I should've titled this "The Most Burmese of the Burmese Days", because it's chock-full of all the films and public intellectuals we witnessed in Yangon and Mandalay. But want to know the truth? Everyone's pooped. How many people wanna turn up on a Sunday noon after four previous days of Superintense, especially since last night ended at two something?
There's 19 members of the audience right now. That includes the Flying Circus people - most of whom have actually flown home already - and less than half of us are actually members of the curious public. I really don't think we did publicity properly. And almost all of today I'm supposed to be here, taking notes on what I've already described before. I've had only two hours' sleep, my tongue is freakishly bitter from my illness, and I'm still catching up on yesterday's posts.
Yeah, this sucks. But at least our small audience seems pretty engaged - asking questions without fear. Communities, private world-making, KS would say. It's a small world after all.
And it was maybe 2:20 am, and everyone who was still there went upstairs, where TheatreWorks had laid out chicken rice for us. And we sat and talked for maybe another hour, trying to stretch out the last night we had together.
No shots of our final hugs, I'm afraid. The main regret was that it was Saturday night, and no-one had the energy to go out and party anymore.
We took a break while Kaffe set up. When we returned, she was seated at a console in the centre of the room, surrounded by beanbags and stray chairs.
Kaffe: I wanted to dedicate this whole piece to San who was the video documenter from Myanmar who was turned back at the airport. Here's to him. Thanks.
Three pieces, all performed in the darkness.
The first, a collage of sounds she'd recorded in Myanmar: musical and unmusical, schoolchildren chanting and motorcycles vrooming (I lay on the floor; it was as if traffic was passing beside me). Unfortunately the glory does not really come out in the YouTube clip.
The second, a work from the sonic beds project. Again, the vibrations coursed the wooden floor and into my body. Beautiful.
The third, Vitula Physicata, a collaborative piece which she'd made to simulate the frequencies a violin player feels as she plays the violin. This went on for maybe an hour - improvised, mind you. TOO FREAKING LONG.
Brett’s been giving be jibes all week for that “writing him off as an asshole” comment
. Good – I like a reaction.
And I don’t know if it’s because of the post – he denies it - but there’s a real shift in his presentation style. No more of that offhand, cocky voice we heard in Yangon. Instead we have a more cautious approach, laying out contexts and controversy.
He spoke again about Big Dada and Exhibit B, but with much more info on the latter. He acknowledged his past: his ancestors came in 1674 to Cape Town, he was born in 1967, and grew up during a period of intense apartheid.
Brett: The first black people I got to know was when I was in university in 1989, apart from the domestic workers who worked in our houses.
Not long ago, he came across a book called Africans on Stage, about the 19th century to early 20th century phenomenon of human zoos, Europeans fascinated by these specimens of exotica. And he realized there was an eerie parallel between himself and the white guy on the cover.
Brett: For 10 years I’ve been taking black performers to Europe to stimulate them.
Race is a strange thing. In South Africa we’ve been drenched in it. It’s in the newspapers all the time. About blacks, whites, Indians. Chinese people were called honorary whites in our country.
When you go to Europe, you find how people are very scared to talk about race. I don’t know how it is in this country.
I’d assumed Exhibit B consisted of a number of stand-alone installations in different countries. Seems what happens instead is there’s about eight actors, playing different taxidermy mummies, asylum seekers, strangled deportees, colonial mistresses. And you go through rooms, one at a time, confronted by the eyes. It’s just you and the stock-still victim, and the voices of a four-member Namibian choir, live, mourning the atrocities.
Brett: I was like a seed that was dropped into soil that’s full of toxic material. To make this work is a cathartic purging, in a way.
And one of the reasons these actors feel empowered is because they become icons of the atrocities of colonialism – marmoreal monuments of truth, surrounded by the gorgeously ornate dreck of empire. Beauty, horror, a dream-world where you can’t find a firm place to land your feet.
