|Space Age (2017)
Photo: Witjak Widhi Cahya
|From Project 2020,
2020 An Arrival (2015)
|From Project 2020,
I’m from 2020 (2016)
Photo: Alvin Shen
|From Project 2020,
Futurists’ Diary (2017)
Photo: Alvin Shen
|In 2012, Tan E-Jan started Toccata Studio (approx.50 seats) as a platform for experimental performance in Petaling Jaya, which is adjacent to the capital – Kuala Lumpur. Along with co-founder and artistic director Ng Chor Guan, the Malaysian independent producer Tan E-Jan pioneered the production and supports for cutting-edge, interdisciplinary creative programs. After turning from a professional musician to an international art manager, E-Jan has built an international network of performing arts producers while based in Southeast Asia. She is also appointed as the CEO of the INXO Foundation in 2018. In this interview, we asked about her inspiration and motivation for the unique career she has built over the years.
Interviewer: Mio Yachita [Tokyo University of the Arts]
Beginning of the Toccata Studio
First of all, I would like to ask how Toccata Studio started. It was co-founded by yourself and Ng Chor Guan in 2012 to conduct experiment and to create interdisciplinary productions. However, I understand that you are a trained as a pianist and a flutist, and Ng Chor Guan is a composer, sound artist and an artist who experiments with the latest technology.
Chor Guan and I met in Malaysia, studied music in London together and we came back to Malaysia in 2006. At that time, I was a musician while lecturing Western classical music history at Yamaha Academy of Arts and Music for a living. Chor Guan was a composer in many different arts scenes, including international co-created theatre productions such as Break-ing
(2008), Instant Café Theatre’s production Nadirah
(2014), as well as film productions and contemporary dance productions in several countries.
Back in those days, there weren’t a lot of physical spaces that allowed experiment. If you work for some theatre companies, the production team will rent a theatre for a week, set up the stage, have rehearsals, perform the show over the weekend and leave the theatre. We thought this routine restricts creativity as we cannot afford to fail. We cannot afford to try many things so we have to make sure things works before audiences come to the theatre. We have been feeling tired of this repetitive routine since we were working with many different production companies at that time. So, we wanted a space that we can explore and be creative. After going through the repetitive routine of productions, we realized we want to push boundaries and make the process of the creation into a practice of our daily life and not as a periodical work.
How did the idea of having a studio come about?
I woke up one day and thought, “I’m turning 30 years old and I don’t want my life to be the same as how it is now.” The routine of teaching was stable and comfortable, but teaching was not the only thing that I want to. I started to feel the urge to do something different. As much as we enjoyed working with performing arts productions, the routine of stage production felt not right. Therefore, I begin to wonder what can happen if we have a space. We can then try different things, experiment and challenge different ideas. I thought it would be fun to be able to spend a lot of time with artists and be creative.
On that day itself, I begin to search for venues that were available for renting around my neighborhood. The neighborhood that I lived in was fun and vibrant. There are nice food and is convenient to get things that we need, but there is nothing on art. In my opinion, a matured neighborhood needs art. We found a pleasant and affordable place. Two weeks later, we started Toccata Studio and it was just before my 30th birthday.
Sounds like a really impulsive decision! It must have been a lot of changes from being a performer to running a space of your own.
I thought if I had my own space I could perform monthly, or even weekly. I wanted to make a living by performing but the music scene in my country at that time, only have student concerts in the schools and studios or professional symphony, but nothing in between. It was more or less the standard repertoires that were performed, but I thought there are a lot more in music. That’s why the space was first set up like a music salon, to be able to have small recitals, or to explore different repertoire in music.
However, I only did two performances by myself in my own venue. Three months after opening the space, I realized I have to make a choice between hiring a producer or I have to be the producer. While I was negotiating with many different artists, I also had to clean the space and find ways to sustain. It was so much work and I had no time to practice anymore. I thought of asking someone to run the space, but perhaps I can be that person.
Did you not feel that you would miss your career as a musician?
