Hell Bank

2004

Log of six months’ search for ‘performers’ to perform common taoist ritual in front of my camera. Though practiced publicly in countries of origin, in Europe it is strictly reserved for members of Chinese and Vietnamese communities.
The search was based on my artistic network.

 Lead 1

020104: E-mail to Danio Man asking where he is and whether he will be in Holland soon. I need some information, how can I reach him?

040104: Answer from Danio. He is in Hong Kong; I can reach him by e-mail.

050104: E-mail to Danio: I explain the project for the whole exhibition and ask about the beautiful, fake paper money I saw in the Chinese supermarket. What are they for, how are they used? I ask him to confirm what they told me in the shop; that they are burned as a religious sacrifice on small altars. Is this true, is it common, and would it be possible to film this action?

070104: Friendly answer from Danio: The money is burned as a gift to dead ancestors so that they can enjoy them in the afterlife. Paper mobile phones and paper houses are also available. He wishes me good luck with my project.

090104: E-mail to Danio: Thank you so much for your information. Would you consider performing this action in front of my video camera, or do you know anybody who would do it? I assure him that of course it would be filmed and showed with maximum respect for Chinese traditions and beliefs.

No answer.

050204: Danio comes to visit. He says he has thought about it but doesn’t feel like being filmed; it would bring all sorts of bad luck. I should maybe consider this also for myself, it is serious stuff and very personal. He promises to look for Chinese ghost films for me in Hong Kong; it is not uncommon to see this ritual practised in commercial movies.

 

Lead 2

130104: I call the Theatre Academy in Maastricht. Do they have any Chinese students? No, only Dutch and Belgian. I explain the project and ask whether they could put me in contact with any Chinese actors in other schools or in theatres (professional or amateur, it doesn’t matter) who could perform the action for me? They don’t know any Chinese actors.

 

 

 

 

Lead 3

140104 (morning): I think of a Chinese supermarket I saw in Aachen. One of their windows is permanently used for showing young, contemporary art. I ask Paul whether he knows how to get in touch with them.

140104: Paul calls Petra Herzog. She is responsible for the exhibitions in the Chinese supermarket and went to the academy together with him. She is not in. He leaves her a message.

140104 (afternoon): Paul calls Petra again. She is still not in. He leaves another message.

150104: Petra calls back. We are not in. She leaves a message.

150104: I call Petra back. She is in. I explain the project and the problem of getting in touch with anybody willing and able to perform the act of burning money while being filmed. Does she think it would be possible to have somebody from the supermarket do it? They are not Chinese but Vietnamese, and she thinks it will be difficult, but she will ask for me and call me back.

170104: I meet Petra at an opening in Aachen. She is very busy and has not had time to talk to the owner of the Vietnamese supermarket. We agree that I will go there myself to talk to them directly, and that I can introduce myself as her friend.

060204: Back at supermarket. Very helpful lady behind the counter explains that they use to burn money during ceremonies in Vietnam as well, and that she thinks there is a temple in Aachen where maybe it is possible to see it. She is Thailandese herself, and doesn’t know where this temple is. Probably the owner of the shop would know it since he is Vietnamese, but he only works in the morning. I should come back some other time and talk to him directly. I buy five gold bars of paper for one Euro forty nine cents.

 

Lead 4

150104: Paul calls Ranti Tjan in Utrecht. He is on holiday and can’t be reached until the 19th.

200104: Paul calls me in Oslo to tell me he has talked to Ranti, who was very friendly but not willing to perform in front of a camera. He supposed this would be the most common reaction to my question, but offered the names of some other people I could ask: Tjong Ang, Jennifer Tee, the Zeedijk Temple and the Zeedijk Shopping Association.

 

Lead 5

240104: Kari Brandtzæg introduces me to the family running Café Sesam in Oslo. The restaurant is very crowded, so we agree that I will come back to talk to them when they are less busy.

250104:  The restaurant is still crowded. I sit and wait until they have a moment to spare, then I explain the project to the son of the family. He immediately says they would not do it, but he can tell me how it is done and why. The money is burned as a gift or a tribute on the graves of people who died recently (two or three years ago), and on special occasions also for far older relatives, even the ones you have never met. This tradition is very much in use among older people and people living in the countryside, but young people like himself living in the cities often don’t have time for it anymore. Why is there so much reluctance to performing this act in front of me; is my question maybe a bit offensive? No, but these things are sad and quite personal. In China, though, you often see this sort of religious acts performed in commercial movies, so he thinks it is just a question of asking the right person. He is sorry, but he doesn’t feel like doing it himself. There is no need to ask the rest of his family; he already knows the same goes for them. And he can’t think of anybody else to ask, either.

 

Lead 6

170204: Meeting with Lise Nellemann in Berlin. Her boyfriend is a Chinese artist from Singapore. She will talk to him about the project. Since he is an artist himself he probably will not directly participate in my project, but she thinks maybe he knows somebody who will. She will let me know by e-mail.

 

Lead 7

090204: I call Steinar Liverud in London about the project. He is not in. I leave a message.

100204: Steinar calls and leaves a message. I call him back, but he is busy and will call me back later.

110204: Talk to Steinar. He will explain the project to some Chinese artists he knows in London and ask them whether they are willing to perform for me.

180204: Mail from Steinar. He has talked to J J Xi about the project, and even though strangely J J Xi had never heard about this ritual, he was very interested. They will meet next week, and Steinar suggests that I talk to him directly after that. He has also found several web sites on the use of the paper money: http://www.religioscope.com/info/dossiers/internet/2002_002_china_funerals.htm

http://www.occultforums.com/viewtopic.php?t=5423

http://www.thefuneraldirectory.com/pv_moneyburn.html

http://www.worldandi.com/specialreport/1989/september/Sa16773.htm

It is a Taoist ritual and the money is Hell Bank currency so that the deceased can bribe the guards of Hell and be free.

220304: E-mail to Steinar: I still haven’t found anybody for my video, has he talked to his Chinese friend in London?

280304: Steinar calls. He has talked to J J. He might be willing to help, but I need to contact him directly. Steinar doesn’t have his e-mail address, but he gives me the address to his web site: www.madforreal.com.

290304: Long e-mail to J J explaining the whole project and my problem with finding an ”actor”. I stress my honesty and good intentions. Can he help me out, either by performing himself or by introducing me to somebody else who might be willing? By the way: I love his work!

020404: Still no answer. I consider various ways of ending the project without having to consider it a complete failure. Nightmare about empty galleries, sleepless night.

030404: Answer from J J. Compliments for project, he likes it and would love to be my ”actor”. If I don’t want to work with him, he will help me find somebody else. He does not want to be paid, but I would have to come to London.

040404: I order plane tickets for London.