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ISSUE 36 : Be Queer, Be Positive
Queering My Remembrance: A Conversation with Loo Zihan
February 5th, 2018Type: Performance
Author: Hsu, Fang-tze , 戚育瑄 (翻譯) Editor: Rikey Tenn
Note: This article is HSU Fang-Tze’s interview with LOO Zihan, a Singaporean artist, talking about his perspective on the relationship between reenactment, archives and the context of reality in Singapore. When it comes to the media he chooses to present his work, Loo says: “I did have many choices, such as performing according to the record of the archives. However, when planning “With/Out, 2017” I conceived a particular watching experience with the sense given by the theatre. Moreover, it is impossible to respond to the original work of Paddy Chew (the first Singaporean with HIV/AIDS coming out to the general public in 1999) with only words or archive of images. It requires a virtual conversation between the work and the audience. “Gap” is the keyword as I have mentioned in the programme, ‘Message from Zihan.’”
With/Out (2017) was commissioned/presented by Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, Singapore for The Studios 2017. Photo Credit: Tuckys Photography

Theatre is a medium that accounts for memory and translates it to an audience. With every act of accounting, there is a necessary gap that occurs—it is studying the space in this gap that allows us to reflect on the position we occupy in time.

—Loo Zihan (2007)(註2)


Hsu Fang-Tze: The forms you use to create works include films, performance and theatre. How did you position your art practice and the problematics while producing “With/Out, 2017” this time?

Loo Zihan: I may answer your question by discussing how Janice Koh was “directed” by me. Using quotation marks here is important. I didn’t acquire my training from theatre, so I haven’t considered to “direct” a piece of work in a theatrical way.


Hsu: But you do have ample experience of theatrical performance.

Loo: But I indeed lacked the background of theatrical training. My academic training is about film directing. In the re-enactment of “With/Out, 2017,” my approach is to reach out to an actress who I know well. By leading her to carry out her performance with the camera as a partner, I can express the performing knowledge and experience I am familiar with.


Hsu: Can you share more about the context of your practice? Because you not only were the film actor earlier but also know how to dance.

Loo: The first drama film I directed and participated in as an actor was Solos in 2007. Kan Lume is the co-director, and Yu Beng Lim also participated in it. I had to perform in the film because it was a semi-autobiographical work. That was my creation in my second year as a student of Cinema Studies. I worked and learnt at the same time. Because of this work, I was invited to play the roles in other films, like Threshold (2009) of course—Taiwanese audience may get to know me through this film on account of Yang Kuei-mei’s participation. I was still at Nanyang Technological University then. After that, I went to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago(SAIC). In Chicago, the practice of my creation had a significant turn, focusing on the practice of performance art.


Hsu: You chose to enrol in the cluster of Film, Video, New Media and Animation.

Loo: My admiration for Apichatpong Weerasethakul, the Thai director, was what pushed me to study my MA in SAIC. I wanted to know how could he find his unique film language. In almost every interview of his, he never failed to mention SAIC, which was the only school I applied for at that time. However, I didn’t really know why I couldn’t find the professors or peers whom I could converse with in the cluster. Maybe I can put it this way: the entire cluster was relative patriarchal, the major professors were males. Instead, I found a strong sense of connection in the department of Performance. During the two years in Chicago, I hoped I could realise the projects which couldn’t be carried out in Singapore.


With/Out (2015), presented at M1 Singapore Fringe Festival. Photo: Roger Winder

Hsu: Do you regard the works you present in Singapore now as the continuum of the context you have built in Chicago?

Loo: That’s right, but the works and presentation in Singapore seem to reflect the local working condition, a kind of reality given by the creating environment in Singapore.


Hsu: From the process of your creation, how these different forms of performance and their specific aesthetics languages influence the work itself? Although your creations so far seem to be in the field of performing visual art, all the media you have used previously can be displayed in different layers in every presentation.

Loo: Things should be understood this way. I won’t say that I am only interested in performance art. My interest lies in the relationship between art and archives. The dialectical relationship between the media of the body and recording or the relationship among the archives is what I concerned. The bodily action itself is not my focus. I believe that many people possess related knowledge and abilities to create works associated with the bodily action.


Cane, 2012; Image Credit: Samantha Tio

Hsu: Or can we say that the core of Singapore art history is partly connected to performance art?

Loo: I don’t agree with that. It should be the pain lasting for ten years for the circle of performance art and bringing the name of challenging the rules to those artists who work on performance art. From my perspective, the creation form which cannot be ignored most in Singaporeis the theatre which has the longest history of practisingthe art and the ability to group the communities. That’s why I always traced back to the experience of “The Necessary Stage” (TNS) in terms of my enlightenment. The discussion and conversation of the communities in the theatre are relatively progressive when compared with those happening in other forms of creation, be they visual art, music or others.

