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Commentary

Extend, Flex, Rotate

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june yap

The subject of censorship in relation to performance art in Singapore inevitably references the performances at the ‘Artists General Assembly’ of 1993/1994.2 Josef Ng may have borne the brunt of the state’s heavy hand, but the larger result was the muting of the entire practice of performance art for a decade, and arguably traces of the state’s own authoritarian performance continue to dog performance art today in the requirement that all performances officially receive permission to be performed publicly, making performance art in Singapore a bit of a misnomer, especially for ‘live art’ practices. Loo Zihan’s reenactment of the past performances of Josef Ng’s,3 suggest a need to revisit the past; less as a homage, and more as an attempt to engage with the historical conditions of performance art in Singapore. Censorship, bans and other preemptive impositions fail to consider what art can do, and how art does what it does, when it does. Lee Wen’s performance that Lucy opens with, Is Art Necessary? / What is Art Good For?, is marked by awkwardness and the impossibility of flight,

‘Extend, Flex and Rotate’ is the title of an essay by Vanessa Manko on the practice of dancer and choreographer Trisha Brown, with reference to Brown’s work, Accumulation (1971), that was presented at Documenta 12. Brown was part of a group of dancers and choreographers in the 1960s of note who were “using everyday, quotidian movement and transporting performance to unusual settings ... To create Accumulation, Brown allowed herself to work with only three basic movements – extend, flex, and rotate. Her solo is set to the Grateful Dead’s ‘Uncle John’s Band’. The reference here as section title is a surreptitious homage, as well as referencing Brown’s performance of the layering and repetition of movements that constitute her performance, and metaphorically the performance of artistic expression and censure-ship. Vanessa Manko, ‘Extend, Flex and Rotate’, New York Foundation of the Arts, http://www.nyfa.org/level3. asp?id=440&fid=4&sid=8.

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For details on the Brother Cane incident refer to Lucy's note 3, page 33. This performance by Josef Ng which “[focused] on the arrest of 12 men for allegedly committing homosexual solicitations and the press exposure of the incident” resulted in formal prosecution by the state. In an interview, then artistic director of The Substation, Kuo Pao Kun, described the whole affair as having “bypassed all the institutional structures set up over the last three years: the NAC (National Arts Council), the arts advisors, the review committee and the resource panel... In one stroke, all these were arbitrarily brushed aside at a time when the ‘consultative spirit’ and ‘due process’ were being underlined as fundamental traits of this nation”. Description and quote from Lee Weng Choy, ‘Chronology of a Controversy’, Looking at Culture, eds. Sanjay Krishnan, Sharaad, Lee Weng Choy, Leon Perera and Jimmy Yap (Singapore: Artres Design & Communications, 1996), pp. 63, 70. Kuo Pao Kun, interview, Straits Times, 11 May 1994.

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Loo Zihan’s performances Performing Josef – It’s Not Safe (15 November 2011) and Cane (19 February 2012), re-enact Josef Ng’s performances at The Artists Village Sculpture Show 1993, and the Artists’ General Assembly of 1993/1994.

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Josef Ng, Brother Cane, 1993/4 Performance at 5th Passage, performance space at Parkway Parade Video stills. Courtesy of Ray Langenbach

which she suggests is “obscene”, perhaps in the sense that it is unembellished and unregulated in its response to lived and experienced conditions. A reflection that is not merely extant in the artist’s performance, but that also extends into his writings and commentaries about performance and art at large in Singapore. It is the slap, the collision of flesh with flesh, the physical retort, that Ray’s wry dub of performance as “drive-by awry glance”, and his account of Lee Wen’s palpable response in a fluid social situation, that the state cannot contain, and that artists themselves may not even be able to contain either. Performance art is not a singular activity, it demands a community who not merely observes, but who can respond, in the same way the performance artist is ready to respond as well to the audience on hand. It is a dialogue set in motion, an artwork that completes with another. In an interview between John Low and Tang Da Wu, Da Wu speaks of the vulnerability of the performance, the pressures of the audience in proximity, and yet its value is in its interaction – “something happens between audience, space and yourself, or if not, yourself, your company and a few people. And you do things. All the time, you are aware of the audience there, all the time you are aware of your chosen space there ... Then it is a happening. All the people, audience, yourself.”4 Relating then to Weng Choy’s proposition of the intimacy that performance art compels, the “sucking” by a “possessed propagandist”, intercourse is key, the resuscitation of conversation and interaction, that is pronounced in Lee Wen’s practice. In his series of Chewing Gum Paintings, Lee Wen attempts to persuade visitors to leave their mark on coloured canvases with the masticated ‘Performance Art Project: Interview with Tang Da Wu’ by John Low on 24 March 2011, openends: A documentation exhibition of performance art in Singapore (Singapore: The Substation, 2001).

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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...

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