Sunday, March 6, 2016

FOI 10: Day 1: Lina Adam, Ma Ei, and AOr NOpawan

Lina Adam (SG) – Culinary History of Singapore Performance Art Re-Presented
Ma Ei (MM) – Searching Of Nothing
AOr NOpawan (TH)– I Will Follow You Into The Dark

FOI 10 is unique this year due to the fact that Jason Lim, the organizer, deliberately invited only women to perform.  While Lim has not dubbed this iteration of FOI as a “feminist” performance event, the presence and participation of so many international women artists cannot help but recall the history of feminist performance art and the importance of women’s voices for this experimental medium which is based in the corporeality and temporality of the body.  In the 1970s, women artists working in the west turned to performance art because of its immediacy and existence in everyday life. Artists such as Linda M. Montano, Carolee Schneemann, Barbara T.Smith, Marybeth Edelson, Lorraine O’Grady, Howardina Pindell, and Suzanne Lacy wanted to say something about the treatment and representation of women in contemporary culture. They wanted to challenge the social and cultural inequities that were accepted as given by performing and iterating feminine identities that challenged sexist assumptions and patriarchal language. Often this challenge was mounted against the art world, which, in spite of its leftist sympathies and working class/hippie allegiance, remained divided along gender lines. Feminist performance artists introduced topics that were considered inappropriate for the art world, such as women’s spirituality, rape, sexuality, menstruation, childbirth, childcare, and lesbian identity.

Forty years later, the concerns of women performance artists have shifted.  Misogyny, sexism, and abuse are now understood as occurring on a global scale, with many women continuing to suffer untold indignities and atrocities. With the advent of social media platforms and communication technologies, feminism has morphed into global feminisms. Currently there exists a vibrant community of women artists working outside the west. These artists often combine feminist tactics and techniques with an exploration of the cultural, economic and social specificities of the area of the world in which they are working. Thus Lim’s decision to focus on the work of women for an international festival is significant, particularly since the formerly authoritarian Singapore has not had a great record of supporting women artists.
Lina Adam. The Culinary History of Performance Art Re-presented. ICA Singapore. November 7, 2014

The opening night performances by Lina Adam, Ma Ei, and Norpawan Sirivejkul did not disappoint. Adam, a native of Singapore, performed a Culinary History of Singapore Performance Art Re-Presented, a meditation/presentation of canonical performances done in Singapore that referenced food. Adam didn’t have much history to work with, as conceptual/performance art was banned for about 10 years in Singapore after Joseph Ng’s notorious Brother Caneperformance in the early 90s. Nevertheless, she found ten performances that referenced food and re-performed these earlier works by presenting the audience with a feast based on the food used in the performances. Fortunately for the audience, who took turns sitting down to the performance feast and often shared the dishes, Adam translated some of the more abject elements of the earlier performances such as Ng’s pubic hair and the urine in Vincent Leow’s 1993 performance Coffee Talk into edible offerings.

Lina Adam. A Culinary History of Singapore. 2015 Photography by Jemima Yong

Adam also translated a history of performance that was primarily masculine into one that was generated by a woman. Her ten examples included the work of only one woman: Amanda Heng, who was literally a pioneer in feminist performance in Singapore. Heng’s piece, Let’s Chat (1996), was an invitation for people to sit down with the artist, clean bean sprouts, drink tea, and chat about various issues. Adam’s Culinary History also provided the audience members with the opportunity to chat—to engage in dialogue across time, space and history. The structure of her pieces thus resembled Heng’s earlier piece, which took place approximately 20 years prior.

Ma Ei Searching of Nothing. 2015. Photography by Jemima Yong.

Ma Ei, from Myanmar, allowed the final course of Adam’s Culinary History (Leow’s coffee cups) to remain on the table for her performance Searching of Nothing. Garbed in a lovely embroidered red satin robe and a red chemise, Ma Ei walked slowly to the table, peering into the half drunk cups of coffee before spitting into them. After walking silently around the table, which was illuminated by a harsh spotlight that looked a lot like a scene of interrogation, Ma Ei produced a flashlight, which she pointed at the ceiling while turning it off and on a few times. Ma Ei then turned to the audience, randomly selecting people to examine with the aid of the flashlight, which she shone on the their face and eyes while moving their clothing to examine the skin underneath. A humorous moment occurred with a light saber battle broke out between Ma Ei and a very young member of the audience, who was armed with a homemade cardboard shield and sword.
Light Saber Battle. Photo by Author

Like Adam, Ma Ei makes reference in her work to an earlier generation of feminist performance artists in Myanmar. Influenced by the activist work of Htein Lin and Chaw Ei Thein, Ma Ei has used her work to challenge the conditions of women in Myanmar who continue to be subservient to men. Dressed as a prostitute or courtesan, Ma Ei behaved as though she were the predator rather than the prey, forcefully examining male and female members of the audience. As Nathalie Johnston wrote in 2004, Ma Ei’s practice “has evolved into a direct confrontation with men in society.” ( Ma Ei’s piece was both beautiful and very disturbing, suggesting sex trafficking, kidnapping, and slavery, through a series of haunting actions.

