30 June 2014

Here We Come @ HOM Art Trans

Stepping into the gallery, terms from a silly Form 5 subject cover the space, evoking one bitter memory of an impulsive naivete. Yau Sir Meng continues her critical commentary about the Malaysian education system, where prior works from this accomplished series, include manufactured certificates and blanked-out exercise sheets. Here, Pendidikan Moral textbooks are blended into papier mâché alphabets, then stuck onto walls as 36 values around a framed announcement. News of students protesting about a compulsory subject, amplifies the effects of one who has to go through such education, their lack of critical thinking a common complaint by employers nowadays. The absurdity of this realisation is compounded, when one questions the mandate to study moral values in secondary education, where ethical behaviour can supposedly be inculcated via memorising Bahasa words.

Installation views of Yau Sir Meng - 36 Nilai Murni Moral (2014)

The condemnation manifest in this sublime work does not end there. Definitions of the 36 values are spelled out, some missing words laid on the ground to denote the hypocrisy, of learning institutionalised behaviours which officials themselves do not practice. Medium aside, Sir Meng's work recalls the practice of Chong Kim Chiew, where she employs an audacious move to dominate the gallery space. The placement of words can perhaps be more exacting, but that is just nitpicking on this outstanding installation. Examining her young oeuvre, one is astounded at her ability to effectively utilise mediums. Examples such as planting school uniforms in flower pots, and creating a building out of sugar cubes then letting it degrade, demonstrate a level of maturity that belie the artist's age.

Installation view of Por Han Wei - Opps-! (2010)

Exhibiting alongside Sir Meng are another five graduates from the Malaysian Institute of Art (MIA), whose alumni include renowned artists Chan Kok Hooi, Chang Yoong Chia, and Phuan Thai Meng, whom were classmates then. Printed in the catalogue is an interview with MIA's head of fine art Bibi Chew, who opines that "...(she is) distressed that not much has progressed in terms of ideas, strategies and approaches beyond the sellable and conventional..." Bibi's lament about Malaysian contemporary art implicates the other local art schools, but of course it is not easy to groom artists as "'thinkers' as oppose to being only technically proficient image makers." Detached limbs on hanging canvas and embossed papers, remind the visitor that this is a graduate's show after all, where an international contemporary approach captures the wandering eye.

Installation views of Adam Shahrum Zainal Abidin - Route (2014)

Adam Shahrum Zainal Abidin's postcards do little to impress why he won MIA's 2012 Best Student Award, while Alexandra Hon's paintings of isolation resemble preparatory drawings that denote an ongoing exploration of visual depth. Por Han Wei depicts the ostrich for its purportedly cowardly characteristic, yet her anthropomorphic self-portraits stare unflinchingly back at the viewer, the Chinese ink illustration being particularly enchanting. HOM Art Trans continues to provide a platform for young artists to exhibit, and it is interesting to note that this group of six are, or planning to, further their studies abroad. Despite Bibi's claims that "...they are in no hurry to announce themselves to the local art scene...", the exceptional works have stood out on its own merit, as I ponder the valuation of installation artworks. 

Close-ups from Alexandra Hon's "Veil of Perception" series (2012)

20 June 2014

Recess: After Berpantang

Walking pass this structure across a duration of eight months, I concur that patience is a virtue I aspire towards, in preparation for this exciting phase of life. Subjective as it is, one's child is the most beautiful being in the world, in the eyes of the parents. So much for an objective evaluation of beauty.

Snapshots of Multhalib Musa - Patience (2004)

18 June 2014

Ho Mia @ Wei-Ling Contemporary

Returning from Art Basel, the gallery continues on with its high-profile ways by collaborating with a corporate lifestyle magazine, to organise a charity auction for pewter teapots. The accompanying exhibition includes artworks from the gallery's usual line-up, focusing on ho mia, a Hokkien colloquialism that acknowledges the fortunate path towards one's success. Just featured in Hong Kong, Choy Chun Wei recognises the utilitarian nature of Google and the internet, by aggregating visual stimuli augmented with strobe light and fingerprint-like markings. Equally Daedalian is Kim Ng's 'Amusement', its five-columns wide layout resembling a vertically-mounted Chinese chess board. Red woodcut prints of a serene natural scene bookend the construct, followed by an urban mess left in a ditch, before converging onto the blooming flowers at the centre.

