28 February 2014

Alter Ego @ Galeri Chandan

With the noble ambition of encouraging "...artists to produce works outside of their ‘comfort zones’...", only Awang Damit plays to the theme with a couple of small but interesting brick installations, complete with the "...formal elements in his two-dimensional pieces..." Haffendi Anuar elucidates an abridged analysis of each artist's contribution, including this description for Gan Chin Lee's large painting teeming with sexual tension - "'Ellie Thinks About Art Through Me', a portrait devoid of a social framework and concentrates instead on the single subject matter (the classical reclining female figure), the picture’s formal qualities and the reward from pure visual experience." Doubling poses compromise the realistic rendering of a female body, but Chin Lee's fantastic blend of colours project passionate warmth, which makes up for the drawing deficiency.

Gan Chin Lee - Ellie Thinks About Art Through Me (2014)

Haslin Ismail and Khairul Azmir Shoib put up decent attempts at differentiation, although their output is still easily recognisable. Haslin revisits an old work by attaching cloth onto a naked muscular figure, the sinuous and bloody layer underneath occasionally visible when wind blows. Encasing his signature illustrated figures and dried plants in plastic boxes, Meme presents a fairytale narrative in a refreshing and cheeky manner. Artist partners Marvin Chan and Izan Tahir both employ resin, whereby Marvin's work proves more attractive due to the traditional myths referenced. Walking past Chong Siew Ying’s inconsequential photographs, one notices that Chandan's prices have gone up, likely due to the gallery's reaction after winning the Most Promising Asian Gallery Award in Singapore last month.

Close-up of Khairul Azmir Shoib - Trap in a Form of Blue Rabbit (2014)

26 February 2014

Thinking Drawing @ Galeri Serdang

Having done residencies there, it is no surprise that acting curator Astrid Köppe selects Lostgens’-affiliated artists to participate in this exhibition. As one whose artistic output is mostly A4-sized drawings, Astrid hopes to raise local awareness towards drawing being regarded as a complete artwork, and not just as preparatory sketches. Her curatorial statement also describes drawing as "...simply the most direct way of expression for an artist. It is personal, intuitive, immediate, enriching and also intriguing…” Still recovering after being blown away by the sketches of the Bouroullec brothers last June, it takes effort to recognize the subtle complexities in Astrid’s illustrations. Organic forms and coloured ink draw visual contrasts that tap into the subconscious, a refreshing experience not found in her more adventurous but straightforward works, which feature the usage of bamboo skewers, pins, shadows, and plastic grass!

Wall of drawings by Astrid Köppe

Nylon and plastic creations by Abdul Latiff bin Ahmad Padzali fail to impress; As do Chuah Shu Ruei’s paper collages, whose intent to explore the “…fading and illuminative effects of sunlight…” can be more effectively projected, through a sundial in this gallery space soaked in natural light. Eddie Choo Wen Yi continues in the same trajectory from her “Diary of Madline” series, this time including projections on ceramic plates. Smaller and framed, the zoomed-in focus of her driving markings display a controlled inhibition, which deviates from the Automatism concept detected in the original drawings. Silhouettes of a woman and outlines of a boy are illustrated upon open envelopes, made in 2001 by Phuan Thai Meng and covering a single wall. Exhibited beside it are smaller works on paper, which provide a glimpse into the artist’s thinking and the penchant for including geometric designs in his larger works.

Eddie Choo - 04022014, Tuesday Morning: Home - Taman Seputeh (2014)

Liew Chee Heai displays a hidden talent with his simple yet evocative pen drawings. The density of dots, contours of curves, and the hairy bristles of intersecting lines – are laid bare and delineated clearly for one’s inspection and introspection. These works are not sketches (no objective) and not rants (not out of control), but a form of doodling stripped off pretensions, a visual expression for one’s stream of consciousness. A lack of colour highlights every single line and dot, the black & white approach also applicable to the artist's photography output. Remarkably personal and emotionally powerful, Chee Heai's drawings exemplify Paul Klee's maxim of "taking a line for a walk". Galeri Serdang curator Nasir Baharuddin observes, that “...it is the gesture of (drawing) that thwarts the ordered unfolding of significations and revelations..." Hence, the exhibition title should have been: “Thinking Drawing, and Feeling”.