I would like to add one more thing. When the purposeful suppression from the government deprived performance art of the public stage, it was the community of the theatre that harboured the communities of performance art. Thus, when the forum theatre was restricted later, TNS and Theatre Works created an episodic artistic platform in Singapore Art Museum and Fort Canning Hill, inviting artists of performance art such as Amanda HENG and ZAI Kuning to promote their works. In the late 1990s when the government strictly prohibited performance art, the theatre circle invited the artists to assist them in developing their creating practice in the name of theatre. Therefore, they called this kind of creation experimental theatre. Zai cooperated with Theatre Works then and Heng’s “Let’s Walk”(註3) was presented under the support of TNS in the same period.

Cane, 2012; Image Credit: Samantha Tio

In fact researchers frequently ignore this particular history and the context it possesses. Why did the theatre harbour performance art at that time? What are the meanings of this event to the performance artists? How does it influence performance artists? Even Ray Langenbach needed the assistance of the theatre to continue presenting his works and to join the performance of “Brainstorm” presented in the newly opened Singapore Art Museum (SAM) in 1999 when “Completely With/Out Character” was performed.


Hsu: Re-enactment seems to become the keyword for you to discuss your creations. How do you understand this approach?

Loo: Let me use my understanding of the term “directing” to elaborate this. Although I try my best to resist using the term, with the term it is easier for people to comprehend my works and to connect themselves to the content of the works and further understand the intention behind the practice. I won’t deny that I introduced my works, especially “Cane” and “With/Out,” by taking advantage of people’s familiarity with “performance reenactment.” Of course, I will expect myself to exceed the creating frame of “performance reenactment.” That’s why I decided to take a short break, for I realised that I hadn’t had enough thinking on how to go beyond the frame on my creating practice which is given by this term.

Artists' General Assembly: The Langenbach Archive (2013); image credit: Kelvin Chew

At the same time, “With/Out, 2017” is like a period to me, to my art practice at this stage, since 2012 when I came back from Chicago to Singapore. I have performed “50/50” twice, and I don’t think I would perform the same piece of work for another time.  I have formally announced that I won’t reenact “With/Out,” anymore. As for the series of “Cane,” “I am LGB” has concluded the related critical questions and studies of the LangenbachArchive so I reckon I can end this stage and decide to turn the page to start a new chapter for my creating journey.


Hsu: You have lots of choices in terms of creating media focusing on time. Why you still chose to present “With/Out, 2017” in a theatrical way?

Loo: I did have many choices, such as performing according to the record of the archives. However, when planning “With/Out, 2017” I conceived a particular watching experience with the sense given by the theatre. Moreover, it is impossible to respond to the original work of Paddy Chew with only words or archive of images. It requires a virtual conversation between the work and the audience. “Gap” is the keyword as I have mentioned in the programme, “Message from Zihan.” In the context of the theatre, the work happens at present, the elements of theatrical performance are situated in the bodies of the actors, audiences and the recorded images archive. Among those bodies, the audience ponders the content and substance of the performance. If there are only the archives and double-channel video screened on the spot, the dialectical space produced by the multi-layered space and time would be withdrawn. In my opinion, the bigger the dialectical space gets, the higher the possibility for the audience to hold the right to interpret the narrative of the story positively and explore the potential of the play is. It is like the montage of the images. Maybe it is my training from film studies that gives me the understanding and approach. I hope it can be a certain kind of essay film which leaves the audience the right to direct the narrative of the play.

Chancre (video), 17mins, 2011; image credit: Loo Zihan


[1] This interview is an excerpt from a two-hour interview with Loo Zihan after the performance of “With/Out, 2017.” Thus, the questions focus more on the approach of creating the performance. For more details about it, please refer to “Queering My Oblivion: With/Out 2017 & Loo Zihan’s Poetics of Archive.”
[2] From the programme of The Studios in Esplanade—Theatres on the Bay, an excerpt titled “Message from Zihan” p13.
[3] Amanda Heng’s “Let's Walk” first presented in 1999. The design and execution of the walk began with the idea to present simplicity and the private wonder at the same time—the inciting behaviour like protests and the contemplation as well as peacefulness produced during a walk. As what the title expressed, Heng invited people to connect with her and to walk forward collectively. Heng requested people to place high heels in the mouths, holding countertop makeup mirrors and walking backward together to reflect on the ignorant makeup industry for women and the society which lacked the understanding to the progressiveness of women's social roles. “Let’s Walk” was invited by M1 Singapore Fringe Festival in 2017 to reenact the performance once taking place in Japan, France, Poland, Sweden, Indonesia and Spain. See the interview of M1 Singapore Fringe Festival in 2017 in the following website: