2014 - 2016 Xiyun Dai: "At what point can I pause?"

| tag: Arnhem

Excerpt from Dai Xiyun's 20 minute presentation for Speaking Without Thumbs - DAI's 2 day graduation lectures marathon, July 2016



Xiyun Dai has chosen to have the audience seated informally on the floor around her. She sits comfortably, not making eye contact with the audience, nor facing them directly. As a soundscape of birds and water fills the room, she begins to read from the booklets she holds, describing a scene full of sensory details. While listening, the audience begins to understand that it is an account of a dream, or rather, as the story goes on, a nightmare. The sound is synchronized with the text she is reading, adding another contextual layer to the narrative. Meanwhile, a video projection appears intermittently on the floor beneath her, and a TV monitor beside her shows a rectangle of light (or a door in a room) – the image is not clear. One might have the feeling of being immersed in information: Xiyun speaks of restlessness, and questions the location of reality. Where is it? Her writing deals in part with stress and its relation to sleep. In such immersive experiences, perhaps, “the place is a pause”. Far from “the silence of human beings in solitude” that the artist speaks of, the audience experiences jarring noises spliced into the track of her soothing reading voice. For some, it may recall the popular ASMR videos which can be easily found online, and that depend on particular nuanced sounds (a beard being scratched or a woman’s calm voice) to provoke an “autonomous sensory meridian response”.

For Ekaterina Degot this was “an exercise in temporality.” She relayed the idea that the notion of the pause has to do with waiting, and all time-based artworks, especially performative ones are about waiting for something to happen. In Xiyun’s work though, this pause is also suspension, specifically, Degot says, suspension of visuality, since the performance was mostly about the voice and the text. She is interested in genre of performative video where the visual is strongly suspended. All of this connects to unfocused attention – Xiyun’s voice, the soundtrack, the visual elements on the screen and on the projection make us unfocused, subtly irritated and one struggles to deal with those information sources. For Degot, this means that we can also imagine that it could be transformed into something more traditional onscreen (without the performative bodily element), thereby prompting Degot to question how will many artists will continue in this genre and where this genre will have a place in exhibitions of the future.

Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung was especially interested in the artist’s presence in space, particularly the distance in the collapse of space between the author and the piece. Thinking about the formal aspects recalled Miles Davis’ way of playing with everyone behind him. In Xiyun’s lecture performance, voice was the main actor and it brought the surrealistic landscape together well. The piece itself made Bonaventure ask the artist whether she affords herself the pause to sit down and really focus. He also brought this home to his own practice as an exhibition maker: “I like to push the audience to take time. Take a pause in your life to focus on something”.

Marina Vishmidt commented that she “felt there was a really intriguing collision between at least two genres – the radio play and social media scroll. They interrupted each other and developed in other surrealist directions.” Vishmidt related the pink light to “pink noise as a kind of pop therapeutic thing to create a state of equilibrium. Pink light draws you into more exaggerated states and dystopian directions.” She thought the whole performance created the effect of a “media-specific emotional roller coaster” and found the piece complex with many detailed parts fitting together in precise ways.

Rachel O’Reilly remarked that she “felt like she was watching bedtime stories for networked isolates” and that there was “something about occupying the place that Xiyun set up that was disturbingly calming.” This work reminded her of the surreal short fiction that she no longer reads because she spends [more] time on social media. O’Reilly felt encapsulated in the story even though certain elements, especially in the video footage, were unclear to her. For O’Reilly, the pink dramatization of the plot in the monitor was effective, but the floor projection could have been made stronger or differently dramatized.

Xiyun Dai's website