BY Michael Ned Holte in News | 12 JUN 05
Featured in
Issue 92

Terence Koh

The Voyage of Lady Midnight Snowdrops Through Double Star Death

BY Michael Ned Holte in News | 12 JUN 05

Despite the pretentious title, Terence Koh’s performance one late Spring evening was decidedly more preposterous than pretentious: it took nearly as long to read the title of the work as to see it. A crowd of about 150 had gathered outside the black and white Chinese façade of Peres Projects on Chung King Road, facing a stage covered in shredded silver foil and adorned with several sculpture-props covered in sundry Chinese gewgaws coated in tarry black.

This seemed an auspicious backdrop for a performance that intimated grand Beijing-style opera delivered as street theatre, but from the start Koh’s Voyage seemed susceptible to misfires. Behind a portable black curtain one could glimpse the artist’s elaborate head-dress getting entangled in wires securing a black obelisk sculpture. Nervous titters ensued, and by the time Koh, billed as Beijing diva Ms Xu Han Wei for the first act, appeared on-stage wielding a testicular black barbell and feverishly fending off a ‘vulture from a very distant galaxy’ (picture a stringy black wig set alight and suspended from the balcony above), some in attendance were laughing in apparent anticipation of the artist’s imminent self-immolation. This silliness may have been intentional, underlining the ‘sham’ in ‘shaman’.

During intermission the stage was sprinkled with Koh’s ‘signature’ white flour, a substance whose appearance hinted at transformation while hardly presenting the literal and metaphorical slipperiness of precursors such as Joseph Beuys’ fat or Matthew Barney’s petroleum jetty. Wearing a white robe, Koh knelt below a prop that looked like a blobby Cy Twombly sculpture outfitted with a stick and two pendular balls, and opened a series of white boxes while warbling a ‘libretto’ in faux Chinese falsetto. After finding a gold foil mask in the final box, he plastered it to his face with corn syrup, and the spectacle abruptly ended.

Between its fits and starts, the two-act performance felt too hastily enacted: the white powder of the second act may have suggested one reason for the event’s accelerated intensity and Koh’s jittery hands, not to mention the attendant delusions of grandeur. But whatever trip the artist was on, I found myself impossibly longing for the languid elegance of Jack Smith, as defined by Stefan Brecht: ‘No pressure, no hurry, no urgency – an infinitely slow, almost pointless, but quite necessary ceremony – theatre’. Unlike Smith, Koh sped past that crucial ‘almost’ and went straight to the pointless, proving all that glitters is not necessarily necessary.