[The room is dimly lit with one faint spotlight on the microstand. Linh turned the projector on.]

Hello everyone, my name is Linh Lê and I’ll be the first to begin this segment of today’s programme. Before we, including artist Lai Dieu Ha, filmmaker Pham Thu Hang, artist Dang Thuy And and myself, begin our performance, there are a few housekeeping rules:

  1. Filming and photo are not allowed
  2. Please switch your phone to silent mode, and please refrain from using your phone during the performance
  3. Please note that this performance might be potentially triggering for people with epilepsy
  4. Our main door will be entirely closed during the performance
  5. If you want to leave the performance, please do so at our back door behind
  6. This performance is not appropriate for children.

 

This presentation sprouted from my personal interest in performance and archive, time in performance (live and death). There will be 5 parts.

 

Part 1. What remains?

Rebecca Schneider asks
If performance really disappears when it ends
She asserted that its disappearance was due to our revelation of the archive
For long, performance has been considered as an ephemeral genre — that is, it only happens “live” in a specific timeframe.
We mostly rely on photograph, video documentation and objects when we try to get closer, revisit a performance
And sometimes, in order to enable such revisit, the process of archive-making takes place in tandem with the performance itself. It too carries the same weight as the performance itself.

 

But what is performance doesn’t really end at the moment when the artist took her bow, gathered her clothes and belongings, quietly walked back into the audience?

 

I think about when a live performance ends its liveness
How can it continue to exist? Or how can it evolve?
A performance appears
Begins
As
An act
Being reiterated

Lai Dieu Ha performed “Flying Up” at IN:ACT 13 years ago and attracted quite an attention from the local media, which was quite odd for a performance art piece.
Like any other controversial social events, new coverage adopted an old trick of “compilation from various sources”
From an interview
They edited
Sew
Added
Subtracted
re-mixed information and data
for those who were more serious about the integrity of their work, they quoted comments from some random interlocutors

What is being reiterated?

That results in, exactly like in a model essay, we-the readers thought we knew a performance from head to toe
And its reverberations
Just with glide of the mouse
A repetition, never-ending and round and round
To the point that
A national TV programme created its own comedy skit that unapologetically fused together details of three different performances
To mock
And ridicule
And defame

 

What is being reiterated?

***

According to the artist:

I needed a rectangular carpet of blue feathers whose length was my height. My friends helped me set it up. I stepped on to the carpet, and slowly started taking off my clothes. After, I took out the hip pads, which had followed me for nearly 10 years. Some of them were already torn. As I took them off, I mumbled these words: “I break up with you, because you have made my life so miserable for past 10 years. I want to have a beautiful appearance; I want bigger buttocks. You gave me scabs, my husband said you were not even buttocks.”

When i finished taking off, I slathered glue onto my body and lay down. Audience interacted by covering my body with blue feathers. Since I wanted my naked body to be visible in just a few seconds. I slowly sat up and walked around. I bent down to grab a passerine bird that was in a cage (it was the type that people use for animal release ritual), as I wrapped my hands around the bird, i whispered: “I’m sorry because I stress you out before setting you free.” At the end of the performance, I kept the passerine bird in my mouth, then I opened my mouth so the bird could fly up.

What is being reiterated?

 

Part 2: Factual and Fictional? A performance or many performances or a performance with many afterlives?

I would like to invite a witness to the stage.

 

[ Phạm Thu Hằng enters]

My name is Phạm Thu Hằng.

I could only recall that night at Nhà Sàn, where the event was held, was very crowded.

At the time, the space was really popular, visitors were mostly artists and regular event-goers of Nhà Sàn and other underground art spaces in Hanoi.

There were other artists before Hà. Many people came, the upper and ground floors were crowded.

Hà performed on the ground floor, which were roomier, and had many nooks and corners.

I remember I was one of the people in charge of filming this event, but when I looked at the photograph during our meeting recently, I saw myself hiding behind a wooden column and peeking.

I was curious. I could see my curiosity from where I was standing.

In that position, my vision was not blocked by anyone, and I had something to hold onto, I was exempted form the risk of being exposed to the audience — the people that I supposed had shared similar intense curiosity about what Hà Tỉn was going to do.

Hà had been known for her bold performances before, and so I guessed people would have similar expectation for her this time.

I can’t recall every detail and step in her performance in an orderly manner.

Perhaps she stripped off her clothes, appeared totally naked, and plastered her entirely body with glue, and then sticked feathers on her body in the dark.

