contemporary solutions in terms of ideas and influences.


“when it comes to responding to the collection, programmes

and curatorship, the Architect should be a good listener,

and should create an efficient, inspiring and beautiful museum

infrastructure able to accommodate the many new ideas,

initiatives and changes to come”



BL: A National Gallery dedicated to Modern art from the region is a first for Southeast Asia; naturally, its museum-professionals are young in the field and somewhat inexperienced in dealing with such an ambitious project. I believe the government collection too is not enough to fill the combined 60,000 sqm space of the two buildings. What are your challenges then in anticipating their needs?

JFM: The 60,000 sqm includes the exhibitions, public spaces and numerous back of house areas for storage, delivery, and moving exhibitions, and food and beverage, etc. When it comes to galleries created recently almost from scratch, as those built in the past decade in Australia (Goma, Mona, etc.), I think it’s fair to expect that for some time the Gallery will be an institution firming up its identity and directions, a gallery in progress, with a collection in progress, a discourse in progress and so on.

But when it comes to responding to the collection, programmes and curatorship, the Architect should be a good listener, and should create an efficient, inspiring and beautiful museum infrastructure able to accommodate the many new ideas, initiatives and changes to come (new art pieces, new curatorships and such). I think this is part of the brief to a large extent in most new-born galleries. I would say that the Gallery is positioning itself as an institution with the potential to evolve overtime, building its collections as it goes.


BL: If  South East Asian art professionals are at a nascent stage, its museum/gallery-going audiences are even younger. Singapore’s “mall culture” is well known and the general attempt in the case of Singapore’s Gillman Barracks (a colonial barracks transformed into a gallery hub) has been to transplant that experience by fitting in commercial and F & B outlets to encourage visitor-ship. I gather that 7 commercial outlets are planned in NGS. What types of outlets are these and will this extra-ordinarily high number of shops (for any museum) distract from the museum’s viewing experience? 

JFM: The National Gallery Singapore needs balance being a site that its local populations can relate to – especially in its opening years – and a site that is of great interest and credibility to visitors from further afield. The Gallery will include a strong commercial element and this is part of the broader cultural way of doing things in general, notably when seeking to attract family groups, which will often prefer the option of stopping to eat, particularly if older and younger family members are involved.

We know that for some, pushing the door of an art institution of this magnitude and ambition in Singapore may initially be intimidating and unfamiliar.  For this reason, a part of our brief is clear about the need to create an institution which is welcoming for all the people of Singapore, which encourages them to step into the buildings. For many, the initial reasons for stepping into the institution will be curiosity about the buildings and their new functions (which isn’t unexpected given the importance of the monuments), and this may well involve an outing where they look at the art, stop for a rest, to eat, to shop. This mix-use strategy is more and more common in Galleries worldwide, and is in many cases, a strategy for balancing the revenue: State and private.

So the gallery proposes to mix exhibition, programming and public spaces with gardens, with cafes/restaurants and book stores.  Just how the commercial side of things play out in this regard, balancing the attention of visitors, will depend on the quality of the institution’s core functions – displaying artworks, creating public programmes/ dialogues across cultures and such. These core aspects need to be strong enough to dominate other facets. There is a risk of blurring the boundaries between the institution being known for its art or being known primarily for its commercial attractions of so-called ‘lifestyle’ or recreational zones.  The designer should pay attention to clearly separate the zones of the gallery in order to not create any overlapping or confusion between the meditative and reflective experience in the collection and the entertaining experience of the F&B and shops.

Again, this is a distinct red line that many major art institutions have to draw. We have designed the space by planning for retail outlets in the overall Gallery plan with this well-defined red line in mind.


Also about the National Art Gallery Singapore:
The National Gallery Singapore | A conversation with Low Sze Wee


Bharti Lalwani is an art critic who contributes to The Art Newspaper, Harper’s Bazaar Art Arabia, Eyeline (Australia), among others. Her research interests include Private museums as well as contemporary art from Southeast Asia, the Middle-East and West Africa. Through her writing and research she connects the emerging contemporary art histories of three continents. In 2014, she was nominated Forbes Art Writer of the Year (India). 

The post The National Gallery Singapore | A Conversation with Jean-François Milou appeared first on

]]> 0
Asian Intercultural Theatre Conference 2014 | Interview with T.Sasitharan Wed, 29 Oct 2014 10:30:13 +0000 Valentina Riccardi

As part of the media partnership with the Asian Intercultural Theatre Conference that will be organised on 25-28 November in Singapore, ASEF culture360 has interviewed the director and co-founder...  Read More

The post Asian Intercultural Theatre Conference 2014 | Interview with T.Sasitharan appeared first on

T. Sasitharan, co-founder and director of Intercultural Theatre Institute (ITI)

T. Sasitharan, co-founder and director of Intercultural Theatre Institute (ITI)

As part of the media partnership with the Asian Intercultural Theatre Conference that will be organised on 25-28 November in Singapore, ASEF culture360 has interviewed the director and co-founder of the Intercultural Theatre Institute (ITI), T. Sasitharan. A Singapore Cultural Medallion recipient, Sasi is well recognised as an educator, theatre artist, cultural critic and arts advocate. His thought leadership on arts and culture has made a wide impact on the larger community. We have asked him about the upcoming conference and the evolving contemporary theatre scene in Singapore and the region.

