Close Encounters 

Patty Chang devours vulnerability and poops it out.

Thirty-five-year-old performance artist Patty Chang uses her body as a canvas in ways that often seem outrageous, if not outright depraved. In the 1995 piece Gong Li with the Wind, she devoured beans and pooped them out. In the 1996 Super 8 film Paradice she pretended to be a sex worker (the description from MIX NYC Lesbian & Gay Experimental Film Festival reads: "Oriental femme seeks financially $ecure. Loves gambling, resorts, shuffleboard, houseboats, take-offs and landings ..."). In Melons (At a Loss) (1998) she stuffs two melons into a corset, slices them with a large kitchen knife, scoops out the fruit, and eats it. In Shaved (At a Loss) (1998), she hikes up her skirt and shaves off her pubic hair while blindfolded. In Eels (2001), she lies on the ground while someone puts live eels into her shirt. Many theorists write about stereotypes of Asian women and attempt to subvert them, but Chang goes to the absolute extreme ends of masochism and self-immolation to prove her point. She seizes upon the stuff that makes her vulnerable, and violates herself before anyone else can do it to her. And in a weird, twisted way, her work comes across as, well, enabling.

Thursday, November 15, Patty Chang will present a new work-in-progress at the Berkeley Art Museum galleries, to coincide with the Pacific Film Archive series One Way, or "The Other": Asian American Films and Videos. She'll also appear Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. to introduce a compendium of pieces called Contortions: The Performance Work of Patty Chang. The new piece centers on the Chinese-American Hollywood actress Anna May Wong, and runs in conjunction with a twenty-minute video installation displayed in the museum gallery, which shows several people reading an essay by Walter Benjamin about his first encounter with Wong, and translating it from German to English on the spot. Apparently, Benjamin was quite taken by the young starlet. One Way, or "The Other" runs through December 23; Chang will perform her new work at 6 p.m. on Thursday. BAM admission costs $5-$8; PFA screenings cost $5.50-$9.50.


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