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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Arts & Fashion

Li Hongbo, the artist with a thousand layers

Posted: 10 Feb 2014 11:55 PM PST

Beijing artist Li Hongbo's sculptures look conventional at first – but they're anything but. Made of thousands of layers of paper, they confound all expectations of solidity.

The line of white, classical busts in Li Hongbo's dusty Beijing studio could be used for drawing practice in any art classroom in the world. That is until the Chinese artist places his hands on one and lifts gently.

What had looked exactly like solid plaster is transformed into an amorphous worm. A Roman soldier warps like taffy. A pretty English maid rises abruptly like a ghost before slipping back into place as if nothing had happened.

Neither plaster nor clay, the statues are concertinas of thousands upon thousands of fine pieces of paper.

A combination picture shows Chinese artist Li Hongbo raising a paper sculpture, made of 6,000 pieces of paper, at his studio on the outskirts of Beijing. REUTERS/Jason Lee

"At the beginning, I discovered the flexible nature of paper through Chinese paper toys and paper lanterns," Li, 38, told Reuters on a freezing day in his suburban workshop.

"Later, I used this principle to make a gun," he said, casually inverting a crude paper pistol into an elegant fan.

"A gun is solid, used for killing, but I turned it into a tool for play or decoration. In this way, it lost both the form of a gun and the culture inherent to a gun. It became a game."

A combination picture shows Chinese artist Li Hongbo playing with a paper sculpture of gun, made of 300 pieces of paper, at his studio on the outskirts of Beijing. REUTERS/Jason Lee

Li, who is showcasing some of his recent work at a New York gallery until early March, pastes glue in narrow strips across pieces of paper, which he stacks to the desired height. A head requires more than 5,000 layers. He then cuts, chisels and sands the large block as if it were a piece of soft stone.

Born into a simple farming family, Li said he had always loved paper, invented in ancient China. Beyond his sculptures, he has spent six years producing a collection of books recording more than 1,000 years of Buddhist art on paper.

Li refuses to embrace the political symbolism and brash social satire that have propelled many contemporary Chinese artists to fame and riches.

"I have given myself a rule that my work will not include religious or political themes," he said. "I have no interest in participating in these."

Chinese artist Li Hongbo uses an iron needle to remove dust from a paper sculpture work at his studio. REUTERS/Jason Lee

Look, don't touch

In recent months, Li has consciously produced only perfect replicas of busts and shapes he used to sketch at university.

The before-and-after adulteration may make some viewers squirm but Li says he uses the archetypal figures to make audiences concentrate on the material itself, not to shock.

"Strange and unsettling are just adjectives used by some individuals," he said. "People have a fixed understanding of what a human is ... So when you transform a person, people will reconsider the nature of objects and the motivation behind the creation. This is what I care about."

An assistant of Chinese artist Li Hongbo adjusts the chair carrying a paper replica of the Sculpture of David, which will be made according a David statue (L), at Li's studio. REUTERS/Jason Lee

Li's exhibition, Tools of Study, at the Klein Sun Gallery in New York, has won him plenty of attention since it opened this month. As white-gloved staff twist and pull busts of Russian writer Maxim Gorky, the Greek goddess Athena and Michelangelo's David out of human form, some viewers also yearn to get their hands on the pieces.

"It becomes a dynamic thing versus a very static thing. But as an observer, I can only enjoy that movement of the object if someone opens it for me," said gallery visitor Lydia Chrisman. "You kind of want to play with it. But you can't."

Li is aware of this irony and, at a show in Sydney, he provided small models for the audience to fiddle with.

"I really want to let them move the pieces. But the gallery won't let people touch them," he said.

"If the public were really careful, I would hope they could participate, because only by feeling with their hands could they experience the real pleasure of the material and the form." – Reuters

Why comedians are slightly psychotic: Study reveals without ounce of humour

Posted: 10 Feb 2014 09:00 PM PST

Having an unusual personality structure could be the secret to making other people laugh, scientists said after research showed that comedians have high levels of psychotic personality traits.

In a study in the British Journal of Psychiatry, researchers analysed comedians from Australia, Britain and the United States and found they scored significantly higher on four types of psychotic characteristics compared to a control group of people who had non-creative jobs.

The traits included a tendency towards impulsive or anti-social behaviour, and a tendency to avoid intimacy.

"The creative elements needed to produce humour are strikingly similar to those characterising the cognitive style of people with psychosis – both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder," said Gordon Claridge of the University of Oxford's department of experimental psychology, who led the study.

Although the traits in question are known as "psychotic", Claridge said, they can also represent healthy equivalents of features such as moodiness, social introversion and the tendency to lateral thinking.

"Although schizophrenic psychosis itself can be detrimental to humour, in its lesser form it can increase people's ability to associate odd or unusual things or to think 'outside the box'," he said.

"Equally, manic thinking – which is common in people with bipolar disorder – may help people combine ideas to form new, original and humorous connections."

The researchers recruited 523 comedians – 404 men and 119 women – and asked them to complete an online questionnaire designed to measure psychotic traits in healthy people.

The traits scored were "unusual experiences", such as belief in telepathy and paranormal events, "cognitive disorganisation" such as difficulty in focusing thoughts, "introvertive anhedonia" – reduced ability to feel social and physical pleasure, and "impulsive non-conformity", or tendency towards impulsive, antisocial behavior.

The same questionnaire was also completed by 364 actors – who are also used to performing in front of an audience – as a control group, and the comedians' and actors' results were compared to each other as well as a general group of 831 people who had non-creative jobs.

The researchers found that comedians scored significantly higher on all four types of psychotic personality traits compared to the general group. Most striking were their high scores for impulsive non-conformity and introverted personality traits, the researchers said.

