Category Archives: Latai

Bower Envy

Sunday, November 20, 2011

On the first Tuesday that we were here, after much discussion in the studio, everyone was excited to take a walk around Bundanon and make our way to the river. We went up the amphitheatre and down again, and crossed a few paddocks before deciding to leave the river to be found another day.

(See photos of the walk here
See photos of the river here and here)

A few meters down from amphitheatre, we found a bower bird’s bower, and most of us were quite flabbergasted to see it because we had never actually seen a bower bird’s bower before. It was just as I read in those nature books in our grade school library – the circular reshaping of the grass, the soft bed in the center, the scattering of blue objects in the center. In this bower, there were a couple of blue feathers, some blue paper and a bottle top.


Latai had been bringing around a blue tarpaulin, basically playing around with it, creating images with the imposed object in the space. When she saw the bower bird, she decided to create her own bower with her tarp, hoping to make the bower bird envious.

On Sunday morning, Latai set up her bower beside the bower bird’s nest and included a lot of “found objects” around the house – including a chair Simon found by the river, a couple of mugs, a tea towel and a canister from the kitchen, Doris’ bathing suit and Alfira’s bikini top, which, when reported missing, Vicki responded with a straight face, “Your swimmers are missing? Since when?” Leigh also sacrificed his Prostate Cancer Awareness bangle to the bower bird, and the next day, they found that the bower bird had taken that and placed it in his own bower, as well as a washing peg and bits of paper, in effect fulfilling Latai’s intention to make the bower bird jealous. That Sunday before he left for Adelaide, they recorded Leigh doing a David Attenborough commentary on this special breed of bower bird.

Latai took the bower down on Monday, after showing it to the students engaged in the Bundanon education program, who were scheduled to visit on Monday at 1pm. They kept bits of blue paper and disposable objects in case the bower bird would like them. When Helen checked on the bower bird the next day, she was happy to report that the bower bird had indeed taken all the othe objects from the bower and placed into his own.

Latai talking about her bower to the Bundanon educational exchange students


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Empathy For Those Under the Ice

Thursday, November 17, 2011

After the initial ice experiment under the trees by the Writer’s cottage, the participants regrouped and discussed impressions and concerns.

Vicki says that she was pretending to be an oppressor and “really enjoyed my role, I must admit.” She notes that Latai’s position (with her hands bound behind her back with rope) was “loaded. The other positions were like science experiments.” She also talks about how when Cat was sitting in the chair, her head was not fully supported and Fitri had to move her arms at some point.

Latai says that when the ice was swinging, there were moments of recovery. “On the same spot, it’s relentless. But the music was soothing.”

Latai is primarily concerned with the effects of the experiment on the participants. “Is it necessary to push that boundary of the person?” she asks. “Is it necessary to make you feel like you’re losing your mind?”

Leigh agrees that there is some involvement in the part that you play, and maybe this kind of boundary pushing is indeed necessary. He says actors can get too involved with the work, and mentions how Doris Day does mostly comedy because she can really get carried away with the role
“What you want to convey doesn’t have to have the same danger,” he warns.

Rhiannon asked what the people would be wearing. From her own experience, she thinks that if there was more bare skin, “you’d have more multiple points of contact.” Latai has been thinking of using the naked body and using binding techniques. Though having seen Cat and Rhiannon in the heavy clothing caught her interest also.

Leigh has a list of observations made during the experiment and promises to send this list to Latai.

Simon admits that he tried his head first and couldn’t go on with it, that he couldn’t cope with the sense of loss of control. Later he tried his feet, which he felt had more to do with Latai’s bigger picture of the sea rising.

Doris suggests the idea of the audience getting their feet wet as well, so that they can also feel that discomfort. She also asks Latai if she intends to go on with the bonding, given that it can look perversely disturbing.

Latai says she’s seduced by some ideas concerning bondage. Leigh affirms that the binding had a somewhat religious aspect to it.

Latai also discusses how she wishes to impact the audience in another way. “I mean, would they see what their choices do to other people. Did anybody have empathy with anybody?” Vicki says she didn’t, and how it would be difficult to empathize with anyone presenting themselves as a spectacle. Leigh comments that needing to pay someone to go under the ice changes it, and Vicki half jokes that they’ll have to be paid, “Because nobody in their right mind would do this voluntarily… Except us…”

To this, Latai agrees and says she feels as if the stakes have to be dangerously high. She asks if this will create more feeling for the subject or just serve to demonize the audience?

Leigh tells her it’s good that we should discuss what happened today, but not expect to solve the problems of the performance yet.

Doris shares how her father underwent water torture which furthers interest in Latai, because the point is how the body is shaped under these conditions.

