The Art of Apology

“There is no such a thing as art. There is only invention and creativity. There is no such thing as literature, only imagination and the will to remodel remake recreate the future by understanding our history. The ability to fully accept our wrongs and right them by facing them and willing to be ashamed and apologetic. But do not turn away from mistakes as if we do not make them.”
– “A Country With No Names”
commissioned text for “Files Not Found”,
Palais De Tokyo, Paris, France June 21 2013

If there is one aspect of cultural difference that may take a long time to change between East and West, is that of saving face and the inability to apologize for mistakes that may show a gross inadequate understanding or erroneous judgement on the part of a leader or the revered figure of authority to the social group that look up to the ones seen as wise, flawless and well deserving of the populace’s admiration. This after all is also due to the fear of a “once bitten twice shame” become an irreversible loss of respect hence the chance to be forever defeated from one’s advantageous role.
If only we would see that in fact it is those who admit human failings and quickly make amends for them that rightfully gain our respect, so much of what we waste our time and energy on could be used to better advantage and return our adolescent squabbles, unnecessary games of blame and shame into the much neglected but urgently requiring immediate address to be really in our crises ridden earth full of pressing symptoms of our ills and make time for real discussions of the real problems that are just about to tip us into obscurity if not imminent dangers of extinction by sick self destruction, the way we are actually raping mother earth and of its offerings in terms of bio-diversity and dying for working out the various considerations of eco balance in the consumer culture that will only get a chance if we learn to live consciously with tested ways of self-sustainability.
Instead what we have are the same old same old macho dynasties of cronies thinking their fake objectivity will carry us into a future, so be it bright we gotta wear shades ? did someone say? did you believe that?
The only shades i care to talk about these days is this BLACK SQUARE that we inherited from Malevich.
So yes I shall not pretend to be celebrating but I shall be apologizing profusely that I AM SORRY!

The Revolution - Tang Da Wu 2013

“The Revolution” – Tang Da Wu 2013 Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore.


Revolution is dead, dead is revolution
It died the day we buried art
, we tried to be too smart
We took ourselves oh too seriously
Trading art like treasures, is only like money trading for money

Freedom too is gone, lost our last cause
Long gone our values, blinded by selfish greed
we tried to save it with philosophy and theory
Mind fuck it to death with all kinds of Ideology

What we got now, All that’s left is comfort and security
Preservations for the sake of posterity
In the name of justice we forgot integrity
In the name of truth we forgot beauty
In the name of progress we forgot how to be happy

Art is dead, dead is Art
Not another start, until we learn to play it smart….


Longing for the Mountain retreat (with room service)

thought that things are getting better
how wrong
when the battle heats up to boil like broth
for dead chickens and screaming monkeys
the call to arms rang all day
in every ding dang dong dung
noisy purposelee wanto dig streets of singapure
buzy bobbee bochap for poetry only hot ok on moneeey
tell you no talking about demokrazee wait kena pantak kaya guyu then you jaga
go and art conference DaWu good ah know who is papa mama go back kampong
forget the long long mountain lah
how correct?

Just before heading for Hong Kong Art Basel I received the good news from Performance Studies International that I had been chosen to receive this year’s PSi Artist/Scholar/Activist Award 2014 to be presented in the next gathering of international performance studies afficionandos in Shanghai come July 4 to 8/2014 at the Shanghai Theatre Academy.
Unfortunately my tour de force with the good support of *Helina Chan, gallerist of vision and dare, and her wonderful staff of iPreciation Gallery, having presented one of the most favoured booths in this year’s busy and bustling Art Basel in Hong Kong, was scarred by a bizarre incident of being knocked out cold for a good 30 minutes during a quick leap to take a leak in the men’s room at the City University of Hong Kong after the end of forum on the theme of Art and Value, a subject that is of utmost import in my view that I had often wanted to address myself and had even proposed to speak at Art Basel Hong Kong concerning this subject matter. Well after all the big hoo haah i for want for peace of mind took a trip out to Belfast although my true destination should have been Cyprus instead.
However to cut a long story short I was not going to explain all and everything here but just to let me say one time that state of things todate, in short and quick sharp fashion.
1) I didn’t really know what was the cause of my blackout and I did not say for sure there was assault, although I did suspected it due to the many bumps on my head. Recently I asked some doctors while consulting them for other reasons. They all said it could have been or probably was due to my own low blood pressure that caused it. They all advised that men with low blood pressure have tendency to have the blood pressure lowering even further when they piss standing up. But what about the bumps in a row? It could be I was trying to get up and falling again and again.
2) I only said various things about the arrest of my friend in the song that I posted on the morning before i left my hotel room. But almost all the newspapers and news reported wrongly that I made the statements casting doubts on the legality of his arrest and suspect on the justice system of China at the forum itself. Whereas the only statements I said at the forum were made in general terms, just to ask if not acknowledge the fact that artists may sometimes make works more in tune with a change in our judgement of social values whereas outdated legal systems or laws of the past may till today be upheld in societies unwilling to update them in parallel with changes in our time and current human consciousness.
3) I did not bring my guitar to play at the art fair but was going to play in the evening at a friend’s pub. I made some indications of being stopped by my gallerist only in mischief as I thought she had been a little too concerned as if I was really going to play there when she saw me with instrument. (Sigh…I was just tired with others suspicions that are showing a mistrust in my ability to judge what is correct action)
4)The fact that I had no memory of anyone touching me or even assaulting me hence I should not even suspect it was a violent assault by any one at all, and now I accept the explanation from the doctors I spoke with.That it was a case of blacking out due to my low blood pressure and to be more careful and try to pee while sitting and try to avoid the standing urinals when traveling alone.
5) So I owe it to Cyprus that I tried too late to get a flight there and could only make it to Belfast which was not going to happen without the invitation to Cyprus. But well it was a rain check I had to cash since long time ago and it was goo surprise to even touch base with good old Andre Stitt unexpectedly he was at dinner the first evening I arrived. And to get to know Shiro’s mother was a bonus.

