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Undressing Room

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Participant 9: Teo Dawn
(Completed on 22nd February 2017, Singapore)

1) Why do you choose to reveal your identity in this documentation?
I think putting a name and a face to an opinion is a very powerful act. It humanises an experience further, and makes it a stronger advocate for whatever the person is trying to convey. I think it is the ownership and the willingness to embody the opinion that makes others take notice, or even challenge them.

2) What were your thoughts and feelings when you first read about Undressing Room?
Fascinated and challenged. I think it takes a lot of courage to shed the layers of cloth away and just be bare. Physical bareness somehow mirrors the soul. I truly felt that while this is provocative, it is more on the level of mind, soul and body. It also seems like the emotions, atmosphere and reactions of the participants would be the “performance” in itself. The Undressing Room is just so personal and personalised; my experience will be my own and affected by my current circumstances. (If I am to do this again in five years maybe, it will be completely different, etc.)

I also took it as a challenge to see how comfortable I can be; learn my limits and explore if I can transcend them. I have always been intrigued with the idea of nudity and nakedness. Growing up with a lot of physical insecurity, I am recently learning to be comfortable with myself and through my body, gain empowerment. It will be interesting to experience what it is like to go back to nature with my skin, together with someone else. 

And I was so happy to get to experience this as part of a festival. Thought that it was a great move forward for Singapore to mature in this aspect of being human, beauty, mindfulness and empathy.

3) Describe your experience of Undressing Room.
I came for the briefing earlier than my slated time, so I had some time to myself. Just spent some time preparing myself mentally and emotionally – undressing isn’t something particularly comfortable for me. Switched my phone off to get some space and I started questioning why I wanted to be part of this work, what was it I wanted and hoped to get out of this.

Wan Ching, the assistant, came in at 3pm for my briefing, and that made me feel much better. My overthinking was for naught and with reassurance, instructions and a known structure, I was less lost. Her friendliness and reiteration that I have full control of the situation was important. I am here of my own free will and my exploration is my own; good reminder for myself.

I entered the second room with a lot of excitement and nervous energy. The silence was very beautiful since that made me hyper aware of everything else – the gaze, eye contact, my breathing, the tea and the art of pouring it. The details came to life, and nothing was masked with unnecessary words. I realised how much you can communicate with just subtle body language, social cues and energy alone.

The Undressing process was meditative and empowering for me. One self-discovery is that I am now more comfortable in my own skin and being present in just my body can be so powerful. My mind was quiet and I didn’t feel embarrassed, shy or afraid. I felt strong, proud and grounded in that process. The moments in between of eye contact and soft gaze was interesting as well, since the rhythm was not consistent between different pieces of clothing. Body contact was gentle and it is just interesting to have someone else’s body heat and touch coming from a place of nakedness. Maybe it is the trust and the inherent vulnerability. It was so human and raw.

In the third room, I felt very light and mostly speechless as I was still trying to grasp what exactly I went through on the surface and inside of myself. The questions were free and easy. Ming Poon was open to sharing more about the work. So it was comfortable and a fresh experience for me to think about and remember.

4) What was it like for you, being a participant in Undressing Room?
Hmm, to participate is a privilege. Especially after everything that had happened with the festival, I felt very lucky and fortunate to experience this for myself and form my own opinions. I was in control and fully aware of the situation, and it never once felt like I didn’t know where the sequence of actions were going to take me. It is almost like navigating a map I just received, but never getting lost. It is a strange sense of comfort. Rediscovering something I never thought I knew?

I didn’t find the work very challenging for myself during the process of doing it. But I think I found the initial process of deciding to go for the work and experience it most challenging. Being uncomfortable and body-shamed since young was one thing. I have always covered up and have areas of me that I absolutely hated. Constant comparison of how society or others view me and my body, the assumptions, the accepted idea of beauty and reminders that I am not considered “beautiful” always weigh heavily on me.

Another consideration is probably how much power I have over my own body. Born and identifying as female, I have never felt like my body is 100% owned by me. When I first read about the show, my instinct was to just go for it. But really, the idea of having to tell my parents one day or letting people know about it kind of horrified me. The whole concept of what it means to be naked in front of someone else, saving your body for someone else, etc. are just ingrained in me when growing up. So taking this leap is almost an act of reclaiming what is mine by right.

