Forget galleries: young Malaysian curator sees the rise of DIY virtual art exhibitions

A screen shot of the 'Am I Alone' virtual exhibition tour, which is presented DIY style. Photo: Handout

If you are expecting to see only faces peering back at you in the Am I Alone? virtual exhibition, then you will be disappointed. With its “self-portraits” theme, this virtual group exhibition – timely during this MCO period – shows how you can truly think outside the box when it comes to art and artistic expression.

There’s a woman crouched in a fridge, singing 1980s hard rock band Heart’s pop ballad Alone while clutching a dragonfruit so tightly in her hands that its red juice runs down her arms and onto her white dress. This is Indonesian artist Andita Purnama Sari Putri’s performance piece (in collaboration with Hotma Parulian Batubara), Clouds Number 11, where she laments a disconnection from society due to its impossible standards and expectations.

Revealing his Dual Window series and the prototypes of his project for the first time in this exhibition, Japan-born, Indonesia-based Jun Kitazawa combines the sights and sensibilities of both countries in each life-sized window that can be installed in a home.

Meanwhile, Malaysian artist C.C. Kua video animation I Sculpt Myself is a light-hearted sketch on an attempt to make a sculpture of oneself... with a surprise ending.

Am I Alone? brings together the voices of 11 artists from Japan, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Their work here comprises paintings, animation, performance videos and interactive performance art.

The exhibition is the debut curatorial effort of Ranerrim (real name Lim Yan Er), and is a joint project by the 25-year-old with arts collection Projek Rabak.

C.C. Kua's 'I Sculpt Myself' (video animation, 2020), featured in the 'Am I Alone?' show. Photo: HandoutC.C. Kua's 'I Sculpt Myself' (video animation, 2020), featured in the 'Am I Alone?' show. Photo: Handout

Ranerrim – who dabbles in mostly paintings and 2D art – had been thinking of putting together an exhibition for the longest time now, but put it on the back burner because of her lack of experience and time, as well as a fear of failure.

“But when the pandemic dragged on and I found out that my bar exam had been postponed for the second time, I found a renewed sense of purpose even as other plans around me fell apart. I felt this urgency to embark on this project and realised during times like this, there is no ‘good timing’ or ‘bad timing’, it is just a matter of whether I do it or not, ” says Ranerrim, who is based in Kuala Lumpur.

After Ipoh-based Projek Rabak came on board, there was no turning back. Ranerrim recalls how she was driven by excitement and her resolve to show what amazing things can happen when people work together.

“This experience made me realise that community and collaboration is so important in the creative arts industry. This was a life-altering experience for me because it made me view art in a very different way. Many of the artists I worked with in this exhibition are performance artists and it was liberating for me to step out of my comfort zone of art-making and immerse myself in their POV. The way we view our culture, self-perception and life can all be challenged if we open our minds to different forms of art, ” she says.

Mineki Murata's 'Update 17.12.2020' (video performance art, 2020). Photo: HandoutMineki Murata's 'Update 17.12.2020' (video performance art, 2020). Photo: Handout

Mohd Jayzuan, better known as Jay, founder of Projek Rabak, met Ranerrim last March in Kuala Lumpur.

"We met just before the first MCO was announced (at the art sharing session Arus Binti by Dhan Illiani Yusof). And we kept in touch about a potential collaborative art project," recalls Jay.

"The idea of the Am I Alone? was an exciting one, and Ranerrim already had a direction for the virtual show, with a list of Malaysian artists identified. At Projek Rabak, we saw this an example of how newcomer art will thrive and continue outside the gallery-based networks. Ranerrim has an exemplary proactive attitude and we helped out with the exhibition line-up by inviting our Indonesian and Japanese contacts," he adds.

Building a new network

Ranerrim is keen on expanding her skill set as a curator and pursuing other curatorial projects in the near future. She is also working towards her own solo exhibition as a visual artist, something that has been her long-time goal.

In the past year or so, galleries around the country have spent many long weeks closed to the public. Right now, the MCO has left galleries with a long list of postponed programmes.

Jun Kitazawa's prototype of 'Dual Window Japan-Indonesia #2' (3D prototype, 2020). Photo: HandoutJun Kitazawa's prototype of 'Dual Window Japan-Indonesia #2' (3D prototype, 2020). Photo: Handout

Many have turned to alternative ways of reaching out to people, which includes viewing artworks online or offering virtual tours.

Am I Alone? is a virtual exhibition from the get-go and as an Instagram-savvy curator Ranerrim sees it as an opportunity to “go international” within the pandemic restrictions and involve artists from outside Malaysia, in an effort to promote the arts, cultural exchange and self-expression.

Everything revolving around the exhibition was done remotely and virtually, with Ranerrim designing and putting together the website, virtual art gallery and writing content.

She concurs that there are certain limitations in virtual showcases, as opposed to viewing art in person, but feels they have been playing second fiddle for way too long.

“You can't view a textured artwork up close and marvel at its brush strokes or textures or even the size of the artwork. The mood of the gallery, the journey of going to a gallery also change and add to the experience of viewing the art," she says.

Kara Yong's 'The Yin And Yang Of Appearances' (digital mixed media, 2020). Photo: HandoutKara Yong's 'The Yin And Yang Of Appearances' (digital mixed media, 2020). Photo: Handout

"However, I think that virtual exhibitions have been wildly underestimated. It seems like something the art world has ‘resorted’ to, and it has become a second option to a ‘real exhibition’. We shouldn't be quick to dismiss virtual art exhibitions or see it as a substitute, because it has its own beauty and uniqueness, ” she adds.

She is intrigued by how a virtual exhibition can explore different ways to view art, present art and challenge the artists to think of feasible ways to interact with the viewers.

For instance, in performance art series Solitude Standing by Toronto-and-Tokyo-based Daisuke Takeya, a new component of the series will be uploaded weekly to the exhibition.

“With better platforms and technology combined with a fun and innovative curatorial concept, a virtual exhibition may be more interesting and immersive than a real-life exhibition. The virtual exhibition itself might even be its own piece of art. The possibilities are endless for virtual art exhibitions if we have the right technology, ” says Ranerrim.

She hopes that a bit of this comes through in Am I Alone? and that the exhibition theme of “self portraits” and its accompanying artworks will spark discussion.

“I hope that visitors will pay more attention to self-portrait artworks in the future as it tells many stories. Some may argue it is cliche or a boring theme but it can represent deception, a factual depiction or even cultural exchange. Sometimes the stories the self-portrait tells might even exist outside of the artist and is a representation of the artist's surroundings and upbringing, ” she says.

Perhaps this exhibition will also encourage people to see that art exists in many different forms.

“It can come in the form of a painting, performance or experience. There is no label in what art is or should be. If it challenges you to view life and interact with life in a different way, or provokes you to think or ponder, it is art, ” she concludes.

Am I Alone?, which can be viewed here, will run until Feb 3.

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