Liew Chee Heai - Untitled drawings

23 February 2014

Simulations @ White Box

Retiree Kamal Mustafa conflates moving images and canvas painting in his coming out as a fine artist, whose compositions reflect a career behind the camera. Like a spectral spectator, the former director leads us through a netherworld of ear-y (pardon the pun) passages, occasionally taking refuge in spaces with personal images. Alighting steps towards the contemporary world, the phantom observes portly emperors and kingmakers from behind, then proceeds past the current sphere into higher and alternate dimensions. Cinematographic detachment is detected in the blurring which exists across the exhibits, where neon colours intermingle with earthy textures to surprisingly great effect. Evident in both "Archivist" paintings, such colour combinations and an unforgettable image mask scrawling lines, while a painted pinkish drip and black spiral staircase firmly anchor the viewer's perspective.

Parallel Universe Red (2013)

The artist observes acutely, that "(t)he ear is often ignored in visual art. Maybe because it’s just an appendage..." It is amusing that songs croon about "your beautiful eyes" and "blinded to my love", but no visual expressions celebrate the physical ear. Kamal's symbolic usage of this bizarrely-shaped organ, is an ingenious approach that comments on our aural faculties and the everyday overload of sensory reception. The depicted accumulation of ears are flat and generally crude, seemingly generated via computer manipulation on a particular picture plane. In 'His Master's Voice', the coloured presentation breaks away from the muted palette, where one hears the hellish sounds coming from A Bigot's Ballad vinyl record. Another laudable method is the cut-out recess, manifest in the naked rump drawn on an underlying canvas in 'The Hearing', literally rendering the peeing figure as the butt of a dirty joke.

The Hearing (2010)

'Hear, Hearsay, Hereafter' takes this approach one layer deeper, setting the scene for a multilayered reality which concept is effectively explicated in Kamal's follow-on hybrid works. Ear-y colonies linger above and below a ruinous indoor structure, as one cut-out casement opens up a refreshing window to the blue sky/alternate universe. Among the catalogue essays, Alexandra Tan investigates the "metaphorical implications" behind the ear motif, a (deliberate?) interpretation of symbols that plays into Rehman Rashid's turgid references to Jean Baudrillard and the postmodern condition. Nur Hanim Khairuddin's compendious analysis then states "...(Kamal's) wishes to bring alive dialogue on the dichotomy between reality and virtuality." In actuality, his extended works simply juxtapose static versus movement, which successful examples prove potent in defining verisimilitude within the French thinker's simulacra theory.

Hear, Hearsay, Hereafter (2010)

Growing up with the idiot box and now stuck in the age of the moronic plate, one's eyes are immediately drawn to the two screens embedded within 'Staying Alive', despite the brightly-coloured illustrations and detailed monochromatic prints surrounding it. This act proves the lived experience and demonstration of hyperreality, which Baudrillard described in his translated text Simulations: "...(that) mass media produce a "narcotized", "mesmerized" consciousness of a passive immersion in a spectacle of simulated images." Supposedly the first attempt at combining video and painting, this artwork triumphs over subsequent projections by virtue of its straightforwardness. 'Labyrinth' rotates a medley of symbols which ultimately leads nowhere, a perfect encapsulation of its caption "Pi mai pi mai tang tu". Another exercise in personal exorcism is 'Girl from Ouarzazate', where an indelible countenance is memorialised.

Staying Alive (2012)

For an exhibition featuring many ears, sound only plays a significant role in few works. 'Parallel Universe Red' presents organic depictions of alternate modes, its soft music ushering one into a beguiling escapism. Beginning with the strident melody of a serunai and ending with the plocking beats of a gendang, disparate outlines of moving figurines converge into a sociopolitical commentary, within the multi-panel 'Halfpastsix Reflections'. Exhibited also are printed captures of these hybrid works, an opportunity for local collectors to acknowledge their support of a medium they find inconvenient to collect. Art fund-turned-organiser Fergana banks in on Kamal's established reputation and its hype-generating publicity campaign, nearly selling out by opening day. From the exhibition sales made, is it possible to infer that sign value dominates over exchange value and use value? Is this scenario a simulation of Baudrillard's simulacra?

Set of 9 prints (A/P + 5 editions) for Labyrinth (2012)

21 February 2014

吃喝玩樂 | Food, Drink, Play & Enjoyment @ 無限發掘 | Findars

Art collective Findars move into Jalan Panggong above Lostgens', a strategic location for its mostly ethnic Chinese supporters to visit and attend performances. Its opening exhibition features rotting vegetables, grotesque drawings , bloody fantasies, patterned prints, and cheerful watercolours. The space's industrial set up provides a practical background for the variety on show, which best works are contributed by Tey Beng Tze and Lim Keh Soon. Rachel Jena once described that both artists "...applied the aesthetics of (manga and comic) graphic works into their art, lending to images that are at once highly narrative and distinct." As compared to the garish mess seen at the absurd NVAG show, these drawings on paper are stripped down but more potent, corroborating that simple contrasts create an effective visual impact.