Where does the need for such a conference originate from and who does it aim to benefit?

It’s part of the mandate of Intercultural Theatre Institute (ITI) to research and reflect upon the processes and practices of the kind of theatre we teach.

When the subject is as complex and protean as Intercultural Theatre and Intercultural Actor Training, any new knowledge or understanding that may be gleaned will need more time specific conditions to emerge and to be expressed.

The Asian Intercultural Conference (AIC), which happens once in three years, enables the time and conditions necessary for teachers, students and collaborators to share and critically assess emergent data and information on the approaches, methods and pedagogies of Intercultural Theatre work and actor training in particular.

You will note that AIC 2014 focuses on the practical, with the emphasis placed firmly on demonstrations and presentations of techniques, skills and the craft of acting, directing and dramaturgy. The theoretical is present only tangentially. AIC 2014 would benefit not only those interested in the practice and performance of theatre, across a range of genres, but also those with different theatre specialisations from the actor-performer to the director, writer and dramaturge. The circle of benefit could well be extended to include professional theatre critics, writers, theatre scholars and drama teachers and students.


 Can you tell us more about the topics that will be discussed and the format of the conference?

Please refer to the conference topics below. The conference is divided into keynote sessions on the first day, work demonstrations and presentations through Days 2 – 4, with plenary discussions that round up each day.


What kind of audiences are you hoping to involve other than theatre practitioners and from what regions?

Other than the groups mentioned in Q1 above, I am hoping that lay people who make up the theatre-going public with an informed interest in theatre and scholars of performance theory in domains other than theatre, like sociology, anthropology and critical studies, may also be interested in getting a rare peek into the practice and studio-floor realities of working interculturally.


 What are your expectations about the conference?

I have the highest expectations of gaining valuable insight into the techniques and approaches used by former ITI students and other practitioners working within the domain of intercultural theatre. This is the kind of insight that is usually unavailable when we watch public stagings of theatre. These are the secret and private processes of making theatre which are only revealed to those who are party to the rehearsal and training processes preceding public performances.


Since the first Intercultural Theatre Conference in 2008, what has changed in the contemporary theatre scene in Singapore and in the region?

Since the first AIC in 2008, there has been, both at home and in the region, a growing awareness and acknowledgement of the “intercultural” as a phenomenon in its own right of cognition, perception and interaction in theatre practice. That is to say, that the intercultural is distinct and different, for instance, from the “multicultural”, “cosmopolitan” or “global” as a descriptor of a mode of practice in making and showing theatre. This is not merely a matter of labelling or semantics. It reflects a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the conditions, contexts, manners and qualities of the contacts, sharings, interactions and transmissions that take place on the studio floor and on the stage where intercultural theatre work is made and shown.

See also:


The post Asian Intercultural Theatre Conference 2014 | Interview with T.Sasitharan appeared first on

]]> 0
The Danish Agency for culture in Asia | Interview with Ulla Ronberg Wed, 29 Oct 2014 04:25:32 +0000 Florent Petit

  Florent Petit, ASEF culture360 contributor met with Ulla Ronberg, Senior Advisor for Cultural coordination in the headquarters of the Danish Agency for Culture in Copenhagen. Mrs Ronberg introduced...  Read More

The post The Danish Agency for culture in Asia | Interview with Ulla Ronberg appeared first on


Ulla Rønberg, Danish Agency for culture

Ulla Rønberg, Danish Agency for culture

Florent Petit, ASEF culture360 contributor met with Ulla Ronberg, Senior Advisor for Cultural coordination in the headquarters of the Danish Agency for Culture in Copenhagen.

Mrs Ronberg introduced the principles on which relies the International cultural cooperation from Denmark, with a special focus on recent projects developed in Asia. She also shared her views on the new directions taken by cultural exchanges between Denmark and Asia for the years to come.


The Danish Agency for Culture is an agency under the Danish Ministry of Culture, employing about 300 professionals. The agency carries out the cultural policies of the Danish government in the areas of the visual and performing arts, music, literature, museums, historical and cultural heritage, broadcasting, libraries and all types of printed and electronic media. The agency works internationally in all culture related fields, and sees as its top priority the increased internationalisation of Danish arts and cultural life. The agency also performs as the Secretariat for the Danish Arts Foundation.

