1 Amanda Heng Liang NgimPerformance, Interdisciplinary & InstallationSingaporean1951 to date“The scars from history cannot be erased. However, each performance I do helps me find a new acceptance and meaning of the conflicts for myself, giving me a tremendous feeling of empowerment.”
2 Artist’s BackgroundAmanda Heng, born in 1951, is Singapore’s foremost contemporary female artist who rather identifies herself as a full-time independent art practitioner and cultural producer.She adopts an interdisciplinary approach to her art practice that often deals with issues of history, identity, communication and human relationship in the urban condition.Her works have been exhibited internationally in USA, Australia, Japan, Cuba, Germany, Spain and Southeast Asian region. Her other art activities include co-directing the theatre production Bernard's Story, and performing in theatre production A Woman On the Tree in the Hill directed by Ivan Heng. She also organized exhibitions, forums and public events such as, Women And Their Arts, The 1st Asian film Appreciation workshop, Women About Women, Memories of Sense, The Friday Event and Open Ends. Amanda was involved in the founding of two artist- run initiatives in Singapore namely, The Artists’ Village and Wita (Women in the Arts).
3 Historical/ Political/ Cultural undertone Collaboration was employed by feminist artists in the 1970s as a strategy to confront the modern / patriarchal notion of the artist as a sole heroic and artistic genius. Artists engaged in process work and community-based art reveal to the public the processes of the art-making and bring them into the creative process as active participants. In the 90s we saw a major rise in collective art practices, artist groups and duos exploring the idea of art as an expanded form of intellectual activity. The spirit of collaborative projects resides in its concern with the people, the issue of exchange, communication and interactivity.This forms the basis for the discussion in Amanda’s talk, sharing her experiences in making collaborative works and examining issues around the significance of participation, collaborative relations between artists and audience, the meaning of art and the role of art-making in this fast changing contemporary society.
4 Subject MatterIn addition, her works also focus on the intersections of eastern and western values and the traditions and gender roles in a multi-cultural and rapidly- changing Singapore.“ The French-American artist, Robert Filliou once said that the purpose of art was to reveal how much more interesting life is. For me, the task is to ask how can the arts become a meaningful part of the everyday experience for not just some people but for everyone. …. my recent work involves collaborations with people from all fields and different cultural backgrounds. I believe it is the best way to gain a better understanding of complexity in social relationships and interactions.
5 "S/HE: PERFORMANCE ART“ first presented in 1994 Significant Artwork: S/HE"S/HE: PERFORMANCE ART“first presented in 1994In a performance titled S/He, Amanda Heng of Singapore deals with clashing Eastern and Western values, traditions and gender roles. On Sunday May 4 in the Colonial Arcade Ballroom Heng used English and Chinese texts, movement, sound, objects and images to initiate the rediscovery of her identity within her cultural confusion. Heng's performance is influenced by her experience as a Chinese woman whose sense of self is colored by the interwoven hierarchies of a politically sensitive Singaporean society.
6 Significant Artwork: :S/HE (Interview with Amanda Heng) The Germinative Stage When I started thinking about the performance in 1993, I was concerned with working out the confusion within me, an inner conflict that had resulted from having to deal with the clash in values between Western and Eastern ideological cultures in my everyday experience. I had intended it to be an ongoing process to investigate the cause of this conflict.The background to S/HE and conflicts behind S/HE I was educated and brought up with traditional Chinese values. It was a shock when I found it was not effective in Singapore, my hometown, where English is the preferred language. The long history of British colonization in Singapore, the emerging status of Singapore as an international entreport, and a rule dominated by English-speaking, English-educated native policy-makers led to the prominence of English and Western culture in Singapore. The feeling of displacement and helplessness struck a note when the Chinese medium schools and Chinese university were suddenly shut down in the 1970s. Graduates of Chinese medium schools seemed second-rated and irrelevant as the better jobs required a competent command of English. The question of where to belong, where to go, what to do and how to be a useful and contributing member of society became not only an existential quest but one that is painfully real and disturbing.
7 Significant Artwork: :S/HE (Interview with Amanda Heng) The Motivation in S/HE I was searching for an understanding of the various economic, political and cultural implications of this conflict and how they contributed to the construction of identity. At that time, I was confronted with the problem of having to embrace only one culture and reject the other completely. I was locked into this "either- or" mind-set with a strong belief in monolithic thinking, which I realised later, was culture's own way of impacting on my conscious and subconscious decisions on self-identity.
8 Significant Artwork: :S/HE (Interview with Amanda Heng) Another important concern was the question of being a woman and her position in the cultural and political context of Singapore. The history of Women's Movement and Western Feminist Theory had prompted further my investigation into how power was embossed onto these influences that constantly impose themselves on us, in the process of shaping our identity. There was an attempt to look for alternative directions: What if I reject both influences? Were there possibilities of a new language? A new thinking? I chose to communicate these inquiries in my performance by making symbolic marks on my face and articulating it in front of the mirror, as a way to show how language was deconstructed to its simplest phonemes and strokes and used to form meaningless marks on the face in the attempt to find a new expression.
