WITH the avian flu spreading, only the brave would put up a fowl event in the arts coop in Sentul West. Chicken Parts 11 + Bazaar, a production by Lee Swee Keong and The Actors Studio, was presented at Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPac) last weekend.
Having watched several performances by Lee, I reckon his philosophy is not to play safe.
Started in 1998 by Lee, Chicken Parts is an experimental platform for a cross disciplinary arts experience that features collaboration with other local artists. The “parts” that made up the 11th production were site-specific video art screenings, experimental music, dance performances and a non-disciplinary art and crafts bazaar.
But Lee was nowhere to be seen though. I was told he’s in India, learning yoga. In his absence, this instalment was put together by Caecar Chong, Lee’s Butoh sidekick. Chong was also pushing the envelope, no doubt, by taking the production outdoors for the first time.
This proved to be a good move. The beautiful deck area fronting the manicured park and lake in the compound served as a natural backdrop. The tea-lights strewn on the grass looked as if stars had fallen from the sky. The audience were obviously at ease as they lounged on the steps and watched the show – a good change from the rigid seating arrangement in the theatre.
The evening began with works contributed by four Malaysian video artists – Goh Lee Guang, Kok Siew Wai, Yang Wei Han and Low Mun Leng.
Goh’s installation, set up as a karaoke set beside the lake, looked cosy. I wistfully imagined myself popping Pringles over a DVD-weekend, in my imaginary home with an audiovisual room overlooking a lake. But herein the problem: instead of a karaoke set, the installation invoked the idea of a television set.
The sequentially-ordered performance, by discipline, started with video screenings, followed by dance, then music. Although the performance was devoid of depth and context, there were several interesting ideas.
In gamelan (an orchestra comprising bronze instruments) the idea of forming “layers” of music is quite common: one musician starts, followed by another, and then another, each complementing the former.
Similarly (though less subtle), in this performance, each art form overlaps the other. When one art form enters the scene, it at once takes away the spotlight from the previous one, which fades into the background. The eye and ear shift their focus to the highest and newest “layer”.
The first screening was Kok’s Breath of Time. Video-sound artist Kok has participated in numerous video screenings and improvised music performances at home and abroad. She received awards and grants while studying in the United States.
Her video, set in an ugly urban landscape in Buffalo, New York, showed a few friends gathering at an abandoned grain elevator to make impromptu music. The effect was that of defeat and lost hope.
The subsequent videos were silent. Perhaps I’m biased towards photography; I prefer videos in which the images do the talking.
Yang’s Children featured portrait shots of kids. Designed to flow much like a power point slide show, the video depicted innocent and happy faces, oblivious to their poor living conditions.
While this was being screened, Chong set himself on a small stage in front of the white screen. He blindfolded himself with a white cloth and knelt there eating tomatoes.
Meanwhile, Jerome Kugan kicked off the experimental music by contributing his voice. The poet, musician, writer and singer-songwriter was even a bomoh! I swear he stopped the clouds from breaking into rain as he hummed in his red shawl and white underwear!
Besides Jerome (vocals), the musicians comprised Azmyl Yunor (effected guitar pickup feedback), Abdul Aziz (flute), Ronnie Khoo (amplified violin), Yon Yen Sin (clarinet and saxophone), Tan Kok Hui (drums) – all members of the Experimental Musicians and Artists Co-operative Malaysia (EMACM).
After Children, two pieces by Low were screened. The first was called I’m Sitting in Front of my Computer and the second, Tilted Windows and Third Person.
In both, there was a still frame (an arch and windows) set in the fore, with repetitive movements of one image (falling snow and moving clouds) in the background.
In the first video, the occasional “third person”, mainly passers-by, were captured on video. In the second, dancer Kiea Kuan Nam became the “third person” by standing in front of the video screen and superimposing himself against the video image.
Kiea presented this untitled Butoh piece after receiving the baton (the tomato bowl) from Chong. He is a member of Nyoba Dance+ (founded by Lee) and Butoh has been his preferred dance form since he was first introduced to dance during his university days.
Although the EMACM musicians managed to carry through with accompanying “music” throughout the video screenings and dances, their gig was the least enjoyable part of the performance experience.
I couldn’t help but notice that, at the end, the lead guitarist was itching for melody (but settled for chords instead) and the drummer was dying for rhythm. Disciples of experimental music messiah John Cage might call this music, but the culturally-less-adept would call it noise.