Taking it to the streets: interview with Burma’s Flying Circus artist couple.
A husband and wife art duo are shaking up Burma’s countryside with their itinerant art and museum projects. In an interview with Art Radar, Tun Win Aung and Wah Nu described what life is like for Burma’s artists and the ideas behind their work.
Husband Tun Win Aung (b. 1975) and wife Wah Nu (b. 1977) live and work in Yangon, Burma (also known as Myanmar). They met at university, graduating from the University of Culture, Yangon, in 1998. Individually, Tun Win Aung creates multimedia installations and performances, drawing upon local histories, and Wah Nu paints colourful dreamscapes and creates symbolic video works.
Collectively, they work under the name Flying Circus, a name provided by Singapore artist Ong Keng Sen. As Flying Circus, they create small-scale exhibition models to mimic what an installation of their artworks in a museum would look like. The simulacra is a means to create work in the face of a lack of exhibition opportunities to show them.
Tun Win Aung and Wah Nu have exhibited widely, both as individual artists and as Flying Circus. Exhibitions include the 4th Guangzhou Triennial in China (2011); the 6th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art at the Queensland Art Gallery in Australia (2009-2010); the 11th Asian Art Biennale in Bangladesh (2004); and the 2nd and 3rd Fukuoka Asian Art Triennales in Japan (2002 and 2005).
The duo initiated “Art & Museum Project” in 2010 as a way to introduce the concepts of art, exhibitions and museums to the Burmese who live outside of Yangon or Mandalay and have had little or no exposure to art. Wishing to share their knowledge about contemporary art with those who live in the countryside, Tun Win Aung and Wah Nu construct temporary museums, typically made of plastic sheeting for the walls, and hang photographs, paintings and objects like toys.
In this interview with Art Radar, Tun Win Aung and Wah Nu discuss their art ideas and projects.
As Flying Circus, you create miniature exhibition models of exhibition spaces, filled with miniature samples of your artwork. Why do you only exhibit the photos of the exhibition models and not the models themselves?
In fact, it was, not surprisingly, based on a very simple aspect. Like many other artists, we get an idea for an artwork at a certain time and situation. When we like the idea, we have a thought of bringing it to be a work. We draw several series of sketches. Then we will make an actual work when the right time comes along.
But it is not true for every idea. We mean they may not become the actual works immediately. It depends on different situations. Then it gives a turn for the models at a stage between sketches and actual works. We made many models on different purposes. We tried to get the scaled models and make them ready for accomplishing our idea. We did it because we wanted to know what it would be like in reality. We did it because we wanted to find out the weak point. Mostly, we made it as we want to get a photo of it. Yes, we made it to take the photo. We made the models first, and then we took the photos of them. Sad but true, we don’t have a proper studio, a place to keep them, so the models are easily destroyed after a time.
But, the reason [we] only exhibit the photos [is] not concerned with our original concepts and aims. In this case, we don’t want to focus on the models nor the photos of them. What we want to state and express is the alternative situation behind the photos. They may also reflect our country’s recent situation.
Why are these projects not being realised: funding, lack of space, censorship?
Not all of the scaled models end in themselves. When the time comes, we make them realised. It may take time, but it is worth waiting for the right moment. You are right; it costs to make the work, it needs a space and [the work] faces censorship. But it doesn’t matter. We could make them at a certain time and place. As we mentioned above, what we have to do is wait for the right time.
Why did you name your project Flying Circus?
It is not our name. It is the words of Ong Keng Sen, a Singaporean artist. We participated in his project, Flying Circus Project 2013. Besides, three of our museum projects were supported by The Flying Circus Project 2013, an international exchange programme organised by TheatreWorks (Singapore) since 1996. This is our involvement with Flying Circus.
Have the recent political/social changes in Burma made a difference for artists? Is there less censorship than before? What is your advice for young artists in Myanmar?
Yes, the attitude of the government has changed to a certain extent. It is good for artists. We are glad for that. But this is just the beginning. Making the real change doesn’t only depend on the government’s attitude. It is also up to the artists: we, the artists, must make the change to some extent as well. You have to change yourself for the changes you want, haven’t you?
You involve your daughter in your artwork. People often separate professional level artwork from children’s artwork. Are you making a statement by including her work?
Well… it is just because we sometimes like her ideas and works. They are quite interesting and could attract us. So we made records of them. Of course, we sometimes add her works to ours. We reveal our concept by means of her works. Other times, we are just the ones who accomplish or bring a work to reality. She gave us the idea, and we made it as the artwork. Because she is too young to make it herself.
Please describe your Museum Project. How are the local people responding to it? Do you think that art will become more acceptable in Burma in the future?
Those were small, the small-scale exhibitions which we made together with our friends. In other words, they were small museums. We didn’t think large as we believe they won’t last for long. In those projects, we only think of something small, which could be handled, by means of collaboration, for temporary and for fun. We planned to go to the countryside and ask the villagers to let us use the barns and huts, the places they are familiar with, as our exhibition space. And we would [add] the objects which we could get from the neighbourhood to the works. Then we would make the exhibition. That’s it, our aim.
In one of the projects, we decided to turn the toys collected from a [particular] village into the artworks. Though a road, where a bus could run, reaches to that village, it is far from the city. So the toys the children play with are their own creations: the traditional wooden toy cows, carts and boats. They look the same as the ones from previous centuries. We collected them by means of changing. We carried the toys from Yangon. And we changed them with their toys.
In the three projects we made in Yangon, Taunggyi and Mingun, we collaborated with our friends, the other artists together. We chose the place and building for the exhibition and our friends made the artworks to exhibit there; the transparent sculptures made of discarded DVDs, a fifteen-metre-long soft toy-gun made of cloth, the puppets in green clothes with adornment, and museum of interactive computer program where the viewers could stroll around. As we have mentioned before, these three museum projects were supported by The Flying Circus Project 2013.
We are satisfied with the response of the local people. As we said, we aimed small. We hoped a little. We didn’t aim for the development to the Myanmar art scene. What we planned is to meet with the local art scene and local people. This is called sharing the experiences, isn’t it? We would turn away when we see the children trying to touch the works in museum. We would have a chat with the young artists who visited the museum projects. We would try to explain carefully when the elderly visitors wonder and ask what the exhibited works are. In fact, we could see the advantages which we can get from museum project in the future.
- Myanmar’s rural museums – Tun Win Aung and Wah Nu Guggenheim video interview – September 2013 – Burmese artist duo talk about transforming abandoned barns into exhibition spaces in ‘Museum Project’
- Burmese artist Htein Lin breaks free of censorship and prison – interview – May 2013 – from political prisoner to outspoken artist, Htein Lin shares his story
- Outside influences seep into Myanmar art scene – New York Times – November 2011 – The New York Times helps us discover Yangon, Myanmar’s budding art capital
- Unapologetically political Burmese artist Chaw Ei Thein discusses her country and her art: Asian Art Archive Interview – June 2010 – Chaw Ei Thein discusses politics and the future of Burmese art
- Myanmar artists explore new media, produce courageous art – April 2009 – some Burmese artists are bravely stepping outside the restrictions of censors
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