Stand-out performance

Participants in white laboratory coats are guided through exercises and tasks by facilitators in coloured coats. PHOTO: KONG CHONG YEW



The LGB Society Of Mind Singapore International Festival Of Arts

72-13/ Thursday

I Am LGB is complex, clever and disarmingly charming. It is a work of performance art staggering in its scope, requiring participation from about 100 ticketholders at a time.

The four-hour experience is similar to the Real Escape series of games popular in Singapore, in which participants enter a space and can exit it only after solving a series of tests and puzzles. Participants are guided through these by an array of facilitators, as well as the creating artists.

In the Real Escape series, the point of the activity is competition and being the quickest to solve word problems. I Am LGB starts off the same, but in the end, requires more self-reflection and less skill at maths. Earlier activities are set up to encourage cooperation and also sympathy for faceless government, which must impose order on chaos. As the evening proceeds, groups are decimated and individual thinking is emphasised.

All the while, videos boom in the background, bringing in the voice of fictional artist Lan Gen Bah, whose mother was said to have created the slavish group-think model used by Mao Zedong during the Cultural Revolution in China.

Lan Gen Bah is the creation of American performance artist and academic Ray Langenbach, whose work is critical to the development of I Am LGB. For those in the know, the evening is peppered with references to those who defined the trajectory of performance art here, including Josef Ng, Lucy Davis and Lee Weng Choy.

Nearly 23 years ago, officialdom came down heavily on performance artists, following Ng's Brother Cane piece, in which he snipped his pubic hair at a performance with his back turned to the audience. This year, I Am LGB is created with the help of and staged by Singapore's flagship arts festival.

Josef is the name adopted by Loo Zihan, the key developer of I Am LGB and an artist whose more prominent works involve restaging important moments in the history of Singapore's arts scene.

Other members of The LGB Society Of Mind, such as Bani Haykal, Lee Mun Wai and Shawn Chua, take on the monikers of other historically important performance artists and academics.

Videos, photos and replicas of their work are made available to participants at various stages. Access to these may be easy or difficult, depending on the choices made by the participants.

Through the evening, participants are guided to think and not just consume. Asked to dance, the equally clumsy find comfort in clowning around together, for example, but what if they move beyond the traditional understanding of what constitutes dance?

The evening parallels the school system in Singapore and the rest of Asia, where uniformity, obedience and good grades are emphasised. Such qualities get one through different levels, but what is the point of it all? Is escaping the room a real escape if that means missing out on an eventual payoff from the system?

I Am LGB is a stand-out example of what performance art can accomplish if allowed scope.

It leads one to consider just why Real Escape games have become so popular in Singapore.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 20, 2016, with the headline Stand-out performance. Subscribe