Blog, Blog 2022, Edition 2022, Final presentation 22, TC 2022

Gula is never sold out — a performance

Why is everything here so sweet? Life in Jogja is sweet, maybe extremely sweet; from its food and beverages to its cigarettes… Somehow, despite its adverse effects, sugar sweetens our life. Gula is never sold out is a long duration performance, which recreates the production process of sugar. From line work to service, the work takes a playful approach on this historically loaded ingredient.

Spanning from sweetness to a tainted colonial past, the associations that sugar arise are multiple. This work is a site specific performance that takes advantage of the architecture of Galeri Lorong, inhabiting its two floors and that exists in three stages.

At the beginning, visitors are welcomed by the vision of a serving person, who hands out tea and coffee with a very big and visible piece of yellow rock sugar. The vision is a little grotesque, as the amount of liquid does not correspond to the clearly exaggerated mass of the sugar. Secondly, people notice the teapot performer, who strangely starts dancing when something from the second floor lands in the teapot. The sound is the most perceptible thing, as the sugar is only visible for a fleeting moment. The sugar acts like a coin on a machine, activating it, making the performer come to life. The quirky performer, who does not move unless activated by the sugar, comes to life for a brief time for the pleasure of the viewers, full of joy of receiving the sweetener. After some time the teapot heads to the front, dancing, to deliver the sugar that will be served to the visitors. Third, the public walks past the serving station and past the teapot, noticing the sugar that fails to land inside. Now it is possible to see where does the sugar come from, the second floor. Here, another performer is tasked to take the rocks of sugar from one place, crawl through a limited space and throwing it to the teapot. The performer has a headlight that makes the workstation feel like a mining site. The strenuous work reminds of a not so sweet part of the extraction and production of sugar. All three workstations are linked by the sound of machines that play by speakers carried by the performers, which travel with them as they move. There is a shift change every 15 minutes signaled by a loud bell.

Why is everything here so sweet ? Tea, coffee, cigarettes, food…. Everything around us seemed too sweet to be true. By taking this question as our starting point, we researched and digged into the meaning of sugar, its tradition and its colonial past in Jogja. After reading books, talking with local people, watching movies and visiting the Madukismo sugar factory, we focused on the chain of production of this daily used ingredient. How were we to re-interpret it?

Explorations of movement and how to implement it to our idea of the work were made during a workshop that Hsuan Chao 趙萱 gave us on how to approach movement based on our imagination. Our few tryouts were then focused on serving nasgitel (literally a hot, sweet and thick tea), starting from the production of sugar. We wanted to use the architecture of Galeri Lorong and play with the dropping of sugar, walking, moving, delivering. This included serving the tea to the public of the gallery. Our first tryouts were of some pulley systems that did not make it to the final version of the work PP Couta designed a few advertisements and illustrations exploring the topic of sugar and the bad connotations that it can carry, like teeth problems. Lily Pellaud compiled sounds to create an immersive experience for the audience. These became present in the performance as the Menu that was presented and the audio that was played from three different channels (each performer carried a speaker) respectively. Creating the props (tea pot and attire) was also subject to a lot of playful conversations where we pushed how ridiculous we can go, without exaggerating. The fabrication of the teapot helmet was rather challenging, as we tried to figure out how to make it functional and aesthetically pleasing. We always aimed to show playful elements in the performance in this quite heavy topic.The process of conceiving this piece was rather easy going and entertaining, with lots of conversations and experimentation. The idea of having fun together was at the core of the artwork.