Grow Some Funk Of Our Own…

25 07 2010

RITES #6, Friday 23 July 2010, 7.30 pm

Brother Joseph McNally Gallery,

Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore.

Three reasons why I was nervous as the evening began. My wife and son from Tokyo, whom I had not been with since April, were in town. It was our first RITES gig at Institute of Contemporary Art (ICAS). And Mayo Martin, who inspired me to start this blog had not showed up yet as we started …sigh.

The gallery filled up with more people than expected as I welcomed the audience, announcng that this gig was the beginning of our new collaboration with ICAS. Thanks to Charles Merewether, the new director of ICAS, for inviting us to work together. Hopefully this partnership will at least take some weight off our shoulders and help us to do more in working towards the other much neglected aspirations as outlined in our inception statement. The program was quite appropriate in comprising four young artists all giving us presentations that were leaning towards self-biographical references.

Jacklyn Soo

Jacklyn Soo made a narrative of growing up in Singapore’s ever-changing “picturesque scenario”. Her speech using bits of Malay, Chinese, and English, two masked assistants and a ghetto blaster remind me of attention seekers at shopping malls doing some promotional gig. As she went through her story moving atop a vanguard sheet map clearly marked sectors of north, south, east, west, central, she stripped down into a golden dance costume and black leotards while her assistants sprayed water over her. I found it hard to hear clearly whatever she was seriously tying to say as the loud awful forgettable music kept jugging on in the background. Soo apparently did not had an easy time growing up as she ended entangling herself with connected rubber bands, stretching them as they were anchored around her neck, ankles and wrists. Her assistants finally boxed her up with the map she had been standing on, and handing out colored pens to the audience to write comments on Singapore. Jacklyn’s actions in shiny costumes, masks and music came across as a painful self portrait of a life exposed and entrapped in totalitarian kitsch and cliché. I hope she learns to grow out of it.

Yusa Zhuang

Yusa Zhuang is a prolific poet, writer and editor of Walnut Literary Review, a new bimonthly online journal featuring new writings from Singapore. Beginning with double projections of photographic and painting portrayals of Arshille Gorky and his mother it was an eye opener introduction to his poetic portrayal of his mother’s love for literature and art, paralleling succinctly his independent frame from growing out of a tense relationship between two poets. His poems gave an insight to his difficult relationship with his mother, Wong Sin Yah who was detained for demonstration during the turbulent 60s years in Singapore.

Roan Lizhen

Roan Lizhen squeezed out ultramarine blue paint onto paper stretched and stuck on the wall to make images of a large eye to face the other from opposite edges of the paper. She then squeezed out the words “What have you been doing?” and “I swim in systems.” in reply over the space between the eyes as if a conversation was going on between them. She then licked them into unrecognizable amorphous shapes of blue like an abstract painting. The quiet seriousness of her statement emerged with a lighter vein as we watched Lizhen licked the words into an abstract painting. It may seem anachronistic to use the painting medium to make performance art, usually denoting the protagonist’s attachment to a traditional preferred medium or perhaps we should continue to provoke questions to the tyranny of painting in art through actions again and again.

Many found the Kelvin Atmadibrata’s “Baby’s Breath” more accessible as expected from performance art presentations. With a video projection of a baby crying at the background, he threw tiny white origami looking like sweets to the front open space and later offering them to the audience. After which he started to plant baby’s breath onto a sponge he attached on top of his head. Gathering some of the tiny white origami he put them through a blender together with some of the flowers and fed the resulting concoction to the video projected baby’s open mouth and to himself. Kelvin then blindfolded himself and offered an old Chinese popular sweets, white rabbit brand with out stretched hands to the audience, walking out still blindfolded and led by the recipients of his offerings perhaps, leading us back to innocence.

It would be difficult to say if I liked or disliked what I saw. Despite any weaknesses, they all had a presence that showed a real desire to speak out and made images and impressions to me like an understated surprise. If only we look more seriously into our own backyard and allow the young artists here a platform of elevated earnestness and an interested audience, something good will grow from it.