There’ve been protests: in Berlin an activist group held protests every day, grabbed the mike from the moderator at a symposium – they’d been so intent on documenting the faults of the show that they’d passed through the installations that they hadn’t bothered to look into the eyes of the actors.
Brett: The postcolonial space is littered with landmines and I’m the fool that goes where angels fear to tread. I can’t really stand political correctness and the pervading ideological ethos is only temporary. So I just trust my instincts. And I try to push myself beyond my own borders all the time.
Framing the entire talk were his plans for an upcoming reinvention of Verdi’s opera Macbeth, pervaded by the Patria Oppressa
, the song of the refugees.
He envisions it as being re-performed by a group of Congolese refugees who discover the paraphernalia in a shipping container. (Echoes of how Haitians after the Haitian Revolution took over the commedia dell’arte costumes to dress their voodoo gods.)
In case you didn’t know, the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is the war that’s killed the largest number of people since WWII: 5.4 million. Ignited by Rwandan refugees destabilizing the region, it’s driven not just by ethnic rivalries but also the multinational corporations who supply the armed groups with guns and money to gain access to the tantalite, the coltan, drawn out of the nation’s mines. Any money that’s made is smuggled out of the country, not channeled back in.
He’s planning to drench the whole thing in glamour and decadence, just like Big Dada. He envisions the murderers chilling at a bar where a naked woman is tied up to be raped, Lady Macbeth going mad surrounded by a sea of severed hands. (Echoes of Leopold II of Belgium, colonial master of the DRC, and how his men would collect thousands of chopped-off hands of natives.) And no coronation of a new king at the end, no shiny dawn full of promise. Just the three witches hauling in their mining equipment to extract minerals from the mud.
The big thing is, he can’t quite figure out who the witches are. Foreign businessmen, he thought at first, but the more he researches, he realizes that it’s not a simple saga with easily divided heroes and villains.
And then his own doubts.
Brett: There are thousands dying in refugee camps right now. Can I really turn their misery into art?
I shine a spotlight on the issue. But when I enter the space, I don’t play the role of journalist or activist. I’m a storyteller.
Tellervo: Tonight I’m gonna talk about those works of mine which deals with islands and utopias. And it’s completely a coincidence that this body of work has come about.
Quite different from her previous talk
- she’s talking about YKON, a collective she’s a member of but which she never actually represents in talks, oddly enough. Seems it grew out of her time in art school, where she was doing loads of performance while also being extremely troubled by the nature of performance art.
Tellervo: The field of performance in Europe was like a strange bubble, not really communicating with the rest of the world, or even the rest of the art world. It felt like there was this club of performers who invited each other to performance festivals, and it seemed rally dusty and I didn’t want to be part of it. Like every art student, I had a crisis, which is good.
Then, shock and horror! She was invited to curate performance festival. Easy enough to gripe, but what to do now she had power in her hands to do it differently? How could she expand the approach of performance and the definition of what performance can be, and connect its discourse to the rest of the world?
Hence! The First Summit of Micronations (2003), organized by the newly cobbled-together, s’posed-to-be temporary collective YKON (her boyfriend-now-husband was/is a member too). All these obscure little plots of somewhere which eccentrics had declared independent, recognized by hardly anyone of course, had never been gathered before.
Yes, the act of making a country was a performance: the act of bringing them together also; all elements of the unexpected: they opened embassies for all of them on the island of Hallarka, in old bunkers. Visitors by boat were greeted by a choir of male shouters (this is a thing in Finland, apparently), bellowing an article from the Amsterdam Treaty.
No time to talk about which states came – insert link to resource HERE
. But I will mention that one, Sealand, has some international recognition because it staked out a claim on an abandoned sea platform before the UN ruled you couldn’t make claims for manmade objects. They claim to store databases in their hollow pillars – they say they have Tibet’s data inside – and get 100 letters from 100 individuals daily, all hoping to use the platform for their own purposes.
