Isnin, 21 Oktober 2013

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Arts & Fashion

Redefining the times


Galeri Petronas' Young Malaysian Artists exhibition embraces the contemporary art world's diversity and complexity.

YOU may have very well walked into a haunted spaceship. An eerie sound, so bizarre and otherworldly reverberates in a perpetual chime. Cuboidal screens with a man forcing his way out of them occupy one dark corner.

As your amble cautiously to your left, the hypnotic sound gets louder. You begin to feel your heart beating faster and your mind slowly entering, dangerously, into a state of trance.

And then, a terrifying sight swims into view. Monsters, big and small, crawling and slithering and bursting out of the walls. Remnants of a poem splashed across what used to be a child's bedroom points to a horrific past and as you courageously dash across to the other side, something more shocking meets your eyes.

A big ball of human hair, sitting stoically on an abandoned bed, even more locks scattered on the floor!

Trapped: 'Outflow' by Andrialis Abdul Rahman features 16 television sets with a man trying to get out of them.

Trapped: Outflow by Andrialis Abdul Rahman at Galeri Petronas, features 16 television sets with a man trying to get out of them. — Photos by RAJA FAISAL HISHAN/The Star

The alien tune is still resonating menacingly in the air. Heart beating against your chest, you run for it and you stumble upon a ridiculously tall chair and a giant wooden puppet, staring at the chair from across a sea of terracotta warriors. And dangling from the ceiling, just inches away, its jaws wide open, is a shark made out of brassieres.

Welcome to New Object(ion) II, the second instalment of Galeri Petronas' (GP) Young Malaysian Artists (YMA) art exhibition. Initiated by the gallery back in 2010, GP, through YMA, seeks to provide a platform for young Malaysian artists, most of whom are of the contemporary persuasion, to showcase their artworks.

The brochure for YMA states that this exhibition "aims to explore new creative abilities in the hope of discovering new art idioms or vocabulary."

Twenty contemporary artists were invited by the gallery to join this year's exhibition, whose focus is on new media or rather the usage of it in their artworks. Some of the participating artists include Azad Daniel Haris, Louise Low, Azrin Mohd, Andrialis Abdul Rahman, Shaliza Juana and Gan Tee Sheng.

Azrin Mohd's The Art of War #12: Attack by Fire.

Visitors at Galeri Petronas surveying the 'carnage' of Azrin Mohd's The Art of War #12: Attack By Fire.

"Our focus this year is new media. That was the curatorial direction we took and the artists did not have a problem with it because it is something they are familiar with," explained Badrolhisham Mohamad Tahir, the curator of the exhibition, in a recent interview.

"The challenge was for me, the curator. How should I curate the show? Actually, new media is based on sculptural work, which of course uses objects. I am trying to switch the understanding and view on everyday objects from non-art to art. How can we actually perceive the everyday object as art? The rationale behind it is this, all man made objects went through creative processes."

But immediately a question, a rather subjective one at that, arises. What constitutes new media? For not all of the exhibited artworks employ what one generally associates with new media – computer, electronic media and digital technology.

Outflow by Andrialis was purely a new media artwork. It was an assembly of televisions of various sizes and each screen displayed the legs or the upper torso of a man trying to crash out of the screen. Some screens were blue, some were white and some were amber. Assembled at a dark corner, Outflow will immediately grab one's attention, especially if you are one whose life is entrapped by the idiot box or taken a step further, whose life is entrapped by something bigger.

Shaliza Juanna's Monsters In My Closet captures the memories of one's childhood.

Shaliza Juanna's Monsters In My Closet captures the memories of one's childhood.

However, some of them are purely assemblages like Azrin's The Art of War #12: Attack by Fire, which features a very tall chair, easily 3m high, on one side of a platform and a gigantic wooden puppet on the other side. Filling the space between them are pinkish terracotta figurines, some shattered. Clearly, it details (at least for this writer) a struggle for power and the cost of that pursuit. But no new media was present.

"We don't want to say new media is only computer art. When confronted with sculptural or installation art, do we look at it as new media or merely an installation?

"We are treating this exhibition as an introductory exhibition on what new media is and how we should understand installation in relation to new media," explained Badrol.

Galeri Petronas' director Rosli Rahim said if one were to look at Fatal Attraction by Louise Low, the shark made from countless brassieres, one may wonder if it is about feminism or being a lone shark in this world.

