31 August 2013

Selamat Hari Malaysia M50 @ White Box

Organised annually by the Ministry of Tourism & Culture, the 1Malaysia Contemporary Art Tourism (1MCAT) festival is a ridiculous gimmick initiated by the previous minister, which government spend could be better utilised in other tourism initiatives like promoting KL heritage. Lousy art are publicly displayed in shopping complexes such as Pavilion and Starhill Gallery, while the galleries in "art mall" Publika collectively offer a dismal number of quality work. Main showcase "M50" is organised by the National Visual Art Gallery (NVAG), where despite occupying a decent space like White Box, fails the litmus test in its capability to curate and display a good art exhibition. These embarrassing events stem from a need to fulfil pro-government objectives spelled out in the marketing brochure (in Bahasa Malaysia):

Anurendra Jegadeva - I is for Idiot [Picture from news report]

1. Meningkatkan kesedaran tentang persejarahan dan pembentukan Malaysia. (Raise awareness about Malaysia's history and formation)
Gan Sze Hooi's 'The Map of Jalan Petaling and Jalan Sultan' does not qualify as artwork, but is the only exhibit that contains traces of Malaysia's formative history. Upstairs, RA Fine Arts gallery exhibits interesting Merdeka memorabilia, including copies of the Declaration of Independence in 4 languages.

2. Menjana kepentingan, minat dan publisiti antarabangsa yang positif di Malaysia. (Generate positive interest and publicity to an international audience)
The festival kicked off unceremoniously when Anurendra Jegadeva's "Alphabet for the Middle Aged Middle Classes” series was removed by the police, after one artwork was reported as insulting to Islam. [Google "karim publika idiot" to see the blog post written by the narrow-minded zealot whom made the police report] To many foreigners, such bigots make up our nation's populace.

Jalaini Abu Hassan - Steak (2013)

3. Menyerlahkan kepelbagaian seni visual dan kebudayaan dari sudut seni kontemporari Malaysia. (Showcase the breadth of visual art practices and culture, in Malaysian contemporary art)
Polystyrene statue, postcard book with hopeful messages, installation of spices in plexiglass container, are among the various types of artworks exhibited, with the notable absence of sculpture. Chong Kim Chiew's fascinating recreation of a black & white painting using marker pens, comments on the digital age while negating the tactile quality of paint.

4. Satu langkah penyatuan seni visual dan kebudayaan dalam konsep satu negara. (Unity of visual arts and culture in a single national concept)
Contradicting point #3, this parochial statement does not apply to any exhibits except Sulaiman Esa's simplistic designs of cross-cultural motifs, which shallow intent is aggravated in awful pink. Opposing this sentiment is Ahmad Zakii Anwar's realistic and life-sized illustrations of the Malaysian people. Appreciating all 8 charcoal portraits together render the thought of racial typecasting a foolish notion.

Chong Kim Chiew - White over White, Black over Black (2011) [Left: original painting; Right: Recreated with marker pens]

5. Mengembangkan komuniti seni di Malaysia. (Grow Malaysia's art community)
Displaying works from the recent "Whiteaways" exhibition in Penang and Galeri Chandan's stock room, the perceived collaboration crumbles when one discovers that critical artworks are excluded from the main showcase. Among the pieces relegated to Art Row are Yee I-Lann's commemorative plates and Ng Seksan's "Malaysian Spring" flags.

6. Mengangkat dalam meningkatkan profil Balai Seni Visual Negara sebagai sebuah institusi seni negara. (Raise the profile of NVAG as a national art institution)
A dubious objective since it is the national art institution, this exhibition suffers from recurring issues seen in NVAG-curated shows, such as lack of text and poor choice of works. The incorrect title of Sze Hooi's map, and Jai's name misspelled on the label, are unacceptable typos. Just look at Kelvin Chap's atrociously bad painting of a boat with Malaysian flag, and I have made my point.

Edroger Rosli - Not Exactly (2013)

29 August 2013

Fibrespace @ Wei-Ling Gallery

Note: Picture captions below are interpretative titles by this blog author, and not the title of a particular artwork. There is only one art installation, it is called Fibrespace (2013), and these are photographs taken of it.

[Ground floor] Antique furniture greets the visitor who sips on rich flavours from a single malt, the whiskey sponsor a necessity in realising this landmark event. Conceived and constructed by Claudia Bueno, the Venezuelan hails from a country associated with Optical artists Carlos Cruz-Diez and Jesús Rafael Soto. Claudia is known as a light artist, as I fear the worst with the dreadful images of Dan Flavin's fluorescent tubes and Bruce Nauman's neon words, floating in mind. Ascending the stairs, one is reminded of the fire that razed this building, before the reconstructed space became one of KL's most enchanting gallery space. Pulling thick drapes aside, darkness sets in. Tree branches seem to sprout from the ground, its cocoon forms weaving towards the ceiling in a nest-like structure, as the eyes continue to adjust in the dark.

