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20 minutes at Phi Centre, Montreal, as part of Encuentros 2014–Choreographing Social Movements in the Americas, June 24, 2014, photo credit: Christian Bujold

I stand on a piece of traditional Chinese Ink Wash Painting, pouring ink from the teapot from my head on my back. After the ink was gone, I suddenly shake my head; the teapot drops on the floor and smashed to pieces. I knee on the painting, lift a water gun on the floor, point to my head and shoot, and then point to my heart and shoot. The action of shooting at my head and heart will be repeated until the ink on the water gun runs out.

After living aboard as a Chinese for 12 years, I noticed there is a tremendous change inside me: something that has nurtured and cultivated me has gradually faded and forgotten. The gesture of shooting myself with ink is a political gesture. It is not only an apology for my twelve-year absence but also a manifestation that reveals my urgent needs to renew my lost tradition and culture. The ink is an essential material for Chinese traditional painting and calligraphy. In my performance, the ink is not to be used as an artistic tool to reproduce the appearance of the subject, but to be used as a weapon against myself. this performance examines relationships between me and the place I live, between what I have lost and what I have gained. This performance is also a ritual meditation. In this suicidal ritual, I baptize myself with Chinese ink in order to be saved from fear of loss, preserve my identity from the process of self-transformation, and to capture my stray soul in a foreign land.

 

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Two females show affections to each other while wearing masks, and then one pinches another one’s back until her back turns to dark red, finally, they put their feet into two buckets, which one is filled with ice and another one is filled with hot boiling water; they stay in the hot and cold water as long as they can until they cannot feel anything anymore.

performed at Articule on April 25th, 40 minutes, performed by Chun Hua Catherine Dong and CYranova. photo credit: Laurence Cheveux- Courts

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Visual Poetics of Embodied Shame is a series that explores the visual culture of shame in its personal and socio-political dimensions through performance, photography, and video.

Shame is a complex, universal and often painful affect connecting subjects to social relations. It is an innate human reaction rooted in childhood experience, and it is linked to sexuality and the cultural norms that regulate the body. Shame operates on the relation between self and other, between the emotional and social. The etymology of the word shame is derived from the Old German meaning, “to cover” or “to hide” oneself. The dynamics of shame revolve around the world of sight and of being seen. Freud suggested that visual pleasure is related to shame, as the physical gestures of blushing, downcast eyes and slack posture are projected on another—the subject imagining herself as seen by the gaze of the other. This aspect of shame as located at the interface between a vulnerable self and an outsider, between cover and discover, makes it significant in visual art.

But Freud didn’t consider eastern cultures. Asian societies are associated with “shame culture.” In this context, on the one hand, shame can involve honour and positive change. On another hand, it is an insidious social control mechanism playing on the emotion’s negative aspects. Despite the rise of feminism and many acts of aesthetic, theoretical and cultural transgression that have attempted to challenge taboos, the deep structure of shame has not been significantly undermined. Shame is, therefore, a central feminist issue, and an important one to rise within my artwork and its associated research.

In Work No 4 , I translate the word “ shame (to cover)” to a cultural symbol by wrapping my face in Chinese silk brocade fabric. this work contains 25 pieces of photographs and a performance video: while standing still and breathing under the fabric in the video, I mimic a Renaissance bust in the photograph. in this work, figure and ground blend and reverse roles. The reason I cover my face is because the notion of shame – or “losing face” – is deeply ingrained in Chinese culture. In fact, if one has “ lost face,” one feels shamed of letting down culture, family, or self.

Shame in Work No 4 is both social and personal that arise from the awareness of the consequences of my failure in maintaining my identity as a Chinese after living in the West for many years. In order to reinforce my cultural identity, I deliberately mask myself with the symbolic fabric. However, contradictorily, while my collective identity becomes visible, my individuality as an individual disappears because the gesture of covering my face with fabric is a metaphor of self-effacing. As a result, I both literally and metaphorically “lose face, ” and feeling shamed of losing self begins. Maybe shame in this work has transformed itself to a visual symbol alive on my skin already. It knits difference into identity and identity into difference, becoming signs of awareness and evidence of inability to escape.

