44 / 45
“through force of insistence” draw the viewer in, down the white tube, like a snake charmer, this snake-charmer-preacher is at the end of the day, far, far away on a tiny TV screen. There is no way to go any deeper, anywhere dangerous where we might get bitten. I sway back and forth for a bit, enjoy the dance, lick my fingers and move on.
Lee’s Crown Ray Langenbach
In this confluence of Lees, Lee Weng Choy associates Lee Wen with Estragon and Vladimir in Waiting For Godot, but the image of the performance artist emerges most completely in the persona of the ‘think’ slave Lucky in the same play. While we are allowed to gaze intently into the minds of the two protagonists, Beckett (and Pozzo, who holds Lucky’s leash) allow us only a momentary glance into Lucky’s, where we find a collapse of thought and sight into speech. The cognitive landscape, in which the characters find themselves, is condensed into the 700-plus words of Lucky’s speech. But, for most of the play, Lucky spends his time standing mute, drooling and sleeping. He lurches into performance mode only when he is allowed by Pozzo to don a modern-era bowler: the hobo’s auratic crown. There is a great irony in Lee’s (Weng Choy that is) words, “As if the writers did not fully think through the logics of their imagined worlds,” in light of Lucky’s involuntary performance of ‘thinking’ – arguably the only non-instrumentalised, ‘free thinking’ scripted into this play chock-full of words. It is a modernist kind of thinking that is bricolaged from the trashheap of language, composed of bits of tropes left here and there. If the entire drama plays out a linguistic deferment or ‘waiting’, it is Lucky, straddling the margin between the enslaved animal and the human, who is able to ‘perform’ that deferment as art. In June Yap’s opening remarks, she talks about a performance by Lee Wen where he places his shoes on top of his prostrated body; in my comments on June’s text (see page 54), I talk about the ‘plinthification’ of Lee Wen’s shoes in this performance. I wonder, does Lee’s (Wen, that is) ‘plintification’ of his shoes ‘stand in’ for Lucky’s bowler hat: his auratic crown? Is it only when he dons the shoes and is in performance that we see him? When we see him crawling with stones ... I mean shoes ... on his back, we in the audience say to ourselves, ‘Oh, I see him thinking now ... he is performing, and doing the sort of canny acts that we expect from performance artists’. But when he stands next to us, conversing, and the ‘bowler’ has been removed, he dissolves back into the mist of everyday life.
World Class No Spittle Lucy Davis
I find it curious that when Weng Choy starts off along an investigation of salivation/salvation and sucking stones, he chooses to highlight Lee Wen’s World Class Society. World Class Society for me, while very clever and affecting is more of a surface-indulgence, a ‘finger-pointing’ or perhaps ‘finger-licking’ parody. Although the video of Lee Wen does indeed
Lee Wen does not seem to be really in there in World Class Society. Not much happens – not even in a Beckettian sense. We do not need to wait for more. No salivation. And no poisoned spittle either in our eyes from this spout of propaganda. The messianic posturing in World Class Society seems at the end of it all, just for laughs. Lee Wen does not have that ambivalent, troubled investment; that internalisation/externalisation of positions which make a performance like Is Art Necessary? / What is Art Good for? (also a video work) so much more persistent.
Beckett’s characters & Lee Wen’s performances Lee Weng Choy
When I conjured the Beckett character in abstract, I was thinking of something generic. Ray rightly makes distinctions: the Estragons and Vladimirs are very different from the Luckys of Beckett’s worlds. To really appreciate this image of Lucky as a performance artist, one should read the part of Ray’s opening remarks where he tells the anecdote of Lee Wen in Yangon in 2005. Lee Wen and Ray were both participants at a performance art workshop, and during a break from the action, Lee Wen, in a move that surprised everyone, went up to a Burmese professor and, well, I won’t spoil it here.... As for Lucy’s comments on a certain lack of spittle: but I do get sucked into World Class Society. Lucy and I may disagree about the merits of World Class Society, but our reasons for liking it or liking it less come from shared criteria. Just as Lucy values Journey of a Yellow Man and Is Art Necessary? / What is Art Good for? for their ambivalence, playfulness, for the artist’s never quite achieving or becoming what he posits, I too find World Class Society likewise. In trying to call forth a world class society, Lee Wen is full of pathos: you can catch it in the cadence of the artist’s breathing and voice – his voice doesn’t quite break, but when I’m imagining the peformance, I can almost hear it faltering. It’s a fine line between onedimensional parody and something more; I think there is that more. However, my main point in mentioning World Class Society was to talk about the scale of utopia, its smallness in Lee Wen’s evocations, rather than about salivation/salvation. With regards to the question of utopian desire in Lee Wen’s art, Is Art Necessary? / What is Art Good for? is, I would agree with Lucy, a better example to consider.
Published on Apr 1, 2013
"Lee Wen: Variations On The Exquisite Body" written by Lucy Davis, Ray Langenbach, Lee Weng Choy, Adele Tan and June Yap. Lead essay of Sing...