Hamidi Hadi - Pohon Beringin I (2014)

While a number of artists paint animals as symbols of contented happiness, Hamidi Hadi interprets this Chinese expression within the nusantara culture, by covering pohon beringin motifs with resin. This act commemorates a mythical time and place, where peace and joy supposedly existed before the intrusion of humankind. More real yet physically distant is the reference to the 1927 Nanchang Uprising, Anurendra Jegadeva illustrating eight of the Ten Marshals of the People's Liberation Army on porcelain tiles. The same year saw the creation of the communist party which significantly impacted Malaysia's history; On an irreverent note, it was also the year 金莲记 Hokkien mee opened its stall in Petaling Street. Perhaps the picture which best depicts ho mia is the seaside panorama by Chen Wei Meng, where sand and ocean disappear into the horizon, with a deep blue sky and white fluffy clouds hanging overhead.

Anurendra Jegadeva - Dream of Mountains (2014)

16 June 2014

What We Believe In @ Lostgens'

During a sensual walk around Petaling Street at 7 AM, one notices chirping birds, sacred sanctuaries, thriving marketplaces, uninhabited dens, heritage buildings, and the rumbling sounds behind fenced-up construction sites. On this weekend, migrant workers walk cheerfully past freshly-painted old shophouses, as the audience laments a vanishing culture. Spray-painted graffiti line concrete walls along the monsoon drain, while a Polish visitor is bewildered at the sight of a neglected river. I grab a 夹棕 and 马脚 and ponder its impending extinction. Outside Sri Mahamariamman temple, some hesitate to leave their shoes unwatched before entering. At Sin Sze Si Ya temple 仙四师爷庙, tudung-clad makciks stay to chat after delivering the morning dailies, while a man parks his Mercedes-Benz inside the compound for a hurried offering.

Installation view

These sights and sounds indicate a lively gathering of people, a constant exchange of materials, and a practising of ideas. Yet it is said that we are losing our culture and heritage. We are a society fragmented along the lines of ethnicity and religion. Friendly Malaysian is a myth; we are an uncaring, ungrateful, and unforgiving lot. That is what we believe. Or what we were led to believe in. Exploring this premise is German artist Susanne Bosch during her 3-months residency, whose public interventions and subtle presentation prove incredibly refreshing in the local visual arts. A missing plane triggered this thought, as her conversations with Lost Generation Space's surrounding neighbours, seem to contradict what is reported in the local newspapers. In her time here, she also witnessed one anti-GST rally, experienced water rationing, and observed a rural community art project.

No answers

Entering the exhibition space, one is greeted by statements incised onto newspapers, some cut-outs swaying in the air. An entire wall corner is covered, yet no Malay-language newspapers are found. Extracted from conversations, choice words are rendered weightless when juxtaposed with printed proclamations from press events. Phrased impressions are reinterpreted by Anna Chong into song, whose performance captivated with its expressionist ambience on opening night. This desire to empower others in the spirit of democracy, is a significant part of Susanne's practice, whose previous efforts include gathering coins from the public to execute art initiatives. Relinquishing power after an act of initiation, is the artist's way of including chance into her works, thereby introducing also incoherence.

Installation view (Detail)

Media repression is projected as the main topic in this exhibition, suppressing the more important observation about a transitioning landscape. The pulsating drone of machines opposite, remind visitors of the unfortunate excavation taking place at Jalan Sultan. This unnecessary future train stop serves the 118-storey Warisan Merdeka Tower, a malign Babelic symbol of our corrupt federal state. A negative image of this construction site is etched onto sheets of stock market prices, insinuating opaque transactions and value speculation in such capital ventures. Other interesting comparisons are the promise of quick riches via classifieds listings, and the advertisements of high-achieving insurance agents, which grid layout depicts a remembrance rather than commendations. It depends on what truths one believes in.