6) It meant I would not be able to go to Shanghai that I had wanted to but was fatigued to do so. Ray Langenbach made a speech in my place at the conference showing some video on my 24 hours buried to my waist in my back garden when I was living with my buddies in Seletar Army Camp on No.8 Oxford Street.

Nychthemer 2 Performance 24 hours X 2 duration November 8-9-1997 8 Oxford Street, Singapore

Nychthemer 2
Performance 24 hours X 2 duration
November 8-9-1997
8 Oxford Street, Singapore

Anyway I must say the twist of fate helped gave me much time and food for thought and reflection concerning my role as an artist in the somewhat orderly yet messy state of affairs in a rigid social engineered systematic development driven so called success story of dear dear Singapore.

For one thing the friends I come to value all showered their care for me not only by words but showed up in person with concern by dropping by to have eye to eye meetings and a good meal together that did fulfill a certainty of changing my attitude for neglecting the priority in food and sleep in my daily undertakings. At the same time I slowed down to the point of failure of what I promised and found that it would not kill me as much as my own physical need for food and rest would. But I begged to be given a chance to fulfill my promises with longer time frames and god alone knows a bigger budget would surely help.

Yes. But that I will describe in the next blog as i am need of a lay down at least some hours…

Shiro and his mother.

Shiro and his mother.

Dead Art Daydream Action No.1

I am license
…Or why I think licensing performance art is not necessary.1384143_10151750351011989_386293260_n

I made 2014 New Year Resolution that I will not present performance art in Singapore under the compulsory need to apply for a license.

2014 is 20 years after the event of Artists General Assembly (A.G.A.). An event held at “5th Passage”, the artists’ run space in Parkway Parade Office block’s fifth storey between the lift lobby leading through a concourse both that opens out towards an adjacent spiral car-park building. The event was organized by artists from the collectives, 5th Passage and The Artists Village. Taking the inspiration of the 24 hours TIME show that was held on new year’s event of 31 January 1989 to 1 January 1990, at the original site of Lorong Gambas, the A.G.A. expanded the idea to that of an eight days event inviting contemporary artists who were embarking on cutting edge or contemporary practices in art making within the Singapore context to convene in exhibition, exchange and dialogue. The event was held together with self-motivated artists and responsible anarchy where we pitched together each other’s ability and when the sun rose on 1 January 1994 to the sounds of the trio, “Non-Sex”, led by under-rated musician Azmi Hassan that played their own take on “Shine on you crazy diamond”, it felt like the finale to a week long initiation rites to the Brave World we were all helping to create.

AGA brochureBut we had a shock of our lives when we got news of how the event was brought to attention on the front page of the tabloid which completely threw all our good intentions into that of suspicion and almost stereotyping our lot as rebellious enemy of the people. The  pandemonium added on as our inexperience at dealing with the media that seems to checked all our efforts to correct the negative image with slanted quotes and added to the confusion of artists as divided self-promoting individual egos. The recent exhibition of “Ghost: The Body At The Turn Of The Century” at the Sculpture Square curated by the courage and vision of it’s new director Alan Oei held at the end of last year, gave a plethora of the darker side of Singapore’s claim to fame as art centre of note this side of the Global Village. Amongst the stories most likely to be swept under any red carpets of shining Singapore Paradiso or the official utopian image of most propaganda media do is the work of the artist Loo Zihan. Loo changed his trajectory as a narrative documentary film maker into performance art, whose research for his Masters program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2011  gave us the re-enactment of the infamous “Brother Cane”. As a follow up he presented ‘Artists’ General Assembly – The Langenbach Archive’ a comprehensive survey of the archive material from the said event of 1993-1994 that allows us to look back with care again and it gave us much food for thought. A small group of us gathered at its closing on 31 December 2013. I came away with mixed feelings, asking myself a bunch of questions that still left to be desired.