Lim Keh Soon - Diam!! (2013)

Greeting the visitor is a large pen drawing by Beng Tze on 25 pieces of yellowed (newsprint) paper, featuring his graffiti style of illustration. The mishmash of characters reside within a head-shaped outline, its grotesque traits prominently visible despite the yellowed backing. ‘Gimme Back My Banana!’ sees a steady stream of surreal parts emerge from a yellow Yayoi Kusama pumpkin, posing a reclamation protest towards contemporary art trends. The first frame of ‘100% Human Skin Lighter Case’ recalls Liew Kwai Fei’s colourful and worded paintings, while the following pictures mutilate the obscene symbol of Chinese progress in an amusingly nasty manner. Facing the bar is a wall of small works by the collective’s members, hung intimately around Beng Tze’s ‘Just My Imagination’ robot first seen at Valentine Willie.

Tey Beng Tze - Gimme Back My Banana! (2012)

Daily frustrations form violent expressions in Keh Soon’s exhibits, where littering, smoking, and theft, are treated as equally deplorable actions. Body parts of ghastly figures are blown up in red ink, invoking knowing laughter when socially conscientious situations are being referenced. ‘Diam!!’ garners immediate attention with its graphic separation of a mouth from the face, projecting a general exasperation with evil speech interpretations ranging from friendly gossip, media propaganda, to political gibberish. The subtle influence of Japanese manga is detected in ‘Dilarang Melayari Laman Web Lucah Hari-hari’, not in its illustration style, but its self-depreciating reflection of a boyhood habit deemed socially awkward. Inconsequential works can occasionally suggest self reflection, and for that we hope Findars will enjoy its stay in central KL.

Lim Keh Soon - Dilarang Melayari Laman Web Lucah Hari-hari (2013)

19 February 2014

A La Carte @ Maison Francaise

Appreciating artworks by Noor Azizan Rahman Paiman across two floors, the smell of warm bread complements the visual appetite being sated. An unofficial retrospective spanning twenty years, these colourful collection provides a decent representation of Paiman's output on paper and canvas. Studies for the 1994 "Pursuing a Dream" installation display intricate drawings, yet the torn canvas indicates a subversive intent, which eventually unveils itself in the blue flying bird seen in 'Insect Man'. As Rachel Jena observes, "...these imaginary beings have featured heavily in the artist’s oeuvre since..." Such flying creatures are present as Malaysian parliament members in 'Wakil Pilihan Rakyat!', the printed quotes augmenting pictures with biting and incisive political commentaries. A similar approach pervades the 2005-2007 "AP" series, where shiny paper is used as a reflective device within the small works. 

From the "Issue Now and Then" series (1997): Social Escort [left]; Indonesian Worker [right] 

Shadows cast a dim light in 'School Girl' and 'Social Escort' - these two drawings belonging to the "Issue Now and Then" series, which features also a tiresome judge and foreign construction workers. Surprisingly relevant even today, the 1997 series employs interesting horizon lines that lend immediacy to the illustrations. Such clever demarcations are seen in Paiman's recent body of work. Stencilled blue alphabets and painted green form a beautiful background in 'Dasar Pendidikan Negara', whose stern teacher wearing a ridiculous shower cap appears ostracised. A collective of short figures in jail clothes surround the 'Dayang Sulu', which wordplay and composition singles it out as one of the best works on show. Timeless is a strange description for Paiman's works, yet the self proclaimed backdated reporter's brand of dark humour and social satire, is an irresistibly attractive relief from the farce known as Malaysian politics. 

Dayang Sulu (2014)

16 February 2014

New Olds: Design Between Tradition and Innovation @ Galeri Petronas

Walking around to appreciate “exhibits that explore the relationship between tradition and innovation in contemporary design”, wooden moose heads recall the taxidermy trophies in hunting traditions, also the symbol of a commercially successful design. Pretentious art take the form of foam wardrobes and Bo Reudler Studio's "Slow White" furniture, while beautiful aesthetic that do not forsake function, are seen in chairs that update existing designs. Martino Gampar's and Marten Baas' contemporary interpretations of the Monobloc, attract a Malaysian audience accustomed to this polypropylene outdoor staple. Rattan proves to be an attractive substitute materials used in recreated chairs by Émilie Voirin and Jérôme Nelet, also utilised by Cordula Kehrer for her whimsical "Bow Bins".