After coming back to my country, we worked a lot with original creations through theatre, and I started to question my identity in relation to music. I had my connections with the classical music because I was trained from 4 years old, but what has it to do with my own culture and my identity? This question bothered me a lot, and I started to feel maybe I have to try something else. Practicing Beethoven and Chopin did not answer my questions anymore.
At the point, Chor Guan was also feeling trapped in the routine of music production. He is a kind of person that feels inspired with everything he sees in his life. He has so many ideas that he never have enough time to put into execution, or have enough funding to support all his creative ideas. So, when we talked about having this creative space, it also gave him a chance to explore some of his ideas.
Toccata’s First Core Productions
At the beginning, you had several core programs at the studio such as Dance = Music Series and New Music Series. Can you tell us about that?
We started with Dance = Music Series
, which we matched one musician and a dancer for an open improvisation session to find the mutual language between physical movements and sound. Dance = Music Series
provided chance to dancers and musicians to know each other through the rehearsal and the small showcase. We consider this program as a research & development: finding your artistic partners and inspirations. We had worked with many well-known Malaysian dancers such as Leng Poh Gee, Aida Redza, Suhaili Micheline, and Marion D’Cruz
. We also worked with some visiting artists such as Abby Chan, Cai Ying and Rebecca Wong from Hong Kong. At first, we tried to involve other musicians but there were not many people who wanted to challenge improvisation, let alone work with dancers. After a while, we decided to have Chor Guan as the partnering musician for all dancers. He mainly played piano, computer, and theremin.
We also started New Music Series
, which gathered several musicians to explore new form of music among the different types of music: western, traditional, and electronic music. We also tried to cross ethnicity by having Chinese and Malay musical instruments together with contemporary music. We asked those who were trying new things in music scenes to our space and explore and have a small showcase.
The most memorable production came out from this series is Polka Dot Playground
, which later became one of our touring production. In this work, colorful polka-dots projected all over the room transforms the space, while improvisational music generates movements for the dots to play around. This work started at the studio and was later presented at the Bangkok Theatre Festival in 2016 and was also presented in schools in Penang, Perak and Klang with government subsidies.
Together with this two series, we started the Cake Project
, a micro crowd funding to support people with creative ideas. Modeling from the Soup project, we replaced the soup with cake, which seemed more appropriate in our country. It is an open program, so those who have ideas come to pitch for it, and people who came as a participant pays small amount of donation at the door, get the cake while listening to the pitch, and vote for their favorite ideas. The idea that received the most votes gets all the funding raised on that day. Creative ideas are the starting point how later everything flourishes, but that is also the hardest timing for raising any funding support. Cake Project
was set up to support those seeds of creative ideas. Over the years, we run it for 24 times.
For the first three years, we held 30 to 40 shows every year, as Dance = Music Series
and New Music Series
ran in alternate month, and we also had other productions. That was a crazy time. I remember only sleeping 3 hours every day for the first two years.
Developing New Audiences
Who were the audiences and how did they come to know the space?
In the beginning, our studio could only accommodate 50 people, however for a small art scene in Kuala Lumpur, it was very challenging to have audiences for each show, especially for experimental works. Developing and engaging with new audiences who were not already in the art scene was one of the most successful things that we have achieved in the early days.
When people go to large theatres, there’s a distance between the audience and the stage. However, if you come to a place like ours, it’s small and cozy that you may even feel like talking to the artists after the show. We decided to hold Q&A session after every single show, because we always want to communicate and engage with the audience. Toccata Studio is one of the rare spaces that could provide close and intimate relation between artists to the audiences.
Despite the difficulty, I think it was a very good experience. It was a great training for audience development, since we had some shows almost weekly. Interesting thing about being an independent producer is that you learn everything at the same time. I think this experience trained me how to convince people. Aside from convincing people to come and view the experimental show, I also had to convince a lot of people why they should work with us. I had to tell artists how little we could share from the ticket. I learned how hard it is to convince any donors to support what we are doing. I had no training or experience in doing these. That’s why I always tell people if they want to learn how to be a producer, they should come to Southeast Asia to do a project. If you can go through all this without established supporting structure, you can quickly become fully trained producer.