Danish Dance Theatre performing Black Diamond in Shanghai and Zhangzhou

Danish Dance Theatre performing Black Diamond in Shanghai and Zhangzhou


1.       Could you introduce the Danish Arts Foundation and tell us about its goals and mission?

The prime aim of the new Danish Arts Foundation is to promote the arts in Denmark as well as Danish art abroad. The funding for international projects is managed by six different committees (Visual Arts, Literature, Music, Crafts and Design, Performing Arts, Architecture).

It is up to the Foundation’s committees to decide when funding should be awarded. This is a very important point to stress: The Danish Arts Foundation is a government organisation, the funding comes from the state, yet the Arts Foundation keeps a real independence from political considerations when it comes to giving grants. This is fundamental to the Danish arts funding system.

The Danish Arts Foundation is a member of the International Culture Panel, where international strategies and action plans are put in place. The panel is cross-ministerial, consisting of the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Trade and Growth, and different organisations affiliated to the three ministries, e.g. the Arts Foundation.

The Panel’s action plan 2014-2016 defines a geographic and thematic focus. Geographically we focus on the BRICS-countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) and the Middle East. We also try to create synergies between countries in a region, for instance helping cultural exchange projects in China to find their way to South Korea or Vietnam.

We also work on three cross-sectorial thematic areas: Children and Youth,  Sustainability , and Dialogue, Democracy and Participation .

Although The Danish Arts Foundation is an institutional agency and the committees decide who they want to support and where they want to work internationally, they have also chosen to participate in the culture panel and contribute to the overall aim of the Panel : to increase Denmark’s cultural exchange with foreign countries and strengthen the internationalisation of Danish cultural life. This co-operation between Danish partners in the Panel is really important.  In this way we join forces and work together internationally.

The International Culture Panel has four overall aims:

  • The development and renewal of Danish art and culture. This is to say that whenever we engage in international cooperation, it is also in order to enliven the Danish art scene. There always has to be this reciprocity.
  • The promotion of Denmark as a country through nation branding;.
  • To increase cultural exports; and,
  • develop  intercultural dialogue.

These four purposes are of equal importance and they are the values we keep in mind whenever we engage internationally.

Lastly, I also would like to mention the five principles that the International Culture Panel has formulated. These principles underline all our activities when we work in cultural cooperation:

  • Any project, first and foremost, must be based on a high cultural or artistic quality;
  • Projects have to be embraced by the audiences in the respective countries. It is important to secure local interest, local anchorage;
  • All activities must have a measure of longevity. There must be a long term perspective, a purpose of knowledge-sharing and networking;
  • A bottom-up approach and the facilitation of agent to agent participation; and,
  • The last principle is about visibility: it’s always important, and that goes without saying, to focus our communication on target groups to make sure there is the right visibility for our projects.

These five principles are all interconnected and they give a very good idea of how we work  internationally .


2.       Among your latest projects with Asia, you have set up a Cultural and Development Fund with Vietnam for the years 2011-2015. How can you assess the impact of this initiative so far? Do you have similar projects with other Asian countries planned for the future?

If you look at our principles, it is obvious that we don’t work the same way in every country – that would make no sense. We are developing cultural exchange projects with partners in Vietnam, South Korea and China in three very different ways – because these are three different countries.

The way we have been working over the past years in the Danish-Vietnamese Cultural and Development Fund is currently under revision. The Vietnamese art scene is interesting to follow So how can we adjust our cooperation to fit this development? We have to figure out new strategies and in my opinion focus on reciprocity.

The Danish Agency for Culture is participating in seminars and courses in Vietnam, invited by the Vietnamese Ministry of Culture. In Denmark, we have a long tradition of working in an administrative system supporting arts and culture. We see this cooperation with Vietnam as an opportunity to share our recommendations and our know-how.

Among other projects in Asia right now I can mention the Danish Cultural Season in China 2014 2015 . This project is initiated by the International Cultural Panel. For the last year and a half, I have been working as a project leader for this programme, which has been launched on 24th October during the visit of Mrs Marianne Jelved, Danish Minister of Culture to China.

There are around 60 projects, some of them big, some of them small, covering almost all the artistic spectrum from performing arts to music, literature, museums, exhibitions, residencies for visual artists and many others.

If I have to mention one of the projects in the programme, it could be the children and youth portfolio of projects, developed by Danish and Chinese creative schools for children. This project is covering six companies of children theater travelling to several Chinese cities, accompanied by Danish music schools and creative schools. There will be workshops and seminars for both children young people and adults. On our webpage ( you can see the complete list of projects.


3.       What are the priorities of the Danish Agency for Culture in order to promote Danish art and artists abroad?

The five principles we talked about are fundamental in all aspects of working with international cultural exchange.

I would like to stress the principle of working bottom-up. In order to work bottom-up, you must be in dialogue with partners that have a genuine interest in cooperation. On an institutional or artistic level, Projects like for instance, China 2014 / 2015 could not have happened if Danish and Chinese partners had not worked closely together and put resources into the projects.

