Take a walk through the world of en­durance art

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - LIL­LIAN KALISH

BE­FORE a graf­fiti-style back­drop read­ing the words “war”, “vi­o­lence”, “ig­no­rance”, and other mis­for­tunes, per­for­mance artist Myat Kyawt bal­ances a ball dipped in black paint over his head.

The mu­sic switches from clas­si­cal to heavy metal, as the ball rolls down Myat Kyawt’s body, sub­merg­ing him in black. Half an hour later, the en­tire floor of the Goethe Villa’s wel­com­ing room has be­come a pool of black and grey paint.

Slowly from 3pm to 5pm, Myat Kyawt and eight other per­for­mance artists, known to­gether as “On 9”, trans­form the villa into a stu­dio on Oc­to­ber 9, only days be­fore its clos­ing and ren­o­va­tions at the end of the month.

This is the first show­case of con­tem­po­rary “du­ra­tional per­for­mance art”, also known as en­durance art, a form which re­quires stamina and very of­ten in­volves some kind of phys­i­cal test, ex­haus­tion and iso­la­tion.

Per­haps the most widely known ex­am­ple is Ma­rina Abramovic’s “The Artist is Present”, in which she sat with vis­i­tors to New York’s Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art for eight hours with­out speak­ing.

An­other em­i­nent per­for­mance artist is Te­hch­ing Hsieh, who spent ev­ery hour of ev­ery day in 1980 punch­ing a time clock, in pur­suit of time and with hopes to bet­ter un­der­stand it.

“Per­for­mance art is not so en vogue in Europe as it is in Asia now,” the di­rec­tor of the Goethe Villa, Franz Xaver Au­gustin, said. “Peo­ple are very in­ter­ested in some­thing dra­matic and con­crete to ex­press some­thing they wouldn’t be able to say in 2D or fixed space art.”

In each room of the Goethe Villa, th­ese nine artists – Myat Kyawt, Htein Lin, Chaw Ei Thein, Ma Ei, Aung Myat Htay, Zoncy, Nora, Ko Latt and Yadanar Win – push at the seams of time, chal­leng­ing them­selves, their ma­te­ri­als and the au­di­ence to en­dure the task they chose to do for up to five hours.

“I or­gan­ised this show with two of my artist friends- Ma Ei and Ko Latt,” says Yadanar Win, who works as the Goethe Villa pro­gram as­sis­tant and co­or­di­nated the show at the last minute. “We had th­ese ideas while do­ing art ex­hi­bi­tions to­gether in Swe­den.”

In the main room, Ko Latt sits in­side a red silk-lined suit­case, sur­rounded by a col­lec­tion of eggs. At the front of the suit­case is an al­tar-like fix­ture of ap­ples. Over the course of two hours he care­fully crushes each egg in his hands and smears the yolks over his head; the ap­ples be­come mas­ti­cated mush on the ground.

A small closet space in the villa is Ma Ei’s per­sonal nook, where she sits glu­ing to­gether bro­ken pot­tery, idly eat­ing a bowl of potato crisps, and star­ing at her­self – and who­ever ap­pears in her mir­ror’s re­flec­tion.

Yadanar Win sits unas­sum­ingly on the stair­case read­ing a book and then switches to sweep­ing the steps. Some passersby stop to snap pho­tos of her; oth­ers are obliv­i­ous that th­ese quo­tid­ian ac­tions are in fact per­for­mance.

“This is my first time do­ing du­ra­tional per­for­mance art,” she says. “It is the most in­de­pen­dent way to cre­ate art. We have unlimited ac­cess to free­dom of ex­pres­sion and to re­late to po­lit­i­cal and so­cial points of view.”

In an­other room, only an empty chair and the art­work of the Goethe Villa’s last ex­hibit on con­tem­po­rary street art greet vis­i­tors. A piece of paper lies in the mid­dle of the floor read­ing “Chaw Ei Thein (ab­sent)” The ti­tle of her work? “I have noth­ing to say”.

The pro­longed ab­sence of the artist and her re­fusal to con­form to artis­tic con­ven­tions are as much per­for­mance as the con­fused stream of on­look­ers shuf­fling in and out of the room.

On the stair­case, Yadanar Win re­flects on performing with the stair­case, the book and what she con­sid­ers a third, cru­cial el­e­ment – her­self.

“I am an ac­tion. The stair­case and books are ob­jects. But mean­while, I was try­ing to change the roles of the ob­jects through ac­tion.”

As vis­i­tors and artists pile into the Goethe Villa, many stop to pay re­spects to an artis­tic el­der, Aung Myint, one of Myan­mar’s found­ing per­for­mance artists, who sits on the steps, smok­ing and chat­ting with younger artists.

Though Yadanar and her peers make up the younger gen­er­a­tion of per­for­mance artists, new to th­ese tests of en­durance, they do not hes­i­tate to take ad­van­tage of the fi­nal days of the Goethe Villa be­fore ren­o­va­tion erodes what Mr Au­gustin calls “the charm of the un­fin­ished space”.

Pho­tos: Thiri Lu

Yadanar Win's per­for­mance mir­rors daily tasks of sweep­ing and read­ing.

Ko Latt sits in a suit­case lined with red cloth and cracks eggs over him­self.

Photo: Lil­lian Kalish

Myat Kyawt, cov­ered in paint, stands against a back­drop of words read­ing “war”, “vi­o­lence”, and other mis­for­tunes.

Ma Ei looks in­ward as cu­ri­ous vis­i­tors snap pho­tos.

Nora ties colour­ful spools of yarn to a sus­pended fish­ing net.

Aung Myat Htay is one of nine per­for­mance artists fea­ture in the Goethe Villa’s “On 9”.

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