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Mona's Musings : Renewing local conversations during the pandemic

【明報專訊】The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a major delay to global events, causing a standstill that mirrors the Suez Canal congestion a few months back. In the arts, festival organisers were forced to pause their community programmes or develop ultra flexibility around the ever-changing pandemic situation. Despite public health concerns, the general public seemed enthusiastic to maintain some form of public activities for obvious reasons -- human abhors extended isolation. Community support is like an extra vaccine dose to combat COVID. The question remains for festival organisers: how do they maintain the balance?

In northeast Thailand, curators of the Loei Art Festival had a thorny year. With big dreams to introduce conversations about contemporary art, the festival organiser managed a successful international call for artworks, resulting in 40 selected works to be installed around abandoned cinemas, old gas stations, central parks, local schools and hospitals in the northeast Thai province of Loei. Yet, waves of pandemic outbreaks have made international travel impossible and local commute increasingly difficult. The lead curator himself fell ill to COVID. As the scheduled opening drew close, curators had to adapt their programmes significantly or call off the festival. Their decision? To bring the focus back to local needs.

With the help of enthusiastic local communities, the team started rounds of discussion with young people in Loei, helping them imagine and articulate their ideas about their hometowns. Similar initiatives were started around women communities, hospital units, food culture and other areas, bringing together refreshing narratives that sketch the cultural reality of this remote province. These ideas inspired installations conceptualised by artists around the region and were later materialised with the help of the local production workforce. During the most challenging months of the pandemic, the works remind people of their connection with each other and the friendship they herald internationally. Rather than bringing in works from renowned international artists, these initiatives seem to have sustained local morale more efficiently.

Loei Art Fes is only one of the many cases of localisation that happened during the pandemic. For a long time, town development in Thailand has been centrally decided by Bangkok officials. Entrusting the metropolis to make decisions remotely regardless of local realities seem to be a mistake repeated globally. The result is often a mismatch of policies and actual needs. Now that the pandemic has enabled critical local discussions, I wonder what lies ahead for the art world and general town planning beyond the pandemic.

■Writer's Profile

Mona C. has a strong appetite for stories. Feed her enough.

(Email : monafpchu@gmail.com)

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