This past weekend, two festivals took place. The Blue Wind International Multimedia Women’s Art Festival organized by Phyu Mon and the International Multimedia Festival – Yangon organized by New Zero Art Space and the French Institute. It is a very exciting time when Yangon can see 2-3 events or festivals per month (Beyond Pressure – now multimedia – is coming up next week) and artists are coming together to participate and organize. However, how much is too much?
Artists from over 50 countries participated at the New Zero/French Institute show. The grounds of the FI were covered in photos, paintings, a video works. Paintings hung behind the tv screens which broadcast various sounds, faces and images. To be perfectly blunt, it was a mess. I didn’t know which screen to watch and when a piece did have sound, it was drowned out by the work next to it. Quality varied so much that I could actually tell which works were from Myanmar and which were international, or even Western European. When curating, one should use the works to both compliment and contradict each other without causing confusion and over-stimulation.
Blue Wind Festival brought some very interesting SE Asian art world folks together – so many I wasn’t able to meet them all, or hear them speak. International artists were cut off during their presentations to make room for others. Journal editors to poets to curators were asked to give presentations. It was a range of experience and age and therefore, an impressive amount of knowledge and perspective. But I do wish there had been fewer, just as the French Institute show, so that we the audience would have the opportunity to get to know the artists and speakers more intimately.
Performances began at the French Institute at dark. A collaboration between Aye Ko, NCS and a few others reminded me of the images I saw from Nyan Lin Thet’s show months earlier. Block of ice, washing of the feet, fire, journal paper, etc. NCS was throwing eggs around and one hit artist Nge Lay in the face. As I was sitting next to her it got all over me too. It is good to feel that sudden physical connection with the artists. It was what came next that really disappointed me…Aye Ko covers himself in water while spreading journal paper in a circle on the lawn. NCS puts paper in a plastic bucket. Both of them light the paper on fire simultaneously. The air filled with thick smoke and the smell of burning plastic. It was nauseating. The effects of fire in a performance are incredibly strong visually, and it instills a sense of fear and urgency. Yet all this made me think of was how bad it was for the environment and my lungs. The stench of burnt plastic hung in the air the rest of the night.
M.S.O. performed his piece once again using plastic chairs. As a friend put it, MSO always does little, but just enough so you get what he’s trying to say. He moved the chairs around, arranging and rearranging, while he shouted out “NO PARKING.” He then took the chairs and placed them in front of one big chair, first sitting in an audience position then moving the chairs next to the big chair. He finished with, “No parking, no parking? No democracy.” A comment no doubt on all the strings attached to the idea of democracy and the supposed power given to the community. If only they didn’t tell us where to sit, or to park.
The next day, performances were held as part of a collaboration between the Blue Wind Festival and Beyond Pressure, curated by Moe Satt. Tha Ditar invited friends to come drink with him. When I volunteered, I expected to be getting drunk with him, not watching him split his chest open with a razor in 20 different places. This is not uncommon for Tha Ditar – he often uses sadmasochistic elements in his works. Obviously I had forgotten what to expect. Mrat revisited a performance I saw him do in 2010, but this time with soil and glass bottles. Htoo read from joke books and translated, with eerie experimental noise in the background. And Moe Satt, bless his heart, took part once again in his own curated show, pulling his pants down and writing an acrostic poem of “PERFORMANCE” on a big white sheet, asking his audience to contribute words as definitions of the now infamous word in Myanmar. He not so subtly mocked his own authoritarian definition of what performance art should be.
In conclusion, I believe that an International and Multimedia festival should include art and artists from various mediums and locations, but does not have to include EVERYONE. We all love art and we’re all here to learn but if there is too much in front of us, there is nothing to absorb or consider, there is only that which is named for us as “international” and “multimedia,” a situation where we merely examine the framework and not those pieces which make it whole.