27 October 2018

3 @ Wei-Ling Contemporary

For his third solo exhibition, Sean Lean utilizes a presentation format – the triptych – as a starting point to explore subject matters in painting. The exhibition statement describes the triptych as “a pictorial convention within the Christian tradition where a central panel is adjoined by two subsidiary but associated ones…” In a concise and descriptive essay, Line Dalile writes that the artist “…sought to challenge and disrupt its inherent symmetry. Size, style, and treatment of individual panels vary in attempt to create a space of tension and ambiguity, yet still maintain a unifying line of thought, both visually and conceptually, between the three panels in each triptych. Tension is inherently built into the format of the triptych, with each individual panel vying for attention or complementing and illuminating the other, if not both.”

3 (2018)

Case in point: ‘3’, with its left panel a trippy combination of overlapping pink, blue, and yellow circles; the alphabets ‘T’ and ‘W’ seemingly etched on a rusted rectangular centrepiece; and a shortened right panel – approximating the golden ratio – depicting a facsimile of the Googled definition of triptych.  The images read from left to right like a visual sobering process – from high saturation pop, to a mundane wash of brown, to language described on a desktop screen. Another form of sobering – to plunge into the depths of dark water – takes place further down the same wall. ‘carpe diem’ pairs one scene of a splashing good time, with a Scorpène-class submarine underwater. Seizing the day, has never meant more to voting Malaysians accustomed to financial scandals and corrupt politicians.

carpe diem (2018)

Sean’s playful takes continue with ‘Prosperity’, the diamond-shaped centrepiece flanked by two scroll-like accompaniments, presenting a crossover of visual cues from Western painting and Chinese tradition. Instead of an antithetical couplet, the pair features paintings of a chubby kid riding a merry-go-round, and sumptuously-painted pig heads hung on a skewer. Is prosperity signified by children, mechanical horses, or abundant food? Is the cost of prosperity, the freedom to capture scenes representing absurdities in modern life? Pleasant live human and gruesome dead animal are not equated or juxtaposed, but act as a visual counterpoint around the title concept. As indicated by the yellow and pink colours in the 福 panel, positive and negative spaces are equally filled in a titular word, and it is up to the reader's interpretation for making individual meaning.

Prosperity (2018)

Confidence & determination, and the opposite traits of doubt & deliberateness, are on full view in ‘Self-Portrait’. Sandwiching all-black and all-white portraits of the artist’s father and himself, is a painting-sized vitrine of certificates and awards. Both portraits appropriate mugshots, as the artist depicts both individuals as equally responsible and guilty, for this relationship gulf. Are achievements on paper good enough to bridge human relationships? Personal desolation turns to news-worthy outrage in ‘BANG BANG’, which depicts a monk holding a rifle, and ready to shoot at a gallery of sitting Tibetan monks. Separating the shooter from his target is a quote from the Theravāda Buddhist scripture Vinaya Pitaka, where choice letters are highlighted in red to visually connect the gun-shaped triptych. The face-off marks a moment of silence, and questions what it means to practice one’s religion.

BANG BANG (2018)

Sean also customizes the “3” format to approximate his subject in ‘The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom’, that dominates the opposite wall. The effectiveness of this formal play is maximized in this floor-to-ceiling work, which towering scale recalls too the origins of the triptych in Western religious painting. A stunning profile painting of a golden seated buddha forms the base, while its head’s silhouette is rendered via a pattern mimicking the buddha’s coiled hair. William Blake’s proverb completes the middle, yet the work’s fuzzy top and visually-appealing bottom, betrays its own sage-like quote. Will the abundance of iconography inspire a reflective viewer, or has stylistic clichés occupied the overzealous mind? This thought persists in the interpretation of ‘Copies’ hung nearby, which three panels feature a print, a painting of the print, then a scan of the painting.

Installation snapshot of The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom (2018)

While the artist is obviously broaching questions of authorship in ‘Copies’ – recall Gan Siong King’s “The Horror, The Horror” project which the artist painted 12 instances of Alan Turing’s portrait – the subject matter here makes for more compelling contemplation. The identical image in all 3 panels, is a portrait-sized cut-out of a video snapshot, taken from Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Andrei Rublev. Played by Anatoly Solonitsyn, the great medieval Russian orthodox icon painter (whose most famous work is ‘Trinity’!) is characterized as a single-minded artist confronting his social reality of chaos & repression. The independent will and to do what one desires, seem to describe Sean too, whose autobiographical imprints are evident in his oeuvre. When an image has been transmuted across multiple mediums, what is left of it? When a painter paints a world divorced from his reality, is he a responsible artist?

