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With this knowledge, I love you more for being the person you are now.

I am still processing, bear with me. Such a controlled reaction to the event; emotionlessness. But this permeates your person in other ways.

You seem so mature, so aware and so deep.

I trust you to be who you are.

You have the will of fight but most of all, when I consider the events, it brings me to a place that I think is ultimately enriching – for you, for me and for everyone you know – by the very nature of things as they are.

You make me consider the crux of human suffering. In essence, I have always felt that the past is a subjective reality from which we can learn – what spirits bring us to hell, what lurks in hell, and what brings us back again.

I felt the need to write this as I didn’t want to approach this thoughtlessly, and least of all selfishly. Yet, when it comes to these things, where our minds and hearts and souls are pulled up and out into the stratosphere and deep into the dark, I have to align it with a direction that somehow befalls a path of triumph. This includes a devastatingly huge array of emotions and inner conflicts, ranging from loss to surrender to mastery.

All is suffering.  But all is also benevolent and vulnerable. And if all of life is this chaos, I have never felt such admiration for anyone.

My mother told me earlier this year, briefly, in the middle of some twisted conversation, of something terrible that occurred in Ipoh when we she was a young girl. It took me by surprise but then again, not really when I think about how she treated me, on top of other circumstances. It’s almost as if she’s been stuck in this underground stage for years, for all her life. She goes from delusionally happy to angry in a matter of seconds. I think she has a lot of unresolved emotional issues about this. It’s hard to be certain though.

But the risks I see you take are quite staggering to me. And when I see what your passions do for you, and the expressions you bring to the world, it gives me faith in my own higher ideals.

Cuz what is really quite terrifying is the cost of not following the sense of freedom we get from healing ourselves in pursuit of a greater good. These things we cannot explain; these things we feel we should accomplish, beyond any shadow of doubt. All these facets that are warping us; bitterness, resentment, anger and hatred, all these worries and these unresolved issues that torment us, taking us to the worst places we can go inside…

I’m speaking for myself now, when I observed my own evils, and saw these demons in front of me and felt my body contorted in pain, it’s like I remembered the future. And I knew I didn’t want to go there again. I would if I carried on this way.

The fear is motivating. The fear of becoming some sort of vampire, letting the abyss consume me. It is a waste to indulge in a past, suffering in a past beyond our control of now.

In some ways, you set me free like this, not simply through the love you show me but in your character and your being.

If we are all made to endure suffering, at least we should all learn to endure by sculpting out a life that is filled with passion, doing what is glorious and noble, powerful, daring and difficult, sublime and helpful to others. And this is what I see when I look at you. And maybe these thoughts aren’t particularly original or profound but it is a reminder, every time I see you. And I hope it is something I don’t forget. Because, these values, they signify movement and a state of being where our insufficiencies are overcome. And at the very least, it’s a pathway out of suffering, and a place where I am no longer clinging to a part of me that is dead.

 

What Makes a Good Public Space?

INTRO

An outcry for the creative revival of public space has emerged in contemporary society. As a result, a surge of refashioning and repurposing our built environment for public use has been illustrated by the reclamation of such places. The landscape of our lives is becoming progressively transformed through architecture, art, technology and infrastructure. These projects intentionally influence the way people embrace and use their cities, inspiring connectivity and encouraging community within their surroundings.

With globalisation, cities grow in scale and its citizens become more isolated. Traditionally, cities are rarely built to cope with the demands that immigration and tourism bring. Discussions over the last few decades have observed the loss of democratic public space to privatisation. Concepts and strategies on urban planning have shifted focus towards the citizens, and have concluded smart cities to be those that are people-centric. The development of Iskandar Puteri draws on its rich history of trade and cultural exchange, honouring Asian warmth and hospitality whilst nourishing innovative ideas and economic growth.

 

REAL AND VIRTUAL SPACE + INFRASTRUCTURE

As opposed to a top-down or bottom-up structure, cities increasingly become a dialogue between the private and public sector. Social needs, coming from the ground, drive the city vision as the private sector provides solutions for the good of society in methods that are both discreet and direct. Concise, organised demands from NGOs and the voices from neighbourhood councils are instrumental in this critical and creative spatial discourse. The conversation between sectors also provide the opportunity to imbue technology as part of the solution.

