The Art of Public Urination
Spotted last night at the opening of the Singapore Survey 2011: Imagine Malaysia show at Valentine Willie Fine Art: local artist and actor Loo Zihan’s performance of a piece he called Taman Negara (or National Park). It consisted of Loo alternately standing stock-still, and moving between two pillars, which were adorned with his old family pictures — perhaps taken in the Taman Negara in Malaysia – a tape recorder, and a screen displaying video footage of the artist and his father (I think). Accompanied by several chamber pots filled with water, he would, at regular intervals, drink from these pots, or transfer the contents from one to the next.
And when he felt the need to pee, he would. Right there in the gallery, standing motionless in front of a crowd of gawkers.
By the time I arrived, the front of his pants already showed large, dark, damp patches running down in between the legs, and small puddles were visible on the floor.
Apparently the piece, as someone explained it to me — but she was pretty sloshed*, so I dunno — was a reference to (an exorcism of?) an old childhood trauma. The exact intent behind it was not entirely clear to me just from watching, but I loved it. Performance art was proscribed by the authorities after the hijinks of Josef Ng, Shannon Tham and Vincent Leow back in the early ’90s. Ng, as most people might remember, snipped his pubic hair at a public performance in Parkway Parade, and Tham chewed up and threw up a copy of The New Paper (see here), while Leow, a year earlier, had taken a leak in front of his audience — and then guzzled it back down (here). The consequence of all this was, of course, official disapprobation, and censorship: the National Arts Council condemned Ng’s act, the artist was fined 1,000 SGD, and, most unfortunately, funding for performance art of all stripes was embargoed – a ban lifted only in 2003, nearly a decade later.
* The individual has since written in to protest my suggestion that she was doling out wrong information (see comments); I stand corrected.
Are we now witnessing a return to the sort of in-your-face stunts that performance artists of a previous generation espoused ?