Yellow Red Blue
There are many pioneering performance artists in Singapore who have played foundational roles in the creation of Singapore contemporary art. We are in no way excluding them from this narrative; they are inherently part of our story. We choose to start our understanding of performance art in Singapore mainly through the works and thoughts of Lee Wen because fate brought us to him a year and a half ago when we sat with him in the last hours of the day over dou hua. Conversing with Lee Wen was an important driving force of X.
Lee Wen also brought us to his creation of Independent Archive, which holds precious records of performance art throughout his long career, as well as other important archival material related to art and history. It is also a spac for sweaty experimental music, independent talks and workshops. He was telling us that he partially wanted to develop this archive to stop young artists from repeating performance art without knowing that they have already been performed. This statement is perhaps revealing to the growing sense of frivolousness and shallowness in the act of art-making today. The difficult thing about frivolousness is that it is mostly unintentional, which means there are no consequences and then history exhausts itself silently.
One of Lee Wen’s ideas was a performance where he would lie down on top of a table or in a bookshelf and remain unmoving like a corpse for the duration. He said to us:
“Even the dead body can perform.”
We are glad that we got to know him before we had gone and scrolled through pages of search queries in libraries for “performance art Singapore” that all had his name on it. Otherwise this chapter would have been very different. His historical legacy, along with many others’, exists in great depth with many resources, so in today’s memory, in this space, he is the Blue Dreamer.
What is memory anyway, but a constant rearranging of tastes and sensations? It’s not supposed to be entirely real. Sometimes memory is supposed to stay in concrete form; in records, archives and HD images and lengthy academic prose. Sometimes memory is supposed to stay pure to the beholder and creator of that memory, as pure and raw as a thin Yellow Man against the setting of the Indian red sun in a glorious green paddy field.
And that should be it. Then you move on, with that breath-catching picture imagined in mind. Because contexts are fickle with time and interpretation, no matter how many search queries they fill up in your library portal. The context is now. The paddy field is no longer but we hold its colours underneath our tongues.
From the book We Here Spend Time we remember a quote by Fumio Nanjo, the first director of the Singapore Biennale in 2006:
“It was twenty years ago or so that the image of Lee Wen’s performance “Yellow Man” was burnt into my brain. As a mark of respect, I used it for the flyer of this project. However, upon seeing this Wen simply said in Japanese “Yellow Man is dead. He is becoming red.” I understand what his words meant when I saw his experimental Buto start from the next day. His flesh in a bright red dress resonated with cluster amaryllis in full bloom at Arakawa River and bore a performance with distinctive tension,“Call of the Red”. I was deeply struck by his attitude to aggressively pursue a new creation while fighting Parkinson’s disease.” (emphases our own)
“Yellow Man is dead.
He is becoming red.”
Here is the Red dress immortalised in a block of ice, over and over again in coloured pencil on paper.
The Red dress was written about in a three part story in the 2012 Singapore Biennale before it’s cryopreservation.
Now, we look at Purple Range – of mountains with multi-coloured specks brimming on the surface. They are under a blue sky, made from layers of colour pencil pressed deeply on the paper in arching lines so that they feel like one impenetrable mass, until you see the light rising behind the mountains dissolves it just a little.
He says his favourite colour is blue because it is a happy colour, but it feels heavy to us. We look at his winged creatures and his peaceful shapes in a waking dream and feel a familiar connection. They’ve become the sketches you keeping drawing to cover up that gaping feeling of when you’re at the edge of a precipice and you aren’t sure whether to look up or look down. All you know is that it’s just you and you wish that you had wings to figure out whether to go up or down. It’s the ‘straight-ahead’ that you’re trying to avoid, because why should you go there when you can have blue wings
Blue Dreamer was able to find that liminal space between art and politics through his performance . He never did anything that led to a ban or a tightening of regulations and maybe he didn’t have to because it was already done. X concluded that performance art must be political in order to be effective. The performative act itself, as a human body in a certain space and time has absolute social and political agency above all other forms of art. This is just one opinion only, and disagree all you want and email us about it.
Political performance art does not have to all be incredibly provocative or ‘taboo’. There is always that liminal space (as in everything) between art and politics, which performance can effectively take reign of. A painterly-ness is shared in Blue Dreamer’s performances and his drawings. He is able to retain a highly sensitive hold on his sense of colour and environment throughout his outdoor performances, becoming a master of these formal elements in real-time and space. Real-time and space is suddenly significant when the performer embraces the real-time aspect and performs something that absolutely can go beyond that given frame of time or context through informed re-creations, through mental images of yellow, red and blue burned deeply in both human and digital memory.
Chloe Chotrani & Yoko Murakami
Chloe and Yoko’s powerful forms and the textures of their movement against the backdrop of this sculpture park is a mesmerising performance. There is immense beauty to it, but the feeling that is left with you is disconcertingly unresolved. Maybe it’s because faces evade us and instead confront us through black and red cloth. And maybe it’s because that is essential to the story.
“Yoko Murakami and I worked together often while I was in New York. We would always come up with absurd ideas but be organized with logistics and details, which is why we got along so well. Seen and Unseen was shared at Silence is Noise, a live performance where Yoko and I performed with a hair artist Takeo Suzuki, sound designer Chatori Shimizu at Room Salon in Brooklyn.” (email, April 2017)
On the practice of improvisation, Chloe says:
“I like working with a soft structure and giving myself freedom within that. Improvisation is a practice of presence and I find we always discover new sensations and spaces – rather than set movements.” (email, April 2017)
Chloe’s hands peek out from her black fabric and point us here, to Anyā’s Balancing Act.
Anyā’s red hands are at once theatrical and seductive, from the curve of the fingers accompanied by the draping of pearls – its provocative expression is subtle and refined. Anyā talks about the devil as a narcissist who “takes what she wants and claims it is hers because she lays her hands on it.” (Anyā to X, email, April 2017)
Yet the devil is so consumed by her performance of her own toxic narcissism that she does not realise the gold she lavishly drapes around herself isn’t real. You are always in the danger of becoming a walking caricature of yourself. And that’s totally fine as long as you’re not being a schmuck. Make of it what you will, you can either be foolish or utterly fabulous