This work was created at the end of a 2-year (2011-2013) research project, (un)it: HD85858. The project was supported by the Associate Artist Research Programme at Then Substation (Singapore).
Even before this project started, I have been interested to find out how People Living with HIV (PLHIV) are dealing with the discriminations they faced in Singapore. The most glaring feature I noticed about this group of people was the complete absence of any representation, either in image or in person. In short, they were cloaked in invisibility and hiding under the radar. So I decided to use the research programme to look for this group of people and make a work about their ‘invisibility’. The research project was named after the star HD85828 which is supposed to be the faintest star that can be observed with the naked eye under the darkest condition, and is used to refer to the PLHIV in Singapore.
The project had 5 phases over 2 years. I have set specific tasks and goals for each phase. There was a presentation at the end of each phase.
phase 1: setting the framework
phase 2: making contact
phase 3: interviews
phase 4: creation
phase 5: performance
The work ‘in.ViSiBLE’ evolved through different phases of the research process to end up in its final form. The key part of the project was to meet PLHIV in person and interview them. I managed to meet 12 of them and interviewed them. I had the most difficulty in finding local heterosexual PLHIV. In the end, I gathered about 60 hours of interview material, which was then transcribed over a period of 4 months.122 transcripts which formed the crux of the performance ‘in.ViSiBLE’.
The first and most obvious challenge was: how to show something/someone that is ‘invisible’? I wanted to avoid any abstract representation of PLHIV, or any portrayal that would only be just another form of ‘invisibility’. I felt that they needed to be real. They had to be present and live in the performance, as themselves. At the same, I had to ensure that their well-being and identity were not compromised. On invisibility, two thoughts regarding invisibility guided the work: 1) what is invisible is not meant to be seen, and 2) the darker the night, the brighter the stars.
At a very early stage of the research, it became evident that remaining ‘invisible’ was not a personal choice of PLHIV. The society at large was a critical factor in precipitating the issue. The general public had a stark disconnection with PLHIV, causing a lot of misperceptions about them. So I felt a work about PLHIV had to be one that brings the two in contact with one another.
Of particular significance is an event that happened during the 4th phase. I had to abort this phase and return back to berlin due to a personal crisis. This was interesting because it got me thinking about the idea of crisis, of failures, of things breaking down half-way and not working as they should or as planned. and I felt that this idea of crisis and things not functioning as planned should be integrated into the work because it was very similar to what PLHIV had to face.
In view of the real problems that PLHIV are facing, I was confronted with what my individual body meant in this work and why I move. I was aware of the risk of becoming patronising when making a work about marginalised people. In the process of working and researching, it slowly became clear to me that the ‘body’ in this work was not an individual body, but a collective one and the ‘movement’ was also a collective movement. I needed to make a work that would empower and include PLHIV. My role a performer was only a bridge to bring about that, and it was in function of this role that my body and movements for this work should be focused on.
These ideas formed the parameters within which ‘in.ViSiBLE’ was finally constructed.