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SIFA 2023: An Interview with SUKKI, Daniel Kok and Luke George, co-creators of ‘LOVE DIVINE’

Ever imagined an arts event taking place at an elite club? This May, as part of the 2023 Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA), Singapore’s Queen of Burlesque, SUKKI joins forces with performance artists Daniel Kok and Luke George to present LOVE DIVINE, a truly unique performance taking place at the lush CÉ LA VI at Marina Bay Sands.

Over the course of the evening, as the sun sets, audience members will begin the night with Still Lives, a durational rope art performance by Daniel and Luke who will be tying up and suspending two high net worth individuals against the backdrop of Singapore’s skyline. Then, get ready for the CHILDREN OF VENUS, with burlesque performances from The Glamourettes, renowned drag artist Becca D’Bus, contemporary sensual performer Francesca Harriman, aerial artist Adelene Chua and the burlesque performer, Lychee Bye.

Set to be a sensual evening filled with joy and reflection on care and solidarity, prior to getting your tickets, have a read of our interview with SUKKI, Daniel and Luke, as they share more about the artistic process behind their work, and how it goes far beyond spectacle to leave audiences with a change of heart. Read the interview in full below:

Bakchormeeboy: How did the three of you (with Daniel Kok and Luke George) decide to come together to present LOVE DIVINE?

SUKKI: The collaboration of LOVE DIVINE was actually dreamt up by Festival Director, Natalie Hennedige. She’d encountered myself, Daniel, and Luke separately, and suggested the beautiful idea to connect us all to see if we could combine our arts to deliver two boundary-pushing, thought-provoking evenings. I’d been keen on creating a show featuring changemaking local Performance Artists in Singapore for a while, so when I heard about Daniel and Luke it seemed like the perfect opportunity to absolutely push the envelope on my creative concepts, which is how the idea, CHILDREN OF VENUS, came about. From there, two evenings of immersive art and entertainment were born. LOVE DIVINE is so much more than an event, it’ll hopefully have you challenging your expectations on what you thought of as art, and I truly hope that CHILDREN OF VENUS will make you come away empowered, energised and ready to join the fight for freedom of expression.

Luke: Daniel and I have been working together for years, but we’ve never met Sukki until SIFA, where Natalie decided to create this ‘artistic blind date’ and the three of us met proper over Zoom.

Daniel: We were interested to see what sort of synergy might come out of this pairing, which is the driving force behind LOVE DIVINE – pairing non-mainstream practices such as rope bondage, burlesque and vaudeville together to put on a performance unique and unusual for Singapore.

Bakchormeeboy: Both of your styles of work are still relatively niche even in the arts scene, and in conservative Singapore, would likely be viewed as ‘controversial’ or even heathen by a certain segment of society. At what point in your lives did you get over the fear of causing a ruckus and accept it as part of your artistic practice?

SUKKI: I don’t fear causing a ruckus, and nor should you. Isn’t that what art is all about? To observe the world through different lenses and push back against authoritative, quite frankly often dangerous, restrictions on free thought, free will and free expression? We live in a world where – if someone presents an opposing view, or a “controversial” opinion – we’re expected to get terribly upset or offended. But true emotional and intellectual growth can only be experienced by allowing everyone to be heard. You don’t have to agree, but I think that censorship of anything for the sake of “conservatism,” religion or rules is a very slippery slope, and as artists I believe that we have a moral and social obligation to always push back on that, constantly. I once read a quote that said: “Art isn’t meant to be nice, it’s meant to make you FEEL something.

Daniel: Accepting it as part of our practice wasn’t difficult. Our motivation has always been to think about what we can get out of rope bondage as a practice and adapting it in the arts. We don’t set out to be controversial or cause a ruckus, and we’ve showed such work in different places, though the context does vary, and people come with different perspectives. In Singapore, some people do have a certain assumption they bring, such as how they immediately think of rope bondage as an alternative erotic practice. That’s an interesting angle for us to work with, because when people see our work, they will quickly realise it is more than just kinky and sexual, and actually has more to do with relationships.

In fact, a lot of it links back to practicing mutual listening and empathy, both of which are precious things to explore right now. We are so much more interested in working with rope to create performances which engage people beyond the visual, and sense each other in considering one another, and breathing together. From our observations, Singapore actually isn’t as conservative as we think it is. When working with the government there might be more barriers, questioning and censorship, but from what we discovered, audiences who come to our work in Singapore are actually not that different from audiences from elsewhere.

Luke: We have encountered this pushback in many places, regardless of how conservative or mainstream the society is, and like Daniel said, there are a lot of assumptions about rope bondage and their association with kink. Some people think about how bondage might have to do with abuse and violence and power play, and what we’ve learnt not only through exploring this practice, and even through the kink community and practitioners, is that that is quite far from the truth usually, and the foundations of any kind of interaction with dynamic play like rope bondage is about communication, concern and empathy.

Bakchormeeboy: In performing this at CÉ LA VI, and with what is expected to be a higher price point, do you think that the likely audience members would belong to a certain upper class of society? Is there any worry about whether the themes and ideas brought up by the work then be lost on them, and simply treated as pure entertainment?

Luke: The price point is indeed quite high and may be out of some people’s range. It’s an interesting point to the work, because that also ties in with how we’re tying up two high net worth individuals for the installation. We’re also delving into the idea of wealth, and these subjects’ profile in society, and how they position themselves say online, and their relationship to material goods and objects that belong to them, are meaningful to them, or objects that have been given to them. That idea of value is threaded throughout the performance.

