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)

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