9 Evolution of S/HE and Discoveries When S/HE was performed again in 1995 and 1996, the work took on new meanings. I have discovered that the differences in these two cultures can be advantageous for me. They are rich resources for ideas. I have learned how I could embrace these two streams of thought and make them my strengths. This realization gave me great confidence in appropriating language, text, symbols and images from real life, my personal memories and everyday experience. I worked with these materials, giving space for exploration, combing text with movement, sound and objects and allowing changes until I recognised and concluded a personal message from these elements for me. Soon, the image evolved. I had my covered, walking and searching for the audience with a stick in one hand and a lantern in the other in the full blast of Chinese classical music and Western choir playing simultaneously in the background.
10 Sometimes, these elements challenged or commented on one another; for example, in my use of baking dough to wipe away the marks on my face as I recited the Confucious sayings: "When you are at home, obey your father; When you are married, obey your husband; When your husband died, obey your son." I then threw away the dough with great force as a symbolic and visual rejection of these traditionally accepted roles for a Chinese woman as a subservient subject to the men in her life.The choice of using my body and personal experience as materials for a direct communication with the audience in a live performance was a conscious deliberate choice. The audience was either seated or standing around the performance space whilst the performance took place. I wanted them to have a direct "live' experience. They have to watch closely and respond spontaneously when approached. The attention from the audience and the exchange of energy were important elements in the work.
11 The frequent use of domestic objects such as washing detergents, dough, colourful toy alphabets was strategic. My intention was to bring about the experience of the self -discovery of a woman from the private sphere into the public. I was excited to be able to stretch my mind in redefining "Woman" in my own terms. I found new strength for articulating my confidence.
12 She and Her Dishcover, 1991. Medium: Readymades. Significant Artwork: She and her DishcoverShe and Her Dishcover, 1991.Medium: Readymades.Size: 96 x 106 x 106 cmCompleted in 1991, She and Her Dishcover was first shown at Women and Their Art. It consists of a table covered with a table cloth printed with words such as "choice", "feels", "joy", "speaks" and "maker" that refer largely to the emotional responses of women. Underneath the dishcover on the table is an oval mirror with a red object that resemble lips. The work attempts to relate to the psyche of women whose status is relegated to that of performing kitchen tasks, considered secondary to the activities of the neck-tie world of men. Apart from being a work that comments on the position of women in society, it is also an expression of self discovery and acceptance.
13 " Singapore Girl, you are a great way to fly " Significant Artwork: ‘Smile, I’m a Singapore Girl!”" Singapore Girl, you are a great way to fly "For 56 years the iconic Singapore Girl, in her Pierre Balmain-designed Kabaya, has been flashing her famous smile and bringing the Singapore National airlines and the tourist industries huge profits and international awards in the very competitive world travelling market and global economy. Trends come and go. Styles change. But after more than two decades, the mystery of the Singapore Girl endures....". Singapore Airlines in its invitations to girls in Singapore to be a Singapore Girl, boasted it to be the career that's still in vogue.....The series of work is concerned with the construction of the Singapore Girl image as a representation for promotion of the economical consumption, its implications on the female identity and its impact on the gender politics in a patriarchal society of Singapore.
14 Significant Artwork: :Narrating Bodies Narrating bodies, Installation and performance.100 photos, laser prints, color images (A4 and A3), mirror and chair.
15 Significant Artwork: :Narrating Bodies Amanda Heng’s photographic installation explores the artist’s relationship with her mother in terms of intimacy, aging, love and memory. Over the past two years Heng developed a series of photographs culminating in this powerful and intimate photographic tableaux. The work juxtaposes recent photographs with old family portraits, some of which have been manipulated by the artist.Artist's statement:I have always enjoyed taking photographs for the family. It gave me a sense of participation in the family events. I could decide how the photographs should look and what stories the photographs should tell. It was natural to use photographs when I started to work with my mother on the issues of communication and the relationship between mother and daughter. The work uses our self-portraits and bodies as vehicle to confront the stereotypes, to voice an opinion on sexual politic and conception of identity and history, generally, personally and from the viewpoint of a woman.
16 Significant Artwork: :Narrating Bodies I work with my mother to re-produce images from old photographs to recollect our history and culture. It intends neither to be autobiographical nor a nostalgic search for a childhood. It is rather to re-work and re-live the experience of living and sharing our pain and joy as mother and daughter, a process often taken to be unimportant in a social structure dominated by the patriarchal culture. The act of re-constructing narratives from the memory of our sufferings and aspirations is central to the work.I wanted to explore memory through photographs, not in the way we are taught to look at and take photographs as compositions. My eyes always wondered beyond the photographs as a whole in search of the details: a look, a symbol, a stance, a piece of clothing, a hand, a touch, insignificant details which seem to contain meanings seeking to articulate. I wanted to re-produce in images the way in which my eyes scoured the photographs, searching for new ways of understanding.As the American poet and writer, bell hooks wrote: "To begin re-visioning, we must acknowledge the need to examine the self from a new, critical standpoint ... It is not sufficient to know the personal, but to know - to speak in a different way." I want the work to be an active process of remembering, searching and seeking new forms of articulation.
