Epilogue ray langenbach An interesting thing happened during the weeks we were all writing these texts and comments. On 19 February 2012, Singaporean artist Loo Zihan presented Cane, a re-staging or reinterpretation of Josef Ng’s Brother Cane, which was performed on New Year’s eve 1993/4. The latter piece was a turning point for the arts in Singapore in 1994,1 and its restaging in 2012 has again brought to the surface the unresolved anxieties and social dynamics surrounding the original work and performance art as a form – rehashing the debates about modernist presumptions of authenticity, quality, the place of language, and the role of gesture in performance art. Throughout, Lee Wen’s attitude has been supportive – if not positively avuncular – of Loo’s right to smudge the border between theatre and performance art by re-performing performance art works of the past.2 Kai Lam invited Loo to perform a re-interpetation of another of Ng’s performances, Don’t Go Swimming, it’s Not Safe, in the 2011 R.I.T.E.S performance art event.3 This event set off a controversy surrounding Loo’s work following his return to Singapore from graduate studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Over the objections of some other performance artists, Lee Wen invited Loo to Macau in 2011 for another performance event. This reveals another significant aspect of Lee Wen’s work: having learned from the controversies of 1994, he never erased political content from his works. Following the lifting of the decade-long government ‘ban’ on funding for performance art, Lee Wen again began organising and orchestrating performance art events in Singapore, and nurturing the succeeding generation of performance artists. While producing some of the most memorable performance art works in Southeast Asia, Lee has been indefatigable, even in the face of his personal struggle with Parkinsons, to disseminate performance art. Ironically, this has exacerbated the mainstreaming of an art form that, as part of its modernist branding, has sought the margins, and maintained an avant-garde ethos of market-resistance. The mainstreaming of performance art has led to Lee Wen (and Amanda Heng, another performance artist of his generation) receiving the Cultural Medallion from the very government and ruling party that a decade earlier had utilised the police and judiciary to suppress performance art. Lee Wen is acutely aware of these contradictions.
For more on Josef Ng and Brother Cane, see note 3, page 33.
Loo performed an earlier version of Cane (2011) while a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
R.I.T.E.S, or ‘Rooted In The Ephemeral Speak’, is a spin-off from the ‘Future of Imagination’ performance art festival, which Lee Wen initiated. Along with Chumpon Apisuk’s ‘Asiatopia’ in Bangkok, ‘Future of Imagination’ is one of the longest running performance art festivals in Southeast Asia.
Facing page: 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.
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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...