Galeri Petronas’ Young Malaysian Artists exhibition embraces the contemporary art world’s diversity and complexity.
YOU may have very well walked into a haunted spaceship. An eerie sound, so bizarre and otherworldly reverberates in a perpetual chime. Cuboidal screens with a man forcing his way out of them occupy one dark corner.
As your amble cautiously to your left, the hypnotic sound gets louder. You begin to feel your heart beating faster and your mind slowly entering, dangerously, into a state of trance.
And then, a terrifying sight swims into view. Monsters, big and small, crawling and slithering and bursting out of the walls. Remnants of a poem splashed across what used to be a child’s bedroom points to a horrific past and as you courageously dash across to the other side, something more shocking meets your eyes.
A big ball of human hair, sitting stoically on an abandoned bed, even more locks scattered on the floor!
The alien tune is still resonating menacingly in the air. Heart beating against your chest, you run for it and you stumble upon a ridiculously tall chair and a giant wooden puppet, staring at the chair from across a sea of terracotta warriors. And dangling from the ceiling, just inches away, its jaws wide open, is a shark made out of brassieres.
Welcome to New Object(ion) II, the second instalment of Galeri Petronas’ (GP) Young Malaysian Artists (YMA) art exhibition. Initiated by the gallery back in 2010, GP, through YMA, seeks to provide a platform for young Malaysian artists, most of whom are of the contemporary persuasion, to showcase their artworks.
The brochure for YMA states that this exhibition “aims to explore new creative abilities in the hope of discovering new art idioms or vocabulary.”
Twenty contemporary artists were invited by the gallery to join this year’s exhibition, whose focus is on new media or rather the usage of it in their artworks. Some of the participating artists include Azad Daniel Haris, Louise Low, Azrin Mohd, Andrialis Abdul Rahman, Shaliza Juana and Gan Tee Sheng.
“Our focus this year is new media. That was the curatorial direction we took and the artists did not have a problem with it because it is something they are familiar with,” explained Badrolhisham Mohamad Tahir, the curator of the exhibition, in a recent interview.
“The challenge was for me, the curator. How should I curate the show? Actually, new media is based on sculptural work, which of course uses objects. I am trying to switch the understanding and view on everyday objects from non-art to art. How can we actually perceive the everyday object as art? The rationale behind it is this, all man made objects went through creative processes.”
But immediately a question, a rather subjective one at that, arises. What constitutes new media? For not all of the exhibited artworks employ what one generally associates with new media – computer, electronic media and digital technology.
Outflow by Andrialis was purely a new media artwork. It was an assembly of televisions of various sizes and each screen displayed the legs or the upper torso of a man trying to crash out of the screen. Some screens were blue, some were white and some were amber. Assembled at a dark corner, Outflow will immediately grab one’s attention, especially if you are one whose life is entrapped by the idiot box or taken a step further, whose life is entrapped by something bigger.
However, some of them are purely assemblages like Azrin’s The Art of War #12: Attack by Fire, which features a very tall chair, easily 3m high, on one side of a platform and a gigantic wooden puppet on the other side. Filling the space between them are pinkish terracotta figurines, some shattered. Clearly, it details (at least for this writer) a struggle for power and the cost of that pursuit. But no new media was present.
“We don’t want to say new media is only computer art. When confronted with sculptural or installation art, do we look at it as new media or merely an installation?
“We are treating this exhibition as an introductory exhibition on what new media is and how we should understand installation in relation to new media,” explained Badrol.
Galeri Petronas’ director Rosli Rahim said if one were to look at Fatal Attraction by Louise Low, the shark made from countless brassieres, one may wonder if it is about feminism or being a lone shark in this world.
“But the interpretation of the work goes beyond the physical. Thus, while you may have these thoughts as you’re looking at this piece, it also directs your language and discourse towards ‘why is this artist showing this?’.
“This is what’s happening when you talk about new media internationally. In terms of ideas and the ability to produce these works, yes, we are capable, but the language, the discourse and the discussion has yet to come to that level. That is what we are trying to achieve via this exhibition,” Rosli reasoned, adding that moving into 2014, contemporary art will be the direction undertaken by the gallery.
But according to Low, who used close to 1,000 pairs of brassieres, “the shark portrays men and domestic violence as a whole. As sharks are among the deadliest predators, I used bras to construct its form, making it alluring to nature.
“A heart shape was placed inside the shark’s mouth, serving as a love bait to trap the ‘fishes’, which represents the women. It shows how women still believe their abusive husbands.”
She added, “My artwork is not about how the shark captures its prey; it is about how the smarter fish works its way out of the predator’s trap, the temptation.”
Elsewhere, Shaliza Juana’s Monsters In My Closet took nearly two months to complete and features plush monsters of different sizes and colours hiding behind the curtains and door or even dangling from the ceiling. Several childhood poems imploring the monsters to go away were scribbled on the wall using crayons.
Shaliza said her artwork was inspired by her own childhood experience and she wants the visitors to reminisce on their own experiences.
“All of us are familiar with how the darkness plays with our imaginations, especially when we were kids and the fright we feel as a result of it. I explored my own experiences as a child and came up with this installation for not only the kids to enjoy since the monsters look more cartoon like but for the adults to look at it and realise that they too had similar experiences when they were a kid.
“And to make it more personal, the books and the clothes I used to be part of this ‘room’ are my own. I wanted to encapsulate the exact moment from my childhood memory,” added Shaliza.
Meanwhile, Azad Daniel Haris’ Caught Red Handed is the artist’s parody or an exaggerated imitation of what is deemed “new media”.
“The artwork which I made is a connection of both technology and of organic – human touch.
I feel that we can’t depend solely on technology to do our job but it is good to work hand-in-hand with technology to create art for the relevance of time. Thus the hand and the plug can be seen as the lowest common denominator for defining ‘new media’ as perceived by people who fail to see the endless possibility of connectivity between art and technology,” said Azad.
Both Badrol and Rosli agreed that New Object(ion) II is not a close-ended type of exhibition.
“The single object is no longer appreciated as what we understood of sculpture in the 1950s. This is more of an interactive kind of aesthetic where the content of the work is how you perceived it. So, if you have five different people with five different backgrounds, you will have five different meanings.
“You might be frustrated at the end but that frustration is meaningful to us because these are the symptoms and effects that we have successfully projected to you,” said
Badrol with a chuckle.
There are a few ways, should you visit the exhibition, this could play out. You might be utterly lost at the end, experience a horrific ride like the narrative at the start or you might have a million and three questions swirling in your mind.
But you see, that is exactly what New Object(ion) II has set out to achieve. It is not for you to look at the artworks and leave the gallery with some aesthetic satisfaction. That is of a bygone age. This is for you interact with the artwork and through your own background and experiences in life, give your own meaning to it.
You may like them or you may pronounce your object(ion).
Young Malaysian Artists: New Object(ion) II is happening at Galeri Petronas, Level 3, Suria KLCC from now till Nov 24. Free admission. Open Tuesday-Sunday, 10am - 8pm.