Published on July 11

Creative chemistry through digital connection

The Asia TOPA LAB program has supported artists in Asia and Australia connect to explore new collaborations since 2013

Keeping artists connected and creating when last year's COVID-19 pandemic shook the globe and forced the early closure of Asia TOPA’s physical 2020 festival in Melbourne, Asia TOPA LABS turned virtual to become a thriving online network of ideas and concepts.

Digital wonderlands, post-COVID arts predictions and contemporary perspectives on traditional practises: these are just some of the collaborative starting points explored in Asia TOPA Virtual LABS.

With lockdowns all over the world, artists from all corners including Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Hobart, Jakarta, Hong Kong, Taipei, Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo, Seoul, Paris, Bergen, Beijing and Singapore were able to collaborate digitally through Asia TOPA LABS.

Viewers can now gain exclusive insight into these various artistic processes.

Artist Mat Spisbah collaborated in two separate LABS projects – one with Teom Chen on Virtual Performance Environment and another in Lu Yang’s Delusional World – he says artists had to adapt to the new realities of COVID-19 restrictions and implications.

“For the project I was working on with Teom, collaboration was mainly managed through WeChat and Dropbox, we would just send files back and forth,” Spisbah explains.

“But for the development with Lu Yang there was a lot more issues, because it requires a lot more people – no one could cross borders – so we ended up having to hire on-ground support in Shanghai".

“But that actually resulted in some new great things.”

Lu Yang Delusional World Livestream featuring Shanghai dancer, Qinran

Lu Yang Delusional World Livestream featuring Shanghai dancer, Qinran


The collaboration between Spisbah and artist Lu Yang had viewers step inside weird wonderlands to hellish scenes – taken on a digital fantasy made of dreams and nightmares.

A face chested figure, multi-headed marvels and dark demon-esque creatures are brought to life in an ever-changing landscape, thanks to the skills of Shanghai dancer, Qinran and avatar techniques.

Modern dance and digital innovation combine in the Lu Yang Delusional World Livestream.

Facing the Sea 2.0 also deploys gaming technology to re-tell the famous Chinese poem written by Haizi, visualised using scenes from popular game Animal Crossing.

A Théâtre du Rêve Expérimental and Gaming piece by Wang Chong, Mark Pritchard and Daniel Koerner, the artists say the creative process was, “challenging and amusing at the same time”.

Combining experimental sound, feminist imagery and intricate choreographic form, four artists - Matthias Schack-Arnott, Garin Nugroho, Monica Lim, Rianto - explore the centuries old Javanese ritual dance Bedhaya and present it in new light.

Through Asia TOPA LABS you can also view fascinating workshops such as Epoch Wars: World-building Workshop, sit in on important discussions with, "The beginning is the end is the beginning is the end is the beginning is the end…" and even step inside the world of translation and the act of interpretation with The Interpreters.

While physical barriers were placed on their movements – with the many lockdowns and border restrictions put in place by respective countries – no limits where placed on their abilities to connect online and this is evident in the many works which continue to be refined by the artists today.


Explore the current offering

LISTEN to the podcast with Asia TOPA creative director Stephen Armstrong and Asia TOPA digital dramaturg Dan Koerner to hear more about LABS