There are many things beyond one’s control, and although you and i may know the facts are plain as the light of day yet sometimes  we would still find it hard to say.  For my love to speak truths for the people, for this society is as pure as I may claim to be as Wahab’s honey and yet when offered them forth it still surely to find some tongues tasting them like the bitterest poison as if they were verses from hell. Thus i  find myself going over my quandary and setting them apart to two or three sets.

1) Questions I can make a decision now and carry them forth as that is my insignia for the battle of the present state of affairs, the ground for my negotiation, and to invite my friends to ride with me. Full battle speed, like Andre Stitt say: “Either you are on the bus or you are off”, i welcome all passengers, young and old, short term or long term, even my enemies! But “don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall…”

To make the resolution I considered for ten years. In the first place I did agree to it for a good ten years, at least since we did go into it with our eyes wide open when the proscription on the funding of performance art was lifted in 2003.

It had been ten years after it was first implemented by the National Arts Council. With Tommy Koh as the Chairman, that had cast a dark shadow on performance art. It resulted in it becoming almost forever spoken here like a dirty word or in the same breath as any other inexplicable actions most of them of derogatory leanings arousing adjectives veering towards wrong doing, trouble maker, stupidity and non-sensical rather than the possibility of poetry and philosophy.

In fact, the question of having gone ahead with accepting the requirements of grantees to play according to the rules of the game was asked to me by one of the speakers in our very own public forum during Future Of Imagination 2, held at the Sculpture Square.
My contention was that: after weighing the pros and cons, I still think that there were pros that far outweighs the cons.
Furthermore, we had been knocking on the doors of the arts council for the past ten years, since the traumatic aftermath of A.G.A. in 1994. Now that they open the door I must enter although it may not be comfortable.

But I had from the beginning sounded out the problematic list of do’s and don’ts on the licenses and have said so before. As with my first performance in the first “Future Of Imagination” series of international performance art event that I had initiated and organized, I had the license conditions read out loud while I made my actions.
If anyone had taken notes they would have immediately find many of them have been broken by me already, although they may not be breaking other more serious laws per se.
Here my contention was and still is, that if that were the case, then the only need for us organizers and artists to do is that to observe the law; and not necessarily a whole bunch of other regulations that are too indicative of impossible controls that can only hamper our freedom to create, without over looking our shoulders every step in fear of being an offender ever before doing a thing. As a performance artist, I find myself stumped in my flow of imagination every time I stop to consider its legality. And worse still to host international platform of ‘world class artists’ embarrassingly I apologetically ask them to forgive my shameful country whenever I invited them. For my only wish is to show their works of purest creation. To ask me to continue after ten years of tolerating such humiliation can only mean I am willingly agreeing to partake in the Republic’s hemlock laced cup of poison offered to Socrates but here seen as due procedural necessity of civil decorum.

2) Questions that for the moment we leave them on the shelf but we must not forget they are there. The road to freedom and justice is a long road. We may not yet arrive at victory in our life time, but so long as we keep asking them and not let the cobwebs of greed and selfishness cover them up into oblivion, our cause is not yet lost although we may have conceded the battle. To me grand failures do not count. They only count if they are important to be in the memory shelves to be fought again when the time is right otherwise throw them out. For they only collect dusts and that is just decorative masks, not the real face that will last.

Looking at the evidence, as far as licensing goes, the A.G.A. event was licensed too and it did not prevent this to happen because none of us knew then that any law would be broken. To me even when looking back at Josef Ng’s performance, there was no crime discernible. There was nothing either intended nor actually could be seen or unmistakably discerned by anyone who saw the live performance, or even the video documentation.

As I understand from readings the justice system is implemented to protect the citizen’s rights and I am just by asking questions hereby asking for these rights to be secured for me as an artist who practices art and just as any other individuals who swears allegiance to the flag and the nation.
From discussions with many including artists and organizers involved in the event what transpired seemed to be showing us a different understanding that perhaps there were other considerations that led to it’s eventual notoriety, or even ‘clamming down’.
1) there was the internal security question of performance art being a possible threat to public order.
2) there was a need to slam down hard as the performance not only questions the news reportage of the punishment on gay behavior but also seem to advocate protest.
3) it was to keep at bey the propagation and proliferation of homosexual behaviour in Singapore.

