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September 6, 2016

The Land of OzAsia

In its 10th year, OzAsia Festival has taken a leap of faith with a daring program celebrating art by the young, for the young.

  • Words: Emma Waterman
  • Above image: Danpyunsun and the Sailors

Our politicians refer to our era as the Asian century, plenty of us have travelled there repeatedly, and many more have enjoyed the Asian fare dished up in restaurants across Adelaide.

But in spite of this, few people have actually been exposed to contemporary Asian art.


OzAsia runs from September 17 to October 2 in and around the Adelaide Festival Centre.

“I think it’s really important that Australia has the opportunity to engage with that side of Asian society and culture,” says OzAsia festival director, Joseph Mitchell. “As the only festival in the country that has that as its prerogative, OzAsia can set the template for how we engage with Asian arts this century.”

In his second year in the director’s seat, not only was Joseph challenged with curating a program that would live up to the success of last year’s, he also faced the question of how to celebrate OzAsia’s 10th birthday.

 “The arts has to be driven by young audiences, young artists and young makers.”   Joseph Mitchell

After much deliberation, it was decided there was no better way to mark the occasion than by embracing the youthfulness of the festival’s identity.

“Sure, 10 years is a milestone, but we’re actually very young for an arts festival,” says Joseph.

To fit with this idea, Joseph has taken a fresh approach to this year’s program, selecting shows that will resonate with audience members who are hopefully ready to take a risk.

“The arts has to be driven by young audiences, young artists and young makers. It’s the youth that need to create the template of where art should be going,” says Joseph.

This year OzAsia has partnered with some of Adelaide’s brightest young minds to develop a program full of energy and life that will allow audiences to avoid the traditional stereotypes and get a sense of the Asia-Pacific region as it really exists today. One such collaboration is with Adelaide musician and Nexus Arts programmer, Ross McHenry.

In a first for OzAsia, Joseph and Ross have curated a two-night music extravaganza at Nexus Arts – essentially a festival within a festival. An exploration of electronic and experimental music, Sub Verse will see a collection of the best underground artists from inner Mongolia, Taipei, Beijing, Shanghai and Seoul collaborate with some of Adelaide’s finest bands.


Sub Verse

Of course, it wouldn’t be a birthday without a party, and the centrepiece of this year’s celebration hinges on an outdoor festival hub, bursting with free live performances.

To pull it off, they’ve enlisted the help of serial fun-time creators, the Social Creative – the minds behind the Royal Croquet Club and the Alpine Winter Village. Taking form in Elder Park, Good Fortune Market will host up to 10,000 people for authentic Asian cuisine, market stalls, and roving performances.

Adding to the sensory overload is the Outdoor Concert Series, which is a huge program of free performances from some of the region’s most cutting-edge contemporary musicians. With at least 10 nights of programming, there’ll be everything from Malaysian synth-pop and a Cambodian space opera, to psychedelic folk-rock from Korea and Motown indie-pop from Taiwan.

An Outdoor Concert Series will be part of this year's festival

An Outdoor Concert Series will be part of this year’s festival

Falling under the broader umbrella of the festival’s unabashed youthfulness are several other important themes. One of these is the idea of immersive and interactive art, which emerges strongly through a selection of works – including Skin, Bunny and The Record – that combine together the experience of the audience and artist.

Running parallel to this theme, Joseph has curated a range of productions – such as highlights Two Dogs and God Bless Baseball – by artists who are questioning the contemporary culture of their own countries.

“I feel Australia struggles to artistically interrogate who we are . I really wanted to drill further into this idea, and look at shows by artists who are in fact in dialogue with their own country,” says Joseph.

In his second year on the job, it’s clear Joseph has settled into his new role and new city, and that’s given him the conviction to take a leap of faith with this year’s festival.

“A festival director has to take risks, and I can’t wait to see how audiences will respond this year,” Joseph says.

OzAsia might be young when measured against some of Adelaide’s more mature counterparts, but with each passing year the festival is developing a stronger sense of identity. And if this is how things are looking at just 10 years, we’re keen to see what the coming decades have in store.

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