For this work, I decided to use an object that is recurrently imprinted with the human form - the bed - a site of both beginnings and endings, birthing and death, sex and sleep. Solid and physical, yet vulnerable and abstract, it is also where rest and restlessness, dreams or nightmares, and everything in-between play out. Our sentient bodies impress the bed with the corporeality that mark bodily events, imbuing its surface and depths with bodily confessions - the seepages emanating from our interiority - a silent witness to the body’s performance of desire and woundability. 

Artist Statement

Yet again, I found myself in an architecture haunted with a colonial past - the 18th century La Cabaña (Cabania Fortress) - one of Havana’s most historic sites, now re-assigned to host the art of Latin American. For the first time in the event’s exhibiting history, the 6th Havana Biennial included a dedicated Asian section in which Third World Extra Virgin Dreams was shown, sited in this fortress. 

For this work, I decided to use an object that is recurrently imprinted with the human form - the bed - a site of both beginnings and endings, birthing and death, sex and sleep. Solid and physical, yet vulnerable and abstract, it is also where rest and restlessness, dreams or nightmares, and everything in-between play out. Our sentient bodies impress the bed with the corporeality that mark bodily events, imbuing its surface and depths with bodily confessions - the seepages emanating from our interiority - a silent witness to the body’s performance of desire and woundability. 

Implicit in the centuries-old display of architectural impregnability lies also the fortress’ anachronistic relationship to the contemporary world, hence its renewed purpose as an open site for display of a different kind - contemporary art. Third World Extra Virgin Dreams was allocated one of its vaults that featured a large opening in its elongated high dome ceiling, an architectural feature at first glance but which was later rumoured to have facilitated the rudimentary production of ammunition where hot lead pieces were dropped at such a velocity as to cool and harden into bullets below. 

Suspended under this skylight, a single metal bed appears to levitate towards the incoming sunlight as a ten-metre glass quilt cascaded symmetrically onto the floor from both its sides. ‘Caught’ in mid-air, the bed could be read as either ascending or descending out of a hole that obviously could not fit it, thus enabling another narrative to emerge - an invasion of the architecture by the bed through this portal or its expulsion by the architecture through its ‘orifice’ - the skylight. 

As a young Chinese girl, the patchwork quilt made out of remnant or discarded fabric pieces was an emblem of the abjectness of poverty, frugality, and collective female labour rather than the creativity of ritual, learning, bonding and repurposing that it is, a precursor to the “greening” trends of today, which led my decision to monumentalizing just such a signifier, whilst retaining an element of fragility. Unlike traditional fabric quilts, Third World Extra Virgin Dreams was made with glass and Fresnel lenses and friends assisted its production in Sydney. 

In Cuba, I embarked on an exchange of socio-political memory with the Cuban family that chose to “house” and “host” me which led its chosen representative, Victor Miguel, to donate his blood which was mixed with mine and a spoon of red wine for use in my work. A single drop of blood from this mixture sealed in each of the three thousand pairs of glass slides and Fresnel lenses spread out like calligraphic brush strokes directed by the grooves inherent in the underside of the lenses. 

In this configuration, the glass quilt can also be envisioned as an imaginary collection of hymenal material where each drop of blood presented but the essence of an anonymous subjectivity trapped between glass and lens. Like a scientific record of scrutiny splayed out for observation by equally uninvolved spectators, each child/woman as signified by a single glass slide seemed to have been reduced to her most valuable manifestation as perceived in the Third World (and those in the First World who seek to exploit it) - a single drop of virginal blood in proxy of the essence of desirability and use value. 

Given the extended embargo imposed upon Cuba by the United States, the regime itself is produced relationally as the abject other, expelled from membership of a sphere of influence in the capitalist world that chooses to view it as a threat. One of the challenges of working in this project, but also a testimony to the resilience, creativity and defiance of the Cuban people in mounting an event of this scale in 1997, and all the more significant, was the shortage electricity for powered tools and lighting. Hence, the Fresnel lenses were used to re-distribute available sunlight into a scintillating presence within the vault, causing the quilt to appear to materially liquefy and slide from the bed onto the ground. The vault interior itself became a screen for the shadow of each drop refracted onto the floor, creating the transfixing quality of a work integrating, encompassing and transforming the whole space and the reading of this ancient architecture.  

The transparency of the glass quilt exuded an ambiguity that hovered between the states of fragility and strength, appearance and disappearance, visibility and invisibility, intrusion and expulsion. Caught in a limbo of sleepless dreaming, a glass quilt descending from an ascending bed became an installation that operated within the surrealistic grammar of the dreaming state. 

DETAILS

YEAR
1997
EXHIBITION
6TH HAVANA BIENNIAL
DIMENSIONS
Variable
MATERIALS
human blood, glass slides, fixings, cable, found bed
VENUE
Cabania Fortress, Cuba
COLLECTION
Singapore Art Museum Collection
GENRE
Installation
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Victor Miguel & Family and Biennial Team

THEMES & MATERIALS

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