Snippets: September 2017

Museum hopping in Singapore might become an annual family affair, given the international superstars the nation-state draws to their pristine shores. While the kid runs wild at teamLab’s interactive “Future World” exhibition at ArtScience Museum, I appreciate the fascinating collection of technology-meet-real world exhibits in “HUMAN+”. The highlight of the trip is undoubtedly the long queues to get into the galleries and infinity rooms for Yayoi Kusama’s “Life Is the Heart of A Rainbow”. Visual gimmicks and the solace/trauma of repetition aside, Yayoi’s fabric phalli constructs and large black-and-white drawings stand out to this visitor, for its concerted effort in failing to figuratively depict a representation. As a visitor sums up at the start of her review, “Kusama’s art is far from happy, despite its bright hues.” Indeed, “she’s way more than just a photo op.” 

Snapshot of Yayoi Kusama – Love Forever series

After attending the gut-wrenching “Art AIDS America” exhibition in Chicago this year – which explores how the AIDS crisis changed American art – it is difficult to be enthusiastic about the “ArtAid17” charity show organized by local artists Ahmad Zakii Anwar and Noor Mahnun Mohamed. The past two editions, together with the “Transit” group exhibitions organized by MAARS, have been a favourite personal pursuit to observe Malaysian art output. The quality among artworks displayed by 35 artists is good, with particularly memorable creations by Chan Kok Hooi and Shia Yiih Ying. Alluring also are the ink washes of Wong Xiang Yi, Nia Khalisa’s wonderful collages, and one print/painting by Afiq Faris. Surprisingly for one who has no love for household pets, I was smitten by Anisa Abdullah’s ‘Teman Baru’, whose depiction of her feline companion is intimately affecting.

Afiq Faris – Gold Fence (2017)

Meeting Gan Siong King is easy. The artist meets visitors in his studio four days a week, for four weeks, which resulted in 93 dedicated posts on one Instagram account. Driven by the artist’s genuine focus on developing rapport with his guests, this initiative is clearly not a hokey act of public engagement, as conversation topics and laughter flow smoothly during my visit. Upon arriving at the single-storey house, “tiada yang ‘seni’ mengenainya” (quoting Azzad Diah’s notes). One glimpses small paintings hung onto wooden walls, as Gan explores “making painting that consists of more than 1 canvas.” Strangely we did not speak about the actual paintings surrounding us, but went straight into light and its permutations in painting, exhibition-making, writing and the local art ecosystem, the difference between video work and painting, Gan’s wish to one day bring together both mediums…

Snapshot of Instagram account

Two days after a sekolah tahfiz in Kampung Dato Keramat is burned down by teenagers which claimed 23 lives, I arrive at a nearby bungalow-cum-gallery showing large hangings filled with dirty colours, caked impastos, scratched shapes, and paint splashes. Fauzulyusri’s new creations appear bright and visually captivating, as the lack of recognizable shapes take away the excessive meaning-making sometimes attached to his works. Quoting the artist in the exhibition essay, “Whiteground comes after two to three years of painting in dark, earthy tones, and as part of a rebellious time of wanting to explore other directions. This merely represents a natural movement of personal tastes – I should bring light after dark…” Viewing these exhibits was a guilty pleasure, as the positive ambiguity in abstract art, is countervailed by the horror which took place just 350 metres away. 

Fauzulyusri – Dripping Link (2017)

Interest in works by Haffendi Anuar is high in the local art scene – it sells well at international art fairs, are displayed in institutional exhibitions, and the artist was recently commissioned to create outdoor sculptures for a London property. Curators have framed Haffendi’s works as adopting a modernist sensibility towards materials, or as addressing a postcolonial legacy with everyday objects. What I see, however, is only the clever subversion of traditional signs into a contemporary form and vice versa. This approach works brilliantly in “Migratory Objects”, where compact designs are affixed to metal stands, then collectively displayed in front of one blown-up photograph taken at Kuala Lumpur’s Bird Park. The natural, the manmade, the real, the fake, oscillates continuously in an infinite loop…

Installation snapshot at “Migratory Objects” exhibition

Chong Kim Chiew’s restaging of ‘Isolation House’ at A+ WORKS of ART, a new shop lot gallery at Sentul, evokes an uncanny emptiness. A charcoal drawing on paper prints by FX Harsono, of people holding skulls, is displayed behind and accessible only via the gallery’s back entrance. While both artists’ works refer to the history of Chinese peoples in their respective countries, Kim Chiew’s installation is more powerful due to its economical approach. Rusted zinc plates and iron cages (both big & small) project a blank space, which implies narrative gaps and unspoken violence. The third re-staging of this work takes place in a gentrified space, which offers a new perspective to the work’s original intent. As the artist once said in an interview, “history is not past – the taste of things is always in the now. Now, we’re inside future, past and now combined together…”

Installation snapshots of Chong Kim Chiew – Isolation House (as exhibited at A+ Works of Art, 2017)