Daniel: In this show, we’re looking to embracing such questions about class and wealth and cost and attempt to weave it into the work itself. When we were asked to present this, we did think about how Singapore itself is a tax haven that attracts a lot of wealthy people to come work and play here. While the price point wasn’t set by us, it does make us think about how it’s likely a higher class of Singaporean would come for the show, and we are then inclined to think about how to speak to them directly in the work. After all, the work is about them, and so the themes and ideas brought up are unlikely to be lost on them, and related to the space it is being staged in.

Bakchormeeboy: For Daniel and Luke, this isn’t the first time your rope art has been presented in Singapore, with work like Bunny having been shown at The Substation back in 2015. By having such a public platform to display what is seen as ‘kinky’, what kind of impact do you hope to have on the way such a practice is viewed?

Daniel: Even if it’s borrowed from kink culture, the work itself is not about kink. Bunny was one such example where we interpreted and adapted the practice into an artistic question to create a work. We’re very excited to be able to present our work in Singapore, and beyond Bunny, we also got to create work with National Gallery Singapore before, and what links these works is how they all explore similar questions of relations and what it means to bring people together. In our case – how can we tie everyone together, and tie up a context with a place and a person, not just a body.

Bakchormeeboy: SUKKI, how did you gather the members of Children of Venus? Do you see your role more as purely an artistic director/producer, or is there a degree of ‘motherhood’ involved as well that you display towards your ‘children’? How does that manifest?

SUKKI: When I started in the arts scene in Singapore, I started from the bottom. I’d had some training in classical ballet as a child, but coming from an extremely conservative family, I hadn’t had the opportunity to go to arts or theatre school. I had to learn on the stage as I went along with the help of those around me. Burlesque was also far more controversial in Singapore back then than it is now. Many of the artists I’ve brought in to be a part of CHILDREN OF VENUS are artists that helped me along the way when rules were tighter and what we were doing was frowned upon; my peers, my backing dancers. The other performers are local artists who have hugely impacted and contributed to that underground scene, and newcomers who are paving a way now I’ve moved into directing. For me, CHILDREN OF VENUS was in part about giving back, about saying thank you, about sending the ladder back down, but also about using the opportunity I’d got of an open door to bring everyone else through that door with me. They’re the hidden children of society, the beautiful freaks, weirdos and boundary-pushers that are sometimes seen and not heard; they’re not my children, they’re my sisters, brothers, siblings and everyone in between.

Bakchormeeboy: How does the idea of love manifest itself in both works?

SUKKI: Wow. I think love is the presentation of one’s raw soul and art no matter how it’s received. Love is living in your truth. Revealing your truth. Accepting yourself no matter who’s watching. Letting your heart guide you and just exploding on stage, or in a room, in all your wondrous, beautiful, ugly, sexy, fabulous, soft, hard, raw, ready realness. Love is creating a space where even if only one person connects with you, and maybe that one person is yourself, you’ll have contributed to a better world for all of us.

Luke: It makes me think about what love is. If we break love down into different components, you could divide it into aspects like respect, care, commitment, communication, intention, and intimacy. If we then connect it to the practice of rope work and what we’re learning about interpersonal relationships through rope, we can go further and think about how we’re examining those tensions and vibrations and information sent through the body through the rope. There is a kind of practice of love in that. Whether this practice happens between people who claim to be in love is another matter, but what we look at here is how can we examine all the relationships taking place between the person tying and being tied, but also the people who are watching someone being tied by someone else. The act of watching ties them to the situation, and explores how we relate to that, therefore a form of love.

Bakchormeeboy: How does this work tie back to SIFA’s theme of Some People?

SUKKI: The theme of Some People is to explore a means of sharing each other’s perspectives, especially lived in experiences, within art. Every artist I’ve brought together for CHILDREN OF VENUS has their own way of sharing their unique, provocative, challenging and status quo-defying experiences through their own forms of performance style. My vision was to create something which not only celebrated their unique expressions, but also switched the narrative on what defines Art. When it comes to inherited experiences in the open space that art defines, I think what’s super exciting about CHILDREN OF VENUS is that this isn’t just an opportunity to celebrate and accept genres like vaudeville, circus and burlesque under the umbrella of art, it also celebrates the distinctly Singaporean way in which these genres are expressed – yes you may have seen these types of performance style before, but in no other place in the world are you going to see them like this; informed by the rich tapestry of what it means to grow up as an artist needing to express themselves in Singapore.

Daniel: I do think it links back to Some People in quite a number of ways. Our alternative art form contributes to this idea about how Singapore is varied and contains so many different ideas and practice. We’re not here to act like we’re masters of rope bondage, but using the practice and performance to draw attention to relationships between people and bodies. I also think about how we’ll be featuring the two high net worth individuals, and how through turning them into living sculptures, we are also choosing how to portray them, that they’re not just ‘crazy rich Asians’, but nuanced people, and Singaporeans at heart when we point out what they have to say. It gives audiences a glimpse into these people you may not usually have access to, and spotlights interesting aspects of their lives living in the city.

LOVE DIVINE plays on 26th and 27th May 2023 at CÉ LA VI. Tickets available here

The 2023 Singapore International Festival of Arts runs from 19th May to 4th June 2023. Tickets and full details of programme available here

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