30 March 2014

Prudential Malaysian Eye @ MAP Publika

"(Art instructor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Kurt) Chan depicted the general logic of the survey in almost universally negative terms: it is typically only a survey of the obvious, because curatorial teams rarely commit to the sustained engagement of uniqueness of voice; the even representation of schools or styles replaces deeper engagement with practices; the tendency is always towards the spectacle. He also noted that the survey is uniquely useful in the construction of discursive power, able to stand at the intersection of a complex of institutions, artists, market players and broad audiences."
- Total Hong Kong: artistic ecology and the typology of the survey, Broadsheet Volume 42.3

Chong Ai Lei - True Romance I (2013)

Robin Peckham's essay about the "Hong Kong Eye" resonates much with the Malaysian edition, which sees 75 local artists featured in a coffee table book, out of which 21 are chosen by the three foreign curators to exhibit for one month. Art collector and patron of the Global Eye Programme, Serenella Ciclitira provides the unintentionally damning remark, "...most of the artwork we received were all paintings... some photography, virtually no digital or video, and very little installation. Sculpture... tends to be small..." She also mentioned that there was hardly any oil painting submissions in Korea, and implied that Indonesian art is more "advanced". The exhibition visitor is greeted with an overkill of dripping paint, earthy tones, and decrepit objects. Chong Ai Lei's refined melancholy impresses among the collective vagueness, leading one to notice the startlingly small number of female artists in the final selection.

Phuan Thai Meng - Oops! Saw It (2009)

Quoting the same essay, "practices that code immediately as the global contemporary" typically make the cut, since the selected artists will exhibit at Saatchi Gallery. However, the exclusions in this catalogue call into question the vetting process of 200+ portfolios over a 4-months period. Did curators only look at artwork pictures and artist statements? How influential were the local advisers? With many featured artists born after 1980, where are the established mid-career artists? Glaring omissions include the contemporary expressions of Chang Yoong Chia, Sharon Chin, Hamidi Hadi, Nadiah Bamadhaj, Juhari Said, Bibi Chew, and Roslisham Ismail. Did these "unique and exciting" artists not submit their portfolios? Was Gan Chin Lee not included because his painterly style reminded the international curators too much of Freud/Bacon?

Installation view of Hasnul J Saidon - Veil of an Artist (2010)

As a corporate art project, it is inevitable that a tropical landscape by Ahmad Shukri be selected for the book cover. Foreign perception of our country persists as an idyllic paradise corrupted by urban development. Looking beyond the medium and within the limits of a time-bound survey, it is evident how artistic expressions have evolved locally. Technical mastery and the intention to evoke the sublime, have since gave way to statement-making and self-indulgent introspections. Nevertheless, the exhibiting artists do display a nice variation. From Chong Siew Ying's charcoal panorama to Ramlan Abdullah's steel construct, to the playful inquisitions posed by Phuan Thai Meng and Chong Kim Chiew, these works manifest thoughtfulness and hard work. Perhaps the Malaysian eye that needs development belongs to the Malaysian collector/gallerist, whose acceptance of contemporary mediums can shift the local output beyond paintings.

Sun Kang Jye - The Vitality of Rural Areas: Give it a Little Colour #05 (2013)

24 March 2014

Freedom Under Construction + Talks & Performances

HOM Art Trans hosts artists from New Zero Art Space as part of its Malaysia-Myanmar Art Exchange Program, also arranging an exhibition, talks, and performances. Seah Zelin's simplistic yet effective tribute to Teoh Beng Hock is the only notable artwork on display, as the limelight belongs to the performance artists. With the initial intent to comment on capital dependencies, local representative Intan Rafiza instead utilised charcoal in her ritual dedicated to the heavens, her prayerful act a wish for rain and plane. Nora's aggressive use of red and black masking tape grabs attention, especially with her muffling and writhing on the floor the first night, then plastering oneself against a road sign on the second night, as traffic policemen ride by. With a focus on colour, line, and uncomfortable actions, Nora's approach is effective but one-dimensional.

