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Utang Na Loob

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A journal entry after performing the first iteration of this piece: 

Quebec City;

I had trouble conceptualizing this particular performance night. It was a carte blanche, open theme with no restrictions. I got overwhelmed by the open theme because my brain sprouted different concepts all at once. I was nervous because I could only think of starting points but never had a concrete middle or ending. It was only in the last week of preparation that I figured out what I wanted to do.

Utang na Loob is the title of the piece. It means "eternal gratitude" or "forever in debt" in English. I took a big part of the piece from an idea I proposed for a DIY art show I was part of last year that didn’t come to fruition. Thank God I did it for this event.

I had many ideas on how to start the performance. I played around with sequencing and compartmentalization, something I’m not used to in designing works. I was inspired by one of the artists who was part of the event, Francis O'Shaughnessy, a known Quebec performance artist. I wanted to show parts of setting up the grounds of the performance and also experiment with how I could ease the audience into interacting with me throughout.

The outline of the performance is written somewhere in my journal or in a Google document. Some parts are very specific and have to be done in a particular way, such as the first two main parts: sweeping the floor discreetly while people are still on break, and painting my nails before mopping the floor.

The first part was interesting. Some people didn’t budge when I was sweeping, some thought I was a staff member just cleaning the space, and others whispered to themselves, “Is this a performance? Is she performing?” There was mixed confusion and giggles in the beginning. As I made my way to the center of the spotlight, people gradually understood it was part of my performance, and they eventually became quieter.

 

Silence filled the room, and I proceeded to the next part.

The painting of my nails was one of the important symbols in this piece. The vibrant blue color represents Quebec and the act of putting it on represents many things but focused on the pampering of the self and the idealization of holding the self in a higher perspective because of the first world society it enacted. I was blowing my nails in a posh manner. Delicately maneuvering my hands and fingers in such a chic way. I made the audience blow on my fingers too. Directing them more than forcing them to participate. This is a way for me to ease them into the performance.                         

                                                                                                                                        I also think it's a foreshadowing of what was coming.

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The audience enjoyed me going around the room and asked people to blow on my nails.From a distance, it looks like they are about to kiss my hand—mirroring how royalty has people kiss their giant jeweled ring or hand to show praise and loyalty. The way that everybody was seated and I was standing made it look like these people were inferior to me, which connects to what the title meant.

 

In this scenario, the perspective shows that the room is showing their eternal gratitude to me. And their conscious voluntary response to blow my nails emphasizes this sort of submission and loyalty. After the loop around the room, I went back to my spot and painted my toenails. The audience giggled, thinking they’d have to blow my toenails next. 

Still wet, I took the bucket of water and proceeded to mop the floor using my skirt. Half naked, I started pretty strong and confident but as I moved from one side to another, I slowly started showing exhaustion. My lacquered nails were distorted and dirtied. No one is laughing anymore. The room fell more silent. You can only hear my hard breathing. I took my shirt next to go over the floor and polish it. Completely naked, I now submit my fragility into the eyes of the audience. Now the control is on them. Although with a bit of confidence, I went to the remaining corners of the room to gather the setup for the next part. Me walking naked between people spread out my presence. The close range encounter with the naked body allowed me to break into their bubble, even by just walking past them. I don't know how the people felt though.

After finishing the setup: two clothes racks, hangers, a bucket of water and a bag of clothes, I started one by one taking the pieces of clothing and hanging them on the clothes rack. The final thing in the bag was a rope that I was going to use in one alternate ending. The way Bolduc prepped the rope for me looks like a noose which I thought would be interesting to hang within the mix of clothing. Some people gasped.

After the setup was completed. I stood between the two racks and waited. The wait was long. Approximately 3 minutes or a bit more. I told Bolduc to time it 3 minutes and to be the first one to interact if no one dared to be the first–which is exactly what happened. He put a brown button down shirt on me and right away another person came to dress me. The second person used the rope in his styling. I followed my outline, and took the outfit after a minute and dunked in water. I was naked again. And soon after another person came to put my blue-green button down shirt, just over my shoulders. I took it off and off it went to the water. Afterwards, I waited some time again. Jela came in and put an outfit on me and the chaos started. 

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I wasn't sure the chronology of what came because frankly I was dissociating really hard. Or the mechanism I told myself to stick to to not break. I was interested in what’s happening around me but also wanted to limit my perspective within what my peripherals showed.

Here’s a list of what happened (in my best knowledge)

 

1- two women came to reapply nail polish on my toes and proceeded to blow on them

2- a person dipped their jacket in the bucket behind me and hung it on the clothes rack

3- a person used their scarf to clean my legs and feet

4- a person came to reapply nail polish on my toes and proceeded to blow on them

5- a person came to dip their sweater in the bucket of water and mopped the floor with it

6- a man came to untangle the knotted rope (or the other way) behind me

7- three women came to untangle the rope and proceeded to tie it in one end of the room to another

8- people or a person came and took out the wet clothes and hung them back in the clothes rack

9- the same women took the wet clothes and hung theme in the now clothing line across the room

10- a woman took a wet tank top and put it on me

11- a woman took the wet jacket and put it on me

12- a woman immediately came to take off the wet jacket and dried my shoulders and arms with a dry piece of clothing

And finally, a woman of color went in front of me and took my hands and led me outside. The performance finished. 

 

It was pretty wild. And I was able to keep a straight face all throughout. 

There were many pebbles to pick up from this experience.. I have yet still the conclusion of  which grain to keep and which to dissolve.  Frankly, the concept of defining roles and embodying the exchange of gratitude is continually evolving, which I have had the taste of both within and outside the confines of hierarchical structures. What do I know....

Text was written about my first experience in performing this peice. The photos are from the second iteration, taken by Andy Tran and Vincent Bolduc

Million thank you to these people;

Mai Bach-Ngoc Nguyen for inviting me! And to my newly found Quebec city homies: Tristan and Pepe <3 

Jela and Bolduc for accompanying me to Quebec

To the folks of Outremont Gallery that allowed me to perform this piece in Montreal;

                                 

                                                                                           To La Centrale Powerhouse gallery

                                                   

                  To my dear friends and everyone that participated <3

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