Body in pain, body in play, body in lure

By: Lee Wen

R.I.T.E.S #05-2011

7.30pm, Friday, 19th August 2011

at Emily Hill, Whitehouse, 11 Upper Wilkie Road, Singapore 228120

Noor Effendy Ibrahim: Dancing with the ghost of my child

The evening began unannounced at the request of the artist. Noor Effendy Ibrahim in his first appearance since taking directorship of The Substation seemed ambivalent between doing a durational work as what he announced or a 30 odd minutes standard of presentations that performance art gigs have since the ‘90s evolved into. In silence he knelt down with a serene look as he broke the clear plastic package and laid neatly in a row, showing us clearly the strikingly fresh red meat that contrasted with the ornately decoratively patterned tiled floor. Piling the thin slices together he began punching on them lightly at first and harder with each consequent punch until he grimaced in pain. With acute pain from the last hardest punch he stuffed the raw meat into his mouth, until full as he squelched as if puking from nausea. In the midst of Ramadan the image seemed like a grotesque insider joke until he started again to stuffed them in his mouth this time with more self control, he let the meat hang out like a read beard of multiple tongues. He stepped forward into the front of floodlights arranged to throw his shadows on the walls like a mirror or was he recalling us yet again into Plato’s cave? He picked up two leather belts, holding one in each hand and started whipping his back, alternating strokes from both hands. This image of self-flagellation could be shocking for those unfamiliar with masochistic tendencies in performance art and if one had seen his past works in collaboration with Ranger Mills, had deliberately placed himself in various machines of torture designed by himself. Somehow it appeared theatrical with his rhythm appearing choreographed as he swayed in front of the sharp lights and dancing shadow. Or is this an updated ritual based on traditional beliefs as some Islamic (eg. Shia, Shiites) rituals of ecstasy, practiced to this day involves self-flagellation. The painful dance went on and on as our eyes tires to tears in the glare of the floodlights. The increasingly reddened back together with his impulsive cries from unexpected thresholds of pain dispelled the theatrical setup as we gathered our dubious notions of spectacle subsided into allowing our hearts to slip back into empathy. We were whispered the announcement of Effendy’s repetitive actions would be going on indefinitely as he intended it to be durational and could stay or proceed to the performance about to begin upstairs.

Mike Chang: Upright Monologue

I needed a longer ‘cooling off’ time than was given as by the time I got upstairs Mike Chang had already got the audience doing a deep breathing routine to get them to shift gear for a different pace of the performing body. He playfully took up the archetype of a stand-up comic. A challenge I must admit I had revealed ambitions of exploring in order to widen less tried areas or strategies of an already expanded field of performance art. Chang tickled me blue into realization I never quite succeeded as he playfully broke barriers of clichéd expectations by confessing anxieties of how to do a ‘stand-up’ comic sitting down, laying down, crawling, or just plainly receding into catatonia. Although he must have planned or scripted it perhaps only in his head before this it still sounded like a spontaneous stream of consciousness exposé of romanticizing what could have been self confessional or historically factual. For those who did not 'get it' I only hope at least saw how he struggled with the attachment to the microphone stand, religiously hugging on to it as he gave us a running stream of jocular punches almost reaching poetic vision in his catatonic segment.

As Marla Bendini pointed out to us about her performance space, we hovered about undecided whether to take a break downstairs and check out if Effendy’s durational tortures had reached or broke skin or not, it was announced that he had just finished his act. We heard murmurs of disappointment (probably from those of sadistic tendencies ) mixed with sighs of relief as we resolved to move into the balcony space for a different experience despite our confusion at Marla’s instruction to enter the space "taking with us only things we need for the performance". I guess she meant that we enter the space as willing participants as anything we bring in there would mean the willingness to be used in the performance. I resisted questioning her right to set the rules and quietly joined the game.

Marla Bendini: Surrogate N°3

I left my bag out at the side of one of the doors that opened out to the chamber like spacious balcony with glass windows. It was empty except for a chair covered with a red blanket. We sat spread out lining the sides of the balcony looking at the red blanket covered chair in anticipation. Our murmurs subsided as Marla came behind the chair and immediately switched off all the lights. Why did she do that? It canceled the advantage of her electrically charged presence and I must admit I always felt vulnerable in darkened performances spaces. As I begin to worry if I had made a mistake of leaving my bag out there in the darkness, I got used to it and noticed that our urban environment is never in total darkness as lights from surrounding buildings admits through the glass windows still. Marla dressed in white briefs slipped below the chairs and emerged transformed almost like an instantaneous rite of rebirth. The elongated body of the pole dancer shifted on the floor like a snake oozing with sensuality and making me forget the tall buildings outside dimly light us. In her subtle seduction of interaction with the audience I fell into a dream like state of half sleep, as she became a soothing play in the moonlight shadow. At one point she got entangled with someone and slowly shifted towards the window and wall, somehow managed to get into the headstand propped on the other’s shoulders. Stretching her legs up against the windows returned me to the urban situation as I wondered if she would break the glass windows. She lost balance and thumped the floor with her long legs. The continued slithering gave her a chance to collect 3 willing bodies to be enfolded with. One of them broke free quite self consciously almost leaving in dramatic gestures. Marla brought them under the blanket lying stretched out the three arrested to make one.

As the durational work of Effendy had already ended unexpectedly we were ahead of schedule which was nice as there was some time to mingle in nonchalance before heading down to "Night and Day Bar", in good time to watch "Super Strings Theory" featuring One Lick Less (FR, self-made tabletop guitar) & Jordan Johari (SG, guzheng, zither, guitar)as Mark Wong of Ujikaji Records had kindly adjusted his starting time to allow audiences to enjoy both events without the anxiety of missing the other.

A refreshing evening, smells like new.

If only the news can match this tomorrow,

I might even believe in you....

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This review article was first published in Republic of Daydreams.

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