"But the interpretation of the work goes beyond the physical. Thus, while you may have these thoughts as you're looking at this piece, it also directs your language and discourse towards 'why is this artist showing this?'.

'Life' by Gan Tee Sheng is a spooky as it gets at the  New Object(ion) II, the second installment of Galeri Petronas¿ Young Malaysian Artist art exhibition.

Life by Gan Tee Sheng is as disturbing as it gets at the New Object(ion) II, the second edition of Galeri Petronas' Young Malaysian Artists art exhibition series.

"This is what's happening when you talk about new media internationally. In terms of ideas and the ability to produce these works, yes, we are capable, but the language, the discourse and the discussion has yet to come to that level. That is what we are trying to achieve via this exhibition," Rosli reasoned, adding that moving into 2014, contemporary art will be the direction undertaken by the gallery.

But according to Low, who used close to 1,000 pairs of brassieres, "the shark portrays men and domestic violence as a whole. As sharks are among the deadliest predators, I used bras to construct its form, making it alluring to nature.

"A heart shape was placed inside the shark's mouth, serving as a love bait to trap the 'fishes', which represents the women. It shows how women still believe their abusive husbands."

She added, "My artwork is not about how the shark captures its prey; it is about how the smarter fish works its way out of the predator's trap, the temptation."

Elsewhere, Shaliza Juana's Monsters In My Closet took nearly two months to complete and features plush monsters of different sizes and colours hiding behind the curtains and door or even dangling from the ceiling. Several childhood poems imploring the monsters to go away were scribbled on the wall using crayons.

Shaliza said her artwork was inspired by her own childhood experience and she wants the visitors to reminisce on their own experiences.

"All of us are familiar with how the darkness plays with our imaginations, especially when we were kids and the fright we feel as a result of it. I explored my own experiences as a child and came up with this installation for not only the kids to enjoy since the monsters look more cartoon like but for the adults to look at it and realise that they too had similar experiences when they were a kid.

"And to make it more personal, the books and the clothes I used to be part of this 'room' are my own. I wanted to encapsulate the exact moment from my childhood memory," added Shaliza.

Meanwhile, Azad Daniel Haris' Caught Red Handed is the artist's parody or an exaggerated imitation of what is deemed "new media".

"The artwork which I made is a connection of both technology and of organic – human touch. I feel that we can't depend solely on technology to do our job but it is good to work hand-in-hand with technology to create art for the relevance of time. Thus the hand and the plug can be seen as the lowest common denominator for defining 'new media' as perceived by people who fail to see the endless possibility of connectivity between art and technology," said Azad.

Both Badrol and Rosli agreed that New Object(ion) II is not a close-ended type of exhibition.

"The single object is no longer appreciated as what we understood of sculpture in the 1950s. This is more of an interactive kind of aesthetic where the content of the work is how you perceived it. So, if you have five different people with five different backgrounds, you will have five different meanings.

"You might be frustrated at the end but that frustration is meaningful to us because these are the symptoms and effects that we have successfully projected to you," said Badrol with a chuckle.

There are a few ways, should you visit the exhibition, this could play out. You might be utterly lost at the end, experience a horrific ride like the narrative at the start or you might have a million and three questions swirling in your mind.

But you see, that is exactly what New Object(ion) II has set out to achieve. It is not for you to look at the artworks and leave the gallery with some aesthetic satisfaction. That is of a bygone age. This is for you interact with the artwork and through your own background and experiences in life, give your own meaning to it.

You may like them or you may pronounce your object(ion).

Young Malaysian Artists: New Object(ion) II is happening at Galeri Petronas, Level 3, Suria KLCC from now till Nov 24. Free admission. Open Tuesday-Sunday, 10am - 8pm.

Mixed messages


Local artist Poodien's collage-based murals are fast becoming the talk of the region.

IS one country's loss another's gain? That seems to be the case when it comes to homegrown artist Poodien's digital collage mural Long Live Food!, which was originally hung on the feature wall of the E.A.T. Food Village hall in Publika, Kuala Lumpur last year.

It had a grand eight-month reign at the food hall before it was taken down late last year by the Publika management, and according to sources, the reasons for the removal went beyond merely refreshing the facade of the food village.

The good news is Poodien's Long Live Food! will get a new lease of life abroad next week where it will be on prominent display at the Singapore Biennale 2013.