Technology has the ability to streamline connectivity; a necessity for a more integrated society. Social media continually proves efficient as an instrument of daily issues. Using technological advances as a tool has the potential to assist local identity and engage citizens with their city, contributing to a smooth experience. Such developments possess the capability to present and preserve the heritage and cultural identity of a place with the necessary information provided, distributed effectively.

Infrastructure can support technology and connectivity, promoting and recognising the value of a city history in order to move forward. Meaningful technology for people can lead to a higher quality life. The need to be within the location of one’s work place can be tackled with sophisticated infrastructure, simultaneously decondensing areas and easing mobility within the city. Connected citizens are therefore connected with the world at large as real and virtual space operate in tandem.

 

SPATIAL MOBILISATION

Iskandar Puteri strategically lies within close proximity of Singapore and are indelibly tied to each other, bringing in a flood of people from a variety of backgrounds. The township caters to a wide range of residents, meeting the different needs of the community and encouraging diversity. Our traditional perspectives on space are necessarily challenged. Rather, we begin to understand space as an abstract idea that is thoughtfully constructed in reality. The ways in which society unfolds can be explored in the layout of a place, moving crowds, information and ideas. Transitory space is an often overlooked segment of society with features such as bridges, shortcuts, pathways literally and metaphorically transporting us. As we move across the landscape of our lives, the placement of these help us overcome the passive confinements of the everyday structures we build in our minds and our environments.

 

GREEN SPACE

When considering social and inclusive public space, a sense of cohesive flow must be achieved. Within the next couple of decades, a majority of the world’s population will be town or city dwelling for the first time in history. Arguments surrounding our divorce from nature fear for Mother Earth’s reduction to a leisurely pastime, enjoyed by the upper classes. The contemporary phenomena of urban gardening and cultivating green spaces in cities has arisen, enriching our living spaces. The definitions of the conventional garden and idealised terms like nature are being revivified, giving us fresh eyes for understanding urbanity. Polarising words such as the city and the country begin to weaken.

An example in Iskandar Puteri of this purposeful integration is the project, Johor Green, ran by JOGREEN Enterprise. This is primarily focused on cultivating a green and sustainable urban lifestyle, partnering with individuals, artists, artisans and small enterprises practising ethical and sustainable principles. By creating the availability of space, the community is able to promote their work, products and methodology to public attention. Various events are held there including green markets, talks and workshops. Through their website and social media, they encourage conversations on sustainability in local and global arenas.

The latest development is the launch of two green parks; a favourable four-acre Edible Park that is a platform for cultivating community around sustainable food and a seven-acre Heritage Forest, described as a “wild landscape providing an escape in the city” that showcases the local botanic heritage whilst re-establishing the lush biodiversity. Johor Green are also collaborating with UEM Sunrise to develop regular green markets at Puteri Harbour, Anjung and Medini Mall. Parties working in symbiosis to improve the well-being of citizens is achieved in the culmination of creating such beneficial and interactive spaces.

 

ART

Another visible example of this hybridization of space is labDNA’s public art program, Konstruk. Featuring fifteen artists and architects from all over ASEA, a range of captivating sculptures have been constructed along Puteri Harbour using bamboo as an alternative and sustainable material. With intentions of creating a local identity for Iskandar Puteri, the project not only creates the prospect of enjoying the outdoors, contributing to social inclusion and integration, the artwork displayed in this unique space also has the potential to offer an experience that can extend beyond city boundaries. The park space is able to grow and adapt alongside the population.

Konstruk unites urban planners, architects and other creatives to engage with the community with little resistance or oppositional thinking. Rather, each collaborator is able to learn from each other, critically and wholeheartedly. Through the display of various techniques within ASEA, the program breathes new life into disappearing traditions of construction and craft, promoting local knowledge. The installations are also site-specific, responding to their immediate environment and the narratives that run through the region. The space is filled with the harmony of values that we collectively define as Iskandar Puteri. Although the city is developed by a certain number of individuals in society, the city is ultimately used and given a character by everyone; innovative public art can be an exceptional tool for social interaction and cultural communication. Through sharing thoughts, ideas, opinions and information, one can see in these sculptural examples a demonstration of the unity between political and public spheres.