AOr NOpawan. I Will Follow You Into the Dark. 2015. Photography by Jemima Yong

 AOr NOpawan from Thailand is a return artist to FOI, having participated in FOI 7 in 2011.  Her piece, I will Follow You Into the Dark, appropriately “followed” Ma Ei’s “dark” performance, with the artist disappearing into the dark at the conclusion of the piece. Garbed in a black dress and leggings, AOr NOpawan carefully stretched a spool of transparent nylon thread between two large columns in the back of the space. Once the thread was secured, AOr NOpawan collected a handful of red glitter, which she held up and allowed to spill out her hands and settle at her feet, creating a painting in the negative of her footprint. Having done the same thing with silver glitter, plastic confetti, and flour, AOr NOpawan placed four large yellow Chrysanthemums in her mouth and walked through the nylon thread, breaking it and trailing it behind her as she left the space.  In her work AOr NOpawan uses thread and flowers to tell an enigmatic story of the fragility of life, memory, and loss. Her performances, at least those reproduced on her web page, involve installations of thread and yarn, meant to symbolize the tenuous link between the past and the present. AOr NOpawan is the project manager of the long running performance festival ASIATOPIA. She is also heavily involved in social justice movements in Thailand, particularly for women. I will Follow You Into the Dark references the disasters of war, implying that we are all the victims of loss. Like Ma Ei’s piece, it hints as well at something darker—the disappearance of women in times of social instability. I will Follow You Into the Dark speaks as well to the bonds between women, particularly women who have few resources. 

Friday, March 4, 2016

FOI 10: Day 2: Yuzuru Maeda and Sareena Sattapon

Yuzuru Maeda (JP/SG) - Perfect
Sareena Sattapon (TH) - Reflection
Ha Lai Thi Dieu(VN) – Document Mirror [Not Performed]

Three performances were slated for day 2 of FOI but only two were performed. Initially the program included Document Mirror by the Vietnamese artist Lai Thi Dieu Ha. The organizer of FOI 10, Jason Lim waited as long as he could for Dieu Ha to obtain the necessary documentation to enter Singapore. Finally Lim could wait no longer. On November 19, two days before the festival kick-off, he announced on Facebook that “with a heavy heart” he had cancelled his invitation to Dieu Ha. This was not the first time that Dieu Ha had difficulty leaving the country. In 2014, Rapid Pulse International Performance Festival was forced to cancel her performance after she was unable to obtain the necessary documentation to come to the United States. It is easy to forget just how challenging performance art can be, simply because it is performance art and thus has the reputation for politically subversive acts. This is exacerbated when the artist comes from a communist country that frowns upon the excesses of performance art. It is easy to forget that performance has long signified an arena of freedom which is difficult for the government to control. Dieu Ha’s work challenges the corporeal limits of bodies—her own and others. For her untitled mortification performance, performed in Hanoi in 2011, Dieu Ha ironed pig bladders flat, placed them on her arms and ironed them again. The audience watched in horror as her skin blistered from the intense heat. In Fly Off (2010), Dieu Ha covered her nude body in glue and feathers and then placed a small bird in her mouth and opened it for the bird to fly off. Dieu Ha’s work, a far cry from the social realist art promoted by her government, places the vulnerable, blistered body at the center of a debate around who is and who is not “free” and what constitutes that freedom. Her work is a reminder that performance art always centers on the bodies, and that bodies read differently depending on how they are gendered, classed, raced, and able-bodied.

Yzuru Maeda Perfect 2015. Photo by Jemima Yong

The Singaporean/Japanese artist Yzuru Maeda’s Perfect was also about bodies, albeit less politically charged bodies than that of Lai Thi Dieu Ha.  For the past several years, Maeda, who was trained as an experimental musician at Singapore’s LaSalle College of Arts has been experimenting with Zentai, short for Zenshin taitu, a lycra full body suit that covers the entire body, including the head, hands and feet.  Maeda has made over 100 Zentai videos, of herself and of others, that she posts on youtube in order to receive feedback. For Maeda, donning Zentai becomes a way to erase superficial yet significant markers of difference in order to focus on what is before you. She writes on her website that:

A group of zentai people look like they are merging into one another as if they are one whole energy. Zentai not only takes away the identity but also the individuality. It is no longer 20 people standing together but one big energy standing. And I think this is what we really are. We are not separate from each other. We are actually just one energy. What makes us think we are different from other person is the 'identity'. Identifying 'my' hair, 'my' skin, and 'my' thought, which makes everything complicated.So zentai reminds me to be a simple being.

