Saturday, May 2, 2009

Paisarn Plienbangchang, "On a Burden of Delight (3)"

Paisarn Plienbangchang. “On a Burden of Delight (3),” in Siam Rath Weekly News Magazine. Yr. 51, Vol. 5, June 25 – 1 July, 2004.

1/ As I said, in the old days, we were taught to believe or made to believe that the arts were made to follow orders and to serve only the classes of higher ranking families, for example, kings and religion.

2/ Art was lifted up high and separated from the people in the lower classes, the ordinary people, the peasant classes. Such people were made to feel lowly and without any rights equal to others. It was human society taking advantage, using force more than intelligence.

3/ But actually, art and things related to art have long been made to serve ordinary people like country folk – for example in their tools and utensils, in their daily way of life. Even when doing expressive performances, it’s difficult to separate social classes.

4/ Talking about separating things that are inseparable makes me think about contemporary art. There are so many things created by artists nowadays. Art is created using new technology. The process of ideas changes greatly from the past. There is an opening up of the way of art and creation,is there not?

5/ Looking back at the atmosphere of the trip to Bandung International Performance Art Festival, I had the chance to meet Indonesian artist friends who used to join such festivals many times in many countries. We were happy to be able to meet again. Actually, we are not that far apart. We get news of each other and sometimes meet abroad. Sometimes it is the first time we have met, but we become friends in a short time.

6/ As we make the same kind of works of art, I personally noticed that among people who do this sort of thing, there is a network spreading to every continent in the world. And these artists know practically everyone in the field. Sometimes we know a friend of a friend – some have student-teacher relationships. Some are husbands and wives working together. And then there are the ex-husbands and ex-wives as well…

7/ I met Arahmaiani Yani one morning before 28 April. Four years ago, Yani invited me to join a performance art festival which she organized in Jakarta in 2000. After the festival, she moved from the capital and went to stay in Yokjakarta instead, giving the reason that ‘people’s lives aren’t so hurried and are more peaceful there than in the capital.’ After bringing each other up to date and comparing notes on how our respective countries were doing, we came at last to the situation in the south of Thailand. We both feared that the level of violence would increase. There was also terrorism going on in Indonesia.

8/ Then something unbelievable happened the next morning. Yani came with newspaper in hand to show the picture and the headline: there had been an incident and people had died at the mosque – more than 100 people in Pattani, Thailand. Most were youths with small arms. The police and soldiers at the scene were heavily armed. When I heard such news I was stunned and lost my focus. We couldn’t find any more details than that. Just the previous day we had been chatting about this at the very hour that these terrible events were happening in Thailand.

9/ Back to live performance art, as I have said many times, many situations that come up in the world today before inspirations for performances. They are like pictures of ideas that impact our perception, impressing upon us the evil that exists and the wisdom of ideas that arise at the time.

10/ In the evening, the works were by local Indonesian artists. The name of the work - Banana’s Family – was common enough, but Hendrawan Riyanto filled it with power. The audience found it comforting and enjoyable as did I. Riyanto presented his ideas about relations among relatives in Asian cultures in times past, and showed how they are being displaced by globalization.

11/ The work was presented simply, as in some ordinary, local place. Riyanto came with his actual local friends. They carried up on to the stage many banana trees with their leaves and big bunches of bananas hanging down. Then they laid food out on banana leaves – all that delicious traditional food - and they handed it out to everyone, as if we were all guests at table. Little by little, everyone was covered with banana leaves, like a family taking part in a ceremony.

12/ Toward the end, the artist spoke of the displacement and swallowing up by the thing called ‘modern.’ Receiving information and news, good and bad, via IT: he spoke of fears for children in society who grow up with these things. What will they be like in the future? The old culture is swallowed up: what lies ahead? In the end, a childlike robot was wrapped up in banana leaves too. Will the 'banana family' in the future be robots like this? It was a disturbing question.

13/ Another performance was like a ceremony, like something seen many times in many countries, as Asians like to show. Wawan S. Husin, a big artist and teacher of English who loves performance art presented the work, Clayman Revisited. Wawan began with wet mud, which he put on his legs and arms. Then he arranged a pile of newspaper and set it ablaze.

14/ Scooping up the blazing paper, he put the fire on himself, on his arms and legs, even on his face. He is like a poet who speaks of the power of earth, water, wind and fire. All is accompanied to the end by an ancient song, a song about the beauty of the meeting of hot and cool.
Note: In closing, Paisarn reported the sad news of the death of Hendrawan Ryanto of heart disease at age 45.

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