Echo Morgan is the English name of Xie Rong, a Chengdu-born, London-based, multi-disciplinary artist whose work is underpinned by a dark family story. She works with stereotypes of ‘Chineseness’ and femininity in order to subvert them. Morgan has written texts on her skin using red lipstick, black Chinese ink, white ‘ink’ made from jasmine tea, and her own breast milk after giving birth to her second child. She has played with tropes of Chinoiserie, painting her naked body to resemble blue and white porcelain, and then inviting the audience to violently wash the patterns away by hurling water-filled balloons at her. Her work mines her own experiences of childhood, family, marriage and motherhood – and those of her female ancestors. She is a story-teller.
Juxtaposing English narration with Chinese traditional songs, Morgan plays with her complex hybrid identity and her difficult childhood. She explores the territory of translation: between two languages, between gesture and stillness, between her Chinese past and English present, between performance and image.
Since my father passed away two years ago I found impossible to make live art, he was the drive, the inspirations for my action art. My straggled soul found huge peace, hope and happiness in daily life of caring my boys. But I have missed so much of the honesty, vulnerability and power of being the ART and communicate to the world through ACTION. Thank you Jonas Stampe for inviting me to the 11th of Live Action in Gothenburg. I am honored to join with some amazing live artists to explore, experience and express the magic of live art. #Gothenburg#lindamarymontano#performanceart#johncourt#huangrui#echomorgan#carlosmartiel#annerochat#行为艺术#哥德堡
Drawing on her volatile personal history as a child growing up in China, Echo Morgan, whose real name Xie Rong, creates devastatingly emotional performance art. One piece titled Be the Inside of the Vase performed in 2012 at The Royal College of Art in London was based on a conflicting childhood memory. Her mother would tell her “Don’t be a vase, pretty but empty inside, be the inside, be the quality!” while her father would say, “Women should be like vase, smooth, decorative and empty inside!” Beginning with this memory, Morgan pulls the audience deep into her personal history and psyche.
The performance is intended to elicit deviance from the audience seen in the fun colored balloons she provides, the drinks in their hand (although probably provided by the venue), and her slow participant-induced undressing. This dark eroticism is present in Morgan’s relationship with her father, at one point even stating “I used to believe that one day…that one day, he would come back, that one day he would rape me.” The audience’s encouragement to undress her at their will is similar to Yoko Ono’s 1965 performance Cut Piece in which Ono placed a pair of scissors in front of her and asked the audience to come forward one-at-a-time to cut off pieces of her clothing. Near the end of the performance a man gets overzealous and begins to cut off large chunks, exposing her nearly-naked body and clearly making Ono unsettled. Both pieces bring the natural deviance within humans to the surface forcing them to address their typically interior feelings in a very public context.
Break the Vase begins as a piece about Morgan’s mother and her advice to be “like the inside,” but as the performance is executed it becomes clear that her father is an inescapable character in the narrative. The audience is a metaphor for his persistent abuse towards both Morgan and her mother, but Morgan herself, in the vase, may also be a symbol of him. Morgan’s head sticks out the top of the vase just enough to be struck by the onslaught of balloons, an event that appears to be a strange beheading ritual. From the perspective of the father being both the abuser and the abused, Morgan has cleverly placed him in a fantasy hell of self-inflicted torture.
3 hours, 04/01/2014 @ CiYun Taoism Temple, XiaoZhou Village, GuangZhou
I was 24 weeks pregnant on the 4th of Jan 2014.
I blew 200 balloons in duration of 3 hours. Audience are encouraged to take away of the red balloons as sign of sharing happiness. The audience were also invited to touch my pregnant belly. Inspired by Chinese custom “ Touch Blessing ”
There was hidden noise sensor, when their hand reaches my belly. They hear mixed sound of temple bell and my son’s heartbeats ( baby heart beats) ! This is a sensitive, peaceful and spiritual ceremony but based on trust.
