24 February 2015

2 Jan 2015 (II): Recent Acquisitions @ NVAG

Akin to an apologetic gesture, works last seen at the dismal M50 exhibition greet the visitor into Galeri 1A, Gan Sze Hooi’s map leading to Yee I-Lan’s pinafores and plates. The recreated chessboard-floor studio space demonstrates a seriousness in institutional collecting, an observation reinforced by the variety of mediums on show. Accolades are a useful starting point to add new artists into the national collection, as one spots panoramic photographs by Yaman Ibrahim (Maybank Photo Awards), a hanging wood sculpture by Sun Kang Jye (Malaysia Emerging Artist Award), a minimal but powerful audio-visual installation by Fuad Arif (Bakat Muda Sezaman), woven fabric patterns by Anne Samat (Prudential Malaysian Eye), and a matrix of light switches by chi too (Young Guns), not connected to an electrical board which unfortunately negates the work’s impact.

Installation view of Yee I-Lann - Malaysia Day Commemorative Plates (ed. 1/100) (2010) [foreground]; Commemorate 2013 (2013) [background] [picture from OUR ArtProjects Facebook post]

Wall texts amusingly segregate exhibiting artists into senior/mid-career/young groupings, also inviting visitors “…to analyse, assess and interpret the importance of the works acquired by NVAG and the significance of its collection in the context of contemporary experience.” Important but surprisingly missing from the collection previously is H.H. Lim, whose illustrated tiger is hung low and hopefully leads to the addition of more cerebral works. Also achieving international acclaim before local recognition is Tan Wei Kheng, his Bornean tribal portrait a poignant reminder about the replacement of cultures that take place in a developing nation. Well-travelled Roslisham Ismail compacts his curriculum vitae within a room, complete with Superfiction sketches and recipe books, although one Secret Affair refrigerator is shut tight with an oversized sticker.

Sun Kang Jye - (Minister) of Portrait Series (2011) [picture from MEA Award blog post]

Ise’s funky setup prompts a complex reading about packaging contexts, also leading one to ponder about the gallery’s acquisition strategy. How much weight do accolades and exposure carry in buying decisions? Who needs more Penang watercolours? Are the large paintings by young artists Fadilah Karim and Seah Zelin their exceptional pieces among recent output, or stockroom leftover? How much money was transacted for Tan Tong’s two works? Did Daud Rahim contribute anything significant to local painting? Jars of earth by Bibi Chew and paper cut-outs by Haslin Ismail make equally captivating installations; but the national gallery already owns a 2010 Haslin work of the same scale, so why add another one? With a number of exhibited works last seen in Galeri Chandan, how much do gallerists and the market influence what is acquired?

Samsudin Wahab - Katak Lembu Segar (2013) [picture from BakatMudasezaman YoungContemporaries Facebook page]

With a federal government ruling without the popular vote, Malaysian politics is definitely a “contemporary experience”, yet very few exhibited works touch upon this topic. One exception is ‘Katak Lembu Segar’ by Samsudin Wahab, the mutated carcasses expressing a violent desire to give village idiots/stupid politicians a literal dressing down. The fibreglass sculpture is seen as a follow on to Juhari Said’s ‘Katak Nak Jadi Lembu’, its reference to local art history less common in Malaysian art. Looking at works by Yap Sau Bin and Shia Yih Yiing – both deriving its content from seminal artworks – are meta-references too simplistic an acquisition criteria? One recalls the more incisive and better composed “The More We Get Together”, hung like a tetromino at Yih Yiing’s previous solo exhibition. Who decided that “Homage Couture” was the more appropriate purchase?

Raja Lope Rasyidi - Jentayu dan Kuda Kepang (2013) [picture from Core Design Gallery website]

Queries about managing public property aside, the diversity on show and strength of individual pieces, deserve applaud and a moment’s basking in Malaysian pride. One fascinating ‘Cocoon’ photograph by Sue Anna Joe hangs opposite Mansoor Ibrahim’s intricate printed insects, both works revealing life with a different aesthetic approach. Rafiee Ghani’s bold colours project an uplifting view into the joy of observing new frontiers. Local folklore and figurative dance receive the airbrush treatment from Raja Lope Rasyidi, whose mecha presentation transcends the local canon and fully deserves its institutional validation. Walking past beautiful red constructs, Kamal Sabran and Goh Lee Kwang’s ‘Bunyian dari Batu Gajah’ gets surprising airtime, the improvisational dissonance a more agreeable sound, as compared to calls of “no photos” by the gallery guards.