Copies (2018)

In retrospect, “3” ranks among the top painting exhibitions I have seen to-date in 2018. Sean’s paintings always project a luscious tone – which colourful underpainting can be seen in work-in-progress snapshots on the artist’s Instagram – while its glossy flatness denote Ivan Lam’s influence. Displaying only eight triptych works, the attractive aesthetic and experimental verve coalesce into a brilliant exhibition, where a variety of themes from East-West dichotomies to political events, can be read more simply as painted structures and formal arrangements. Working exclusively with Wei-Ling gallery only, the artist has not made a splash in the Malaysian art scene, but he deserves far more recognition. After “3”, one wonders what will be the theme for Sean Lean’s fourth solo exhibition – perhaps death (‘4 死’ in mandarin)?

Self-Portrait (2018)

19 October 2018

Mid-October 2018: Malaysian Art Week?

Who needs a Gallery Weekend, when the Kuala Lumpur art scene can self-organize a string of exhibitions and events in a couple of weeks, that highlight Malaysian art? Centred around the annual Art Expo Malaysia, this year’s art fair features a distinct layout, more schoolchildren, and some high-profile regional artists & private collections. Visitors pay RM 10 to enter – a cheap fare for a pop-up Instagram-friendly show, complete with neon signs of local political slogans – and are immediately treated upon entrance to Chen Wei Meng’s subtly beautiful local landscapes of dirt & plains. Tarpaulin maps by Chong Kim Chiew and old paintings by Chin Kong Yee make up the remaining displays at Wei-Ling Gallery, whose inaugural participation in this local event literally occupies both its entry and exit points. 

Stewart Macfarlane - Lady Bay (2018)

The Brickfields gallery’s outpost at The Gardens Mall compels visitors with an intriguing ‘bipolar’ showcase by two international artists, where one first admires Stewart Macfarlane’s vivid and superbly-composed paintings, then pass through a dark curtain to ponder upon Dadang Christanto’s grave portraits memorializing victims of a 1965 massacre in Central Java. At art mall Publika, Segaris Art Centre organizes a huge group exhibition with the opportunistic theme “Malaysia: Rebirth”, while its own gallery hosts a tiresome collection of new works by Tajuddin Ismail. Walking past the glut of Malaysia Baru-inspired art, The Sliz’ ‘Mindsweeper’ proves to be the exception and only outstanding work. The rules of the game remain the same, we can choose to restart the game, or exit the game altogether. Click, click, click… boom!

The Sliz - HRÐİ_01_mïNd$W€Ép3R (2018)

Segaris stages a booth at Art Expo featuring four senior artists who are former and current UiTM lecturers, all whom recently had solo exhibitions except for Zulkifli Yusoff. Between Jalaini Abu Hassan’s bitumen applied on canvas, and Ramlan Abdullah’s joints in vertical constructs, there is a sense that the full potential of materials utilized is not realized. A better exposition of art mediums can be found at the short-duration and misleadingly-titled Shah Alam Biennale 2018; Better and nearer, one can visit excellent sculptural and installation art at the “Minta Perhatian” exhibition in the National Art Gallery, while captivating new works by Malaysian artists are displayed in the third floor galleries, via the institution’s collaboration with Wei-Ling Gallery and Fergana, respectively

Installation snapshot at Segaris Art Centre booth at Art Expo Malaysia 2018

At “Tekad Enam Dekad” in Balai’s Galeri 2B, visitors are treated to more artwork gems from the National Collection, in one winding display that looks back at the collection’s own roots and becoming. There was no shortage of art on show during this extended week, if one knows where to go. For those with art-world connections, private collections were open for viewing, be it in Shah Alam or Ampang. Adventurous photography enthusiasts can travel to Petaling Jaya for a look at Nirmala Karuppiah’s black & white snapshots, or head downtown to 2 Hang Kasturi for a preview of Kenny Loh’s “Born In Malaysia” portraits. Interested persons are spoilt for choice, at a time when landmark museum exhibitions are also held at ILHAM ("Pago-Pago") and Bank Negara Malaysia Museum and Art Gallery ("Seni Cetakan: Lasting Impressions"). 