During Cultural Revolution red guards cut off Buddha heads from the temple to destroy the tradition, religion and history. My father’s antique passion is collecting jade and Buddha head. Bankrupted and lonely, he brushes his jade days and night. Outdoor flea market, where people are looking for things used, interesting and cheap.
3 Hours Lipsticks, sete traditional water jousting shield and jousting pole, white French girl’s outfit @Sete, Infr’action,14.09.2013 My uncle used to call me the Don Quixote. I was excited to discover the famous sport in Sete: Water Jousting and noticed it’s a game for boys only. I covered my body with red lipsticks to create an image of a very feminine modern water jousting warrior. During the three hours performance I began unexpectedly crying.
Photography by Roland-von-der-Emden,Yau Wen and Kovács István
3 hours, 13 . 09 . 2013 @ Sète, outdoor market
ZeZette (traditional cookie from Sète,France) I ate the first fortune cookie when I arrived in London. It’s a Chinese symbol created by American consumerism but not popular in Mainland China. Shaped like the folded version of local cookie zezettes. I plan to invite audience to think, interact and make me as a Chinese zezettes. I set inside a box cover and decorated like a table. Only head is visible. Covered with note that reference the words people found in Chinese fortune cookies. Baking ingredients for Zezettes are places on the table labelled with different meanings. Audiences are invited to cover my head with:
Photography by Roland-von-der-Emden, Vincent Campos and Bjorn Veno
2 hours, 11 . 09 . 2013 @ Sète, outdoor market
Be persistent in training! Strengthen our bodies! Study diligently! Serve our motherland!
Radio gymnastic exercise (Guangbo Ticao ????) is part of the school curriculum in most primary (age 6-11) and secondary (age 12-17) schools in China. Every morning at 6:10am. As a communist child I was a monitor since the age of 4. One of my daily duties was lend the morning exercise. In this performance follow the Chinese Radio gymnastic exercise music. I will begin to practice morning exercise, during Two-hour session, I gradually wrap brown tapes around my body until I can’t move.
Performance by Echo Morgan, 17. 09 . 2013 @ Sumarria Lunn Gallery, Live Performance: 1 Hours
waxed huddha head and bodysuit, tight rope, toothbrushes, 10 min film projection on loop @Sumarria Lunn Gallery, 17.09.2013.
At the Closing evening of Tightrope, I performed the final part of my performance: Brushing Jade: Father’s Jade. I wore a waxed Buddha head and bodysuit, my body was covered with green clay and audiences were invited to brush the clay off my body. A film of me brushing jade and my father was projected at the background wall.
Scaffolding, safety net,waxed buddha head, brush, body
@Sumarria Lunn Gallery, 05.09.2013
At the private view of Tightrope, I performed the first part of my performance: Brushing Jade: Jade Buddha I wore a waxed buddha head, stood silently inside a scaffolding structure. My body was covered with green clay, left audience wondering what will happen in the second part of the Brushing Jade performance. Please come and join me on the 17th of September to complete my Brushing Jade performance as a whole.
Entering its ninth year of existence Infr’Action will take place from September 11th to 15th in the public space of Sète and at the city’s own beautiful Musée Paul Valéry. Five days, five performances. It’s all about action.
Follow me on instagram for all my working in progress : )
Scaffolding, open frame industrial monitors, films
2meter x 2meter
Royal College of Art Show RCA2013
A Pai Fang ?? is a traditional style of Chinese arch,
a historically popular monument that celebrates important family members and achievements. The most famous are “Virgin Pai Fangs” which memorialise the chastity of wives who never remarried after the death of their husbands.
Family Tree stands a new kind of Pai Fang, a multimedia monumental arch constructed by skeletal scaffolding poles. Eight open-frame industrial monitors hang on the structure on multiple planes, showing films, some sound tracked, some not, whose 3D construction offers the viewer multi-layered experiences of family in imagery, interviews and my own reminiscences. A new memorial.
