I moderated a small symposium last night at the cafe of The Yokohama Museum of Art. Co-organised by the museum and AIT, the meeting was initiated by Taro Amano of the museum, who is keen to initiate a series of meetings amongst a younger generation of curators and art workers in the Asia Pacific region. Last night was the first of this series, with a focus on Australia. Three curators working in three contemporary art spaces in Sydney spoke - Sally Breen, Associate Director at Performance Space, Bec Deen, curator at the Australian Centre for Photography and Reuben Keehan, curator at Artspace Visual Arts Centre. Reuben presented a detailed survey on the history of alternative spaces in Australia from the early 1970s and ended by referencing two recent museum exhibitions which have attempted to 'show' alternative spaces. Lubricated with beer and wine donated by the Australian Embassy, the second half was a moderated discussion, with Naoko Shoji, assistant educator and curatorial co-ordinator from the Yokohama Museum of Art and Osamu Ikeda, Director of BankArt1929.
I proposed the title of the meeting with a view to trying to 'explode' the term 'alternative', which is widely used in Japan. Although Japan has a very recent history of alternative spaces compared to Australia, it is a term which has nevertheless gained considerbale cache since the mid 1990s. The Japan Foundation has published two useful guide books called 'Alternatives', mapping such spaces across the Asia-Pacific region. However, there has been limited discussion about what this means or how the term's meanings might be shifting with recent changes in museum laws in Japan. I suggested two points - one a historical perspective thinking about what Japan was doing in the 1970s, the period when alternative spaces were springing up in other parts of the world. The Osaka Expo in 1970 plays a significant role, I think, in creating the broad cultural landscape within which artists and curators could operate. As Ikeda san pointed out, one result of the Expo was the victory of Architecture as a profession in Japan and the defeat of avant-garde art - I suppose this is an interesting point, particularly considering the boom in public building projects which happened during the 1980s throughout Japan, resulting in hundreds of new culture centers being built. My second proposition was to shift discussions about alternative spaces to one about alternative times. In the current climate of museums, art spaces, artists projects and schools all becoming more fluid and friendly, it seems that highlighting space is rather restrictive. I would rather look to the activities which are happening in these various spaces, the different moments or times which are created. It was also interesting that I, representing AIT which does not maintain a large space or an exhibition space, was the sole member of the panel last night who spoke from a 'space-less' place. It seems that many Australian spaces and centres are receiving considerable funding these days, re-locating to new and larger premises. I felt that these kinds of shifts are precisely the kinds of things which warrant new approaches, languages and discussions regarding the 'alternative', and what it could mean today. From a Japanese perspective, I also felt that there is a lack of historical research about these issues, going back to the post-war period. An informed and more meaningful discussion can really only develop if there is this historical context too, through which more recent developments like Sagacho Exhibit Space etc, can be reflected upon.