About project: Forceful Catering

Created in collaboration with 10_r3n and Marie Komatsu. “Forceful Catering” is a choreographic and musical performance growing out from the East/Southeast Asian tradition of preparing sticky rice cakes (mochi). The rice pounding utensils become experimental percussion instruments to produce bass beats to the electronic music; the pounding movements develop along the increasing viscosity of rice. The performance brings out a clubbing experience and a catering service to the audience.

Sticky rice cake, known as “mochi” in Japan, “nian gao” in China, and “chapssal-tteok” in Korea and “tikoy” in the Philippines, is an East/Southeast Asian cuisine made of glutinous rice processed into sticky paste. In the traditional way of preparation, cooked rice is placed in a knee-high mortar, ground, pounded, and kneaded by hands. The modern household appliance provides a high-speed, automated solution to the making of sticky rice cake. But the laborious and cooperative manual pounding session in the old days can’t be replaced. Hit after hit, the rice becomes grainless and transforms into a solid, cohesive, and viscous entity. The chewiness and clinginess is a mouthful of luxury to be enjoyed only in the festive times.

Interview with Kexin Hao

You research collective memory. Where did this interest come from? And how has it transformed over the years?  

My works are largely based on the research around collective body memory. “Total Body Workout”, my graduation work in 2021 presents my research on mass gymnastic routines within the national health agenda of several political regimes which embody political ideologies through bodily symbolism. The outcome is a workout routine that reconfigures the history in a head-to-toe sequence; Last year I focused on body movements in the pre-industrial age. “Future Dance of Nostalgia” is an interactive dancing game which choreographs the movements found in work songs and cooperative manual labour; “Pound It!” and its second version “Forceful Catering” turns the Asian tradition of pounding rice into a motion-sensitive percussion instrument combined with techno music. Since these two years I have been closely looking at how our bodies could become archives where we could restore the history of national body building and “endangered” forms of bodily knowledge in manual labour. 

I developed the interest when I was in the art school in 2020 and 2021 when there were COVID-19 lockdowns from time to time in the span of a year. First, I felt very trapped in my own body with the physical limitations and I had a constant craving of doing something physical and together, which could be reflected in my attempts to bring out public performance in my art practice. Second, spending a lot of time alone and distant from home, I felt quite homesick. Things such as synchronised morning exercise in my school years become not only a carrier of nostalgia but also a subject of cultural specificities that I’d like to inspect. This was how I decided to research mass gymnastic routines. Lastly, the pandemic has taught me that the individual body, labour, state’s productivity, personal choices, and national politics are very much interrelated. I wanted to strengthen our awareness of these interrelationships by investigating collective body memory.

What are the main aspects of this research residency and why? 

My research in this residency is focused on the Chinese work songs (lao dong hao zi) and traditional folklore found in manual labour production, especially the ones about rice pounding. The songs travelled me across numerous regions and times of China, informed me about various functionalities (to help coordinate, to synchronise, to promote work morale, to reduce fatigue, as a praise, as a worship/ritual, as a critique, as a political token, and as an elegy) and through different sentiments of people (joy, sorrow, homesick, flirty, pity…). 

My main focus is the three rice pounding songs. 

舂新米 “Pounding The New Rice” is a dance performance carried out by Kunming Army Art Delegation at the 3rd Chinese People’s Liberation Army Art Performance titled “The Rising Sun in The East” in 1964. In this piece, the work song is totally lifted and detached from the grueling and gluing rice work, as there is no rice in the mortar to pound. The rice pounding has become an entry to celebrate the harvest in the People’s Communes in the Great Leap Forward movement and a symbol of the great offering from the party and the army.

打糍粑 (“Ciba Pounding”) is a Chinese rice pounding folklore duet with a modern music production. The woman and man have a narrative in the song: the man comes to the woman’s house to help pound the rice together with her. He felt naughty and sculpted a little baby doll with the sticky rice. The woman feels teased, at the same time happy. They kept flirting with each other. The mundanity and vulgarness made the song popular to the general public. In this song, the action of rice pounding is a sexual metaphor and the sticky rice becomes a symbol of fertility.

畲族粑糟舞 “The Mortar Pounding Dance of The She Ethnical Group” has a history of around 400 years. It originates from the story where the tribesmen of She wanted to hold a memorial to the Dai Lai, a man good at war and fighting, who was killed by the central court seeing him as a threat to the authority. The tribesmen expressed anger of the court by throwing the mortar (for pounding rice) bottom up to the ground and pound on it. Phonetically, “revert the mortar” sounds the same to “rebel the court”. Throughout the years, this dance had evolved into a form of funeral dance for old people who passed away. In recent times, it has become a general ethnic dance where the old meanings faded away and festive aesthetics came in. It is usually performed at all kinds of celebrations.

Why do I research about these? I am writing a new rice pounding song. I want it to contain the old meanings the rice pounding could carry, to present how work songs and domestic activities can become playgrounds so open and expansive.

I wish to also subvert this playground of old meanings and to turn it into a narrative reflecting the current urges of women today: can a woman’s body become, contrary to a recipient, a giver of forces and penetration? Can fierce acts don’t direct to violence and harm, but a process leading to nourishment and care? How does the transformation of rice translate the cycle and entanglement of birth and death, fertility and decay?

If your performance was a person, which two character traits would it have?  

Masculine, feminine.

Right now your favourite place to create art is…? 

My studio. 

Three things that inspire you are … 

Klaus Nomi, Arnold Schwarzenegger, informal gatherings with the studio mates.