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Far Left: Chewing Gum Painting No.4 (Singapore), 2000 Mixed media; Acrylic on canvas, chewing gum and various materials 91 x 61 cm Artist collection Left: Chewing Gum Painting No.6 (Sydney), 2005 Mixed media; Acrylic on canvas, chewing gum and various materials 91 x 61 cm Artist collection
remains of chewing gum liberally provided. The proscription on chewing gum in Singapore began with the MRT’s (Mass Rapid Transit) ban of the item on their trains in November 1989, along with its food and drink prohibition.5 Subsequent public observation in the media of chewing gum’s threatening ‘staining’ effect in public spaces and upon pavements6 intensified the witch-hunt, even as perpetrators proved difficult to catch, and led to the ban of its import, sale and manufacture in the country in December 1991, with the severe penalties of fines of between $2,000 to $10,000 for its sale and import.7 Like skin and the body in performance, chewing gum may appear to authorities excessive, their pliable forms and appearances unpredictable and uncontrolled. Since then, rules on possession of chewing gum have become a little more lax, chewing less policed than the import and sale of this forbidden pleasure of rumination. Lee Wen’s interactive work has been presented both within and outside Singapore, and in conversation with the artist, it was its presentation in Singapore that was the most disappointing as visitors failed to embellish the canvases in whatever creative manner they chose with their ruminated residue, as compared with the expressive participatory demonstrations of those elsewhere, even as the chewing gum provided continued to disappear from
‘Chewing Gum in MRT Stations and Trains Now an Offence’, The Straits Times, 30 November 1989.
‘Chewing Gum Menace’, The Straits Times, 12 November 1991.
‘Chewing Gum to be Banned’, The Straits Times, 31 December 1991.
the gallery. Perhaps local audiences had taken these precious offerings to chew on in private, unwilling to participate in the playful public exchange. The limitation of participatory discourse that performance art can extend is something that needs further examination, and needs to be considered in relation to the approval process demanded of performance art. Lee Wen’s vision, as Weng Choy suggests, may be utopic, and his optimism is thankfully unflagging. The audience that performance art deserves arguably has suffered from state imposition. In that Lee Wen’s practice opens itself up to dialogue, it demands a response. But would it find it? Perhaps we would take the journey with him ... If only we could find our feet.
Foot Reflexology Lee Weng Choy
I forgot about Lee Wen’s Chewing Gum Paintings. So my mention of Beckett and Molloy’s sucking stones and salivation isn’t too far a stretch. For all her talk of chewing gum and public participation, June does not stray from her organ of choice, ending on a note about finding one’s feet. The feet are indeed very central. They not only have contact with the ground, they have a gravity of their own: the whole body is mapped in them; I am trying to conjure a mental picture of a foot reflexology map, speculating on the shape and location of my designated body part, the liver (without resorting to Google this time, but just letting play the imagination). The opening line of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot which I quoted earlier, “nothing to be done”, is said by Estragon, as he struggles to take off his boot. That’s how the play opens, with a protagonist trying to set his feet free.
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...