Being a patriot schooled and imbued with the Rafflesian spirit, even though I call myself a born again hippie, I like to think that all these are mistaken conjectures that arose merely because those of us who are concerned citizens have looked closely at the evidence if not even seen the actual performance itself and cannot see any evidence in the presentation to have anywhere come close to something we categorically call pornography or an obscene action not even one that is erotic in a artistic way. The only close to fault if any, was that of the words being said by the artist himself to the effect that he was going to cut his pubic hair and after which it was done without any direct revelation of such an action. The artist then went to stand facing a far end wall from the space where the majority of the audience was. He showed a little of his buttock as he lowered them apparently to cut the pubic hair. He then turned around to walk back up towards the audience and put some of the hair down on the floor over some tofu. Then nervously looked around randomly and asked for a cigarette, as he probably was looking for a way to end the ritual. After a few puffs, in the silent tension he put the burning cigarette out on the square of his left shoulder saying the words: “Perhaps a silent protest is not enough.”

Clearly such actions all have nothing obscene about it and  would even add that even IF the artist had cut his pubic hair in full frontal view I would still not find any of these sequences of actions anywhere close to obscene or pornographic actions. However what some have explained to me is that the law says the act of cutting pubic hair is obscene in itself hence it is not necessarily have to be seen.
However should we not reconsider some changes after all if really the law on obscenity was supposedly meant to protect public decency and by all means some of us find it obscene by just thinking of it. But I believe ours is to be a sophisticated society that should be serving us all and not only those of lesser tolerance to actions deemed less commonly seen as normal. Especially when performance art is now accepted officially and the fact that it could be re-enacted by Loo Zihan in a theater ticketed event all the more added more reasons for us to review and to recast it again.
Otherwise I shall remain an artist of shame for I carry in my heart an allegiance I had pledged to a society that I believed in the possibility of a system of justice that protects us all. That includes creative thinking individuals who speak up for the suffering of others in poetic actions, in provocative actions that may include the unusual use of the body, situations in public interactions or agitate in purposeful confrontations but still allowing, nay, in fact demanding each and all in the audience to decide with responsibility what is the correct course of action, but in fairness let the artist be free.  What Josef Ng did in 1994 was indeed just that. He courageously spoke up for the suffering of others by innovative re-inventing the new language of performance art with sensitive responses to local contexts. We punished him, and also the artist Iris Tan, who merely took the blame as she was handling the admin work. The way I see it today, I am equally responsible and I am equally guilty for their crimes if at all any crime was committed. I am proud of Josef Ng for what he gave us and Iris Tan who suffered humbly, quietly, a duty-bound giving us her name and time as a service to art and artists, forgoing her own chance to also be directly practicing as one. (I know Iris well, she was glad to contribute her hair to my A.G.A. cupboard installation but I remember hearing her talk to us working on our installation where I could detect a subtle envy beneath her humorous words of encouragement and praises to our work. She sacrificed her own artistic inclinations cause somebody needs to do the paper work and she got charged and found guilty for it and no one even bothered to call her after)

And no I don’t blame the government. I don’t blame the P.A.P. and don’t mention my mother but I blame my country. Yes I am still ashamed of my country. And this country includes you and me. A country who put good art and artists on trial and make them criminals. And now after 20 years say let’s move on!, the world has changed.

Not yet changed as it should if you ask me!!
But it should.

AGA Opening

Open Letter to the Nation of Josef Ng’s

3 Generations

He lives in Shanghai now
and he’s doing fineHe is a man of dignity and understands
about art and money better than most of you and me
i met him in the Shanghai gallery that he runs recently.
A stately gallery on the bund with a team of well educated ladies fluent in at least two languages
Well done Josef!! but
i can’t say if he is happy but he’s doing fine
in fact more than fine
cause he knows where to draw the line
the lines that draws blood
the lines of power and judge
the lines that speak from the artist’s heart
the lines that break the law and mother’s heart

“hey lee wen “, he gave me a line i will never forget,
“tell them i am fine,
i may have broken the law
but i did no wrong.”

he is fine dear
my dear nation of Singapore
a nation of fines
we lost a man of honour and sensitivity
an artist whose actions shook minds and hearts
asked questions of care and concern
intelligence and fair comment
with actions performed with unrehearsed theatre
of spontaneity in authentic plainness
real life in situ no need for skill nor dramatic art
what did we do to him?
it was 1994
enough enough
let us redress this error for ever more
he did no wrong
an individual of rare courage so strong

he dared to speak his mind while in silent apathy others watched on
did he really break the law?
must there be judgement based on the parallel of equations liken to math and algebra?
for are we not human homo emotional and, sapiens who knows what is what and what is not
what we saw were actions that knowingly knocked on questions hard and sore
surely not even a hint on erotic score?
surely non of obsessesion of flesh nor eros call?
surely the law is more than words on a page of thy holy queen long past their prime over our nation’s land and door?
surely we have come this far in higher consciousness and expressing our humane need to be of even higher heartfelt passion for our fellow beings even strangers in pain and suffering.?
surely Josef Ng’s actions were those that shook us for only our passionate return to those in need of redemption
when did he go wrong ?
where is the flaw?
it is now 20 years and 300 odd from when the queen gave nay pressed upon us that law
and surely had application not towards such a noble ritual that came forth on an eventful night of celebration

