Every Good Body Dances
Lasting just a quarter of an hour, Kray Chen’s work traverses a spectrum of emotions. With simple means, the artist gradually brings the viewer from a state of joy to complete solemnity. Working with a band of musicians led by the singer Florin Boita from Timișoara, the artist slows down the tempo four times. From its original rhythm of 150 beats per minute, the song repeats at 100, 50, 25, then 12 beats. The variety of tempo is met in other types of performance in the region, such as csárdás, a Hungarian traditional folk dance which, conversely, starts out slowly and progresses to a fast rhythm. A similar experience of intensity is conveyed in Chen’s work through a single long take which lends the work more towards performance, rather than video. Entitled Yesterday I Went to the Village Priest, the song is written by Boita, who continues the tradition of Banat folk music, renowned for its fast and engaging sound. The group of amateur dancers brought together by the artist adjust their movements to the changes of the tune. They form together an open circle, a type of dance that is known locally as a hora and it is performed in this region during different social occasions such as weddings, christenings, birthday parties, etc.
In his work, the artist often explores a variety of forms through which bodies are governed and regulated, from gestures taken from the everyday to the language of ceremonial and marching music. The artist treats daily or official performances as scores that are staged in isolation from their original context and usage simply to highlight their ritualistic nature. As with any other performance, the exercise of slowing down is practiced and rehearsed, challenging the habits or the mood of the dancers, signs that are visible in the work. The performance of slowness is as dramatic and intense as the fast-paced showmanship.
Kray Chen (b. 1987, Singapore)
In Singapore, we were drilled from a young age that “Singapore’s only resource is human resource”. My practice is autoethnographic, and investigates, through my own body and personal experiences, the body politic in Singapore and the social engineering which establish the body as capital. With an obese body, I feel its inertia towards the ultra-efficiency on which the state prides itself; burlesque in its size and, thus, a diss to manhood, masculinity and the gendered markers of success. From here, I expand my interests to the performance of masculinity, examining the underlying Confucian patriarchy that defines merit, scholarship, militarization and nationalism. Through my lens on Singapore and its conflicting sets of Western and Confucian values, I hope to contribute to the discourse on the mitotic politics and growing problems facing globalizing societies.