The act is simple yet intense. Chen starts by placing six churns of equal volume in order of shortest to tallest. Then, she carefully empties a bottle of milk into the first, and so the dominoes begin. For the next 40 minutes, she continues to transfer the liquid in various ways. Sometimes, she is cautious. Other times, she is hurried. Sometimes, she kneels down before the churn. Other times, she stands atop a table and the liquid tumbles into the pan like a waterfall. “The process of pouring it in different manners represents different parts of our lives that we don’t have control over,” she explains. Through the process, milk is lost little by little – trickled down the sidewalk, gathered in pools on the pavement, and left as residue on the metal.
The performance was inspired by the act of pouring tea into a bottle. “No matter how careful I tried to be, I couldn’t help but spill some over the sides,” Chen says. Quickly, she became fascinated with the transferral of liquids, researching all the ways we drink and carry fluids with a vessel such as straws, shishi odoshi fountains, and bhistis. She also explored different spouts and how liquid cascades in different flows. Taking advantage of her background in design, Chen designed her own – a keen eye for detail can see how the milk smoothly falls in a twisted pattern from churn to churn.
Chen is a person of spontaneity, and it is clearly reflected in her work. Her act of pouring milk is repetitive, but her path – the choice of which churn to approach next – is unpredictable. She represents a true reality, where people complete the same tasks over and over again, almost on autopilot, without knowing the greater direction of life. This disengagement sits at the centre of Chen’s performance. The spout and its churn rate references the economic term, ‘churn rate,’ which refers to the rate at which customers disengage with a business entity. “The title sheds light on involuntary disengagement of all sorts in everyday scenarios, revealing the poignancy of sacrificing a small part of us in order to carry on living,” she explains.
The end of the act is a reversal of its beginning. Chen carefully pours the milk from the tallest churn back into the glass bottle. She is diligent and cautious – the metal tube remains suspended in the air until every last drop seems to fall out. Yet, as the cap is screwed on, there are undertones of sadness and loss as we look at the bottle – it is now only half full.