HD video, sound, 15 minutes
Introduced by Weng Choy Lee
A graceful experiment in classical storytelling, Kris Project I deconstructs the narratives of the Indian epic poem Ramayana (which narrates the struggle of Prince Rama to rescue his wife Sita from the demon King Ravana), combining it with other folklore of the Malaysian peninsula. By separating sound and image and combining footage from various sources, Au Sow-Yee displaces time and space and questions historical narratives and memories.
Weng Choy Lee: Could you catalogue some of these elements from this film. But instead of naming them in the chronological way they appear, or listing them randomly, is there some underlying order that organises these elements for you?
Au Sow-Yee: This film was constructed with various elements that were not organised in chronological order, but neither randomly. The selection was based on certain directions that even if they seem to clash with each other, were actually connected with the Cold War, which still haunt us today. With elements such as found footage of Sir Gerald Templer, who directed the suppression of a Communist insurgency in Malaya during the 1950s, and of Grace Chang, a famous film star from the 1950s and ‘60s in Malaya, Hong Kong, Taiwan and other Chinese communities during that period, singing and dancing on a map with a joyous song “The World as One Family”, celebrating places under the American coalition against the Communist living happily like one big family. There were also images I gleaned from a shooting trip; images of rain forests, Indian temples, palm trees plantations that are former bases for the Malayan Communists during the Malayan Emergency from 1948 to 1960; of a lake, of a remnant port of British colonisation. These seemingly diverse elements indicate different periods of time and genres that were edited together to assemble the film: cuts of images of different sizes, images that followed the previous shots in terms of direction of a gaze, etc.
WCL: Could you talk about how you use disjunctures between sound and image?
ASY: I am more interested in revealing ruptures rather than in matching sound and image in a fluid way, as in conventional cinematic language. The choice also reflected my attitude towards history and the writing of history, in this particular film, the history of the Cold War and the hidden power structures behind the glamorous film industry. The timeline of history or historiography was always written in a way to joint together ruptures. By breaking sound and image, it will unleash hidden phantoms from ruptures revealed.
WCL: And what about your use of montage between images from time periods that are relatively far apart?
ASY: I would rather call this film and the installation that came with it a mapping project. Not in a merely geographical way but to create a map that also includes the elements of time. This is a mapping project that is not showing a line but a map in the shape of a three dimensional web. Images from time periods that are relatively far apart seem to be disconnected because of the distance of time on the surface, but that is when we think about time in a linear way. There were interconnected images if we think of a map of time that not only travels in a linear way but also vertically, or each image and its underlying stories as a coordinate that would later work together to form a web of time and a map of the writing of history.
WCL: Lastly, tell us about the animals in the film. The title promises a tiger, which does not appear—unless I’m mistaken but there is still plenty else to see. So what’s with the buffalo?
ASY: Tiger as a symbolic element of Malaysia, in fact some of governmental mascots are in the form of a tiger. The tiger is invisible but visible in a way in this film. In 1958, The British High Commissioner of Malaya initiated two operations in the now Peninsula Malaysia to demolish the so-called “bandits”, as described in most British propaganda films or news reel made for the then Malaya. The operation in the southern part of the peninsula was named Operation Tiger. While there are also other hidden stories of the invisible tiger, one could look for the hints in the installation that comes with the film. Meanwhile, there are also monkeys, cows and buffalos in this film. Taking reference from the Indian culture and influence, for instance Ramayana, one of the renowned Indian epics that circulated in South East Asia—including Malaysia before the popularisation of Islam. The Indian influence was also absent in the historical narrative written by the authority in Malaysia. In a way it is also a hidden element.
A film by Ravi (through Au Sow-Yee, his heteronym)
Producer: Alison Khor
Cinematographer: Lim Chee Yong
Voiceover: Shanthini Venugopal
Music: Sandra Tavali
Ending: Rasa Sayang sang by Alison Khor
Produced with the generous support from Rockbound Art Museum, Shanghai