Q&A: Malvina Tan

A postscript with Malvina Tan, after her performance at this summer’s Freshly Packed.

SOMETHING HUMAN: As an artist, what attracts you to your subject matters?

MALVINA: My subject matters are more often than not, inspired by my personal life experiences.  I feel that my works are transparent, whereby my art making process and my everyday life, they usually overlap each other, and I do not attempt to draw a line to separate both entities.  And because I am always using my own experiences in my art, I have an obsession in preserving my memory of these experiences; I somehow try my best in most of the works that I do, to transform the intangibility of a memory into something more tangible.  This method, or so I think, allows me to extend the livelihood of these memories that I am afraid I might forget at some point in my life.  In a sense, I try to use my art as a physical archive of my memories.

Photo by Hazmi Hasan

SOMETHING HUMAN: Could you please tell us a little more about your individual practice, and how it might relate to these performances?

MALVINA: I am a mixed media installation artist and also a performance artist.  I explore works that deal with the idea of corporeality; this allows me to make sense of the untouchable aspects of my subject matters. In my performance for Something Human’s FRESHLY PACKED\ALWAYS CHECK THE LABEL series, I presented a piece entitled 130912 (if i can’t love you, it will kill me).  I used Skype technology to present this performance, exploring varying themes such as distance, time, staying connected and even being disconnected, love, life and death.  The performance depicts the time when my late husband’s diagnosis of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma first came to light, and the both of us were in separate countries, and we only had Skype to depend on.  In my performance, I was trying to mirror my late husband’s everyday mundane actions, such as sleeping, drinking water, watching television etc.  By doing this, it was a way for me to absorb myself into his physical being, and to become him.  Hence, I was trying to copy his actions carried out by his corporeal self, in hopes to make sense of the intangible aspects (i.e. feelings of detachment) that floated around my late husband and i during this difficult time.  In addition, my performance was somehow ritualistic, because I felt that if I could mirror his actions, I could become him, and offer him nourishment and I would be able to extend his mortality.

Photo by Hazmi Hasan

SOMETHING HUMAN: For this performance, what do you hope to achieve/hope to make happen, with this mode of live performances?

MALVINA: My aim for this performance was somehow to be able to make sense of what happened to the relationship between my husband and I, when I found out that he was diagnosed with cancer, and I was not there with him physically.  By making use of this significant memory of my late husband and I, and by somewhat re-enacting what happened between my late husband and I, I used this as the basis of my live performance.  That particular incident that my late husband and I experienced was based on us being apart, and we only had Skype technology to communicate with each other, it was seemingly the only way that we could bond despite being apart, because we could still look at each other via the video feed, still listen to each other via the audio feed, and still able to send each other virtual messages via the online message feed.  This replaces what we could not get from each other, physical touch, physical intimacy, physicality.  Thus, how Skype helped us through a difficult time, I wanted to use Skype as a mode of my live performance to re-illustrate how a mere computer technology can entirely change a relationship.

photo by annie jael kwan
photo by annie jael kwan

SOMETHING HUMAN: What do you think of performing for a Skype audience? What do you think that means for live performance?

MALVINA: Performing for a Skype audience was definitely a different experience.  I was unable to clearly see who I was performing to and I was unable to experience the tangibility of their physical being.  This means that the usual connection that a performer and an audience has, is transformed; there is a barrier.  However, Skype technology itself is an attempt to break this barrier.  Hence, through video feed, audio feed, and even through online instant messaging, this barrier is being penetrated, and I am still able to somehow connect with my audience, even if it means not connecting via a typical way.  In addition, with the penetration of this barrier, it only means that distance and time, is less of an issue between 2 people who are apart, or for this per se, the performer and audience relationship that seems disconnected is connected once again.  I enjoyed the fact that the audience could send me instant messages, asking me questions about the performance, or commenting about the performance, as and when they liked, and I could choose to reply or not to reply as and when I liked.  I feel that this shows how human beings have a strong desire to connect with each other physically, and if this is not an option, we will attempt to connect in other ways, and in this case, via instant messages.  In a way, the fact that both the audience and I are unable to look at each other clearly, changes how a typical performer and audience setting would interact with each other.  From experience, there are times where the audience I am performing in front of are not exactly receptive when I invite them to be an active participant in my performance piece, I suppose perhaps they are shy.  But in this case of Skype, the audience are more bold, because they would not feel intimidated by my physical being as they are not directly in front of me, and they are more willing to interact with me- posting questions for me via instant messaging.  Moreover, the idea of live performance is certainly altered with the use of Skype technology, as now performance art can be portable.

SOMETHING HUMAN:  What next, for these performance works as well as your individual work?

MALVINA: 130912 is actually a bigger project, which I am currently working on.  It is a mixed media installation that explores my late husband’s journey with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  It also entails my journey going through his cancer diagnosis.  This installation will be presented in May 2014.  However, I have been creating other sub-series of works connected to 130912, and 130912 (if i can’t love you, it will kill me), is one of my performance art works that falls under this sub-series of works.  Recently, I created an installation entitled, somewhat peaceful for approximately 7 hours, which falls under the sub-series of works for 130912, the work was exhibited in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, at Via Via Jogja, alongside works by other artists.  Also, I will be presenting a new performance art piece in Singapore, for Making Space, Body as Woman, which is a parallel event of the Singapore Biennale 2013- If The World Changed.  This will happen on 30 October – 3 November 2013, which will feature performances by women artists and there will be performance art workshops conducted as well.


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