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Ong Keng Sen

Ong Keng Sen

Interweaving Performance Cultures

Fellow 2018/19

Ong Keng Sen is a performance director who has actively contributed to the evolution and subsequent transglobalization of the Asian aesthetic in contemporary arts. He completed his postgraduate studies at Tisch School of the Arts, New York University, and he also holds a law degree. His artworks have been presented throughout the world. Ong is artistic director of TheatreWorks, where he created the renowned Flying Circus Project. He mentors emerging artists and founded the Arts Network Asia. He created and directed the In Transit Festival in Berlin from 2001 to 2003. He served on the Prince Claus Foundation Jury from 2012 to 2015. A Fulbright scholar, Ong recently founded the new Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) in 2013 and was the Festival Director for four editions from 2014 to 2017. He is the first Singaporean artist to have received both the Young Artist Award (1992) and the Cultural Medallion Award (2003). He was awarded the prestigious Fukuoka Asian Arts and Culture Prize in 2010. 

Research Project

Creating Nothing and Interweaving Performance Cultures: Potentiality and Agency in World-Creating

I will explore the field of interweaving performance in an already globalized world where neoliberalism has forever transformed power relations and human agency. I will extend Erika Fischer-Lichte’s performative turn in the theatre (2008) by shifting from finished productions to the processes of the international artist laboratory, the Flying Circus Project (FCP) in the years 1996 to 2013. I will look at the FCP as a site of mondialisation (Jean Luc Nancy 2007). My research will focus on the political and social dimensions of interweaving performance.

I propose to explore the FCP through the concepts of worlding and the planetary (Paul Gilroy, 2005), enchantment (Jane Bennett, 2010) and paratopia (Anurima Banerji, 2009), potentiality (Giorgio Agamben, 1998) and Body without Organs (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987). How can such laboratories, which are borne of globalization, resist globalization? Max Weber said, “the fate of our times is characterized by rationalization and intellectualization and above all by the disenchantment of the world” (1958). Can enchantment challenge the abandonment of globalization to neoliberalism, and instead carefully articulate locality, community and tradition (Craig Calhoun, 2002)? As capital becomes more and more cosmopolitan, how do we prevent this space of enchantment from becoming a ‘soft’ global democracy that can be oppressive to other worlds? How can international artist laboratories harness their ‘privileged’ neo-liberal states of exception towards world-citizenry? How can these laboratories cultivate the potential rather than submit to the market and further actualize production? I argue that by distancing itself from fulfillment, an international artist laboratory may abdicate the sovereignty of the market and perhaps resist the productive efficiency of neoliberal economies. The paradigm of production may be redefined and value rediscovered through other routes of sharing and ethical acts of generosity.  

Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung