August 11, 2010
Taxied to Aung Myint’s home to make an appointment for tomorrow. He was very nice, had no idea who I was nor did he remember my face. Oh well. The guy has a lot on his mind. So I headed back downtown to the British Council, where I heard they have a great collection of Southeast Asian history. Not so. But their collection of work on Burma was excellent. Not exactly what I was looking for in terms performing and performance arts but I learned a lot about the Nats and other pre-Buddhist cult religions. As follows:
Folk Elements in Burmese Buddhism
By Maung thin Aung
Oxford University Press, USA 1962
Anawrahta of Pagan unites Kingdom of Burma, 11th Century, Theravada Buddhism there already existed a number of primitive religious cults including the worship of Nat spirits (purely native, animism, suzerainity if a Nat is territorial and personal), astrology (worship of the planets/Hindu gods originating in India) and alchemy (also from India, base metals to gold and “evolving an eternally youthful body”) – all with the veneer of Buddhism post-Anawrahta. King originally decreed it was not legal but eventually, to appease the people, brought the Nats in as 36 deities, with the Buddha being the 37th
Alchemy – Aggiya “the work with fire”
The ultimate goal is not gold, nor is it the Philosopher’s stone, it is eternal youth. Burmese folklore is full of stories about the stone, which protects the human from harm. Burmese alchemy tries to solve the tragic problem of death:
They say, with Omar Khayyam “Alas that Spring should vanish with the rose, that youth’s sweet-scented manuscript should close!
True believers of Alchemy say that they seek eternal life and alchemy not for riches but in order to be alive with the next Buddha arrives on Earth so that he may worship him and obtain Nirvana
Myth on the history of the pagodas of Pagan is an alchemist monk who created the stone and the people became rich and built many temples
Translation by I.B. Horner, M.A.
Luzac and Company, London 1957
Meant to “inculcate good manners, good sense and good behavior”
Often the Buddha acts as the main character in disguise and illustrates the greediness of humankind
Burmese Drama: A Study, with Translations, of Burmese Plays
Maung Thin Aung
Oxford University Press, USA
First Printed 1937, then 1978
Pg. 1 “No Burmese drama is to be found before the 18th century. The origins of that drama are to be found in the remote past of Burma’s own national development, rather than in foreign importations of influence.”
“No doubt, Burmese music and dancing arose out of primitive religious rituals as in other countries. Society developed, civilization expanded, and contact with the Hindus and the Chinese gave new ideas, but the native element always dominated, and the music and dancing remained, as indeed they still remain, essentially Burmese.”
Pg. 2 “The absence of Hindu influence on Burmese music and dancing explains why the Burmese are the only civilized nation in the Far East who do not possess the fighting dance – the dance
To me, it all fits together rather nicely. It influences INTENTION and in some kind of subconscious way. More about that later. I then headed toward New Zero to speak more with Thwe and Zoncy. Met some new gals too, 3 young girls under 20 – as is Thwe. They were all working together on their works for Phyu Mon’s show on women artists in October. One likes painting, the other likes installation and the other is all about performance, though she’s only attempted it once. The others have tried but don’t like it. They don’t like to use their body and they attribute it to fear more than anything (can’t say I blame them). So even though they all categorized them as such, for Phyu Mon’s show, they are working on digital art via Photoshop – which Phyu Mon mentioned she teaches occasionally. Here is the new generation. They are excited, almost complete products of their education and their elders but they want to do something new and different. They want to carry this torch into the future.
Thwe said she really wants to do something political but she is afraid. Who taught her to be afraid? Her teachers – the ones she considers inspirations – moved without fear, or perhaps they didn’t know what to fear. They could not know the consequences until they had suffered them. So now the young people are learning to work within a framework, within the system or institution. Ask first. Censorship board. Regulations. Time and places. This group not that group. But above all, emotion.
Zoncy just returned from a month-long group performance workshop in Berlin. They worked a lot with durational performance – delay, exercise, rigor.
She was unimpressed with many of the artists. She said the Asian artists have more power, more passion, more feeling on their faces. Perhaps because their lives are difficult, they have something to be passionate about. The only one she said really moved her was one man who did two separate performances: one including focusing on leeches sucking on his naked skin, crawling on his body. The second, stabbing himself with a razor then placing a sugar cube on the gash, watching it absorb his blood, then removing it and replacing it with another. The other performance by a different man was one where he lay naked and, without rising, attempted to blow a red feather and keep it off the ground.
It seems she was touched by the perseverance, the duration, the suffering without resisting. She is a highly emotional old soul. She told me to watch people’s faces on the buses as they ride by and that is what she feels like. How her people feel. Sad. Unhappy. Unable to be free. Freedom has come up a lot and it really does seem to be that performance offers an escape. All can know what they want to express through this very nebulous art medium.
Zoncy (in IPAH Summer Performance Intensive):
“Sometimes my existence is trouble upon my thinking, however my thinking is also trouble upon my existence.”
“I am a spider trapped in my own nest – I express my suffocation through performance.”
I asked one younger girl, Nora, why performance art was so easy for Myanmar artists. I meant why was it so adaptable, so acceptable but she immediately replied “actually it’s very difficult for us.” At first I thought she meant the proceedings (i.e. censors, etc) but I then realized she’s right, this is an incredibly difficult discipline, especially for them, because of what they have to go through to do it but they do it anyway. So cool.
Street Performance Art
By Htein Lin & Chaw Ei Thein
Yangon, Myanmar 2005
Couldn’t watch the VCD but the cover showed pictures of Htein Lin and Chaw Ei walking together, looking straight off the farm, she carrying a basket and he carrying an old style bamboo carrier, but not with food, with his paintings. The point was to sell things for the prices they were before inflation, using the old coins that were one or two kyat. They had the faces of Aung San on them. The idea was the keep moving, like a market – sit on a corner and sell their wares. Aye Ko said people were very excited. So cheap! On the back cover it says, in poem-like form:
We are not painters.
We are paintings.
We, the paintings, came into being
For another time, in this dark and
Myanmar and Nippon
Performance Art Exchange
Yangon, Myanmar 2009
July 18th and 19th
Seiji Shimoda guest stars as the host and representative of Japan. Years before, in 96 or 97, Shimoda came to Mynamar to talk about the performance art and many artists were influenced by his arrival and his work. Again, was not able to watch the entire thing but it was many artists including Aye Ko, Aung Myint, Phyu Mon and other who participated as well as 1 American, 1 French, 5 Japanese and 8 Myanmar artists.
Po Po said that people often mistake the performance for Quat Sate, ask them if that is what they are doing. Aung Myint also said so and that Pwe Quat Sate means “to beg” and so was a form of appealing to the audience in order to get something in return. I wonder if the very act of trying to be something different, to not be Quat Sate, their fighting it becomes some form of it. That in denying this type of performing and claiming performance they are not becoming it, or at the very least driven by/derived from it.
Met Htoo again. Talked about the Nationalist ideology of the government comes from the same place as colonialism. Without one there could not be the other. Also talked about the act of being taught and then rejecting what you’re taught, or using it to discover your own.