Samsudin Wahab - Pohon Kehidupan (2018)

The latter show features prints by Pangrok Sulap, whose solo exhibition at A+ Works of Art includes two large works that embroiled its makers in a (self-)censorship debacle 19 months ago. The Sabah-based collective is rightfully celebrated for its community engagement initiatives, and one could learn much from tuning into two BFM interviews, to understand their views aligning village life with punk rock philosophy (!!). Unfortunately, Kuala Lumpur viewers have unwittingly cast Pangrok Sulap as figures representing anti-censorship in the arts, where the gallery too is guilty in emphasizing this point in its marketing efforts. Aesthetically, the new works with snakes and ladders motifs is kitschy (perhaps denoting that many collective members had a hand in it), as compared to the striking images in the “Ma=Fil=Indo” series shown adjacent. 

Installation snapshot of Pangrok Sulap - Sabah Tanah Airku (2017)

The Sentul gallery also represents Chang Fee Ming, whose high-priced paintings hang (and sell well) at its Art Expo booth with a curious cross-shaped layout. Richard Koh Fine Art's booth nearby features scroll paintings on copper by Seah Zelin, which colour palette resembles Dun Huang cave murals. The visual feast turns up a notch at its Bangsar gallery showing Hasanul Isyraf Idris’ third instalment of his “HOL (Higher Order Love)” series, which is less serious than its previous iteration. Symbols taken from video games, food stuff, fine art, and toys coalesce with mesmerising patterns, which wacky result culminates in the wonderfully irreverent aluminium sculpture of one vertical slice of salmon… That is a lot of Malaysian art to see over a weekend (plus some), in the capital city. Who needs the government or a private gallery, to organize a ‘Malaysian Art Week’? 

Hasanul Isyraf Idris - Offshore Bar (2018)

24 September 2018

Sensory Photography @ RUANG by Think City

Billed as “Malaysia’s first photography exhibition by the visually impaired”, the second-floor space features snapshots by seven individuals with differing severities of low vision. How does one who is visually impaired, makes use of the photographic medium to capture an image? What is captured, if composition and technical qualities are put aside, and for what purpose? After the first walkthrough, it is apparent that most pictures possess an oddball quality absent from a typical show featuring amateur photographers. The angle of snapshots taken is lower. Things appear off-centre, yet the focus is intentional. Perhaps most surprising is that photographs do not display dramatic contrasts, a relatively simple approach towards creating visually attractive pictures.

(clockwise from left) Snapshots of Ahar bin Tabe - "Cycle", tactile photography exhibits, "Journey"

What triggered my reflections about photography as a medium, are the displays placed along the windows. 3-dimensional collages made with different textures – hair, rubber, plastic, leaves, etc. – represent the photo exhibits, while visitors blindfold themselves and listen to instructions via a portable set of headphones. When was the last time I looked at a picture of a cat, and thought of the softness of its fur? Or the sharp edges and risk of bleeding, when glancing a picture with rusted nails? Or seeing a picture of a road, a tree and its fallen leaves, that rekindle a memory of a pitstop at a rural town, complete with humid air and light blue sky?

(from l to r) Snapshots of Rashidi bin Abdullah - tactile photography exhibit, "Refleksi"

Organizer Ken Goh, representing the social enterprise Plus Community Partnership, was on hand to brief me about the 10-weeks program undergone by exhibition participants. The lessons – taught by David Lok – dispensed with the history & technical aspects of photography and went straight to cues which participants could learn immediately. A course about light & shadow talks about feeling heat and temperature differences, to deduce the lighting source and which direction is it shining from. Another course relates emotions to music, while identifying textures in making snapshots become a practical task. Understanding this background gave me the A-Ha moment, when marvelling at Jamaliah Mohd Yasin’s (a 60-years old who lost her vision completely) poetic captures taken at the recent KL Marathon. 

Ahar bin Tabe - "Kembar"

Collectively, this exhibition provides a fascinating insight, into the potential of the photographic image, beyond its formal or atomic characteristics. What is captured in a photograph, beyond reflected light atoms on a rectangular surface? Beyond its physical subject matter, its cropped compositions, and its colour filters? In contemporary art, photographs typically function as symbolic containers or narrative devices, which formal aspects are utilized for visual appeal. In this age where everybody wields a mobile camera, the idea of photographs capturing a moment in time, seems romantic. In this exercise, one wants to take a good photograph, without considering the formal elements typically associated to a good photograph. What kind of seeing, is believing?

