by Red Cell
It has been a little over 3 years since Annamarie Ho first set up shop in a gallery installation in New York City selling Betelnut to passerby in her performance piece Binlang Xi Shi (Betelnut Girls). She revived the piece in 2008, but this time on Kenmare Street in SoHo where she hired an actress to play the role of the binlang xi shi while she acted as the owner, watching over her investment. Betelnut is a stimulant sold throughout Asia, but only in Taiwan is it sold on street corners and highways by barely dressed young girls in glass booths. Every transaction seems to be laden with innuendo. It has become a normal part of the culture there and artist Annamarie Ho wondered what the implications would be if it was displaced into our cityscape. “I wanted to recreate the dynamic of the booth in New York and see how it operates in someplace completely different.” This naturally brings to mind the implications of what the men who frequent these booths are actually purchasing, Betelnut or face time with the girls selling it?
From the show program:
Ho simulates a vending stand of the sort that becomes, in effect, a free-standing display case, where the “betelnut beauties” function as commodified mannequins. She includes an example of the accompanying neon business signs often phrased to sound like the names of love hotels in East Asia. In Binlang Shi Shr (Betelnut Girls), Ho not only expresses a concern over the “entrapment” of women in sexual-economic exploitation, but also exoticizes this selling process, as an actor hired for the performance interacts with viewers like a betelnut girl. Ho assumes her role as a stand owner who monitors the girl’s behavior. Bringing this simulating experience of betelnut girls to the space of the art gallery, Ho also raises a larger issue of what’s being sold in contemporary commercial galleries, as she uses the actor and the performance piece as a means to sell her installation.
For more info on Annamarie Ho and on the Binlang Xi Shi, please click on the link below:
Photos from Binlang Xi Shi (Betelnut Girls) (2006 & ’08)