Remembering the Marco Polo Festival

In 2014, we organised the Marco Polo Festival of Digital Literature. This post, written four years after the event, aims to celebrate this key milestone in the development of Marco Polo Project, describe the key features of the event, and acknowledge those who supported us. For a stereo view, you can read through this post by co-director Hugh Davies.

Marco Polo Festival – the story

The Marco Polo Festival was born of a question: how has the Internet affected the way that people read, write and translate, in China and Australia? From the rise of digital literature to the emergence of collaborative translation platforms, and from the engagement of global audiences connected through social media to the rise of new linguistic and cultural norms in digitally mediated communities, this festival engaged with questions at the cutting edge of creative efforts, technological development and the new forms of collective experience.

The Festival was initially sparked as two distinct project: a mainly digital, distributed event, with panels in Beijing from Marco Polo Project – and a project to bring cutting-edge Chinese writers to Melbourne from LaTrobe University. Both projects aligned from the start and received funding from the Australia China Council – and eventually merged into one festival event, with two co-directors, Julien Leyre and Hugh Davies.

Marco Polo Festival – the event

Engaging with new materials and a new medium called for an original approach to the design of the Festival. As such, we chose to run the Festival over one year, with a more intensive period of engagement over one week in Melbourne.

Prequel – early 2014

We lay the conceptual ground for the ideas discussed at the Festival in two public interventions:

  • a talk between Julien Leyre and Jiamin Zhao, founder of collaborative translation platform Yeeyan, as part of the 2014 Digital Writers Festival
  • a talk by Julien Leyre on ‘A Journey Through Digital China’ at Sydney Ideas.

We then kicked off community engagement by hosting a parallel translation event between Melbourne and Nanjing.

Translation tour – June 2014

As a way to engage a global audience, we took our ‘All-you-can-translate’ collaborative translation show on the road, and organised a Tour in June 2014, that took us to LondonLeedsManchesterShanghaiSuzhou, Nanjing, Chengdu, and Beijing.

We invited bilingual groups to translate texts related to our topic, English to Chinese and Chinese to English – poems from Yisha’s Anthology ‘Poems for the New Century’, essays on digital literature by cultural analyst Zhang Tianpan, twitter poems by Kate Larsen and essays on Australian culture by Mel Campbell.

Melbourne Festival – August 2014

The core of the Festival took the form of six coordinated events taking place over one week in Melbourne:

  • Two panels with Melbourne Writers Festival: City-to-City Beijing, with Julien Leyre and Zhang Tianpan, facilitated by Nic Low, interpreted by Charles Qin; and ‘The Third Culture’, reflecting on digital China, with Julien Leyre and Jiamin Zhao.
  • A translation event with Chinese and Australian guests at Richmond West Primary School.
  • An afternoon event on digital writing in China at LaTrobe University.
  • A panel on ‘Writing online and shaping culture‘, with Rick Chen, Mel Campbell, Zhang Tianpan and Jiamin Zhao, chaired by Esther Anatolitis, interpreted by Chelsea Zhou.
  • An afternoon of reflections on ‘the Creative in Translation’, with panels on video game culture, visual arts and magazine publishing in Australia and China.
  • A workshop at Writers Victoria, offering a Journey through the Chinese Internet.

Sequel – Late 2014

We finished the year with four events:

  • A Beijing panel on Digital Literature in China and Australia, with Kate Larsen and poet YiSha, facilitated by Zhang Tianpan, hosted by the Beijing Bookworm.
  • A boutique poetry-translation event followed by a reading as part of ‘Poetry Cafe‘ at Montsalvat, Melbourne
  • Marco Polo Marathon – a day of engagement with Chinese culture at Melbourne Knowledge Week
  • A collaborative translation event at Singapore Writers Festival, in partnership with Books Actually, bringing together poets writing in English and Chinese.

Marco Polo Festival – time for gratitude

The main learning was the importance of gratitude, and this post will also serve to thank some of our key partners.

Our co-director extraordinaire, Hugh Davies.

Our financial supporters: the Australia China Council, The Victorian Multicultural Commission, the City of Melbourne.

Our event and outreach partners: LaTrobe University, Melbourne Writers Festival, Digital Writers Festival, Writers Victoria, Sydney Ideas, Leeds University, SOAS, Manchester University, the BookWorm network (Beijing, Suzhou, Chengdu), BanPoCun Cafe, XiaoHu Cafe, Melbourne Knowledge Week, Books Actually, Singapore Writers Festival, Peril Magazine, Danwei Media, Wheeler Centre for Books and Culture, Language Connection, Australia-China Youth Association, Richmond West Primary, Pozible, Chin Communications, Asialink.

The people who believed in our work, and opened their agenda and their address book to support our work, as panelists or special advisors: Esther Anatolitis, Mel Campbell, Rick Chen, Lisa Dempster, Julia Fraser, Peter Goff, Jeremy Goldkorn, Michel Hockx, Mei Hu, Nikki Lam, Kate Larsen, Harry Lee, Lian Low, Nic Low, Lucy Qianqian Lv, Alvin Pang, Alice Pung, Ouyang Yu, Charles Qin, Kate Ritchie, Zhang Tianpan, YiSha, Jiamin Zhao, Chelsea Zhou, Michael Zuo.

The people who worked behind the scene, making fliers, sending emails, hosting workshops, taking pictures, bringing people to the party, or helping us find a place to rest our heads on the road: Samuele Dumas, Philip Thiel, Ron Killeen, Karen Pickering, John Paul Grima, Zoe Hatten, Hugh Douglas, Sichao Zhou, Tracy Wang, Jingzi Li, Hayley Ward, Britte Marsh, Julian Waters-Lynch, Jodie Kinnersley, Ross Ensbey, Raphael Trantoul, Dan Ednie-Lockett, Samuel Taylor, Anthony Verdi, Notty, Lysha Von Adlerberg, Andrea Carlon, Ben Redden, Aaron Zhang, Heather Inwood, Wing Yi, Lan Yang, Kingsley Edney, Zhi Fu, Su Yingxie, Di Yuan, Gordon Douglas.

And to finish, a photo-montage commemorating the event.


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