BUREAU for CULTURAL INTERCONNECTIVITY - BCI                                        conceptualised by Chu Yuan ( Zhu Zi Yan)

Cultural Interconnectivity and current models of cultural productions

Art and culture has been acknowledged to be interconnectors - with artists and cultural workers as agents of change - between peoples, communities and nationalities, bridging diverse backgrounds and beliefs. Awareness of the importance of working cross culturally has been on the rise and many art activities now privilege cross cultural exchanges, as we face new challenges in cultural diversity, fragmentations and conflicts, both within a common locality and inter-locality.

Yet what are the models of cultural productions that we are falling back on? We can agree on the importance of sharing, exchange and dialogue, as the gap in cultural understanding widens, even as distances between cultures and groups of people collapse in other ways. Yet have we taken time to evaluate how effective our current models of cultural productions are in extending cultural connectivity - in generating new ways of making and sustaining connections between peoples?

We have existing models such as artist-residencies, exchanges, traveling projects, biennials, international festivals, etc. Artists and curators are mostly falling back on academic training, and then go onto working with institutions such as museums or creating "alternative" spaces. Curators and festival directors are invited from cultures from across the world to work in diverse frameworks and issues. Art students have choices of working with a gallery, or outside of the commercial gallery system after their graduation but a majority still feel pessimistic about limited avenues and possibilities for furthering their profession. Art councils in many advanced economies have been allocating much funding to maximize the use of the arts and artists as cultural and economic resources.

The result of our own research and dialogue with cultural producers and art students in many countries that we have worked in is that we have inherited many of our current models of cultural knowledge and methodologies (of research, forms of presentation, productions) by inheritance from past histories and hierarchies (e.g. colonization, foreign education, old institutions) and have not intensively worked on adapting and renewing these models for local conditions and changing times.

Mobility and Groundedness

Artists' mobility has risen drastically. In a recent international event of ResArtis, which focused on artists mobility and exchange and interculturalism within the framework of globalism, in the midst of discussions around the global traffic of artists and arts exchanges, a smaller scale discussion grew among some of the delegates, on an important factor that seem to have been overlooked - in light of the present art system of biennials, networks, international mega events, and arts exchanges - that of "groundedness". Groundedness needs to precede mobility and groundedness should function as an important and essential collaborator to mobility.

The aspect that has been underemphasized - that of being invested and grounded in, and working in intimate response to local conditions - should engage our energies and resources, in equal importance to the secondary layer of activities, that of making interconnections through exchange and mobility.

Rooting the idea for BCI

On the platform of IFIMA, Chu Yuan and Jay Koh have been initiating dialogue and activities in artistic and community collaboration and resource-sharing across cultures. However, we believe that the appropriate action and form that the action takes needs to be intimately responsive to context, to the "local" conditions - the behavior patterns, knowledge and belief systems and existing activities and agencies on site. This involves a long term view and sustained engagement with a community in project development and collaborative processes.

Critic Lee Weng Choy, who is also artistic co-director of The Substation, Singapore, in addressing what he perceives as the crisis of art criticism, states that it is a crisis of performance - in that it can analyse, reflect and represent very well the complexities of art, culture and society, but it fails to point to any alternatives. He calls upon art criticism to perform the "universal crises of local symptoms". By local symptoms he means conditions under which cultures perform within specific places and historical moments. He pointed out the lack of articulation of local symptons and the need to make universal examples of local symptoms. A similar concern is also echoed by Davide Quartrio of BizArt Shanghai on the need for "building local cultural content".

What then are the local symptoms of still hanging onto perhaps outdated forms of art education, cultural institutional structures and art market mechanisms? In Sweden, where we were on a 10-week residency based in Umea, the symptoms were very clear - high unemployment rate and low morale of artists, government spending much money to create new functions and forms of employment for artists (through many Art & Business programmes, for example carried out by ARKIV in Umea), pessimism of art students and inability of artists to innovate new models of cultural productions that are adaptable to their own immediate environment.

The importance of articulating local symptoms, we intuited, holds the key to answering a question that Nick Tsoutas, formerly with Artspace Sydney, posed to us recently: How do we develop models that will carry cultural production into the next 25 years? If we are to choose, what are the things that we want to carry forward and what to leave behind?

The momentum and push for cultural connectivity has been building up for some time: the fact that there are so many artist-run spaces and public art institutions worldwide that are involved in cultural exchange; so many artists who each year think up of hundreds of new ideas and concepts and projects on how to link people and places and issues. And yet we are all working in rather restricted ways, in terms of finance, time and collaborative resources.

