KL Biennale (III): Cracks in the Wall

Among art projects that memorialize the now-demolished Razak Mansion, both Dhavinder Singh’s “RecollÄ“ctus”, and the collaborative display “Framing the Common”, sustained my interest more than Leon Leong’s paintings. Dhavinder, who grew up in Razak Mansion, recorded visual fragments from his recollection via found objects and geometric forms, the scale and distance between things translating into intriguing collages. At the architects’ exhibition in Port Commune, the attention to build detail and living spaces, are drawn out and presented in a well-designed set up. While Leon’s works are not any less significant than the two collections of exhibits, his approach is elaborate yet contrived, where emotional response trumps thought-out expression.

Taukeh by Day, Undertaker by Night (2017) [link to artist's texts 'Mixed Rice Uncle']

Leon’s approach started with renting a place at Razak Mansion, six months before the scheduled demolition. The artist subsequently socialized with several inhabitants, then painted these individuals and their lived environs. Despite a realistic impression, most works are visually inert, the straightforward depictions seemingly rushed in its execution. Pictures with clearly portrayed faces – such as ‘Taukeh By Day, Undertaker By Night’ and ‘Aunt With Nephew and Niece’ – project empathy, yet one encounters too detachment in the blank eyes of ‘Boy Returned From Quran Study’. The emptiness is due to the artist’s use of perforated pegboards, which corroborates the installation’s title “Cracks in the Wall”, and draws attention to other exhibits in the same installation.

Boy Returned From Quran Study (2017)

“Revealing Naga” is a series of transferred images, from murals done onsite based on Leon’s perception of the brick structures, that functioned as brise soleil for the Razak Mansion apartments. Along with one block of debris, two video screens, and 21 charcoal sketches, the entire setup is exhibited in an open-top gallery with striking turquoise walls. Easily the most Instagram-friendly among KL Biennale exhibition spaces, I observed that visitors were preoccupied taking selfies, and ignoring the wall texts which introduced Razak Mansion and stated the artist’s intention. I noticed substantial engagements only on the third visit, where the addition of booklets with stories of the painted individuals, offered interested visitors a brief insight about the displays.

Installation snapshot of Revealing Naga series

‘The Departure’ was not up during my last visit, a painting mentioned in a March 2018 article, which supposedly is the final work included in “Cracks in the Wall”. This evolving exhibit contrasts starkly with the still-under-police-investigation “Under Construction”, showing/un-shown behind the wall. In addition, is it not ironic – that an art project memorializing demolished public housing, is displayed in the KL Biennale under the sub-theme Belas Warisan (‘Love for Heritage’)? That the artist, who recounts the “collaboration” with residents, is showing imagined dragon scales on paper parchments in golden frames? Perhaps, these are the cracks in the wall, that one should be looking at.

[l] Evening Routine Of A Bank Programmer (2017); [r] Detail