One of the best ways we usually start a project is the visiting programmes. The Danish Agency for Culture invites people to visit Denmark and stay here for five days. We organise meetings for them with relevant institutions and agents and, hopefully, the Danish partners will also travel the other way. This helps us to pave the way for a dialogue and paring of interests on an institutional and artist-to-artist level.

At the same time, it is also important to have a fruitful dialogue on an administrative level. We work closely with the Chinese Ministry of Culture in the making of the Danish Cultural Season. When our Minister of Culture visits China, she will of course meet with her Chinese colleague in order to continue the dialogue and reflect on our bilateral cooperation.


4.       Is there in your opinion a specific approach to adopt when developing projects with Asian countries?

I don’t think so. As I said before, when we work with partners in South Korea, in China or Vietnam, we work in different ways and with different projects. The fundamental dialogue with the partners we engage with forms the projects. We do not have one model for all when working with Asian countries.


5.       How do you envision the future of cultural relations between Denmark and the Asia-Pacific region?

I think relations will grow stronger and networks will develop. We have strong ties with China, Vietnam and South Korea, that hopefully will expand. And maybe expand into the region. But again, this is all up to Danish and Asian partners. In the Danish Agency for Culture, we facilitate and we organise, we help making communication across borders easier, we set up the framework in which projects can develop.


6.       Which kind of advice could you give to Asian professionals willing to present their work in Denmark or set up collaborative projects with Danish artists or organisations?

I think the best way, the best tool, is actually the visiting programmes. If you are working as an artist or a curator and have an interest in, for instance Danish design, you should come here! Meet the right people, engage in dialogue, find out how you could work together and from there make things happen.



Florent Petit is a former project officer in the cultural unit of the French Embassy in Japan. He holds a Master’s degree in Art History from the Sorbonne University in Paris and in International Relations from the Institute of Political Studies of Lyon. Former lecturer of Chinese, Korean and Japanese art in the Ecole du Louvre in Paris, he has occupied several curatorial positions in museums in France (Asian Unit of the Musée du quai Branly, Paris) and Luxembourg (Mudam, Museum of contemporary art, Luxembourg City).


The post The Danish Agency for culture in Asia | Interview with Ulla Ronberg appeared first on

]]> 0
Between two cultures: Euro-Asian creative personalities (part II) Tue, 28 Oct 2014 09:24:48 +0000 Magali An Berthon

In this sixth article, Magali An has focused on two design and craft projects rooted in Euro-Asian double-culture: Paris-based French-Japanese craft duo Eskimeït who creates contemporary jewelry and objects with an old Japanese coal burning technique; Vietnamese young fashion designer Linda Mai Phung who decided with entrepreneur spirit, to move back to Vietnam to launch her fashion brand and work with local textile crafts.  Read More

The post Between two cultures: Euro-Asian creative personalities (part II) appeared first on



In this sixth article, Magali An has focused on two design and craft projects rooted in Euro-Asian double-culture: Paris-based French-Japanese craft duo Eskimeït who creates contemporary jewelry and objects with an old Japanese coal burning technique; Vietnamese young fashion designer Linda Mai Phung who decided with entrepreneur spirit, to move to Vietnam to launch her fashion brand and work with local textile crafts.

These 2 interviews are part of a focus on creative industries and creative personalities from a Euro-Asian background. Actress, illustrator, craftsmen or fashion designer, they all have insightful personal stories. Whether they were born in Europe or Asia, whether they have chosen to live in their country of origin or decided to settle elsewhere, we discover in these interviews their artistic universe and find out how their double culture has impacted their creative lives.

Hirohiko KAMIYA & Lorène HAYAT KAMIYA  - Designers – Eskimeït

Hirohiko & Lorene

Could you introduce yourselves to our readers and tell the circumstances of your meeting?

Lorene and Hirohiko: Hirohiko Kamiya, 46 years-old and Lorène Kamiya Hayat, 41, we are a French-Japanese couple and designers working together for the past twenty years.

Hirohiko: I arrived in France in 1987 to study makeup and hairstyling. I then worked in fashion, photography and theater until 1990, before starting studies at the interior design school Camondo. This is where we met.

L & H: After graduation, we have launched our own home decor collections, while freelancing in interior design on the side.
In 2004, we travelled to Japan to visit the Binchotan charcoal craftsmen from the Kishu area, which then led to our first collection of objects, lighting and jewelry with this special technique. We successfully exhibited this collection at the Maison & Objet trade show in January 2005 and 2006. Then we founded our brand called Eskimeït where we keep developing jewelry and objects around Binchotan charcoal.

Could you describe your artistic practice?

L & H: In our work – since we met- we have always been looking for new materials which we could transform and change from their original purpose and functionality. Each of our jewelry pieces is unique thanks to the organic and mineral rendering of Binchotan coal.