Last-minute emergency when guest-of-honour HR Giger (the crazy Swiss artist who designed the movies Alien and Species) wanted to cancel, because his cat was sick. They used all their diplomatic skills, got someone else to nurse his pussy and welcomed him so he could implant a pair of steel shoes on the island’s highest point, inviting lightning to strike the wearer in the head.
Tellervo: I still don’t really understand.
As I said, YKON promised a second summit but kept postponing it – now they’re looking at Brioni Island, Croatia, this year in Sep 2013. (It was Field-Marshall Tito’s old hideout!)
And remember the first Singapore Biennale in 2006? YKON was part of it! They created M8, a fictional summit of micronations, a ring of men and women laughing wildly at a roundtable, while – if you remember well – the IMF Meetings were happening just outside. And of course, Singapore was included among the laughing panel, alongside Lidonia and the State of Sabotage.
Tellervo: The more we read about Singapore, the more it sounded like just one of the micronations really. It was an island, which was a nice similarity, and there was this one guy, Lee Kuan Yew, and he had a vision and he made it happen.
And it’s a different question what you think about his vision, but he made it happen. And it shows how much vision matters in this world. Whose vision are you living? Yours or somebody else’s?
All the micronational heads were played by actors, but representing real people – except for Lee Kuan Yew. His name was changed in the booklet. Tellervo (who hadn’t actually been one of the crew that came to Singapore) had no knowledge of this. Hmmmm.
In a parallel occurrence, the head of Lidonia protested that permission hadn’t been sought for the impersonation. And Tellervo hit back with:
Tellervo: What are you talking about? You’re a state. I don’t ask the President of Finland for permission.
That made him think. She likes to make these little worldbuilders think, because she’s frankly irritated that they don’t do more with their supposed power, taking on some of the international responsibities of states – why not accept the hundreds of African asylum seekers e-mailing you, for instance?
So when YKON was invited to a show in Taiwan, she wrote letters every micronation they could, asking them to officially recognize Taiwan – letters were exhibited, a book was laid out for visitors to sign in support of friendship, and a marching band was rolled out for the opening ceremony. (The YKON rep had an autograph queue for this one – way to suck up to a host nation!)
Lately she’s been researching islands as utopias: Thomas More’s Utopia; Heinse’s Glückseligen Inseln; Francois Fourier’s New World of Love; HG Wells’s The Island of Dr Moreau; Die Gelehrtenrepublik; Kevin Alexander’s Alexanderisle.
And in fact, a while ago YKON organized The Summit of Practical Utopias (yes, oxymoronic), which actually features people with really utopian ideas, some actually practicable - An idea exchange of current utopian practices, vodka prizes, lotteries.
Tellervo: I’m interested in the importance of utopian thinking and thinking wide, and I also believe that it is something that influences us here and now, and something we can already start working on here and now. So we only invite to the summit people who have really utopian ideas. I believe very much in individuals and that’s why I do the type of art that I do.
Her very first film project was The Making of Utopia, centred around intentional communities in Australia – interviewing these people who’d created hippie-style alternative lifestyle communes, documentary style;then inviting them then to make fiction films about clashes between their ideals and the reality of living together, how they got over their problems.
Tellervo: Often when hippies are talked about we are sarcastic, but we don’t think that is necessary, because they had vision.
And we’ve inherited the hippie’s legacy through mainstream ideas: open-source culture, the very Internet.
The films are super-simple: each community only had four days to shoot, because they were busy-busy doing their regular upkeep – yet they were grateful for the break, because it forced them to revisit their original principles. But they’re high-quality in terms of production values – we saw “Open Day”, about the commune of Moora Moora, which exposed the rift between contemporary eco-dropouts and themselves: how today’s rebels can’t believe these guys aren’t vegetarian, don’t have composting toilets, don’t use drugs, have big thick rule books.
