Take a walk through the world of endurance art
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”.
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.
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”.