It seems that the uniqueness of the studio’s experimental production attracted audiences in Malaysia who were seeking something new.
Yes, our programs are very experimental and diverse. We don’t usually work with only one genre but at least a combination of two. For example: dance and music together, or in the musicians from completely different backgrounds. We also worked with a lot of projections and computers and that itself attracts a new group of audiences. Then we try to encourage performers and artists to encounter new form of arts by inviting them to our shows in different genres. We wanted to challenge the norm in which people only visit each other within the small circle of the same kinds of arts.
This idea of crossing over disciplinaries and genres seems to be the core concept of Toccata Studio. Why is it so?
I think part of the reason is because we have music background. Music exists in almost all theatre productions; dance, theatre, and even visual. We have worked across all of these disciplines in the past, always preferred that way. Also, in the performing arts there’s always a clear separation between music, theatre, dance and other forms, but we always wanted to work with all genres. We wanted to explore new approaches, so we constantly push the boundaries and the limitation of music in performing arts. We also tend to create non-verbal expressions in production, as we believe in the narrative nature of the music to be enough to tell a story rather than using words. Script tells a lot, but at some point, it could also restrict imagination. We want to keep that space of imagination for the audience.
The word “toccata,” originating from the Italian word “toccare”, means “to touch”. We named the studio this way because we wanted different arts forms to crossover, to “touch” each other, and we wanted people to be in touch with the arts. As a studio, we hoped to offer as diverse program as possible. It is only possible by presenting multi-disciplinary works.
The Studio’s Expansion into Space Toccata
In 2015, you have expanded Toccata Studio into Space Toccata; moved to a slightly larger unit within the same block, and founded a space that is properly equipped for performance and rooms for artist-in-residence. What was behind this decision?
After we started the studio impulsively, we realized it is financially difficult to sustain the space with the income from the small performances, small income from space rental and individual donation. In 2014, when we were almost deciding not to maintain the space anymore, I joined the first Asian Producers’ Platform Camp (APP) in Korea. It was a new program for networking and peer training for performing arts producers in Asia, organized by Open Network for Performing Arts Management (ON-PAM)
, a non-profit organization in Japan, in partnerships with several countries. I was struggling to manage Toccata Studio without having any background of arts management. Therefore, when I found out about this program, I felt it could benefit me to build a network with similar-minded people in the Asian region. I decided self-fund myself to join this program. This network of APP grew so firmly that I become part of the core planning team now.
While I was participating the program, I started to realize how important it is to have this kind of experimental space, and to be able to spend resources on research & development in creation. In the APP, most of the participants were theatre producers from developed countries, namely Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Australia. Compared to the situation to my country, these countries seemed to have well-structured supporting system for the arts and well managed infrastructures such as theatres and museum. However, they felt that it was a luxury to have a space like ours and to be able to afford time to create works in the way we do. Manageable cost of living in my country allows us to have a space and time in creation and experimentation. I realized this is the advantage of being based in Southeast Asia. This whole experience changed my decision from closing my space down to expand it.
In the new space, we set up the lighting and dance floor and created a small black box to be able to host a show properly. Acoustics were always important to us so we tried to keep the best among what we can afford. In addition, we were already working with a lot with international artists at that time, so we prepared a space for them to stay, as well as a proper kitchen and dining space to prepare for the long creation time. We took some loans to cover the initial cost and separated financial management between the new Space Toccata and Toccata Studio which became a production company now.
With the new space, we could now fit about 100 audiences for music show, 60 audiences for dance depends on how to use the space, which of course accounted for more income per show. In addition to the income from performances, residency, fee for invited productions in and out of the country, we also sought for more stable funding, which we received support from the Khind Starfish Foundation, a private foundation in Malaysia.
Apart from more diversified income model, what were the programs for the new space?
