Performance must be the most challenging media to research in a library. Other than writings on performance art, one generally has to resort to a video data bank to view performance works close to how they were presented in front of a live audience. As an art historian of Vietnamese art I had been accustomed to resorting to alternative research methods to obtain information on specific works of art. My doctoral dissertation research was conducted almost entirely through interviews with artists and sorting through worm eaten hand written letters and faded snapshots of paintings. The reality of Vietnamese art history is that documents, visual or textual, are rare. When I began researching performance artists a few years ago I knew that documentation, live footage that is, would be equally difficult to obtain, but I was also faced with the additional challenge of finding a critical framework in which to locate Vietnamese performance art. Searching through the Asia Art Archive from a distance, from my computer here in Chicago, I found a variety of material pertaining to performance art in Asia, from invitations, to catalogues, to manuscripts, to articles, to taped interviews with artists and curators, that would help create a sense of commonality and community surrounding Vietnamese performance art. A simple search under the keywords ‘performance’, ‘all categories’ yielded 1,705 results in total. I decided to narrow the search in two ways: by material, limiting it to ‘Audio-Visual’, and then by artist names, using the names of performance artists whose work I have been researching. In searching under ‘Audio-Visual’ only, I found 272 results. I started scrolling down in the order that the entries appear, in reverse chronological order, from most recent to earliest. I was looking for footage of Southeast Asian Performance artists and came across this one first:
This is what every performance art researcher dreams of: two hours of documentary footage of the first Beyond Pressure International Performance Art Festival held at the YMCA, the Yamada Art gallery, M3 and Queen Park Hotel in Yangon, Myanmar. Documentation of contemporary Burmese art is rare, and documentation on Burmese performance art even scarcer. In 2007, two Burmese artists, Chaw Ei Thein and Htein Lin, were detained by the Burmese police for five days for conducting a participatory, interactive performance in the streets of Yangon. Their piece was a response to the sudden hike in the price of gas by the government, which also ultimately led to the protest by Buddhist monks, known as the Saffron rebellion, in September 2007. Chaw Ei Thein, now in exile, collaborated with Rich Streitmatter-Tran on September Sweetness, an installation for the Singapore Biennale in 2008 in honour of the rebellion.
Htein Lin gave a talk at AAA in April 2007 and so I found his talk catalogued here too. In this talk, Htein Lin discusses his experiences as an artist in and out of prison in Burma. While I know the Vietnamese government has been putting pressure on performance artists and limiting the spaces for them to perform, it is even worse for Burmese artists. Htein Lin can no longer perform in Burma and giving him the opportunity to speak in Hong Kong is extremely valuable to researchers. Performance art everywhere in Southeast Asia has been entangled in politics. Looking at examples from Burma and Singapore help understand the context of Vietnamese performance art by providing a comparative perspective.
The Burmese artist Aye Ko’s six-minute performance My Life is captured in the following video documentary.
Singaporean performance artists appear in this document. This is a DVD containing documentation of performance pieces by Singaporean performance artists at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney. The Artists Village in Singapore has become a model for alternative art spaces throughout Southeast Asia. Founded by Tang Da Wu in 1988, it became a site for avant-garde art practices before its land became repossessed by the Singapore Government and a subsequent ban on performance art was imposed. Agnes Yit’s piece entitled The Artists Village: Artists Investigation Monument III in this collection is an obvious homage to that institution.
Situation: Performances by Agnes Yit, Lee Wen, Kai Lam and Juliana Yasin piqued my curiosity. I then looked under Tang Da Wu and found this item. A monograph published on the occasion of Tang Da Wu’s residency at the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum.
Singaporean performance artists also appear in this video documentation. The video contains recordings of four performances by Jason Lim, Kai Lam, Zul Mahmod, and Juliana Yasin presented in alternative exhibition spaces including the Substation, Utterlyart and the CP Open Biennale in Jakarta.
The artist and AAA Hong Kong researcher, Wen Yau, encouraged me to think about performance festivals as a way of devising a chronology for performance art and to think about performances as ‘events’. In my search I found video footage of Asiatopia’s annual performance events from 1998-2004 from this item.
Asiatopia is a festival in Chiang Mai organized by Chumpon. To date, over 200 international artists have participated in Asiatopia, including artists from Vietnam and Burma. This CD also contains images and biographies of the participating artists.
Nora Taylor is the Alsdorf Professor of South and Southeast Asian Art, Department of Art History, Theory and Criticism, School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
- Collection Spotlight
- Fri, 1 Jan 2010