How do you make a hot dog stand? Take its chair away. That sort of offbeat spirit seems to be a part of the KLAF:Box exhibition at the National Visual Arts Gallery (NVAG) in Kuala Lumpur. No mobile food cart, no problem. Instead, you find an array of unique-looking chairs at this exhibit.
This group exhibition, which is a Kuala Lumpur Architecture Festival (KLAF) 2018 spin-off event, features a “show room podium” dedicated to 18 prototype chair models – some more outlandish than others – made by local designers, architects and artists.
“KLAF:Box features three distinct exhibits – a focus on Malaysian design and creativity, the meaning of public space, and the roles architecture play in the wider social, cultural and political domains,” says Ang Chee, the director of KLAF 2018.
"For too long, architecture is seen as an exclusive preserve and we would like to change that as architecture is, by nature, a public activity. This isn’t a festival for developers or a property fair, but a festival for those who are interested in our city," he adds.
However, it’s the chairs – each one known as the KL Chair – that are drawing attention. They were shortlisted from 103 submissions in the KL Chair Open Design competition.
Chair design, thankfully, continues to be a broad – and fun – category.
At KLAF:Box, the participants definitely are keen on expanding the dialogue on Apa Itu Kerusi? (What Is Your Chair?). In fact, it is a question proudly emblazoned on the gallery wall.
A classic Barcelona Chair, an icon of the modernist movement, is also on show. Perhaps the Barcelona Chair is there as a history lesson to see how far chairs have evolved since German designers Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich made it in 1929.
"The background to this is that there is a very famous designer chair called the Barcelona Chair, and we wondered what would the KL Chair look like. I think most people only thought of the red plastic ‘mamak’ chair when we asked around. We thought, this cannot be, so we organised the competition to find the best design for a chair that represents the qualities of Kuala Lumpur."
The KL Chair selection, once you walked through the gallery, is brimming with creative ideas, showing viewers that even something as ordinary as a chair can be turned into a work of art. There is a multitude of materials used to create these chairs, anything from a concrete slab, ABS plastic, recycled boards, metal trimmings, a range of woods, cane and natural fabrics.
Comfort and cool – relatively speaking – have also been keenly considered.
The winner of the KL Chair Open Design competition will be announced on Aug 10.
Last year’s KLAF exhibition, Manifest: Modernism Of Merdeka, had a clear lineage to a more conventional architecture show, especially with its scale models and historical building plans. KLAF:Box, rather surprisingly, has changed the script.
This year’s show looks the part as a lively, edgy and urgently contemporary art exhibition.
"Architectural exhibitions are a growing genre internationally, and it’s been recorded that visitors spend more time at an architecture exhibition than an art show. New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) has a very established and influential architecture department for almost 100 years now. Closer to home, the new M+ Museum in Hong Kong also has a very active architecture department, with many of its curators making trips here to build up its South-East Asian collections," reveals Ang Chee.
Amid the fresh buzz at KLAF:Box, there is even room for observation and reflection with the first KLAF residency programme artist Mariana Bisti’s multimedia works. Hers is a story of urban spaces told through aerial video essays.
"Mariana’s two-channel video essay shows us a side of Kuala Lumpur we are not so familiar with, in a breathtaking fly-through palette of diverse contexts and textures. With so much beauty in parts and so much of what we see as ugliness, all stitched together to make this rich tapestry called KL," reveals Ang Chee.
Is KLAF planning to expand its residency programme?
"For the moment, we remain interested in the residency programme but what we’d like to do is to see how we can expand that, into perhaps a paired residency where a foreign and a local can share a studio and develop projects for KL jointly and independently. We also have many ideas moving forward, and what I’d really like to see is each edition bring forth new innovations and new ideas," he adds.
Elsewhere, Ila Beka and Louise Lemoine, two foremost architectural filmmakers, add star quality to KLAF:Box. Their documentary, Homo Urbanus: Diary Of Urban Wanderers, making its South-East Asian premiere, digs into whether a city, as a shared space, can be a new social model for human dwelling.
"The architectural cinema by Beka and Lemoine demonstrates in their ongoing project how the city is used in many different cities in the world. It’s not about iconic or flashy architecture but simply in how one uses public space, how one lives and laughs, works, etc," says Ang Chee.
The complete work of Beka and Lemoine has been acquired by the MoMA, and their films have been shown at prestigious cultural institutions and events such as the Venice Architecture Biennale.
As the KLAF wraps up another eventful edition next weekend, Ang Chee reveals that the KLAF team would like to see the festival having a more pronounced and accessible public presence through other art exhibitions/collaborations and activities in public spaces.
"That’s the plan for the longer time frame. We would, for example, like to take over a park, or a district, and to build installations, host events, happenings. Also to have new and unexpected collaborations with all kinds of personalities and organisations.
"Architecture is an activity that affects so many in the environment and we want to reinforce the inclusive and collaborative aspects. The biggest event of this kind is the Venice Architecture Biennale. We have some way to go for that but I believe that, given time to develop and mature, we can present a very different festival of architecture that is unique and equally interesting," he concludes.
KLAF:Box is on at the National Visual Arts Gallery, Jalan Temerloh, off Jalan Tun Razak, Kuala Lumpur, till Aug 12. Opening hours: 10am-6pm daily. For more information, call 03-4026 7000 or visit artgallery.gov.my or klaf2018.com.