– Lee Wen, 25 July 2010

Kelvin Atmadibrata



14 responses

25 07 2010
zai kuning

i was trying to write about performance art and what considered personal language of expression (towards a form) after that night but was just to tired even now since im busy making drawings for coming show. Rite definitely is a good continuation of your effort and kai lam to create a greater platform for artist who is interested in exploring the idea of ‘performing’. i just hope there will be more conversation and writing talking about ‘a personal language in performing’ not ‘what is performance art?’.

one thing for sure we can’t ignore is ‘audiences’ and the idea or sensibility of ‘time’ and ‘sound/music/or background music/white noice etc’. there is no need to talk about ‘action’ and statement anymore since thats already well understood though not all are easily can be powerful.

recently i read a note which say something like ‘why performance art is not theatre – or performance is not theatre – everything in theatre is fake but in performance art the knife and blood is real ..etc but that statement and provocation are old european avant garde questioning towards the idea of theatre and performing (not performance). and then many (european and American avnat gardist) start to introduce many action which is influence by rituals and alot of it from south east asia and middle east.

the idea that pain can bring us or lead us towards a greater ‘wisdom’. to me its the ‘deparment’ which may not exist in the art school, it is philoshphy but not about ‘self expression’ as the only main important process of moving towards performing (not performance art). look at our ancestor..indian, malay, chinese, thai, laostian, viet etc…they cut themself, poke themself, burn their feet and many other thing with real knife or whip..the body really is in many way ‘about’ overcoming fear. thats why when Kai Lam cut his hand it make my hair stand. thats damn real but not violence. often time i felt this is what is missing in ‘performance art’..dont get me wrong i dont mean vilence but ‘strong language’.

another observation is that RITE will be wonderful if it explore different space each month. not just in the comfort zone of gallery space (fake fabricated space for the arts and talks etc whiote wash). why not commenwealth where theres alot of old folk? why not wet market where there meat, veg and all? bt of cos i have nothing again an idea where one want to do it in a compact room.

25 07 2010
Rooted In The Ephemeral Speak

Thank you Zai, for responding so quick. i think it is necessary to re-define performance art which like what we have been discussing in our forums in foi is becoming not so effective and perhaps in a stage of ‘menopause’. many of its original intentions are now forgotten by young practitioners without knowledge of the history. many of the already discovered materials and strategies, that which work and not work are repeated ad nauseum and we wonder do we need it to continue without any response. we are too polite to walk out or heckle because we think in post-modern relativity everything goes so why not let them be. but i think it is painful when we keep quiet for too much silence only perpetuate the sorrow. yes also the cliche idea that performance must be multi-dimensional, interactive and in public spaces in order to be good that sometimes we do it for the sake of fulfilling the perception that this will make it a “performance” that’s why we do it. but the absurdity only becomes tiresome and not like the absurdity of dada or surrealism or that passe avant-garde you mentioned but only a kind of wanna be avant-garde in image and form but not substance. the important thing is in the age of reality tv and the matrix of virtual reality how do we still maintain our humanity in reality and not some text book version of what we trying to do formally. recently i m reminded of Joseph Beuys whom i avoided as at one time he became such a cult figure that everyone seem to want to be an artist just because he said “every one is an artist” but not understanding what that really mean. i recall one time he questioned “where would i have got if i were intelligent?” whatever the work means i think of it as question this idea of wisdom in contemporary society and the systematic education we get which supposedly produce artists, engineers, politicians etc… and to make our children intelligent but it becomes another pressure for success that numbs our senses rather than helping them. this goes for the art schools too, when i see all those new institutions built like shopping centres everyone of them so shiny and attractive but what are we actually doing to our minds and lives? mass production of intelligent and wise graduates? and for what? so we can continue to exhaust our world of its nature and protect our bank account? i am asking questions but i have no answers.