And last of all, another look at Archipelago Science Fiction, this time about the islands becoming the world’s last refuge for alternative cultures amidst hyper-conformism: eco-anarchists, Neo-Scientologists, bearded Spartans, alcoholics; immigrants rejected or assigned by an Artificial Intelligence that optimizes happiness and makes no mistakes.
And look! Tellervo and her husband Oliver and their daughter, all playing immigrants! (Not spoiling the ending, but it doesn’t end well for them.) Honestly thought they’d play the Chinese film again – folks here would’ve loved it – but this was glorious as well.
When - how - are we gonna get to watch the other two?
Kaffe’s already spoken to us about her sonic beds (didja know one of them was featured in the Singapore Science Centre show, Biorhythms?) and her sonic benches, but she recapped here, playing us an extract.
Kaffe: The reason the speakers are cracking right now is these are actually sub-frequencies. They are actually moving along your body. I was interested in the map of human body as score, aligning along different spots of the body.
She described her eureka moment, how she was invited to make the installation and realized it was actually an instrument: getting music inside people, getting institutions to acknowledge that’s how we listen to music.
Now she's offering up a new instrument: the sonic bicycle. In the Marvelo Project, she worked with small-town folks, including 12 year-old kids from a local school, to map different bits of music onto different areas on their town, mounting GPS receivers and computers onto cheap second-hand bikes from flea markets. (No Internet, mind you – this was connected to the satellites for guidance, but also essentially offline.)
Did the same in Ghent, which turns out to be one of the oldest cities in Europe: hence a bicycle opera called The Swamp That Was, trying to draw power from the presence of all the animals and plants and humans who’ve ever been there, still there.
12 bicycles, three different routes, including a spiritual route past a women’s commune where they work with plants and planets; past a pair of brothers who brew elderflower wine. Including stories of the river, featuring an opera singer and a clarinetist as accompaniment. Including a sonic garden, a sound installation of grass and birds and bees in a built-up spot where there was nothing.
Kaffe: Essentially the whole piece was performed by you as you cycled through the streets. The listener with the Music for Bodies project becomes involved in the making of the music. You’re experiencing the music as it unfolds around you. It’s not like going to a concert that has a beginning and an end. As with the Sonic Beds, it’s possible to make music that has no beginning and no end. You can go wherever you like. Take your picnic box with you and you’re independent.
Another project, to be launched in Galloway Forest, Scotland when she gets back next weekend (she’s not looking forward to the blast of cold). The oldest maps in the world are the stars, so she sonified the data – genuine music of the spheres.
Kaffe: I have always been looking for things other than my own ideas to make music, be it chance, be it the weather, and the other thing is machinery – computers, samplers. They do things I could never think of.
Thus Yird Muin Starn, which I think is old Scottish for “weightless animals” (rushing here, can’t search, sorry). Seems that in times of crisis, poor Glaswegians have been running into the forest and realizing how beautiful it is, even discovering old shacks and barns there still are where they can hide out during weekends.
[Correction from Kaffe herself: "Yird Muin Starn is old Scots for Earth Moon Star . Its a collaborative project directed bvy Mandy McIntosh. She also directed Weightless Animals which is another space project but researched at NASA and completed in 2004. Please check www.weightlessanimals.com
Several ideas that had to be junked: a sonic bath, where you immerse yourself completely except for your head, pedaling tuning forks at the bottom. A silent hole for gazing, where you can lie in a hole in the ground and stare at the sky (she says it’s gorgeous, I say it reminds me too much of my army days digging trenches, the Foresty Department said no digging).
Finally, an adaptation of a Victorian astronomers’ chair, where you simply lie back with your face upwards, the noise of nature around you, the noise of the stars all over your body. Also on your body: portable shelters, like space-age pyjama suits, beautiful printed with designs from collaborator Mandy Mcintosh.
Amazing sample of music to listen to: Star Stream, a futuristic hymn of PHOTONS CREATED MOLECULE BY MOLECULE ATOM BY ATOM.
