Collective: Individuals @ 2 Hang Kasturi

In the art canon, artist collectives are often mentioned in reverential tones, and remembered for providing the alternative to established art. This characteristic manifests in the underground location of “Collective: Individuals”, a group exhibition of works from artists belonging in seven collectives. The reasons individual artists gather together are varied – practical concerns of sharing a house, propagating an aesthetic ideal, co-producing a zine, or banding together to form a commercial gallery – but ultimately favourable in maintaining and promoting an artist’s individual agenda. Apart from the relatively formal statements of Make It Happen, the exhibiting collectives do not display overt desires to be similar, which result in a great collection of individual artworks.

Installation snapshot of Nadirah Zakariya - Hitam Manis

Walking through the exhibition – starting with The Sliz’ repurposed road signs, and ending with Orkibal’s pink chair and colourful painting – is a thorough visual delight. The attention-grabbing and vivid displays can be attributed to the show being part of Urbanscapes arts festival, which draws hip youngsters and curious tourists into its quirky space. Metal grills, concrete pillars, narrow walkways, and a vault (!), magnify the sense of discovery. Exhibited works complement the environment, as the miscellany of mediums, themes, and approaches utilized, offer a vibrant survey of artistic forms. Geometric/amorphous shapes, neon/earthy colours, realistic/abstract depictions, singular/modular objects, manipulated/Xeroxed photographs, and even participatory installations. That there are no large nostalgia-tinted paintings, already is refreshing as compared to recent art seen in Malaysian galleries.

Installation snapshot of Tomi Heri – Bujang Senang (2017)

Personal politics and statement-making are still in vogue, however, and works that thread the line between obvious one-liner and obscure symbols, prove most enjoyable. Is Caryn Koh making a prank, an observation, or kooky souvenirs, with her painted eyes? Are the spots on Nadirah Zakariya’s screens and photos, also a heatmap for racist judgements during people interactions? Can Tomi Heri’s “Bujang Senang” signify carefreeness, when its compositions are made up of stencilled geometric patterns? With its marker pen lines on small-squared exercise book sheets, is Foong You Xiang practicing drawing, or doodling his future away? One extreme example of statement-making belongs to the engraved lines by Yew Jun Ken & WAISHUKUN. Does anything make sense, given that the series of artworks is titled “Untitled~Production of Brain Stew Percolator S4+9”?

[from l to r] Yew Jun Ken & WAISHUKUN – Untitled (36); (41); (53); (1-9)

Beyond Instagram-friendly displays, participatory art also takes the form of Blankmalaysia’s ‘Alter’ and Minstrel Kuik’s ‘Artist’s Block’. The latter is part of Run Amok’s installation within the vault, which emphasizes its status as a co-operative (“divide and rule/ Berkerjasama”), but offers too playful interpretations of professional traits expected in artists. Posters of past gallery exhibitions are displayed in one dimly lit room, with a centrepiece that pays tribute to its recently-deceased member Trevor Hampson. Minstrel’s anxiety-ridden declarations in ‘Personal Competencies’ are juxtaposed with Tetriana Ahmad Fauzi’s pictures of stationary fashioned from cucumbers, while metaphorical painting-sculptures by Liew Kwai Fei keep the artists’ rhetoric alive – ‘2B OR NOT 2B (THAT IS THE QUESTION)’ (as black & white jerseys fly away…)

Installation snapshot of gallery space allocated to Run Amok

A paper monument is erected in the middle of a room covered with printouts of Facebook posts about “the World’s tallest mural”, currently undertaken by the five artists who make up Rumah Studio. This projection – and the equally irreverent diorama next door by The Secret Hideout, whom some of  Rumah Studio's members are a part of – detracts from attractive individual works on show. Sattama creates charming diptychs pairing flat living room scenes with arcane signboards, its intoxicated figures seemingly enacting a meaningless midnight ritual. ‘Rumah Studio: Aftermath’ by Kangblabla stages a miniature comic version of one house interior (his own?), its varied wooden forms coming alive as a collective whole. At the basement entrance, metal signs by The Sliz recall the creative urgency of Rauschenberg (in a good way), with current messages emblazoned on via painted layers.

Sattama – Anta/Bahya – Empuk Malam (inside/outside – tender of the night) (2017)

It is telling that collaborative artworks are less attractive than individual productions. Studio Mekar founder Haris Rashid states, "...collectives must serve a purpose as a support group, a stepping stone. But ultimately, all artists are individuals." Looking at the steady stream of visitors, I wonder: what types of contemporary art do hipsters like? Walking past hanging pinafores and paintings commenting about hyper-connectivity, some exhibits come off as derivative and naïve. Nonetheless, in an art scene where some artists acquaint themselves more with collectors than with other artists, artists organizing themselves is a productive endeavor. Curator Sharmin Parameswaran speaks about recognizing this "DIY culture", a useful ethos in a country weighed down by patriarchal institutions. Perhaps this should be the reason we celebrate artist collectives, in this country.

Installation snapshots of Kangblabla – Rumah Studio: Aftermath (2017)