Introduction  –  

Elyssia Bugg, Jeremy Eaton and Chloe Ho

To cite this contribution;
Bugg, Elyssia, Jeremy Eaton and Chloe Ho. ‘Archipelagic Encounters Introduction –’ Currents Journal, Archipelagic Encounters (2021),

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Throughout the global south and across Southeast Asia the vast archipelagos of the Indian Ocean, the South China Sea and the Western Pacific, a region comprising over 25,000 islands, we see an array of distinct yet epistemically related cultural practices proliferate. It is a network constantly in a state of transformation, characterised by both a spatial and cultural mobility that has only intensified (up until quite recently) over the last decade. In his article Island Movements: Thinking with the Archipelago Jonathan Pugh considers how we might think with the ‘fluid island-island inter-relations’ to better understand how archipelagos as spatial networks, multiplicities and assemblages act as ‘generative and inter-connective spaces of metamorphosis, of material practices, culture and politics.’1 They are spaces defined by an unravelling set of cultural encounters that challenge western understandings of space, destablising centre and periphery dichotomies, as well as the perceived ‘territorial containers’ of political ideals and ethical categories.2 Thinking archipelagically from the Carribean, Édouard Glissant notes that ‘each island embodies openness. The dialectic between inside and outside is reflected in the relationship of land and sea.’3 Archipelagic Encounters, in-line with Pughes and Glissant, thinks with and through the archipelago, engaging early career researchers whose work reflects diverse networked relations between artistic practices and art histories that move across and within the Asia-Pacific.

This special issue was initiated by a symposium organised by the Centre of Visual Arts (CoVA), University of Melbourne and McNally School of Fine Arts, LASALLE College of the Arts of the same name in 2020. Set against the backdrop of the pandemic whereby national borders had closed and the international mobility that the region had become accustomed to suddenly ceased, we had to reconsider what it meant to be part of an archipelago and to encounter through an island geography. Boundaries that were once open, porous and frequently traversed, dissolved. There was no longer an inside and outside in the way described by Glissant, merely land masses that confined our existence and bodies of water that split and demarcated No Man’s Land. Pugh’s island-island relations, which assumed a physical migration of human bodies across islands, were cut. In Melbourne, mobility narrowed to a 5-km radius. The inside and outside of 2020 was the relationship between residential homes, public parks and the grocery store. A similar narrowing happened in the highly built-up Singapore. Residents were asked to stay within their own neighbourhoods and only go out for essential errands. The depth of our mobility narrowed to the smartphone: there was a boom in on-demand courier and food delivery services that bridged inhabited spaces. 
Collectively, we experienced the isolation of the newly inaugurated Zoom world, where everyone was their own island decisively split into individual black rectangles.  To hold a symposium titled Archipelagic Encounters on Zoom in 2020 was an experiment in island encounters of the digital turn, among people geographically separated by water and socially separated by their respective lockdown conditions.

Archipelagic Encounters
is Currents first Special Issue and includes seven submissions that reflect the rich critical and diverse epistemic approaches to regional knowledge that defined the original day of presentations. The archipelagic described the wish or dreams of crossing seemingly insurmountable space, historically this was the oceans and the seas that arbitrarily divided people between island masses. The 2020 symposium and this special issue are an attempt to embody, recuperate and extend this openness between the inhabited and uninhabited spaces in a pandemic world, to be immersed in diverse cultural perspectives and histories. The issue draws together multiple threads that weave through art history, film, music and visual art. Whilst each is representative of a distinct research practice and methodology, there are undercurrents that seep between each contribution that are perhaps broadly endemic to the archipelagic regions of the Asia-Pacific.