Perfect. Photo By Author.

For Perfect, Maeda choreographed an entire group of black-clad Zentai performers who shuffled around the space several times, often pausing to carry one another piggyback. The piece concluded by piling up next to a column while one of the performers (probably Maeda, but it was impossible to tell) climbed a ladder and threw white flour on the heads of the performers. Perfect was very camera friendly, with the black Zentai performers contrasting nicely with the white walls and grey floor of the space. The music, which was quite contemporary although was possibly played on a traditional instrument (Maeda plays her own compositions on a Sarod, a classical Indian instrument), added an air of strangeness and otherness to the shuffling, rolling movement of the Zentai performers. Ultimately though, what was most striking about the performance was the point that Maeda herself has stressed: with the suits on, the performers became vulnerable bodies, their external identities erased by the presence of the lycra head. They were a lot like the Power Rangers, who also have no features. Unlike the Power Rangers, these bodies had unique shapes, most of which did not conform to the standard slim, physically fit body. What was most striking about Perfect was that the bodies were anything but. All were perfectly imperfect.

Sareena Sattapon Reflection 2015. Photo by Jemima Yong.

Sareena Sattapon’s Reflection, like Perfect, demanded audience involvement, although in this case to a degree that bordered on making people uncomfortable. The performance began with Sattapon, dressed in a white bathing suit, lying in the middle of a row of pieces of fabric, all of them turned into crude ponchos/capes by virtue of a head-sized slit cut in the middle. Holding two disposable cameras, Satapon took several pictures, after which she passed the cameras to members of the audience.  Satapon pulled on the first poncho and the exhorted the audience to move closer—“Closer.” As Satapon added layers of capes, she continued to exhort the audience to move closer and closer until people were literally sitting in each other’s laps.  Somehow the disposable cameras continued to be used to take pictures. Meanwhile Satapon, who had initially moved down the aisle created when people moved “closer” the first time, had to resort to crawling under and over the audience, all the while adding more and more layers of fabric. Finally Satapon pulled all but the initial layer of fabric over her head, creating a large and cumbersome headdress. Reflection forced a number of bodies into close proximity with each other and with the artist. The imagery created by the artist herself, with her layers of hijab and diaphanous white poncho, certainly suggested the idea of some kind of bride, especially since the audience was using disposable cameras—a mainstay of weddings so that the bride and groom can enjoy more candid pictures. What was most interesting about this performance was the way in which it forced people to literally embody relational aesthetics—with each other and with the artist, who at one point was dragged across the laps of the entire audience, and at another point fell of the end of an audience bridge made of people and rickety chairs. Being commanded to come “closer” forced the audience to step out of their normally passive role and work together to help Sattapon complete her performance. By the end, everyone was “closer.”

The beginning of Reflection. Instagram photo taken by Malvina Tan.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

FOI 10: Day 3: Macarena Perich Rosas, Andrée Weschler, Rinyaphat Nithipattaraahnan

Macarena Perich Rosas (CL) – On A Line
Andrée Weschler (FR/SG) - Can A First Performance Be Relived (2003-2015)
Rinyaphat Nithipattaraahnan (TH) – Emotional Power and Woman

In 1993, Peggy Phelan famously wrote that performance was the art of “disappearing.” Performance, Phelan argued, in its refusal to remain, taps into a powerful economy of anti-visibility, one that flies in the face of the politics of the visible and the material that have characterized the culture of late capitalism. Phelan’s thesis, articulated in her book Unmarked, have been somewhat undermined by the fact that much of the work that she championed was in fact extensively documented and often re-performed. In his 1999 book Liveness, Philip Auslander demonstrated how our notion of what constitutes “live” performance is completely mediated by media—we watch “live” television, for example, or expect musical acts to sound like their albums when we go to see them perform “live.” Auslander is right of course—we are always so completely imbricated and immersed in our present culture that it is difficult to step outside of oneself and realize to what degree Liveness is a fiction or mythology that has changed in response to a culture that has become simultaneously western and global—we ALL speak English, even though we don’t, for example. Nevertheless, I still find a great deal of power and persuasiveness in Phelan’s argument, by now over 20 years old. It might be true that one can recreate a “live” performance and do so quite successfully. However, there is also something to be said for having actually been there, and been present at and with the artist. This experience is particularly relevant when the performance is one that is rich in imagery rather than words or explanations. The three performances on the third night of the festival had in common the absence of words. Instead there were images: a young woman, violently ejected from her shoes and her clothing, lying with her limbs tossed akimbo against one of the pillars, an elegant woman covering her face and arms in red lipstick while reprising the memory of an earlier performance, and a spreading ink blot on a lovely dress, once white but already stained with earlier applications of ink that had been washed into a fuzzy overlap of colors.
Macarena Perich Rosas. On A Line, 2015. Photo by Author.