"Funnily enough, Long Live Food! will be exhibited once again nearby a food areain fact, it will be placed at the front of the Singapore Art Museum (next to the cafe there) during the entire duration of the Biennale," said Klang Valley-based Poodien (otherwise known as Shaifuddin Mamat) in an interview in Kuala Lumpur earlier this week.

Poodien first solo exhibition 'Becoming' at Richard Koh Fine Art KL features a range of his work including digital collage, watercolours, and oil paints.

Poodien's first solo exhibition 'Becoming' at Richard Koh Fine Art KL features a range of his work including digital collage, watercolours, and oil paints.

Not only does the Tumpat, Kelantan-born artist have the Singapore Biennale 2013 to think about, he also has his own first solo exhibition entitled Becoming running this month at Richard Koh Fine Art in Kuala Lumpur. If anything, the 34-year-old softly-spoken chap definitely has a lot on his plate.

"I was inspired by the 'Communist China Socialist Realism' movement in art, and used Chinese propaganda posters from the 1950s to the late 1970s for this Long Live Food! project. Each fragment of this mural was digitally edited and rearranged. And the 'Little Red Book' has been digitally manipulated and replaced with iPads," he explained.

Poodien's artistic twist to Long Live Food! was done to symbolise China's economic reforms in the late 1970s leading up to the introduction of a capitalist style market.

Despite Long Live Food! grabbing the most attention at Poodien's Becoming exhibition, let's not forget the rest of his solo parade at Richard Koh Fine Art where the artist puts his collage-inspired technique to good use. The Becoming exhibition features eight pieces – ranging works in digital collage, cut-and-paste, watercolour, oil paint and paper collage.

Poodien first solo exhibition 'Becoming' at Richard Koh Fine Art KL features a range of his work including digital collage, watercolour, mixed media, and oil paints. This work is called

Poodien, who graduated with a diploma in fine art from UiTM, Perak in 2004, has come a long way since his early days of group exhibitions and DIY-style art gatherings.

He has come across regular commercial-based work to pay his rent but he plans to have his own studio soon if the finances add up. At present, he works from his home in Taman Seputeh in Kuala Lumpur. Nevertheless, the committed social activist hasn't lost his raw passion to question his surroundings as he traverses between painting, performance art and design.

His knack for engaging the public in matters about art and agenda in Malaysian society today is most apparent, especially through his The Lonely Crowd series, which was initially created for the Art Tandas public art project comissioned by Publika. These watercolour on paper pieces reflect images of construction workers, their tools and feature excerpts from French Marxist theorist Guy Debord's Society Of Spectacle handpainted in mirror image.

"This work is essentially an updated critique of late 1960s capitalism and urban consumer society," said Poodien.

Poodien's knack for engaging the public in matters about art and agenda is most apparent, especially through his 'The Lonely Crowd' series, which was initially created for the Art Tandas public art project comissioned by Publika. These watercolour on paper pieces reflect images of construction workers, their tools and feature excerpts from French Marxist theorist Guy Debordâ¿¿s Society Of Spectacle handpainted in mirror image.

Poodien's knack for engaging the public in matters about art and agenda is most apparent, especially through his 'The Lonely Crowd' series, which was initially created for the Art Tandas public art project comissioned by Publika. 

Elsewhere, a brochure with a list of 1Malaysia products isn't the likeliest source material for an art piece. Make that two brochures salvaged from the recycling bin and utilised for two works in the case of Poodien, who spent hours scanning pictures and cropping and pasting images (from the brochures) for his digital and manual collages respectively.

These pieces – the digital collage The Great (Hyperreality) Malaysian Landscape II and the collage on paper Square Takes The Circle: The Simulator – are just two of his most recent works that grapple with themes of consumerism and state-endorsed messages.

They sit nicely next to his portfolio of visual confrontation circling issues like colonisation, propaganda, race and war.

"These 1Malaysia brochures were filled with happy faces and stock photos. Yes, your life could be complete with the '200 products' advertised.

"I thumbed through it and realised the same images were also being used on the billboards and posters during GE13. The question now – after the dust has settled – is how real or unreal is this new Malaysian landscape?" concluded Poodien.

Poodien's Becoming exhibition is on daily at Richard Koh Fine Art, Lot 2F-3, Level 2, Bangsar Village 2, Kuala Lumpur till Nov 1. Call 03-2283 3677 for details.

Explosive success


The satirical Atomic Jaya celebrates its 15th anniversary in Singapore next week.