(clockwise from left) Snapshots of Vivian Kuek Chu Lan - "Chinese Art", "Drama Hari Ini", tactile photography exhibits

21 September 2018

Yang Lain-Lain @ Suma Orientalis

The gallery’s publicity statement for “Yang Lain-Lain” touts Donald Abraham as a Sabah-born street artist, pointing out the artist’s lack of formal training, and “YAK” graffiti tag as his signature. Most exhibits are acrylic paintings on canvas or board, some with collaged snippets, effectively marking this a typical gallery showcase. In an interview with the local newspapers, the artist admits, that “(i)t’s a daunting challenge to go down the gallery path. But it’s a natural career progression”. Visitors are greeted by ‘The Green Monster’, its arrangement of cynical symbols indicative of the literal and boring characteristics, that typify Malaysian paintings making political commentary. Fortunately, this is the only poor example, in this exhibition of fantastic works. 

Drifting (2016)

For one with a signature style – his murals within Publika’s indoor walkways are immediately recognizable – there is an amazing diversity in Donald’s drawings of people & things. Numerous characters populate his canvases, and just looking at the depicted heads & faces is sufficient to sustain one’s visual interest for a considerable time. Some are depicted as looking at the viewer, some are in profile, some are from the top, some are turned away. No box heads, animal heads, or rocket heads, are the same. Pursed lips or teeth-baring mouths, are attached to hooked noses or nostrils pointing upwards, while a variety of eyes bear the expressions of shock, calm, detached, alert. A significant feature is the size of drawn figures, which make the works as easy to see as a comic strip, and the symbols utilized are seldom too vague or too specific. 

3 Scenario (2014)

The comic strip is used as an illustrative narrative device in ‘Drama’, an approach also seen in one exhibit currently on show at Menara Maybank. “Yang Lain-Lain” includes Donald’s output from 2012 to 2018, which provides the viewer an insight into the artist’s aesthetic experiments. From ‘3 Scenario’ (2014) – a depiction of “childhood, adolescence and adulthood” – to works completed in 2015, its characters adopt a fleshy pink-orange hue and leave more empty space between them, as compared to other exhibits. Perhaps, the artist’s young child was born during this period? White parallel lines reappear in ‘Chop Suey’ (2018), a dense picture where every figurative motif and expressive motive is cramped onto a single canvas. Brick walls & sculpted waves are apparent also in newer works, and the white fill-ins in ‘Street Workers’ present a fresh scheme for colouring figures.

Street Workers (2018)

Such observations are made possible, when contrasted against the three large and bright works completed in 2012. Donald’s approach is described in a recent interview, where he “…imagined what he wanted to paint before putting the base colours in first. He completed the painting by accentuating the characters with black outlines.” This simple statement betrays the multiple layers of design that cover each work, which injects Donald’s work its characteristic style and aesthetic appeal. ‘Untitled (Pompodon)’ is a good example of this approach, where faded neon colours draw connections or patterns in the background, while in the foreground of outlandish figures are illustrated in dark outlines. The immediacy of images recalls a mural quality and its association with street art, yet the inherent contrasts in tone attract the viewer to linger then roam visually in front of the paintings.

Untitled (Pompodon) (2012)

‘Playground’ (2017) presents an evolving and maturing approach, where visual depth is crafted via diagonal planes, and the relatively fewer figures are balanced by a more focused and purposeful depiction. Who is asleep, and who is awake? What do the dark blue and dark green characters (including a Ninja Turtle and a bearded sage) represent? Why is only half the yellow face shown, and where is the handheld revolver pointing at? Motifs with corresponding scale & colour present surface layers, that clusters characters & things into an interconnected whole, which the viewer can then freely interpret. Despite its landscape format and numerous subject, one does not get overwhelmed by what is presented, as there is order in the chaos.

