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)

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