And finally, an all-female music collective, The Lappetites, which Kaffe formed partly because there seemed to be so few women doing crazy things with synthesizers. She recently wrote an opera remotely with two other members: Japan, Finland and the UK, all about their fathers: a Zainichi businessman, an old East German soldier, a farmer who lives in the same house where he was born.
The piece was shown in Berlin, with nine scenes: routes, survival, body maps, love, beliefs, et cetera, et cetera, including sequences of the three fathers meeting via Skype, which none of them had ever used before.
Large worlds, little worlds, old worlds, new. We are already living in the future.
According to Lin Htet, he wasn't originally going to do a performance art piece. But somehow he decided to - a simple affair, tying a string tight around his neck, while uttering the words: "Waiting for happy endings again and again, as if there is no end." Then rising amidst the audience and dancing while Bob Dylan's "The Times, They Are A-Changin'" played.
The tech people had to cut the string off him with a pair of scissors. The skin looked pretty red.
Later, he explained the reason why he'd considered not performing was because of the risk of political censure:
Lin Htet: But this is how I respond in a sociopolitical situation as an artist. So whatever the consequences, I don’t really care.
Brave words, huh? But so much of his practice seems to emerge from fear. He's based in Paris now - has been since 2007 - but goes back to Burma (his choice of name) all the time for projects, which means he has to go to the embassy and sign papers vowing not to engage in political activities, not causing any trouble. So when he was invited to participate in a Burma-Tibet show, all he submitted was a text refusing an artwork under the fictitious female name of Khin Khin Su.
Lin Htet: This indeed reflects the fact that everything is political. You cannot say this is political art or this is political. Because once you are involved in any contemporary art production, this is political.
He sometimes runs half-naked in the streets of Europe shouting, "Happy New Year!" - somehow a statement on displacement and the vulnerability of migrants. Or he wriggles across the floor in imitation of torture positions, chanting, "I want democracy, you want democracy." He says he isn't a political activist, by the way. (Possibly he likes playing a parody of one.)
He also carries meat around as part of a piece called Deadweight - his burden as a Burmese person for the atrocities of the war against ethnic minorities. Recently, he's started to sew up the meat, because the situation seems to be improving, at least to the naked eye. He's very cautious about any kind of optimism in the land.
Lin Htet: It seems like only Aung San Suu Kyi and a few other high-profile politicians have got the right to say what they want to say. For the rest of us, I don’t know.
It's because of these fears that we stayed inside the French Institute in Yangon, and didn't do zilch in Mandalay. He doesn't even do much performance art anymore, and baulks at video and photo documentation, because he's scared shitless of going to prison.
Lin Htet: In my opinion to be abel to create you have to be outside, to be able to be more active. So this is the thing as most performance artists have to consider whenever we want to do actions. I’m not really sure in terms of rules or regulations if things are really changing. And I’m not really sure if I’m safe enough to talk about all these things.
I wonder how much damage this blog will do. After all, he's not being entirely paranoid. San, the famous VJ, was supposed to speak today (Sunday), but was turned away at Changi Airport on Friday.
And yet we've seen his Hotel Reverie plays, where he employs political prisoners in roles. (The conversation seemed much more graceful in the original Hamlet, when no translation was necessary.)
Lin Htet:As an artist I believe you have to somehow take responsibility because if you want to respond to what is happening around you, what is happening in society, if you want to make your voice heard, you have to take risks, responsibility.
What I have done so far is confronting my own fear and pushing myself to see how far I can go.
I really like repetition. All that has been happening around me is just repetition, all the cycle of power struggle, revenge. In all my works, the repetition is very important to me personally.
And just to drive home that last point, he played us a video where a group of blind people sang an inanely upbeat "Happy New Year" song he'd written for them, about fifty times over and over again.
I suppose the New Year is about a new beginning, hoping for something in the future. Still, that looks mighty close to exploitation of the blind. Really hope he went about that project ethically.