We have many websites with the objective of bridging cultures, many portals of information are still being developed - but what is the interface of linking potentially good partnerships? If an artist has an idea to make a project in Phnom Penh how should he/she start his/her process? Who is doing the match-making between artists and organisations based on good understanding of objectives matched with profile on site? How to develop ideas to make them responsive or workable in each specific context

How can we find ways to extend the pool of collaborative resouces and expand intercultural capacities? How can we deepen the necessary inter-organisational and inter-personal dialogue and understanding that can make a big difference to a project? We decided that creating a bureau that is focused on and clearly frames cultural interconnectivity would more effectively highlight these issues and enhance the performativity of relevant actions. Thus we have drawn up the basic idea for a Bureau for Cultural Interconnectivity (BCI).

What is BCI?

The Bureau for Cultural Interconnectivity is a collective platform that encourages discussions and reflections on and active imagining of appropriate models of cultural productions in response to localised needs and conditions.

It acts as a supportive mechanism for cultural interconnectivity by assisting in deepening the understanding of different cultural contexts, social structures and values, systems of thought and practices; and to encourage intercultural (intra and inter locality) collaborations that are attentive to working in response to localised conditions and needs. This is achieved through active communication and partnerships between various agencies involved in cultural production on a grassroots level.

A BCI site can be created by anyone or any group, anywhere and everywhere as an autonomous agency that works with other BCI sites.


Objectives of BCI:

1. To expand and extend the pool of collaborative resources

2. To build intercultural capacities - each culture and context is specific and knowledge is locally rooted - developing understanding of local specificities is necessary for intercultural competence

3. To encourage and act as interface for intercultural, reciprocal exchange that is motivated by person-to-person collaboration & honing of suitable models for identified contexts

4. To encourage and develop discourses investigating models and ethics of intercultural engagements and collaborations .

Activities of BCI:

Possible activities of BCI include:

- Collaborative partnerships to increase interconnections between cultural producers and activities

- Research projects e.g. investigating appropriate models of cultural productions for each locality; and the local symptoms of having inherited models of production that were designed for past conditions or imported from another system

- Dialogues, e.g. to enhance understanding of local symptoms

- Labs to investigate artistic strategies, work processes and appropriate responses to specific social contexts

- Resource-sharing projects e.g. Open Academy programmes

- Interactive exhibitions

- Mobile resource centre to be hosted by participating organisations

Fundamental work for BCI  

1. Grounding the local

Investigation of suitability of present models of engagement and cultural productions, and active imagining of other models or how to improve on existing models - this begins with the articulation of local symptoms of current models and systems in place and issues in each context. (Although the primary focus is on models of cultural productions, aspects of the arts and cultural environment, policies and structures in place that no doubt impacts cultural production will have to be included in the investigation)

Mapping of local organizations and initiatives in each locality. Analyse interests and directions. Make the cultural database available as a resource for other persons.

2. Enlarging on the local

Initiate dialogue and possible areas for collaborations between groups, organizations and disciplines which shares similar interests and directions in one locality. This involves willingness to apply 'art knowledge' (basically creative investigations, applications and transgressions of all forms) in working closely with persons/ organisations from other disciplines, and to learn from and work with other forms of knowledge and with other organisations with similar concerns for innovative social transformations

3. Extending to inter-local

Partnerships can form between cultural organisations/ individuals from different localities which/ who are invested in investigating and working with the 'local' - local symptoms, local needs, problems, structures etc. The partners can then initiate collaborative projects and activities, and offer services to each other and to the wider arts and cultural communities.
Services that each BCI partner could offer:

1. Resource pool of information on local cultural organisations and agencies in various localities, which includes information on objectives, activities, programmes, audience and community profiles, outreach methods, grassroots networks

2. Consultation to individuals, groups, or organisations - with an idea, for any intercultural or interdisciplinary exchange or project - who becomes a client of the bureau

3. Connecting people and organizations and adapting idea to local context - matching art producer's motivations, intentions, objectives with right agency on site. This involves connecting the 'client' with a resource person/ organisation (arts and non-arts) to enable a pre-project process of dialogue and adaptation of idea into something that is workable, applicable and responsive to context can take place.

5. Depending on the projects, the bureau could assist with raising small grants to support these projects

6. Initiate dialogues investigating issues related to inter-cultural engagements and collaborations - e.g. examining models, methodologies and approaches; ethics of engagement and exchange; groundedness in local contexts; building local cultural content etc.

Is BCI a good idea? Would it work? How to make it work better?

We invite you to give your thoughts on this matter. The idea of BCI, its structure and activities are not fixed and open for discussion and debate.