The most vivid image that I could recall was how bluishly shining she was, perhaps with a touch of shimmer and radiance, for she was standing under a bright source of white light. Perhaps, she did wear some makeup because the contours of her lips were as curvy as two crescents, they seemed to be adrift amidst the snow-covered surface of her moon-like face.

Her hair was short revealing her slender neck. Suddenly, I saw her there, standing in the middle of a closed circle formed by familiar and foreign faces. Everyone was focusing on her, they were staring. I felt that she was tensed, her lips were pursing. The contour of her body was round, soft, pulsing, trembling underneath the blue feathere coat. And then suddenly, I felt like she was a parrot that was put on trial, and just like that the roles were subverted. Then, I saw that next to her there was a brown sparrow kept in a bird cage. The bird said nothing during this trial. I saw her opening the cage and grabbing the brown sparrow and cupping it in her hands.

She brought it to her mouth, she opened her mouth and shoved it inside. The bird was quite big, so as she was pushing it into her mouth, her mouth inflated and couldn’t close, her neck was facing up, her face was in a 45-degree angle to the ceiling.

She stood there, breathed, and remained still. I still remember that I could hear the rustle coming out from the frantic little bird. I thought, if I were here, I could not have endured this. The uncomfortable movement in the mouth. Around 10 to 15 minutes later, she opened her mouth wide, the bird frantically found its way out. It flew up. Free.

I don’t remember exactly what happened after that. But it was clear that she didn’t say anything, the performance ended. I don’t remember how she cleaned, and removed the blue feathers from her body. The audience didn’t react, no one intervened, no one said anything. The only existed there, satisfied by the performance, and whispered the judgements in their small, afraid heads. I think so. Because I was also scared, at the time. I found her brave. She dared to stand against the public. I still think so even now.

[In reality, Phạm Thu Hằng continued talking about her experience recalling this event and her revelation about the meaning of art. Her personal perception of what art could do. Some audience began to leave the room]

Two accounts
At two points
That run parallel
Overlap
Cross
Contradict each other
On one or many different timeframes

One decided to give us an overarching, distilled recollection
One weaves together threads of fact, emotions in the dark
Both slips
On the spine of what really took place

In reality:

  • As the artist slowly took off her clothes, folded them, put them aside, and then took off the hip pads, she said:
    You have followed me for 10 years. I was suffocated because of you. I had scabs because of you. My husband said that you, always, were not even buttocks. People thought I had round buttocks. But I don’t know why I am not confident at all. This skinny body is mine. I have to accept this. I have to accept what is mine.
  • Who panicked? Was it Hang? The audience? Or the artist?
  • There was a muffled sound like someone was choked

 

What is being reiterated?

 

  • Did the audience forget something?
  • Was it brown or green?
  • Minutes or seconds?

What is being reiterated?

 

Part 3: Performance endures

Scattering on the Internet, “Flying Up” and Lai Dieu Ha were coloured blue
We saw her taking a bird out from its cage
We saw her showing it into her mouth
We saw her open her mouth wide so the bird could flap its wings, and escape

 

The end

 

What is being reiterated?

 

Photography freezes
And melts
When being cited over and over again, copied from one site to another, these photographs went on to create their own timeframe for the performance and the Internet is forever

 

The performance now shrinks into moments
And expands, spill over the linear time

Photography carries its responsibility to eternalize our memory of events

 

Evidence?
History?
Or slippages born out from endless citational acts?
Then becomes fictional?

***

In reality, the artist began her performance with an arc that contextualized what would unfold later.
In order to bid her farewell to the body parts that had followed her for 10 years
She conducted a ritual
The ritual began with her confiding mumbles, a way to soothe, explain for the soon-to-be break-up
She slapped her buttocks violently

 

[Linh reannacted this act]

 

Then she removed one hip pad
Then slapped
Then removed
Slapped
Removed
She said down onto the rectangular mat of blue feathers,
Now I can do what I want
It feels like there’s no one around
Then, she slathered glue onto all over her body and said “body massage”
The ritual ended when she invited the audience to interact with the performance by covering her in the blue feathers.

 

Part 4: Who is performance?

Apart from the presence of the audience and the artist
There were many cameras
Their presence intersects with the performance, directly and blatantly
They were sound
Lighting
Rhythms
Environment
They tell us which parts were important and memorable

 

Part 5

I want to know
And so I become a follower of the archive
I want to know
And so I went on searching
Waiting
Digging
In a hope to get closer
What we call the truth

I want to know
And so I was enslaved by the archive
Powerless
Frustrated

What is being reiterated?

I want to know
But then
I found myself at the gate
Sitting arm’s length from the performance
I couldn’t reach to it

What is being reiterated?