An Organic Attempt (2014)

On display also are video portraits of people practising alternative lifestyles, e.g. permaculture. These interview sessions are non-judgemental, but efforts to be self-sufficient do come across as self-obsessed reactions, by urban folk living on an overpopulated planet. Being engaged in Susanne's practice has been hugely rewarding in my outlook of this old area. Culture does not vanish, it evolves. Suspicion is a facade and the common KL-ite is still a good person. Heritage is as important as how much we stand up for it. Malaysians are not made up of ethnicities, but a gathering of migrants who thought this was a decent place to live in. We need to step out of our shells, stop denying our cosmopolitan inclinations, and embrace its consequences. We need to make sense of what we believe in, and not what someone else wants us to believe.

Installation view (Detail)

11 June 2014

(Im)materiality: Australian Artists in the Malaysian World @ Interpr8

Beautiful objects made in ancient times employ materials for its physical and functional properties. In the Western canon, materials used in art progressively got narrowed down to pigment and brush as the norm; In Eastern cultures, rare & raw materials are crafted into figurative representations, its substantial value equally treasured as much for its workmanship. Now, deconstruction is a common theme in contemporary art, where mass-produced products are utilised for its aesthetic and symbolic characteristics. Kassandra Bossell burns carbon to form opaque marks that complement the transparency of a wax covering, its ecological message hidden within her semi-luminous spheres. Former Rimbun Dahan resident artist Gabrielle Bates carves patterns out of cardboard packaging, the self-exorcising works depicting a beautiful order, that belies its meticulous stripping and cutting effort.

Gabrielle Bates - "Cheong Fatt Tze" Mansion

Eye-catching too are hanging structures made from readymade sieves, wire scoops, and trivets. Such constructs risk being located in a retail store front as decorative novelties, which leads to the question, "why try negating the functional value of a material?" Looking past a veil of plastic loops, the answer perhaps lies in Tim Craker's "Annual Income" series. Hollow metal objects are picked off the street and tied down to a heavyweight paper, each prized find placed onto a drawn grid signifying the months in a year. The shape of a  metal washer may reinforce the idea of the perfect circle, yet this accumulation of junk also includes keys, a potential lead to further riches. Isolating and deconstructing a material object is not to imply any intrinsic value, but a relatively convenient approach towards the act of presenting. The more culturally developed we are, the more we interpret simulacra, the more we regress into immaterial self-absorption.

Tim Craker - Spontaneous Combination #8 (2013)

08 June 2014

In A Place of Wonder @ Wei-Ling Gallery

Coloured forms are visual cues integral in the search for a personal aesthetic. Its manifestation in Kim Ng's works fascinate, as bitumen blotches and printed textures provide daily inspiration. The accumulation of motifs seen "In A Place of Wonder", draws from the previous three solo exhibitions Kim held with the gallery - elements from nature and 3-dimensional boxes in "1/1", silkscreen scenes and bitumen voids in "Fact or Fiction", and polka dots and anonymous figures in "An Idyllic Space". In the five years between solo shows, other visual objects pack Kim's increasingly large canvases - prints of industrial structures, chequered layouts, opaque blots, directional symbols, graffiti writings, right angles, etc. All these on top of collage and object prints which belong to the artist's inimitable style. The density is overpowering to the point of overbearing, especially seen in the bigger works hung at the gallery's first floor.

Untitled (Orange) (2014)

Fortunately, like his previous exhibitions, Kim displays a wide variety of approaches and outputs. Sharon Chin wrote that "(i)t is interesting that Kim is often associated as a printmaker, although his works clearly demonstrate a vibrant and fluid travelling between many mediums. One is seldom privileged over the other. This then could be because he engages with the language of printmaking, which is that of taking impressions." Exemplifying this observation are the plastic floor mats in the "Camouflage" series, where street scenes are cut-and-pasted onto an inconspicuous surface. Remaining unnamed are head silhouettes decal transferred onto decorative slip-casted pieces, its background of worn-out floral wallpaper compounding a 'Contented Joke'. Phantom faces are also moulded into three masks and a pair of egg-shaped clay constructs, which spot carved textures last seen in 'One Voice'.