The actors scored higher than the general group on three types—but did not display high levels of introverted personality traits. – Reuters

Touch of Broadway in Projek My P. Ramlee

Posted: 08 Feb 2014 08:00 AM PST

The warm-hearted Projek My P. Ramlee: Tanya Sama Hati show aims for smiles through song and dance.

IT'S been a few years since P. Ramlee The Musical's last staging. So fans of the legend may be interested to know that a fresh new Broadway-style show – Projek My P. Ramlee: Tanya Sama Hati – is on its way.

Featuring songs from the legend's best-loved works, expect tap, jazz and a touch of razzle-dazzle injected into P. Ramlee classics, in this two-hour run of pure nostalgia, to be performed at Auditorium DBKL (Kuala Lumpur City Hall) in the capital from Feb 21 to 23.

Brought to us by Triple Eight Production, the project was initiated to raise money for the National Autism Society of Malaysia, and expose a new generation to the works of the golden-age icon of Malay cinema and music.

It may be the company's first show, but it's got an interesting premise. As musical scenes from films like Ibu Mertua Ku, Do Re Mi and Nujum Pak Belalang play out on stage, the audience will be catching a glimpse of P. Ramlee's classics through the eyes of young Adam (Danish Zakhwan) and Maya (Shahira Amira), who have come to stay with their grandparents over the school holidays.

These four characters carry the story forward, explains the show's director and scriptwriter, Manja Liza Abdul Rahman.

The creative people behind

(From left) Projek My P.Ramlee: Tanya Sama Hati scriptwriter and director Manja Liza Abdul Rahman, producer Mohd Nurul Hazirin Shamsul Kamar and choreographer Farah Sulaiman.

"Adam and Maya are city kids. They have never heard of P. Ramlee, so Nenek (Sheila Mambo) and Atuk (Datuk Ahmad Tarmimi Siregar) sit them down, turn on the television, and introduce them to their favourite P. Ramlee movies."

Through Adam and Maya, the audience is taken on a journey of rediscovery, as singers and dancers (representing what Adam and Maya are watching on screen) try to replicate the legend's special brand of magic.

Veteran choreographer Farah Sulaiman is responsible for the show's Broadway kick, although there will be elements of classical Malay dance too. She's worked with Manja Liza and the show's producer Mohd Nurul Hazirin Shamsul Kamar before, except things are usually done the other way round: Farah doing the directing, and the latter two working on set designs.

Manja Liza and Mohd Nurul Hazirin's company Triple Eight Production specialises in events, consultancy and design.

It was through working with Farah on shows like DanSing Thru Broadway and Broadway Bites that Manja Liza decided Malaysia needed more Malay language Broadway-style shows. Projek My P. Ramlee: Tanya Sama Hati is what she came up with.

A member of the P. Ramlee fan club Kelab Peminat P. Ramlee Nusantara, which boasts a 4,500-strong fan base, Manja Liza has long been a great admirer of the man's work as a scriptwriter, comedian, dramatist, musician (composer and singer) and director.

Cast members (from left) Atiq, Juhan Junaidi and Maqruflim getting the wheels in motion for the 'Projek My P.Ramlee: Tanya Sama Hati' show at Auditorium DBKL in Kuala Lumpur later this month. 

Cast members (from left) Atiq, Juhan Junaidi and Maqruflim putting the wheels in motion for the Projek My P.Ramlee: Tanya Sama Hati show at Auditorium DBKL in Kuala Lumpur.

His works came to play a defining role in Malay cinema during the 1950s and 1960s. If the number of P. Ramlee tribute songs on YouTube are anything to go by, the spirit of P. Ramlee is alive and well.

In fact, a few of the singers in Projek My P. Ramlee: Tanya Sama Hati are friends of Manja Liza's from the fan club. Most of the singers, however, are graduates of Malaysia's top performing arts school Aswara, whilst the cast of dancers are students at Farah's Sayang Academy Of Dancing.

The show features some big names too. Ahmad Tarmimi, who plays the grandfather, is a well-known local actor whose career dates back to the 1970s.

He directed the musical Rubiah, staged at the Istana Budaya, while Sheila has been a regular face on Malaysian television since the late 1990s.

Manja Liza says the grandfather role is perhaps one of the most challenging. Ahmad Tarmimi has been tasked with adapting his singing voice to emulate P. Ramlee's original singing style.

She says it's taken them about three months (rehearsals started in November), to get all the tones and inflections just right.

But Ahmad Tarmimi has been happy to give it his best – it's been a sentimental journey for him too, the actor says. He remembers meeting the legend way back when he was still in his early 20s.

Isma AF7 (left) and Shaqirin raring to revisit the favourites from the P. Ramlee songbook.

Isma AF7 (left) and Shaqirin raring to revisit the favourites from the P. Ramlee songbook.

Freshly arrived in Kuala Lumpur to look for work, he ended up in an office near the old railway station.

"My friend was an extra in one of P. Ramlee's films. One day, I managed to tag along and went to the famous Merdeka Film Productions studio with him, just to take a look."

As the story goes, he never actually spoke to the man, but from afar, P. Ramlee seemed like a calm and jovial personality.

Ahmad Tarmimi is happy to be part of Projek My P. Ramlee: Tanya Sama Hati. As a charity gig, it's all for a good cause.

Catch the Projek My P. Ramlee: Tanya Sama Hati show at Auditorium DBKL (Kuala Lumpur City Hall), Jalan Raja Laut in Kuala Lumpur from Feb 21 to 23 (8.30pm) and Feb 23 (3pm). Tickets are priced at RM35, RM55 and RM75. To purchase them or for more information, call 013-298 5584 or 016-384 1815.


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