Phoenix rising

[First floor, facing it] A video of water with bubbles are projected onto this voluminous structure, beginning a 25-minute theatrical excursion. Soft light ripple with no ominous intent, recalling a longing last seen in Wong Kar Wai's Ashes of Time, in the scene where Carina Lau waits in a pool of water on a horse. The absorbing scene draws one to approach the installation, as the flickering accelerates into a sequence of manic fairy lights. Shimmering rays bounce off organic shapes, filling the space with impressions of refracting light, transporting one into the coolness of oceanic waters. After the cool waves recede into darkness, slow-burning embers light up the textured strands of hardened string. As if in a psychological horror movie, short bursts of fire punctuate the field of vision, resurfacing an uncomfortable memory. When flames engulf the entire construct, a rising phoenix takes shape within the structure, swallowing the wooden furniture that occupy the gallery space. The usually warm space gets hotter.

Dancing water; The falls

[First floor, by its side] Devoid of natural light, this installation is site-specific only in its fiery tribute to the building’s history, which is the most resplendent phase among the 3. The gallery interior is recognizable in the shadows, where silhouettes form images familiar to regular visitors. Space and light is manipulated thoroughly by the artist, whose lofty ambition is eventually realised in sparkling blue. Flames subside then electricity fills the area. Burning alcohol, the third projection, most resembles the nervous system Claudia intended to recreate. Synaptic pulses come and go, no time to react, ephemeral yet deeply representational. This amplification of a routine happening, inside the living body, glorifies the human capacity within its hard-wired constraints. Boundaries are altered by natural elements, as I wonder how interesting will it be if the installation is subjected to Wind.

The beginning of the end

[First floor, in it] Walking into the webbed formation, the glare from the projecting machines becomes obvious. Acting the metaphorical sun, the projectors direct light and life within, invoking an archaic sentiment to worship the Sun-God. The collective stria are made of lifeless materials, yet its natural forms sufficiently allow the living to meditate on its lines and contours. Gazing upwards, lightning freezes overhead in dramatic stop-motion fashion. A surprising discovery after 15 minutes of taking photographs, is the difference between a camera’s image and one’s experience of the same area. Gushing water and an electric storm light up the digital screen, whereas the human eye and brain only register transient flat colours. Context and picture composition are negated, replaced by thoughts of light spectrum and phenomenology, igniting mental debate over interpretations.

Electric storm; Lightning cloud

[Second & Third floors] Climbing the creaking stairs momentarily reminds the visitor where s/he is. Upstairs, detached from the filaments, one is disengaged from the ocular assault. A different perspective compounds the irritating distraction of whirring fans. Magnification of an internal organ states a contemporary intent, although the crude materials used, manifests an artist still focusing only on the final presentation. Hanging in the office are her multi-layered paintings which apply the same philosophy. The characteristics of light art - binaries and contrasts - is also its limitation, as colour and process awaits further exploration. Despite the fleeting visuals projected, the installation demands the viewer to linger in and around it, reflecting on random thoughts seemingly unconnected. The experience has triumphed over visual stimuli. In that moment, one recalls Nelson Goodman's thesis, “When is Art?”

Moonlight; The source

27 August 2013

Figurative Trajectories @ G13

With a catalogue essay titled "The Figurative in the Figure" that praises the "clever selection" of the gallery owner, "...to counter the usual expectations we have of figurative art", one is bewildered when the author ends the essay by surmising that "The human form in figurative art and other approaches never ceases to amaze as it and the various trajectories pursued..." Assigning a title to a group exhibition is difficult, but when the works displayed include Yeoh Choo Kuan's abstract paintings and C.K. Koh's box-headed cartoon character, the figurative theme becomes a conceited falsehood. This lack of purpose is amplified in Choo Kuan's 'Mad Rush', a diptych that gives off a strong odour of oil paints and aims to capture ephemeral feelings, which intention is better served in his two smaller grattage works. 

Seah Zelin - Phase 3 (2013)

Chong Kim Chiew's fanatical marks forcefully map a printed Malaysian identity onto male torsos, while the accompanying 'Hole' comments on national borders via cut-out rectangular blanks. Patriotic fervour is depicted more subtly in Seah Zelin's "Phase 1-4" series, with its dream interiors and dense smoke drawn onto fragile linen, each phase depicting a sentiment pre- and post-General Elections. 'Phase 3' stands out with its powerful sense of authority, the large chair cut off at the left, striking a balanced pictorial depth in a composition expertly illustrated in black & white. Sun Kang Jye experiments with portraiture by painting negative spaces at the back of the canvas, resulting in bland and creepy images that resemble brain scans. In this age of rampant photography and digital manipulation, artists naturally embrace less conventional approaches to represent real-life objects. 

Gan Tee Sheng - Auty & Boy (2010)

Seniority prevails in this exhibition, with its most accomplished works contributed by Gan Tee Sheng, whose 2011 paintings follow in Chan Kok Hooi's footsteps. Misplaced limbs, chequered surfaces, and naked legs, dot his despairing canvases that project a pessimistic view of human nature. Surreal ugliness taxes the viewer, but when the perspective is tilted upwards even just a little, like in 'Auty & Boy', one is momentarily given the authority to judge the perversity that pervades the picture. Contrasting this gloom is the opaque yet luminous paintings of Siund Tan, whose 'Together' employs a welcome change of medium, that retains his style without compromising a beautiful aesthetic. In art, expectations are meant to be betrayed. Perhaps it is this quality that every artist should incessantly practice, instead of pursuing the meaningless definition of artistic trajectories.