Even though we both have an education in design, we do not like the idea of producing objects industrially. Handcraft matters to us. As designers we still enjoy working with our hands because that’s often how we get our ideas. With time we understand each other very well and collaborate in a very complementary way.

Where does your love for art comes from?

Lorene: My father was a knitwear designer and as a child, I loved making collages with wool yarn falls, knit samples, fabric scraps and manipulating materials and colors. Besides my childhood memories, I remember moments in school when I was creating things with my hands and I even remember the happy sensations I experienced in doing them.

Hirohiko: From my childhood in Japan, I’ve always loved making things with my hands. I remember when I was little, I used to collect the caps from milk bottles to turn them into many objects: flying UFO, car wheels over and over again. I think I have always loved making art!

You currently live in France and work as a French-Japanese design duo, how do you reconcile your two cultures in your artistic practice?

Hirohiko: Initially, I just came to Paris for my studies and what I found was a great feeling of freedom. Here in France, relationships in life and work are very different, less codified and more direct than in Japan. Sometimes, for matters of hierarchy and social status, in Japan you are not really allowed to express what you think. In Paris, interactions feel more natural and easy. However, in my work process, I feel still very much Japanese!

Lorene: Meeting each other has really opened me to completely different culture. When I went to Tokyo for the first time, I actually expected a very modern and urban city and yet I was struck by the contrast of small Shitamachi old traditional neighborhoods which are so lively. I feel more connected to the traditional side of Japan which is still very present: you can see temples everywhere. I like the idea that for Japanese people, nature is put above all and that we must protect it. I also like their idea of renewal by giving things a second life, for example with the art of Kintsugi, they would repair a broken ceramic by sealing it with a technique based on gold lacquer, which confers to this object a completely new aesthetic dimension.

What is your relationship to Japan? And how does it inspire you?

L & H: We go to Japan every couple of years. We usually visit the city of Kamakura, the ancient capital of Japan near Yokohama, for its temples and traditional neighborhoods with artisans. The Binchotan charcoal we are using is obtained by an ancestral technique dating from the Edo period. It was developed for the use of the Emperor. We use it in our designs and try to treat it in a different way, accordingly to our own perception, our environment and our two cultures.

Japan also inspires us culturally. We love Ozu films which portray so well the evolution of Japanese society with its relationships and codes. We are also inspired by Japanese landscapes, old architecture, traditional family life. All of this still lives with Japan today, through many festivals and customs. What influences us is linking modernity to tradition.

Japanese people consider their crafts as an art and not as a minor practice, what is your opinion about that?

L & H: What we like in the Japanese craftsmanship – paper, lacquer, textile, ceramics- is their real sense of aesthetics and sophistication, often coming with a hint of unexpected strangeness.

Before even starting on how to burn Binchotan charcoal, students must watch their teachers for years and understand all the senses which come into play: touching, smelling, noticing the color of the flames… In the Kishu area, we have encountered several Binchotan masters and each of them had a very personal approach from cutting the Ubamegashi oak tree branches, to manufacturing a clay oven and practicing their cooking technique. In Japan this charcoal is mainly used for its combustion and filter qualities, but there was no craft developed beyond these primary use. Yet we can’t stop being amazed and inspired by the intense black color of this material, its raw beauty, its amazing hardness. It features unique shapes and patterns of woodrings and cracks, as an endless source of inspiration for our designs.

Linda Mai Phung – Fashion designer


Linda Mai Phung – Copyright Thai Pham

Could you tell us about your career path and your origins?

My name is Linda Mai Phung, I was born in France and I grew up near Paris. Both my parents are Vietnamese. I just celebrated my 30th birthday! I have studied fashion design in Paris art school Duperré. After my graduation, I have worked on various projects in fashion and graphic design in France in Paris, Europe in Prague and Berlin  and finally in Ho Chi Minh City. I came to Vietnam to work for an ethical fashion brand and I never left! Coming to Vietnam made me realize that I wanted to stay and start my own ready-to-wear brand. I then launched my project in 2011. Since then, the project keeps growing. I am selling in Europe and in Asia and I have won several awards: the Eco-Fashion Designer Award by Neoplanete Magazine in 2011, the Ethical Fashion Show Creativity Prize in 2011 and the Ethical Fashion Forum Innovation Award in 2012.

Could you describe your creative work?

I am a fashion designer so I draw, design clothes and accessories, conceive seasonal women’s wear collections and work on the production process with my tailors, suppliers and workshops. I draw my inspiration mostly from my many travels. One of my strongest concerns is to design sustainable products which would take in considering their impact on the environment. It is also very important to think about the people who will wear my clothes. My love for art and design has been driving me since my early childhood. Starting my own brand is actually a dream come true and an authentic passion: I really love making things, creating and designing. This is also my way of expressing my personal view of the world.

You grew up in France and chose to settle back in Vietnam. What has motivated your choice?