It is a performance influenced by Greek mythology Echo and Narcissus, western fairytales Little Mermaid and Chinese legend Carp Jumps Over the Dragon Gate.I invited audiences to taping my legs,this performance transforms my body into a sculpture.
Echo Morgan-live performance at Hayward Gallery-workshop
My name is Echo,
I don’t have a voice,
I can only repeat other’s words,
You can give me a voice.
Please tape my legs,
I exchange my legs
for a voice.
Fish Woman in History
Text and images from Mermaids, Witches & Amazons By William Bond
Hendrick Hamel, In 1653 he was a crew member of the Dutch ship, the Sperwer sailing to Asia. Scholars regard this as important as it was the first account of Korean society by a European. Everything he says about Korean society at the time, has been supported by Korean scholars.However one thing he said that caused some controversy. He claimed he saw mermaids on the island of Cheju. It has now has been accepted by scholars, that the mermaids he saw, were simply Haenyo.Haenyo divers are female breath-holding divers who have been foraging on the sea floor for thousands of years for marine food like shellfish, seaweed, sea urchins, sea cucumber, crabs, squid and octopus.Nowadays they wear wet-suits, but before that, they hardly wore anything.They are not the only female breath-holding divers in the area, because in Japan the Ama divers who like the Haenyo divers have also been foraging the sea floor for thousands of years.Nowadays some Ama divers do use wet-suits, but most of them don’t, and instead wear a cotton costume.The reason for this is that the Japanese have banned all modern equipment like scuba gear because they fear they will overfish the waters with modern equipment.For this reason they stick to traditional methods.
So it this the explanation for mermaids?That they are simply breath-holding divers like the Ama and Haenyo of Japan and Korea, once existed in Europe and other parts of the world.If that is true, then why don’t we read about this in our history books?This can be explained by what happened to female breath-holding divers in China and Korea.In China and Korea female divers were called ‘dragon wives’.This is because while they were foraging the sea-floor for food, their husbands stayed at home looking after the house and children.When Confucianism was adopted by the Chinese and Korean governments, the lifestyle of women divers clashed with the Confucian doctrine of the Five Bonds of Filial piety, where wives should be at all times, be submissive to their husbands.It seems that being the breadwinners of the family, made these women too feisty for Confucian sensibilities, resulting in female breath-holding divers being banned throughout China and Korea.They only managed to survive on the remote island of Cheju. Ama Diver with rope around her waist and iron bar The Japanese solution to this problem is for the Ama diver to tie a rope around her waist, and tuck into in a heavy iron bar. This bar serves two purposes. It is used to dig away shellfish that are glued to rocks, and acts as a weight so the diver can sink to the sea floor more quickly. On the sea floor she quickly collects as much marine food as she can find, and puts it in a string bag, then tugs on the rope. Men in the boat above pull her to the surface. This strategy means she is not limited by the weight of her catch in each dive. As far as we know, mermaids in Europe didn’t do this. There are no stories of mermaids jumping off boats with a rope around their waist and then being hauled up by men.In World War Two the island was occupied by the Japanese, who treated the Cheju people so badly that they rose up in protested. But the Japanese brutally suppressed the islanders, and the Haenyo divers suffered, as they played a major role in the protest. Worse was to follow. After the Second World War, the Cheju people objected to the way they were being ruled by the Korean government. The Korean government condemned them as communist sympathisers, and their brutal suppression of the Cheju people was far worse than what was done by the Japanese. Many of the Haenyo divers had to flee the island and moved to Japan. It was after this that the Haenyo divers began to wear wet-suits to avoid drawing attention to themselves.
