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.