We started a children program called Toccapoly
. We know that art education has been very lacking in the Malaysia public education. In this program, we brought educators from different disciplines such as literature, dance, music, and arts to develop a course on arts appreciation. It was not meant to be skill training, since we noticed that many children start to dislike the arts as soon as it became a burden to learn. Children may practice and learn, but do not necessarily develop passion towards arts. In the beginning, we started the programme as a camp format, which children came for 4 days during school holidays, and ran it 4 times on the first year. Then we developed it as shorter sessions such as 2 hours sessions, and that became a weekly program. We charged for the program and this became part of the regular income to sustain our space.
In the new studio, we also continued Dance = Music Series
and New Music Series
. However, we do not run the programs as monthly programs but rather as occasional programs since Chor Guan and I became very busy over the years with international touring, co-creation and conferences. Aside from working with other companies, we were increasingly involved in creating our own productions, and later touring them to international festivals and showcases. At the same time, I was invited to more networking and trainings, and Chor Guan was starting to receive increasing numbers of invitations to international artist-in-residency programs. There were many months that either of us was in the country.
As our activities expanded, we begin to call ourselves a “creative incubator,” not a space manager or a production company. This is because we only came to run the space out of our interest in exploring new things, and the presentation of our works were always very diverse than just one genre. This is because we think the core of art is the creativity, and creativity can be in different ways and forms.
Toccata Studio as a production company
Can you tell us about some of the pieces Toccata Studio had produced over the years?
We have always been open to different styles of creation. Our creation is not only presented in the theatre, but sometimes in galleries and museums. For example RE:RevoEvo
, an audio-visual project inspired by cycling, involved sounds and images captured through cycling in designated area, is commonly presented in visual arts gallery. It was performed at Southeast Asian Arts Festival in London in 2014, the GeorgeTown Festival in 2015 and KL biennale at National Gallery of Malaysia in 2017.
Another longstanding work of ours is called Space Age
. It was an interdisciplinary music performance created by Chor Guan with an inspiration from stars and universes. The music part was originally imagined as a mini orchestra piece, so the ensemble consists of Viola, Horn, Flute, Piano and Theremin. From the beginning, we had this idea of projecting images of space traveling. However, back in 2010 when we created the work, we did not have a lot of technology. When we first presented it, we used three small office projectors and it was very dark and blur. Later in 2013, we applied for the government grant and was able to present the piece with much better environment and equipment. We used new gallery, the white box of MAP Publika, with walls and ceiling built for the purpose and with new visuals. The show was a great success as we joined Performing Arts Market in Seoul in 2016, the World Stage Design Festival in Taipei in 2017, Asian Theatre for the Young Audience in Tokyo and Kobe in Japan and Salihara International Performing Arts Festival in Indonesia in 2018. We are still working on another version of this piece, which we are hoping to stage in Planetarium. We are also hoping to expand it into full orchestra version.
In the Space Age, Polka Dots Playground and also RE:RevoEvo, the idea of using projections, electronic music and technology seems to play important part of the Toccata Studio’s production.
Technology always inspired us. However, the reason why we tend to use visual technology in most musical pieces is because we feel that visual is the most direct sense that human receive. We perceive visuals before sound. Only when we don’t see things, we start to listen to things. When we first started Toccata Studio in 2012, we were always frustrated, as we couldn’t achieve what we were trying to do with the kind of technology that were available back then. Now, there’s a new challenge as many things are happening fast. We have more international network and have connection with people from Ars Electronica when Chor Guan was in a residency in Vienna two years ago, and with Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media (YCAM)
through British Council program.
One of the earliest works is called Mobile Phone Orchestra
. This piece was started in 2011, when everyone had a flip phone with small little keypad. It has since developed into 4 or 5 different versions, and we have just presented the latest version in Asia Cultural Center (ACC) in Gwangju in 2018, titled Mobile Phone Orchestra: I am here where you are
. It is an immersive theatre piece where audience comes with mobile phone, and they follow the story line using their phone and a headphone. We first performed this version in the community where our studio was located. We tried to create an experience of being in a parallel universe: you hear something that is not from where you are. It was intended to make transformative experience of time and space. As the piece progress, audience had to go look for the right place: sometimes, they were required to go high places to see the landscape of the place, or had to pass-by each other in the narrow alley. We intend to look for a unique place in each occasion to fit the piece.