Chinese Sea Lady
Lady Ch’ingThere is the story of Lady Ch’ing whom Chinese scholars called a female pirate.She led a force of 50,000 sea- people which successfully destroyed the Chinese Imperial Navy fleets sent to destroy them.The Chinese the Imperial government solicited assistance from British and Portuguese warships.This forced Lady Ch’ing, in 1810, to negotiate a settlement with the Chinese government. Most references to these female breadwinners were written out of history, for instance Chinese scholars preferred to call Lady Ch’ing, Cheng I Sao, which means wife of Cheng I, to conceal the fact that female leadership among the sea people, was commonplace.
Lady Ch’ing- female pirate
Witches hunt in middle age
It seems that not only did Confucianism dislike female breath-holding divers but Christianity did as well, probably for the same reasons.Christian wives had to swear to obey their husbands when they married, which caused trouble when mermaids were also the breadwinners of their families. There are stories of priests who, encountering mermaids on the seashore would curse them as devils and threaten them with eternal damnation.It also seems that mermaids were caught up in the witch hunts of the Middle Ages.
During the witch hunts of the middle ages there was the cruel practise of the ducking stool, which was seen as a foolproof way to establish whether a suspect was a witch. The woman was tied to the stool and immersed in water. If the suspect drowned she wasn’t a witch but if she survived the ordeal she must be one. The only way this cruel logic can make any sense is if the accused Witch is also a breath-holding diver. An ordinary woman tied to the end of a ducking stool and forced underwater for about two or three minutes, is very likely to panic and drown. But if she is a breath-holding diver, she is more than capable of calmly holding her breath. It would be a foolproof method of finding out if the woman was a mermaid.
witch hunt in middle age
So why was the Christian Church so vehemently opposed to witches and mermaids? As we’ve previously mentioned, mermaids were breadwinners and assertive women. Christian priests didn’t like this. We can see this in the way the ducking stool was used not only to find witches but to punish women who were ‘scolds’, women who spoke their minds and disagreed with their husbands. These women were not obeying the oath they took when they married, of honouring and obeying their husbands. Another reason why mermaids were disliked, came from the conflict between farmers and mermaids. Today we tend to think of mermaids living in the sea, but if we go back to the old stories of mermaids, we find them also living in lakes, rivers and swamps.Gathering food in water and wetlands is a very ancient way of life, far older than farming, and goes back millions of years to our earliest ancestors. Unfortunately the picture drawn by scientists about our ancestors, is very heavily biased towards men. They talk about hunter/gatherer societies, where men are the hunters and women the gatherers, but as science is dominated by men they are generally only interested in the hunters, and women are hardly mentioned. But field studies on hunter/gatherer societies that survived until the 20th century, show us that the vast majority of food was gathered by women.
Accounts of Sirens don’t all come from the ancient Greeks. Sailors in Europe until the 19th century have warned about the dangers of the siren call, some going as far as claiming that if you see a mermaid, then it’s certain your ship will be destroyed. In spite of these exaggerated stories, there are logical reasons why sailors needed to be warned about the siren call. All breath-holding divers like the Ama and Haenyo divers of Japan and Korea and modern freedivers have to practice regularly to be able to hold their breath for more than three minutes underwater. Opera singers also have similar breathing exercises both to develop powerful lungs and to hold a very long note.Human learned breath control so they could dive to greater depths. Conscious breath control was also an important factor in humans learning how to speak.
People always say that I have balls. I am a tiny Chinese girl, hair doesn’t even grow much on me. But apparently I have balls. Big heavy balls. The empire of china cut off the male servant’s balls so he remains the only man in the Forbidding City; Priest cut off the choir boy’s balls so they have better sweeter voice. My balls are my thoughts, my balls are my emotions, my balls are my baggage of memory, my ball are filled with air, my balls are light as feather… Ball of steel… Come to tingle my rusty bell, I will sing for you, I will tell you a story…
A land not mine, still forever memorable, the waters of its ocean chill and fresh. Sand on the bottom whiter than chalk, and the air drunk, like wine, late sun lays bare the rosy limbs of the pinetrees. Sunset in the ethereal waves: I can not tell if the day is ending, or the world, or if the secret of secrets is inside me again.