Interpretations of the Monobloc at "New Olds"

Farah Azizan from Kedai Bikin seems to be the only local featured designer (or named, at least) in this 3-year old travelling show, dampening the exhibition objective "...to prove how much history -- and in many cases, personal or national history -- informs innovation." According to curator Volker Albus, "good design is all about the important balance between function, configuration, material, stability and the price at the end of the process." Outstanding innovations include Silvia Knüppel’s 'pl(a)ywood' and Richard Hutten's 'Playing with Tradition'. The former allows a multitude of functional configurations within the shape of a classical commode, while the latter employs a deconstructive approach towards oriental rugs, curiously recalling the patterns seen in Ismail Zain's straight-lined works. In the globalised world, what is new elsewhere might already be old news here. And vice versa.

Richard Hutten - Playing with Tradition series

13 February 2014

Last Few Days Still Here, But Right Now No More

The more one knows about the subject, the more likely one gets drawn into its politics. Worse yet, Facebook activism. I admire Cheng Yen Pheng’s output in the past few years, where she utilises inflated balloons as symbols of chauvinist power. Nothing new, but a concept worth exploring beyond the boundaries of a painted canvas. However, art can evoke powerful emotions, especially the heart-wrenching and repetitive wails of “This my painting, last few days still here, but right now no more!” Once again the National Visual Arts Gallery (NVAG) demonstrates a lack of critical thinking, as they removed Yen Pheng's work without her knowledge on opening day of the Bakat Muda Sezaman competition, her painting labelled as sensitive. A Malay political slogan is liken to an English idiom about death, its spray painted graffiti denoting a rebellious expression from society's underbelly.

Here it is: Cheng Yen Pheng - alksnaabknuaunmo (2013)

Yen Pheng's recorded response was genuine and impassioned, a personal trait already evident in her interview session with the competition's judges. That video provided interesting insight, where a group of art experts spend 30 minutes to judge the artist. Although the judges may have been sincere, NVAG undoes the good work within a single gesture, not surprising considering its prior announcement about disposing uncollected artworks by artists. Symptomatic of the nation's problems with patriarchal hierarchy and inability to act on constructive feedback, this fiasco shows that the local visual arts scene is truly a microcosm of (Peninsula) Malaysia, where a supposedly thriving marketplace belie bickering between social classes and defensive attitudes. This incident clouds Fuad Arif's deserving win, as one hopes the artist will expand on his potential upon completion of the gifted residency.

"This Is My Work. Does Anyone Know Why It Has Been Taken Down?!'"

04 February 2014

All That Glitters @ Wei-Ling Contemporary

As chemically uninteresting gold is, it has retained its value as a successful currency due to its material splendour. The same applies to many other natural elements, which shine and sparkle tantalises one’s vision. Azliza Ayob crystallises her perceived fascination with bling, by sprinkling decorative glitter atop collage and acrylic in this series. The only work that follows a visually linear narrative, à la her Mughal miniature paintings, is ‘All That Glitters: The Quest’. Fiery pinnacles represent an inferno threatening to swallow the protagonist, who extends one palm towards the forbidden fruit, while the other arm morphs into a phoenix’s wing. Eve’s extravagant crown grows from an earthy gown, a contrast to the bright flowing drapes of the character to the right. The tree of life sprouts from a Robin Hood head – complete with feathered cap – as toxic green clouds, flying jewellery, and an assortment of fantastical creatures envelop the eastward-facing scene.

All That Glitters: The Quest (2013)

At left, a hooded figure holds out a sabre, its being propped up on a white chair on one leg, garbed in an oversized flowery gown with diamond bracelets as skirt tassels. Such surreal icons are bountiful across Azliza’s oeuvre. The artist is adept at giving images new meaning via disfiguration and reassembly, collage being an effective mean for this approach. Consumerism commentaries are inconsequential when material beauty is so elegant – her collage on washi works suggest a cut-and-paste effort from Malaysian Tatler, also serving as a repository of inspirations for larger pieces.  In ‘Whispers of Desire’, red cut-out lips scatter across a background of blue and white porcelain patterns. The same half-open mouths reappear among the excessive glitter in ‘May The Light Shine on You’; It also anchors ‘Sweet Sensation’ like a sensuous black hole, magnetising an assortment of costume jewellery for literal consumption.

