Issue 2, May 2017

4apapersheader2017mayLetter from the Editor


It’s always good to have options

If musicians can play in the manner of themes and variations, as an editor I’ll drop the themes, thanks, and pursue variations. The trouble with melody is that it’s always been overrated; besides, take a look around, we’re not all playing to the same harmonious tune—indeed, we never were, though some may feign surprise at this discovery. Who can really argue that, since a fateful night in a Paris concert hall in 1913 at least, we’ve been anything but dissonant? If the horns blast the ears it’s because you’re looking for recurring certainties when none will come your way; or, if they do, they’re surely dumb happenstance. No, I ask of writers: give me a songline that riffs upon whatever theme you find yourself hard up against. If it hits and it hurts, relax, they don’t riot in the stalls these days. That’s old news.

Then again, upon revision, I can’t accept this and nor should you—it can be refuted on at least two counts. First, despite life’s shape shifting slides and overwhelming suppositions—all of the things all of the time massaged into fact—we invariably can’t help but organise its lines and dots and spaces into something approaching those dreaded themes. There, I said it. No matter how determined to revel in randomness, a narrative drive imposes its will. Second, whoever said with iron-clad assurance that a coup d’etat against official culture—that infamous Stravinsky-Nijinski double-punch—was necessary to be heard note for note in order to be effective (or, in a writer’s case, word for word)? The public will hear what it wants until it doesn’t. It’s always good to have options.

And so it is that in the NOW, THEN, MAKE, TALK, SEE organising principle of 4A Papers’ second outing, common preoccupations are undeniably at play in its contributors’ scores. To begin, as Con Gerakaris puts it, we might NOW take seriously the ‘otherworldly burst of joyful indulgence’ in a sound that pricks one’s latent desire for spectacle, apprehending this phenomena as Roland Barthes surveyed the pop life mythologies of his own time. Offering a learned fanboy’s breakdown of the complex signs and signifiers embedded in k-pop mavericks’ music videos and sick rhymes, Con’s analysis suggests that there is no place on earth more abundant in producing the alchemic mixture of beats, art and commerce than a sound stage in Seoul and its corresponding hyperreality uploaded to YouTube.

Looking back over three decades, Helen Grace generously shares her perspective on an improvised life between cultures and, more subtly, between the suffocating strictures of ‘administrative rationality, development and civilisational status enhancement’, and an obverse determination to break the mould, both as educator and as global citizen. 4A Papers is privileged to publish Helen’s take on teaching (and much more besides) in Hong Kong and Sydney, THEN and now, as there are few who can match her searching intellect, visual perspicuity and steadfast ethical stance in an era of uneven progress marked by a seemingly intractable complicity. If and when Australian institutions wish to discuss the inherent challenges of this nation’s projections of its so-called soft-power in Asia, they need only turn here for wise counsel.

A serendipitous reunion between this editor and Aastha Chauhan in Delhi a few months back led to an exploration on foot of Khirkee, a neighbourhood nestled south of the city’s administrative centre, that culminated in an animated conversation atop the crumbling rooftop of a fourteenth-century mosque. Wise to the state of play as far as the compromising paradigm of philanthropy in art and culture is concerned, Aastha details the remarkable story of the birth of a b-boy crew and their entrepreneurial manoeuvres to engineer creative and financial independence. The members of {Khirkee17}, associated by actual communal neighbourhood residence in stark contrast to k-pop’s manufactured boys and girls next door, bust their moves to MAKE their own opportunities in service of the expansion of horizons, and by so doing help to further ‘rupture the caste equation.’

Taking the opportunity to sit down and TALK so that we might hear was 4A’s Twenty Years symposium held back in November. Isabelle Hore-Thorburn summarises that day’s dialogue at the University of Sydney, adding a good dose of her own lucid interpretation and critical questioning of past, present and future propositions articulated by the assembled speakers. Over in Hong Kong, Chantal Wong caught up with Sampson Wong to ask how to recognise ‘when aesthetic strategy or tactics becomes PR’; devise plans to ‘work with companies to transform them from the inside and increase their awareness to the world and ethics’; and put words into action when asked to respond to the question, ‘If you’re allowed to create without any restriction, what would you be interested in?’ If there is any doubt that Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement prompted real shifts in enacting change, consult this conversation.

Lastly, 4A Papers looks south of Haymarket to Melbourne where over recent months certain significant developments in the city’s arts landscape were welcomed. Sophia Cai opens with the memorable question: ‘What does a communist propaganda ballet, a night of storytelling centred on ghost stories, and an underground club celebrating queer Filipino identities share in common?’ In her take on the inaugural Asia-Pacific Triennial of Performing Arts, Sophia tracks the limits of ‘addressing cultural diversity through the corporeal representation of young Asian bodies and flesh’, as well as identifications of nations and nationality as principal points of categorisation in cultural festivals. Similarly, Léuli Eshrāghi advances upon the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art to SEE equal parts communion, celebration and critique. Sovereignty, an exhibition that presented contemporary art of First Nations peoples of South East Australia, prompts an unrestricted call ‘to redress histories of exclusion that continue to now, so we may all become possible together, distinct and hopeful.’ In tandem, Sophia and Léuli reminded me that historical scene-setting is everything.

Forgive me and allow me to start over. Forget Paris. Turn your ear instead to Apia: ma le fa‘aaloalo, ma le onosa‘i.

Best, and less

Pedro de Almeida
Editor, 4A Papers

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