Artists explore social media and the concept of narcissism in Wei-Ling Contemporary’s 18@8 exhibit.
WHEN an artist is imposed with restrictions, he feels trapped. It forces him to think out of the box and experiment with elements he wouldn’t normally work on. The result: innovative, rather interesting works.
This is part of Wei-Ling Contemporary’s objective for its annual 18@8 exhibition. It’s a much anticipated event as the gallery hands out themes for selected artists to work on. The series is now into its ninth instalment after its debut in 2005.
The selection of artists changes every year and encompasses both promising and emerging artists who have made a significant development in their careers or are working towards a major project in the coming year.
“Our mission to promote and develop serious artists who are dedicated to their artistic journeys, to distinguish between decorative or commercial art and real art by artists who have something to say in their works, and are making art for the right reason, continues,” says director Wei-Ling, in her gallery message.
This year’s line-up includes Ivan Lam, Anurendra Jegadeva, Choy Chun Wei, Yau Bee Ling, Wong Chee Meng, Hamid Hadi, Azliza Ayob, Ilham Fadlym, Zulkilfi Yusoff, Sean Lean, Cheng Yen Pheng and Kim Ng.
For this year’s 18@8 Mirror, Mirror On The Wall edition, artists were given the task of figuring out how social media has changed people and the way they view themselves, with narcissism playing a key role.
It all began with the Greek myth of Narcissus who was so enamoured by his own reflection in the water, eventually bringing upon his death, as a result of him being completely unable to take his eyes off of himself.
Each artist was asked to explore the idea of self-love (be it narcissism: egotism, vanity, pride, selfishness, grandiosity, erotic gratification derived from admiration of one’s own physical or mental attributes, self-adornment, obsession with perfection, acceptance from one’s peers, etc) and come up with one major work which would reflect this theme.
In addition, to incorporate a fun element to the exhibit, the gallery collaborated with Italian leather brand, Furla, to create 12 art bags from their iconic Candy Bag collection. Artists were at liberty to do what they wanted, with no boundaries. The bags would then be auctioned.
They put on their artistic caps and set to work.
For Lam, social media is not something he indulges in. Yes, he is e-mail-friendly but doesn’t think it’s necessary to have Facebook, Twitter and Instragram accounts although countless friends have tried to set it up for him.
“When I was given the theme, I just wanted to have fun and create something I don’t usually do. My interpretation is Solipsism, which deals with the self and how your measure the world against yourself. For me, it’s the ultimate narcissism as everything exists because of you. But, it’s also a fallacy,” he says.
Solipsism is the philosophical view that only one’s own mind is sure to exist. Lam’s three-panel painting is incredibly precise and neat. The colours, using the colours of the new iPhone 5s, blend into the background, with vertical, triangular and circular design on the panels. It traces theletters, “I M U”.
“Every piece I do is connected in some way to future pieces because it has continuity. However, I erase what people call ‘signature’ works because I want to push my ideas, challenge myself and make beautiful mistakes. For this, I had to fall back on basic design principles,” he explains.
Lam looks inwards, as his painting speaks of the duality within the artist.
“I am everyone and everyone is me,” he states. “In the first frame, the statements reflect the whole population. I take on many hats and ask who I am to the mirror. The answer is ‘I am you’.”
Lam argues that no matter how we try to set ourselves apart from others, we are essentially the same inside. The second panel reflects an inverted triangle and points to how we actually leave a momentary impact, while the third panel shows that we come back to the same core after making a circular loop.
“It’s my way of a time capsule. My work is direct and pretty easy to interpret, so it’s up to the viewers to take what they want. There are many layers to it but I normally go along with people’s stories! Artists are expected to know everything but really, we don’t,” says Lam, who was the first and only artist from Malaysia to present a solo exhibit at Art Basel Hong Kong this year. His works have featured in both Sotheby’s and Christie’s auctions where his monumental works have fetched a hefty price.
Creating the Furla bag, posed a bigger challenge and he followed the premise that a bag must be a bag.
He elaborates, “I had only one shot to ‘do it up’. I can’t spoil it and ask for another bag! I didn’t want the form to take over the function of the bag, so I deliberately left the bag as it was and sourced for art materials to put in as contents. People should be able to carry the bag and craft something using the material inside. Whatever it is, do.”
In contrast, Choy’s painting I Shop Therefore I Am (Urban Fragment Reflected) spells chaos. He has utilised scaffolding and construction to build up the intricacies of a straight line. His construction has no façade and is haphazardly structured.
“The theme has been echoing in my mind that man-made objects are penetrating the world deeper and making things chaotic. Our inventions envelop ourselves that we sometimes cannot tell what is fact and fiction. We are starting to live in a bubble.
“We don’t seem to know where things originate from. Narcissism is the root for our behaviour. We’re so absorbed in these man-made stuff. I can absorb, digest and be part of the system but I’m not controlled by it. We are so distracted (shown in the disorder) that views have become fuzzy,” he says.
On a macro level, Choy admits it is a self-reflective piece though he values form, clarity and mission.
A recipient of numerous key art awards, Choy has also been granted a residency with the prestigious Freeman Foundation in Vermont, United States. For his bag, he chose to draw people with mobile devices, while adding sketches from his previous works. It has a strong connection to shopping. The bag is the world and people are around it.
Wong’s piece Fact And Fiction contends that one needs to scrape the gloss to find the truth. The artist recalls a quote by Francis Bacon to illustrate the point that his artwork makes, “Truth is so hard to tell, it sometimes needs fiction to make it plausible.”
He portrays a figure frightened with the advent of social media, but yet discovers that everything begins with a keyboard. He juxtaposes it with icons and pixels.
“For me, past and present are all the same. We still use the keyboard to type, but in a different timeframe. Since I have double vision, I have to incorporate many layers into my work otherwise, it seems incomplete,” says Wong.
His Furla bag is full of arrows signifying that Cupid has shot an arrow into social media and in time, more will embrace it. Despite the discernable lies and unknown truths, Wong says the one thing we are all susceptible to is love.
Another interesting piece is Sean Lean’s Dear God(s). His artwork deals with cultural duality – his mother prays to ancient Taoist idols while he worships superheroes in comic books.
As for the bags, the various artists came up with a variety of designs.
One that stood out was Zulkifli Yusoff’s Burung And Kura-Kura. Both his painting and bag shared the same motif. Using resin and fibreglass, his design depicted the shell of a tortoise, with wheels and birds drawn all over.
Azliza Ayob, fascinated by the seductive and revealing look of the transparent candy bag, used lace, acrylic and synthetic stones to adorn her bag. It will appeal to ladies as it evokes a sense of femininity and enticement.
Straying from deeper issues that affect the world, Anurendra’s Furla bag takes a playful respite and explores the cult of personality through some popular icons including Elvis Presley, Barack Obama, Che Guevara and P. Ramlee.
The auction, held last week, raised RM70,600 with proceeds going to SPCA. The highest bid went to the candy bag created by Zulkifli Yusoff (RM17,000), followed by Lam (RM13,000) and Anurendra (RM13,000).
* The 18@8 Mirror, Mirror On The Wall exhibition is on at Wei-Ling Contemporary (G212&213A Ground Floor, The Gardens Mall, Kuala Lumpur) till Jan 16. Open daily from 10am-9pm. Admission is free. Call 03-2260 1106 or 03-2282 8323 for more info. Browse: www.weiling-gallery.com