duarational performance/installation with Leong WaiYing: 4 hours
"Future of Imagination II: International Performance Art Festival"; Sculpture Square; Singapore. 2004
This durational piece was made for a very specific context: Future of Imagination 2 (F.O.I. 2), the first international performance art event funded by the National Arts Council in Singapore following the lifting of, what was in effect, a decade-long virtual ban on performance art in the nation due to a scandal involving public nudity in 1994.
In the wake of the recent lifting of the ban, the organizers of F.O.I. 2, Lee Wen and Jason Lim, cautiously urged the participating artists to be sensitive to this context and to comply with the law against public nudity.
At this time I was living in Japan, and I was interested in the proliferation of sex-for-sale in its multifarious forms. I was particularly fascinated by Japanese censorship laws, which prohibit the representation of genitalia in any media, still or moving. In pornographic magazines or manga, you find the protagonists in any configuration of bizarre and outlandish sexual scenarios, yet our modesty (and theirs) is preserved at all times by the ubiquitous black rectangle defending their genitals against the public eye. This black rectangle is the same one that blocks out the eyes of alleged criminals in print media to protect their identity. Requiring more effort to be inoffensive, pornographic videos feature couples in coitus whose sexual organs are digitally obscured with the mosaic tool in post-production. The mosaic tool breaks the image up into to larger blocks of colours, presumably rendering the naked bodies engaged in various carnal activities less "obscene". The blurry block of pixels floats comically around the screen following the genitalia like a discreet fig leaf.
In light of my observations in Japan and the anti-nudity context in Singapore, I reflected that the situation called for the "de-obscening" of my nude body by having it seen through a well-known child’s toy that breaks down the image of reality into aesthetically-pleasing fragments of colors and forms: the kaleidoscope.
Visitors were invited to peep through a kaleidoscope poking out of a wall at my collaborator and me performing live – in the nude – behind that wall. Live sounds of heavy breathing and of bodily movement were amplified in the gallery. In order to view the spectacle through the peephole which was positioned at crotch-level, the viewer was obliged to assume various awkward positions, unwittingly becoming a spectacle to the others in the gallery.
The view through the kaleidoscope was one of a fragmented and mirrored reality. Two nude female forms were engaged in some sort of activity that was, by turns, in or out of sync, energetic or languid. Depending on the positions of the performers in relation to the kaleidoscope and to each other, the images seen by the audience ranged from easily recognizable to baroquely abstract .
The suggestive live soundtrack compelled each visitor to step into the limelight in order to placate his or her curiosity. As the kaleidoscope peephole accommodated only a single eye at a time, spectators had to individually assume an uncomfortable position of becoming an object of scrutiny for the others present. Not only that, they were obliged to maintain this inelegant pose for as long as it took them to comprehend the tantalizing scene behind the wall.
Beyond the comic aspect of respectable citizens standing in line for their turn at exposing their behinds to the other visitors in order to peek at what promised to be a sexy sight, each visitor was well aware of why the living nude human form had to be viewed in this oblique manner.
Exercising tongue-in-cheek self-censorship, the two "live nude girls" simultaneously thumbed their noses at the law and protected the public from the "obscenity" of nudity. All those present at Kaleidoscope Peepshow had to laugh at the absurdity of the situation and acknowledge that this was, in fact, the state of moral censorship at that specific moment in time.
photos by: Dana Lam