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What space can we claim when there aren’t any? Liina Siib’s performance in Malmö 0

Liina Siib "Mass Line"
Lilith Performance Studio (
Bragegatan 15, Malmö)
October 17-19, 2013

Malmö’s Lilith Performance Studio presents Mass Line - a comprehensive performance by Tallinn-based artist Liina Siib (1963).

Mass Line merges China and the western world’s political ideologies to a peculiar, thorough analysis and practice-oriented observation of systems, prohibitions and orders, both big as well as small ones. Throughout the performance, there is question asked - what space can we claim when there aren’t any.

Mass Line is distinctly political but yet at the same time a highly poetic performance, where most of the part is based upon the artist’s own observations and life experience from living in a closed country. In Mass Line Siib plays with big political and social systems we all have to follow in order to be part of the group. Systems whose intensions are to keep us occupied, to act correct and keep us in line.

In countries with strict leadership and control system people use to perform, to be someone else in public than at home. Everyone becomes an actor ready to stage what the system expects from them, performing ideologies as one’s second nature as a wise survival tactics of everyday life. At the end it is impossible to decide what is a performance and what is not.

With a reckless radical attitude that roots in Liina Siib’s long standing commitment in questions regarding social issues in relation to alienation and class differences, she’s now creating a new, her own, Siibic system. A system where western characters like James Bond can turn into a world leader and role model, and where the dictator’s
propaganda machinery takes form as karaoke and entertainment for the people is a cheap western copy of a Beijing Opera. The performance is divided into two parallel worlds with simple regulations, but where things are not what they appear to be, like an illusion, a trompe l’oeil in real time. asked  Liina Siib to tell us some more about this performance.

You work primary with video and photography. What brought you to the performance?

In summer 2011 I got the proposal from Elin Lundgren and Petter Petterson, the  artistic directors of the Lilith Performance Studio in Malmö to do a performance there. Elin and Petter had seen the Estonian pavilion with my project A Woman Takes Little Space at the 54th Venice Biennale. This invitation was quite a surprise but when we had discussed about the subject and production of the performance I took the challenge. During two years the focus of the performance has sharpened, we name it now the Mass Line, it takes place on 300 sqm, on two levels with 40 actors involved. I would say that this collaboration is the best thing to happen after A Woman Takes Little Space.

Is the idea of this work a result of personally experienced system, that burdens and constraints you? It would be interesting to get know – how do you feel the system in your everyday life.

There is always a system lurking somewhere, like a solar system. So we are all part of them in one or another way. If we know well the constraints of a system, we also may become aware how to avoid them. I am mostly in a system of a freelance artist. I don’t say it is burdensome.       

Which major systems and ideologies are used as the basis for MASS LINE work?

Abstractly, on the level of language, the Mass Line is based on socialist and capitalist systems, on totalitarian approach of systems. I use my own experience from both systems. In the Mass Line a strange mixture of orders and commands forms a crazy system that keeps people busy all the time. Hard core maoist rhetorics from the time of cultural revolution come hand in hand with commercials of luxury items and influences of James Bond films, particulary The Man With The Golden Gun. Visually the Mass Line copies mostly my photographs and films from Beijing to reconstruct its spaces and mise-en-scènes. It is also very much about the copy culture in global world.

How do you see your perfect world outside the system? What would be your own “Siibic system”?

Ah, that would be just flânerie, daydreaming and drifting.  And moviegoing. 

Related article - "Just an Arm’s-Reach Away", an interview with Liina Siib

What exactly the actors do on the Mass Line stage?

There are two ways of actors to be there – either in karaoke films or in real life during performance. For films we derived character ideas from Ernst Idla (an Estonian, refugee in Sweden during WW II, pedagogue of gymnastic and founder of Idla-flickor), Maud Adams (Swedish actor playing female lead in The Man With The Golden Gun), James Bond, Chinese Cultural Revolution time propaganda figures, fangmo and bobo girls from contemporary Chinese mass culture and so on.

In the real time performance the actors do many things – they are Gate receptionists, instructors in two different Offices with two different action-reciting-singing karaoke sessions, subjects of tableaux vivants in display cases like a Qigong Man, workers of the Beauty Institute, Mahjong Players. Some girls wipe weapon display cases, some people just hang around like an Observer and a street seller called a Bling-Bling Person. There are a Cleaning Lady, a Bucket Guy and a Peanut Woman. There are also ska dance teachers in the dance tent, 3 Bond girls in the Bottoms Up Club, a Singer and a midget Guard. 10 actors are acting the Monkey King, a fragment of Beijing Opera, restaged as a theatre piece in the Mass Line. And of course, the visitors of the performance become actors too in this play. Everyone becomes an actor ready to stage what the system expects from them, performing ideologies as one’s second nature as a wise survival tactics of everyday life.

Can you tell us about scenography of this performance?

The Mass Line can be compared to different film scenes unfolding simultaneously as several mise-en-scènes – The Entrance Gate, The Queue, Offices, Display Cases with tableaux vivants and weapons, Guard Cabin, Beijing Opera stage, Bottoms Up Club, Upstairs corridor, Dance tent with its shadow play – to name a few. All happens in loop, there are several parallel worlds, and some systems ignore and invade each other. All spaces have its ‘original’ somewhere in the world – on Cultural Revolution propaganda posters or in Venice, at the socialist meeting offices; or as weapon display cases in the Military museum at Muxidi in Beijing or Beijing Opera House at the Huguang Guild Hall or a Beauty Salon in the basement of a Shopping Mall. The scenography has many layers but they are there in order to serve the total meaning of the piece.