Vietnam is the country of my parents. So in a way, I have always had this idea of settling here, somewhere at the back of my mind. It was a project which matured through time, as a lifetime journey in a search for my family history and the development of my career.

You can find such talented craftsmen in Vietnam and the economy is booming, so I found many appeals in coming here. I decided to move to the capital city Ho-Chi-Minh City in the South and launch my fashion brand. The creative scene here is very dynamic and inspiring. The economical and urban development, the people’s authenticity, the sounds, the colors, the contrasts between the city and the countryside… I enjoy all of it! And I feel that I am learning a bit more every day about myself and about the world, just by living in this exciting country.

Moving here went quite smoothly. I was pleasantly surprised by the warm welcome I received when I arrived in Vietnam. I have been very lucky, I met a lot of helpful people who have supported me in my first moments here and without whom I would never have gone this far today: the tailors, the craftsmen, my friends or even the business owner who made me come to Vietnam in the first place.

Personally I immediately felt that I belonged, thank you also to this stimulating project.

How do you work with Vietnamese ethnic minorities? And how do you combine their traditional textiles to contemporary fashion?

People do not always know that there are about fifty-four ethnic minorities spread all-over Vietnam. Most of them have their own language and their own textile techniques and traditional dresses. Each year I travel to one of these remote provinces where I have spotted certain ethnic groups with great crafts. I usually come to buy some textiles and some woven and embroidered fabrics made locally in these villages, I put them on my motorbike and then head back to Ho Chi Minh City ! Sometimes I also order custom textiles to local handicraft workshops but it is difficult in regards of my collection deadlines. The whole process requires time. For weaving, they need to grow the plants which will give the yarn- hemp for example- and in other cases, the handmade adornments such as pleating, dyeing or embroidery demand also a very long time. This is the beauty of each of these particular fabrics: they are all unique. In my designs, I now use them in the details of a hem, in a liner or a collar. I also choose major textiles to feature in my key looks which creates interesting contrasts. For example, I will use a traditional wool weaving to make a hyper contemporary biker jacket.

This illustrates well the idea of identity and origins set up in my work, by mixing materials and shapes, using an ancient embroidery lining on a garment with a very modern exterior look. This is my signature as a fashion designer.

What does double culture mean to you and does it impact your work and creative life?

My double culture is really what sets the identity of my brand: a contemporary blend of cultures, a mix of Asian and Western influences and know-how. I feel that this is an asset and a great opportunity to be able to explore different aspects of your own origins, especially in a creative field. My double culture has actually opened doors for me and it has given me an edge as a multi-cultural and travel fashion brand. I have Vietnamese roots and I grew up in France, so this was the starting point of my project. However, I am now looking to go further and define a new identity with my work, probably on a less personal note with the eyes turned towards the future.

The post Between two cultures: Euro-Asian creative personalities (part II) appeared first on

]]> 0
Pro Helvetia cultural programmes in Asia | Interview with Murielle Perritaz Fri, 03 Oct 2014 08:22:35 +0000 Florent Petit

In this interview with our ASEF culture360 contributor Florent Petit, Murielle Perritaz, Head of Programmes at the Swiss Art Council Helvetia talks about its cultural activities focusing in particular on the Asia-Pacific region and on projects related to digital culture.  Read More

The post Pro Helvetia cultural programmes in Asia | Interview with Murielle Perritaz appeared first on


Murielle Perritaz, Head of Programmes at Pro Helvetia



In this interview with our ASEF culture360 contributor Florent Petit, Murielle Perritaz, Head of Programmes at the Swiss Art Council Helvetia talks about its cultural activities focusing in particular on the Asia-Pacific region and on projects related to digital culture.

Mrs Perritaz also stresses the fundamental importance of networking with local operators in order to develop relevant cultural exchanges.


Could you introduce Pro Helvetia and tell us about your goals and missions?

The Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia is mandated by the Swiss Confederation to promote contemporary artistic creation in Switzerland, contribute to cultural exchange at home, promote the dissemination of Swiss culture abroad and foster cultural outreach.

Pro Helvetia supports projects in different ways: on the basis of applications, via its network of cultural centres (Paris, Rome, Milan, New York and San Francisco) and liaison offices abroad (Johannesburg, New Delhi, Shanghai, Cairo) and in the context of its own programmes (including Russia) as well as through information and promotional materials.


Pro Helvetia has two liaison offices in New Delhi and Shanghai. What are the activities of these offices and which kind of relations could you develop with local cultural scenes?


2013 Swiss Game Designer at Game Gazer India, Goa-Bangalore

These two liaison offices work similarly to culture agencies. They don’t have their own facilities for events at their disposal, but they reinforce contacts with their region and nurture long-term partnerships. They introduce Swiss cultural projects to local organizers, initiate co-productions with cultural practitioners from the region and organize residencies.