Performance snapshots of Nora - Peace

The only independent art space in Yangon, New Zero was founded by Aye Ko, who was present throughout the Kuala Lumpur events. Although his painting oeuvre is influenced by Western art movements, Aye Ko is a pioneering performance art practitioner, his methods typically involving bounded actions and the Joker-like lip-smacking. New Zero's residency program attracts an international audience, and with support from Western democracies, one cannot help but wonder about soft power struggles. However, by providing free art classes to the masses, it has since drawn many young artists into their current stable. Curator Haymann Oo shared about the difficulties of performance artists, who risks house arrest in a country ruled by one totalitarian regime disguised as a burgeoning democracy.

Seah Zelin - Timer 339(2) (2012-ongoing)

A proven success at nurturing talent, some of its performance artists are already participating at international conferences, although Yin Nan Wai's shirt-tearing at Lostgens' still seems amateurish. Thyitar's performance was the best among all - kneel on red cloth, cut cloth, wrap around head, blows up balloon through cloth, inflates a whole pack of balloons with blown balloons still in mouth, pulls and snips off stretched balloons, unwraps cloth. Her actions describe one who tries to support many others but fails to do so, directing a strong critique at her government, also unintentionally depicting bubbles in an English context. Wrapping the cloth depicts a wearing of national pride, with her visible struggle while inflating, touching a nerve amongst the audience. Many can surely empathise with her expressions, which describes our country all too well.

Performance snapshots of Thyitar - Focus

21 March 2014

19th Rimbun Dahan Visual Arts Residency Exhibition @ Rimbun Dahan

More disruption ensues at Rimbun Dahan, where resident artist Sabri Idrus exhibits paintings and circular pieces in "Disruptive Nature", while Australian counterparts Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro combines Lego animals with Ikea furniture in "Habitat". Displacement and its semiotics provide the unifying theme, although Sabri's output is more site-specific. Descending the staircase, one is greeted by a disk-shaped construct hung above the ground, its side broken and crudely taped in black. With its centre ring painted white, ‘Rama’ mimics the thick lines and right angles of the adjacent painting ‘Avenue’, which depicts ascending steps. Next in view is a colourful dolphin embedded within a towel rack, peeking around the wall corner. This delightful turn of artfulness sets off a leisurely mood, yet one is fully mindful of art’s inconsequence, when relating to the wilderness above ground.

Foreground: Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro - Bedroom 3, Baby Room - Lion (2014)
Background: Sabri Idrus - Lit (2014)

Beginning with a coloured canvas, Sabri layers plaster onto his paintings, then scrapes off shapes to expose the underlying space. Plant silhouettes and bits of dried leaves fill tactile surfaces, as cracked paint reveal an attempt to demonstrate a conjectural way of seeing. Primed backing provides luminescence to dark backgrounds, underlying the fact that we perceive darkness as a loss of light. Distillation of light’s properties is evident through the tinted lens of ‘White & Blue’, and the golden circle in ‘Missing’. Scraped or painted lines that illuminate forms, such as in ‘Sheltered’ or ‘Lit’, inject depth onto flat surfaces. Combining both concepts is ‘Platform’, a grid pattern extending away from the viewer like an awning. Rust colours augment the atmosphere, its splattered dots of ochre mimicking raindrops. These works document reactions to his working environment, Rimbun Dahan's shady trees and serene architecture acting as everyday visual stimuli.

Sabri Idrus - Platform (2013)

In front of Sabri’s curving "Panorama", stands a Lego penguin attached to an Ikea reading chair. Such quirky amalgamations transform the gallery into a fun yet contemplative zoo. Colourful plastic and sleek design signify the ideals of middle-class living, these mass-produced goods staring back at the viewer to ask, “Who’s trapped now?” Essayist Very Mey writes that, "(h)ordes of people wander in a procession down (IKEA's) aisles, looking at what flat pack lives are on offer for their kitset living in the kitset happiness of their kitset culture." Exemplifying this preposterous imported lifestyle is ‘Breakfast Bar/Kitchen – Chimpanzee’, where the monkey and a fake palm denote the tropics, or an unfulfilled yearning for it. Claire+Sean lampoons the influence of interior design magazines, where a minimalist look is mocked up via ‘Hallway/Rear Entrance – Snake’, its candy-coloured dots augmenting an undeniably attractive façade.

Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro - Breakfast Bar/Kitchen – Chimpanzee (2014)

Striking creations mask a snide comment on the displacement of aesthetic ideals, its cynicism further pronounced with the reference to (perceived) intelligent creatures. Interior spaces stated in the artwork titles, provide the context for Claire+Sean’s wild animals, which can be freely associated to a various topics. For example, casual audience may relate a lion to Simba (Disney cartoon), a dolphin to continental shelf (wordplay), or a penguin to classic books (brand identity). More obvious is ‘Garage/Tool Shed – Doe’, a superb juxtaposition that holds both corporation and consumer to be responsible for the destruction of natural habitats. Its smooth planes of pale birch contrast dramatically, with the raw, exposed, wooden texture on Sabri’s ‘Rusa’. The Malaysian’s circular pieces consist of three rings with an increasing diameter, each one manifesting properties of an insect or animal, condensed into the mythical perfect circle.

Foreground: Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro - Garage/Tool Shed – Doe (2014)
Background: Sabri Idus - Lipan (2014) [right]; "Window" series (2014) [left]

Pieces like ‘Lipan’, bounded by copper wire, or ‘Canggai’, with its turquoise patina, look out of place in an indoor setting. These annular constructs stake claims of space, its recycled composition reminding one of what therein came before. The catalogue cover shows ‘Kunang’ leaning on a tree, looking utterly natural despite its soft LED glimmer. In the middle unsheltered area, the rotating piece brings to mind a futuristic sundial, but not a demonstration of pure forms. A better example is 'Statuary', where deep recesses are carved into thick orange paint. Claire+Sean also plays with materials and its symbolic meanings, such as placing an empty cup & saucer on the lower shelf of ‘Upstairs Living Room – Tortoise’. Both resident artists successfully portray displacement in their respective visual identities, expressing palpable concepts regardless of the artwork's material, be it store-bought toys and furniture, or found objects and manufactured decay.

Sabri Idrus - White & Blue (2014)

As the last residency exhibition of its kind, the exchange of ideas and natural stimuli Rimbun Dahan provides, will be greatly missed. Instilling confidence in the participating artists is an overlooked boon, when Sabri confidently announces that he is a biennale artist on BFM, taking after Claire+Sean whom represented Australia at Venice last year. Such high expectations can hopefully be fulfilled by this experimental artist, whose work is summarised brilliantly by Hafiz Amirrol in a dense essay. "Though the works here were developed from the basic logic of flat Euclidean geometry, coupled with other systematic rules of architectonic principles, their primary objective is to represent pure, non-empirical concepts, which are associated with a sense impression, produced by the imagination in relation to time." The methodical exploration of truth allows for the disruption of intuitive perceptions, and that is what I believe.

Surface textures on Sabri Idrus' works: Cracked paint, dried leaves, patinated copper, wood carving, exposed canvas

**Repeated on this web log's wallpaper is a close-up of Sabri Idrus - Sheltered (2013)

18 March 2014

Gangguan @ 67 Tempinis Gallery

After viewing an unpleasant and high-priced mess of a postgraduate show, entering this leafy space with its works free of art school training, make for a refreshing visit. Greeting one are installations with fluorescent concrete and intravenous drips, as Tan Zi Hao explores his semantic interpretations of soil/tanah / earth/bumi. This literal inference is most apparent in 'M', where two glass cases are layered with loam to form the letter, joined together by a narrow mirror. Such works suppress aesthetic value in favour of linguistic transcription, which failure to engage relates to my consciousness that only some bumiputeras are responsible for current local issues. Also detracting appreciation is an apathetic disposition, towards acknowledging the nationalist (but in fact geographical) term tanah melayu, which Zi Hao overstates as a political identity.