But first she danced. It's the same piece as she did in Yangon
, with the Tamil lullaby - but this time, she also had some of the original video art to accompany her.
That's just a snippet in the YouTube, by the way. Great way to begin. It was later that Venuri launched into her autobiography; how she's just turned 30, and how she spent her 20s avoiding dance.
Venuri: I kind of looked down on being a dancer and dance. Because traditional dance, Kandyan dance was about beauty, perfection of technique. And when you dance more beautifully, people tell you, you become more egoistic. And I didn’t want that to happen to me. And I remember my guru in his 70s becoming very bitter because all of us didn’t know how great he was.
She decided to study psychology to be useful - the civil war had just ended, and she knew loads of mental care was needed.
Venuri: Did any of you see Tellervo’s film last night? Well, the state of mental illness in Sri Lanka is 10 times worse.
After five years of psych, she let herself do one year of a Dance and Community MA in London. And this was where she learned all the language of modern and contemporary dance for the first time: movement analysis, cerebral connection with body, connection of space and time, principles of dynamics, efficiency of movement, how to use a motif.
Venuri: You think dancers and artists are creative people, but for most of my life I felt I wasn’t creative, because as a traditional dancer you’re asked to perfect these steps.
She was in fact surprised when the theme of war crept into her early self-devised work - in Colombo, she says she's lived in a bubble, isolated from the violence. By her standards, anyway. She talks about the occasional bomb going off rather matter-of-factly.
Venuri: The question of why I dance: I’m still not sure, but through this, I’m trying to create a sense of empathy from this other community we were in a sense alienated from. And that these personal stories we could actually relate to: despair, the loss of a child, the loss of dignity.
As soon as she gets back, she's going into rehearsals with a German choreographer and ex-soldiers - some of who've come out of the war with disabilities. Seems that when the choreographer touched down in Colombo, she asked, "Where are the disabled people?" And of course, they're hidden away, sometimes outright denied by their families - both the mentally and physically ill.
Venuri seemed sheepish about this concept - choreography for the disabled is old hat in many countries. But in Sri Lanka, it does seem to be taking a different form. Here, one dancer (who's just unfastened his prosthetic leg) is moulding another man from a Buddhist mudhra pose to a warrior pose:
Important work, even in Singapore still - changing the aesthetic of beauty, the notions of dance as beautiful, what kind of movement different bodies can do.
Julie: I’m feeling energized but also nervous. But I’m a nervous person to begin with. So if I start crying, don’t worry.
Later I found out she'd been up all night after her "Honey" performance, writing out a script for her presentation, which she was now unable to retrieve. Not to worry: to bridge a relationship between us all, she handed around a bottle of scent we could sniff:
Julie: It looks like I’m passing out poppers, but I’m not.
An introduction to her background in activism and caregiving, even working an LGBT suicide hotline, the scholarship of eastern and western body work to relearn the body, the influence of Ana Mendieta (who was pushed out of a window on the same street she lived on in NYC), of Walt Whitman and Gertrude Stein, whom she quotes frequently in her work.
Also the strange bondage of rope and moxibustion cups in Eye Witness:
And a practice of asking other artists to endow her body with their work, a body made of sand, the chair as a symbol of loss, blood transferred from one body to another... I don't know anymore. She was going too fast; my notes are too fragmentary.
Intriguing concept for a work called You Have So Much Potential, inspired by ageing: how the phrase is only what people say in your 20s and 30s; can't people in their 40s and 50s decide if that's when their potential is at their fullest? Her collaborator, Maya Munoz, did a durational piece of slowly erasing the words which had been pencil-sketched onto the wall by younger artists.I'm not sure if Julie actually performed anything.
A Q&A about last night's "Honey" - Brett asked for meaning, asked if it felt nourishing.
