A Tribute to the Land of Gaia: A Ritualistic Performance by Winston Lau
Cloaked with a bed sheet and glazed with mud on the last day of the year in 2017, Winston Lau guided the Gaia Ashram community with a ritualistic performance on the land to communicate the voice of the Earth that spoke to him. The devic character Winston embodied revealed the healing energy the land surrounds us with, the suffering it has endured and the love it can provide us when we are open to receiving it.
Wintson began combining natural art and land-based performances a few years ago at an artist residency in Poland. It was the first time he identified himself as a representative of nature. With many parallels to the role of a shaman, the performance was expressed with chants, undefined language and body movement connecting the audience on a sensory level in a natural setting.
His most recent performance on the land of Gaia Ashram has felt the most complete, according to Winston, as he has nurtured an intimate connection with his surroundings over a longer period of time compared to past performances.
Winston Lau : I have been living on the land for 3 months so I have made contact with the land to form a really good relationship with the spirits here. I feel they are the ones who called me to do it because I didn’t think about it until 2 weeks before. I felt the calling that I should do something. I kept questioning if it was me or the spirits calling me to do it. They eventually confirmed yes to me. I began to spend more time on the land to find out what they would like me to do and gradually a sequence of spaces revealed themselves to me - a large tree in a grass clearing, abandoned rice fields and a spirit tree along a river.
The first area was about nurturing because I felt nurtured when I was there. I went to this space whenever I felt low. I would lie down and look at the tree and feel like the tree would be taking care of me, giving me the power that I need. That part was about how nature nurtures us.
When we got to the second part, it felt like it was about pain. The pain of the earth, the anguish, the hopelessness, the desperation. An intense and low energy.
Arriving to the spirit tree at the end, felt like a re-establishment of a connection. Working together to have our role, position and ways to work with nature.
When engaging with the land, Winston collaborates with his internal source and the spirits he is in communion with to become a conveyor of their expression.
WL: Both are working together. I hold space within me to keep me grounded and I hold space for the nature spirits to come in. The human power is not enough to hold the space of the land so I need to hold the space in order for the spirits to help me. I rely on them to give me signals to guide me to my next move.
The boundaries between a traditional stage and audience were completely dissolved as the landscape, performer and participants were engaged into one realm within the environment. This kind of performance took on a new meaning as the unseen energy of nature was revealed through a series of actions in Winston’s role as a performer in a ritualistic way.
WL: Since I am not a trained shaman, or someone who has the heritage or background to become one I have to consider my role. When you’re a shaman, the ritual is strict and has to be done in a certain way according to your tribe or heritage. They all have symbol. Who am I? As an artist, or someone from Hong Kong, with no formal background. What does it mean? What is my role? I feel called to do something like this, to connect people back to nature, which is what a shaman does in a way but I don't have the background or all of the details of knowledge of what it needs to be or how it should be. The more I do this, the more I feel like there is a place for what I am doing compared to a shaman because their ritual has less possibility.
There is a place for what I am doing using performance as a way to invite people in. People may be more open to engage with a different language defining it. They are coming to see a performance where a ritual is happening within it, and they can actively participate in. They can use their senses as an umbrella of performance as it becomes more accessible than actually finding a shaman to do a formal ritual. I can be a spiritual guide to invite people in to connect with nature.
As we are all from different backgrounds and experiences, sharing a lens for people to connect with nature can be a transformative and healing role. I believe this channel is possible within all of us, but may not be as much of a motivational force like it is for Winston. Communion with nature is a practice that evolves with time the more one opens up and it becomes a gift to share the expression of the sacred union with others.
It was a pleasure to capture the moments that unfolded and sit down with Winston to discuss the experience from his perspective. I hope you've gained some insight about the role of land-based performances and this kind of experience crosses your path so you can also connect to the power of nature in this way.