S. Yi Yao Chao offers an artist response to the Lee Wen Archive.

Image: Courtesy of S. Yi Yao Chao.
Image: Courtesy of S. Yi Yao Chao.



My colleague Chương-Đài caught me doodling and taking notes in staff meetings and paired me to respond to Lee Wen’s drawings, beginning with some he sent in for an exhibition in 1994. A flyer about the exhibition is the first image you’ll see in my response. I converted the drawings into a deck of cards that I wanted to pair and recombine. Have the other side appear. Whoever stumbles upon this, once you click on the cards, the response will appear and the image will flip to an indecisive intuition. The card and time of day loosely guided me to various documents in the archive. I kept track of the day and time, surrounding and pairing in an Excel file. I didn’t filter or revise much:


I think this messiness, tracings, scattered doodles, and notes are what an archive can offer. It’s less about the finished work or the work isolated. But the thinking and planning while in transit and correspondence. It’s quite random but also a person can only absorb a little in the day, and make finite and loose connections that reappear or disappear, come back at a later day or in another form. This log contains these flipping moments, quiet and not worth mentioning while occupying a space of its own.



These spaces are…

In an article that Sharon was scanning for Lee Wen phase three news clippings, an update on a film being censored by a bureaucratic department, and Singapore as a cosmopolitan struggling to support community and the arts. I grouped all the no's in the article as well with the c’s. Words such as cosmos, care, and community shift weight with the restrictions of the no’s, not yet, and censorship. Rearranging is forgetting, revising it to an ideal.



I didn’t know the language in the performance documentation how to explain art to my mother, so I focused on the body gestures and moments I found were soft and the figures and gestures starting to morph. I watched the performance and took stills, a total of twelve and sketched them on the back of twelve cards I made from Lee Wen’s sketches. On one day, I made a gif with subtitles, on another I picked a drawing by Lee Wen of a woman waving a wand. Which I associated and interpreted with this performance documentation, a mother explaining art to the artist.



Formally and returning to Lee Wen’s sketchbooks, they were private ones that he had forgotten he left in boxes but with a compliment and some attention, one can look for cues and directions in them, in how he frames his performances and body. Chương-Đài asked me to treat this piece as if I am preparing for an exhibition, to think about space. The focus I have when I can occupy a space is maintaining it and keeping track of some indecisive intuition framed by these cards. Making the characters that he drew into some grumpy Lee Wen character magnets but also giving the characters a foot bath, or a window stroll in the public park.




S. Yi Yao Chao is AAA Collections Assistant. She acquires zines for AAA's library based in Hong Kong.




Thank you Paul C. Fermin, Paco Ma, and Elaine Lin for the support.

Thank you Debby Tsui, Lydia Lam, and Charlotte Mui for passing the days with me.

In gratitude to Chương-Đài for the invitation, edits, and guidance; Lee Wen Archive for the collaboration.



S. Yi Yao CHAO, 周亦瑤

Tue, 12 Jan 2021
Rights statement

In Copyright


Relevant content

Line Form Colour Action
Ideas Journal | Essays

Line Form Colour Action

Chuong-Dai Vo uses Lee Wen’s notebooks to explore his work as performance and process

lee wen thumbnail
A Performative State of Indefinite Duration
Ideas Journal | Notes

A Performative State of Indefinite Duration

Bruce Quek reflects on contingency, institutional order co-existing with fractal weirdness, and the Independent Archive

From Drawing to Performance: The Lee Wen Archive
Programmes | Teaching Labs

From Drawing to Performance: The Lee Wen Archive

Sat, 11 May & Sat, 8 Jun 2019

The Lee Wen Archive and Performance Art
Programmes | Teaching Labs

The Lee Wen Archive and Performance Art

3 Nov & 6 Nov 2020