Andi Ramdani, an Indonesian visual artist and sculptor, has always been intrigued by nature. He works with bamboo in an almost painterly process, weaving the material freely into his desired form. His contemplation has exposed its incredible versatility, bending and intertwining like a reflection of the complexity of Iskandar Puteri’s culturally diverse inhabitants. With a heavy consideration of locale, collaboration and sustainability he has created a sculpture that imagines hope for the future. A large, playful structure of two hands coming together to form a love heart creates a frame through which the residents of Iskandar Puteri can view Singapore. Not only does this signify the relationship between the two urban collaborators but attempts to weave the gaps in the regular urban fabric as the viewer and collective mindset are one in their roles as both medium and translator in the urban discourse. Andi successfully catalyses society and the physical environment through human involvement, rooting it in a local identity.

 

CONCLUSION

The interacting duality of physical space and human activity are inherently complex, beautiful and chaotic. It is imperative for urban planning to wholesomely consider human activity in the city or it rejects what a city fundamentally is. Concepts of public space, democracy and citizenship are ultimately redefined by people through life experience. When a project succeeds, it is the people who apply meaning to the public space whatever and wherever it may be, that can influence their outlook on life.

Time to Haiku 2;

Trying to slumber.

Cumbersome ideas fall

In and out of my mind,

 

Flying around my

Bedroom – thundering phantoms;

I bring them to life!

Dirty Epic

I was maybe eleven or twelve when I first discovered this song. We were in the early 2000s.

I remember listening to it on repeat. At the time, I wasn’t sure what it was that drew me into it. I would walk to the nearby green, or the park, or down to the river and it teased the cracks in my mind.

I had the song on some compilation CD that introduced me to a catalytic array of strange and beautiful sounds; feelings I had yet to feel or figure out. I would lay on my back and toss and turn restlessly.

Looking back on it, I felt very isolated, confounded, heavy yet empty. I was emotionally raped and defunct. I thought it was normal for a long time. In some ways, it is. At the very least, it’s not unheard of.

My mother brought me up in Catholic Church as she had been. During this era of my life, I had more or less renounced the existence of God. Not sure if I ever really believed in a Catholic God at all.

Spiritually starving, my search had begun.

The internet was still reasonably young and so was I. I couldn’t just Google,

“Help, I’m having an existential crisis! What shall I do?”

I could hardly make any sense of it even if I could Google it. After all, the descent into an endless void of emptiness is not the most backlit path to enlightenment. I had no idea what I was going through and I fell into myself.

It wouldn’t be ‘til fifteen years later, when I would know the details and realise I had been receiving the rippling effects of my mother’s extreme childhood trauma. And the Christian cult she was raised in left her almost totally unequipped to deal with her emotions.

Unpredictable and punitive, my upbringing pales into white – save for the odd, immensely vivid memory. Physically abused, smothered and neglected, experiencing emotional whiplash day in and day out; I was a wreck. How can one feel so burdened yet soulless at the same time? Years of transmitted pain compounding down upon my head, my body. I know I’m not alone in this.

I was so angry.

My lash-back was explosive. There was so much violence, it was almost routine. I was both terrified and numb. I felt like a fragile, diminished water lily floating atop black waters. Such demonic rapture on the cusp of puberty; I did not grow gracefully.

My father disgusted me too. He was always so busy with work. Sometimes, he would be away for two years at a time with sporadic phone calls thrown in there. I felt like he had abandoned me to deal with this fucking mad woman.

I often had to be the parent when mum was incapable of handling things. Though in a sense, I had no parents around to show me what a functioning adult was.

I can’t speak for my younger sister. I know my mother rarely touched her, but would be overprotective and controlling. The silence must kill her.

After rewiring my brain each time, a feeling of pity overcomes me when I think about my mum. But there is also love and understanding now. I can’t blame her for wanting to forget, for suppressing the dark, throbbing corners of her childhood. I don’t know many people who are particularly fond of looking directly into their pain.

