Wednesday, March 2, 2016

FOI 10: Day 4: Farah Ong, Yeh Tzu-Chi, Marta Moreno Muñoz

Farah Ong (SG) – Some Day I Am Going To Let You Go
Yeh Tzu-Chi (TW) – Let's Go For A Walk
Marta Moreno Muñoz (SP) – I Will Miss You

One of the slogans of the second wave feminist movement in the west was “the personal is political.” By invoking the personal, feminist artists hoped to stress that their most private experiences were structured by patriarchal ideology. The subjective experience of women was thus influenced by the cultural milieu in which they operated, one in which they were always second-class citizens, confined and shaped by the expectations of gendered behavior. The three performances on Day 4 by Farah Ong, Yeh Tzu-Chi and Marta Moreno Muñoz all address the issue of feminine subjectivity and identity, although in very different ways.

Farah Ong. Someday I Am Going to Let You Go. 2015. Photograph by Jemima Yong

In her performance Some Day I Am Going to Let You Go, Farah Ong (Singapore) explored her fraught relationship with her mother in a quiescent performance where she did little more than write down her thoughts. Dressed in white and wearing a garment that possibly had belonged to her mother, Onh moved around a small installation space that she had created with saran wrap and sheets of waxed paper that were taped to the windows, and the installation itself. Ong’s writing was accompanied by the beat of a metronome, which she often paused to reset, possibly in order to echo the degree of trauma that she felt at the time. The performance ended when Ong finally cut down all of the pieces of paper and sliced up the saran wrap. Ong’s performance would have been difficult to engage with had the audience not realized the necessity of actually reading the writing, which revealed Ong’s difficulty coming to terms with an overbearing parent (I am assuming it was her mother) who expected more from the daughter than from the son, and whose illness left Ong startled by the vulnerability of a once omniscient parent. Ong’s performance is of course specific to her time and place--Singapore in the 21st century—and yet, it echoes the structure and theme of performances done many years ago by pioneering feminist artists such as Linda Montano. In the mid-seventies, Montano’s former husband, Mitchell Payne, was killed in a gun accident. Montano had left Payne for the composer and artist Pauline Oliveros. She was intensely ambivalent about her decision to leave Payne, and felt very guilty when he was killed while cleaning a gun. Convinced that it was suicide or murder, Montano undertook a exorcising performance Mitchell’s Death, which in its earliest incarnations was so intensely personal that the audience had trouble accessing the piece. Likewise, Ong’s Some Day I Am Going to Let You Go is equally personal, on the edge of being inaccessible, which added to the impact of the piece. Fortunately the members of the audience intuitively knew that they had to move through and around the space in which Ong was performing in order to understand the significance of the piece. Meanwhile, Ong’s mute body and restrained actions emphasized her discomfort and psychological pain without any need to spell out what was going on.

Yeh Tzu-Chi. Let's Go For A Walk. 2015 Photography by Jemima Yong
Yeh Tzu-Chi, from Taiwan, has addressed the role of women in history and art by using her own body in order to interrogate the way in which representation is often gendered and raced. In her 2013 performance Afternoon Tea on the Grass, Yeh recreated Eduoard Manet’s 1863 painting Luncheon on the Grass in a small courtyard inside In-Art Space, where she had organized a performance festival. Yeh, who has a master’s degree in western literature, has used her work to examine the patriarchal structure of language as well as stereotypes about women artists and older women in general. Let's Go For A Walk, which Yeh performed for FOI 10, employed red thread and chicken feet. According to Yeh, the performance was meant to address the mistreatment of animals, with the chicken feet and blood red thread meant to suggest the brutality of the food industry world wide. However, red can also represent good fortune and long life in both Taiwanese and Chinese culture, while chicken feet are delicacy in a number of Asian countries including China, Taiwan, Korea, Thailand, and Indonesia. For the performance, Yeh, garbed in a black tunic and skirt, sewed together two strings of chicken feet with red thread and needles, which she attached to her ankles with more red thread. After pulling her shirt over her head to create a head covering the made her look vaguely like a European peasant/witch from the 15th century, Yeh walked slowly around the room, dragging her chicken feet streamers and holding a chicken foot in each hand. Yeh’s performance addressed animal rights, as well as a more global issue around histories of women, women’s work (the sewing), food preparation, superstition and oral knowledge.

Marta Moreno Munoz. I Will Miss You 2015. Photo by Jemima Yong

The Spanish artist Marta Moreno Muñoz has focused, according to her statement, “predominantly on ‘feminine’ subjectivity, dissolution of the ego and the notion of pre-oedipal nostalgia in response to a patriarchal and undesirable reality.” Moreno Muñoz’s performance I Will Miss You was by far the most experimental of the evening, employing sound, touch, and smell in order to shift the perceptions of the audience away from the visual and towards the haptic. This is not to imply that Moreno Muñoz ignored the aesthetic aspects of the piece. In fact, the performance space was carefully coordinated into shades of gray and black as was the artist, who has gone so far as to tattoo her forearms in a shade of grey. The monochromatic presentation forced the audience to concentrate on the other sensory experiences that were assaulting them. All the while, Moreno Muñoz walked around the room repeating the sentence "I will miss you," a statement that invokes both desire and loss, particularly in the sense of psychic trauma. In the performance, Moreno Muñoz is engaging with a feminine, even maternal subjectivity that has been theorized by Julia Kristeva and more recently Bracha Ettinger. While Kristeva and Ettinger have very different notions of what the language and representation of maternal subjectivity might be, as well as the point at which it originates, both are very interested, as is Moreno Muñoz, in the language of the womb, or the exchange between the mother and the unborn child, which has a language or system of representations that for Kristeva is pre-symbolic (she terms it the semiotic) and for Ettinger is symbolic and joined with patriarchal language but not recognized as proceeded that language (matrixial). Both Kristeva and Ettinger view this language as being best expressed through representations other than words. Moreno Muñoz thus created an environment of sound that was at times quite painful, vibrations that shook the room and could be felt within the body, and smells that pushed the edge of tolerance. Walking around the room with a mic, Moreno Muñoz played with the possibilities for sounds that occurred when the mic was used incorrectly. In the center of the space, an installation of bags of street rubbish were piled atop one another-- Moreno Muñoz climbed over these bags, releasing their scent to the audience who was assaulted by the performance. Both Kristeva and Ettinger, but particularly Ettinger, have argued for a shift in consciousness through an invocation of maternal/matrixial/feminine language. Certainly Moreno Muñoz is intended to push this consciousness upon her audience with her refusal to allow her performance to reside in the realm of the visual—and partriarchal.


  1. hello Dear Artists, what I read about semio language ad patriarchal, it remind me another excellent exemple about LOUISE BOURGEOISE her ORANGE SEX OF FATHER
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  2. Liping, your work looks really interesting. Thanks for the suggestion. I am editing a book on the maternal and my co-editor and I are planning to use a drawing by Bourgeois.