The Past is Never Where You Think You Left It @ Wei-Ling Contemporary

Gowri Balasegaran’s catalogue essay states that, “(t)his exhibition explores the relationship between the past, the present, and the future that is evoked in (Katherine Anne Porter’s novel The Ship of Fools)”, a fuzzy-enough objective as far as pompous curatorial themes go. One can only (re-)construct images from an existing visual vocabulary, hence it is unsurprising that most artists utilise found objects as the medium of choice. An accumulation of cut-out business cards by Choy Chun Wei, and resin-encased used t-shirts by Ivan Lam, turn stereotyped items into abstract luxury objects. On the opposite wall, ten year-old paintings by Chong Kim Chiew are arranged around a relatively large  depiction of a map, titled ‘Invisible Word’. These small works with thick impasto project shorelines, denoting the artist’s interest in boundaries has not waned over the years. 

Choy Chun Wei - Bricolage of Identities II (2016)

Nostalgia for a place has always figured in Kim Ng’s work, and ‘A River Runs Through’ presents a brilliant representation made from woodcut and vinyl weavings. Subtle embossed forms emerge from a brown textured surface, and are juxtaposed against a beautifully carved street scene on bright red coloured board. The flickering image reminds one of the artist’s starting point – an old photograph of a wooden house built by his father – but it is clear that the presented artwork strives for immediate visual impact rather than a romantic attempt to preserve a memory. Hung nearby are Gan Sze Hooi’s straightforward illustration of ‘Kg Hakka Mantin’, and one tacky painting with cut-away canvas pieces, the latter’s works faring poorly when compared to the former’s masterful craft.

Installation and detail snapshots of Kim Ng - A River Runs Through (2016)

Following on her last exhibition which featured the transformation of local political paraphernalia, Minstrel Kuik builds a hut with wax-covered newspapers as its walls. Red fluorescent lights illuminate the interior, where a sewn-up broadsheet – combined from the 31st August 2015 editions of Utusan Malaysia and Berita Harian – include video stills from Malaya’s first Prime Minister talking about power. The installation immediately demands one to interrogate personal responses to symbolic items like the Malay newspapers, melted wax, political rhetoric, red threads, unity slogans, etc. In a time when Malaysian artists like to comment about local politics, albeit in a general and vague way, Minstrel’s incisive reference to a specific political hegemony is refreshing for its directness.

Installation snapshots of Minstrel Kuik - The Rebirth of A Nation (2016)

Anurendra Jegadeva’s ‘New Gods, Old Gods II’ presents nude figures donning Cantonese opera headdresses, while Rajinder Singh’s silkscreen collages remind of amalgamated temple forms from Latiff Mohidin’s “Pago-Pago” series. Two photographs made using outdated processes by K. Azril Ismail, display ingenuity in its subject matter and production method, yet its oversized suede-covered frames lend the images an air of antiquity that borders upon irrelevant obscurity. Leaving the gallery, I see a Facebook post reminding one to sign an online petition, about the recent demolition of Syed Ahmad Jamal’s sculpture ‘Puncak Purnama’. I remember it as a run-down and derelict monument, the last time I saw it three years ago. Perhaps, the past should be left where I thought I left it.

K. Azril Ismail - Table Study – Skull, Warrior, Bird & Guide Book (2012)