Lai Thi Dieu Ha by Distance

Proxy: Sara Holwerda

We sit in the Defibrillator Gallery, grouped around the light pool cast by a projector, having only recently received the news that Lai Thi Dieu Ha’s travel visa had not been approved.

It is 9 PM in Chicago, which makes it 9 AM tomorrow in Hanoi. Sara Holwerda enters the gallery, and begins walking around. She gives elementary school directives, “If you can hear me, raise your hand. If you can hear me, touch your nose.” She talks about the light spectrum; she lists objects, some of which have appeared in earlier festival programing: “tomatoes, brown paper bags.”

Meanwhile, Lai Thi Dieu Ha is Skyping us, and her Skype is projected against a large white wall. Ha walks through a courtyard in the Cultural Palace, a building close to the art school in Hanoi. She is framed by the columns in the promenade. She speaks and points at the building, points at a sign, the camera lingering: “It is forbidden to (what, we don’t know, it is pixilated beyond recognition, and the sound is cutting out).” It is forbidden to something. It is forbidden to many things, it seems. Ha is a single figure next to an institution. We totter a bit in the past, a little in the present. Ha, too, reflects on the past and present, but her memory is longer term. She says something about the legacy of the Soviet Union, the context of art in Vietnam.

Sara has been moving and speaking in stream of consciousness throughout, following directions given to her by Ha just a few hours ago.

Ha’s light clothes are pixilated and blend into the building. She has a short conversation with a man; he demurs behind a fan, not wanting to be filmed, and the audience laughs. A toddler and his adult are incidentally caught on camera. The little boy wanders and sometimes cackles and now is sitting on the smooth stone ground of the Cultural Palace.

Following the performance, the audience’s attention is directed to Nora Taylor, who gives context to the piece, and briefs the audience on some of Ha’s previous performances: Ha was naked, covered in a sticky liquid, rolled in feathers, placed a live bird in her mouth and then let it free; Ha rubbed ginger over her body until a rash formed; Ha took a razor to the sides of her eyes causing tears of blood to run down her face; Ha ironed pig skin onto her own skin.

A somewhat deeper understanding of Ha’s situation in Vietnam creates a moment of closeness to the artist, despite her physical distance. Happily, we learn that Ha’s very recently granted travel visa will last a year, and Joseph Ravens hints that there is a possibility that she will travel to Chicago relatively soon. We leave the meditative, mediated performance with the hopes of a future one lingering in our minds.

Mothergirl (Katy Albert and Sophia Hamilton) is a Chicago based performance duo whose work has taken the form of installation, durational event, and guided audience interaction. Mothergirl’s characters, and the worlds they inhabit, exhibit a strategically refracted or misrepresented view of current political and philosophical discourse, creating a space where viewers are challenged to think critically about their own relationships with feminism, consumerism, and representational visuality. They have performed at Rapid Pulse International Performance Art Festival (2013), MCA Chicago, Rough Trade II Artist Exchange, Out of Site, and Roxaboxen. They were 2012 ACRE Residents and 2013 Chicago Artists Coalition HATCH Residents.