So Vertical Submarine's pulled another stunt for their presentation: theirs was a talk given from the AV station, while the chair and laptop on stage stood empty and unused:
Joshua first praised the Flying Circus Project, and its aimlessness, KS's commitment to producing nothing.
Joshua: I thought that god couldn’t have pulled it off but Keng Sen did.

On my first day in Myanmar, I started to grow restless. I asked if anyone knew what we were in for. I asked the more senior members. Nobody knew.
He reflected on the futility of creating worlds:
Joshua: But perhaps on another more profound level, it is  beautiful project. Something approaching the Arthurian quest for the hHoly Grail, or the search for Nirvana. But ir eaalised later, we were supposed to pruging ourselves of all we have done and all we were planning to do. Call it a confession, if you will.
... and the beauty of their translator-intervention during their talk in Yangon: how they had been intensely aware of the translation process; therefore, as artists who despise public speaking, they had the interpreters present the work as if they themselves were the artists. How their arguments over meaning seemed to reflect their personal embrace of the project.
Then a continuation of the Yangon tracing of their career trajectory: their first full stage play, Dust: A Recollection, created from true stories about a man living in his dead parents' old house as the dust piled up in layers, a man with Alzheimer's who no longer recognised his own wife. He claimed that censorship had driven them to avoid a confrontational approach to the politics of Singapore's constant state of demolition and rebuilding: this ran false in my ears, as TheatreWorks has staged pretty damn confrontational works before.
Joshua: HDB stands for Housing Development Board, or Housing Done Badly.
How the ghost story was partly autobiographical, as he'd found his mother-in-law's fingerprints newly placed in the rice bin seven days after her funeral.
Joshua: My wife thought it was damn creepy. But I actually felt touched that my mother-in-law had come back and checked the rice bin to make sure it was full.    
(And now finally I know why they began with the ending: they were trying to imitate the style of a video installation, where the audience walks in at any point in the track.

Other projects: Private Poverty, created from discarded wooden garbage from the neighbourhood (a commission from People's Association, good lord). Another work consisting of a simple mural written in by interns, reading: VERTICAL SUBMARINE EXPLOITS US FOR FIVE DOLLARS AN HOUR TO PAINT THIS SIGN WHILE THEY ARE BEING PAID AN UNDISCLOSED SUM FOR THIS PROJECT. AND THIS IDEA IS NOT EVEN ORIGINAL.
Joshua: As Marilyn Manson sings:

"Everybody's someone else's nigger
I know you are so am I
I wasn't born with enough middle fingers
I don't need to chose a side"

But he does think you have to choose sides. Not to side with the oppressors. Exposing the fact that oppression exists.

Then a series of unrealised projects: a work for the Jakarta Biennale called Time Travelling with a Backseat Driver, consisting of a back-to-front car, defying their experience of Jakarta's traffic jams. The proposal was accepted, but lack of expertise and budget made it impossible.
Then for LAVA: Literary Arts, Visual Arts, they proposed Forbidden Closed Stacks: For a Thousand Years. Books would be placed in a bulletproof, fireproof case, resistant to heat of 451 degrees (har had), not to be opened until the year 3012. 
Joshua: The way to increase the curiosity of our readers would be to declare these books banned.
They still have no idea why this wasn't accepted.
Joshua: Sometimes we feel like blowing things up. This wasfor a  club in Mexico City. 

Every day there would be some explosive event: fireworks, riots, fighting in clubs. Something like the image of a huge bomb came up, something that Wile E. Coyote could order from ACME.

But when faced with something that looks from a bomb, how do we know it’s the real thing?

We couldn’t just put it on a oedestal. Then  you would know it was fake. So we had to think like a terrorist.
It ended up under a bookstore sink.
Plus an idea to place a large detonator in front of the Singapore Art Museum, referencing Marinetti's Futurist Manifesto!
Marinetti: So let them come, the gay incendiaries with charred fingers! Here they are! Here they are! . . .  Come on! set fire to the library shelves! Turn aside the canals to flood the museums! . . .  Oh, the joy of seeing the glorious old canvases bobbing adrift on those waters, discolored and shredded! . . .  Take up your pickaxes, your axes and hammers and wreck, wreck the venerable cities, pitilessly!
The choice whether or not to blow up Southeast Asia's great institution of modern art would be left to the public.
Joshua: Hence no one would whine about the lack of democracy.
And finally, the great Logbook of Public Ideas, which they introduced to Myanmar participants in a workshop. This is a repository of ideas that they have and cannot execute (due to lack of time, budget or insanity). After being entered in this book, anyone is able to draw on the ideas, no attribution necessary.
Joshua: Hence no one would whine about the lack of democracy.
The thing was, during the workshops, he realised the Burmese were eager to get their ideas, their poems out there, because they didn't dare to publish them in own country.
Joshua: After the workshop I felt we had nothing to offer then. Here we are with all these concepts and words, but what do we have right now?
And he remembers, in Bago, a barefoot girl with a small baby in her arms, pulling at his sleeve, pointing at her mouth. And he knew he shouldn't give her money, or else everyone in the city would come crowding round. But in his heart, that made no sense.
Joshua: Here we are trying to create more awareness about our projects about the division of class, and yet here is a residue of the capitalist system tugging at my sleeve. True, it might make her worse off. But on the other hand, she wouldn't be hungry.

So while we’re caught up in the production of nothing, and it’s a beautiful project, I’m not sure if it’s what the Burmese need now. In fact, they’ve had nothing for decades. They’ve had nothing but nothing. 

Like our bomb that never goes off and our play that crumbles to dust, I feel that Vertical Submarine is completely redundant to this project. Thank you for listening anyway.


Leave a Reply