Title: Water Prison - Interpretive Meditation
(play video with sound)
A site-specific performance and mixed media installation, Shanghai China
Materials: Chinese ink stone, ink stick, water, rope, plastic basins of various sizes
"At any rate, you have one (or several). It's not so much that it preexists or comes ready made, although in certain respects it is preexistent. At any rate, you make one, you can't desire without making one. And it awaits you; it is an inevitable exercise or experimentation, already accomplished the moment you undertake it, unaccomplished as long as you don't. This is not reassuring because you can botch it. Or it can be terrifying, and lead you to your death. It is nondesire as well as desire. It is not at all a notion or a concept but a practice, a set of practices. You never reach the Body without organs, you can't reach it, you are forever attaining it, it is a limit. People ask, So what is this BwO?- but you're already on it, scurrying like a vermin, groping like a blind person, or running like a lunatic; desert traveler and nomad of the steppes. On it we sleep, live our waking lives, fight- fight and are fought- seek our place, experience untold happiness and fabulous defeats; on it we penetrate and are penetrated; on it we love." Deleuze and Guattari - Body Without Organs,1987
Filmed and edited by: Eddie Li, Shanghai
In 2014, I visited Guilin China and was introduced to a ‘water prison’ inside a preserved Imperial river cave dwelling. A tour guide pointed to a 6ft deep ditch that had eroded from the river tides, and stated, ‘this is where they left prisoners to die.’ Being Chinese (American), I was familiar with the concept of Chinese torture. The words 'water prison' also conveyed an existential state that which is to be with one's own body. The following April, I used a traditional Chinese inkstick to mark my height along the damp concrete wall parameters of a maze-like underground bomb shelter in Shanghai for a performance inspired by the ‘water prison.’ The marks left a mortal water line.
When I decided to use the Chinese ink stick for this performance, I knew I wanted to use it directly on the wall. Traditionally, the ink stick is only used with an ink stone and water to make liquid ink, then applied to paper with a brush. In not doing so, I transformed one of the Chinese four treasures of painting, the ink stick, into something else. It was at this point that I became interested in the ink stick, an ink that I grew up with having my first painting lessons in Chinese calligraphy and painting. I began to study the origins and techniques used to make the earliest ink and ink sticks in China. Through alchemy, science and experimentation, I discovered a new material - a living, breathing and personal ink.
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