Yet, I admit that it often disturbs me when I see people glaze over their lives like this, content and deluded. I’m much too idealistic to ever be satisfied with the credulous affirmations they tell themselves.

I also understand that nihilism is all the rage right now, but it’s not for me.

I would never give up on all that I have destroyed myself for. Does that make sense?

Life matters to me. Physical existence matters to me.

Your beliefs matter. What you strive for in life matters. What you fight against matters.

There is no denying there is a sense of freedom, escaping into the stream of nothingness. The quiet stillness of the night, the boundless creation behind the world of forms. It is relieving and inspiring, liberating. It’s a tempting thought to consider that nothing really exists so let’s just do whatever. But I believe everything exists ex nihilo, made by Catholic God or not.

I read the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu around the age of twenty-one. I immediately connected with it.

I love listening to the Silence pulsing, the persistence of the wind and the chatter of the city.

As I listened to the emotions unfurling in my heart, there seemed to be a prying open and it gave me the sense of a glowering light behind the enactments of our lives.

Years later, after a huge failure of a relationship, I would again question myself and be faced with the wounds of hurt and emptiness I felt.

As opposed to my tainted, sexual awakening of teenage promiscuity, I realised I was a hunter of something deeper. I was hunting for love.

I’m sure it’s nothing you haven’t heard before.

I lost my mind. This time, I understood that I had gone temporarily insane. The bottomless plummeting, the weakness, the hopelessness, the derealization. I was just as whacked out as I thought he was. I thought I was going to die.

Reminiscing on my youthful rebellion, as I felt the same intrusive clusterfuck of emotions and thoughts crashing in on me, I looked around at my life and realised on a very empathic level that everyone was barely holding it together.

I recognised the face of God in my lover. He had set me free. He had saved my life. Finally, the time was ripe and the moment had come in the form of this beautiful man. The truth had become audible, logical and clear. He shook the foundations of my mind. I cared about something more than my own pain, my own feelings, my own story in a way that was very real. I felt new. No more hiding.

And then I saw God everywhere – in a way more profound than I had ever known intellectually. I really felt it shifting in my cells, in my soul.

The purest of all drugs; naturally generated love for a man and at long last, I began to embrace myself too.

My love, my teacher, my confidant, how can I ever express the way I feel for you? To think I almost lost you.

How could I give up on all that I had destroyed myself for?

I think it must be impossible for quiet epiphanies of self-realisation to be unaccompanied by tremendous feelings of love. They are almost one in the same.

This song was the soundtrack through a lot of hardships when I was young. I didn’t even understand it was carrying me like that. It takes me back to a time where I would gaze across the park lake, attempting to ground myself, talking sense into myself, fighting off nihilistic self-pity and hopelessness in the melancholy withdraw of England’s Autumn.

There is strength in letting go. Never give up the fight. Those things may seem contradictory but they’re not really.

To whoever it is that may read this, I hope these words may offer you some comfort in knowing you are not alone. Everyone encounters a true unveiling if you are actually looking for it. Let this moment be a haven in the storm.

Spacetime Dribbles

Cosmic ectoplasm melting in your brain-folds feels good, right?

My idea for this piece arose at the opportunity to design the album cover for a local Malaysian movie called Cinta Paradox (soon to be renamed). The story follows a young scientist who accidentally builds a time machine and jumps in and out of his past, trying to win back the heart of his girlfriend who initially left him because of his obsession with his limitless, non-nuclear energy project.

Good message when you consider the depth of what actually matters in your personal life and all the gloop of your inner self, but also good riddance to her bro; you really had a vision of changing the world in a big way! Who cares how many times she says sayang! But anyhow, without me getting too wrapped up in the plot, I wanted to create a simple yet compact design.

I worked closely with the music producer of the movie. He uses a mixture of both analogue and digital sounds throughout. I think my process heavily reflects this. I also prefer organic art practices that can then be digitised and edited, if edited at all.  There is more room to make a beautiful mess this way.

His score is eerie and atmospheric. It has the ability to carry you across a range of emotions, from lucid, airy and uplifting to dark and despairing.

