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)

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