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The Ear, the Mouth, the Song, the Liver
Lee Weng Choy
By definition, an analysis is an examination that breaks down the entity in question into its constituent parts. The reader can thus imagine the five of us writers, hovering over the body of the artist, as if dissecting the poor thing, at times closely reading certain works from his oeuvre, at other times fixing upon an organ and pursuing metaphorical associations. But, of course, looking at one part of the body always leads to the consideration of another. To wit: to hear a song is to encourage singing; an active ear prompts an active mouth. In my own opening remarks, I make a passing reference to utopian statements in Lee Wen’s songs. I wasn’t quite sure how to make sense of Lee Wen’s singing in relation to his performance art work, and I am grateful to Adele for exploring the connections here. The performing body is also a singing body, and vice versa. Adele argues that Lee Wen’s singing “stands at the core of his art, his politics”. Some might want to associate the ‘core’ with the heart, although in this case, the organ I’d like to highlight as the seat of deep emotions and convictions is the liver. In this game we’re playing – identifying body parts with themes in Lee Wen’s art – there is a presumption of playful irony. The liver may not readily come to mind when we think of the most ironic organ of the body, but hey, why not nominate it as such? Adele contends that Lee Wen sings with utmost earnestness, but couldn’t we say instead that he is being impossibly sincere?
One morning in 2002 Lee Wen awoke to find himself transformed into an ‘Artist of the People’. 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.
When he lifted his head he could see his arms, clad in crisp, civil-servant style white shirt sleeves and firmly velcro-taped down by two stiff, blankwhite, wing-like canvases. Then, two inscriptions miraculously appeared, one on each wing: “Is Art Necessary?” and “What is Art Good for?”1. Two sequential videos, Is Art Necessary? / What is Art Good for?, written and performed by Lee Wen and filmed by Heman Chong, were part of Lee Wen’s solo exhibition ‘Everybody Should Be Happy’ (14–24 November 2002, Utterly Art, Singapore). The first follows Lee Wen as a born-again ‘Artist of the People’ or ‘Missionary Cultural Worker’ from his traumatic awakening, through a tour around Singapore. Wings aloft, he fluctuates between desperate endeavours to escape his condition and attempts to experiment with his new, chimeric transformation. He painstakingly scrambles up a pile of rubble and tries to take off and fly from the top of it. He strides down a suburban street like the best of doomsday prophets. Then he traverses a subterranean shopping mall, moving, as if driven, towards The Esplanade Theatres on the Bay, which at the time of the video was Singapore’s most-recent, over-600-million-monstrous-Singapore-dollarsworth of mainstream arts infrastructural-investment. Once at the Esplanade, Lee Wen collapses on his knees, canvases still straining skywards. In a second video he flaps ineffectively around the Esplanade grounds earnestly trying to get passersby to respond to the writing on his ‘wings’. On the one hand (and in this performance we are talking about the hand that is velcro-taped to Lee Wen’s left wing and inscribed with the words
Paraphrase of the introductory paragraph of Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis (1915; Tribeca Books, 2011).
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...