Siund Tan - Together (2013)

25 August 2013

Tin Mine Landscapes @ Shalini Ganendra Fine Art

Straddling historical significance and fine art, Eric Peris' landmark series "Tin Mine Landscapes" is redeveloped from a digital format, numbering 23 images that survived the disintegration of the original negatives. As described in the catalogue introduction, "These landscapes have been lost to development, and thus ironically, continuing economic wealth has contributed to their erasure. The concept of Impermanence (or 'Anicca' as termed in Buddhism) has been explored repeatedly in this body of work and throughout Peris’ career." Natural elements are highlighted within harsh terrains, its social significance brought to bear by the occasional inclusion of human presence or product. Hung at the serene confines of the gallery's second floor, the 54" x 38" and 27" x 19" photographs absorb the viewer, its enigma overshadowing the pixelation seen in the larger C-Type prints.

Earth - Mud Patterns: Sand Stands and Mud Clusters

Taken in the late 1970s, the series is further divided into self-explanatory groups, with subtitles like "Vegetation" and "Industrial Structures". The extraterrestrial landscapes of  "Earth - Mud Patterns" and stark terrains of  "Earth - Rock Formations", project emphatically the consequence of plundering nature, without compromising picture composition. Eric's skill at capturing the perfect horizon line, and relying on nature to provide visual interest, result in contemplative photographs where sky and earth converge. Meditating at this collection is more powerful than the recent "Earth. Water. Sky" solo exhibition, due to the ecological comment and historical context. One that stands out beautifully is from the "Earth - Sand Dunes" series, where indigo hues imbue the sandy hills with a melancholy, although I wonder whether the artist or gallery decided to colour-tint this particular work.

Earth - Sand Dunes: Sandstone Dunes against a Stormy Skyline

These images had me recalling two passages from a favourite novel - Atomised / Les Particules élémentaires, by Michel Houellebecq: "Natural forms, ...are human forms. Triangles, interweavings, branchings, appear in our minds. We recognize them and admire them; we live among them. We grow among our creations - human creations, which we communicate to men - and among them we die. In the midst of space, human space, we make our measurements, and with these measurements we create space, the space between our instruments." "Love binds, and it binds forever. Good binds, while evil unravels...All that exists is a magnificent interweaving, vast and reciprocal."

Vegetation: Island of Tiger Tongue Grass near the Water's Edge

24 August 2013

Measuring Love @ Wei-Ling Contemporary

Force-fitting an exhibition title, or curious theme to begin with? Common traits observed across this collection include vast airy spaces, the colour pink, and material objects - are these Love's characteristics? Cheong Kiet Cheng's husband-and-wife wonderland and Ruzzeki Harris' baby scans, proclaim romantic and fatherly love respectively. Respectful yet simmering with tension, is apparent in Sean Lean's portrait of his father, where the sitter's frank pose is over-painted with broad white strokes. Delphine Gomez's collages depict a yearning for European life, its soaring verticality crystallising a nostalgia that comes across as more personal, than the mishmash of black stencilled objects in Anisa Abdullah's collage. Perhaps love is measured in its most primitive approach, as depicted by Cheng Yen Pheng with unwavering panache, where a feminist undertone lie beneath her work's erotic forms.

Cheng Yen Pheng - Airball no. 14 - The Unbearable Lightness of Being  (2013)

22 August 2013

Immortal Beloved @ Richard Koh Fine Art

Following on from his previous exhibition "The World is Flat", Chang Yoong Chia continues his stamp collage commentary on colonialism in "Immortal Beloved". Turning his attention from queens and empires to the personal story, this collection reflects deeply upon the commoner and their cultural identity, as juxtaposed against renown world leaders whose achievements are in itself propaganda material. Acting like a resourceful museum creator, the artist ambitiously creates narratives from paper memorabilia, instilling his artistic license into brown letters and wrinkled stamps. These source materials are also framed and exhibited alongside the specific work it inspired, giving respect to an obsolete object that augments the message to respect history. 

My Dear Motherland (2013)

A letter from a Chinese teacher to his emigrant sister in Malaya, flanks 'My Dear Motherland' and its companion piece 'My Dear Motherland: New Village'. The superb composition of the former depicts a passage of letters, building a literal bridge that links the scrawny migrant writer to the majestic Forbidden City. Along the way peasants harvest rice and mine tin, haul pigs and collect durians, each character bearing an optimistic resemblance from Chinese socialist images. Across a moat consisting of cordoned houses and a monstrous tin dredge, lies the black hole of a palace entrance. Decorative dragons roam the sky, a symbol akin to the panda in 'The World is Flat', where China is perceived as a mystical country with a formidable façade. Little is known behind its stately crimson walls, and as a descendent of Chinese migrants, the artist poses the pivotal identity question - do we really want to re-enter these walls?