Macarena Perich Rosas comes from the region of Patagonia, which is shared by Argentina and Chile. She lives four hours south of Santiago, Chile, and many hours (by plane) from just about every place else in the world. She lives in the uppermost region of Joaquín Torres García’s drawing América Invertada, 1943, pictured below.

Torres García’s drawings emphasize the imaginary line of the equator, which is labeled Ecuador, and the tropic of cancer, designated by a 15th century Spanish ship. The drawing is inverted, suggesting that the designation of South America as existing below North America is one that is arbitrary, making Patagonia almost the top, rather than the bottom, of the world. Perich Rosas’s On A Line, like Torres García’s drawing, emphasized the line as arbitrary border and means of organization. Like Torres García, Perich Rosas turned lines upside down, making lines of concrete materials such as flour, the edges of foil constructions, tape, milk, and ink. Perich Rosas is part of an artists group called Conflicta, which seeks to reunify humans with their environment. Based in Patagonia, Conflicta has identified three main lines of action: research, education, and residences.

Macarena Perich Rosas, On a Line, 2015. Photo by Jemima Yong.

The performance begin with Perich Rosas lying akimbo, as though she had been blown out of her footprints, which were traced on the ground with neat outlines of powdery flour. Rising, Perich Rosa pulled on her jumpsuit and donned a helmet. Unrolling a large piece of tinfoil, she cut a circle into which she stepped and then fell deliberately, protected only by the helmet. After removing her jumpsuit, she entered a small canopy of diaphonous material. Extending her legs from under the curtain, she created a starburst by outlining her legs in flour. Finally, she removed some tape from what appeared to be a first aid kit or an old fashioned carrier for Barbie Dolls, and begin to tape a line out of the door and into the parking structure. The final images was of Perich Rosas stepping into two large yellow boots full of milk, which sloshed out around her, making yet another line, while allowing black ink to drip down her face and body in order to merge with the milk, which then ran downhill in the direction from which the original line had come.

Andree Weschler. Can A First Performance Be Relived? 2003-2015. Photo by Jemima Yong.

Perich Rosas was followed by Andrée Weschler, originally from France but presently living in Singapore.  Weschler’s piece Can A First Performance Be Relived (2003-2015) was a reprise, or re-performance of the first piece that she had ever performed in Singapore. Weschler’s work is characterized by an emphasis on color and tactility. She transforms her body and the environment in which her body is situated through the use of material objects and a painterly understanding of the power of color—whether it is white, black or red. I first saw Weschler perform a few years ago at the National Review of Live Art, for which she performed Innocence, which involves her wearing a heavy and very long rope of pearls. Innocence, which was white, was premised on 50 kilograms of pearls—Weschler’s age at the time. 
Andree Weschler. Can A First Performance Be Relived? 2003-2015. Photo by Jemima Yong.

In Weschler’s work, there is a tension between the present and a not so distant past—a kind of melancholy nostalgia that acknowledges that what was once there cannot be recaptured. More than any other performance this evening, Weschler’s Can A First Performance Be Relived demonstrated how right Phelan was when she said that performance’s ontology is one of disappearance. The elegant woman who covered herself with red lipstick was Weschler, but twelve years older, her earlier, younger self forever gone. An allegory of vanitas, Weschler’s performance emphasized the impossibility of ever being able to perfectly reprise the past.

Rinyaphat Nithipattaraahnan Emotional Power and Woman, 2015. Photo by Jemima Yong.

The final performance of the night was also one that was iconic and painterly, involved yet another line. Rinyaphat Nithipattaraahnan’s performance, Emotional Power and Woman, was a tableau vivant—a living painting, through which Nithipattaraahnan moved. Entering the space of the performance from the right side of the room, Nithipattaraahnan unspooled a brown ribbon that was tied to her neck, creating a boundary between the audience and herself. Garbed in a white dress trimmed with Alonçon lace and stained unevenly with various colors of ink, Nithipattaraahnan stepped on a stool that was covered in lace and placed a pair of scissors in her mouth. Posed in the manner of a medieval Ecce Homo paintings of Christ before the Jews, a flower of black ink appeared on her skirt, reminiscent of menstrual blood, but the wrong color. As the ink spread and pooled on the floor beneath the stool, Nithipattaraahnan began to slowly revolve on the stool, re-spooling the ribbon that she had unfurled. The performance ended with Nithipattaraahnan walking out of the space, trailing a black line behind her from the remains of the ribbon, which had dragged through the ink. Nithipattaraahnan’s performance was aesthetically exquisite—quiet, and yet suggestive of suppressed violence, and sacrifice. Her reticence demonstrates how much power resides in images, and how unnecessary words can be.
Photo by Author