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An Interview With Alexandra A Seno, Head of Development of Asia Art Archive


An Interview With Alexandra A Seno, Head of Development of Asia Art Archive
Ms Alexandra A. Seno, Head of Development, Asia Art Archive

We reccently got the chance to speak to Ms Alexandra Seno, Head of Development at Asia Art Archive to find out more about the archive's role in the Hong Kong art scene, the various programmes they offer and their future plans!


Could you tell us a bit about Asia Art Archive (AAA)? How did the collection begin and what does AAA hope to contribute to the art scene in Hong Kong?

Asia Art Archive was founded in 2000 by Claire Hsu, our Executive Director, to document and make accessible materials on recent histories of art in Asia because there was no such facility at the time. Started as a single bookshelf of reference books and catalogues, today AAA has one of the most valuable collections of physical and digital materials comprising of more than 69,000 records. With the collection being central to what we do, AAA also operates as a think tank on contemporary art in Asia with activities that range from research to education to residencies and sometimes exhibitions. A number of our projects will help rewrite art history in Asia—initiatives like the Ha Bik Chuen Archive, the work in India, and some of our new research in Southeast Asia.


Exhibition view of Excessive Enthusiasm: Ha Bik Chuen and the Archive as Practice, 11 March-30 May, 2015
Image courtesy of Asia Art Archive.


As the current Head of Development at AAA, what does your job entail? Could you describe what a typical day is like for you?

No two days are ever the same, and it’s a meaningful way to support and engage the arts. I started in February and I am still learning new things everyday about AAA, a really incredible institution that I had been a fan of for many years. At work, sometimes I’m reviewing contracts or working on proposals or figuring out budgets and funding allocations, other days my team and I are doing studio visits with artists, or running education programmes for corporate patrons and individual patrons. The AAA Development Department looks after fundraising (the preview to our yearly auction takes place 15 to 18 November at Christie’s in Hong Kong), and building communities around AAA’s work.


View of AAA Library
Image courtesy of Asia Art Archive


How did you get involved in art? Do you have any advice for people who are interested in going into the art industry?

Art found me. I was a business researcher, reporter, and then an editor. I worked at Time Inc from the mid-1990s, and then was Hong Kong correspondent for Newsweek Magazine (three owners ago). I found that you cannot pretend to understand the economics or the politics of a society unless you try to understand context and aspirations—elements that you find in art. In the last few years, the art worlds in Asia have been at the heart of intelligent discourse about societies and the human condition. After a while, I realized I knew quite a bit and that I enjoyed art, then I did criticism. I cannot write much at the moment because I don’t have the time, but I try to do a regular radio slot on RTHK, where I talk about art.

In the last 10 years, I have served on several non-profit arts bodies: the board of independent Hong Kong space Para Site, the advisory council of Spring Workshop, and the executive committee of The Oriental Ceramic Society of Hong Kong, among others. At the moment it is very important to participate in building strong non-profit institutions in the culture fields. To anyone interested in engaging art, I’d say: be involved and support culture non-profits.


Public talk, Word on the Street: Art in the Urban Playground, 4 July, 2015. Courtesy of Asia Art Archive


Hong Kong has an interesting arts culture: it is a major commercial hub in Asia for auction houses, as well as being a locus of many private art institutions and collections. However, it seems to lack in public museums and institutions. What more do you think can be done to further grow the arts scene in Hong Kong?

The museums and new kunsthalles in Hong Kong are happening, though it’s been slow. M+, the new museum of 20th and 21st century visual culture, has been doing pop-up exhibitions for years and will open its building in late 2019. Tai Kwun, which is located in the old Central Police Station on Hollywood Road, will launch its contemporary arts program next year. The beauty of art in Hong Kong is that it has grown on the back of private initiatives and support, giving it a wide patron base and a broadening audience, making it bottom-up. The market is an important part of Hong Kong, but only sustainable in the long run if it has strong institutions like museums, think tanks and independent spaces alongside auctions, the art fair, galleries and such. People in the art markets recognize this and have been an important support base.


