Intervention 1: Boundaries

During his artist talk at the Singapore Biennale, S. Chandrasekaran took a blood oath that he would not perform again until his disallowed piece, about the use of Indian convict labour in the building of Singapore, was realized. Jee Leong Koh speculates in his blog that this restriction might have been due to issues around the containment of contemporary foreign workers, rather than the officially stated ‘religious sensitivities’. This is a plausible interpretation but I wonder if the explanation is simpler. Perhaps, despite recently commandeering a slice of the global art market, Singapore is not ready for such contemporary forms of expression as public body piercing and existential pain. Indeed, the impasse may be that of a clash of aesthetic norms,  on the one hand the Western, now global, performance idiom and on the other, the local decorum around ritual acts. Whatever the reasons, the fact is that the work was rendered inert and presented as an installation titled Unwalked Boundaries. Following Chandran’s oath, a curator came forward to present the Singapore Biennale’s perspective on the matter, triggering a barrage questions from the audience on their role in censoring the performance. This is where I intervened, noting that members of the audience were missing the nuance and import of Chandran’s gesture. The artist had eloquently eschewed just such an inquest by stating that what was important to him was WHEN and not WHY! His concern was with when his performance might happen, not why it had not happened. Indeed, Chandran’s action was not a protest but a discrete and incremental commencement of the performance itself. I entreated all present to savour the elegance of Chandran’s action. This was the first of 5 interventions. It was reported by Reena Devi in her piece on the event in Today.


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