Culture & Leisure

The Artistically Wild and Wacky Manifestation

Performance artists in Hong Kong are struggling to overcome public misconceptions of performance art and to advance social causes through it.

At the top near the ceiling hung a funnel-shaped bag filled with sand. A performance artist grabbed a handful of sand and knelt on a cream-coloured quilt, then slowly he leaned forward and made contact with the water in a finger bowl.

To everyone's surprise, he tilted his head and plunged his face into the sand. As he straightened up, sand particles came gushing out and scattering all over the cloth.

The series of acts was called "Exile".

According to Merriam-Webster's dictionary, performance art is a nontraditional art form often with political or topical themes that typically features a live presentation to an audience.

Hong Kong-based performance artist Mr Sanmu Chan Shi-sen was performing live on the last day of a three-day exhibition series entitled Embodied Action, Enacted Bodies, which was intended to introduce the human body's relationship with action to the public.

Performance art, with the human body as canvas and the use of few daily items, is a relatively low-budget and convenient visual medium. Unlike theatrical production, performance art does not require a lot of coordination between performers.

With increasing presence at either local art fairs or on the front line of political activism, performance art has been used by some local artists as a way of getting involved in social advocacy.

Among those who have found themselves intrigued by performance art is Hong Kong-based performance artist Ms Ko Siulan, who is attracted to its "democratic and liberal production and presentation".

But the non-mainstream art form has been hit by problems arising from the public's misinterpretation of it.

Ms Ko said that performance art had been fraught with prejudice and was sometimes considered a freak show or a sensational act.

During a June 4 commemorative event, Mr Sanmu Chan, who had stuck needles into his face, cut a piece of heart-shaped cloth from his shirt at the area where his heart was. He then pierced his chest with needles to convey the pathos of the June Forth Incident.

"I tried to draw the attention of passers-by who wouldn't usually stop to look," said Mr Sanmu Chan.

He added that it was not the audience's misunderstanding but their thinking process that counted.

Mr yuenjie MARU, whose original name is Mr Yuen Kin-leung, agreed: "The ambiguity of art itself is an advantage and, at the same time, magic."

But Mr yuenjie MARU found the local audience relatively slow in embracing performance art.

He once performed nude art with significant political overtones to encapsulate the concept of gender stereotypes in Hong Kong.

Portraying himself as a woman, he used symbol substitution to portray male pubic hair as that of females. With beard on his face, he tried to act like a female on a man's body.

"The audience in Taiwan, if they don't understand my acts, they will ask me about the purpose of them after passionately thanking me for my performance," said Mr MARU.

"The response of onlookers on the streets (of Hong Kong) is to report to the police, who will come quickly to dislodge us," he added.

These wondrous and enigmatic works have also been questioned if they are in the fine art realm, said Ms Ko.

"But I think one of the deepest spirits of performing art is to challenge the conventional aesthetics and the orthodoxy of what can be considered ‘art'."

Reported by Annie Lee

Edited by Venus Ho

《The Young Reporter》

The Young Reporter (TYR) is an English news publication produced by international journalism students at Hong Kong Baptist University. It started as a printed magazine in 1969. Today, TYR is produced across different platforms.

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