Fitri shares that she was quite comfortable until Ron started asking if she was feeling all right. Suddenly started feeeling the oppression of the ice. With her eyes open, she could see what she was dealing with, but still easier to see what she was dealing with.

Vicki poses, what if everyone did it everyday? She adds that in performance, if wetting the feet is out of the question, Latai could “offer the people an ice cube to hold.”

Fitri contributes that there is a sinister idea that ice blocks are suspended from a tree, as that’s usually where people are hanged. Rhiannon reiterates that there is something odd about having ice on the landscape.

Vicki suggestd that it could also be helpful to discover the everyday tasks that can be done alternatively to address the situation, an everyday mundane event. Simon pitches in about using objects that are washed up and not organic from the sea. Jerome shares an experience where his home was flooded, prompting Vicki to suggest an “alternate task is to take stock what’s in your house floating around.”

Saturday, November 19, 2011

There were new rules for the ice experiment on the evening of Saturday. There will be silence (broken sometimes by people walking in late), addressing the concern that it should feel like there aren’t people around, and an external voice changed the experience of being under the ice. Latai was going to bind people, and Cat offered to do the experiment topless.

Doris helped Latai string up the blocks of ice on the beams over the welcome platform outside the Dorothy Potter dance studio. Inside the studio, Doris set up the projector to produce the only light in the area while Jerome set up some very ambient music. In contrast to the contrapuntal music that he played earlier, this was more of a drone of sound, serving the eerieness and creepiness of the moment.

Ly Ly and Cat started out under the ice, both lying supine. The ice hit Ly Ly’s forehead, while Cat was receiving her cold drops on her bare chest. Cat’s hands were bound in front of her while Latai bound Ly Ly’s feet. They were joined by Rhiannon, who lay down on her stomach, exposing her back. She pushed the top of her dress down to feel the impact of the ice on more bare skin. Her arms were tied behind her.

Fitri sat down under a block of ice, crouched forward so that the ice hit the nape of her neck. Later, she would lie on her back to receive the ice full on in her face. Latai tied her own hands behind her back and sat in a similar way beside Fitri, but topless. When Cat got up, Latai moved to her block of ice and lay on her side, to receive the drops on her neck.

Everyone agreed that the darkness, the music and the new setting changed the situation of the experiment, there were more allusions to torture and pain, and definitely more, much more empathy (Maybe except from Margie who stood over each participant and, devoid of emotion, snapped photos, more concerned with the shots she took than with the bodies at her feet). Leigh Warren called them “Very brave girls.”

At one point, Latai would look up from her position on her side, and she must have just been checking on everyone, but the visual image she gave off was as if she were in a desperate amount of pain.

Ly Ly, who stayed there the longest, and didn’t get up even after people would ask her if she were okay (because she was shivering like crazy) likened the experience to having an operation. The first time she had an operation, she was very brave, but the second time, she was scared to go under the knife because she knew what to expect. In this instance, she probably would think twice about going under the ice again.

Although it was indeed very cold, while they were under the ice, it became less about the cold and more about “being in a vulnerable state.” Fitri wasn’t bound, but it she felt very afraid of being under the ice this time around, whereas she was “a superhuman” (Vicki Van Hout 2011) the other day.

I took several photos but have decided not to post them all, and sent them to Latai for her use. If any of the participants in the experiment would like copies of these photos, please just let me know.

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Under the ice



I know I’m not done with the intros, but to keep this still updated in real time, I’m updating snippets via mobile (yay wordpress app). We’ve moved into the first collaboration exercise, which is Latai’s experiment. It’s freezing cold by the way so Latai, Cat, Rhiannon, Fitri and Simon are quite brave.

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That’s where the movement is, that’s what dance is for me

Intro: Latai Taumeopeau

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Latai Taumeopeau discusses her interest in a performance installation involving blocks of ice and invisible, intangible cultural heritage. Her initial ideas were just about the idea of working with ice, but it somehow transformed into an addressing of global warming. She mentions how she wants to “parallel chinese water torture with people leaving their homes because the ice is melting.” Mostly, she says, it is observing ice and the human body and seeing what movements can be generated from that. During these two weeks, she hopes to find a way to suspend ice in the landscape and find points of interest on where the ice hits the body.

As the others offer their responses to what she wants to do (including Jerome bringing up the water villages described in Steven Oppenheimer’s book, Eden in East), Latai smiles and admits this relief in “Holding on to an idea for ages and now it’s public knowledge and you can move on.”

She also shares scope and logistics of the work that have occured to her: that it is durational, and she will have to surrender another body to keep the movement going, and does this affect the work? She is currently collaborating with somebody who specializes in Japanes rope binding, and says she likes the sexual illusion of it.

This opens a rather meaty discussion as everyone raises their immediate responses to Latai’s planned project.

Vicki posits that when the event is finally staged, how does the audience’s knowledge of it as being “staged” affect the work. Particularly she asks, “How do you give them the same sense of desperation? How do you manufacture it so that the audience can empathize with you? How do you frame it?”

Cat likes the appeal of entering the work as a ritual.

Jerome asks, what if the performer is being suspended amd held up by block of ice, and that when the ice melts, the person drops.

Doris suggests that the audience should be close so that people can feel the discomfort that the performer feels.

Margie offers that, in the city, the ice will probably behave conditionally and differently from at Bundanon. There’s the condition of chance. She agrees with Doris in that “by getting a big public space, you’ll lose that sense of intimacy.”

Fitri has already worked with ice blocks, inspired by an experience in Bali, for a performance art laboratory in 2009. It was raining heavily, and there was a leak in the studio, where drops fell into a strategically-placed cup. The participants of the lab worked in the same space but individually and Fitri placed her head over the cup, catching the drops of water in her head. After a couple of hours, she pulled her t-shirt over her head, but didn’t move away from the leak. In effect, she was not consciously moving the body, her body moved on its own to find relief. Last year, she worked with ice in performances, based on the idea of the body being trapped in a block of ice. In this work, she was exploring her own mystic relationship with the earth.

Margie asks Latai about her interest in intangible cultural heritage, and she discusses how she is playing with other kinds of disciplines because of this interest, particularly the disparity of the value of objects to their creators vs the value placed by collectors/ institutions. Latai wants to use the body and movement to generate or show the difference in values.

Latai voices her frustration at “How Museums treat us as we’re dead,” meaning with no access to the people, and using a romanticized view of history. “I’m alive and live in this practice.” For Latai, activating, being active and present in the performance has power, can empower.

Latai discusses a recent collaboration she did, but I will not discuss details here, only responses of the facilitators and other participants.

Leigh Warren shares how he was part of an exercise where the group of dancers had to look back and explore their past. This action of going back and tracing your lineage brings an integrity to the work, which discusses indigenous identity.

There is digression wherein the definition of the word “Indigenous” may be inappropriate, but Simon states it simply means belonging to a place, while Vicki opines that it’s not a slur, as much as it is a fact. Latai also affirms that “indigenous” is a scientific term, meaning the people from the place of origin, used in a “Land-based culture where place and person are not separate and are indeed one thing.”

Simon adds, “Hang on, we all live here. Things are changing all the time and we struggle with all these things that are changing.”

Doris points out that it seems to her that the contemporary aspect is a Western aspect, perhaps a Western perspective? To which Latai replies that it doesn’t make the perspective non-Tongan. This inspires a discussion of tradition as a practice of the cultural context.
“The rituals of today will someday become a Tradition.”

“But a point of difference must be found somewhere,” Vicki reminds.

Fitri shares that she was born in a generation without a strong cultural background and when she gets involved with traditions, she doesn’t feel she has a problem engaging with different traditions, though she does feel that it isn’t necessary. This meeting is good for her to engage with other traditional and non- traditional practices. Dance is not just about physical movement but all kinds of ideas and concepts. Her parents taught her how to walk but not how to live, she learned to live by herself.

Jerome also shares that he has a very difficult time to explain Malaysian culture, mainly because he came from a broken family, and grew up with Chinese traditions of his mother and none of the Malay traditions of his father. People ask him if he know indigenous Malaysian art or music forms and are very disappointed if he doesn’t.

Latai discusses how “We’ve become quite obsessive about preservation,” and says dances that were performed traditionally should only be preserved if they still hold the same function that they had originally. Artists are meant to interpret these traditions and even keep it alive in multiple forms. Maintaining tradition necessarily asks, “Why does this dance exist?”
“There’s no point in passing on the same tradition when its original purpose doesn’t exist anymore.”

Vicki shares how she did a work called My Right Foot Your Right Foot, which used a traditional
spearing dance that was performed traditionally to teach the youth how to spear a fish. Today, this work is performed for tourists who will give the dancers money to buy fish in the supermarket. The function of the dance is still survival and a great example as to how the tradition should be passed on.

With this, Margie calls us to take a lunch break, as it was already almost 2pm.

(Blogger’s Note: This will be the only blog entry that will be this detailed. Funnily enough, it is the first one, and I realized I couldn’t keep up with the stream of ideas of the next sessions. This is not to say that the others did not offer up topics that weren’t as interesting as in Latai’s introduction, just that I need to consolidate everything else if I want to be more up-to-date with the blogging 🙂 Thanks and cheers, Joelle)

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