Work in progress snapshot for a one-third completed 'M' [from Tan Zi Hao's Facebook page]

Performance acts express these preoccupations more effectively, for example, to pour the contents of a glow stick over "Extraterrestrial Solids", since the alien - the unwelcome foreign object - eventually blends into the ground. This series highlights heritage sites demolished in the name of development, including ruins from Kampung Hakka, Mantin, an area nearby Jun Kit's family home. The graphic designer of The B-Side prints tree roots and a rubber seed, his memorabilia of this ethnic Chinese village recalling the monochromatic migrant works of Wong Hoy Cheong. Jun Kit's other output "consists of ink drawings, depicting abstract humanoid figures intermingling with representations of nature." (Lyn Ong) These naked and androgynous characters, on the other hand, bring to mind Zulkifli Dahalan's absurdist paintings and are equally delightful.

Jun Kit - Memori Mantin: The Sweetest, Coldest of Stars (2014)

While his surreal illustrations on mint-coloured paper are serious and deeply personal, Jun Kit's smaller drawings are droll and self-effacing. Themes vary from personal escapism ('Grass Angel'), friendly creatures ('Toyok Rave'), political satire ('Holding On'), to self-doubt ('Hidung Disebalik Kekwa'). 'Family Portrait' is characteristically awkward by nature of its subject matter, yet the physical spaces within imply an unresolved distance in human relations. Featuring a snaking river, a duck peering over a mountainous crack, and black figures marvelling at an arsehole, 'Lanskap 1: HA? KAH?' holds one's fascination with its quaint projections. Contemporary issues and personal concerns underlie the picture, itself a perfect description of the exhibition title Gangguan, which also refers to how both artists relate to our disturbing sociopolitical environment.

Jun Kit - Family Portrait (2014)

Sarcastic humour is Zi Hao's reaction, whom creates a superb series of multilingual plates, that resemble the bahaya sign at electrical substations. Immediately recognisable to Malaysians, these works successfully convey a biting comment with its typographic power. Utilising his literal disposition to create subtle differences, 'Aku/Idiot/我' refers to a specific event, while 'Allah/Allah/阿拉' exposes the farcical nature of language, which can unfortunately empower mobs. The hazard that words im/pose as a communication tool is a risk we take everyday, where the naming of subjects such as 'Bangsa/Nation/国家', are definitions that will leave linguistic professors in a heated debate, while politicians invoke these definitions without inhibition. The clever ones who recognise this wordy power banned many books, which Zi Hao highlights with 'Buku/Book/书'.

Selection of metal plates from Tan Zi Hao - The Danger of Translation Lies in That Which is Left Untranslated (ongoing)

Provided to guests is a brown booklet recording discursive exchanges between the artists, which the catalogue essay rightfully points out, that "these correspondences serve as an important document of the dialogic impetus of the exhibition." Like The making of... (film), this behind the scenes look at work in progress, gives insight to both individuals' personalities and their train of thought, thereby increasing appreciation of the exhibited artworks. Artists who did not go through art school always offer fresh perspectives, and we need more of them to disrupt the usual line-up of Malaysian contemporary artists.
"...we really do need the notion of a politics which is based on unequal, uneven, multiple and potentially antagonist, political identities."
- The Third Space, Interview with Homi Bhabha (1990)

Jun Kit - Lanskap 1: HA? KAH? (2014)

15 March 2014

Art Trio @ Curate

Befitting the art collector stereotype, high quality works by prominent Malaysian artists are accumulated by supremos in the local financial sector, where a selection is exhibited at a luxury condominium. The catalogue essay’s ballyhooed exultation and two-sentence summaries of the artists shown, provide the juvenile bait to prospective bidders, as organiser Henry Butcher Art Auctioneers gears up for its first auction of the year. Its claim that “the art they chose… have turned gilt-edged investments ….”, attests to the ridiculous notion that every artwork one buys will appreciate in value. Old masters Yong Mun Sen and Georgette Chen set the scene for a historical walkthrough, leading to a magnificent sapphire portrait of oriental elegance painted by Basoeki Abdullah.