Playground (2017)

My favourite works in this exhibition, are unquestionably the square paintings from 2016-2017. In ‘Drifting’, luminous heads – including a Trump-like profile – surround a bald figure with a paper ship on his head. Alert eyes dart in different directions, yet a sense of melancholy pervades as the spectral character drifts among the crowd. A similar sense of finding one’s way appears in ‘100s of Line’, where a pink character surfs through a larger crowd on a #skatedog, the apparent bravado also projecting an outsider detached from one’s surroundings. This approach reaches its zenith in ‘Running Boy’, where the crowd of figures are densely packed and seem to join and form out of each other. Donald’s design is organic yet forceful, which style approaches a continuous line of stream-of-consciousness drawing. Stress-inducing expectations are a feature of modern urban life, and there is no running away.

Running Boy (2017)

Donald’s images do not nullify, but complement each other with its symbolism and formal properties, a mean feat which many Malaysian artists strive for but do not attain. In a response to a journalist’s question about his personal favourite work, the artist states, “I don’t have a favourite. I love them all. My art contorts reality as I express my subjects spontaneously. This world is vast. And my repertoire is to sing along, capturing its beauty, funny moments and hard facts onto my canvas. But I’m no soothsayer. I just love what I’m doing.” Vivid & colourful, intricately layered, full of character, and well-drawn motifs – there is plenty to enjoy and like in Donald Abraham’s art. By promoting it as street art, the gallery has sold these works short. In short, this is good art, whenever it is shown, and wherever the artist hails from. 

Detail snapshots

12 September 2018

Caravaggio Opera Omnia @ National Art Gallery

What is the difference between looking at a painting, and an image of a painting? A huge difference, it seems. I walk briskly within Galeri 3A to see its life-sized backlit projections of Caravaggio paintings, pausing only occasionally to reminisce on how some exhibits look better in real life. Produced as a collaboration between the KL Italian Embassy and the National Art Gallery, this travelling show of reproductions is undeniable a crowd-puller, and a cultural export exercise. With the Italian artist’s distinct style, his dramatic life story, and less than 50 surviving authenticated works, many visitors would be familiar with these images. What can we learn from these backlit pictures – is it the scale in compositions? The drawing of muscles, and facial textures? The oscuro (i.e. darkening of shadows)?

Exhibition Snapshot of San Matteo e angelo (1602)

To better understand chiaroscuro – the style Caravaggio is famous for – and his application of coloured oils, one has to look elsewhere. As a pilgrim to the Cappella Contarelli, I had knelt in front of ‘The Inspiration of Saint Matthew’ and prayed the rosary. The red of the saint’s robes, the abyss underneath the table, and the flesh tones of the angel, have a significantly deeper hue, than the one displayed here in Balai’s gallery. Even ‘Boy With A Basket of Fruit’, with its glowing neck and almost 3-D projection of exquisite fruits, looks like a virtual reality replica from the painting hanging at the Galleria Borghese. These pictures are diluted, and the textbook descriptions that accompany it, add up to a dull walkthrough. Perhaps, the real difference is that I am lucky to have experienced Caravaggio’s works in real life, and seeing backlit replicas of it, just will not cut it.

Exhibition Snapshot of Cattura di Cristo nell' orto (1602)

06 September 2018

Teh Tarik With The Flag @ National Art Gallery

After its victory in Malaysia’s 14th General Election, the new government and its leaders have been accorded a honeymoon period by most rakyat based on goodwill, to establish better policies and administration. Such forgiving attitudes should extend to the Malaysian art enthusiast, who is swamped with images of new art made with literal references to harapan, and to colours of the national flag. Following on the 2018 Balai program featuring gallery partnerships, Wei-Ling Gallery revel in this opportune moment to present highly relatable works by artists it represents. The exhibition statement reads, “…to explore the symbolic power of the flag as a means to reflect on and extend the rich and complex story of the ‘Jalur Gemilang’ as a potent symbol and a marker of identity, unity, belief, and division.”

Exhibition snapshot

A sense of post-GE14 elation prevails upon entering Galeri 3B, as I look at Ivan Lam’s large, four-panel interpretation titled ‘The Death of a Nation / The Birth of a Nation’. Consisting of strips from its 16 state & territory flags, forms that shape the Malaysian flag is delineated and filled with charcoal, which composition also attempts to highlight the racial make-up of the country. In the confines of an institution recently bogged down by (self-)censorship events, one cannot help but dread another unwelcome incident. In Line Dalile’s succinct curatorial essay, she writes, “(d)oes the act of cutting apart the flag disrespect it as national symbol? Or does it remind the viewers that it is through our minds that we bring national symbols to life and into power?”