Camouflage III (Reading) (2014)

Non-functional ceramic creations exist in Kim's oeuvre, where early experiments saw recycled objects petrified as souvenirs of decay. This international contemporary approach has since evolved into printed plastic bags and seeds, a novel and relevant method that isolates individual items as nostalgic triggers. Works like a tyre blanket indicate a regressive choice, although the cotton mountain and metal weight in 'The Fairness of Scale', is too clever to be dismissed. Pieces from the "In Box" series try to depict the artist's signature motifs in a different manner, but the results recall the incoherence of Nizam Rahmat. Similarly, the slip-casted versions of Malaysian state maps, pale in comparison with Bibi Chew's superb wooden topographies of the same theme. Nonetheless, it is a commendable attribute for an established artist to pursue new modes of expressions, especially for one who is regarded highly as an art educator.

Apa Lagi, Siapa Lagi (2014)

As Kim's works become more dense and colourful over the years, displaced visual cues are juxtaposed to make up memories of time and space. A trucker hat strikes an ominous presence, while opaque bars anchor dirty pictures layered with graffiti scribbles. Each material's level of transparency is utilised to craft visual depth, such as the grey ledge paired with whitewash-like drips in 'Untitled (Red)'. Lesser motifs in the foreground mark the better works among the lot, notably the complementary pair of 'Untitled (Blue)' and 'Untitled (Grey). Screen printed street crowds cover its background, while tree branches and labourers linger in the middle, its detachment to the viewer perfectly capturing an urban aesthetic. As a city dweller walking the streets of Kuala Lumpur, these impressions serve as a wonderful transcription of eye-level observations, underneath the sky scraping developments of this place.

Untitled (Grey) (2014)

01 June 2014

1 CARES • 關懷! @ KLSCAH 隆雪中华大会堂

Timely held after another "woman's show", established artist Shia Yih Yiing gathers female artists to contribute works that "playfully engage the audience to ignite one's ability to care..." This curatorial strategy results in strong effort by individuals, although the overall exhibition feels incoherent, likely due to the scattered exhibition spaces. Louise Low's trademark recycled brassieres greet the visitor underneath an archway and sewn onto a sofa, its visual impact never failing to suggest meaning. Shallow thoughts surface within a gallery space, where crafted landscapes by Tiong Chai Heing compel one to inspect the details, i.e. to care, a similar observation applicable also to Fathimah Zahra's toy soldiers on tea trays.

Lam Tsuji - Pillow of Tomorrow (2014)

Fabric as flexible material is popular - Yim Yen Sum joins strips into a porous screen, while a room shows an assortment of white clothes painted over by three related artists. 'Pillow of Tomorrow' by Lam Tsuji extrapolates city planning strategies from one century-old document, its incomplete Chinese characters on headrests a refreshing take on urban life. As per the exhibition premise, art exhibits engage more when the audience participates, such as donating fruits to Chuah Shu Ruei's charity project. Fruit as diaspora signifier is inconsequential within the circular layout, although it did trigger my curiosity to discover that mandarin oranges originated from Southeast Asia. Active engagements also happens in a hall filled with urban vignettes (Aisyah Baharuddin), and a lecture hall with instructions to define love, marriage, and self (Annabelle Ng).

Installation view of Chuah Shu Ruei - Fruit in Kind (2014)

Opportunities abound for further iterations of this exhibition, as only few works qualify as site-specific in this 80-years old gathering place. Two stumps and a tree silhouette block a window and its streaming sunlight, Wong Siew Lee's installation reminiscing the loss of nature, then compelling one to sign petitions directed at the city council. At the top floor are rooms with historical statements about the association and its founders, also where Bibi Chew invites visitors to make self-sculptures from aluminium foil. This fun act is reflexive to the participant's experience of the space, as I ponder the last time I visited this assembly hall. As an excited primary school student trawling the aisles of a book fair, it is a pleasant surprise that art has drew me back to this old part of KL and its surroundings. This is one place I care about, after all.

Wong Siew Lee - The Art of Disappearing (2014)