Sneak preview of Kamal Sabran and Goh Lee Kwang - Bunyian Aneh Dari Batu Gajah (2013)

17 February 2015

HOLES Perspective @ Atelier Art Space

Coinciding with the launch of a pothole-reporting mobile application by the Petaling Jaya city council, this exhibition plays upon the common gripe of Malaysian road users, and applies a sometimes-effective metaphor to urban and national concerns. Photographs take the form of post-internet images, although its crude manipulation denote an amateurish execution. In ‘New Technique?’, a giant plaster is crafted to emphasize the analogy, the exaggerated object posing a visually potent motif that can be used for anything from graffiti to statement posters to advertising. The state of the nation is represented as a punctured race track, while more immediate concerns like golf diplomacy and water shortages, are doctored into photographs.

New Technique? (2015)

Reference to local colloquialisms are pretentious with the exception being ‘Grandfather’s road’, its chalk drawing imbuing a comic element to a favourite rant, frequently blurted on the relatively less holey Jalan Tun Razak. ‘Fair race?’ depicts the advantage of being a snail over a racing car, the picture more useful to the viewer who exercises humility in reading the political inference. Showcasing a map where the potholes were found, You Sef could do well to report these existing evidence via the CleanMyCity app. Maintaining a structurally flawed infrastructure is unsustainable, which leads to the question, do we need such infrastructure in the first place?

Grandfather's road (2015)

12 February 2015

Into Outside (I/O) @ 無限發掘 FINDARS

“Of course there is inside, otherwise there wouldn't be outside. You are inside, now come out!”, reads the hilarious first line of the exhibition brief. Greeting the visitor is Ayesha Keshani’s presentation, the collection of photographs, dying plants, and paraphernalia obscure but attractive. It also foreshadows the artist’s intent to highlight historical examples, of humans imposing power via the systematic obliteration of nature. A grainy video of animals being hunted is partially shrouded in foliage, leading to four-word slogans that point to the misconception of ecology-friendly plantations, and a Maoist farce that resulted in many lost lives.

Installation snapshot

Goh Lee Kwang’s ‘photocopying recording’ is nestled within a gunnysack tent, its double projection of ambient sound a secondary concern when one lies down on a concrete floor with straw mat. Potted greenery and makeshift platforms impress colour and cosiness into the Spartan space, a contrast to the monochrome pictures and sans serif wall texts. The simple arrangement allows a pleasant walkabout, although the bite-sized information provided only incites an impulsive political response. Of course there are animals, otherwise there wouldn’t be humans. You are an animal, now be a human!

Installation and snapshots from 'What is The Animal?' booklet

"When the cocks were all dead, the people wanted some other sport, so they brought a man who could stay under water for a long time, and DogDog made him compete with the alligator. But after a while the man had to come up first. Then they brought a swift runner and he raced with the deer, but the man was left far behind. Next they looked around until they found a very large man who was willing to contend with the mound of earth, but after a hard struggle the man was thrown. Finally they brought a man who could climb higher than anyone else, but the monkey went far above him, and he had to give up."
- Radical 94, Vol. 1, Bukit Binatang, anecdote #19

Installation snapshot

07 February 2015

Making Space: We Are Where We Aren’t @ Sekeping Sin Chew Kee

“Here space is everything, for time ceases to quicken memory. Memory – what a strange thing it is! – does not record concrete duration, in the Bergsonian sense of the word. We are unable to relive duration that has been destroyed. We can only think of it, in the line of an abstract time that is deprived of all thickness. The finest specimens of fossilized duration concretized as a result of long sojourn, are to be found in and through space. The unconscious abides. Memories are motionless, and the more securely they are fixed in space, the sounder they are. To localize a memory in time is merely a matter for the biographer and only corresponds to a sort of external history, for external use, to be communicated to others. But hermeneutics, which is more profound than biography, must determine the centers of fate by ridding history of its conjunctive temporal tissue, which has no action on our fates. For a knowledge of intimacy, localization in the spaces of our intimacy is more urgent than determination of dates.”
 - La Poétique de l'Espace, Gaston Bachelard (1958) [translated by M. Jolas, 1969], p.9