Details of stamp collage, from 'My Dear Motheland', 'New Village', and 'The Missing Letter'

'My Dear Motherland: New Village' magnifies the barricaded areas for Chinese settlers in 1950, a British reaction to a communist threat it perceived. 'The Chakra' makes reference to Indian migrants whom toiled the rubber plantations, which produce is a coagulating material that enriched the colonial peninsula, its importance recorded in Malaysian postage history. Pictures of palm plants cover the ground while a Japanese sun hang overhead, denoting a past of hard labour and selfish oppression before other plantations became popular. Local stamps from our youth populate these collages, creating a strong visual interest that may draw the viewer away from exacting details. Shredded glass surround the New Village, protecting it from a lone communist hiding in the jungle outside; Snake and Queen heads dot the rubber tree space, while tonal variations are presented beautifully in the sun rays shining upon the leaves.

The Chakra (2013)

Drawing a parallel between Nazi Germany and British colonialism, or perhaps just making the most out of what he got his hands on, Yoong Chia portrays Adolf Hitler in a dominating fashion. The reconstruction of the Futsches Reich stamp from Operation Cornflakes, a WWII propaganda campaign by the Americans, is compared with a head made out of Mother Mary images that symbolises the destruction of European families. Expanding upon this theme in 'The Piped Piper of Hamelin', the artist combines his craft, historical commentary, and interest in fairy tales, into one panoramic and colourful composition. A couple of sphinxes with Hitler heads gaze upon the action from the riverside, while others lurk between the landscape, exacerbating the feeling of doom that this character is singularly responsible for.

Father, Mother & Child (2012)

The masterpiece in this collection, 'The Missing Letter (to Dr. Solta)', focuses on a personal story with reference to an empty envelope. The work's composition traces the outline of Hitler's head, but projects a great sense of pictorial depth. Burning cities line the bottom, while flanking the left side is an uplifting design, of the addressee in a concentration camp uniform. Anguish and love resonates within the colour scheme, from romantic lilac to orange flames, green grass to blue sky. The artist utilises symbols to maximum effect, pasting any image he comes across that fits into the artwork's context. Nurses, angels, soldiers, skulls, swans, cupids, books, stars - even Rembrandt's 'The Jewish Bride' appears on Hitler's nose. Resurrecting redundant materials is Yoong Chia's way of working, and he demonstrates his skill with aplomb. When medium, method, and narrative, coalesce into such wonderful aesthetic, the viewer is left spellbound and speechless.

The Missing Letter (to Dr. Solta) (2012)

'Immortal Beloved' and the "Great Men Reflected" series form the largest and smallest works respectively in this collection, the stamp cut-outs questioning the value of idolising great individuals, by literally reflecting on their deaths. Exhibited also are works that comment on Malaysian politics, as one expects from local art nowadays, where visible outlines and wordiness render it less attractive. Dated postmarks of 'Don't Spread Rumours' are a disheartening reminder in the Teoh Beng Hock tribute, while 'Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me' reignites the Singapore-Malaysia tension last seen in 'Jambatan Asmara'. Political messages aside, the usage of postmark chops to create expressionist lines in the picture background, projects a creative use of line to convey a state of emotional despair.

1969 post marks with the words: "DON'T SPREAD RUMOURS" in 4 languages; Don't Spread Rumours (2012) 

On the surface, framing and exhibiting the medium (stamp or letter) serves as an immediate reminder to the viewer, of the effort required to construct each collage. But dwell longer on these images and one realises that this act actually reinforces the process that takes from the exhibition title - the process of searching and analysing from a single source material. Sifting through mountains of stamps, evaluating the colour and texture of each sectional area, then gluing the cut-out in a certain orientation, is an arduous task. Compositing a collage from these tiny strips recalls an iterative decision-making procedure, that resorts to randomness the more meticulous one is. Unlike painting, there is no looking back once the marks are made (i.e. strips are pasted), insofar that this process echoes the exhibition's commentary on history as it was documented.

Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me (2013); Detail of postmark lines in background 

With works that advocate the personal over the national, "Immortal Beloved" perfectly illustrates that with globalisation, nationhood increasingly becomes an obsolete notion. Human beings are made for communal living which countries and empires traditionally facilitate, but in this age of individualism, these agencies only serve to benefit the few at the cost of the commoner. Like Beethoven, this love letter of an art collection will never be send to its intended recipient, but perhaps it can like its source material trigger a personal search. As the artist's wife Teoh Ming Wah noted in the well-written catalogue essay, "Thanks to these daily life objects, the time valve is unplugged. The lives, daily's 'seen'/'unseen' are released". And immortalised, for our physical and mental consumption.

