Blue feathers were laid neatly in a rectangular shape on the floor in the middle of an audience-filled room in Ha Noi, Vietnam. A thirty-something-year-old performance artist by the name of Lai Thi Dieu Ha then casually entered the venue. She sauntered to the rug-like area, undressed herself completely, poured glue over her body, and attached the blue feathers onto herself. All eyes were on her as she imitated avian movements. The routine culminated with the woman releasing a live bird from her mouth. The performance titled “Bay Len” (“Fly Up”) undoubtedly left an impression in the minds of her viewers.
And, the performance, undoubtedly, was controversial.
Was the performance for money? Were Lai and her fellow performers simply using the designation of “performance artists” to basically sell visuals of a naked female body? Or, was it a publicity stunt? Nudity (or seeing, reading, or hearing about a live bird flying out of a blue-feather-covered woman), afterall, do have a tendency to be attention-grabbing.
Or, were the Vietnamese becoming more liberal to viewing the artistic elements of other cultures, and Lai’s performance was a form of self-expression? According to the GOVN blog, Lai stated, “Phu nu thuong khong tu tin va toi cung khong tu tin ve co the cua minh […] Lam nghe thuat, toi thay minh can phai trut bo dieu ay de duoc thanh that voi chinh minh” (“Woman usually do not believe in oneself and I also am not confident about my own body […] Engaging in performance arts, I see that I need to rid that idea so I can be true to myself”). Maybe, Lai felt like a trapped bird and was developing her own method or language to fly over societal norms, pressures, and/or taboos.
Conceivably, as an artist, Lai was attempting to raise awareness for a particular cause and triggering people to talk about otherwise barred issues. With the previously described performance, the matter may be that of personal privacy, sexuality, or freedom. But, what about her most recent act? Her latest, untitled performance involved ironing pig skin onto her bare body and then peeling the burnt skin off. Was the topic of discussion human’s violence towards animals? Or, was it about construction and deconstruction? In regards to the intended meaning, a Bao Moi article claimed that Lai wanted the viewers to “ponder because performance arts is very difficult to explain using words” (“con y nghia cu the the nao thi…’de nguoi xem tu cam nhan, vi nghe thuat trinh dien rat kho giai thich bang ngon tu’”).
Lai’s performance, reasonably, could be seen as the manifestation of a woman’s mental illness. She could be suffering from depression, and these acts of self-display and self-mutilation were relief outlets.
Or perhaps, Lai’s performances were just that – performances – entertainment for entertainment sake.
All in all, these performances have caused Lai to be known as the performing artist who “gay soc” (“causes shock”) according to numerous Vietnamese media outlets. Internationally, would her showcases also be considered shocking?