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Asia TOPA is a multimedia exhibition presenting seven moments in time, created in response to the forced shutdown of live performance art during the pandemic.

The works on display range from contemporary reframing of traditional practice to engagements with questions about digital identities and the state of the planet.

This exhibition is a partnership between the National Museum of Australia and Asia TOPA.

Event Asia TOPA artists panel Time: 6pm–7pm Date: Friday 25 November 2022 Ticket information: Free, bookings essential Ticket information: Book tickets

Join featured artists, Asia TOPA founding director Stephen Armstrong and Virtual LABs digital dramaturg Daniel Koerner as they explore the switch from 'in real life' to virtual collaboration, how this has kept our region connected and shifted our practice going forward.

Asia TOPA presents legendary artists as well as new and emerging voices to celebrate the diversity of culture and creativity in our region. Unlike most international arts festivals, almost half of the works have been initiated by or created specifically for the festival. This focus on supporting new repertoire with international and local artists has seen Asia TOPA become one of the most significant creative hubs in the Asia-Pacific.

The second triennial in early 2020 narrowly escaped Covid-19’s border closures and shutdowns to present artists from 20 countries and territories in more than 50 events across the city. Nearly one million people visited the festival.

Intercultural collaborations

Many of the commissioned works are creative partnerships and collaborations between Asian artists and their Australian colleagues. These intercultural projects encourage enduring relationships and cultural exchange as well as artistic innovation. Frequently, Asia TOPA secures additional investment in these projects from national partners and festivals in Asia, Europe and North America extending the touring life (and artists’ livelihoods) of these new voices as they tell their own stories on a global stage.

Asia TOPA LABs

Since 2014, Arts Centre Melbourne has invited Asia-Pacific artists to explore potential collaborations with Australian artists and producers through a curated LAB program. Early concepts are developed in Asia TOPA LABs in Melbourne where the creative teams are introduced to one another and Australian presenters and producers.

The LABs are mostly multi-artform with artists from across Australia and numerous Asia-Pacific territories participating. Occasionally the LABs have been thematic. In 2015 Gideon Obarzanek was invited to lead a dance-based LAB for twenty artists from eight countries and, during the 2020 festival, the first Blak LAB was developed with Australian First Nations artists and curators.

Often beginning with a travel grant so that artists can immerse themselves in one another’s contexts and artistic process, these early concepts are then developed in Asia TOPA LABs in Melbourne where the creative teams are introduced to one another and Australian presenters and producers. Artists are paid to attend and all travel and other expenses are covered.

Mostly the LABs are multi-artform with artists from across Australia and numerous Asia-Pacific territories participating. Occasionally the LABs have been thematic – in 2015 Gideon Obarzanek was invited to lead a dance-based LAB for 20 artists from eight countries and, during the 2020 festival, the first Blak LAB was developed with Australian First Nations artists and curators.

The Covid-19 pandemic saw seasons and follow-on tours cancelled, international borders closed and venues across the region indefinitely shuttered. Asia TOPA and Arts Centre Melbourne resolved to move online. In the face of continuing lockdowns in 2021, the Office for the Arts provided additional support to run a second Virtual LAB program.

Over two and a half years, Virtual LABs have supported artists from more than a dozen countries and territories across 20 creative development stages. Some of these have literally been first conversations between artists. Some began to develop as virtual studio explorations pending future live meets, while others flourished in the virtual space and have gone on to second and even third phases of creative development and live digital presentation.

With an increase in international travel, LAB projects will begin to connect in real life (IRL) to test the viability of their concepts and their producing needs and potential.

Virtual LABs at the National Museum

In 2021, the National Museum of Australia offered to support Asia TOPA by providing additional development time and digital documentation for a cohort of Virtual LAB projects with the intention of sharing these preliminary online outcomes with a wider public.

This is the basis of the exhibition, which presents a ‘moment in time’. These creative processes and ideas have far to go before they will realise their final artistic form and live performance character. Nothing can ultimately replace direct personal contact and shared physical space and yet the extended experience of working online has produced some striking outcomes.

Stephen Armstrong
Founding Creative Director, Asia TOPA

At the time of writing, the pandemic is far from over. Even before it began, economic disparities and geopolitical turbulence frequently worked to keep artists apart. As the world faces the deepening crisis of global warming and how to reduce the hefty carbon footprint of international travel, new ways of creatively connecting, personally sharing and culturally exchanging will – and must – become choices we make with defiant enthusiasm.

Some Virtual LAB artists have become deeply immersed in the digital, sourcing ‘the digital spiritual’ and coming to understand that it is a fully creative dimension like any other artistic medium. For others, the chance of working in and through the virtual has offered vital and dynamic options at critical stages of the collaborative process – not merely a diminished alternative to IRL.

What every participating artist and project in the Virtual LAB shares is the unique and unprecedented global and local experience of creating together in isolation – a life experience no less shared by future audiences.  What has always been clear, but never clearer than during the pandemic, has been the need for our region’s people to continue to connect at the most fundamental level.

Good fortune is rarely shared with equanimity and our hearts have beat fast on many occasions learning of the daily anxieties and extreme challenges experienced by our friends and colleagues over this period. Thanks to the generosity of the LAB artists, we have continued to connect and find solace in the inexorable drive of the imagination.

Our thanks go to the artists – as ever – and our many partners for enabling us to remain in intimate acts of exchange and creation across the vast distances of the Asia-Pacific.

Logo block for Asia TOPA with logos for National Museum of Australia, Asia TOPA, Arts Centre Melbourne, Sidney Myer Fund, Playking Foundation, Sandpit, Australia Council for the Arts, Victoria State Government and the Australian Government Office for the Arts.

In our collection

Kungkarangkalpa Atila (Seven Sisters at Atila) by Derek Jungarrayi ThompsonThe Seven Sisters Songline travels from the west to the east across the far western and central deserts. The sisters are pursued by a man, Yurla, who is a shape shifter with transformative powers. Yurla becomes besotted by one of the sisters and pursues them endlessly in order to possess them. Today, this saga is visible in the ...

Banner image: Still image from DOKU: Live Alone Die Alone – The Karma Circle, 2022, Lu Yang, video, 6 minutes. Asia TOPA

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