People-to-People, Case-to-Case (Before Intra Asia Network, Seoul, 2006)

Image from IAN Seoul, September 2006. Norberto Roldan (Peewee) in Ssamzie Space, Seoul. Courtesy of Sau Bin Yap.

Email Q&A with Margaret Shiu and Norberto Roldan
Before Intra Asia Network, Seoul, 2006

Norberto Roldan (Peewee) couldn't attend the Pilot Project AIR Asia - Mapping Asian Artists' Mobility (2005) organized by 竹圍工作室 Bamboo Curtain Studio (BCS) in Taipei. This event would be better known as the first Intra Asia Network (IAN) meeting as mentioned in Anne Yao's text last week. Prior to the following September 2006 IAN meeting in Korea, Margaret Shiu of BCS was actively engaging people in the network via email. Below are Peewee’s answers to a questionnaire that Margaret emailed some time between the two events:

Dear Margaret,

I sincerely apologize for sending this only now. I should have attended to this document earlier had it not been for some problems I encountered with my travel plans. Actually, it has been my intention to contribute these insights, and participate in the discussions through emails, whether I make it to Korea or not. But now that there is a better chance for me to make it (thanks to you and Hyunjin), I’m excited at the prospect of being able to elaborate on these thoughts during the actual workshop. I hope you can bear with my lengthy discourse.

Best regards,

Norberto (Peewee)

Image from IAN Seoul, September 2006. Peewee with Ssamzie curator, Hyun Jin Shin at the Gwangju Biennale Conference Hall. Courtesy of Anne Yao.

BCS: What are your current concerns within this topic as a service provider to your local and regional cultural workers, and how can you help our new initiative in international exchanges?

NR: Since this is going to be my first active participation in an ongoing discussion regarding certain issues, allow me to contribute my initial thoughts based on certain assumptions, like:

1. the term service provider is still subject to debate and is used here liberally to describe members of the network, some of which are actually parallel initiatives (alternative spaces) to existing art and cultural institutions, and therefore are part of the industry infrastructure as well;

2. the question at hand tries to distinguish the members of the network from the “local and cultural workers” although in some/most cases (particularly in ours), these cultural workers/artists are the same people running these parallel initiatives. The contention, therefore, on the term service provider arises from a situation where the one delivering the “service” and the beneficiaries are the same.

So given the duality of the role played by alternative spaces (like in the case of Green Papaya Art Projects where it has evolved into a community of artists and at the same time as an alternative platform serving the needs of its community), the most pressing concern is sustainability. Historically, since alternative spaces are borne out of artists’ initiatives primarily as a response to different types of challenges in their respective socio-cultural environments, these efforts have been propelled mostly by sheer manpower but without much financial muscle. Due to lack of state subsidy, support from the private sector and corporate patronage, we have seen very dynamic and promising alternative art spaces in Manila folding up and burning out artists/cultural workers involved after three or four years of struggling to keep programs afloat. Obviously the problem of sustainability translates into funding requirements. Sourcing for funds, formulating economic activities and generating sustainable resources are the most common stumbling blocks for these alternative spaces in pursuing a more long term goal in terms of not only initiating but establishing new paradigms in contemporary art productions and cultural management.

As to the question how can our spaces help in the new initiative in international exchange, I guess there is much to learn from this collective phenomenon: what drives artists running these spaces to take matters into their own hands? They certainly are not in any position to contribute material resources to residencies and exchanges, but they have enough well grounded perspectives formed over many years of operating in the periphery that may be significant to this whole Intra-Asia dialogue. But the most concrete step I think that we can do to help international exchange prosper is to participate in the formulation of a framework and help in building the needed infrastructure that are most appropriate and relevant to our Asia-Pacific constituency. Saying that, there is no need to stress further the importance of the IAN workshop and for everyone (including those whose mobility is hampered by financial constraints) to be able to participate in it.

BCS: What are the currently available resources that we can tap into for substantive services to members in this network?  There is a lot of information but we need real sharing of past experiences and knowledge so as to be continuously relevant.

NR: Offhand, I can say that there is no organized system yet from where we can source a particular type of support for a particular type of project. I agree that there is a lot of information available but sharing and dissemination have always been done through personal association, affiliation or referral. Perhaps, IAN can build a research and technology-based virtual site where information can constantly flow and members can readily access them. It can be both a library and a discussion portal to support dialogue among artists and cultural managers of alternative/artist-run spaces, institutions, organizations, museums, as well as with its counterpart communities in North America and Europe and elsewhere, making connections outside the mainstream, governmental and institutional links. Dialogues may seek to articulate issues that pertain to local and regional concerns around culture and society and discuss ways through which contemporary art practice can acquire a significant role in the everyday life of ordinary people – enriching their perspective to be fully aware and critical of their social, cultural and political conditions.

From our experience, there has been a lot of people-to-people arrangements, more on a case-to-case basis, where realization of residencies and exchanges have sprung. Our residency and exchange program for example was born in this kind of environment and features more soft resources (facilitation of direct interaction/integration with local artists and communities) than hard resources (availability of studio spaces and accommodations). As part of our soft resource capability, we arrange for accommodation, workshop area, link-up with schools and universities, and immersion in a specific community/sector for foreign artists who wish to take up a residency with us.  As a host we also offer curatorial assistance, project management, and an exhibition or performance venue, all this for free, should the artist need such support.

