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Urich Lau and Teow Yue Han, Life Circuit, Paris, 2015

Random yet organised, pragmatic yet consistent, conceptual yet critical, characterizes the body of work of Singaporean artist Urich Lau. By amplifying the exploration of the analogue and digital, he challenges the approaches of his artist collaborators and audiences in looking at how intersections between the static and live can come together. The conception and development of his Life Circuit in 2009, which has evolved from a solo performance with multi-disciplinary artist Yuzuru Maeda playing the violin to devised experimentations with artists Teow Yue Han and Kai Lam six years later, offers a sense of collectivity within the material and immaterial.

The protagonist of Life Circuit is the video goggles that points and shoots at the curious onlookers. The bearer, on the other hand, becomes a mere object or carrier of the device as his/her sight is blocked from witnessing anything for the duration of the performance. Urich attributes the use of reconstructed industrial headgear, such as welding goggles, gas mask and earmuffs, as video and audio wearable gadgets as an extension to the artist’s anatomy altering human functionality and interactivity in the capacity of vision and voice, replacing human senses.

In the construction of the performance, the spectators can view themselves and the others onto the large screen – as viewers become elements of the Life Circuit performance. Through the combined visual, sound and physical elements, Urich defines/redefines the common space to complete the circuit. It is here where the artist not only marries the analogue and the digital, but also switches the role of the two in process. As he brings side by side the human elements (analogue) and gadgets (wires, mixers, computer, technical aspects) in play, the modification of expectations, perspectives and positions are challenged.

Urich Lau, Life Circuit, SMU Gallery Singapore, 2009

Vanini Belarmino in conversation with Urich Lau, Berlin, Germany, 2 June 2015:

VB: You have been performing Life Circuit in the last 5 years in varying contexts: how would you say it has evolved? In terms of the performance and the collaborative explorations you have made?

UL: Spaces and venues are important factors for the presentation. I try to use the conditions and elements in the surroundings, including the audiences whom I capture, and live-stream into my video mixing with cameras unto the Life Circuit mask. With the collaborating artists, I aim to create an interface between my medium and the artists' and individually connect the medium to the user. That is how the title Life Circuit is devised. The gadgets that I wear for video and audio streaming are modified at times, more equipment have been explored to create unique visuals and sounds.

VB: Where, when and with whom did you perform Life Circuit?

UL: The first presentation was in 2009 with Japanese musician and performer Yuzuru Maeda. She was the first to put on the Life Circuit mask at a fashion shop called Blackmarket in Singapore, Video Conference: Solo 1.0. In 2012, I collaborated with Singaporean artist Teow Yue Han at The Arts House in Singapore for Verve 2012 – Focal Point. This was followed by Rich Mix in London in 2014 for VJ London X SEA ArtsFest. The same year I invited artists Kai Lam and Yuzuru Maeda for ArtScience Late – Life Circuit at ArtScience Museum, Singapore. For the upcoming show Singapour mon amour – INTER|actions at Église Saint-Merry in Paris I am working again with Teow Yue Han.

VB: I understand from this particular work that there is an attempt to bring the analogue and digital together. In this respect, how do you view the relationship between these two elements? And how is this manifested with your relationship as an artist with the static object as well as your artist collaborators?

UL: I use analogue and digital technologies to compliment one another. Certain functions and effects come from both formats with unique results. It’s like having children and grandchildren. Both run with the same DNA but of course totally different characteristics and entities. The gadgets are the media and art objects, linking myself to the output in visuals and sounds. The art is in the outcome. My collaborators influence, intervene and interact with the art objects and affect the outcome.

Urich Lau, Life Circuit, Noxious Sector Project Window Seattle, 2013

VB: From performing with a dextrose inserted in your arm to having to intercept with performer/violinist Yuzuru Maeda’s vision in bringing forth a certain tension – to what extent do you wish to push the boundaries in terms of “seeing” and “perceiving”?

UL: When I put on the headgear (Life Circuit), my vision, hearing and the ability to talk are impaired. The headgear hinders my normal abilities to interact with the surroundings, but extends my point of view and output of sounds to a wider audience. External connections (dextrose tube and other cables from the headgear) act as foreign elements that physically sustain yet hinder my mobility. I am being sustained but my senses and wellbeing are amplified. Wearing the headgear (as Yuzuru did), the audience sees what I would see as a spectator.

VB: In the last performance at ArtScience Museum with Yuzuru Maeda and Kai Lam I noticed that you combined nuances from the previous series that you performed with Teow Yu Han at The Arts House, for instance the de-articulation of the National Arts Council’s vision of being the global city for the arts. How do you visualise the performance in Paris?

UL: The corporate statements are vital yet often glossed over. Who actually reads the statements on the website? But these are the hopes and aspirations of how the nation sees the growth and sustainability of the arts. It also represents a country’s stance on its legacy on art and culture. I want to show the hopes of one nation (in arts and culture) to another nation as a means of communication and understanding.

VB: Considering that most of the performances were presented in Singapore, are you searching for a new impetus for Life Circuit in Paris? How much do you think will the city of lights influence and affect your upcoming performance?

UL: There are also a few performances and static works (without collaborations) that I have made overseas: Hong Kong (2014, Centre for Community Cultural Development – Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre), Seattle Washington USA (2013, Noxious Sector Project), Malacca (2010, Sama-Sama Guesthouse). Each attempt is to adapt and contextualise with the space and modes of perception. Also there will be elements of chance and improvisation. For Paris, and the performance site, I will try to channel in the physical ambience in terms of sounds, light and shadows to create a sensorial experience.

Urich Lau, Life Circuit, Art Science Museum Singapore, 2014