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Wen Awry ray langenbach

…between two edges … it is the flash itself which seduces, or rather: the staging of an appearance-as-disappearance.”2 Performance art obtains its force (and its necessity as a cultural form) from its contiguity with the real of social life, its phenomenological unsustainability and the intermittence of its subversive libidinal erotics. In an inversion of Barthes’ equation, performance art stages its disappearance as appearance.

Anthropometry Revision #4, 2006, video stills, video shot by Chua Chye Teck. Presented at Lee Wen's MA Fine Arts graduation exhibition, at the LASALLE College of Fine Arts.

Trying to visually grasp the star cluster of the Pleiades in the Taurus constellation lands you in an interesting dilemma. The cluster dissolves into mist if you look directly at it with your high-res fovea or macula (Latin: literally stain), due to the “reflection nebulosity” created by an interstellar dust cloud between the cluster and Earth … producing more of a smudge than a group of stars. But slide attention over to your peripheral vision and use your low-res, low-light, rods, then voila, there they are: little pinpricks in the dark fabric of space. However, if you are like me, the desire to possess them with the macula again takes over, and the little pin-pricks dissolve back into mist. I have found that performance art – in its momentary emergence between daily life, social and bureaucratic institutions, religious and aesthetic rituals – when fixedly and acquisitively gazed at – is also prone to the effect of reflection nebulosity, but of the cognitive variety. Rather than opening to the frontal gaze, performance art seems to open to the non-acquisitive driveby awry glance.1 The groundhog of modern art, performance art emerges and disappears in a flash … an event constituted by intermittence. In 1973 Roland Barthes described the phenomenon of writing as the sharing of an “intermittence” with the erotic in ‘The Pleasure of the Text’: “Is not the most erotic portion of the body where the garment gapes? In perversion (which is the realm of textual pleasure) there are no ‘erogenous zones’ … it is intermittence, as psychoanalysis has so rightly stated, which is erotic: the intermittence of skin flashing between two articles of clothing

Awry: (i) In a position that is turned or twisted toward one side; askew. (ii) Away from the correct course; amiss. The Free Dictionary, s.v. ‘awry’, accesseed 2012, The word became fixed to Lacanian psychology by Slavoj Žižek’s ground-breaking study. Slavoj Žižek, Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan Through Popular Culture (The MIT Press, 1992). My use of the word here takes an awry glance at Zizek’s, but does not build on it.


Lee Wen’s work is based on an ironic erotic iconics, strategically disseminating a rich iconology of the body as libidinal citizen. His favoured tropes have included animal hearts, live birds, dead chickens, eggs, tools, pingpong, chains, guitar, boxes, buckets, boxing gloves, and, with great regularity, yellow paint, etc. These are linked with iconic gestures: leaping onto cardboard boxes, playing ping-pong on a round table, boxing, walking, crawling, lying, moving the objects from place to place in various combinations. The issues addressed are generally at the seam of the political and the corporeal: in and on the body. Lee’s body at times becomes a synecdoche, standing in not only for the administrative state/government, but the whole polity; people + government + apparatus. The deployment of visual tropes as a performance strategy has been readily accepted by international audiences, while more articulated verbal performances are often lost in translation.3 On the one hand, kinaesthetic tropes produce the illusion of a common language in a linguistically diverse region, while on the other, they share a concrete relationship to the body as instrument and concrete object. Performance art, like photography and film that preceded it (and which historically made non-theatrical performance possible through their capacity to isolate the incident) holds a complex and paradoxical relationship to the ‘real’. Image + gesture iconography in performance art is ubiquitous in Asia, and is not unique to Lee Wen, although he is one of the genre’s most accomplished practitioners. The methodology shares encodings from both Western and Asian performance traditions: the human body is deployed

Roland Barthes, ‘The Pleasure of the Text’ in Mythologies, tr. Annette Lavers (London: Jonathan Cape, 1972), pp. 109–17.


While engaging in a complex array of haptic icons and gestures, Lee Wen often repeats short iconic sentences and slogans. As described in detail by Adele Tan, he recently has been composing ‘songs’, often with lyrics referring to political events, preceded by short spoken monologues.


Lee Wen: Variations On The Exquisite Body.  

"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...

Lee Wen: Variations On The Exquisite Body.  

"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...