Hendra Gunawan - Untitled (Woman and Child By The Beach) (1980)

Such immediate and splendid images describe the works belonging to Daim Zainuddin, who displays also a large but typical warrior portrait by Bayu Utomo Radjikin. Hendra Gunawan’s narrow ‘Untitled (Woman and Child By The Beach)’ transforms the mother into a mythical creature, her dominating presence harking back to an ancient reverence towards the fertile female. Sensuous lines and ‘Pink Flows’ illustrate veiled bodies in Azman Hashim-owned works by Ibrahim Hussein, although what deserves applaud is his donation of Ib’s ‘Red and Purple Interludes’ to Muzium Tuanku Fauziah (USM), on view in the gallery's VIP room. Enthralling through its shimmer, ‘What Goes Beyond’ by Ahmad Khalid Yusof draws luminous geometric shapes behind jawi inscriptions, which oscillate between in/visible while bathed in natural light.

Ahmad Khalid Yusof - What Goes Beyond

Kamarul Ariffin contributes a more sophisticated selection among the three, whose exhibits include a Syed Ahmad Jamal painting with stirring brushstrokes, and a fascinating Jah Hut sculpture of a four-headed spirit. Transitional works in Ib and Latiff Mohidin’s oeuvre give credence to this museum-quality collection, while the serene watercolour cloths of Chang Fee Ming is an aberration among the expressive pieces. Khalil Ibrahim frames two figures in a dubious position, the suspicious scene masking an exploration of nude drawing, swirling colours and earthy contrast. Black and white photographs and newspaper reports pack a documentary onto a canvas, as pioneer sociopolitical artist Nirmala Dutt Shanmughalingam critiques the Vietnam war atrocities. The girls' wide-eyed and powerful gazes broaden the commentary to a victimisation of women in this region.

Khalil Ibrahim - Two Nude Figures (1964)

The most intriguing wall hanging belongs to Zulkifli Dahalan, whose ‘Di Dalam Ruang Rumah Series’ breaks down the house and electronic media transmission into adjacent spatial constructs. Clever perspective lines create ambiguity within foreground and background, as unfolded boxes act as deconstructed objects. Although grateful that modern works are exhibited to the public, the current trend of featuring collectors as taste makers, only helps to enforce a market exclusive to the 1%. This impedes the progression of art-making within contemporary concerns or subversive expressions, which are an inevitable reaction against any hierarchical society. Evident from a similar exhibition down the road, and the self-aggrandising portraits displayed here, the rich should not be considered taste makers. Unfortunately, they are, in this capitalist world.

Zulkifli Dahalan - Di Dalam Ruang Rumah Series (1974)

"Di kiri jalan ada akhbar-akhbar yang membelit laporan,
Di kanan jalan para demostran tersesat tujuan,
Di atas aspal pencegah rusuhan dengan gas pemidih mata,
Semua berkongsi mencemarkan jalan raya,
Dataran Merdeka itu sudah dikepung,
Dan tidak lagi bebas dan bercahaya."
- Dataran Merdeka, Baha Zain

Nirmala Dutt Shanmughalingam - Children of Asia I (To Baha Zain) (1980)

12 March 2014

Money in (Malaysian) Art

Besides helping corporations build its collection, art consultants also dispense financial advice in business newspapers, remarking about "...Malaysian contemporary works, and its investment potential." As an advocate of active asset management and living within one's means, the notion that local art can be considered as a monetary investment is bizarre. Looking only at Malaysian auction transactions of the past five years, the small dataset is already a risk; But of course every marketplace has to start somewhere. Limited supply relates to a short visual arts history, resulting in the relatively high selling rate of ~93% at local auctions. Attending one can be quite fun, as "it looks pretty much rigged, anyway." This applied observation from Carole Cadwalladr is half-serious, but the spectacle is comparable to a KL property auction, albeit with a smaller crowd.

