video still from Night Sutra © Han Mengyun

video still from Night Sutra © Han Mengyun


The Pendulum


Every night is a journey towards tranquility 

through an ocean of blazing rage.

This is how a woman burns
like a mountain

restless, merciless
The burning is both a destruction and a reincarnation. 

When the day breaks, the pulse sinks into the abyss. 

The night was a refuge of hysteria.

When the day breaks, sanity returns.
The night was an abode of animality.
When the day breaks, the circus closes its gate,
The beast returns to its cage.
Sleep,
Until the gate opens again.
The wakefulness awaits the night again. 




 poem by Han Mengyun



Night Sutra
शर्वरीसूत्र

2024


written and directed by Han Mengyun


multimedia installation: 3-channel 4K film, 

color and B&W, stereo sound, Dong textile, cast aluminium structure


The work is supported by Busan Biennale Organizing Committee, 2024 

and will premiere at

Busan Biennale: Seeing in the Dark

08.17-10.20.2024

artistic directors: Philippe Pirotte and Vera Mey

Emancipated by the darkness of the night which gave rise to her poetry during fits of her postpartum depression, Han Mengyun, a painter by day, began her nocturnal practice marked by poetic writing and metonymic moving image, which metaphorically takes darkness as its point of departure to reflect on women’s suffering and the possibility of liberation.


Night Sutra (शर्वरीसूत्र, Śarvarīsūtra) is the artist’s first feature length 3-channel video embedded in a Dong textile installation alluding to the form of a womb open for scrutiny. The Sanskrit word śarvarī(शर्वरी) means both the night and women. Night Sutra (Śarvarīsūtra) develops upon this double entendre, investigating intersectionality through women’s labor, universal suffering, shared transcultural heritage, religious and literary representation of women.The work was shot in 4 countries, from Dali Dong village in Guizhou China, to Phnom Penh and Siem Reap in Cambodia, from London, UK to Vevey, Switzerland, where women of different backgrounds are connected by the common act of utterance unfolding in a multitude of languages, both ancient and contemporary. Much like a sūtra (सूत्र), which in Sanskrit literally means a collection of teachings strung together, the moving image mimics the page format of the Buddhist manuscripts via the incorporation of woodblock printed motifs while sewing and holding multitudes together. The weft that ties stories of exile, diaspora, restoration and rebellion are recorded episodes of the artist Han Mengyun's Lacanian psychoanalytic sessions, through which she ruminates on generational womanhood and motherhood, postpartum depression, the bodily suffering that marks women's existence, as well as her relationship to and critique on the seldom discussed misogyny in Buddhism. The sutra is thus a suture of nightly wounds.


Alternating between various narrative forms, encompassing the animated display of Buddhist verses, metonymic presentation of oral accounts of Khmer Rouge survivors, to the Cambodian classical dance and the artist’s documented performances, the film aims to embody the prosimetric structure, orality, performativity and pictorial affect of the Buddhist Chinese Bianwen (變文, lit. transformation texts) , a literary genre originated in the vernacular performance of Buddhist teachings. Han Mengyun regards her intimate and deep engagement with various artistic and intellectual traditions as well as religions not as a naive compliance to and worship of the past but as a feminist critique through enacting a Cixousian écriture féminine, supplemented by cultural locality and individual specificity of the speaking female bodies.


Borrowing Lacanian analytic approach and terminology, the work in return critiques the phallocracy of psychoanalysis that wrongly defines the feminine, be it metaphorical or biological, as a form of lack, which denies the autonomy of the feminine as an entity without the false conception of a dualistic completion. The exposure of her psychoanalytic sessions to the public is propelled by the discovery of her jouissance in the uncovering of her femininity long hidden in mandated privacy, which is to her what led to Freud’s derogatory remark of women’s sexual life as a mysterious and unfathomable “dark continent”.


Han Mengyun proposes an alternative interpretation of this darkness-women association as a corrective endeavour through her textile installation “The Womb” (निशागर्भ, niśāgarbha) , which recontextualizes the notion of darkness through the use of the lustrous traditional cloth made by Chinese Kam/Dong minority(侗族) women who worship the color black for its reference to the darkness of the womb. The egg white applied over the cloth further insinuates the idea of fertility, adding a metallic luminosity unique to the fabric. Consisting of two half circles made of cast aluminium tree branches sourced in Dali Dong village, the structure preserves the hanging tradition of the local textile workshop while acknowledging the symbolism peculiar to the Dong. The installation concocts both a womb and a nocturnal theater for the moving image within, bewitching the audience into a peculiar night mode to reflect on the multiple dimensions of darkness: the veiled labor of women, the suffering mistranslated as hysteria, the emancipatory potential of darkness in relation to the identification of the feminine to her own image—not as a lack of phallus—but as a nourishing space that harbors life and wisdom, poetry and beauty.