These offices cover quite large regions, New Delhi is responsible for the South of Asia and Shanghai covers China (including Hong Kong and Macao).


Do you have any other project in other areas of the Asia-Pacific region (Australia, Japan, Southeast Asia…)?

We regularly take part in specific collaborative projects, mainly in Japan, Australia and Singapore, within the context of special events or festivals such as the Japan Media Arts Festival, the Arts Biennale of Sydney or the Singapore International Band Festival.

We don’t have for the moment any plan to open new offices or developing additional programmes in the Asia-Pacific region. This is mostly due to limited financial resources, yet we are very much aware that there is a great potential for cultural exchanges with these regions.

Through its programmes,  Pro Helvetia highly values digital culture and creative industries. Could you give us an example of project with an Asian counterpart on these topics?


2013 Young Swiss Design Exhibition in Shanghai, Chang LIU

So far, our programme dedicated to digital culture has mostly focused on the creation of a fertile ground and environment for digital art in Switzerland to blossom, and the social and cultural impact of digital technologies.

On an international level, we engage in high visibility and dissemination events, such as the exhibition presented in the China Millennium Monument Museum of Digital Arts in Beijing. We are also organizing promotional campaigns that allow creators working in that field to establish themselves in international markets, which is something vital for the existence of their projects. This is the reason why we are participating in events such as the Tokyo Game show.



How would you assess cultural relations between Switzerland and the Asian region so far? Which kind of initiatives could be taken to further develop them?

Whether you consider the promotion of Swiss art in Asian countries or cultural exchange projects (such as residencies, co-productions, etc.) so far the results have been very positive. We realized that there is a strong and increasing interest for these kind of exchanges and the feedback we get from involved artists is extremely positive. Of course, this requires a lot of efforts, adaptation and flexibility.

Our offices in Asia play a very strategic role in this sense. This is why we are only hiring local operators, with a deep knowledge of the local cultural sector and the capacity to create a link between the two cultures. Our offices are also actively working in order to develop their field of action, getting in touch with new partners. For instance, our branch in New Delhi extensively widened its network in South Asia these last years, in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Bhutan.

But at the end of the day a lot depends on the available financial resources. The intensification of exchanges depends on our capacity to find partners in the private sector.


How do you envision the future of cultural relations between Switzerland and Asia?


2013 Pipilotti Rist Exhibition in Guangzhou, China, Times Museum

What really matters for us is to develop long-term relations with cultural actors based in Switzerland and abroad. They both have to find a mutual interest in this process. We do think there is a need to strengthen projects that allow to create long-term relations and dialogue. For that reason, it is important for us to reinforce cooperation and co-production projects, and not limit ourselves to the sole export of Swiss projects abroad.

What kind of advice would you give to Asian professionals willing to present their work in Switzerland or set up collaborative projects with Swiss artists?

Our core mission is to promote Swiss culture abroad and exchanges with foreign cultures. This means we won’t be able to help foreign professionals directly to show their work in Switzerland, but we can advise them on networks and potential partners. So I would invite them to contact our offices in Shanghai and New Delhi for sure.

They can also apply to our artists in residency programme. Cultural actors coming from the countries where we are settled can benefit from research stays in Switzerland in order to connect and create links with Swiss artists and structures.


Useful links:


Florent Petit is a former project officer in the cultural unit of the French Embassy in Japan. He holds a Master’s degree in Art History from the Sorbonne University in Paris and in International Relations from the Institute of Political Studies of Lyon. Former lecturer of Chinese, Korean and Japanese art in the Ecole du Louvre in Paris, he has occupied several curatorial positions in museums in France (Asian Unit of the Musée du quai Branly, Paris) and Luxembourg (Mudam, Museum of contemporary art, Luxembourg City).



The post Pro Helvetia cultural programmes in Asia | Interview with Murielle Perritaz appeared first on

]]> 0
Malta | A Silent Pathway Towards a Cultural Boom? Wed, 01 Oct 2014 07:23:12 +0000 Herman Bashiron Mendolicchio

Rich in history, tradition, and archaeology, renowned as an intercultural passage of different populations in the heart of the Mediterranean, the small island of Malta is truly astonishing for its variety of faces, lineages, languages and architecture.  Read More

The post Malta | A Silent Pathway Towards a Cultural Boom? appeared first on



Rich in history, tradition, and archaeology, renowned as an intercultural passage of different populations in the heart of the Mediterranean, the small island of Malta is truly astonishing for its variety of faces, lineages, languages and architecture. Many words and stories have been written about the history and culture of Malta, but little is known, at an international level, about its contemporary culture.

After 7000 years of cultural and historical heritage that has shaped the Maltese local identity, the country is now facing a dawning era of new geopolitical mechanisms and balances, entailing new global connections and stimulating challenges.

Internationalisation, mobility, cooperation, networking and creative exchange are some of the keywords that are currently transforming the cultural policies and artistic practices at an international level.

