Tuesday, March 1, 2016

FOI 10: Day 5 Chia Chu Yia: Gardening – Wheatgrass Malvina Tan: re: 130912 (move)

FOI 10: Day 5

Chia Chu Yia (SE/SG) – Gardening – Wheatgrass
Malvina Tan (SG) – re: 130912 (move)

Day 5 was characterized by two elegant performances, both of which addressed memory, loss and nostalgia/trauma. Chia Chu Yia’s Gardening—Wheatgrass was an elegant presentation and preparation of wheatgrass shots, which she painstakingly prepared prior to sharing with the members of the audience. Chia rendered the MalvinaTan’s re: 130912 (move) was her final Singaporean performance prior to leaving indefinitely for Sydney, Australia. While playing record albums on an old turntable, Tan slowly demolished a heap of coal. The performance ended at exactly 9:44 p.m.

Chia Chu Yia Gardening--Wheatgrass 2015 Photograph
by Jemima Yong

Chia Chu Yia, originally from Malaysia but currently based in Sweden after having lived in Singapore for 13 years has long been interested in the way in which humans have manipulated the environment in order to grow food. She is particularly interested in genetically modified (GMO) super foods that have been created by scientists in laboratories and then marketed to people as healthier choices. For her 2013 performance Golden Rice is Free, Chia painstakingly painted single grains of rice with gold paint, and then cooked the rice with gold glitter and pigment. Golden Rice is Free was a response to the Giant food company supplementing processed rice with beta-carotene in order to replace the missing Vitamin A. Likewise, Chia replaced the missing gold with gold of her own—thus rendering the rice inedible. She attempted to hand out containers of her golden rice, suitably labeled inedible, and found that the audience was uninterested in taking it.  For her performance at FOI 10, Chia addressed the fad of wheatgrass (which has actually been around since the 1930s) by growing, preparing, and serving wheatgrass “shots” to the audience. The performance actually began two weeks earlier, when Chia started growing the wheatgrass (which has been around for thousands of years) in flats. By the time of the performance, she had a rather nice crop. Garbed elegantly in a black dress, Chia harvested the wheatgrass, carefully cutting and placing it in a sack around her waist. In order to make the juice, Chia ground the wheatgrass using a mortar and pestle, and then strained it through the same sack in which she had gathered it. After presenting the audience with six “supplements” such as fresh cut ginger and fresh squeezed lemon to enhance the taste of the wheatgrass shot, Chia invited six members of the audience to join her in a ritual that was part tea ceremony and part toast, with the members of the audience linking arms with Chia and downing the shot. Chia’s work falls into a venerable history of environmental performance that can be traced back to pioneers such as Newton and Helen Harrison and Bonnie Sherk. What distinguishes Chia’s work from the pioneering environmental work in the seventies is her emphasis on genetically modified and/or constructed foods. Chia’s performance, which recalls older rituals of food preparation prior to GMO, demonstrates that newer does not always equal better. Although Chia’s performance was quite humorous, there was nevertheless a real element of nostalgia for an almost forgotten way of food preparation and consumption.

Grace Ling Hui
Date: 25th November 2015
Title of performance: re:130912 (move)
Materials used: Textile Paint on Canvas

In contrast to Chia’s performance, the Singaporean artist Malvina Tan’s re: 130912 (move) was quiescent and somber. The explanation provided by Jason Lim on the web site and during his introduction of the piece was that Tan’s piece, which was durational rather than narrative, was her farewell performance prior to leaving the nation state where she had lived for many years. Tan’s piece, however, was actually about much more than her sorrow at leaving the place she knows so well. It also reflected her sorrow as another year elapsed between the time she was with her husband, Adrian Justin Dhanaraj, and the time that she was—is—not. On 13 09 12, Dhanaraj was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He passed away on 11 09 13. At 25, Tan, who recounts this story on her online research journal 130912, became a widow, something she never expected to be at that age. Much of Tan’s online journal, as well as many of her performances done after Dhanaraj’s diagnosis, have addressed her loss, her memory of Dhanaraj, and her sorrow as time moves her further and further away from the time that she was with him. Her performance re: 130912 (move), a move undertaken in conjunction with the beginning of a new relationship, was a good-bye to both Singapore and Dhanaraj. Time, which is so important to Tan, was represented by a carefully placed broken watch. Next to the watch sat an i-phone 5, a new addition that replaced Tan’s broken i-phone 4. For a set amount of time, Tan crushed and ground the charcoal down, all the while listening to record albums on an old turntable. Periodically, Tan would say something as though she was responding to someone conversing with her—an ongoing conversation that only she could hear. The performance ended when her phone rang, a call that she answered, but never acknowledged.  Tan’s evocative performance recalls another performance done with charcoal by Melati Suryodarmo, I’m A Ghost in My Own House, for which she crushed and ground hundreds of kilograms of charcoal. For Suryodarmo, the grinding of the charcoal, which released (or destroyed) its energy potential, represented a release and liberation of her own thoughts, a kind of cathartic transformation. Although Tan has not weighed in one way or the other on the meaning of the charcoal, certainly it appeared to be a similar release, one that would permit her to finally leave Singapore and her past.

Malvina Ta. re:130912 (move), 2015
Photograph by Jemima Yong

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