Chang Fee Ming – At Low Tide (Dar Es Salaam) (2005), sold for RM 30,800 (est. RM 2.5-5,000) at Henry Butcher Art Auction Malaysia, Lot 47, 6 May 2012

The Malaysian pasar suffers from the same issues as other art markets – it is opaque and unregulated. A large majority of transactions take place in the primary market and private sales, where price transparency is sketchy. In the secondary market, Melanie Gerlis notes that “(u)niversally accepted practices—such as including the buyer’s premium (10% in Malaysia) in official auction results but not in the pre-sale estimates, and then comparing one with the other as a measure of success—are at best absurd, and at worst highly misleading to the uninitiated.” While other associated costs like guarantees are not applied here, maintenance of artworks itself can be costly, e.g. insurance, storage, dealer/consultant, etc. Art is illiquid and “not ‘fungible’, meaning that you can’t sell just a bit” (Georgina Adam), which makes hedging that bit more costly and onerous.

Seah Kim Joo – Buffalo Tender, sold for RM 11,000 (est. RM 5.5-7,500) at KLAS Art Auction, Lot 59, 19 January 2014

If one has been collecting Malaysian art since 15 years ago or longer, one’s works will almost certainly fetch a good return at auction houses today. Competition with trophy-hunting billionaires is minimal, although authentication remains a risk in this immature ecosystem. Based on data analysis of the available figures, my speculative market report will look like this: For blue chips, i.e. high-priced but guaranteed returns, go for Chang Fee Ming or Ibrahim Hussein; For penny stocks, i.e. low-priced and potentially high returns, go for Lui Cheng Thak or Seah Kim Joo. Other medium term calls are BUY Kow Leong Kiang or John Lee Joo For, HOLD Wong Perng Fey or Chuah Siew Teng, and SELL Jolly Koh or Huang Yao. TRADING BUY call is for Ahmad Zakii Anwar or Tew Nai Tong.

Wong Perng Fey – Doorway II (2000), sold for RM 16,500 (est. RM 13-18,000) at Henry Butcher Art Auction Malaysia, Lot 48, 21 April 2013

A recent research that mined a database of 20,000+ paintings sold, concluded that the true return of an art asset is closer to 6.5% instead of the widely quoted 10%. “The underlying cause of the overestimation of returns...is what is known as selection bias”, which does not account for unsold works. It is unclear how this number relates to the local market, but if it is true, art as an investment vehicle is no better than equities. While showing off and joining an invitation-only club are the social perks of buying art, the investment made is not for personal gain, but to cultivate free expression in this country that is swiftly losing its liberty. As Rahel Joseph also points out, acquire art “because you love it” and “don’t be in a hurry”. Not exactly sound investing advice, but always think twice before buying, because chances are, you will not be selling it for a significant return.

Huang Yao – Bridesmaid 伴娘 (1980), sold for RM 79,200 (est. RM 6-8,000) at Henry Butcher Art Auction Malaysia, Lot 61, 6 May 2012

“One of the reasons there’s so much talk about money is that it’s so much easier to talk about than the art,” – David Zwirner, art dealer and ArtReview’s 2013 second most powerful person in the art world
"Prices are so ridiculous that people go to galleries because they are obsessed by the money." – Francis Bacon, deceased Irish and artist that made the most expensive piece of art ever auctioned
“I think you can start off trying to invest in art but you will fall in love with it and end up being a collector, which will quite certainly make you a poorer person but it will definitely make your life richer.” – Bingley Sim Iskandar, prominent Malaysian art collector and investment banker

Ahmad Zakii Anwar – Balinese Girls (1994), sold for RM 55,000 at Henry Butcher Art Auction Malaysia, Lot 16, 21 April 2013; Renamed as Balinese Twins and sold for RM 66,000 at Masterpiece Fine Art Auction, Lot 173, 2 March 2014

07 March 2014

Stories From the Soil @ G13

Many Malaysian artists live outside the city due to costs considerations, but also because it is more conducive for one to work closer to nature, away from the urban flashes & bangs. A keen observation of the natural habitat is evident in Faizal Suhif's small prints, wherein a seed and a crustacean are drawn in wonderful detail, then combined into surreal effect. The experience of exhibiting overseas have duly opened horizons for the young artist, who constructs a thin wall of soil that supposedly emerges from one corner of the gallery. Two large "Buka Tanah" canvases are placed above this nook, the dirt trail leading towards a circular pastiche of earthy produce such as orange yam and beige squash. Most wall hangings are made with monoprints, stencils, and oil paint. Colour-printed texture forms its background, layered with white lines, silver smoke, and scrawled verses.