17 Significant Artwork: :Narrating Bodies (Interview with Amanda Heng) Heng: "Narrating Bodies" is an ongoing project. I have been working with my mother since The idea is to reconnect with my mother in order to find out about myself. Of course it's not just about myself. It's basically about identity, but related to many other aspects - for example: our cultural identity or our national identity in relation to the political situation in Singapore; also, my mother's generation and my generation's developments, for instance in terms of gender identity.The question is: how do I reposition myself as a woman in this very new country, Singapore, which is basically an immigrant country with people from India, China and so on? The problems with dealing with our traditional heritage from China and this very new high-tech situation now in Singapore - I'm trying to reconcile that and reposition myself. The work here uses old and new photos and reconstructed photos. The focus was looking for some kind of contact between my mother and myself. I enlarged these old photos by using laser print and re-photographing them with the present body. There are many, many different kinds of photos I used, rephotographed and put together. The process itself was important. It's a kind of active process in remembering or reconnecting or reconstructing these relations.
18 Significant Artwork: :Narrating Bodies (Interview with Amanda Heng) Binder/Haupt: How is your performance related to the piece? Is it a part of it/ independent from it?Heng: It is very much part of it. When you deal with photographs, whether new or old, you are dealing with a two-dimensional plane. But with the objects and my body, it gives a different time dimension. The old photographs are in the past and new photographs represent another time-space and now doing a performance with my real body takes place in a live, real time.
19 Significant Artwork: :Narrating Bodies (Interview with Amanda Heng) Binder/Haupt: What is the situation with performance in Singapore now from your perspective? Is it as difficult as in 94 or so? Heng: Yes, in a single Singaporean context, it is still difficult but it is beginning to open up. I think what is important now for people is to talk about it. What we try to do is to perform more and discuss it so the people come up with a better understanding of what performance art is.Binder/Haupt: Could you still have a real problem in your country with a performance like this one here? Heng: I think you can do a performance now, or find your way and strategy to do a performance in an art context, for example at art exhibitions or art events, but you still need to get a license from the institution. You don't get funding from the national art councils. We're trying to change this wrong impression so that we can get funding for performance art. We still have to work very hard for that.
20 Amanda Heng's Triennale Significant Artwork: : Let’s ChatAmanda Heng's Triennale "Let's chat" performed in the KAWABATA shopping mall, located in Hakata district, Fukuoka city. Amanda, the artist, enjoyed her chat around the table mixed with little Japanese words. In addition to conducting her own performances and artist talks, Heng spent a great deal of time informally interacting with the people around her during her three-week stay. This interaction was Heng's own unique form of personal communication within two-meters in diameter distance.
21 Significant Artwork: : Let’s Chat The Unifying Power of Bean Sprouts For Heng, each day of the Triennale started with the cultivation of bean sprouts. While most of the artists preparing for their workshops came to the studio after ten o'clock, Heng always turned up at least an hour before everyone else. She carefully checked the germination of her bean sprouts, watered them, and adjusted the temperature. But, you may ask, what does a bean sprout have to do with art? Imagine: a big pile of bean sprouts at the center of a kitchen table, diminishing bit by bit as the roots are removed by friendly hands, warm conversation swirling around the table all the while. Heng fondly recalls that such scenes were everyday occurrences in her mother's kitchen. "Why does it have to be bean sprouts?" I queried. She answered my question with a friendly smile, "In Singapore, Chinese, as well as Malay and Indian people, like to eat bean sprouts. Whenever they see the pile of bean sprouts, they grin. Perhaps it is the same with Japanese people." Laughing, Heng explained, "We all share the same memory that we didn't like to help remove the roots from the bean sprouts and tried to escape from it. Bean sprouts can bring back our common childhood memories."
22 Significant Artwork: :Added Value” This performance, added value, a collage of women's lives and works juxtaposes video, sound, texts and live body. It is a critical inquiry into the notion of women's work in patriarchal capitalist culture: the task of being women. Women work for human reproduction, care and survival. The labouring sex, from the time girls are very small they learn that time is for work. But women's effort is still not considered to be ‘realwork’. In the home, women statistically appear as idle, economically inactive and dependent.
23 Significant Artwork: :Added Value” In Singapore, running a household and raising children was once the responsibility of parents. But today, this job is often relegated to an inexpensive foreign maid - another woman who often supports her own children from afar by caring for someone else’s family. In globalised economies, women represent much needed labour, often duplicating outside the house the functions they carried out in the home. Their labour is important but not valuable. Surplus benefit, added value, they nevertheless provide a vital competitive edge in the free market economy.
24 Amanda Heng "I Remember": An installation work that expores the contrasts between personal and public ways of commemorating and remembering, and the ways that everyday life is shaped by and shapes our recollections of the past.Let’s Walk with AmandaIndia