Installation view and video captures of Okui Lala – As If, Home (2014)

The Kuala Lumpur segment of Run and Learn – The Japan Foundation’s regional curator development program – engages the public with a simple yet effectve device. Curator Ong Jo-Lene transforms an artist’s problem – space – into a general concern for all human beings. Expanse is defned in visual terms, hence the spatial theme is a natural fit for a visual art exhbtion, notwithstandng its philosophcal enquiries. Centred on a derelct buildng-turned-guesthouse, works exhbited inside are often overshadowed by the open-plan archtecture, which interiors revel in natural light and upcycled stuff. Outsde, found stories at bus stops and a vertcal garden maskng a urinal engage an unsuspecting public, and the openng night party turned this old part of town into a happenng locale, "at least for one night".

KONTAK! – Peetilizer (2014)

Transparent walls and shuttered windows invite the neighbour’s roving eyes, as visitors peek into a delightfully mordant installation featuring love letters, traced drawings, and waxed hair. The non-private bedroom echoes Engku Iman’s works tinged with absurd yet acerbic humour, as the sound of a train rumble past, half the time courtesy of Goh Lee Kwang. More visible are the living quarters of the venue’s migrant neighbours, this view offering an effective juxtaposition to Okui Lala’s staged analogy about home. Bernice Chauly’s sentimental poems bedeck a double bed overlaid with tissue, each paper marked with words in quadrants by Daniel Chong. As one who thinks in threes, it is fascinating to see thoughts grouped in fours. The flimsy material used, is a perfect representation of what ideas are – take time to settle, hard to grasp, dilute when layered, and difficult to sustain.

Daniel Chong – The Limits of My Imagination (2015)

Making sense of “Making Space”, inspired by ‘The Limits of My Imagination’

Text accompanying Goh Lee Kwang – No Sound is Private (2015)

Why is sp__c__ regarded as a premium in the c__ty? Does it stem from an inn__r need to claim personal sp__c__? Will broadening one’s horizons mitigate th__s need? Does a capitalist mindset contribute to the v__lue attributed to physical sp__c__, or is it a feud__l legacy? Is privacy just a n__tion to exert p__w__r and restrain dissent? Is unseen sp__c__, sp__c__? Jo-Lene proposes three definitions in the exhibition foreword, “(s)pace is a means of production, an object of consumption, and a political instrument.” A reviewer suggests three sp__c__s, “…ruang penampakan, ruang representasi dan juga ruang penggunaan mampu dipersoalkan…” All questions and statements w__rth pondering about, in a privately-owned sp__c__ without much privacy, as I make a note to w__tch out for the Firecracker Crow the n__xt time I eat at Soong Kee.

Installation view of ‘Kissing Pig’ and location map for Zedeck Siew w/ Maung Day & Sharon Chin – Local Fauna (2014)

“Naturally, the problems of causality of smallness have been analyzed by sensory psychology. In a perfectly positive way, the psychologist carefully determines the different thresholds at which the various sense organs go into action. These thresholds may differ with different persons, but there is no contesting their reality. In fact, the idea of threshold is one of the most clearly objective ideas in modem psychology.” [p.174]
“Even figuratively, nothing that concerns intimacy can be shut in, nor is it possible to fit into one another, for purposes of designating depth, impressions that continue to surge up.” [p.220]
- The Poetics of Space (La Poétique de l'Espace), Gaston Bachelard (1958)

Installation snapshots of Engku Iman – Aku Keturunanmu Perempuan (2015)

