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  • Writer's pictureNg Su Yin

Durational Performance

Updated: Aug 3, 2023

Not often that we have a chance of viewing a full-on durational performance, especially one that is truly breath-taking and remarkable - Melati Suryodarmo's 'I Am Ghost In My Own Home' at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, Uk, 10 am - 10 pm on 19 May 2023.

I thought to share my experience as a viewer, as I weaved through the day, watching her start the performance, sitting through it for a few hours, breaking away, then coming back to it for another couple of hours. My art notes are often decidedly fragmented, and may not make sense to most people, but it would be for me, as it is to me how I record streams of thoughts and pauses, sometimes disruptive wonderings and random questions.

“distant music playing, quite meditative and haunting… is it part of the work? Not sure, but interesting nonetheless.. other sounds made by audience in the space, live sounds, sounds of people adjusting her positions before that start of the show, putting down their bags… ‘sacred’, ‘intimate’, few words popped into my mind..

…all attention on the space and on charcoal, white walls, clinical set-up, very structural and in contrast with her form, organic, human…
she stood staring into space, not moving. She looks like an image.
crackling sound of breaking charcoal as she started moving…sudden disruption of the crushed charcoal … my senses heightened.
she continues to move and with each movement, she weighs on the charcoal, crushing them as she walked….
selecting charcoal with an astute expression, she seems to know what she is looking for, what she wants from her pick….her face and body reflects her full concentration on the task … intuitive, decisive, purposeful..
she found … a few lumps of charcoal, bent over to get them, then walked back…
crushing sounds, she starts grinding…repetitive crushing… mesmerising… almost enjoying the sound of crushed ice.. it is strangely satisfying… feeling guilty about this sensation..
some charcoal on her, area closest to the stone rolling pin and grinding table.. noticing the black and white again, and I’ve noticed her… parts of her blends into blackness of charcoal while parts of her dissolves into the whiteness of the wall..
she gathered the grounded charcoal into a pile at the centre of the table with sweeping motion..
she coughed..inevitably
charcoal powder fell of the edges of the table, cascading from its periphery, creating black smoke at the base..
gathering more charcoal pieces… long silent pauses.. she just discarded some pieces, probably thought of them as unsuitable for the task…. continues grinding the charcoal
she is like a dark shadow against the clean white wall..
2 hours into the performance, my lower back started aching, feeling uncomfortable, how unfit! I wondered how she must be feeling right now given her back-breaking task..
black powder continues to spill over the sides of the table.. they end up back where they belong, on heaps of charcoal.. she didn’t seem bothered, like it’s not a thing at all , perhaps she didn’t know,
how easy it is to focus on her work and forget all about her…she disappears momentarily, oscillating between present and absent..
searching, scanning the ground for more charcoal… short pauses, hesitation as it searching for something else… with unstable steps, sighing, breathing, looking up, pausing… a look of contemplation, or resignation, I can’t tell…
what kind of time is she experiencing now..stage time, real time, are they so different?
both handles of the rolling pin broke off … overgrinding perhaps, how much more? Unfazed, she carried on despite sudden change to the tool at hand.. Is she mindless or mindful?
she stands with outstretched arms and face looking upwards.. the crackling sound of crushing charcoal, or breaking bones?
She let out a brief ‘ah’, her fingers must have nearly got caught under the heavy rolling pin..she’s alright, it didn’t bother her , not a jot.. she must be fine ..
occasional clearing of throat, her coughs, her ‘ah’, reminds me that she is still human despite her methodical, repetitive, labourious work..
8.30 pm..What changed? Perhaps nothing ? I have been out for a couple of hours, running errands, lunch, toilet, meetings.. and yet, with a perverse anticipation, I expect her to be exactly how she was as l left a few hours ago.. guilt..
working within limited constructs .. is it so unrealistic to assume that nothing would change?
overall visual remains largely the same… she has more charcoal on her now than before, on her face and more parts of her dress..i can hardly make out her facial features and expression..
with so much charcoal on her face and dress, she turned into a silhouette, a shadow of her already ghostly presence.. she looks like a charcoal drawing with well rendered tonal values ..
she managed some eye contact…hauntingly visceral..
pauses ….prolonged..what kind of time us she experiencing now?
Still quasi-present as she blends into the black and white surrounding, but she seemed more visible now, maybe what I am seeing is no longer visual…
9.30 pm ...she seems to be in a daze… for a while… she then scans the room, as though looking for something, someone, some connection…slightly wobbly and visibly knackered..
she stepped closer to us, put both hands together, and bowed.


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