Published on http://www.arterimalaysia.com
Body Reports 2 – August 2010
By Nathalie Johnston
Poetry. Performance. Performing with poetic voice. Poeticizing a performance installation. Installing a frame of mind with background noise and concepts, which escape. Escaping as a way, a reflection of self, a sign of the times.
This is the happening in Yangon. August 13th through the 15th – a cause for a loss of words or perhaps the loss of the cause of words. The event is held at Lokonat Gallery, which rests its weary walls on the 2nd storey corner of two busy streets, hosting a conglomerate of visionaries: masterminds of their own body, projection and archive. The documenting is meticulous yet the audience awareness and the heightened emotion of every player remains palpable.
The audience is optional, says Mrat, a participant and organizer of the event. In fact, he goes so far as to say that the show was created in order to document – their acts are for their own reference, for each other. The audience numbered maybe 10 members not involved in the action. Mainly friends. It is not just Mrat who is the organizer, however. It is a whole range of friends, poets, writers, performers and artists – all seemingly interchangeable in medium and practice, all part in parcel to the fluidity and decidedly laid-back atmosphere of the event. Some combination of watching, listening, seeing and activating creates this cathexis and intense focus within the confines of this spacious gallery, with its empty white walls – only the vinyl poster letters spelling out “Bodyreports 2” refers to some kind of happening.
I will highlight just a few of the events, which I witnessed. There were more over the three-day period that I was not able to catch. There are several artists acting in duration. One artist relaxes in wait for the brave soul who can ink the tattoo of his or her choice on said artist’s body, covered only by a shortened longyi (a Myanmar sarong-style of dress). In three days, only two stepped up the challenge to suggest logos…and a few thousand kyats (the Myanmar currency) to tattoo on the young man’s body. One read “Bodyreports 2” down his left forearm and the other a publisher’s company logo, small in size, on the other forearm. Whether a performance event logo or a small company logo, it seems that what others choose to tattoo on another’s body, as canvas, becomes a logo with or without intention. The other artist acting in duration stands as a striking member of the audience, dressed in a shamanist style short white robe, his small pooch an extension of himself. He rarely interacts but his presence is felt.
Htoo Lwin Myo photographs the audience and other members of the event in passport chic, perhaps questioning their identities or the validity of their presence. Htoo is a writer by artistic practice and also participated in the reading of a poem by a friend earlier in the event cycle. Mrat expands on his O!Picnic series, one performance concept he has acted out at various times, in various ways, for a over a year. This particular manifestation involved condensed milk, bricks, twine and a flour and water mixture, periodically flinging it on the walls of the gallery or the street below, not to mention his entire body.
Emily Phyo is blindfolded, handing each member a metal soupspoon. She sets her small tea table, with plates and candles and a meal of paper on each plate, the entire installation, which was consequently lit on fire and beaten to oblivion with a baseball bat, ceramic pieces flying everywhere. The “thwack” of the bat was exhilarating. Post-clean up, orchestra sounds. A local band, Side Effect, collaborated with artists and audience in a lengthy, undulating march of cardboard box, violin, synthesizer and pre-recorded guitar riffs; the audience eventually joining in with anything that would pass for a noisemaker. The rhythm was strangely melodic. It brought the audience to a state of thoughtful collective consciousness. It was a relaxed and soothing moment in an otherwise somber atmosphere.
The event may have been ill timed, or too short, or too poorly publicized. Still there was an edgy intimacy to the place. Everyone knew each other and all were well aware of the difficulty and tedium which stands in the way of a happening like this one to take place – what with censorship board deadlines and questions of location and cost. Yet, with the critical mass present and participating and the meticulous documentation, the event will go down in Myanmar contemporary art history. There is a real determination emanating from each individual and their devotion to sharing ideas and form is tantamount to their personal sense of accomplishment within their craft, not to mention their work being shared and criticized internationally.
Sound dramatic? One could say so. But you, Southeast Asian audience, can sense the power, can you not? You have seen it happen in your own place. It is happening here, in Yangon, Myanmar, with frequency and fervor. It includes those who have something to say or see. It is for all but not all can yet know its vitality. Those who see are moved. I was. And I sincerely hope that there can continue to be such an interlocking artist community within Yangon. No artist left behind, whether writer, musician or visual artist. One inspires the other. The creativity only expands and metamorphisizes the more eventful the artists become.