Creating the future by ourselves: Project 2020
In the 14th General Election of Malaysia in 2018, former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad led the opposition coalition, Pakatan Harapan (the Alliance of Hope), and made a historical win against the then-ruling party UMNO led by the Prime Minister Najib Razak. For the first time since independence from Britain in 1957, the nation welcomed the new party in charge of the government through democratic process, and Prime Minister Mahathir has returned. This change of government is expected to promote reform and democratization, as people expect the birth of "new Malaysia". In such a political situation, your production Project 2020 that deals with the future of the Malaysian society seems ever so relevant.
This is a changing time. We felt that we are a part of the change that took place. Some people were seriously worried that such a historical change of administration might cause social confusion and might repeat the tragic ethnic riot in 1969 after the third general election. Fortunately, that was not the case.
In fact, we have been working for this piece called Project 2020
before this political change. It started in 2015. In the beginning, we looked at how artists can contribute to the society. The project is named after a policy “Vision 2020”, which is a national development goal put up by then (and current) Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed in the 1980s. We have been in the arts sector over the years but suddenly around 2013, we realized how close we are getting to 2020.
Since the policy announced, Malaysia quickly developed as a country, especially in the economy. We have very good infrastructures in Southeast Asia now, however if we want to become a highly developed country, software is important. Culture is about people, and we consider growth of people’s mind as one of the factors. We kept asking questions on how we see the future. Hence, we reflected on our childhood when we envisioned what will 2020 be like. Hence, we decided to start a project called Project 2020
that involves people from different disciplines to think about our future together.
is not asper se, but a combination of several projects. The core idea was to envision how individuals, not the government, could be part of creating our own future and how can artist be part of it. Under the umbrella of the project, we created a stage production every year, and the first production we created in 2015 is called 2020 An Arrival
, which the story starts with scientists in a lab trying to create time machine and clones.
The story proceeds in the multiple universe existing at the same time. As one of the stage effect, we created a virtual wall on stage using lighting effect, so audience on the right and left could only see their side of the stage, but not the other. We worked with dancers, choreographers, musicians, text collaborator and a lighting designer. It was created as a stage production, but the presentation was completely non-verbal. Text came in the form of program notes but not conversation on stage. This production won the first theatrics award by MyCreative Venture, an investment company established by the government to promote Malaysian creative industry and that enabled us to restage it in larger scale in KL Performing Arts Center.
In 2016, we created the second episode of the stage production – I’m from 2020
in collaboration with T.T.C. Dance Company from Taiwan. This was also non-verbal production. We developed the story from the first piece in which something had happened in 2020 but no one knows what it is. It was a little mysterious that everyone keeps searching for something. These related works were later also presented at the KL International Festival “DiverseCity”.
On the first year, we realized working with different arts discipline wasn’t enough. Therefore, we started to involve people outside of the arts in the second year. We held monthly round table discussions with people who we never met. Initially, we sent out questionnaires to friends, asking them to send it to other friends. When we had enough people who were interested in, we brought 10 strangers together every month, and discussed about how people in different profession can contribute to creating our own future. The participants were very diverse: the youngest was 17 years old, and the oldest was 75. In each session, each participant should not to be related to one another, and each had to come from a different profession.
Since most of these participants had no experience with performing arts, we started every session with a little theatre game. We asked them what is their childhood dream, what is their profession right now and if their current profession relates to their dreams; and what would they choose if there’s only one food that they can have for the rest of their life. The last question was very much of a “Malaysian thing”. We give serious consideration on what we eat! So those questions were the starting point of the conversation within the group. We had 8 sessions altogether throughout the year, and it has turned out to be very interesting as we realized that all of us have assumptions to other professions, because we don’t have a lot of conversations with different people in our daily life. It also proved how much we only talk within our own social circle.