A number  of the articles and artworks talk of a desire to connect with cultural heritage from the position of a hybrid-self experienced through the diaspora, as researchers generate historic and embodied retracings of the material, aural and linguistic substratum of cultural subjectivity. Conceptually located in the Indian domestic household, Pratibha Nambiar’s practice explores the material and conceptual tensions produced by using spice imbued soap as a mark-making material. Through the use of materials associated with cooking and cleaning, Nambiar’s tools and labour intensive wall drawings make visible the often unseen, ritualistic processes of the domestic sphere—posing questions about the capacity for ritual, trace and the olfactory quality of her materials to imbue these tasks, and the spaces they allude to, with a sense of ownership. Turning to the materiality of language, Kezia Yap retraces her cultural genealogy through a complex process of translating Chinese scripts into music scores as a way to challenge both conventions of Western music production and assumptions about authentic ‘Chineseness’. Yap’s scores pose a new method for music notation as a conceptual process to explore heritage and language to startling effects.

As we have articulated in the introduction thus far there is little escape from the ever pervasive global pandemic as it populates our news feeds, and reorients the way we study, work and socialise. Lizzie Wee’s videos Homecoming and Forced Idleness engage with the all too familiar form of the Zoom conference call. 
Wee performs a range of characters that she has developed based on broad stereotypes of the ‘Southeast Asian Female’. By mapping archetypes depicted repetitively through television programs, Wee has generated carefully crafted situations that create a mirroring effect between the self and televised cultural expectations. Zoya Chaudhary’s exploration of ‘media as material’ physically demarcates the distance between lived experience and news media in a series of intricate lattice-work pieces based on traditional Jali. The works crafted from newspapers replicate the filtered screens of the Jali, through which the perception of the real and recorded may be filtered or fragmented. Chaudhary, like Wee, reflects on the impacts of COVID through her project as she describes the emotive negotiation of acts of erasure in relation to news articles of case numbers and death tolls.

The art historical explorations weaving through Archipelagic Encounters take to task overlooked art histories, western conceptions of cinematic spectatorship and the diverse cultural genealogies that have contributed to localised artistic developments in the twentieth century. Nurdiana Rahmat overlays the history of Malay women artists in Singapore connected with the Association of Artists of Various Resources (APAD) with an intersectional feminist framework that locates the artists and works in relation to a network of gendered politics, social dynamics, institutional hierarchies and cultural specificities that previously marginalised or invisibilised them. Genevieve Trail analyses the action and installation work of Choi Yan Chi prior to and in the context of the increased political tensions of Hong Kong in the late twentieth century. By exploring the experimental spatial and installation based works by Chi during the 1980s, Trail develops an important record of a period of Hong Kong’s cultural development that is often eclipsed by the politically charged, identity based work of the 1990s. Contrary to art histories that diminish the complexity and significance of cultural output in the region during this period, Trail’s text seeks to map the trend towards ‘the diffuse and networked uptake of collaborative experimentation’ that Choi’s practice exemplifies. Exploring the contemporary practice of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s engagement with sleep, cinema and inattention, Duncan Caillard charts the poles of immersion and distraction that pervade his videos and installations. In particular Caillard hones in on Apichatpong’s SLEEPCINEMAHOTEL—a cinematic architecture where spectators could spend the night amidst a constantly streamed projection. Caillard contextualises Apichatpong’s work and the challenges it presents to contemporary cinematic spectatorship by introducing ideas of intimacy, inattention and ‘collective drift’ framed by the act of sleeping.

The artists and historians who have contributed their research to this issue exemplify a desire to form deeper cultural connections through their processes, research methods and materials.
Their powerful, ongoing contributions to regional discourse highlights the value of arts capacity to strengthen cultural ties and broaden our understanding of who we are. Drawn together, we hope Archipelagic Encounters captures the diverse relations that come to the fore as we move through and within the plural histories, heritage and cultural positions that network between the island-to-island relations of the archipelago. These connections have been, to borrow from Trail’s observations on Choi’s practice in Hong Kong, an attempt to hold on to the insistently diffused mode of collaborative work between island-selves that have appeared and disappeared from the horizons over the past two years. Working together through this period on Archipelagic Encounters has been a way to find some footing, connecting researchers through their distinct practices.

We deeply thank all of the contributors for their startling level of commitment over this time, we thank the reviewers for their thoughts, encouragement and critical engagement with the submissions and finally we hope you the reader will encounter new knowledge, research approaches or overlooked histories that will connect you to the interrelated cultural multiplicities of our region.