...To End All Wars (2013)

20 August 2013

Repeat Pattern @ Shalini Ganendra Fine Art

Characteristics of Chris Pole's paintings are obvious to see: devoid of living beings, hyper-realist depictions of natural elements, stencilled word, and an oddly familiar perspective. But it is the flattened surface of man-made structures, that render his works modernity, and a "children toy block" effect. As a 6-week tourist and resident artist in Malaysia, 'Translation' and 'Navigation' captures the spirit of the exhibition title, where iterations of colour and shape illustrate beautifully the architecture of Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman and the National Mosque. An unintentional satire emerges in 'Submerge', a painting of Lake Titiwangsa with the Istana Budaya and National Art Gallery in its background, imbuing a double meaning of sinking culture to the local viewer.

Submerge (2013)

18 August 2013

Diary of Madline 驰线手记 @ Lostgens'

The roads of Kuala Lumpur is a battlefield. Driving a car with manual transmission is like wielding an obsolete weapon. Highways without tolls become swampy jungles, full of potholes and unsightly obstacles. We risk certain death each time we step into our vehicles, yet KL-ites spend 10% of our working lives on the road, while enduring stress and masking patience. Driving as an action, has become an extension of human body function, as we control cars with sensory perception and physical movement. Young artist Eddie Choo Wen Yi exploits this daily experience, and turns this notion of indirect control on its head. 

13062013 Thursday Morning: Home - Batu Caves (One way)
P/S: I have nothing to say
Traffic: Not so good
Speed: Shifting gears 1, 2, 3 and keep repeating the same thing all the long way

Having devised an apparatus that draws while her car registers movement, the artist creates drawings supplemented with driving conditions such as departure point, destination, traffic flow, weather, etc. These information may at first pique the analytical mind, but one eventually realises that this data is superfluous. Following an Automatism tradition championed by the Surrealist André Breton, this collection showcases irrational and unexpected lines & dots. Dated from 13-June till 13-August, the early experiments are scratchy sketches; By July the drawings begin to take on a curious composition of a crowded central space (stuck in slow-moving traffic) with long curving lines (braking at speed). 

Dual coloured ink combinations - 30062013 Sunday Morning + Night: Home - Lostgens (Return);
08072013 Monday Night: Home - Jalan Panggong (One way)

Time and space contribute to a transcript where the artist chooses her medium at random, her daily choice setting the scene for the visual record. Colour combinations like red-green and blue-orange create simplistic contrasts, while the few watercolours denote rainy days and other melancholic moods. A wall dedicated to 6 drawings that are grouped informally as Going Home, are strangely uniform in its appearance and the most aesthetically pleasing. Her 3-month residency completed and preparing to leave for Taiwan, the artist successfully exhibits a delightful exploration of an art philosophy without being banal. Eddie maintains that although the drawing is by the car, she has control of the car - the question then becomes, does her drawing has control over her?

16072013 Tuesday Night: Jalan Panggong - Home (One way)
P/S: I love driving in night time
Traffic: Smooth oh yeah
Speed: Speeding like driving F1

16 August 2013

Snippets: United Kingdom, Jun 2013

Salisbury Cathedral is celebrated for its early English Gothic style, a sturdy base with soaring apses, that became a blueprint for future medieval churches. Helaine Blumenfeld's "Messenger of the Spirit" pays homage to this wonderful building, exhibiting 20 sculptures that invoke the spiritual in this still-functioning church. Helaine's marble and bronze works take after fabric, twisting and flowing as if suspended in wind, creations of lightness in the most hardy material. Figurative fragments form the design of angels, where even the relatively shorter 'Souls' in the courtyard, present a strong verticality that soars towards heaven. Describing 'The Space Within', the exhibition booklet provides a poem that suggests, "Where do we find that space within ourselves?"

Helaine Blumenfeld - The Space Within (2007)

Few painters work actively with resin and enamel paint as a medium, and nobody manipulates it as well as Hamidi Hadi. An interesting comparison is Becky Buchanan, represented by Edgar Modern gallery in Bath. The smooth sheen of resin injects the paint with liquidity, on Becky's works that reflect an adventurous exploration of colour, within the context of a traditional now represented by the wallpaper-like background.

Becky Buchanan - Mosaic Muse

The national galleries of Edinburgh possess collections that are small but magnificent, very much like its city centre, which I think is the most beautiful in the world. The Balmoral of a modern art museum is exhibiting "From Death to Death and Other Small Tales", which includes many erotic works such as Ernesto Neto's Lycra installation. Back at the main gallery that boasts a collection with significant works by Sandro Botticelli and Raphael, the castle on the hill is represented by the exclusive room for Nicolas Poussin. The Mannerist is a master at group compositions that are busy but never crowded, occasionally turning up the contrast knob to highlight specific figures. Intellectually sophisticated despite drawing diverse themes over his career, Poussin injects a poetic interpretation into his works, be it Roman myths or religious tenets. 

Nicolas Poussin - The Sacrament of Penance (1647)

London, the final stop of my honeymoon travels, provided a fitting conclusion to the contemporary art trends I observed throughout the trip. Taking advantage of the opportunity to view Christie's and Sotheby's Impressionist / Modern Art auction previews, I find the latter collection noticeably better. Significant works by Claude Monet, Wassily Kandinsky, and Henry Moore were available, among other usual suspects of modern art sales. Pablo Picasso was better represented at the former auction, whose brash brush strokes and cubist perspective, honour 17th-century painterly portraits in the stunning 'Tête d'homme'. Notwithstanding, it is the Salvador Dali from Sotheby's that stirs my heart strings, as the Spaniard combines crimson red with human forms to great surrealist impact.

