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Sunday April 28, 2013

Contemporary art practices

sample spread from the
Events section in the book
shows the 2011 art
installation Projek Angkat
Rumah (Project Carry
House) that moved a
kampung house 1.3km in
Sentul, KL. A sample spread from the Events section in the book shows the 2011 art installation Projek Angkat Rumah (Project Carry House) that moved a kampung house 1.3km in Sentul, KL.

Today And Tomorrow – Emerging Practices In Malaysian Art
Editors: Adeline Ooi, Beverly Yong & Rachel Ng
Publisher: Adaptus Design System Sdn Bhd, 264 pages

What’s with an ‘art work’ that involves carrying a kampung house down a road? Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of contemporary art in Malaysia, covered thoroughly in this significant book.

A BOOK on contemporary art practices anywhere is a tough cookie to handle. Today And Tomorrow – Emerging Practices In Malaysian Art is no exception.

Such a book is likely be taken as a barometer of trends/tendencies and an arbiter of taste in making some sense of what’s happening today and predicting what’s coming, the new flavours, or the Next Big Thing. This is a tall order as there are so many new artists graduating from tertiary institutions every year, what more with increasing numbers of exhibitions/events focusing on young artists and awards of recognition for them.

All the 27 individual artists featured in this book are visual-art-college-trained with one (Chi Too) from another discipline (audio engineering). These artists are defined by watchwords such as “urban”, “global”, “New Media”, and their works are public (society/community)-orientated as opposed to private syiok sendiri (self-indulgent); the works are ideas/initiatives-based; they were created using non-traditional media and vocabulary; and they offer elusive layered meanings.

The artists range from Roslisham “Ise” Ismail (born 1972, previously noted for his “Muggo” alter ego) to Haslin Ismail and Samsudin Wahab (both born 1984).

Whatever the criteria used, they will set off the inevitable quibbles over who’s out and who’s in, and why and how, and why not – for example, where are Raduan Man, Chong Ai Lei, Louise Low Seok Loo, Khairul “Meme” Soib, Al Khuzairi, etc, etc. The list could go on and on, but really, who ought to be included, has been. The selection is a good representation of the pulse and mechanisms of the wide-ranging art-making process and the persona of Malaysian artists today.

The project to put the book together certainly was in good hands. The authors and advisers are all serious industry stake-holders in their roles as promoters-activists, publishers, researchers, curators, and artists: they include Beverly Yong, Adeline Ooi, Rachel Ng (all of Rogue Art), Bayu Utomo Radjikin, Nurhanim Khairuddin, Suzy Sulaiman, Yap Sau Bin, Simon Soon and Fairuz Sulaiman.

Each featured
artist is given six pages,
usually as double page
spreads as shown above, for
images, biodata, and career
analysis; web or blog
addresses are provided for
those who want more
information. Each featured artist is given six pages, usually as double page spreads as shown above, for images, biodata, and career analysis; web or blog addresses are provided for those who want more information.

The artists’ profiles reveal a discernible pattern: impressive academic credentials; winners of the Young Contemporary Artists, Malaysian Emerging Artists and Philip Morris Asean Art Awards, and the Sovereign Asian Art Prize; selection for residencies such as Rimbun Dahan (in Kuang, Selangor), SAGE (South-East Asia Art Group Exchange), HOM (House of Matahati), the Vermont Studio Centre (United States); and prestigious exhibitions overseas such as the Asia-Pacific Triennial (Brisbane, Australia) and the Fukuoka Triennial (Japan).

Putting all these artists together would suggest a homogeneity, but they are as fragmented as disparate sound bites of mind-streams, colours, forms and shapes.

It’s a rag-tag band of artistic spheres, actually. The book’s Hall of Fame includes Space Gambus Experiment founder Kamal Sabran and Goh Lee Kwang (sound artists); Sharon Chin and Vincent Leong (interactive performances); Azliza Ayob and Vincent Leong (installations); Haslin Ismail, Samsudin Wahab, and Chan Kok Hooi (surreal / absurd / caricatures / manga / anime / sci-fi); Ivan Lam and Phuan Thai Meng (billboard-sized interventions); and Shieko Reto (graffiti, with her “Tebabo” icon).