Preview of 2015 Annual Fundraiser, 10 November, 2015
Image courtesy of Asia Art Archive


Can you tell us more about AAA’s Learning and Participation programme? What is its main goal and what sort of tools does the programme employ to reach out to new audiences?

AAA’s Learning and Participation Department does so many wonderful things. It works with 450 local Hong Kong secondary schools to allow educators to incorporate contemporary art in their curricula. The team is also developing resources for educators that will be made available on AAA’s new website. The Department has run programmes to provide opportunities for young audiences to use art as an agent of inquiry and inspiration, for example, summer camps and learning labs for students, events for future art professionals. It is headed by Susanna Chung, who has been an amazing force at AAA.


AAA is known for its rich and diverse programmes, how do you plan your programme for the year – for example, are there certain themes that the AAA chooses to focus on? What do you have planned for the coming months?

The AAA team works very hard on this. We have more than 30 people at AAA, based in Hong Kong, New Delhi, New York, and Shanghai, and together the agenda is set. In coming months, we will focus on several important themes: enmeshed histories of art communities beyond national borders; looking at art history through art writing, exhibition-making and teaching; exploring the influence of tradition on contemporary art; and “neglected” topics including women artists and performance art.  

Ricky Yeung, Asia Art Archive’s inaugural educator-in-residence at 'OpenSaturday', 4 Jul 2015
Image courtesy of Asia Art Archive.

You also have a Residency Programme, where you invite artists and creative practitioners to engage with your collection. How do you select the artists or practitioners for this programme? If you could choose one person (living or dead) to be part of this Residency Programme who would it be and why?

Participants in the residency programme are usually invited by the AAA Research Department. With a recent expansion of the residency programme, a wider range of creative practitoners have been invited to engage with AAA to provide multiple entry points to our collection, including artists, academics, visualisers, and educators. Last year, we have Hong Kong artist Ricky Yeung as our first educator-in-residence. This year, The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Greater China Research Programme includes a residency component. Three experienced scholars or curators in the field will be invited to spend at least a week at AAA as short-term residents.

There are so many great living artists, curators and scholars I would love to see at AAA, and some of them are coming in the next months, like Pakistani artist Rashid Rana, whose work at Venice Biennale 2015 was one of the most-talked about that year. Rana is invited to take part in AAA’s 15-year anniversary programme, 15 Invitations, in which he inquires into the possibilities of fiction to construct multiple pasts through notes, images, and schematic representations of his collaborative work-in-progress 'Present Elsewhere'.


FUNG Ming Chip, Departure, Time Script, 2016. 2016 Annual Fundraiser artwork highlight, Asia Art Archive
Image courtesy of the artist and Galerie du Monde
Tejal SHAH, "Cityscape VII (Tram, Melborne)", 2000. 2016 Annual Fundraiser artwork highlight, Asia Art Archive
Image courtesy of Project 88 and the artist
Angki PURBANDONO, "After Party", 2013. 2016 Annual Fundraiser artwork highlight, Asia Art Archive
Image courtesy of Mizuma Gallery and the artist


Finally, your Annual Fundraiser is coming up in a couple of months! Can you tell us more about the fundraiser and what you have planned for this year’s edition?

It’s very important to us as we get most of our funding for the year from the auction. Despite the tough economy, our board members and key patrons have been supportive. We will be offering some very nice works donated by artists, galleries, and a private collection. Each work was the result of an involved conversation to find pieces our patrons might best respond to, so I am personally happy with the quality of our auction lots. The Annual Fundraiser includes an online auction component from 7 November to 19 November, a preview at Christie’s in Hong Kong from 15 to 18 November, and the live auction—to be helmed by no other than the very charming chairman of Christie’s Asia, Mr. Francois Curiel—on the evening of 19 November, where we will take absentee bids and phone bids from those who have not secured seats at the dinner. The team has worked very hard on this auction, but as an organization we are very careful about how we spend money.



Any views or opinions in the interview are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.

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