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.

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