How is Malta responding to these global demands? How is it positioning itself in the international cultural landscape? What are the opportunities and the challenges of a new cultural strategy and development?

From the Past to the Future

A few years ago, in 2009, while in Malta for an international project, I took the chance to visit some cultural institutions and search for contemporary art spaces. The power of the historical heritage combined with the beauty of the Mediterranean landscape was dense and enveloping. The fortress city of Valletta, Fort St. Elmo, the Grand Harbour, the peaceful and mysterious town of Mdina, medieval walls, castles, astonishing cathedrals, Baroque pomp, Caravaggio, and so on, are just some of the cultural magnificence that delight the eyes and leaves one breathless.

But what about contemporary art? Where is the contemporary art museum? Where are the spaces for visual arts?

Beyond the all-encompassing St. James Cavalier Centre for Creativity and some independent and alternative initiatives – notably, the MCA (Malta Contemporary Art), founded by artist and curator Mark Mangion – the contemporary scene of Malta proved to be quite disappointing. Nevertheless, in recent years, the growing interest in contemporary arts, the opening up to the international arena, and the strong determination and efforts of several Maltese cultural professionals have contributed in transforming the panorama and are paving the way for a new cultural moment.

In 2011, an important official document – the National Cultural Policy – was discussed and released. A new vision concerning needs, strategies, methods and tools to improve the cultural sector is about to begin.

The National Cultural Policy focuses on the cultural development needs in Malta. These include:

  • improved cultural governance structures
  • international cultural cooperation
  • strengthening the professional status of the artist
  • articulating the specific needs of the arts, heritage and audiovisuals
  • development of the cultural and creative industries
  • recognition of cultural rights, cultural socialisation and cultural inclusion
  • ensuring the long-term sustainability of the cultural sector

A change in national policies; a clear commitment in order to discuss and develop measures in favour of the cultural sector; the establishment of new principles, strategies and actions to ensure a public and participative cultural debate, were some of the key points stressed in the document.

Among the different points analysed, it is interesting to observe the importance of international cooperation. 

International Cooperation. Building international cultural bridges helps in the promotion of diversity, dialogue and cooperation in cultural activities and in enhancing the professionalism of the sector. Bilateral and multilateral cultural agreements need to be backed up with the necessary material resources in order to transform cultural diplomacy into an effective tool in support of cultural development. The mobility of cultural collections, works of art, artists and cultural professionals are key areas in which public and private investment in international cultural cooperation should be encouraged.

A year later, in 2012, the National Strategy for the Cultural and Creative Industries – drawn up by the Creative Economy Working Group – began exploring the links between economy and creativity. Among the different proposals, the Strategy aims

“to position Malta as an attractive, contemporary and stimulating creative hub within the Mediterranean region, with strong emphasis on exchange and access to international markets”.

The path towards a new cultural era was opened and Malta’s cultural sector was to reap the fruits of its own labour. Heritage Malta and the Malta Council for Culture & the Arts (currently changing its name to ACM, Arts Council Malta) – the main cultural institutions, both founded in 2002 – began widening its influence and multiplying its activities.

The future is now and it’s already very busy in Malta.

In October 2016, Valletta, the capital city, will host the 7th World Summit on Arts and Culture. As announced by the MCCA, “Co-hosted with the International Federation of Arts Councils and Culture Agencies (IFACCA), the World Summit will welcome around 500 delegates from 80 countries to discuss the major issues impacting the arts”. A few months after the Summit, in the first semester of 2017, Malta will run the EU Presidency. In 2018, Valletta will be European Capital of Culture. This last achievement, officially declared in May 2013, was received as a great triumph and sparked a powerful wave of hope and enthusiasm.

This crescendo of international events is positively shaking the whole cultural field in Malta and is already generating a highly interesting series of activities.

The VIVA Festival (Valletta International Visual Arts), the very first event entirely devoted to contemporary visual arts in Malta; the series of conferences titled Dialogue in the Med: exploring identity through networks; and Science in the City, a festival where science meets art, are just some of the very recent events that are taking place these days in Malta.

Compared to other European countries, which are suffering drastic cuts in the cultural sector, Malta seems to be walking towards a more serene and stimulating scenario.

General cultural funding is improving, though there are still many challenges to face. The construction of a new museum dedicated to Modern and Contemporary Art (a highly controversial issue); the need to design a clear mobility funding framework, which takes into account both incoming and outgoing mobility projects; the establishment of new cultural bridges and long-term cooperation projects both within the cultural reality of Malta and at an international level – in the Mediterranean, Europe, Asia and worldwide – are key objectives that require serious commitment and firm responsibility. Many are the risks in this complex pathway, but still there are more opportunities ahead that numerous cultural professionals hope will benefit the entire Maltese society.


Useful links:


The post Malta | A Silent Pathway Towards a Cultural Boom? appeared first on

]]> 0