This round table was a project itself but also functioned as an audience engagement effort. Sometimes, I feel we are living in this art bubble happily within ourselves, and constantly complain about people not wanting to come the theatre and view the show. But through this program I realized more than ever, that people do not know what is happening, and the arts has nothing to do with their daily life.
It’s hard to convince a person who never goes to theatre. However, people started to understand who we are through conversation with us. Inspired by these participants, we encouraged them to engage in the production, and as a result we had 20 non-performers on stage in our production in 2016. One of the participants, 65 years old man, was a retired engineer and his childhood dream was to be an actor. However, he became an engineer as he was not encouraged to study arts. By participating in this performance, it made his dream come true. He was happy to be able to perform with dancers and other participants. There were a lot of conversations and this is one of them. This is one of the biggest motivations for us.
Besides participating in the production, what was the contribution of the roundtable participants?
Quite a few of the people who joined the round table said that they had never thought about 2020 or their future, let alone how they are part of the creation of their future. At that time, Malaysia was going through a lot of political scandals and negative news. We felt disappointed with the government and the future. I felt that was also the time that arts could act as platform to restore the positivity into people and society. After the several roundtables, two young people joined us as our interns, as they felt there’s some ways that they can contribute. I see this as a good outcome since we reminded people that they are responsible to their future. If you want to change, you ought to also take part of the change. We don’t sit and wait for other people to do their job. However, the ordinary people in the society like us should do whatever we can to create the future we want.
The dialogue did not only influence the participants but also inspired us a lot. Through meeting new people, we got really fascinated by the creative imagination of some professions. For example, a scientist working on artificial intelligence, or professional diving instructors who are also environmental activist, and a Nano technology scientist who works with what we cannot perceive by our eyes. Through the meeting with these people and having weekly meeting for the creative expansion, we were convinced that some professions, including scientists and artists, are future-oriented visionaries. This is because both scientists and artists try to create something we have never experienced or imagined before. Hence, in the theatrical part of the production in 2017, titled Futurists’ Diaries
, we persuaded some of the scientist friends to be part of the production with other non-performers and dancers.
International network and leadership in the arts
Aside from running a space and create productions, you seem to have been actively engaged in international network recently.
Since 2014, opportunities for trainings and networking with producers and arts mangers suddenly increased. It was partly because I have started my own place and there are also an increasingly attentions to the role arts for social integrations, especially in the Southeast Asia regions.
Since 2014, I have joined Asia Producers’ Platform and visited Korea, Taiwan, Japan and Australia. I was invited to join a network and training program organized by the Ministry of Culture, France, to tour Paris and Nantes; received a fellowship to join ISPA congress in New York in 2016 and 2017; and this year I am finally at TPAM, Japan.
Each experience taught me great different things. APP was among the first international network I joined as a producer. Each time we gathered for APP Camp, we researched about the arts scene of the place together, so it was a good platform to understand what’s happening in each city that we visited. Members of the first batch, who have been there since the first year are now like close friends, family, or like old friends in the hometown for me. In Malaysia, there are very few people working in performing arts production, so sometimes it can get lonely. Among APP members, I can share problems and things that are really exciting, without explaining the whole background of the things. Now we follow each other’s growth in the career. APP also provided a great peer support for my profession especially in my region.
On the other hand, programs in France gave me different perspectives. I realized how much support from the government has provided to the arts, and how established those systems are. This experience influenced me a lot. I realized what is lacking in Malaysia is a conversation with the government, either national or municipal. If we wish to create more impact and influence, a conversation with authority is unavoidable. People from the art sectors need to start speaking to let them know what we need and why we need it. It’s that process of explaining WHY that is very important. It’s almost as important to convince people the reason of supporting the arts, especially if we seek for the government support.
In the network meeting, we discussed how each arts organization could play a different role in pushing the growth of the society. In Malaysia, sometimes I feel art sector is so small. Many of us are independent, and cannot get a lot of attention. Sometimes, it makes us feel powerless. However through the networking, discussion and learning the situation in France, I realized that in different situations, arts could bring more impact. This experience inspired me to start the roundtable later. I felt we are not just small and useless. We can still be impactful and useful if we can make full use of our potential.
