KVT – As White as Snow at Goethe

KVT – As White as Snow at Goethe

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KVT ponders performance art

Why is it that one major tributary in Performance Art is intent on having the performer inflict self harm upon themselves? Sometimes the infliction is minor and at other times death defying. The western high priest of this type of art form is Marina Abramovic and she often presents dramatic and often extremely prolonged performances that deal with both physical and psychological self harm.

Often, this type of performance by some artists involves self mutilation….I still blood chillingly remember the artist who suspended himself above the ground with meat hooks piercing his skin. But then I guess body piercing of all types, favored by a lot of people, could be called a form of performance art…either as an attempt to shock the status quo or in an effort to be part of the perceived coolest section of that quo.

On Tuesday night at Goethe artist Lai Dieu Ha gave a very intense and, for me, a riveting, performance that fulfilled the self inflicted self harm scenario. For hours…from 6.30pm until the dawning of the next day…she blew paths through, rolled in, spread eagled in, angeled in, threw over herself in powdery, billowing clouds, and finally meditated in fine white paint powder that covered almost the entire Goethe courtyard.

As I had an appointment at 8 to catch a lukewarm  performance of  Beethoven’s 9th at the Opera House, I only caught an hour and a bit of Ha’s art work and by the time I left so had just about the entire crowd who had jammed the arena to see her commence. The TV cameras had decided to pack up and go home or for a beer hoi and 99% of the clickers with cameras had had their fill and the curious and spurious decided they had better things to do long before.

I could have…and as it turns out, probably should have… stayed until the remaining stragglers were turfed out at 9.30 pm and Ha was left with a cameraman to record her marathon for posterity until the new day’s awakening.


I was ready to get into that meditative stage that prolonged watching of long and effective performance art causes in me …when I’ve gone through the ‘this is bullsh*t’ mental space and settled in comfortably to watch and think deeply and hopefully profoundly about it all.

But a niggling guilt kept drifting through my mind like those clouds of lung clogging paint powder and I had to answer a few moral dilemmas…such as did I have the right to stay and be complicit in an act of harm that I’d normally find abhorrent in every day life.

The Nha hat Lon ticket in my pocket saved any soul searching I would have had to do and a glance at my mobile phone soon had me on my bike and on my way to get there in time for a not too bad overture.

Lai Dieu Ha’s performance has stayed with me…the concept…as well as the personal moral and ethical dilemma posed.

The stage set was simple and beautiful with a white cloth construction that reminded me of chrysalis, lit from inside and perched on the edge of a field of white powder. It’s the chrysalis metaphore that stuck in my mind even if it is not the one that Ha intended.

Ha’s PR says it was all to do with the calm beauty, fragility and ephemerality of insects. And this I could focus on nicely and I conjectured that, if indeed the fabulously sewn white dress structure was a chrysalis, the performance  may have been about the beautyand sanctuary of the chrysalis before the final stage of metamorphosis yet to come when the adult would cleave from its pupal cage and be free to briefly fly, copulate, and then die.

So too, I conjectured in my usually too febrile brain, did all this white represent innocence and virginity soon to be lost and crumble into dust? Is it, as someone suggested a wintry snow scene with an elaborate snow and ice sculpture symbolizing the fragility and epheremality of human life?

Or did it have feminist overtones with the white dress representing that most futile of all maiden’s beliefs that the fairy tale of a white wedding means living happily ever after?


Many hours later I’m still enjoyably conjecturing with some dark and dismal scenarios overlaid with some more upbeat and uplifting.

I still have to come to terms with Ha’s performance title, ‘Clinging Hybrid’ which opens more mental cans of worms, or hatching insect eggs, for me to think about. And after all that is what great art often intends…to leave you in pensive, reflective mood…which is probably why lines from two poems about ephemeral things have been running around my mind today and refusing to let go….The last stanza of Robert Herrick’..to Daffodils…

We have short time to stay, as you,
 We have as short a spring;
As quick a growth to meet decay,
 As you, or anything.
 We die


 As your hours do, and dry
 Like to the summer’s rain;
Or as the pearls of morning’s dew,
 Ne’er to be found again.


And from Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud’….

For oft when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude………..

Ok, ok, I know they’re both about daffodils! I can’t help the way my brain swirls off in tangents! And they’re far better than having some crazed seasonal song like “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas’ or crud about Rudolph running amok in there.

A harrowing but totally effective performance from Lai Dieu Ha.

Kiem Van Tim is a keen observer of life in general and the Hanoi cultural scene in particular and offers some of these observations to the Grapevine. KVT insists that these observations and opinion pieces are not critical reviews. Please see our Comment Guidelines / Moderation Policy and add your thoughts in the comment field below.


  1. I LOVE these reviews – passionate, intelligent, open-minded, inquisitive, poetic, creative, entertaining, thought-provoking – and more.

    THANKYOU for sharing them with us

  2. Hi KVT,

    Re: “Why is it that one major tributary in Performance Art is intent on having the performer inflict self harm upon themselves?”

    …how/what do you mean — could you kindly clarify your point — in other words: who’s forsing whom to do what they do…?

    …and… uhm… you probably meant… high priestess and not “high priest”…?

  3. Ilza, from a feminine perspective I think that priestess is a little outmoded.We have singers not songstresses anymore and actresses are a little passe, so why your gender thing about the term priests?

  4. @ anne
    …the word ‘priestess’ exists — I did not invent it…
    now, if PC or feminism came to require that we replace all our gender speech with the neutral ‘it’ I start feeling sorry for our femininity…

  5. @anne
    … also, it’s a bit hard on Marina Abramovic… to see her as the male incarnation of priesthood conjures up transgender imagery…

  6. Hello

    In my lapsed Catholic religion I would consder rejoining the Mass if women were allowed to be priests. If they were would I call them priestesses or not? Would a Bishop be a bishoppess and a cardinal a cardinale and a Pope a Popess? It is all so confusing

  7. Hello Ngoc,

    A direct product of the movement for ordaining women as priests in the Catholic Church is the term ‘woman priest’ or female priests or female Bishop, etc — these are in common use…

    I agree that since traditionally priesthood is reserved for men there is a general problem of this terminology fitting both genders…

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