Whispers of Desire (2013)

Craft and hobby transcend into fully-formed art in the sophisticated series of four, hung behind the gallery bar. A minimal selection of flower and body parts create intriguing pictures with definitive statements, where ‘Wonderlust’ is the most attractive by virtue of the presence of human eyes. This series recalls Hannah Höch, which "...are completely abstract in their organic-shaped imagery but totally emotional in their effect, as she reaches into her own mind to find a combination and juxtaposition of the spirit she wants to express." Adrian Hamilton’s description of the German Dadaist applies to Azliza, whose uplifting hand gestures seen in these C4-sized collages, are supplemented with umbrellas and billowing pleated cloth in ‘Hope and Pray’. The straight-up pictorial structure follows on from works last seen in Galeri Chandan, yet its vigorous disposition is superior in comparison.

Hope and Pray (2013)

‘The Bystanders’ resembles her older work ‘Death Robbers’ in its emblem-like layout. Leafy wreaths and a small figurine in the centre, contribute to a perfectly balanced classicism, which also feature intricate jewellery patterns and side profile stares. When these complex arrangements converge onto a central subject, like in ‘The Bouquet’, creepy crawlies and colourful butterflies provide visual depth in this fine example of static exuberance. Elsewhere, bricolage of motifs are linked together via ribbons, in the dark and disquieting ‘Lost to be Found’. ‘The Swan Lady’ projects a vibrant and harmonious arrangement of kimono, swan, and lilies. Yet it is the single eye again which draws the viewer’s attention, presenting an evident truth about eye contact in social interaction. Composition is Azliza’s forte, which include central candlestick forms, linear landscape narratives, singular point of focus, and the all-encompassing splendid background.

The Bystanders (2013)

‘Great Waves of Uncertainty’ fully embodies the power of collage in its reference to a familiar image, i.e. Hokusai’s ocean waves. Layered upon a print, this mystical and mesmerising work stands apart from the many others inspired by Japan. Pumpkin shapes and self-indulgent gestures dot the canvas, where the threat of being drowned by painted swirls of water and cloud, is ominously present. Perhaps learning from her accomplished painter husband, Azliza demonstrates confidence in portraying atmospheric gloom in acrylic. The artist does not hesitate to touch-up pasted cut-outs, in order to illustrate her required aesthetic, transforming the readymade symbol into something more. Nonetheless, painterly enhancements cannot resolve the assimilation of disparate objects without a clear layout, evident in the murky ‘All That Glitters (In Small Parts)’.

Great Waves of Uncertainty (2013)

The confluence of collage, painting, and composition, coalesce in the phantasmagorical masterpiece ‘Meat Eaters Assembly’.  Drawn in a cartoonish manner with thick outlines, garish pink clouds set the scene for the medley of bizarre characters on display. Unlike ‘Great Waves of Uncertainty’, the all-over background does not create horizontal layers on the canvas, but spreads out towards the viewer and draws them into the pitch black horizon at the centre. The entities within are not under threat, but revel in their surreal independence as the ultimate symbols of freedom, breaking away from conventional aesthetics to excite the viewer in an uncompromising style. Knights in shining armour flank a ladybug sitting on a domino tile, her head on fire. Arms push a swing with a pile of garments sitting on it, while a jacked up head nearby prances around on schoolgirl legs. This neon dream glitters, and one cannot stop looking at it.

Meat Eaters Assembly (2013)

Glitter succeeds as a sparkling embellishment, but cannot be taken seriously to represent “a form of escapism from the triviality and banality of (women’s) daily lives.” In the catalogue essay, Nur Hanim Khairuddin summarises the impact of the aesthetic value in Azliza's works. "The sheer intensity and immediacy of strong, contrasting palettes enhance the vibrancy and vitality of the scenes depicted. The artist's employment of brilliant colours and a melange of intriguing forms and shapes draws the viewer deep into the surreal world created within the picture plane. Moreover, it augments the viewer's emotional and intellectual engagement with not only the works' intricate materiality and complex imagery but also their thematic contents and metaphorical allusions." All that glitters is (not) gold, but a mishmash of ephemeral instances, which trigger reflections of the intrinsic value we associate to visual cues.

[l to r] (2013): Can't Let Go; This is Future; Wonderlust; Foxy Ride