Acknowledgements:Archieplagic Encounters has been supported by the School of Culture and Communications, University of Melbourne. 

We would like to acknowledge the organising partners of the Archipelagic Encounters symposium: Elyssia Bugg, PhD Candidate (Art History) & Centre of Visual Arts Graduate Fellow, University of Melbourne, Australia. Dr. Danny Butt, Associate Director (Research), Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne, Australia. Dr. S Chandrasekaran, Head, McNally School of Fine Arts,  LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore. Chloe Ho, PhD Candidate (Art History) & Centre of Visual Arts Graduate Fellow, University of Melbourne, Australia. Adeline Kueh, Senior Lecturer, MA Fine Arts, LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore. Jeffrey Say, Programme Leader, MA Asian Art Histories LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore. Ian Woo, Programme Leader, MA Fine Arts, LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore. Clare Veal, Lecturer, MA Asian Art Histories, LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore

Presenters at the Archipelagic Encounters Symposium:
Chelsea Coon, Chloe Ho, Chris Parkinson, Duncan Caillard, Elyssia Bugg, Erman Ashburn, Genevieve Trail, Kellie Wells, Kezia Yap,  Krystina Lyon, Laurence Marvin Castillo, Lizzie Wee, Manu Sharma, Nurdiana Rahmat, Pratibha Nambiar, Shinjita Roy, Tianyue Wang, Victoria Hertel and Zoya Chaudhary.

We also like to acknowledge the contributions of the Centre of Visual Art, University of Melbourne in particular Vice Chancellor Su Baker Dr Suzie Fraser and Eleanor Simcoe. We would also like to thank the staff of McNally School of Fine Arts, LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore. 

1. Pugh, Jonathan. ‘Island Movements: Thinking with the Archipelago’. Island Studies Journal. 8. 9-24. (2013). p. 10

2.  Ibid. p. 13

3. Glissant, É. (1989) Caribbean discourse: selected essays. M. Dash (Trans.). Charlottesville: Caraf. P. 139

About the editors:
Elyssia Bugg Elyssia Bugg is a PhD candidate in Art History at the University of Melbourne. Her research focuses on theories of performativity as they relate to early sculptural works from the Arte Povera movement. She is also the co-organiser of the inaugural Archipelagic Encounters Symposium, with LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore, and is a member of the Centre of Visual Art Graduate Academy in Melbourne.

Jeremy Eaton is an artist and writer based in Narrm/Melbourne. He is  the editorial coordinator of the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Art and a board member of un Magazine. Jeremy has exhibited throughout Australia participating in exhibitions at Sarah Scout Presents, Dominik Mersch Gallery, West Space, BUS Projects, CAVES, Margaret Lawrence Gallery and the Centre for Contemporary Photography. Jeremy has also written extensively for artists, galleries and publications including: the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Art + Australia, un Projects and Gertrude Contemporary.

Chloe Ho is a doctoral candidate in Art History at the University of Melbourne. Her interest is in twentieth and twenty-first century Singapore art, specifically in relation to performance and installation art and art historiography. She investigates the place of performance in the transmission of art and the art historical in the Singapore context, looking at artistic works, social phenomena and its relation to society. Her current research project attempts to account for the transmission of art critical and art historical knowledge in the Singapore context outside Western structures of knowledge with a special focus on the late 1980s to the present. More broadly, Chloe is interested in performance art forms in the Asian context, Southeast Asian art histories and artistic migration, particularly in relation to performance art and artists.

Currents  is a collaboration between the Centre of Visual Art (CoVA) at the University of Melbourne and the School of Design, University of Western Australia, and is funded through the Schenberg International Arts Collaboration Program. The Advisory Board and Editorial Committee are comprised of staff and graduate students from across the University of Melbourne and the University of Western Australia.
Currents acknowledges the traditional owners and ongoing custodians of the land on which this journal is produced—the Boonwurung and Wurundjeri people of the Eastern Kulin Nation and Whadjuk people. We pay our respects to land, ancestors and Elders, and know that education involves working with their guidance to improve the lives of all.

ISSN 2652-8207