Learning how to sketch and read bodies in Eng Kai Er's (Kai) Posing Questions is almost akin to my journey in learning to pen reviews with no prior experience in the scene, or in critical writing – like being blindfolded and feeling around in the dark, but given a lot of freedom and leeway to do it in any way I wish. There is no disciplinarian or authoritative figure to say you’re doing it wrong, but also none to guide you along. There must be an authority somewhere out there who may propose or advocate a ‘right’ method, but right here right now in this contained room, there is no expectations for a ‘right’ method.
One is both flattered and frightened by that thought at the same time.
Posing Questions has Kai literally going through the repertoire of poses she dispenses when modelling for life drawing classes, and we get to observe and/or to sketch her. The setup is pretty straightforward and unostentatious: A round of easels where each audience takes up, and several crates, boxes as platforms for Kai to model atop. So, I guess if you take the title of the performance literally, you have Kai’s original impetus that triggered this show (I think): Questions about posing as a body model for art(ists). As I was typing this sentence, I became unsure of the owner of the questions. Her questions? Others' questions about her? Others' questions about becoming a life drawing model? Others' questions about the role of the model?
Or another way I see it is: The whole setup asking me about posing questions in an unfamiliar environment, like as a critic, or at least mildly, as a reviewer. How do I compose myself in an unfamiliar environment; how do I navigate the environment, what do I do with my eyes, my hands, the charcoal in my hand, the pen in my hand, the keyboard keys that I tap? What do I do with the things I see with my eyes; what do I do with the questions that appear in my head as my eyes watch? Where do I begin asking questions? Kai pauses in each pose but quickly morphs into the next form as I try to wrap my head around things and questions swarming about in the room, in my headspace. To me, I feel like she is in constant movement even though she isn’t. And all I could do was to quickly capture the lines and curves of her figure as she moves, and quiet my brain.
My mind took a break when her pre-recorded monologue comes through the sound system. After so long, I barely remembered what she spoke about, perhaps the preparation procedures before entering the life drawing class disrobed, but even now, I can recall the warmth and calmness of the tone of her voice.
By then, she has climbed up to a corner of the room, high above the cupboards that lined the walls, staring back at us, reverting the authority and gaze in the room. Previously, she was the object (seemingly) we were trying to paint, but now, she has the upper hand, gaining the overview of the entire room. Or perhaps, we were her object all this while; there was never a reversal of power.
And that describes exactly how I feel each time I try to pen a review. Wondering if I grasped hold of the play as an object, or was I too afraid all this time, trapped in the imagined authority of the play (playwright/ performers/ company reputation, etc.) and was the object all along?
This review unfolded itself in my head halfway translating the lecture notes by Liu Xiaoyi for a Chinese Language Review Writing workshop. I just finished translating the line
“What is at the heart of reviews? Questions.”
And Kai’s performance popped into my head. Something clicked. And this is the first time, I did not have to edit myself while my thoughts get translated into the words that I type on the keyboard. Editing your thoughts as they get translated into words can be very annoying. I can say that this essay is as true to my thoughts as can be in my history of writing.
performed by Eng Kai Er
Date: 8, 10, 11 Apr 2019
Venue: Georgette Chen Arts Studio, Yale NUS College
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