that our nation has arrived with the future
possible sons and daughters of hundred flowers
nay, a  hundred sunflowers on one trunk
shall we not embrace what may be our rightful fortune of brightness
and cheerful pleasure yet to come
if only our hearts were open
that we should receive such genuine touch of risky edges of precocious flashes
instead of fearful thundering guns and canes
heavy insistence of absent intentions
to take aim and blame upon
Josef Ng
He is an artist
He is now a director of an art gallery in China
a human being with inquiry and responsibility
he is an important son of Singapore
with him i wish
with the future generation i pray
with the present optimism i want
to live on this land this home this nation
my nation in pride to walk in stride
with integrity and say i do yes i do
live in a fine country and people

maju lah!

Lee Wen
3 August 2013

Deja vu: play on with life not art


there is no art because we only live
there is no culture after all life is only make believe
but there is the Institute of Sick Artists
who think they are very smart and try even to pretend they know art
when they only now and then breath and fart

I have been getting of late these deja vu so I returned to last year for the review of Tang Da Wu’s exhibition in Valentine Willie’s (龍婆缝衣 | FIRST ARTS COUNCIL)
After viewing again Tang Da Wu’s recent exhibition at ICAS.  (Situationist Bon Gun) and also on watching Ombak Hitam where Zai Kuning’s playing with his father Kuning Sulaiman and friend Tetsu Saitoh giving us what was it? The play of life itself in dismisal of art; music is for them a reality in daily life, basic truths in love of what is the essence when we swoon into heights of masters at play. Seeing again Tang Da Wu’s exhibition the same afternoon and a long discussion with Susie Lingham albeit only the first that i hope i can followup with, had led me to the need to reinstate some of the sentiments felt then. Perhaps starting to get deja vus in Semabawang when i stayed there and recently when i was in Dhaka for Britto International Artist Workshop and also in Kuala Lumpur 7th Triennale: Barricade.

Just after we lost the Artists Village in 1990, our hearts broken and not even having time to lick our wounds we were plunged into the 1990 C.A.R.E. (Concerned ARtists for the Environment) showing during the Singapore Arts Festival 1990. When I say ‘broken hearts’ I might as well say nothing for your readership at the risk of being presumptuous, none can feel that as much as those of who were living there and then, all the villagers who were evicted and most of all Tang Da Wu and his family. The swiftness of the operations whereby being caught between the time frame allotted and the available alternative housing offered to Tang who had to foot the bill himself; the desperation led us to move twice within a matter of months into two different locations in Sembawang’s old black and white colonial houses.


When we discuss art and theory, history and concepts one may do so in all objectivity devoid of emotions. The heart is put aside when we make rational decisions. Dates in history are a reference point where an occurrence that happened is described. No sentimental bullshit, no emotional mumbo jumbo, no pulses or heart beats and blood pressure tensions. No broke n dreams my friend only a date and words. No tears. That is what we call art history. A subject that might at least when recorded and read gives that we dismissed by our rationality and sophistication of formalism and academia decorum still allow us some dignity, but no siree our great small nation in her well planned and pragmatic technocratic authorities cleverly discerned a  long time ago that our economic plans had no capacity nor even need for art and poetry hence knowledge of art history becomes merely retention of the past. ie the future is a given and we do not neeed artists to create the future nor study the future and their unexpected happening and to the powers that be the changing evolution for the future is for us to accept not to create.

The feeling of futility, ineffective ability to contribute to the dynamic pace of change in this small island city state, is specially augmented dear friends of the global network who sympathise with me as if what i am saying is nothing special you say its the same in your country. Then I must duly add that you have probably missed the point of what I have been talking about all these sad happy years of my lamentable existence here that it is Singapore a very uniquely placed kingdom of one party strung up rule that may seem to do economic magic but where is the promise of democracy? and where is the possibility of our voices heard in fact and in heart? Too many times our so callled bureaucratic approaches shoot us, kill us, hang us, blind us and torture us without anyone not even our own self knowing it. The arrogant stature of authoritarian decision makers just don’t match up to the early euphoria of having gained autonomous unity as a people worthy of nation and community in standing up to our imperialist colonial masters and rulers. We fought we won and only now to become slaves to the masters favoured sons. We do not realised that we are muted and failed to have a voice because there are 80 odd seats in parliament and if god is a mathematician as what i hear but it seems he closes his eyes when counting how many in ratio does it take to make true democratic process work. How nonchalantly we dismissed the original stories we are able to deliberate the banning of chewing gum in 3 working days just because a twad dislodged an ATM machine of a bank with government interests? How we were able to proscribe (more pc way of calling it a ban) two art forms wholesale, (forum theatre and performance art) just becuase one artist did a 20 minutes performance that was seen by an audience of art lovers that did not even get a head count of 1000 in numbers and had not been for the blatant complicitous propangandistic manipulative use of a nationally paranoid news tabloid that highlighted it to be charged in the courts via an unidentified complainant who lodged the complaint to the police of its bridging an obscure law that had been a 300 years old Victorian one that who in heavens would even suspected that the cutting of pubic hair is even mentioned in words as an obscene act?

