When you hear the words “art gallery”, you may think of quiet, reverent spaces where you observe the artwork displayed on walls.
The latest art exhibition at Muzium Telekom in Kuala Lumpur, however, takes viewers from their passive role and puts them right into the artwork itself, interacting with the lights, movements and sounds of the digital works.
My Words Won(t) Change The World, showing until Dec 8, is a digital art exhibition that explores the power of language in its various visual forms as a medium of expression.
Organised by immersive digital art space Digital Art Gallery (DAG) and online art initiative Anthology of Metaverses (AoM), the exhibition showcases the works of five individuals and collectives from Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines as they reflect on the role that letters, words, phrases and their meanings play in their practice.
The works reflect the collaborative spirit of the new media artists, designers, animators and sound designers involved.
Play on words
The inspiration for the exhibition’s title came from (Italian poet) Patrizia Cavalli’s collection of poems, My Poems Won’t Change The World, shares Amanda Ariawan, the show’s Indonesian co-curator.
“It’s this whole idea of how words can be powerful, but most of the time, especially in this day and age where visuals are omnipresent and everything is fast-paced, we don’t take the time to make room for words.
“This show is a reminder for us to appreciate words and language and reflect on their place in our modern society,” says Amanda in a video call from Jakarta.
Through video-mapping, their works are projected onto the walls, transforming the space into a playful, immersive landscape that plays with words and letters through motion, sound design, graphic design and typography.
Among Malaysians, there is certainly a growing interest in digital art – the recent opening weekend for the exhibition saw almost 1,000 visitors.
“The space was full of people, yet they were all still able to appreciate the artwork, and felt free to take their time and interact with it,” says James Ly, the show’s other curator.
“Digital tools have been a means for emerging cultures such as our own to express ourselves and have democratised art, allowing artists to move into different worlds and experience the world in different ways.
“Through AoM and its collaborations, such as this exhibition, we aim to shine a light on what the arts scene in this region can do,” he adds.
Platform for digital art
Despite a thriving digital art community and an increasing number of Malaysians hungry for art and culture experiences, there’s still a lack of spaces catering to digital art.
New media artist Abdul Shakir Abu Samah, who is also co-founder of digital art collective Filamen, the group behind DAG, explains that how digital art is shown and consumed is different from traditional art.
“Before we founded DAG in 2021, we tried to exhibit digital works at existing art galleries. We saw that the main way these galleries sustain themselves is by selling the works they display. But digital art cannot be bought and sold in the same way as physical artwork.
“So we realised that we needed to create our own platform for digital art and worked out a model that would be fair and sustainable for both the space and digital artists,” he says.
DAG charges an entry fee of RM15 per person (those below 17 can enter for free), with half of it going directly back to the artists.
“It’s a win-win for everyone, as visitors get to to experience the artwork in a different way than at traditional art galleries and museums, while the artists get to keep doing what they love and the gallery is able to continue sustaining itself.
“When we explain to visitors why we charge an entry fee, they are happy to support local and regional artists,” adds Abdul Shakir.
'Type in motion'
Among the artists taking part in the exhibition is Jwohan Lim, whose work Motion Type Experiments comprises selected works from those he made between 2019 and 2023.
Lim, 28, currently works in Penang as a designer for Foci Collective. He says that his featured works were heavily inspired by the daily objects that surrounded him and his career path as a graphic designer.
“I first started experimenting with type in motion, and through the process I have explored a lot of ways to do motion design, such as expression, emotion and movement.
“Typography can express a design piece’s meaning, tone and mood. From static to animation, animation to interaction – these are the processes I go through while creating my works.
"I always wanted to push the boundaries and possibilities of graphic design because it is no longer a separate entity; it’s an interdisciplinary field of design,” shares Lim.
Acknowledging that there are limited spaces in Malaysia for digital art for now, Lim encourages Malaysian digital artists to explore opportunities beyond our borders.
“You can join open calls and competitions outside of Malaysia. I think no matter where you are now, you can always showcase your work on social media platforms. It’s free, and it can be seen by people around the world.”
That said, with DAG and other digital art galleries cropping up locally, new avenues are opening up for digital artists to show their work without needing to look too far.
“I would definitely recommend all digital artists follow Filamen and DAG’s social media pages, plus another new digital art gallery at REXKL,” he concludes.
My Words Won(t) Change The World is showing at Muzium Telekom, Jalan Raja Chulan in Kuala Lumpur until Dec 8. The ticketed show is supported by CIM (Centre for Interactive Media) and Faculty of Creative Media (MMU), as well as Yayasan Telekom Malaysia. More info here.