Simbiosis (2013)

Prominent demarcations in 'Sepetak Puisi Sepi' and 'Salji di Meru' mark few visually attractive pictures, among the many exhibited. This singular focus on one natural element makes an uninteresting show, where similar preoccupations with earth and rock, are already evident in his previous output. Soil and seeds are noble entities that deserve artistic exploration, but a two-dimensional rendering of its textural properties only serve as wallpaper material. These subjects have been drawn by mentor Jalaini Abu Hassan in a more vibrant style, during Jai's phase of appropriating Malay cultural artefacts. Nevertheless, the laudable move to construct an installation, heralds a hopeful step for Faizal towards a more sophisticated expression of his observations. Four catalogue essays espouse a similar encouragement, an amusing yet serious indication of local graduates' difficulty, to break away from art school training.

Installation view of Buka Tanah (2014)

05 March 2014

Jumping Jack Flash @ Morne Art Gallery

U-Wei Hj Saari continues to exhibit his collection graciously, this show featuring only sculptural and installation works. Highlights include two excellent constructs by Tengku Sabri Tengku Ibrahim, first exhibited at "Wayang U-Wei Angkat Saksi" in 2011. ‘Serunai Mentakab’ salutes the film director’s contributions to his hometown, the enlarged and floating Malay instrument made out of five cans of Buai Laju-laju filmstrips. For ‘Kerusi Panggung', two seats from an old-school theatre are wrapped in wire and netting, its elevated platform further binding the nostalgia within. This work proves more evocative than Royston Tan's dancing tribute to Singapore's Capitol, its folding seat and greyish cushion still visually intact, invoking personal memories at theatres like State and Sentosa. Whimsical and out of place, Azli Wahid carves shoes into rock, a clever exploration of everyday items and its historical context.

Tengku Sabri Tengku Ibrahim - Kerusi Panggung (2009)

Also utilising salvaged materials to record history is Nuriman Amri Abdul Manap, whose enthralling sculptures always allow for multiple interpretations. Gigantic and bulky, a briefcase made out of scrap metal from the former National Art Gallery building, can refer to the institution's current stuffy bureaucracy which departs from its former interpretation. 'Bila Paku Akupun Berdiri' supposedly depicts a pain experienced by an ill family member, yet its presentation also successfully comments on an action/reaction dilemma. Fadzil Idris' wall hanging resembles a radiator heater submerged in earth then affixed with a wooden beam, a curious dissection of a Malay idiom by the art director of U-Wei's films. Other visual treats include three imposing metal figures by Raja Shahriman, and a steel totem by Zulkifli Yusoff bearing his signature style of figurative drawing.

Nuriman Amri Abdul Manap - Bila Paku Akupun Berdiri (2006)

This show presents a fantastic opportunity to appreciate works by artists whom feature in the local art history canon, such as Ruzaika Omar Basaree and Zakaria Awang. Another pleasant surprise was appreciating 'Dipulaukan', an installation of a classroom scene with glowing islands outfitted atop tables. Wong Hoy Cheong questions school politics and the local education syllabus, along with its role in/forming geographical distinctions and national identities. For 'Tanggung', Hasnul J Saidon submerges a resin creation of a lady's torso into an oil drum. The meditative presentation veils a biting critique of Western presumptions about Muslim women, where cultural attacks is just another weapon in the global war over limited energy resources. "Jumping Jack Flash" exhibits a delightful mix, from film tributes to binary constructs, exalted warriors to sociopolitical commentaries. It's a gas! Gas! Gas!

Installation views of Wong Hoy Cheong - Dipulaukan (1998)

03 March 2014

The Beginning of Something @ Wei-Ling Contemporary

During my first overseas trip to Bali, I was reprimanded severely by my father, after unwittingly stepping on a flower offering outside a shop. Many travels later, the shopkeeper’s angry glare still serves as a reminder, to investigate foreign cultures before visiting it. One fortuitous visit to the Gardens gallery before H.H. Lim’s inaugural exhibition opening, presented an opportunity to scan through the oeuvre of this internationally recognised Malaysian artist. Like reading about cultural quirks before visiting a new place, the browsing helped greatly in efforts to appreciate the neo-conceptual artist. Bearing disdain towards this categorisation and its famous representative Damien Hirst, one immediately scoffs at the balled-up piece of paper propped upon a pedestal, predictably titled ‘Tiger and A Box on A Trolley’. Nevertheless, armed with a rough understanding of Peter’s practice, one’s appreciation for the remaining exhibits is made possible.