BCS: Can you from your own perspective honestly review the present Asian networks, taking into consideration their internal structure, range of interaction between members and non-members, functioning, nature of their projects, difficulties, successes and fundraising strategies.  How effective are they in communication, and how may they be of help to our group in the future.

NR: I’ll try to provide a general overview of these issues, varied as they are, from a perspective fed both by empirical data and gathered from first hand knowledge and observations. I will also try to list down from memory formal and informal networks I have come across with in the course of my work both as an artist and cultural manager simply as points of reference.

Formal networks


Some 30 years preceding the founding of Intra Asia Network in Taipei in 2005, we witnessed the formation of the ASEAN-COCI (Committee on Culture and Information), a formidable network of quasi-government cultural institutions funded by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. COCI’s mandate was to develop a basic framework of cooperation in culture and information where equal opportunities are given to each country for their artists and scholars to make a headway in the development and promotion of arts and culture in the region. Hence, since the early 1980s to mid 1990s, we saw for the first time a traffic of Asian artists crossing regional borders to participate in annual travelling exhibitions, art camps, sculpture symposia; and of Asian scholars participating in exchange programs that cover anthropology, archeology, museology, and cultural policy making workshops. With the programs ably funded by member governments, we experienced the leveling off of the field among rich and poor countries, and for that matter artists coming from the oil-rich state of Brunei and the poverty-stricken state of the Philippines are able to share the same platform. There is no available data as to whether the main objective of COCI was achieved although it is generally perceived that the role it played in initiating artists’ mobility in Asia can not be ignored. In 1992, I represented the Philippines in a traveling exhibition and symposium in Brunei Darussalam. The experience provided the individual artists opportunities to network informally with their counterparts from other countries but not much has come out of it since it lacked the necessary mechanics and support system to sustain and widen such network. I believe that IAN should tap into the vast resources of the ASEAN-COCI, and may propose a joint program to strengthen the infrastructure for AIR.


Organized some 15 years ago, this federation is composed of FAA-Committees from each country in Asia. Its main activity is its annual Asian International Art Exhibition which tour the different member-countries. The touring exhibition provides a venue for artists to meet and dialogue on current developments and issues relevant to Asian art practice. It is a network, however, that maintains exclusivity among committee members. As in the case of the Philippines, membership in the committee is permanent. Although the FAA enjoys both corporate and government support, this privilege does not trickle down to a bigger community where contact and interaction with other Asian artists may be enhanced.


A unique mechanism for networking, this guidebook was first published at the end of 2001 by the Japan Foundation. The latest edition released in October 2004 contains information on 170 art spaces and organizations in 16 countries in the Asia-Pacific region. In its introduction, it states that “this guidebook was compiled to assist people with interest in Asian contemporary art, providing the necessary information to directly experience the art of Asia in its countries of origin, to meet and associate with people in the Asian art world, or to research and study new art forms in this region.” As far as alternative spaces are concerned, it brought unprecedented access to similar endeavors in the region, providing vital information and links to people operating in the field, and offering wide opportunities for interaction, cooperation and exchange. While actual exchanges do happen as a result of this “open source,” it also suggests virtual mobilities for those who are interested in any particular space listed in the book, and may pursue it by visiting the homepage. This mechanism only proves that even with the internet, information contained in hard copies can still be a vital instrument in connecting people. In the long term, I can see the need for IAN to publish a similar undertaking, and or to co-publish with the Japan Foundation an expanded version of the guidebook.

Informal networks


Artists-Run-Spaces in Manila maintain an informal network. Under such arrangement, we make ourselves aware of each other’s program and calendar of events, and make sure that we support these activities. We also share information, foreign contacts and resources, and on a number of occasions, collaborate on projects. Since there is no available funding to run a more structured network, we rely more on the communal spirit prevalent in third world environments like Manila. By and large, the system works as the field is left wide open for anyone wanting to contribute something. But to a certain extent, the informal setting makes us vulnerable to committing ourselves to undertake under-funded projects.


A personal network with individuals and organizations is developed over many years of interaction and collaboration in the course of our participation in international exhibitions, workshops and conferences. Also, as a result of our hosting residencies and exchanges, we developed personal working relations with artists and institutions. Although communication and interaction with the people considered within this network is done on a more personal basis, a consolidation of one’s personal network may be passed on to other members of IAN.

BCS: We need also to clarify the structure of our new network, and rights and responsibilities of the members.

NR: I should reserve my comments and in-puts with regards to the structure of our new network and the responsibilities of the members as I believe this concern will be further discussed during the workshop. As for now, I think I have a plateful to digest and I hope that the rest of the panel will take interest in some of the observations I raised. Thank you.

Image from IAN Seoul, September 2006. Peewee, 3rd from right, at Ssamzie’s black box space, Seoul. Courtesy of Anne Yao.


Thanks to Anne Yao for kindly sharing this document, along with additional documents and video documentation that was missing from Papaya’s archives. The above text has been edited for clarity.

More documentation

More info:

Bamboo Curtain Studio website

"Intra Asia Network." (last edited on 1 Aug 2018)

"New Ways of Engaging Asia." (2006)

Mio Iwakiri. "Hot Workshop in a Big Typhoon." (1 Sep 2005)

If you can: 


Right People, Wrong Timing (RPWT) is a series of texts on defunct or inactive independent Asian arts initiatives that had crossed paths or ran parallel to Papaya's own 20-year history. With new posts every Friday from August to December 2020, RPWT is kindly supported through a local grant by the Japan Foundation Manila.