Loom

Interactive sound and video installation, Performance, 2018

Artist, composer, and director: Lemon Guo
Video: Mengtai Zhang
Mask design: Jing Li
Voice and movement ensemble: Anna Lublina, Amélie Gaulier, Leigh Akin, Lilly Kaplan, Chuan Xie, Lemon Guo
Text: Anna Lublina, Amélie Gaulier, Leigh Akin, Lilly Kaplan, Chuan Xie, Lee Gilboa, Sophia Shen, Lemon Guo


“Loom” is an intermedia performance work for an interdisciplinary ensemble, situating vocalists and movement artists inside an interactive video and sound installation with fabric sculpture. The project is inspired by ethnomusicology research of Kam Grand Choir, incorporating footages, materials, and oral documentations that we collected over the last year while conducting field research in villages of Kam people, an ethnic minority group in the southwest of China who has a rich polyphonic singing tradition that is entirely oral.

In the Kam villages, the sound of the laborious three-month-long process of hammering the fabric to make it soft and bright, syncopated between mechanical hammer and women’s hands, pulses throughout the village during waking hours. The polyphonic group singing, a sound that has been orally transmitted for hundreds of years, amplified for a need of harmonic national sounds, muted during cultural revolution, is now reheard at the beat of the cultural tourism industry. Tourist groups, cameras shutters, chatting, and guides’ voices from the megaphones, start pouring in early morning, shifting by seasons, weekends, and holidays. The unadorned alter of the earth goddess, a warrior ancestor, is quietly situated outside the main attraction areas, by houses and roaming chickens. They put a new black umbrella on it every lunar new year, and let it decay over the year.

The piece ruminates on the idea of polyphony in a broader sense, in terms of voices, texts, bodies, times, ideologies, systems, looking through historical, social, and political lenses. Using Kam music as an anchor point, we imagine a complicated utopian folk choir of our own, that subtly oscillates between empowerment for the people and propaganda for a totalitarian force.

The development of “Loom” has been supported by grants from Columbia University, Donald Keene Center for Japanese Studies, and Weatherhead Institute of East Asian Studies. It has been presented at Wallach Art Gallery and Katonah Museum of Arts Tri-State Juried Exhibition.

Text:

Lemon:

            I’ve never been in a village,
            nor waited on the edge of the rice field to catch
            the first rain of the spring,
            landing on my fingertips.

            But I love to hear it sung
            how the straw man falls asleep
            in the daylight, and wake ups to
           the sound of himself, ripening with the mist.
          And how happy he seems, swelling bigger, bigger, bigger, bigger…

            I’ve never met the people,
            neither marched in the ecstatic form
            nor stood in, circles around circles around circles,
            grasping hands of our own

            But I love to hear it sung.
            How the straw shoes and cracking ground synchronized, in a mad beat to
            The Red Sun
            And the sweet eternal voices of ancient souls
            Streaming uphill and washing all the grime away.

Anna:

            I’ve never seen marxism
           not the harmonious labor 
            nor it’s distorted brother: 
            Leninism, Stalinism, Sovietism 

            but I love to hear it sung
            with its promise of a world free 
           of capital, oppression, subjugation
           fields of golden wheat
            honest labor, rosy cheeks, purity  
            but I love to hear it sung.

 Amélie:

            I've never heard the voice of my Spanish ancestors
            neither seen their faces and expressions while they are resting
            after long hours walking the sheep herd in the mountains of Estremadura.

            I’ve never been to Penaparda in Spain
            nor feel the dry air of the grey stones there
            and listen to the invisible sounds of its land.
            but I love to hear it sung;

            How women gather with their square drums and sing along,
            hitting their feet on the moist soil covered with straws, 
            how the rhythms of their voices recapture the old songs in the crispy vibration of the blue air

 Sophia:

            I've never seen scent being kept,
           nor smelt it from someone else's memory.
            But I love to hear it sung;

            the snapshot of fragrance and aroma in Province,
            the salty ocean wind on the San Francisco Bay,
            the sweet daffodils from the childhood home. 

Lee:

            I've never seen resolution to the testimonies,
            but I love to hear it sung.
            When we hear it in a song,
            its less unimaginably accurate and more emotionally relatable.
            We understand emotions more than horrifying facts. 

Chuan: 

            I have never had a playful childhood, 
            Singing, dancing, and playing with the wildest nature. 
            But I love to hear it sung: 
            The voice that jumps and the body that flows
            Fill my heart with the wildest dreams.  

Leigh: 

            I've never had the ease of self-certainty.
            A joyful mind without a mirror upon itself.
            But I love to see it sung.

            Imagine creation without critique?
            Expression beyond self-doubt?
            Freedom in one’s own self. 

Lilly: 

            I’ve never held a baby!
            Or gotten to know a person half formed and fresh

            But I love to hear it sung:
            Their unrestrained passion and the purest fear
            Imagine a living ball of soft flesh and feelings

            With only one emotion at a time!

Prompt inspired by Li-Young Lee’s poem “I Ask My Mother To Sing”. Written by performers and friends based on personal experience and heritage.