The Beginning of the End

Hung behind the bar is ‘Words in Red’, a small but typical example depicting Peter’s obsession with the inadequacy of language. Sign language is touted as a readymade solution to linguistic imperialism, yet words remain a self-conscious deficiency that features prominently in his works, such as the pair of grey plaques embossed with reverse-printed characters. Pompous statements attempt to illustrate the void, although what holds one’s attention is likely to be the important-looking blocks hung underneath a spotlight.  This places the viewer in a quandary commonly found when facing a neo-conceptual artwork –  which personal capacity am I supposed to rely on, to decipher this thing before oneself? Visual arrangement of alphabets? Taught recognition of letters? Habitual respect to a mounted object? Philosophical inquiry into a circular statement? Walk away from something one does not understand?

Left: Making Something (2014); Right: The Beginning of Something (2014)

Fully absorbed and grateful for its invoking of a new perspective, imaginings of the next step for ‘Making Something’, materialises in my head. The English words are coloured in rainbow, separated from the square block with incisive cuts, rejoined, smashed onto the ground, then rejoined again. Something, nothing, fissures of existence. Back to reality, video documentations of “Happenings” are replayed on a television screen. As a foreign migrant working in Rome, Peter plays the culture vulture by engaging in acts such as nailing his tongue to a table (inspired by the kavadi attam performed during Thaipusam), and fishing with a suspended hook (live depiction of 姜太公釣魚 Taoist fable, and reminiscent of mobster pastime in Taiwan/Korea). Such literal deeds bore when compared to ‘Appr. 60 Kilos of Wisdom’, where the artist balances himself atop a basketball, a fun yet philosophical gesture which physically active viewers should attempt themselves. 

Visitors posing on Making Something Leads to Nothing (Tiger on Floor) (2014)

At the exhibition opening, Peter dripped black ink a la Jackson Pollock, onto a long canvas illustrated with 11 tigers surrounding 2 goats. He followed on by compelling the audience to complete the artwork if they felt that “this is the beginning of something”, which the attendees gladly obliged by leaving their footprints all over ‘Tiger on Floor’. Trampling over a million ringgit banner, and the photocopied drawings littered across the ground, implores one to question the monetary and inherent value of objects. Resting on a wall is a broom and a local-DIY dustpan filled with expensive possessions, as one automatically screens and interprets its monetary value. Indeed, we are all garbage collectors. Nearby, a characteristic line painting lies on the floor – splashed with black ink and punctured with a Chinese bench. An orange rectangle embeds a void within the picture, which overall scene looks like a patriarch’s rejection towards an unfilial son’s art output. 

All I Need is Love

The illustrated helicopter belongs to Peter’s repository of recycled motifs that symbolise technology, which in the past also included planes, cars, and cameras. In ‘Hard Rain in Red’, a group of helicopters are outlined in white on a scarlet background, supposedly referencing Apocalypse Now. The chopper fleet escapes from a volley of missiles into a rainbow, the magnificent landscape dominating all metaphorical preconceptions. Symbols constitute a significant part of Peter’s oeuvre, its ambiguous nature arduous even for the invested viewer. H.H. Lim's homecoming can perhaps be represented by the many tiger drawings, a proud being meandering amongst the pessimistic psyche of Malaysians, supplying hope to local artists that international acclaim is possible. The beginning of something is not the end of nothing, and that's that.
"You're staying home. The sun is shining but it's raining." - Mother of 'I', Sunshine through the Rain, from Akira Kurosawa's Dreams 

Top: Hard Rain in Red (2014); Bottom [Details]: Rainbow (left) & missiles (right)