At the ISPA congress, we talked about art leadership in one of the panel sessions. Taking leadership in the art could mean, in my context, running an art space, producing an original show that could receive invitation internationally, as well as being an opinion leader for the better support for the arts in Malaysia. Leadership also comes with some sort of hierarchy, and now at TPAM we had lengthy discussion on the hierarchy of international collaboration. At the APP, Anna Chan, who is now the head of the dance department in APA Hong Kong, told me that what I am doing is not only being a creative producer, but also the role of an arts entrepreneur. All these topics, perspectives and terminologies sometimes pushed me to think forward. When I am in a position to be encouraged to go further, I desire to fulfill what is expected of me. Through these networks and international programs, my perspective of the arts grew bigger and bigger.
New Horizons- closure of the studio and the beginning of a new career
It has been quite a journey in a short time from managing a space of your own to becoming independent producer, to international art manager. I also heard that you have recently become a CEO of INXO foundation, a private non-profit to support arts in Malaysia. How has this new decision come about?
Although I do have a general idea where I want to go with my career, a lot of decisions in my life have been made quite impulsively. I never really planned things that happened in the way it did. Whatever comes by in my life, I make a decision one by one. INXO foundation is one of the very rare organizations that focuses on supporting arts and culture in Malaysia. The foundation was looking for someone who is from the arts background and approached me. Although it took me almost a year to make a decision to join them, I feel it’s an exciting time to take this position of CEO because by now I have made a lot of networks, have established a lot more understanding to the arts ecosystem locally and internationally, and by running Toccata Studio I learned how to look after a organization for the arts. I thought with the foundation I could do more than what I am doing by myself right now.
I have recently proposed for restructuring in the activities of the foundation, so there will be art grant; international forum platform for discussions of multidisciplinary creation; and a residency program to gear up international exchanges. For the residency, we will work with local government, so it will not be in the capital but in smaller cities. We might even have a festival in near future. So with a team of four staff, we have a lot of work to do.
Was the decision made at the same time with the closure of the Space Toccata? What was the reason of the closure of the space?
The Space Toccata ran until October 2018 and it is now closed for good. It was a really good experience to manage small venue, and with the space rental, kid’s program and residency, it was financially manageable to keep the space. One of the reasons that we decided to close the space was that we started to tour outside of the country quite a lot as the production grew, so there was not much of meanings for us to keep the space if we are out of the country most of the time.
Another reason was that there were many other spaces of similar sizes and purposes started to open in the last several years in Malaysia: MAP Publika around 2012, Damansara Performing Arts Center opened in 2013 with nice studios and small theatre; music venue like Merdekarya in 2013 and Live Fact in 2015; and Five Arts Center renovated their studio as a small theatre Kotak in 2016. When we first started there were really not many spaces. As an organization we have passed the period of experiment and development in the first seven years, so now it’s time to move to another stage. As for my professional career, I wanted to move forward and do more things from different perspectives. Therefore, it came to a point that we thought it’s time to try something new things.
Space Toccata has closed down but I am still a producer for the production company Toccata Studio. There will be a new production coming soon. This production will be the last episode of the Project 2020
. We will be working with a string quartet from Germany with the support from the Goethe Institute, and the project will not only be on stage but also be a recording of a music piece, and a small zine that consists of the story of Project 2020.
The year 2020, which Malaysia envisioned to join developed country, is right around the corner. I always thought arts and creation reaches beyond politics and society. Our current society influence and shape how we think, but also at the same time when you are working on creating art, you are imagining the future beyond all boundaries. Toccata Studio and its production will still have the same spirit from when we started, it is still a space which we can incubate more creativity as art is a future-shaping force. If art can create future, that means it is all in our hands to create our own future.
I cannot wait to hear more about the future you create. Thank you very much for the interview today.