“Outside and inside form a dialectic of division, the obvious geometry of which blinds us as soon as we bring it into play in metaphorical domains. It has the sharpness of the dialectics of yes and no, which decides everything. Unless one is careful, it is made into a basis of images that govern all thoughts of positive and negative. Logicians draw circles that overlap or exclude each other, and all their rules immediately become clear. Philosophers, when confronted with outside and inside, think in terms of being and non-being. Thus profound metaphysics is rooted in an implicit geometry which – whether we will or no – confers spatiality upon thought; if a metaphysician could not draw, what would he think? Open and closed, for him, are thoughts. They are metaphors that he attaches to everything, even to his systems.”
- The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard (1958) [translated by M. Jolas, 1969], p.211

[On floor] Test print of Jeffrey Lim – Door Left, Door Right (2015) in Sekeping Sin Chew Kee

02 February 2015

2 Jan 2015 (I): Trans Book Sketches @ NVAG

Greeting the visitor are twenty rectangular frames, each with an object placed upon a dot matrix printout of Surah Al-'Alaq. Low-tech reproductions emphasise the Quranic verses’ inherent meaning instead of its form, the faint pages reminding of divine omnipresence when juxtaposed with disparate stuff like coins and cutlery. Nasir Baharuddin’s sublime work meditates upon the revelation of learned knowledge, and was hung up in early October 2014 for a “Book Art” exhibition. “Fotografi & Lakaran” occupy Galeri Reka, the output contributed by artists who joined field trips as part of the 1Malaysia Art Tourism campaign. Atmospheric captures of Gua Niah by Shahrizan Aziz and Nublee Bahar utilise creative shooting angles, while uninspiring panoramas of Labuan are further diminished by the gallery’s dim lighting. 

Installation snapshot and close-ups of Nasir Baharuddin - Baca dan Lihat (1995)

Upstairs, encased pamphlets by Tsai Horng Churng lead one into a narrow passage exhibiting other “Book Art”. Colourful sketches denote Khalil Ibrahim’s mastery in figure drawing, while Izan Tahir’s “London Walls” utilise a simple and effective aesthetic to present found words from the English capital. Termite-bitten pages from British schoolbooks project a rebellious gesture of erasing imperial power, Wong Hoy Cheong’s collage a mere stylistic statement if not for the accompanying guide describing the work’s context within the exhibition where it was first shown. Missed opportunities include objects with fascinating content displayed within Perspex boxes, including an undated Minangkabau manuscript, Nur Hanim Khairuddin’s talismanic “Grimoire” (unprotected from misspelled labels), and an attractive cut-out storybook by Chuah Shu Ruei. 

Nur Hanim Khairuddin (1997): Grimoire II [top]; Grimoire III [bottom]

Browsing 250 works spanning 50 years on the second floor, Choong Kam Kow’s prominent career in education has to be considered when viewing one-dimensional creations. Coloured walls present chronologically-arranged themes, a poor choice which accentuates few works at the expense of others. Beginning with Chinese ink tin mines and ending with decorative dragons and gongfu stances, Kam Kow’s oeuvre presents a non-intrusive archetype of the ideal Malaysian-Chinese, whose diplomatic approach appears outmoded among the political assertions typical in contemporary art. While his shaped canvases are a novelty and perhaps even introduced hard-edged abstraction into Malaysian art, the “SEA-Thru” constructs are terrible fixtures which Syed Ahmad Jamal is quoted as having described as “a slant on semantics”.

Installation snapshot of Choong Kam Kow's retrospective exhibition - The Shaped Canvas series

Contemporaries Chew Teng Beng and Joseph Tan come to mind when viewing the “Earthscape” and “Rockscape” series, Kam Kow’s aesthetically pleasing compositions less cerebral but equal in its meditation on natural beauty. The best works displayed were made before the art teacher’s return to Malaysia. Etchings and paintings from the “New York” series combine opaque shapes with abstract lines, its sand textures crafting a multi-layered take on ground. This showcase remains within the institute’s confines of modernism, yet “conceptual” self-expressions are making way for conceptual art-making exhibited in the floor below. With book-sized artworks slotted in between these spaces, hope is vested into the national gallery for the year ahead. The progressive aspiration comes crashing down, as another security guard scrutinise me, and my camera phone in hand. 

Choong Kam Kow - The Eroded Surface 12/12 (1967)