Kaffe and Tellervo, improvising a song in the bus at Mandalay Airport.
A ticket tag from the Swedawmaw Pagoda (or is it the Shwedagon?) discovered on Tellervo's camera strap while on Pulau Semakau, Singapore.
And perhaps most precious of all, the random chatter between us on bus rides between the BFI and the hotel in Yangon.
Remember how Tellervo mentioned her People in White project during her Yangon presentation? The piece created by people with mental illnesses, reflecting on their doctors? Well, at 9pm tonight we got to see the whole shebang.
Tellervo: After criminals and drug abusers, people with mental illness are the people with the lowest status in Finland. And the doctors have the highest status. So I became very curious about this from the point of view of those who are treated.
What can I say? It really is a rather awesome film, with loads of pathos - the inhumanity of cold medical systems towards the mentally ill; the way all trust, all agency is taken away from them - stories of false accusations, doctors recommending spouses to divorce them, being held in isolation for days on end with no justification, forced to piss on the floor like an animal. And of course the horror of the mental illness itself at times - incredible paranoia, insomnia, suicidal depression. One woman explains that she lost years of memory from electroshock therapy; she can't work anymore, either. But it's still better than wanting to kill herself everyday, she says.
The whole show's set up in the form of a group therapy session, intercut with re-enactments by the "participants" of group therapy - some are the actual patients/survivors, some are actors. It's odd, destabilising, to realise how one woman, at first consistently playing doctors, is actually a genuine survivor, who had custody of her children removed from her while being warded. Survivors playing doctors, actors playing survivors, actors playing doctors, everyone playing one another.
An exercise in empathy. Yes. No Q&A after the show: we're keeping them for her presentation tomorrow.
P.S. This film was actually preceded by Wu Wenguang's Treatment, but I've watched that already. No need for repeats.
I spoke a little facetiously about Kaffe's sonic beds, saying how they engendered community by forcing folks to do something silly together. Well, Tellervo's presentation kind of focussed on that. Although we in Singapore know her better for her Complaints Choir project, she's been collecting gangs of crazies since forever, as is evidenced in the three examples she showed us:
1. Speech Karaoke
You can't really tell here, but this is a black woman time-syncing one of Hitler's speeches in German:
This is an ongoing project by a collective of 13 artists: "an expanding archive of loca, global private, public, historical and contemporary speeches – to be reinterpreted". Folks at every new stop can suggest historical speeches, record their own speeches, pick video to go with the speeches, even create their own speeches - or else browse speeches to perform and thus learn a bunch about world history while they're doing it. One menu included A Message from Pussy Riot, Chuck Norris's A Dire Warning For America and Agassi's Farewell to Tennis at the US Opens. Usually, the event's held in a bar - alcohol is a great social lubricant.
2. Archipelago Science Fiction
Tellerko and her husband Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen were asked to do a project in the Turku Archipelago of West Finland: a group of 20,000 teensy islands, populated by Finland's Swedish-speaking minority. (Prejudices still remain between the Finnish-speaking and Swedish-speaking Finns: the latter are viewed by the former as a stuck-up upper-class.)
Tellerko: Usually we avoid working with specific communities given to us. We prefer big cities where we can do open calls. So we were really unsure about asking to go to these island communities.
No matter: they put two years of research into the work (engaging the forces of Swedish artist Henrik Andersson just in case), focussing on harvesting the ideas of the islanders, figuring out their hopes and fears for the islands. What they learned was that the folks loved their idyllic rustic home, but knew the world around them was changing at breakneck speed. So either the islands would change (in which case they'd be screwed) or else they'd stay the same, but be preserved almost as a museum piece (in which case they'd be screwed the other way round.)
From these projections the team filmed four science fiction movies, scripted and performed by the islanders. The one she showed us was a scenario in which the islands had been bought over by China and were being enjoyed as a living museum of 20th century culture by middle-class Chinese tourists. (We all laughed our asses off, especially Wenguang and Wen Hui.)
Tellervo: Although there are real disagreements about their opinions, science fiction is so fun that you cannot take it too seriously.
3. People in White
And a final project, actually about a genuine gang of crazies (I’m sorry, I’m going for poesy more than political correctness). A film created by ten mental health patients, about their surreal encounters with the mental health profession.
Strange, what ties these three projects together. Not only humour and participation and moving image/audio – but an actual fact that through them, communities are empowered to speak.
My name's Ng Yi-Sheng, I'm a writer from Singapore, and I've been a Creative-in-Residence with TheatreWorks since 2006. I've served as blogger-documenter for two previous Flying Circus Projects: Singapore/Vietnam in 2007 and Singapore/Cambodia in 2009/2010.