I also questioned my beliefs of The Arts, and whether a yardstick can ever be used to actually define what a work is or isn’t. What does art really mean, or performance? That’s something I struggle with personally, I think.

5) How was it for you to undress each other and touch each other’s naked skin?
Very calm, collected and I took my time. The first thing I took in was the artist, Ming Poon. How he looked like, the way he dressed, his movements. It’s the first meeting, so plenty of holding eye contact and feeling out each other’s energy. Then I absorbed myself into the pattern of my own breath while taking in the room, the covered mirrors, rug, flowers and the tea in my cup. It was heightened awareness, curiosity, and it took me until I got to the rug to fully ease myself into the time and space.

As the Undressing took place, I wasn’t expecting anything or placing any prior expectations. Just let go and breathed through. One particular moment that surprised me was when both persons were topless at the same time, and just sharing eye contact and energy. Baring breasts is taboo and with the whole #freethenipple movement, it made me conscious of that. But instead of feeling uncomfortable, I felt very equal at that point. It was empowering and a fresh breath of air. A man and a woman on the same plane with the same rights, almost.

How the undressing was done was interesting as well, since it is the first indication of how the other person is reacting to your body? That perspective was interesting for me. Besides, during the whole act of removing pieces of clothing in an alternate fashion, what was fascinating is the pauses in between. Because as more is revealed, the space shared changes in atmosphere or the body will make its own adjustments. The way we stood on the rug changed from moment to moment as well; the constant negotiation and conversation made the pauses very filled, though silent.

And to finally share body contact was a fulfilment. Because I think after baring it all and having a moment to be in ourselves, we readied ourselves to interact and react fully with another being. There were many moments that were playful for me. The idea of fun came into the picture eventually, and that element was nice to have.

Throughout the process, I noticed a lot of details about Ming, such as the type of piercings he had on, scars, veins, structure of his body, etc. I also noticed my own body in a different light and how I interacted with another person. The feeling of a separate gaze on my body. How body heat transfers from one body part to another, type of touches and how different shapes of the body fit nicely with each other. It was the basic things that were most profound for me here.

There wasn’t any arousal. Half way through, when both of us were topless, gender or identifying sex was not important for me anymore. There was so much respect and reflection in that room. I felt our bodies transcended those superficial and shallow ideas of what nakedness have to lead to. We were equals and seeing each other as we are – people. It s almost like being born again and having no idea what a gender is or sex or any preconceived notions. Just new discoveries and learning about the body once more.

6) What did you get out from the whole experience? 
It is a very personal choice to go through this experience – to learn how far and how comfortable I am with this body of mine so far. So I think I realised how much more I love myself now, compared to the past. It marks a journey that I took for myself, and that my mind and body can be in harmony. I think that the realisation and discovery of my confidence and the feeling of empowerment is something that won’t leave my mind and body. The body never forgets.

Beyond that, I learnt how bodies interact when left without speech and language. What basic instincts are or how a body moves by itself and moves another body. There are probably more, but I can articulate these better as of now.

I expected my mind to torment me more and the experience to be more awkward than it was. I also expected more tension and nervous energy in myself. The comfort and the ease I felt caught me completely by surprise. And thinking about it now, I have never thought about how I expected the artist to react to me… Perhaps I was more preoccupied with my own thoughts about myself that it didn’t matter how another person would think about me. Pleasant surprises though.

For me, Undressing Room is about the shedding of societal skin and being with oneself. Acceptance of the self and embracing of others.

7) Did you feel unsafe or threatened at any point in Undressing Room?
No, I never felt unsafe or threatened but I think I always had a very calm demeanour. Especially after the briefing and knowing what I can or cannot do, I left myself to the situation and went with the flow.

There was openness and I had the space I needed to go through the project. As long as my inner space within myself was at ease, I think everything else fell into place for me. On another note, I knew I had full control of how I wanted to experience the work and how much immersion I wanted. Everything was structured and planned, including hand gestures to clearly continue or end the Undressing at any given point in time. So I felt it was a safe space, and I truly appreciate that.

8) Would you participate in Undressing Room again?
Yes, definitely. Because these experiences are few in one’s lifetime. Also, who I am now will not be who I am tomorrow. With life and constant changes, how I take in this work will definitely be different in the future. It will never be the same, so it will be precious to encounter this again next time.

9) Other comments.
Not really. If I do, I will drop another mail.