Photo credits: Dayna Danger

Gray Zone


Gray Zone

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20 minutes at Gray Zone for Performance Art in Kingston,  NY. April 6, 2014,photo credit: Erik Hokeson

I stand in a gallery space, wrap my head with a red fabric, and hold an umbrella. I start to draw circles on my belly button, and then expand it to the whole belly. While I am consistently drawing circles on my belly, I drip saliva. The saliva gradually run down from my chest and my belly, mixed with the red ink, and run down to my feet.

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90 minutes at Grace Exhibition Space, Brooklyn, NY, April 4, 2014, photo credits: Miao Jiaxin

Just Another Mouth to Feed is a performance that explores visual culture of shame associated with vulnerability in its personal and socio-political dimensions, deconstructing the experience of shame through gestures, moments and audience participation. Shame is a painful feeling about oneself as a person. It is an innate human reaction rooted in childhood experience, and it is linked to sexuality and the cultural norms that regulate the body. In this performance, I create a fictional figure: a girl who wears a mouthpiece and diaper. The reason she is like that is because when she was born, she was told that she was just another mouth to feed. At her time and the place she was born, being a girl is a mistake. For her, shame is like a birthmark that she has to carry from her birth to death. In this performance, I divide her life to seven stages: Newborn, Childhood, Youth, Adult, Mid Age, Elder, and Death. She encounters and expresses different type of shame in each stage of her life. The performance enacts these affective states through gesture, humor and exaggeration.

 

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45 minutes at place-des-art, Montreal, Feb 7, 2014, Photo by Parham Yazdy

Performed by Laurence Eulalle, Stephanie Wu, Maggy Flynn, Veronique Morier, Mary Williamson, Brittney Gering, Bailey Eng, Ekaterina Kukharchuk, Lucy Fandel, Camille Brisson, Liliana Argumedo, Mira Fister-Tadic, Wing Sze Tsang-Hy, Alida Esmail, Natalie Montalvo.

Sixteen females wear red mouthpieces and white bath towels, standing in a row and facing the same direction. They repeat four still gestures: standing, kneeing, sitting, and lying on the floor. The performers hold each gesture for five minutes and then move to another gesture.

The gestures in the performance are inspired by gargoyle, a legendary stone-carved grotesque with a spout that normally is designed to convey water from a roof. Mouth serves as the opening for food intake and in the articulation of sound and speech. However, when performers wear the mouthpieces, or when women’s mouth is forced to open, the mouth loses its function. In fact, it silences and disables the women because they are unable to talk when their mouths are widely pulled open. This performance explores another side of the unseen and unspoken—the vulnerability, struggle, shame, and suffering that we are uneasy to share and expose.

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4 hours at  Nuit Blanche on March 1st, 2014, Montreal. And 3 hours  at Palais des congrès de Montréal on March 15th, 2014,  Montreal. photo by Parham Yazdy.

I set a desk and two chairs in an indoor space. I sit on a chair, and a mannequin in front of me. There is a plate of cooked rice on the desk, I use a spoon to scoop rice, put it into my month, and slowly chew it until it becomes soft and warm. And then I carefully transfer the rice from my month to the spoon, and feed the mannequin in front of me. This process is repeated until the rice on the plate is thoroughly transferred.

This performance issues communication and linguistically phenomena with minimalistic gestures. It refers that the sense of authenticity, integrity and beauty of resource language get lost in translation. The rice in this performance is a metaphor of text. I am sitting on a desk, translating a big plate of text to my reader who is devouring this plate in its translated form. My reader may understand the subject, but the quality of what he/she has consumed is definitely not the same as the original once. In fact, translating a text is like chewing up rice and then feeding it to somebody else. In performance, what I feed to people is still rice. However, this transformed rice has already lost its flavor and nutrition. It is the same in translation, clarity and fluency of source text might still be kept in a target text. However, the source text and the target text can never be the same because fidelity in translation is the root that translators strive to approach but it can never truly be reached.

The processing of eating and feeding rice to the others is a process of self-translation, a communicative situation, from one cultural context to the other.  My body in this performance is a cross-cultural mediator, rendering my experiences into the both languages. In this performance, I am not producing another original, but a reflection of difference that tailors reality and identify to suit conscious ideological needs.  What I offer is not unbiased textual fidelity, but a taste of the otherness in cultural communication.

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