Malaysian artist explores the intersection of printmaking and climate change


Tan Kar Mern's 'Intense Rainfall, Devastating Floods' (aquatint and etching on Fabriano Rosapina Paper, 2021). Photo: Hom Art Trans

For contemporary artist Tan Kar Mern, climate change is an urgent topic and her canvas remains a grey abyss of barren landscapes.

The British-trained artist’s recent open studio show Wondering at Hom Art Trans in KL, featuring six intaglio print works, integrated her deep concern for environmental issues with her longstanding fascination for science fiction films and brutalist architecture.

The showcase was the culmination of Tan’s three-month studio programme (last year) with the art space called 3M Studio. The 32-year-old was one of the four selected artists for this cycle.

This programme provides selected artists with a shared studio space to produce and develop a body of work.

With Tan’s printmaking background, Hom Art Trans arranged for her to occupy Chetak 12, an artist-run printmaking studio in Ampang, founded by artists Bayu Utomo Radjikin, Samsudin Wahab and Faizal Suhif.

Tan, who has a masters in printmaking from the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), shares her thoughts on her new series, the effects of the pandemic and her plans for the year ahead.

'Using printmaking and imagination as my medium of raising awareness, I take to the paper to express my sentiments and reflections on climate change and ecological calamity,' says Tan. Photo: Handout'Using printmaking and imagination as my medium of raising awareness, I take to the paper to express my sentiments and reflections on climate change and ecological calamity,' says Tan. Photo: Handout

Can you tell us about your experience during the 3M Studio programme?

This has definitely been an insightful and inspiring experience. Being placed in a communal setting with other local artists gave me the opportunity to network and build professional relationships with other local artists.

Also, the chance to work in a big printmaking studio, complete with the essential facilities, and more, was certainly advantageous to me during this programme.

The press machine allowed me to print larger prints, and the availability of the necessary tools and space gave me the chance to produce my series without compromising its quality.

Do you think it’s difficult to observe and discuss climate issues in art?

I like to believe that using art as a medium to discuss the matter of climate change can be the first step to engaging the public.

There have been studies and predictions that some areas in Malaysia will be sinking by 2050. I am concerned about what the future will be like for me and my peers, and for life on this planet.

Using printmaking and imagination as my medium of raising awareness, I take to the paper to express my sentiments and reflections on climate change and ecological calamity.

Are any of these pieces inspired by Malaysian environmental issues?

Yes, we experience environmental issues locally every day. There has been intense rainfall that led to devastating floods in some states of Malaysia.

We are also facing extreme hot weather in some months. Forests are vanishing, and that will subsequently affect the biodiversity. This is just a tip of the iceberg!

What are your plans for the rest of the year?

In all honesty, with the ongoing pandemic, I am not entirely sure yet. There is still a lot of uncertainty on the exact details.

I’m just taking it one step at a time, and hoping for the best. I do hope I’ll get to work on another series, and participate in more exhibitions.

Factoring in the pandemic, what has your work schedule been in terms of art?

Working during the pandemic has admittedly not been easy; lockdown in January had posed challenges in going to the studio.

And it’s quite difficult to plan ahead now. I was scheduled to hold an exhibition on my previous series in May 2020 but was put on hold due to the pandemic.

Also, a pop-up stall scheduled in March 2020 in KL did not materialise.

The thing is, across the spectrum of artistic and creative endeavours, restrictions on gatherings and travelling, changes in consumer behaviour (voluntary or otherwise), and severe unemployment have taken a devastating toll on the sector.

Tan Kar Mern's 'Wondering' artworks can viewed here.

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