As an artist for half my life if not more, one wavers between being thus far seen as one with due respect in some societies and yet often frowned on sometimes as that of a conman or bum of suspicious motivations if not a laggard of no particular good, an opinion not much diffierent from that of my nagging 90 years old mother who suffers from dementia. Of late I had been in the thick of research for once again on the perennial quest for authenticity in contemporary art practice, in this world of ideology, confused mystics, global pain in the a..economy of greed, lost in the translation of values, market invading the holy spaces of our cultural experiences, rooted in the spirit of mostly dignified people who value life as much as any drop of rain, under the threat of extinction and end of the world theories and prophecies. One wonders in respective measures, weighing all the pros and cons, that working in faith as a Quixotic warrior, impossible dreamer slayer of evil dragons, ever threatening the continued tasks in upholding the noble human resistance in this great small island city prison paradizo, if what we lost is worth all them creature comforts when compared to what is being offered.

These last years of my life had stretched me between two shores and led me through the roughest goodest bad i tell ya, you ain’t seen nothing yet, but its my boring talk you may not have any sympathy to if i go into details of my personal life but look and hear what happened last week alone, It gave me the impetus to stay behind a one last night before i really must try to retire early again and lead my life in search of authenticity in the normal life instead of that in art.

I bring the above incidents back to the discussion table repetitively in my life because they are the dire lows in our society that firmly contend in regarding the shifts that real urgent changes need to be inquired, initiated if not activated into real actions.

The sad thing about present day society is that there is such a thing as government that think the role of state is to be god, but in truth they should realize that in fact they should kow tow to her people as servants. and when once upon a time of chivalry they used to be known as sincere civil servants but now only as smart alack directors who pride themselves as the cream of the human population who think that money and guns can do everything, now and then they learn perhaps culture is the way towards co-existence but the problem is they now come into the arena of artists where once they dislodged the artists from the political arenas having slapped the writers and cultural critics hard to enter only if they wish to joust on the electoral fields in full battle. Ganging up now with enthusiasm without narry a how do you do let’s have a beer as if they were still in war arrogantly make offers as warlords inviting the recruitment of artists to join their battle of regional security games.

What I was only talking about in theory can be seen happening around me today. I ask myself if things have changed why do my friends slowly got dissipated from being allowed to stay in a country in need for foreign talents? I ask myself if things have changed why do i need to constantly move my place of operations when i see some artists given steady subsidized locations and my desperate measures leave me uneven hours of making work of my will and directions in the hope to also include working with others look like disconnection between my anarchic plans and the foolishness to subject myself to negotiate for the possibility of realizing utopia in a republic of daydreams with the pittance of suppposedly tax money that when after the game we are left poorer and lame. If things have changed why do i fear that my lines of communications are being tapped or the offers for each contract actually erases my name but instead gives the state a call of fairness in the tilted fields of play.

Of all my hectic days i learned the practice of living is so clear in the actions of some remarkable people who live a life of authenticity that the word art sometimes becomes a dirty one and in fact i might need to resign from every thing i do in order to see things eye to eye with them. There are the ties that bind, the plans still in the drawing board and the family and relationships that need patching up…. as for art, i rely on strings and a broken voice to sing my solitary songs and prayers of blues while i let go and under the black wave and stay a smilingly so that we may learn to love again…

black waves
gently softly yet they roar
swiftly raced so far from shores
moving forward
rising like mountains
returning in refrains
touching our hearts
moving baby skinned feet
itching to start
jump up to dance
willing to swing
in sandy steps
under the malayan moon
black waves soothes
our lost souls
misguided foes
humanity retold
vanity deposed
imperials exposed
infinity restole
let’s go black waves
beyond the ancient master keys
abode at last a home

and where but only in our hearts
I long again to start

if only i could,

Change after Cane after Art

I’m building a house where i can think
And have some balance and dignity
I’m building a house where no one can hurt me
I’m building a house where the weak are strong
I’m building a house with a real song
I’m using faith that is immortal
I’m building it with simplicity
And the way that we feel, you and me
I’m building it with what i believe in
                         – Iggy Pop, “Brick by Brick”, 1990

To date not anyone has come close to the meticulous research on “Brother Cane” than Ray Langenbach whose PhD thesis [1] gave an outstanding perspective on performance of the state as artist in parallel with performances of artists as individuals during those turbulent years. I first met Ray at a party hosted by Veronika Radulovich and Helmut Lemke, artists who apparently met Tang Da Wu while they were traveling in Japan when Da Wu was exhibiting there. After returning back to Singapore in 1993 and I had rejoined the train of changes in our rapid pace society, driven by Singapore’s natural geography that gave her a focal role to the region political increasingly cultural development as well as the ubiquitous hand of a meddlesome one party state.