Salvador Dali - La Musique or L'Orchestre Rouge or Les Sept Arts (1957)

The annual Summer Exhibition organised by the Royal Academy of Arts (RAA) featured 1000+ works, with an exceptional Architecture room curated by Eva Jiřičná. Choosing to exhibit sculptures alongside architecture works, the ruthless curatorial effort is rewarded in its brevity, for example when appreciating Susie MacMurray's hose sculpture among miniature models. Extending my thoughts about interior design, it cannot be denied that the unique perspectives of architectural drawings by Mina Gospavic and Ned Scott, are more beautiful than many contemporary artworks. Traversing Kensington Gardens to view the newly opened Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, its wonderful 3-dimensional grid represents a solution that effectively addresses the typical design concerns of space and light.

Henk Peeters - Burn Hole (1961)

Perhaps suffering from museum fatigue, I found nothing captivating at the Tate Modern, apart from a burnt piece of plastic by Henk Peeters. The literal deconstruction of a material's plasticity by hand, contrasts drastically with the machine-woven tapestries at the Gagosian Gallery. Gerhard Richter re-presents his abstract paintings from canvas onto wool, creating a refined reproduction that resembles pixellation on a monitor screen, while casting the smooth quality of blended paints into digital capture. Taking this concept further is Grayson Perry, who translated his television documentaries about Classism, into 6 brilliant tapestries displayed also at the RAA. The artist quotes, "I think that [...] one's social class determines one's tastes." Agreed - although I am more keen to find out how long will it be, before a local artist follows onto this tapestry trend, since Malaysia does have an unheralded textile tradition.

Grayson Perry - The Annunciation of the Virgin Deal (2012)

14 August 2013

Convergence II: Allegories of the Malaysian Landscape @ Galeri Petronas

The perfect representation of the exhibition title, Wong Hoy Cheong’s ‘Buckingham Street and Its Vicinity’ greets the gallery visitor, a lithographic map that combines London and Penang in a whimsical reflection of Malaysia's colonial past. Hung next are large landscapes of the tropical rainforest, depicted in a serenity akin to a tourism advert, without the cheesy tune. Sabahan Yee I-Lann captures the contradictions of urbanity in the “Kinabalu" series, where contemporary images are fused with rural vistas to superb effect. The large panorama draws one into cool pastures, with the majestic mountain looming in its background, each picture commenting on specific issues of modernity.

Wong Hoy Cheong - Buckingham Street and Its Vicinity (2002)

From Ismail Mat Hussin’s batiks to Maamor Jantan’s watercolours then Ismail Hashim’s black & white photographs, the middle section is devoted to remind city dwellers that the rural kampung still feature prominently in many Malaysian lives. Two great keris hilts by Mad Anuar Ismail protrude from the ground, belonging to the beautifully sculpted “Siri Meditasi”, where these potent Malay symbols remain a juggernaut in the way of our struggle, towards establishing a national identity. The curatorial decision to place Anthony Lau’s ‘Gotong Royong’ at the end of the exhibition, aims to serve as a counterweight to this notion of Malay supremacy, but instead exacerbates the feeling of disappointment post-General Elections.

Yee I-Lann - Kinabalu Series: Kopivosian (2007)

Comic delight is detected in a couple of Chuah Thean Teng's works: first the sultry lady 'Combing Her Hair' sports a baby blue eye shadow, while the other snapshot is of a paddy farmer's behind while she bends over. Moving on from village humour to abstract landscapes, Hamidi Hadi’s “Wonderlust” series consumes the viewer with incomplete bands of colour, constructing a vague memory of the beach that never really materialises. Red pigments dot the dark canvas of Wong Perng Fey, who illustrates a burning scene with illuminated ashes, which form the shape of flags seen in Chinese traditional festivals.

Hamidi Hadi - Wonderlust series (2007)

The exhibition ends with two works from Ivan Lam’s incredible “After All These Years” exhibition. Waiting at the airport, waiting in a traffic jam, waiting for love – these acts of waiting constitute a reality for many urbanites. From sungai to wi-fi, Ketuanan to keinginan, the narrative of “Convergence II” presents a patriotic intention, but feels incomplete with the lack of contemporary artworks. Curious are the absence of Joseph Tan's rock surface drawings ("Formation" series), and Latiff Mohidin's agave plants ('Pago-Pago'), that belong in the gallery's permanent collection and are obviously Malaysian landscapes. I am sure the curators have considered their options, but what needs no pondering is that the deplorable lighting conditions require correction.