Their works could be summed up as art outside walls (outside the gallery system/museums and the alfresco easel tradition); art using new or “no” materials (communicative skills and social media); art in site-specific or random spaces; and art in/and technology.

It is naïve, however, to think of this new art dispersions or distractions as a Post-Millennia 3 phenom. There have been precedents, like in the ground-breaking installation, From The Windows Of Red (1972) and Image, Object, Illusion – Off Series Mechanism (1977), both by Lee Kian Seng. Then, there’s the 1974 Towards A Mystical Reality by Redza Piyadasa and Sulaiman Esa. Then, in the 1990s, there were installations and neo-conceptual art by game-changers such as Wong Hoy Cheong, Kungyu Liew, Zulkifli Yusoff, Tan Chin Kuan and Noor Azizan Paiman, and the e-artists Hasnul J. Saidon and Niranjan Rajah.

In the book, each featured artist is given only six pages for images, a condensed biodata, and a career analysis capsule but any lack of information is cleverly circumvented by the listing of their websites or blogspots. You want to go deeper into Phuan Thai Meng’s works, access, for example.

The “New New Scene” (there was a “New Scene” in the 1970’s) is not only the domain of the this Gang of 27, but other artists of the period are also acknowledged under the Collectives and Events sections; The Endnotes’ footnotes also mention moments such as APA … Apa, Siapa, Kenapa (1998), the exhibition precipitated by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s sacking as Deputy Prime Minister and the Reformasi movement; the Bangun Penang Clan Jetties community art project; and the annual George Town Festival.

The Collectives of alternative and agitative art cells featured include Rumah Air Panas (RAP) formerly based in Setapak, KL; HOM with projects such as the Malaysian Emerging Artists Award, the HOM and SAGE residencies and the Art Triangle (Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines); the Lost Generation Space with its nothatbalai Art Festival; Bangun-Abandon Project; and community art projects in the Penang Clan Jetties area, Pudu in KL, Bukit Cina Melaka in Malacca, and Petaling Street in KL.

Also covered is the Findars collective; while SICKL (Studio In Cheras KL) is known for its KL Experimental Film & Video Festival, the Sama-Sama Guesthouse Mini Alternative Art Festival, and the Improv Lab@Findars.

The newer ones are Buka Kolektif, a performance art vehicle that helmed the Buka Jalan Festival, the Buka Mulut performances and the Buka Baju symposium; the Sabah-based Cracko Art Group, strong in graffiti art with its Kota Kinabalu Twestival (Twitter festival); and the architecture-orientated Kontaki.

A glaring omission, however, is the Penang-based community arts heritage group, Arts-ED, noted for projects such as myBALIKpulau.

Under Events, there is Chow Kit Kita, which engages the teenagers in that locality in KL; the Digital Art & Culture (DA+C) Festival; the self-explanatory Projek Angkat Rumah (Project Carry House) over a 1.3km stretch in Sentul, KL; Let Arts Move You (LAMU) in art-nimating transportation infra and spaces; Seksualiti Merdeka on sexuality rights; Fahmi Reza’s Student Power activism; and the Sasaran International Arts Festival, which involved a whole village, including fishermen contributing their catch to the festival!

Collectives or Events can be seen as a active hodge-podge with sometimes the same players pooling expertise and time in different projects with others.

A lively discussion providing an overview of the art scene in Malaysia as well as the rising of several pertinent issues at the end of the book act as a wrap-up.

Today And Tomorrow is a true reflection of the “diversity and energy of emerging Malaysian artists ... who appear set to influence the shape of things to come”. Well laid-out and planned, well-covered, well-mapped out and well-strategised, the book covers a wide spectrum of contemporary Malaysian art practices and initiatives like New Photography, visual and audio creativity, interactive digital media, street art and design, performance, installations and object-making.

This is definitely a key book for anyone who wants insight into Contemporary Art in Malaysia today – although one must always bear in mind that the scene is one of vibrant flux contingent to time, circumstances, trends and individual artists.

Today And Tomorrow – Emerging Practices In Malaysian Art is available at Kinokuniya Bookstores at Suria KLCC or from