Po Po Visit

August 9, 2010
Research day.  Copied 3 art books.  Will most likely print several copies of each.  Also spent the day reading more about traditional theatre and I am seeing a lot of connections.  Here are some thoughts:
       there are no fighting dances in Burmese traditional theatre, the usual climax of the Burmese Buddhist theatrical productions is the departure of the hero for the forest, where he withdraws from the world in meditation.  It most Sanskrit epics, the man would emerge and battle against the evil of the world, but in Burmese theatre he remains OUTSIDE THE CONCERNS OF THE WORLD
       relating to the above, Myanmar is Theravada Buddhist.  The individual is the center of attention and each person must strive for Nirvana for himself, where as Mahayana is more about humankind as a whole.
       “plays” as they are known in the West are rare in traditional SE Asian theatre.
       Theatre in Burma largely improvised around Buddhist and mythical-historical stories (each presentation of improvised theatre is unique)
       Traditional theatre and music in SE Asia not manifested in written texts or scores.  Instead have plot books and outlines that aid the memory (relates to documentation of performance art)
       Rasa Theory – no necessarily proper aesthetic response to a work of art but that each viewer responds or fails to respond as his own special qualities and experience permit him
       Hence, art is an interaction between the performer/creator and each member of his audience
       The meaning is the process, theatre is a metaphor for the process of the world
       Performance art as a social institution, helping to picture how the world is
       The message as an artistic medium (so many artists have told me that it is the message/idea that is important, not the medium)
       The viewer is a participant in the performance, his presence affects the drama directly (does performance art exist without the audience? What would happen if an audience member interrupted the performance?)
       Watching artist prepare
       Theatre comes to them, to their village
       The area of dramatic relevance is broad, beginnings and endings are indeterminate
       Filling the whole night in the modern anyein pwe, the action in the story does not resolve itself until well into the night (nor does the story present itself until after the artist has stated it as such)
       Conflict emerges, action ceases
       Virtual world of the play is frequently broken, fully in the accord with the deeper meaning of the play, no attempt to remain in character when they are not directly involved in the dramatic situation
       Audience is always aware of the play at two levels: the level of the story in which actors behave as characters and the level of the immediate experience in which actors are particular people performing a play
       All movements are formalized, imitation of awkward gestures of puppets, psychological reality of the characters  – a 3rd level of reality  – spiritual state of the character motivates the action
       Meaningful beyond the special, temporal, and psychological constraints of the immediate dramatic situation – broader relevance
       It is a world in which terror is real but it too passes, overcome by meditation, magic and the inevitable return of the sun
       Theatre was a source of knowledge about who one was, how one could act, and what the world – beyond confusing experience – was like
       Govt appealing to the audience through theatre – the society the army wanted to build was in almost every way contradictory to theatre
       The theatre world is static: the past, present and future are simultaneous
August 10th, 2010
Po Po invited me to his house today.  Only 15 minutes out of the city, it mimics village life more than any area of Yangon I’ve seen.  His home is open and airy, simply furnished with a beautiful garden in the front yard within a short gate, speaking to his botany background. Fresh cut lilies were sitting on the table and started the friendly exchange.  I was so incredibly mesmerized by the amount of information and conversation we were having I did not write a thing down in his presence.  And I did not take one picture.  I feel like the picture and the pen absolutely ruin the moment and are almost signs of disrespect.  Good thing I have a good memory.
We spoke a bit about the connection to traditional theatre and he agreed that the form most likely evolved from the village theatre but that the concept is unique, yet influenced by some kind of Buddhism.  He was so respectful and told me I should write about what I find, not about what everyone thinks I should write about.  Some things we went over…
       the first performance he ever saw was in the village, the circle performances performed at night
       he made toys when he was small. There were no toy factories.  They made their toys out of rubber sandals (robots), bamboo (cars) and sculptures out of clay.  He made a nude sculpture when he was about 6 and the whole village commented on it’s hilarity.  But, he explained, he didn’t know about these things.  He saw it everyday.  He described the lifestyle as “gentle” and said that many women sometimes did not wear tops in the field.  I can just imagine little Po Po, so confused as to why everyone was laughing at his work of art
       before he knew anything about performance, he knew how to express himself.  He said his earliest memory of “performing” was at the old Yagon University in 1981.  He wrote some thoughts on his jacket and walked around campus.
       He also did a durational performance, without documentation.  He burned a quai (sp?) near the K River in Yangon and went back a year later to see if it was still there.  He wanted to see the impression that it left after sometime – it reminded him of the logs that used to sit near his village, and when the monsoon came, they would move them to some other place and he would still be able to see the imprint in the ground
       His hobby is architecture.  He has refurbished parts of his house since 1983 when he bought it.  He has drawn all the layouts to his liking and done the before and after drafts of the work.  The only part he left were the columns.  All the other changes are levels, big shuttered windows, teak stairs and beamed wooden ceilings.  His major influences are FLW and Mies, very obvious through the details.  He will continue his project where he plans to build a separate studio and gallery
       He works freelance as a graphic designer.  Freedom is very important to him and he links it to Buddhism.  Buddha teaches that you are free: free to follow or not to follow.  “As you like” as Po Po always says.
       When I asked him about performance art being an “act of survival” he replied that since everyday life is an act of survival than yes, performance art can be considered as such
       His wife is a teacher and there were complicated mathematical equations on a whiteboard.  She tutors young people who come to her house.  His eldest in an engineer at a steel mill, his middle daughter is an English teacher and his youngest is currently in architecture school
       His wife made us delicious Myanmar breakfast.  Mohing ga (sp?) – there were thick and thin noodles, a thick soup with egg and fish and several sides including fried garlic in oil, deep fried beans, cilantro, dried chilies and fish sauce for saltiness.  Then brown tea (not fragrant because it takes away from the taste of the food) and the BEST mango I have ever eaten in my life.  Bright orange, light and the freshest sweet I have ever tasted.
       We spoke about many things.  Politics and his lack of concern of it in his artwork, the family life in Myanmar vs. other countries, several other artists I should meet, the lives of various architects, the value of living in a quiet place, and I got the sense that he was generally satisfied with life here in Yangon.  When I asked him if he would ever live anywhere else, he just laughed and shook his head.

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