Poetry. Performance. Performing with poetic voice. Poeticizing a performance installation. Installing a frame of mind with background noise and concepts, which escape. Escaping as a way, a reflection of self, a sign of the times.
This was all happening in Yangon. August 13th through the 15th saw a cause for a loss of words or perhaps the loss of the cause of words at the performance event: Body Reports 2 held at Lokonat Gallery run by a ten member art enthusiast group, which rests its weary walls on the 2nd storey corner of two busy streets in the capital. The space hosts a conglomerate of visionaries: masterminds of their own body, projection and archive. The documenting of each performance is meticulous yet audience awareness and the heightened emotion of every player remains palpable.
But the audience is optional, says Mrat Lunn Htwann, a participant and organizer of the event. In fact, he goes so far as to say that the show was created in order to document – they acts for their own reference, for each other. Outside of the participants, the audience numbered maybe 10, and mainly friends. It is not just Mrat who is the organizer, however. It is a whole range of friends, poets, writers, performers and artists – all seemingly interchangeable in medium and practice, all part in parcel of the fluidity and decidedly laid-back atmosphere of the event. Some combination of watching, listening, seeing and activating creates this cathexis and intense focus within the confines of this spacious gallery, with its empty white walls – only the vinyl poster letters spelling out “Body Rreports 2” refers to some kind of happening.
I will highlight just a few of the events over the three day period that I had the chance to experience although there were many more taking place. Several artists acted in duration. Artist Tha Di Htarr relaxed in wait for the brave soul who could ink the tattoo of his or her choice on his body, covered only by a shortened longyi (a Myanmar sarong-style of dress). In three days, only two stepped up the challenge to suggest logos…and a few thousand kyats (the Myanmar currency) to tattoo on the young man’s body. One read “Body Rreports 2” down his left forearm and the other a publisher’s company logo, small in size, on the other forearm. Whether a performance event logo or a small company logo, it seems that what others choose to tattoo on another’s body, as canvas, becomes a logo with or without intention. The other artist acting in duration, Pann Che, stood as a striking member of the audience, dressed in a shamanist style short white robe, his miniature dog as an extension of himself. He rarely interacts but his presence is felt.
Htoo Lwin Myo photographs the audience and other members of the event in passport chic. He later explains that the title, “Subject in Low Resolution,” explores the moment when the body is transformed by the photograph to become a mere subject. Htoo is a writer by artistic practice and also participated in the reading of a poem by a friend earlier in the event. Mrat expanded on his O! Picnic series, a performance concept he has acted out at various times, in various ways, for a over a year. This particular manifestation involved condensed milk, bricks, twine and a flour and water mixture, periodically flinging it on the walls of the gallery or the street below, not to mention his entire body.
Emily Phyo was blindfolded, handing each audience member a metal soup spoon. She sets her small tea table, with plates and candles and a meal of paper on each plate, which was consequently lit on fire and beaten to oblivion with a baseball bat, ceramic pieces flying everywhere. The “thwack” of the bat was exhilarating. Post-clean up, orchestra sounds. A few local musicians and artists working under the name Burme’lange – a sound art group including Ko Jeu, Darko-C, Tser Htoo and Hein Lwin – collaborated with the audience in a lengthy, undulating march of cardboard box, violin, synthesizer and pre-recorded guitar riffs; the audience eventually joining in with anything that would pass for a noisemaker. Though the title of the piece was “Anti Orchestra,” the rhythm was strangely melodic. It brought the audience to a state of thoughtful collective consciousness. It was a relaxed and soothing moment in an otherwise somber atmosphere.
The event may have been ill timed, or too short, or too poorly publicized. Still there was an edgy intimacy to the place. Everyone knew each other and all were well aware of the difficulty and tedium which stands in the way of a happening like this one to take place – what with censorship board deadlines and questions of location and cost. Yet, with the critical mass present and participating and the meticulous documentation, the event will go down in Myanmar contemporary art history. There is a real determination emanating from each individual and their devotion to sharing ideas and form is tantamount to their personal sense of accomplishment within their craft, not to mention their work being shared and criticized internationally.
Sound dramatic? One could say so. But the power from such an event is palpable and resonates with many in Southeast Asia. It is for all but not all can yet know its vitality. Those who see are moved. I was. And I sincerely hope that there can continue to be such an interlocking artist community within Yangon. No artist left behind, whether writer, musician or visual artist. One inspires the other. The creativity only expands and metamorphisizes the more eventful the artists become. Work to watch, one might say.
Nathalie Johnston is from Alexandria, Virginia in the United States. She is studying for her Masters in Contemporary Art in Singapore at the Sotheby’s Institute. In addition to Laos, she has a particular interest in Myanmar and will be writing her thesis pertaining to the performance and environmental artists in Yangon beginning in June. She hopes to remain in Southeast Asia to live, work and pursue her interests in the arts.
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