Like in a model essay
I found myself being betrayed by my own religion
The impossibility of the archive
The breach of the archive

What is being reiterated?

Performance
Is
Going to
Continue

 

[The projector was turned off, Linh invited the audience to form a circle. The spotlight was turned off]

 

Silence.

 

Thuy Anh slowly walked around. Too dark to see but everyone knew there was something happening in the room. There was a movement, it was Thuy Anh who was circling the crowd. Someone whined. As she passed me, she took my hands and placed them on her chest that was covered with something.

 

Silence.

 

As I heard the first sound, *blop*, I pressed the switch to turn the sound-sensitive flashing light on. As she started throwing the silicon nipple covers on the floor

*blop*

the sound-sensitive light was triggered and flashed. I briefly saw Thuy Anh in seconds, but in delay. Time was lagged due to the flashing light.

I saw her hair, her arm in midair.

 

*blop*

 

I heard her panting after a while. Then Thuy Anh kneeled down and said:

When Linh Lê invited me to join this performance, one sentence from her text that stayed with me was if the performance really ended when the artist gathered her clothes and belongings, quietly walked back into the audience?

Then she threw two more nipple covers on the floor. She started clapping. Everyone clapped. The light was constantly flashing. We saw her half-naked body, she showed her body to everyone, then bow.

 

I turned off the light.

Thuy Anh left the stage.

I walked Ha to the grey pedestal. Turned on the light.

She stood there in her son’s blazer that appeared to be too big for her. She carried a glass of overflowing effervescent liquid. She threw eggs on the ground. She started unbuttoning her blazer and tying her nipples to the strings. As she started tying the strings around her neck, Hang came to the stage and cut them off.

 

END.

 

26/11/2023
Conceived, written and compiled by Linh Lê
With participation of Lại Diệu Hà, Phạm Thu Hằng, and Thuỳ Anh Đặng
Lighting and sound: Nguyễn Long Biên, Nguyễn Hồng Anh, Nguyễn Hải Duy
A production of Á Experimental Space

With deepest gratitude towards
Vân Đỗ, Vũ Đức Toàn, and Christopher Vĩnh-An Lưu.

 

Lai Dieu Ha graduated from Hanoi Fine Arts University in 2005. Her practice encompasses photography, painting, sculpture, installation, and video, employing psychological blurriness to form and articulate her artistic voice. Her last notable exhibitions include ‘Psychodrama Therapy’, Rapid Pulse International Performance Art Festival, Chicago, USA, 2014; ‘Mind, Flesh, Matter’, Sàn Art, Ho Chi Minh City, 2014. In 2015 Dieu Ha held the first solo show ‘Conservation of vitality’ with Cuc Gallery, Hanoi, Vietnam. Since 2017, Lại Diệu Hà has worked intensively with painting as a way to introduce her performance practice. 

Pham Thu Hang has worked as a reseacher in VietNam Institute of Culture and Art since 2004. She later joined HanoiDoclab, a breakthrough documentary and video art center in Hanoi where she made several short documentary films. She has since decided to add her voice in the small but active and growing community of young independent documentary filmmakers in Vietnam. Hang recently obtained her Master’s in Documentary Directing in a consortium of three universities in Europe under the DocNomads Joint Masters program in Lisbon, Budapest and Brussels. Her concern in filmmaking opens to many themes but mainly draws attention to rediscovering Vietnamese culture and the connection between the internal world in Vietnam and the world outside, especially in the context of contemporary globalization.

Born in Hanoi, Dang Thuy Anh has been practicing art since 2017 through performance art, installation, sculpture, painting, photography, and video. Her interest revolves around the connection and disconnection between human and nature; social construction of gender; movements between physical and non-physical spaces, between unconsciousness, dream and memory.

Linh Lê is an independent curator and researcher from Ho Chi Minh City. Her current curatorial and research endeavour explores the (im)possibilities of the archive, as well the potential encounters between performance-making and exhibition-making. With the local art community at the centre of her work, Linh also expands her curatorial scope to publishing, discussion, workshop, and teaching. Some of her past projects include CáRô—an arts education programme for local youth (Ho Chi Minh City, 2020-21); Măng Ta—a self-initiated journal on Vietnamese arts and culture (2020-pending). Some of her past curatorial projects include ‘Chợt Mộng Tan’ (2022, Á Space); ‘Dept. Of Speculation’ (2022, Galerie Quynh); ‘All Aboard’ (2023, Galerie Quynh) and ’Soon The Time Will Come’ (2023, Á Space).

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