Hamidi Hadi – Hari Ini Dalam Sejarah, 9 Mei (2018)

More shabby flags are seen in creations by Fauzan Omar and Hamidi Hadi, although the latter’s ‘Hari ini Dalam Sejarah, 9 Mei’ evokes more patriotic fervour with a message that appeals to the contemporary Malaysian visitor. Cutting up the centre of stretched canvas, indicates a puncture in our hegemonic history. How much of that change is due to suara rakyat? Employing an out-of-the-box approach is Sean Lean, who breaks up the Jalur Gemilang into two paintings and a few railings, which set-up invites visitors to “colour in” the work by leaving cloth hangings. The artist effectively demarcates the wall space into symbolic areas of royal/ ruling/ working classes, which similar intent is evident in Cheng Yen Pheng’s ‘No Colour’. A scroll drawing of monochrome Malaysian-looking people, is joined by thread to another scroll featuring foreign-looking labourers – who is our people?

Snapshots of Cheng Yen Pheng – No Colour (2015)

For its first episode of “Everyone’s A Critic”, BFM radio presenters rightfully noted that the exhibition lacks representation from Sabahan or Sarawakian artists. This public perception is useful, as casual visitors are unlikely to find out, that neither space provider or organizing gallery can be at fault, if inclusiveness was not laid out initially in the exhibition concept. Discussed also are the uncertainty of when exhibits were made (I suspect only three were completed post-GE14), the relevance of Rajinder Singh’s images of Caucasian-looking people with saffron-coloured highlights, and the evocation of “home” in Sulaiman Esa’s large weaving ‘One God Many Paths’. (This piece) “…also fit in with the idea of the teh tarik, of different cultures, and of different people (…) coming together in a space, because the shape of it literalizes a Malaysian space…” Everyone’s a critic!

Sulaiman Esa – One God Many Paths (2018)

Another work that qualifies for a teh tarik analogy is ‘Jemputan’ by Anurendra Jegadeva. Vivid characters posing in traditional getup, present a straightforward picture about modern Malaysian livelihood, although it is unclear to me whether torn marks on the paper are intentional. Less cheery are the hanging ‘Transparent Flags’ by Chong Kim Chiew. Forms of historical Malay(si)an flags are etched on PVC film, which translucent qualities point to a deliberate inconspicuousness, in the Malaysian collective imagination. It is easy to make out the colonialists and the national flag, but who knew that we once had a flag with Belgian colours and a tiger at its centre? And that it was used as the flag of the Federated Malay States, and the Malayan Union? What about the Federation of Malaya flag with only 11 stripes? Was Singapore represented by the white or red stripe, before its expulsion?

Anurendra Jegadeva – Jemputan (2018) with close-up snapshots

The most potent and mesmerizing exhibit, belongs to Hayati Mokhtar’s 17-minutes long ‘No.55 Main Road’. Projected side-by-side on 3 monitors, the centre screen presents a static take of an old house’s interior, while flanking screens project tracking shots along the shophouse, and close-ups of nostalgic objects. Its artwork label provides a remarkably concise statement, but I recommend viewers to spend time meditating on these moving images. Blinding reflections from the two golden 福 ideograms on the wall. Mechanical fan whirring as time passes, interjected by sounds from heavy vehicles, passing by on the trunk road. Beautiful textures of wooden panels and wall outgrowth, with beautiful architectural forms in a decrepit space. The motorbike and the television set, once objects of necessity for a modernising society. Who is going to have teh tarik with ‘Uncle’ Chang?

Installation snapshot of Hayati Mokhtar – No.55 Main Road (2010)

30 August 2018

DO NOT GO INTO THE MIST DO NOT GO BACK TO THE DARK DO NOT STAND STILL @ A+ WORKS of ART

Dominating an exhibition space is one thrilling aspect when appreciating Chong Kim Chiew’s work, and his latest solo show does not disappoint. Visitors are greeted immediately by small bits of litter on the floor, that one may perceive mistakenly as faeces from the gallery owner’s pets. Upon closer inspection, each ‘Pupuk Kandang’ piece constitutes a dismembered finger fused with a piece of dung. Are these sculptures condemning keyboard warriors, and the amplification of fake news on social media? More likely, it is a satirical take on artworks infused with double-bind meanings and interpretations, that grab attention via a violent representation. The work is attributed to a Zaskia Roesli; Are we looking at a stereotypical creation by an Indonesian artist?