25 07 2010
zai kuning

we are a question lee wen only statue is an answer so lets keep on rocking here with out an answer but good question and sugestion or an opinion. its basic diet for people like me who is truely and deeply bored with mediocrity not only in our architectural language, religon economy but also the arts. im bored but not boredom.

i was very impress with the idea of self expression and like you too we went through many big book and all mainly european or american avant garde. for about 4 years for me but quickly it does not fill the thirst i have. but it is not until; 1989 when i was in bali studying rituals and philoshophy that i realise that actually (could be me presuming) that european avant garde are actually heavily influence by ‘asian’ ritual! they call it shock tactic? blood and gore? rediculoucity? etc

but to me its all bizzare that man women children all go into trance and not acting it out while in bali. again i would say the culture of using pain for greater wisdom.

for that reason what our local art institution is doing is selling a fucking bad drug for all of us. thats the reason i never teach there untill today. they really have to stop propagating european culture and make many of think that we are ‘modern’ because we imitate them. we got to learn about asian rituals and culture and it was there deep inside us. the future of performance art is in asia to me personally. and we cannot commit the same sin like any art institution did with their idea of ‘art education’ but..but atleast (since we have to deal with them) we can tell them fucking grow up now!

25 07 2010
Rooted In The Ephemeral Speak

Zai, you spoke it like it was yesterday we met in 1989 and our search had led us to differ and diverted in different roads but have now met again. The future that was imagined long ago is only now crying out to be born again. many mistake that just because some of us work on the international global circuit and being contemporary meant that we are being westernized or suckers to western art world. but i think its a different consciousness of knowing where we come from that makes us different from the trend followers or fashion addicts of art. in fact lots of this stupidity still exists amongst those who hold powerful positions in the so called ‘art world’ directing and curating the global circus of bienniales and triennales and art fairs, heads of art education etc.going for the cheap tricks, magic shows, spectacular fireworks which i must admit all of us used at one time or another but always justifying it as a means to achieve a higher ideal.this multiply the effect of colonial imperialism which we thought we got over but look how we invite all the superstars and yet neglect our own backyard. another thing is happening with the attraction to use art as a vehicle to escape the unbearable injustice we face in our local situation, censorship and what not and finding that its not much different over there but only we are fooled to thinking it is better because our minds have been brainwashed by mass media to think it is so. the real guys are those who are working consciously in a struggle which is relentlessly responding to the current situation and its not about upholding eastern or western hegemony or supremacy but to embrace real strategies of cultures still relevant or even to research again instead of resting on comfort zones of being accepted into the so called mainstream. Many have tried to offer alternatives such as Ong Keng Sen’s “Flying circus project” and recently i participated in Melati Suryadomo and Boris Nieslony’sPerformance Art Laboratory Project-(PALA) conference in Solo but problem is it is not approached with equal footing between the participants where the language being in English handicaps those who do not speak it well and some are more “masters” than others and again we become the “slaves” usually due to our own self-victimisation by way of inability to detach ourselves from the subservient habit out of politeness and adhering closer to traditions and mainly also due to the lack of financial resources as mostly coming from a poorer economy of S.E.Asian countries, not only make us feel inferior but also to even afford to participate.

25 07 2010
zai kuning

ya lah i have just played you your favourite song in the past like spinning old bob dylan. yes many have change now but not surprising i guess most have become just like any alchoholic, the more they drink the more they need to get drunk. but there isnt poetry cameout of their mouth. some sell painting like a cheap sale under wear some think they become maha guru and teach (?) like horrible theatre you keep asking ‘eh what happen huh? they scream, they roll, they jump, they cry and sing but what actually happen?’

the diff lee wen i give up travelling europe but you fly like superman to the moon thinking theres a tree? (hehe) and now you seem to be home more. gresat. people thoght me and dawu and few others will be fogotten but how can it be? we are like baboon with red or pink ass..from feew thousand mile you can see us for sure. when you come near we eat you (especially me)

me and da wu always ask wheres everybody you know? for so many years hehe

25 07 2010
myriam laplante

Hey funketeers! As long as you’re standing we can see your red ass but when you drop, it’s gone. hehe. SO they scream roll jump fart cry piss that’s how the world goes. But when ony one has poetry or whatever you want to call it coming out of their mouth or whatever hole you prefer, then it’s worth living just to be part of it for a second.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this performance circus, in the end by now most performance isn’t that different from the rest of the art stuff except for the “live” aspect. Just like video in the ’70s had the time aspect that was new. if we want new thrills we just have to move into another dimension somewhere. I’m thinking about it. but where? Is that where “eeeeeeverybody” disappeared to? Let’s unleash some positive light here…..

25 07 2010

what kitsch and cliche? totally not the way it is. im grown up and in the performance, im using a satire for the kind of life we have led. pity the music was too loud.