Julie: The piece has so many meanings to me at this point. It tends to keep accommodating the situation it finds itself in. Yesterday, opening up the piece to the Flying Circus Participants, I was pleased by how it continued to be effective in the work and kept the work alive. Yesterday it was a dialogue between temporary partners and strangers who weren’t quite strangers, people who were making attempts to know each other, and the dread to know our relationships will end in that form. That was evocative for me. And there were a lot of changes that had to happen because of the site, the impromptuness of it. All those things were really beautiful.
Julie: I’m really more interested in the excess of it. It’s the aspect of stickiness that seems more central to this piece. Honey, I have a lot of thoughts around it. It’s actually a dehydrator, it’s not nourishing in that respect. I could show you how it works with my own life, but this isn’t an autobiographical piece. There’s a bit of it that’s about strangling and swallowing, the way I can’t use my voice. But I can use my voice under a lot of excess.
Julie: To lessen the dramatic pairing fo a duet, I think of it more as a partnership. I sort of prepare this concept of a score. There are certain things that may or may not happen with the drops. Sometimes they’re tentative, sometimes they’re urgent and fast, sometimes they’re too sweet, as if someone’s spit in my mouth. There are different ways I move, I use difrent joints. I go through my body, I have certain known places with my joints, and I let different things happen.
And the choreography of the throat, concentrating on how much honey she can take in, the really intense feeling of hitting capacity; not only honey in her eyes but honey in her nostrils, inhaling honey, honey in her mucous membranes, honey gluing her hair to her back. God, she goes the whole hog.
And a few more thoughts on Flying Circus:
Julie: One of the most gentle and also powerful experiences I had was actually with Adriaan. We were just talking about what this idea of uselessness is. It’s very hard to put yourself ina palce to remove yourself to a frame of identity to take you to another a world.
Maybe this will be open again as a great tightness that you drag around the world. Saved by love, that’s all I wanted to show you around these lines.
This time in English, so she didn't go into as much depth about the Village Art Project as before. But what was fascinating was her description of her own photographic work. (She actually does painting, performance, sculpture too, but photos constitute the bulk of her output.)
A lot of attention went to "Reflections of Experiences of the Icons", a portrait of her mother and two other middle-aged women.
Nge Lay: This artwork is a big challenge for me, because this kind of photogaraphy is very difficult to show in my country. Because my coutnry’s religion and culture, most women don’t want to show their naked bodies in front of other people.
When I was young me and my mum... our feeling was a little bit far, because I come from a big family. And so I thought my mum don’t love me, she doesn’t take time to take care of me.
She rethought this after she suffered two miscarriages herself.
Nge Lay: I think about my ma. She loved me. Because my ma has a big scar on her womb, where everybody can see. She had that operation before I was born. She got that scar very big because of the maker of the operation. So after that operation the doctor told her, "Don’t make a baby again," because the womb can be unsafe for her. But after five years, she had me, and then she wanted to have me alive.
So after my second miscarriage, I asked her about these things. And then I can see she loved me so much.
When I was young I was very afraid of her scar. When I showed it to me, she always was ashamed about that, because she thinks it is very ugly. After I hear, I think her body is very ugly. But I can see from her body how much she loves me. And when she hugs me, I think she is a big tree. I can feel very safe and very very good.
At first, she didn’t agree because this is very difficult. After I requested her, most of my brothers and sisters were against the photography. But afterwards my mum agreed with me to shoot that photograph.
These scars thus become markers of experience, of change in these women's lives, inspiring not horror but sympathy - maybe, in my opinion, awe.
Her "Observing of Self on Being Dead" series deals with her history of depression:
Nge Lay: When I was 8 or 9 years old, I saw many people die in front of me, because ein the 1980s the government killed many demonstration people. I always dream of some people dying, very bloody bodies.
She was on the brink of suicide after her second miscarriage and the health problems that ensued: doing these works helped her confront the issue as she never had before.
Wanna see a painting of hers? From her Tokyo solo exhibition? Why not: