Amanda 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.
Fukuoka recently welcomed Singapore's Amanda Heng, who took part in the Triennale exchange programs during the month of May. 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.
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."
During the Triennale, many people were attracted by the bean sprouts and casual conversation in Heng's work, "Let's Chat." The same performance in the Kawabata Shopping Arcade proved to be equally memorable, if a bit more challenging. The table was set but, unlike the museum crowds, passers-by who were not especially art-inclined initially had to be persuaded to sit at the table. "I was asked the challenging question of what the art was. I answered by saying that this table is not a place for academic discussion, but a place where we find a little happiness in everyday life, and I want to offer an opportunity and space where people can appreciate the fun of chatting with others." Perhaps, thanks to the unifying power of bean sprouts, the image of modern art has changed somewhat in the minds of the questioners.
The Meeting of Two Women in front of "Another Woman"
"Communication: Channels for Hope" was the theme for The First Fukuoka Triennale. It focused on the potential in recent Asian art to create new channels of communication. This potential was not limited to just the art and the people who appreciated it. It also encouraged communication among the artists and their diverse works, generating a certain energy among them.
Toward the end of the Triennale, I invited Heng to view the exhibits with me. Near the entrance was her work, "Another Woman." A woman approached Heng and asked, "I see a mother and daughter holding each other. Is this a theme of reconciliation between the two?" "No," replied Heng, "they were not opposed to each other. This was a performance meant to deepen the communication between them, as women, and as human beings, not as mother and daughter." It was interesting to observe that, during this conversation, the relationship between the two women seemed to have gone beyond their roles as artist and viewer.
In the Triennale, Heng directed our attention to the importance of communication within an arm's reach, a valuable form of interaction which is possibly becoming obsolete. Indeed, by taking part in the event and communicating with others here, Heng herself has perhaps gained some insight into her own future creations.