Installation snapshot of Zaskia Roesli - Pupuk Kandang (2018)

The installation-exhibition statement presents the artist’s intent, where as “more international curators cast their attention on the region, presenting its culture within the framework of “Southeast Asia”, Chong questions the validity and authenticity of such projects, but also sincerely wonders whether we can indeed gain insight from outsider perceptions.” Following on his last solo show, personas are created with names conforming to stereotypes of regional artists. Laugh, at one’s own peril. We know that Kim is an American-born Taiwanese – Are Cruz, Aziz, Kuedbut, referring to artists from Filipino, Malay, and Thai descent? The most amusing avatar belongs to its curator Doppelgänger Labor, a literal jab at curators acting as an extraneous burden to artists’ presentations.

Installation snapshot of Liam Smith - We Have Never Change #1 - #4 (2018)

The viewing continues with close-up photographs of mannequins donning Malay headgear, by a Liam Smith – an English resident in Singapore, perhaps? “We Have Never Change” highlights the Caucasian facial features of these dummies, which pictures were shot at the Muzium Kesultanan Melayu Melaka. The portraits collectively pose the obvious question – must presentations of local traditions be supported by a Western framework? Or is there a larger problem, about this question being posed by a Caucasian? Next, one encounters a big inflatable eyeball by a Paithoon Kuedbut, this balloon being one spectacular example about looking – the viewer looking at the artwork, the artist’s creation looking back at the viewer. ‘Paithoon’ translates roughly to cat’s eye in Thai, and points to the metaphysical characteristics inherent in many Thai artists’ works.

Paithoon Kuedbut - Planet (2018)

Descending from a celestial plane (‘Planet’) to something more grounded (‘Inclined 60 Degree – A Space Within A Space’), an upside-down wooden house follows. Visitors are cramped then forced to bend down, just to walk through this work within the gallery space. The construct recalls recent house-sized installations at the Singapore Biennale, where inaccessible spaces are the focus of a work. Aptly, this makeshift woodshed is labelled Muzium Negara Sementara, thereby proclaiming itself as a piece of contemporary art. Produced by an Emran Aziz – curiously quoted as a Bruneian – one assumes this construct presents a critique about local/regional museums needing a shake-up, in all its different connotations. Or is it about the sideways interpretations of artsy-fartsy subject matters, that lack originality beyond its impressive façade?

Installation snapshot of Emran Aziz - Inclined 60 Degree – A Space Within A Space (2018)

The exhibition culminates behind one wall in ‘The Traversal Landscape’, where a 3-channel projection allows visitors to cross within videos through folds in the hung cloth. The South China Sea is often referred to as the unifying element among Southeast Asian (SEA) countries, and this geographical fact acts as a metaphorical trigger to reflect upon national identities and migratory cultures. A snapshot of Kim’s skin flashes occasionally on the third video, which is a slow-motion take of the second channel, that itself is a reverse playback of the first video. Attributing this work to a Filipino (Alon Vedasto Cruz) seems opportunistic rather than planned, as one’s walkthrough from the gallery entrance to the final projection, presents a narrow-to-general view of “Southeast Asian contemporary art.”

Installation snapshots of Alon Vedasto Cruz and Kim - The Traversal Landscape (2018)

Whimsy is deployed as an approach towards the question on hand – how does artists in this region portray oneself, especially when one is swept along international art trends, by assertive curators and bigwig collectors? Kim Chiew’s exhibition title intimates a half-serious attempt at coming up with a curatorial concept for a museum show, that is as vague as it is absurd. Such jibes at institutional looking and presentation, are exacerbated in the form of plastic sheets that demarcate the gallery space, which literally blur the lines of cultural identity and aesthetic inclinations that characterize the Southeast Asian artist. That this installation is located within a relatively new gallery with regional aspirations, only makes the artist’s critique even more potent. Do not/ go into/ the mist do not/ Go back/ To the dark/ Do/ Not stand/ Still

Snapshot of plastic sheet demarcating the gallery exhibition space

“Do not go gentle into that good night,  Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. 
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,  Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright  Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. 
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,  And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way, 
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight  Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. 
And you, my father, there on the sad height,  Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray. 
Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
Do not go gentle into that good night, Dylan Thomas, In Country Sleep, And Other Poems, 1952

Opening the second layer of 'The Traversal Landscape' to peek into its third layer