I agree with Zai that RITES cld explore 1) personal language in performing; esp since performance art is very much diversify 2) places outside of the gallery. i think performances done outside r more connected.

25 07 2010
Rooted In The Ephemeral Speak

i think we need to talk more calmly, i m afraid sometimes i still have teenage angst still at the age, thats why i still get pimples on my face hehe…but hey jacklyn i m sorry if i heard wrong but i did think i heard you talking about your life and growing up and although it wasn’t or could have been different in actuality, you cannot deny that the objects you used like the plastic toys, the golden shiny masks of your assistants, the costumes you wore, the dancy movements, the music you used were put together to give a total image that were derived from kitsch and i must admit although i could not follow exactly all that you said the description you gave of growing up in Singapore in Singlish, pasar Melayu and hokkienfied Mandarin sounded so much like the cliche image of Singapore and Singaporeans whether by locals or foreigners so my descriptions were made from observations of your actions not merely baseless interpretations as i m just as much against that as your response seem to say. but my observation is made not as derogatory intentions but to see what you do and describe it as objectively as i can be but also at same time question if this is a conscious action of critical thinking or just Jacklyn Soo? my apologies in using an emotional tone to put forward my distaste in the music you used as this after all is uncool to do in public but what the hack, i have sensitive ears. and i feel strongly about how many times artists put us through tortures when using sounds, noise or music that one wonders if they really need it or merely as a device to distract us from the serious intentions they are not sure of themselves but perhaps thats another story. and ya i agree too with Zai about those points but i m weary that this too may become cliched expectations what performance must have and we tend to put the cart before the horse as the saying goes.

25 07 2010

forgive me for barging in and also my youthful ignorance at that. but i had some questions with regards to what was said above. what is ‘European culture’? is not the entire premise of ‘performance art’ or in fact ‘art’ grounded in Western precedent? in stating something like, “the future of performance art is in Asia”, are we not too adopting a Western, altogether modernist, view where the East becomes some ‘other’, suggesting that it is this identity/entity which will offer some sort of ‘Future’ or progressive redemptive quality to the art form? (or even, a redemptive quality that makes the ‘Asian’ practitioner ‘Asian again’)

i heard iola lenzi speak in a similar vein some time back and i really could not sit well with that. shouldn’t we already be way past that stage of being constantly locked in an East-West dichotomy? of course we can’t deny there is an obvious lack of focus on indigenous culture and practices in art education (even that is contentious, i know) here, but to really introduce it would merely be an act of recontextualisation as it cannot be framed in another way, outside of these assimilated superstructures; apart from the Western(ised) gaze. what we have is this, the present moment, arrived from the accumulation of history and histories, and there is no way of turning back for ‘authenticity’ or ‘Asianness’. everything is laid out on the table, it’s now about how we use it, and for what purpose. of course, this is just my view. who knows, this could be different by next week or something.

25 07 2010
Rooted In The Ephemeral Speak

oh i hate myself for trying to use poetic prose that i thought was clarifying the situation with fewer words but sometimes it actually gets misunderstood even further. perhaps that often happens because we don’t really read what others are saying but actually hear what is in our internal dialogue that’s going on all the time while someone else is talking. i m not sure where or who anyone said about “the future of performance art is in Asia” but that there was already what we have today maybe years ago hereabouts in our backyard which is Asia but no denying also over there and everywhere but when it comes to the politics of what ever you want to call it art or culture in relation to the conspiracy of the powers that be, it is not evenly represented. and given the historical developments of recent times we cannot deny there is such a thing as cultural imperialism and that ours in particular is one which is prejudiced in favor of western hegemony. however my fear is also a reversal of fortunes in that propaganda of the post-colonial state to use “Asian” values etc for its own preservation. but again here its another trajectory which maybe why you became confused with what we were discussing about in terms of representation..i m not too sure what Lenzi said so i cannot comment on that here. and i agree what you say that at the end of the day what matters is ultimately not between east west asian european but what artists and society do in terms of manifestation of their conscious will to exercise their humanity if there is chance left for it survive given the dangerous terrain we, ie prevailing in global capitalism and technocratic matrix cultures which have seen us sinking in corruption and decay of what had been built up in the past and almost proud to be civilized beyond the beasts and the deep blue sea.