As with many artists I met in the house that Tang Da Wu lived in and also sheltered or opened to transients like Veronika and Helmut who cared to seek him out. Da Wu’s house was like an organic artists-in-residence by offering studio spaces and loving advices straight from the heart and wisdom of experience and practice, Ray Langenbach too gave to me invaluable tools for living with direction and purpose while consciously choosing to being an anti-disciplined rolling stone, jack of all trade mixed media anything goes artist. From Ray I had learnt not only the use of video, as an essential aid and medium of art but also to carry forth my disenchanted cynicism and beyond negative gripes but with dialogical queries value added with theory and supported readings.

The study by Ray Langenbach give us enough reasons to believe if ever our society seek justification for investing in art beyond its materialistic inclination for tangible results, and the preservation and glorification of power, she should in confidence also allow art to happen freely whether or not in allotted zones or spaces and respect in not only presenting them but also be open towards seeking and gaining insights from the sovereign power of art to help us re-adjust for changes. Beyond the heavy handed  methods of coercion with the cane or other inhumane oppressive regulations we have arrived at a stage of civilized conscience to actualize and allow individuals if not society the freedom to transform by self-will and grow into mature graciousness.

The immense interest and debate that preceding days, weeks and months of counter arguments that were put up while time ran its course up to the date of presentation of Cane by Loo Zihan gave us various valid points of significant contentions by advocates and detractors for considerations and evaluation, touching on art and society. Zihan’s interventions showed that the enactment itself is relevant and is necessary as all the questions expressed are unresolved issues, some carried over from Josef Ng’s initial act and remain for us to ponder and hopefully more thoroughly go over in order to call for real changes in our society.

For artists as practitioners in the field as much as enthusiastic audiences at large, there are various complex issues on authenticity, licensing and censorship, sponsorship, integrity vis-à-vis market and motivation, readings of documentation and archival representation.

Let us not make the same mistake again by making hasty conclusions or emotion charged positions of taking sides, victimizing the artist, or even the form. Many of us do not take lightly to be working under a quagmire of bureaucratic regulations enforced by an overly paternalistic authoritarian social system. Given the fact it did go on and scarring debate transpired in a social media today that was not available 20 years ago. In all good measure let us give ourselves time and take all that transpired at large with serious reflections beyond emotional and selfish motivations we could suspect the time has come for us to petition for changes and rescue Josef Ng’s original initial performance from its dark displaced destiny of injustice.

[1] Performing the Singapore State: 1988-1995
Centre for Cultural Research (CCR) and the Department of Art History & Criticism, School of Cultural Histories & Futures, University of Western Sydney
Research Supervised by: Prof. Ien Ang & Prof. Bob Hodge, Centre for Cultural Research and Prof. John Clark , Power Institute for Art History & Criticism, University of Sydney.
Examiners: Dr. Rustom Bharucha , Dr. David Birch, Dr. Edward Scheer

Other Links:
The Longue Durée …Articulations.The headline that launched a thousand hissy fits

Open Letter to S.T.

in response to
“Why show Brother Cane again?”
The Brother Cane re-enactment should not be allowed. (Cane: Re-enactment Draws Debate: Life!. Feb.16).
Cutting pubic hair again? What is it trying to show?
There is absolutely no meaning in performing such an act. It is so silly, weird and crude.
Performance should be something that one can enjoy and not cringe with embarrassment when watched.” - Pek Li Sng
The Straits Times, February 18, 2012, page E8 (life! ;mailbag)
I was going to answer the quoted questions with just 4 words: “Because it is art.” although I would prefer to answer with 5 words: “Because it is good art.” But that would mean I need to write a longer letter and fear we do not have time and patience for it at this moment.I am bothering to take my precious time writing this letter in response to Pek Li Sng because I had an interesting hour yesterday talking to students on invitation at the School of the Arts (SOTA) and would like to share the experience in view of these questions. I was nervous and apprehensive and maybe 10 minutes late for the talk and walked into an auditorium of applauding students aged between 15 to 17.  The warm welcome took me by surprise. Apparently not all Singaporeans see performance artists negatively after all.

Giving them a run down of my work primarily working in performance art, squeezing in my personal philosophical take on approaching it from painting based on a comparative study between Chinese painting and Western art of self-portraiture. As quick and swift as a staggering man with Parkinson’s disease shaky fingers could managed the slides; I ended with my contention that performance art is equally valid in Asia, not merely a borrowed or imitation of Western opulence or outlandish individualism.