IT'S quite the milestone for Malaysia, this building of the region's first atomic bomb. And for intrepid physicist Dr Mary Yuen, it's so much more than that. It is a way out of her humdrum job, a great opportunity to pit her wits against the best … and shh, isn't it just so exciting to be working on a top secret national project?

More excitement than she bargained for, that's for sure – especially when she finds herself talking to a uranium smuggler today, a cabinet minister tomorrow, and an army general with a Napoleonic fixation the day after.

Atomic Jaya, written by Huzir Sulaiman, was first produced by Straits Theatre Company in 1998, in Kuala Lumpur. Originally conceived as a one-woman show, it was performed by Jo Kukathas, with Huzir directing. It was subsequently performed in Singapore in 2001 by Claire Wong, with Krishen Jit directing.

Other takes on this production see two actors gleefully juggling the mad assortment of characters in the play between them. The latest offering by Checkpoint Theatre in Singapore is no different; Wong and Karen Tan will take on a total of 16 characters in Atomic Jaya.

In an e-mail interview with Huzir, the Singapore-based Malaysian playwright comments that what is nice about having two actors is that "you get to see one actor reacting to the other, which really multiplies the hilarity!"

"It is important to consider all the characters individuals, with their own goals and their own hidden depths," he adds.

To that end, Huzir, the cast, and the designers, went over the 16 characters with a fine-tooth comb in a workshop at the beginning of the process for this production, and discussed what made each of them tick.

He also recalls the inspiration of this madcap comedy when he wrote it 15 years ago: "It was the time of mega-projects, an ambitious attempt to put Malaysia on the map, which succeeded in the end, but not without growing pains, many of which are still being felt today."

The delightfully outrageous idea behind Atomic Jaya was a result of his wanting to look at "the most absurd possible mega-project as a way of unpacking our national obsessions and foibles."

"And what would that be? The atomic bomb of course!" he says.

One wonders if the play would turn out differently if he were to put pen to paper today, instead of over a decade ago. After all, surely the world – and its viewpoint on nuclear power, satirical or not – has evolved.

But Huzir is convinced that there are some things around us that just do not – or have not – change.

"The threat of nuclear proliferation hasn't gone away in the last 15 years; it's the same script but with different countries assigned the role of the villain," he observes.

"Everybody tries to either enrich their own uranium or obtain it from some shady source. So the play is startlingly – some might say tragically – relevant."

Atomic Jaya has certainly stood the test of time. The satire has been performed several times in Singapore and Malaysia.

In 2007, it was presented as a rehearsed reading at Asia House in London, and Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, in the United States. There have been numerous student productions along the way, but the last professional production in Malaysia was Checkpoint Theatre's tour to Kuala Lumpur in 2003, acted by Checkpoint Theatre's joint artistic directors Huzir and his wife, actress-director Wong.

"I've tried never to repeat myself in my writing, whether in form or content. So in that sense every play is different," says Huzir. "But Atomic Jaya occupies a special place as it was my first full-length play and was fortunate enough to be well received."

Well received is perhaps an understatement.

Atomic Jaya has been published by Silverfish Books in Huzir Sulaiman's collection of plays, Eight Plays, as well as in his newest publication, Huzir Sulaiman: Collected Plays 1998-2012, published this year by Checkpoint Theatre. The play has also been translated into Japanese.

When asked what the secret behind the play's success is, Huzir modestly offers: "I've been told that it captures the foibles and absurdity of Malaysian life, but in a way that celebrates them."

Plus, it is ultimately a play about personal choices, a topic near and dear to many.

"Mary Yuen's moral dilemma about building the bomb echoes the tough decisions many of us make in life about whether to go down certain paths that lead to fulfilment, but at a cost. In asking 'What would happen if Malaysia were to build an atomic bomb?' it juxtaposes a very local situation with global geo-politics," he says.

As for when Atomic Jaya will be next staged in Malaysia, Huzir says he is always open to the idea.

"It's just about finding the time, space and funding for us to do a tour. But I'd also be happy for someone else to take it on with their own version – so long as they ask for permission!"

Atomic Jaya will be staged at Sota Drama Theatre, 1 Zubir Said Drive, Singapore, from Oct 24 to Nov 1, at 8pm (Tuesday to Friday) and 3pm and 8pm (Saturday and Sunday). Tickets are available from Sistic; call +65 6348 5555 or go to Atomic Jaya, written and directed by Huzir Sulaiman, stars Claire Wong and Karen Tan in this production. It celebrates its 15th anniversary this year.


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