Asia Research Institute, NUS, with National Gallery Singapore: Call for papers > CFP | Shifting Undergrounds in East and Southeast Asia: Transformations and Declinations of Cultural Self-Expressions and Communities in Cityscape

To critically re-examine what kind of social, ideological, cultural or conceptual significance undergrounds may still have in East and Southeast Asian cities today, this conference seeks new methodological and theoretical approaches that decipher the trajectories and narratives of undergrounds in relation to the geopolitical and sociocultural transformations and their impact on the urban environment. Questions to be addressed include but are not limited to the following:

  • What sociopolitical and cultural circumstances have historically contributed to or are currently transforming the changing position of undergrounds in East and Southeast Asian cities?

  • What kind of conceptual, theoretical or formal validity might undergrounds have amidst the changing geopolitical circumstances in the region and growing transnational forms of collaboration? Can undergrounds be both apolitical and subversive at the same time?

  • How do current ideological frameworks, social dynamics and individual aspirations manifest themselves in and benefit from the urban environment? What kind of driving or hindering forces are produced by current cultural policies, urban redevelopment and transnational mobility in cities?

  • What kind of novel spatial, formal and aesthetic strategies are underground communities employing in order to maintain their activities, interact with audience and negotiate with the local authorities? Is it possible to be both independent from official / institutional support and avoid commercialization?

  • How do underground spaces, co-operatives, collectives and cultural forms position themselves in response to (local) cultural policies to circumvent possible (self)censorship and to expand their networks across the national borders? What kind of Inter-Asia connections are emerging?

In collaboration with National Gallery Singapore, a one-day film seminar of curated screenings, talks and panel discussions will follow the conference on Saturday (27 October 2018) at the gallery.

Easily reproducible and disseminated, the medium of the moving image was adapted by artists working with readily available video or digital recording equipment, and making experimental or subversive work in response to shifts in cultural and political climates. The term ‘underground’ in film (Vanderbeek 1961) has been consciously adapted by those seeking to express aspects of countercultures, the marginal, and transgressive in the face of hegemonic value systems represented by mainstream cultures. Meanwhile, the notion of the avant-garde focuses on self-conscious use of the film medium, drawing upon radically dissenting techniques that include fragmentation, multiple interpretive possibilities, non-linear narratives, and esoteric approaches.

Moving image works primarily from Southeast Asia and wider Asia will be shown, accompanied by talks and panel discussions. Possible issues and points of query include the following:

  • What are limits and possibilities of representation and experimentation in the medium of the moving image, and how do these innovations in form relate to the lived experience of subversion? Did notorious ‘underground’ practices shift towards the mainstream due to the reproducibility of the medium?

  • What are productive ways to investigate relationships between the globalised form of expression that is the film medium, the international tendencies of the avant-garde, and the role that cinema has played in fostering group or national identities? Is it possible to write a history of experimental film nationally, or even across the region?

  • With reference to Steyerl’s ‘poor image’ (2009), how did underground film practice and the circulation of images evolve from the mid-20th century until today, against the backdrop of a progressing technology and affordable distribution possibilities such as VHS, DVDs or the internet?

Paper proposals should include a title, an abstract (250 words maximum) and a brief personal biography of 150 words for submission. Please note that only previously unpublished papers or those not already committed elsewhere can be accepted. The organizers plan to publish a special issue with selected papers presented in this conference. By participating in the conference, you agree to participate in the future publication plans of the organizers. Hotel accommodation and a contribution towards airfare will be provided for accepted paper participants (one author per paper).

Deadline: 25 May 2018

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