I worried on my way to the school how I should frame my 1 hour talk to such young students whose faces shone with innocence they glared back at me brighter than the fluorescent lights in the auditorium. With relief I self-consciously skipped my slides of nudity in some of my performances with the excuse of lack of time. But my worry of having not being able to communicate a complex subject that usually required longer time frames to get across less informed public or young audiences were laid to rest when I was inundated with intelligent questions I never quite expected in Singapore.

Performance art is a language of individualism but it is part of our history just as much in Asia as in the west. We may have come from a different side of the spectrum however we are on the common rainbow of human cultural evolution that is still going on and may only halt if we fail to take measures to overcome this crises ridden world by not heeding signs of straining needs of change and growth. The failure to allow changing behaviors due to evolving consciousness is  just as important as other more apparent contribution to our survival or to avoid impending extinction. Our culture in the east frowned on individualism favouring group oriented social behaviour. It is reflected in our language as idioms like “knock down the nail that stands out” or “a camel in a sheep’s pen” discourage uniqueness and overt display of any extra ordinary or non-conforming opinions and deviant behaviour. It may be good to ensure the interlacing social fabric to gain strength and intensity however it discourages leadership and creativity or even risk taking that are helpful if not utterly necessary for enterprises and entrepreneurship to grow and develop.

The studies in social sciences such as sociology, anthropology and psychology  show how the leaders in shifts of cultural behaviour were often seen in the beginning as anti-social disruptions to accepted norms but later may gain wider approval or even be installed as a new status quo that may then be again dethroned by later deviant directions seen as innovators for those who supported them. Our traditions today were once also deviating from previous social norms and need to shift with later generations either renewing them or updating them to changing social values.

Looking at the revamped educational directions in Singapore regenerated my hope. As our society seems more entranced by prestigious art from either well recognized internationally famous foreign stars or less expensive regional South-east Asian artists who are able to produce with comparative advantage due to lower costs of living. Even after gaining support the need to keep abreast with bureaucratic stringencies of licensing checks and censorship controls not to say contradictory pursuit and keeping track of the dissemination of arts funding drains our once organically inspired creativity and spontaneity.

Although I had often articulated the qualm that our much heralded plans of making Singapore a hub of art and culture lacked credibility unless the tertiary institutions showed more interest in serious study and research of art and cultural dimensions. The recent attempt in allowing young students to specialize in art and gain knowledge of performance art at a tender age of 16 is a huge leap of faith from where we came from in the late 1980’s with the oft misunderstood initial raw performances of Tang Da Wu, Amanda Heng, Zai Kuning and Tang Mun Kit during the gung ho days of the Artists Village in Jalan Ulu Sembawang.  The eviction gave impetus to homeless artists to seek  co-operating with various who had resources in using urban spaces. Mean time the younger artists emerged like Josef Ng who brought new energies that gave new perspectives and scathing daring untested strategies.

The event at 5th Passage was another step up the evolutionary process as the young women heading it Suzanne Victor and Susie Lingham had enterprisingly connected with management of Parkway Parade to use a space under-utilised yet easily accessible to city dwellers. They were able to connect with managers of businesses to help the experimenting iconoclastic artists doing what would usually seen as “silly, weird and crude” to be accepted and discussed in fact served as research what the academia did not offer. Due to the outcry of a misguided cultural officialdom our efforts at creating an event to regain community in the contemporary time of artists heading towards fragmentation in disparated individualistic directions for individualism that is not necessarily detrimental to our society were judged unfairly as a threat to internal security. It was 1994 just twenty odd years ago.

After my talk at S.O.T.A., I spent another hour fielding enthusiastic young thinkers asking mature sincere questions beyond the short heavy handed closed questions or statements of Peh Li Sng. Such short but crisp utterance smacks of authoritative intolerance that shows our intention to be a cultural hub of sophistication need some loosening up if not more soulful interventions beyond that of monetary investments. Instead of condemning such laudable work not only of the artists but the organizers of the event we should take pride that artists expressed themselves in Singapore in unique relevance with compassionate sensitivity and well studied research to express human emotions of pain and suffering in sympathy to fellow human beings in our society whether past or present.  Under the production of a festival organized by The Necessary Stage continuing the pioneering efforts of 5th Passage in urban strategies, using corporate finesse to re-instill community in a fragmenting society, Loo Zhi-han performs tomorrow in a new rendition with his personal take revolving his life based on meticulous research. Within it he is re-enacting Josef Ng’s performance of ground shaking historical interest that it reverberates in us so strongly 20 years later.

We have gained a new consciousness that many other countries took longer to attain if not still struggling with out-dated ideas. This moment is one of Singapore’s unique cultural historical milestones. To some this may be profanities best unheard and buried however for those who follow cultural turns in history with objective scrutiny may instead find it a sacred qualified blessing. That is why we want to see ‘Brother Cane’ performed again and again for we have learnt to see that his was an act worthy of art. We have learnt to appreciate performance and would not cringe with embarrassment even if pubic hair was seen and cut for we only care to empathize with higher levels of compassion.