Can Cannot Also Can

7 04 2011

In a project called “Give Peace A Chance Redux” Lee Wen had re-visited the legendary “Bed-in for peace” performance of Yoko Ono and John Lennon during 11 to 15 September 2006 together with Kai Lam. They occupied an empty shop space for five days and installed a bed for sitting and discussing “war and peace”. The shop became a bed room decorated with hip tie-dyes, colorful rugs and carpets, a television showing the video documentary of the legendary “Bed-in” running in a loop and an anti-war poster corner where visitors can paint and put up on the wall their own messages against the futility of war. The project was also part of the Singapore Management University Arts festival and my work responded to a number of contexts quite uniquely Singaporean, such as the ban on public protests and blocking out the black-listed activists from entering the country during the World Bank meeting being held that week. Given the fame of John Lennon and the Beatles amongst youthful music lovers compared in contrast to ignorance of Yoko Ono’s art departures and “Bed-in for peace” seen as an extension of Ono’s performance art interventions gave an opportunity to provoke interest in performance art as legitimate art practice. Lee however was shocked in over hearing a passing student scornfully tell his girlfriend that John Lennon is a no good hippie, drug imbibing bum amongst other derogatory gibes and discouraged her from participating in our project. Turning to Kai Lam, Lee wondered aloud: “what kind of brain washed dudes are there among these kids and how come?” and said it is time to become a “Born again Hippie”.

"Give Peace A Chance Redux", 2006

In 2007 Lee began the new series: “Too Late The Hippie” after seeing the tourism board promotional slogan: ‘Uniquely Hip Singapore’. Responding to the irony of how hippie culture were once seen as a threat to traditional values, defiance of authority in the face of dominant global market capitalism and the acceptance of values once frowned upon into mainstream culture and especially the threat of communism at the height of the Vietnam war during the ‘70s. Playing devil’s advocate reminding and recalling that recent enthusiasm for healing the planet, disgust for chemicals, non-GMO seeds, concern for the environment, alternative health, humane treatment of animals, natural childbirth, developing the self, popular music and various prevalent attitudes actually began and proliferated from the 1960s hippie counter culture movement.

In 2007 while participating in “Interakcje 2007″ Piotrkow Trybunalski in Poland Lee also began his ordeal with Parkinson’s Disease. In response, he began new works, which incorporated his physical condition. Nicknamed “Stagger Lee”, as he began walking with a staggering gait he started to perform a new series based on the story of “Stagger Lee”, a legendary real life bad man in American folklore seen as the embodiment of evil. Lee took up the shaman-like role as if personifying the evil character and creating a humorous ritualistic séance with the intention of dispelling the evil from this world.

In another series, he re-interpreted “Rite of Spring” (Le Sacre du Printemps) using the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky’s once controversial ballet first conceived a century ago. Lee moved to dance in order to continue the perpetual search for the resolution of conflicts and reconciliation of contradictions through the self imposed task of activating and performing the body in sickness.

With “Anyhow Blues Project” Lee characteristically continues to manifest these various contradictions, using a renewed interest in popular folk music genre as a (re-) starting point. By singing, some self composed songs as well as old classics as a starting vehicle; the “Anyhow Blues Project” confronts various issues related to contemporary the hypocrisy of ‘serious culture’ and other ‘dead art’. As an avid follower of Frankfurt School of philosophy, Lee acknowledges his disagreeing from Adorno’s criticism of popular music in dismissing the protest songs of the ‘60s as pretentious commercialism. Lee investigates nuances of social discontent against the current trends of euphoric celebration manifested in propagation of art biennales and globalization of the art market. He expresses the desperate struggle for the individual to assert a place in a commercially driven and essentialist engineered culture of contemporary society, crying for local folk music if not art in deserving legitimacy against high powered commercial or exploitive fare in contemporary cultural discourse.

Lee Wen also returns to his earliest forays of poetry and singing. Besides the other influences, it was through poetry reading and jamming with Zai Kuning at The Artists Village that started him on the road to performance art and other experimental practices. He explained in a recent interview: “ Zai is the guitar maestro, I just do the basic chords but I liked making up songs with my own lyrics. Therefore, my first actions were readings, which I dropped out of eventually and when I went full swing into it, I forget all about the guitar and songs. With medication now, my fingers start to move like it did before and while hanging out with Zai again after long years of going in different directions, it was such a joy to play the guitar and sing again that I had to get into the “Anyhow Blues Project”. It’s really a part of how I cope with my health as much as it’s a comment on society and life, and also about the trials and tribulations of friends like Zai and the Artists Village.”

After performing solo in various performance art gigs since September 2010, the Anyhow Blues Project has evolved through various intense contradictions and complexities. Working with the inspiring provocateur Zai as well as Reef and Hafiz, active players of our neglected alternative music scene, Lee hopes to help steer Anyhow Blues into reconciliation and redemption. Together with the ‘Anyhow Blues Project’, they will rock anew the folk dimension of Lee Wen’s earlier solo acoustic attempts.

They will perform all original compositions by Lee Wen, as much as before gutsy and poignant, personal experiences that relates to current cultural climates. Songs like “Art is Dead” deliver a punchy tune with simple lyrics warning us of the impending death trivializing our humanity by placing emphasis on market values and mindless consumer tastes for shameless repetition of tested formulas rather than research, innovations and explorations of new ideas and current questions of humanity’s directions.

Join them for a concert closer to your roots and help resurrect dead art!


Zai, Reef, Wen and Hafiz in the studio

Date: 15th and 16th April 2011
Time: 7.30 pm to late
Venue: The Substation, Theatre
Address: 45 Armenian Street, Singapore 179936

Zai Kuning guitars.
Reef bass
Hafiz Bastard drums

Performance by Lee Wen (solo) 7:30pm
Acoustic (solo) 8.00pm
Interval 8:20pm to 8:30pm
Electric Set
with Zai, Reef and Hafiz 8:30pm to 10:00pm

Acoustic (solo) – Lee Wen

Admission : S$10 only
(you are allowed to sneak in free by order of the Anyhow Blues Project)
after all this is not a Bob Dylan gig!

‘CanCannotAlsoCan’-poster design by Lin Shiyun, painting by Elena Erikkson,

“Anyhow Blues Project” premiered at 9th International Performance Art, Turbine, Giswil Switzerland, Sept.11, 2010.

The “Anyhow Blues Project” series had been presented at:


–       9th International Performance Art, Turbine, Giswil 2010, Switzerland

–       Rencontre internationale d’art performance de Québec, Quebec, Canada

–       Survey from Singapore, FADO, Toronto Free Gallery, Toronto, Canada

–       4 Directions from Asia, Grace Exhibition Space, Brooklyn, New York, U.S.A.

–       Action Script: Symposium on Performance Art Practice and Documentation in Asia, Hong Kong

–       Performance Platform Lublin 2010, Poland

–       BONE 13 – Festival für Aktionskunst, Berne, Switzerland


–       R.I.T.E.S. “Rooted In The Ephemeral Speak” #01/2011, The Substation, Singapore

–       “This Is Performance Art”, Aberdeen, Scotland

–       ”Song”, with Reef, Singapore Art Museum, AfterHours Grounded Party, “Negotiating Home, History and Nation: Two Decades of Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia.






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