26 07 2010
iola lenzi

Hi Godwin
I think you are interpreting me out of context or out of nuance… Perhaps i was discussing attitudes of others rather than my own position? I am the first to say the East-West dychotomy of old does not apply in a globalised, connected world. Furthermore, where performance and installation are concerned, I of all people am one to argue their indigenousness…

25 07 2010
zai kuning

this is great i do wonder as it begin if its only me and lee wen winning here

and so the blog is breathing with wit, humour and yes positivity. i cant respond in detail to each of the respond of cos and i agree with lee wen..while reading others we think of another…and ut i think here..we should enjoy reading and writing which make this blog full of fire and light in our darkest corner

marian yes when we drop our ass, we sink but i imagine, still our grave will grow pink flower and grass. it will remain attractive and sexual. visit my grave and pick it make a tea or bread. i gaurantee you will write poetry soon after that hehe.

ok i want to make it very clear here that im not a ‘xenophobia’ (towards european or american) as some people accused me all the time which i find its a cheap thing to argue about. lets not forget we here grow up with the history of colonialism and our street, building etc is all are developed and structured base on that. your exam paper was send to london for valueation for fuck reason i hate. your parents think going to london will make you a better doctor or lawyer and they are shock many come back gay or lesbian..they are shock and what the fuck etc. this what im at war with since bare with me. i dont think i need to justify futher here. and i also hate it that many european and american untill today, who came here think ‘we know nothing like apes’ fuck them.

my war is not with the european or american but (idiocy from all over) how asian govt and society so suck up to it and humilaitae old tradition in asia.

gautama budhha wisdom is one of our oldest realisation that human being die and suffer and need an answer. i hope you guys know which century it is. i told lee wen that when gautama about to die his disciple keep talking about budhhism and he say ‘ all i say wake up please’. after that they make statue out of him. trillion of it untill today. and here imust stress it, im not interested with buddishm nor vegetarianism but ‘waking up’. thats what it is to me

the rest of the people can just go on sitting thinking they are meditating with their cloth and think thats budhha. i cant insult that.the same way i find it rediculous how office worker go for yoga class after their office hour drink expensive fruit juice and think they are connected to ‘realisation’…

ok now about performance art and the search for personal language. i really want to go into the basic of it..and this is when i think we are all equal wheather you are european or american or asian its all the same..

there is hollowness in us. we want to fill it

we search for a way but what is it that we borrow? what is it to say? where does the essence of ‘to say’? did we imitate to be part of a ‘school’?

the idea of originality is such a sick idea that grow starting from art education. this we got to demolish as i personaly feel

i think there is something deep inside each individual which is connected to something which is personal. some people are deeply connected to the garden, some rock. some sea and some the wind etc..who knows?..this is something i always think the inner language of our being is mysterious. we cant create it was there the moment we are born..our job is search for it.

it become a language or our own and each are deeply rotted and ‘different’. this what i find amusing that some individuals are so different from me. im not envious of it but enjoy as long they are connected to ‘itself’..themself.

i call that ‘being’ not ‘art’.

craft is the pillar which support that ‘being’ and you can just call it ‘art’ for the lack of words i suppose. a result. like how you call a great wine and pasta the end ‘shit’.

26 07 2010

hello, im nt angry, if u know me well although I must say the truth in your sarcasm is quite upfront. Are u a Sagittarius? 🙂 The idea of who and what Jacklyn Soo is has links to her own critical thinking of what she does in her creative work. At the end, any human being makes or breaks their own if u go back down to the core and strip away the philosophy of people need people in society.

26 07 2010
John Low

When things are all laid out on a table – East, West, Asian, European, theatre, non-theater, etc. – I think a comparative analysis is still necessary because this determines what we do in the present here. Wherever they come from, its important to have a clear understanding of the different views about these subjects, so that we know where a performance artist stands, especially here, and in the present. (Talking about contemporaneity, and here in Singapore.)

I do not believe that free expression is possible without determining what is apprenticeship, mentorship, etc., and how one breaks into one’s own development of an artform.

If we don’t have a rational framework from which to discuss the development of performance art here and what it is now like here in the present, I think there is a tendency that it will run dry, and frizzle out again.

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