Ambiguous Ambassador: SlutForArt

Local Arts Reviews

Ambiguous Ambassador: SlutforArt: Elegy for a Life, A Brother, an Art

Zachary Scott Theatre Center Kleberg Stage,

through January 27

Running Time: 1 hr, 5 min

An elegant elegy created to memorialize the art and life of photographer Tseng Kwon Chi, this is actually two intimate pieces of theatre: 98.6 A Convergence in 15 Minutes and SlutforArt. The creators are Tseng Kwon Chi's devoted sister, choreographer and performer Muna Tseng, and multimedia artist Ping Chong, who wrote and directed both works. 98.6 is a brief exploration of what the collaborating artists have in common; SlutforArt is the loving, gentle ode to a brother and an artist.

It was six years mourning the death of her brother Tseng Kwon Chi, who died of AIDS in 1990, before Muna Tseng felt compelled to make art again. She turned to Ping Chong for assistance. In 1996 they turned the commonalities between them -- in art and life -- into 98.6, which is essentially a list of the things the two artists share. It is a gentle starting off for this subtle and rich collaboration. While Muna Tseng dances, projection of the phrase "The things they share," in English and later in Chinese, are seen on the upstage scrim. Ping Chong's recorded voice notes all their similarities in growing up Chinese in America, turning to art, and exploring their world.

The longer SlutforArt is more of the same, yet richer. The backdrop is a selection of Tseng Kwon Chi's photographs; the audio is composed of interviews with Tseng's sister, his friends, lovers, and other artists from the 1980s East Village art scene that included the likes of Keith Haring and Keny Scharf. Tseng's photography might be described as accidental Chinese tourist; he would dress himself up in a suit similar to one worn by Mao Tse Tung and photograph himself before all manner of world landmarks, looking slightly bemused, slightly out of place. He often took his "tourist" role further, playing the part of a Chinese dignitary in his suit and dark, reflective sunglasses, fooling hifalutin party hosts and politicians that he was Someone of Importance, gate-crashing his way into memorable photo ops that he used in his art. Muna Tseng and Ping Chong bring Tseng's sharp compositional eye and subtle sense of humor into a third-dimension-utilizing narrative, interviews, photography, and three dances to help trace a the arc of this homage. The first dance hints at growing up: a sister's first dance for her brother, foreshadowing a life in art and peppered with sometimes goofy moments that siblings share. The second refers to Tseng's work, with Muna Tseng dressed in that Mao-esque suit, exploring the artistic evolution of her brother. The third, the saddest, her dance for her loss.

Throughout, performer Muna Tseng is precise and strong. Gestures repeat, sometimes sharp, sometimes gentle, always smooth; her movements across the stage are dynamic, no matter their rhythm. When she addresses the audience, it is conversational, easy. The whole short presentation flows with an elegance and simplicity that belies its growing emotional context, with the calming, suggestive undercurrent that life is simply another manner of artistic expression.

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Ambiguous Ambassador: SlutForArt, Zachary Scott Theatre Center, Tseng Kwon Chi, 98.6 A Convergence in 15 Minutes, SlutForArt, Muna Tseng, Ping Chong

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