Ivan Lam - LCC (Never wave goodbye) (2006)

12 August 2013

Musings of My Preferred Aesthetic

I believe the psychological disposition towards an aesthetic preference, for the representational or the abstract, stems from an individual's life experiences. The practical businessman pines for concrete symmetry and material perfection, while the educated corporate embraces ambiguous concepts & intrinsic beauty. Education is formative towards an individual's aesthetic preference, but we cannot deny how some paintings look better than others even to the untrained eye. These basic characteristics of visual arts - composition, colour, forms, texture, continue to occupy my central belief that a universal aesthetic exists. What I need to work out, is the factors that appeal to me, perhaps because of nostalgia, or other personal interests like philosophy or interior design.

Hamidi Hadi - Beautiful Day (2011)

Art critic Hans Hoffmann believed, that "...burdening the canvas with propaganda or history does not make the painting a better work of art. Such burdening, in the majority of cases, decreases the quality of the work and with it the living, vivid relations and swinging, vibrating space proper to a work of visual art." I second this opinion, but is it because I am apolitical or amoral? Don't think so - I believe that the visual arts starts and ends with the perceived aesthetic. Self-serving works, mostly boring and tasteless, proliferate the current art market, demonstrating a lack of self-awareness among many local artists. Daily life is already banal, and I do not need art to remind of racism or politics, especially if the object is an ugly construct of used furniture wood and ceramic statues. I view performance art differently, as not belonging to the same genre as visual arts.

Repetition of a signature style or theme, remains an issue whereby artistic exploration is ignored for commercial stability. Successful Malaysian artists guilty of this fault, continue to hog the limelight, despite not getting any better than the Central Market mainstays of photo-realist depictions, or generic abstracts. This situation gives many young artists the wrong impression, whom are already sorely lacking exposure, where many hardly travel. Why is batik and watercolour not popular mediums, in the art of our neighbouring countries? Thank goodness that minimalism and concept art are virtually non-existent here; But artists are influenced by a pop aesthetic - do they not know that the Pop movement is a reaction to American mass consumerism, which no longer applies to our generation? 

Kim Ng - Untitled (92) (2013)

Art is about representing an image, where appropriation is ephemeral, and juxtapositions create visual interest in the tired mind. Malaysians are a talented lot, many whom I feel are worthy of international exposure. Hamidi Hadi creates colour field impressions that leave me awestruck like a Rothko. Fauzulyusri's scrubbed texture. Kim Ng's nostalgic prints. Wong Perng Fey is the Malaysian de Kooning. Chin Kong Yee's wide-angled memories. Sabri Idrus' patterns. Wong Hoy Cheong's multi-disciplinary exploration. Chia Yu Chian's Munch-like expressionism. Cerebral appropriations by Nadiah Bamadhaj. Ivan Lam's composition. Eiffel Chong's vision. Looking at this list, perhaps I am a Postmodernist. OK maybe not, but to me the visual aspects of art will always takes priority, before subsequent mental judgement. And with that, I move one small step closer to understanding myself better.

10 August 2013

Warisan Penglipurlara Pancawarna @ NVAG

Visiting the National Art Gallery to view 5 different exhibitions, turned out to be an awful experience. Poorly lit spaces, cold as a refrigerator, wrong or incomplete labelling, and bad curatorial efforts, leave me lamenting the sorry state of affairs at this public institution. While the Huang Yao retrospective and surrealist show deserve its own postings, the remaining exhibits do not. "Penglipurlara" presents old story books, a cartoon, a mute wayang kulit video, and a blog post projected onto the wall (?!). Viewing the exhibits at the same time was a tourist couple, who sounded like they enjoy art, but definitely not this - there was no English explanation available, not even a translation of the Puteri Gunung Ledang or Peristiwa Merak Emas fables.

Liew Yoon Thin - Running Script 行书 (2013)

Upstairs, the Chinese calligraphy exhibition "Warisan" hangs 136 scrolls. Without categorisation or any explanatory texts in the crowded space, the event makes the organisers look like fools, who claim the intention to promote calligraphic art. Compounding the bad experience is the museum guard, who gave me a loud and rude lecture, for taking a camera out of my pocket while I was reaching for my phone. Sharifah Fatimah Syed Zubir's retrospective "Pancawarna" features 100 works, mostly consisting of her signature stencil-like forms of garish colours, with the occasional yellow or orange brush stroke breaking free from the rigid abstract structures. A welcome distraction are collages of religious symbols with gold and triangles, seen in the "Garden of the Heart" series, that hark back to a time of oriental extravagance.

Sharifah Fatimah Syed Zubir - Mihrab: Nusantara (2006)

08 August 2013

Snippets: Paris, Jun 2013

The majestic Petit Palais aka Musée des Beaux-Arts, exhibits many objets d'art that are breathtakingly beautiful, also displays paintings & sculptures from significant French artists. Jean-Honoré Fragonard's bistre wash landscape, is a drawing that contains all the free-spiritedness evident in his paintings. The superb portrait of Parisian art dealer Ambroise Vollard by Paul Cézanne, conveys a serious individual that was adept at his business, and respected by his peers. Exhibited in a large room dedicated to the commoner, are Fernand Pelez' oil paintings of poor people. Displayed side by side on a single wall, individual groups of figures occupy multiple canvases, an empathetic work that sees contemporary parallels with local artist Kim Ng's "City Dweller" series.

Fernand Pelez - La Bouchée de Pain (1904)

Only in Paris can an established art institution hold an exhibition as bizarre, and receives a positive response.  "The Angel of the Odd" at the Musée d'Orsay explores dark romanticism, an aesthetic trend that recalls a heretical Europe accustomed to, violent mythologies and scaremongering traditions. Consisting of 200+ artworks spanning two-and-a-half centuries, it is apparent that dark scary pictures have always been popular. An ambitious event that reminds one of an instinctive fear we all possess, it is nevertheless an enjoyable show, that highlights the famous and the obscure. The repeating themes of grotesque monsters, cannibalistic tendencies, and enclosed forests, look to be replicated continuously in contemporary pop culture, feeding on our carnal desires.

Edvard Munch - Vampire (1895)

Good design is fine art made functional, where an object's aesthetic value provides empirical solace. The "Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec Momentané" exhibition held at Les Arts Decoratifs, celebrates the many works of this brilliant designer pair. Featuring hall-sized partitioning installations, workspaces made of sustainable materials, and design icons like the Vegetal chair - what blew me away are the walls covered with hand drawings. Sketches by the brothers, denote an intense desire to integrate natural forms and material attributes, into the product. Many drawings by itself are more beautiful than artworks, with its defined shapes and contrasting colours.

Display at the "Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec Momentané" exhibition (more pictures here

A mind numbing visit to the Centre Pompidou, left me the searing image of Jackson Pollock's 'The Deep' imprinted into my mind, an emotive work that explicates depth within the canvas, via gestural abstraction. Two retrospectives were ongoing in different corners of the building - one for shock artist Mike Kelley, where a good horror movie probably stirs up more uneasiness. Simon Hantaï occupies the other, an abstract painter inspired by the Surrealists and Pollock, but now known for his pliage (folding) technique. In Simon's mature works, the canvas is folded or knotted before painting, producing blocks of colour and unprimed areas, that amazingly project naturalist forms. 

Simon Hantaï - Meun (1968)

Each visit to the Musée de l’Orangerie is like a pilgrimage - promenade the wide paths of the Jardin des Tuileries, absorb the charms of the French gardens, then enter into the shrine of Claude Monet. The two circular galleries of Nymphéas, invoke a deep sense of serenity like a burden lifted. Standing in front of each water lily mural, one feels the moist air, and wind stroking the surface of the stream. A calm overpowers the viewer, despite having just viewed the expressionist paintings downstairs, be it the indignity of Chaim Soutine, or aloofness of Amedeo Modigliani. Even the Impressionism critic has to admit - when the style is executed with such sublimity, the fleeting light can indeed touch the deepest recesses of our hearts.

Claude Monet - Soleil couchant (1926)

06 August 2013

Merdeka! @ Galeri Petronas

Commemorating its 20th anniversary, Galeri Petronas commissioned Zulkifli Yusoff for an art installation that celebrates the National Oil Company's core values - loyalty, professionalism, integrity, and cohesiveness. Displayed in the gallery's only well-lit corner, are 10 panels with protruding globes that adorn the walls, and 6 recessed kawahs (an oversized kuali) lying on the ground. The artist's signature strips of repeating words, are glued onto these objects in circular loops, further layered with grid-like motifs. Possessing a rocky texture and lava colours, the globes are made of resin, and symbolise the hasil bumi of petroleum and natural gas.

A unified past on a kawah

Interpreting the visionary narrative projected through these objects, the kawahs symbolise the past, where Merdeka! is repeated literally. Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad's proclamation to solidify independence, via the harvesting of natural resources, was a rallying call that unified the country, but is perhaps obsolete now. The words "Itulah Nikmat Kemerdekaan" surround the globes, an indication of a present state which the company have successfully manoeuvred through, and shedding the kawahs of the past. Multicoloured bulges, seen on the right-hand-side globes, signify the future threats of resource depletion and globalisation. Zulkifli Yusoff's works are always a joy to appreciate, where the cerebral artist displays an inquisitiveness, that too few Malaysian artists demonstrate.

Bulging globes of future threats

04 August 2013

Earth. Water. Sky @ Sutra Gallery

Although not a fan of black & white, Eric Peris' photographs offer a contemplative view into a historical locale, that reminds the city boy in me, of a laborious industry that lies not far away. Horizontal planes that depict the elements of earth, water, and sky, are apparent in these 20+ year-old pictures, showing a desire to maintain a compositional balance. The exception is an interior shot of a kampung house in Kedah, where sunlight streams through rectangular windows, to illuminate glossy floor planks. The poetic prose that accompanies each picture, marks the photographer as one who empathises with nature, but does not romanticises it. I do not expect an accomplished and celebrated artist to switch styles, but it is tempting to imagine these photographs coloured, especially if tinted by Eric Peris' hand.

Langgar, Alor Setar, Kedah, 1984
"Windows bring to light, a kampung's landscape, Yet, each reveals all"

"First showers quench not,  Rice fields thirst for more, The clouds gather"
Sekinchan, Selangor, 1983