I wanted to emulate these feelings in one succinct image that crackled with the liveliness of the OST. I considered the turbulent nature of romance; lightness to melancholy to rage. I considered the distortion of time and its malleability. And I considered destiny and inevitability in life’s tangled outcomes; the patterns we see play out across the time we have.

However, due to a clash of interest, I opted out of the project. At least I have an art piece to show for it.

Mood: Mooji

notice how life flows of its own accord – nothing here is chaos, but a harmony. You are already inside this flow

Wonderful short video of Mooji taking a walk, telling us to pause and take 5 minutes out of our day to be one with the great vastness.

The Bill Henson Case

Before knowing any subsequent information on Bill Henson, I firstly google-imaged his name. My idle search retrieved a scattered ouevre of photographs, running in an aesthetically similar vein; moody and sombre yet delicate like petals.  Amongst ominous landscapes and shots of the skies suffused with billowing clouds, several images of youthful nudes against the gloom appeared. There was nothing glowering out from the screen that seemed to be unorthodox let alone affronting. However, Australian society was up in arms about the Bill Henson case in 2008, resulting in allegations of child pornography and the seizure of certain exhibited works. This heated reaction to the photographs brought forth issues involving censorship, concerns about paedophilia and general ethical debates surrounding the depiction of children.

 

Henson’s nudes often depict very young adolescents. He seems to primarily seek out the portrayal of young females as opposed to males, adhering to the long tradition of nudes in Western Art. But these nudes are nonchalant. They are indifferent to their nudity and the gaze of the viewer. One girl hovers like an apparition, backlit by an eerie white light; a youthful spirit floating free in the infinity of space. Her limp pose offers a sense of something bittersweet; submission, like an exhalation wisped along on the wind.  Her head tilts back, chiaroscuro shadows dramatizing her waiflike physique and drowning out her eyes and genitalia. It is as if we can only see her frame as the outline of her body is highlighted sharply, pushing her forward out of the darkness in an almost abstract fashion, thus aligning this photo with a transcendental and metaphysical trajectory. She almost appears to us like an idyllic Christ character straight out of a Caravaggio painting[1].

 

Through identifying Bill Henson’s nudes alongside the likes of Caravaggio, Baroque’s primary features become central to the way we read the image. Upon deducing the main components, we are able to see the similarities held in the Henson nudes; an aura of majesty and sensuality; rich emotional content; and the two seemingly contradictory notions of realism mixed with classicism.  The trompe l’oeil of Baroque images are within a mimetic tradition, pertaining to illusionism. As is photography. We understand that these photos are staged and constructed illusions, but rather than accepting the mimesis of a nude thirteen year old, we should be more inclined to explore the phantasia involved in such evocative imagery.

 

As Baroque grappled to balance realism with classicism, much earlier in the first centuries of our era, Roman arts followed suit in the Greek tradition of ancient theatre and painting, attempting to distinguish between two different aspects of mental life[2].  Mimesis is understood as a form imitating reality whereas phantasia expands on this reality through the wonders of the mind[3]. As in ancient theatre, many scenes were described rather than shown for the audience to create their own mental representation[4]. Henson’s nude figure is an art piece as opposed to simply a mimetic photograph, and requires a quiet and introspective conversation. If you will, we must hear the piece as opposed to visually perceiving it. She will pronounce herself if one listens. Although the young girl clearly takes centre stage, the longer the viewer participates with the photo, the total experience of the photo becomes prominent. In the grand context of the theatre or gallery, what we hear is reconceived by the mind, as what we perceived as reality through our senses was transformed by the imagination[5].

 

Bill Henson’s nude girl sways like a lonely muse we can project ourselves on to, filling the void with our memories of adolescence. Herein lies a problem of interpretation; as everybody brings their own experiences into an artwork and then consequently takes away from that artwork something of profound relevance to them, whether it be described in mere terms such as bad or good. Self-concerned art uses facets of the phenomenal world to comprehend and display ideas already formed in the mind or noumenal world. Thus it is logical that such preconceived ideas or thought patterns influence someone’s reception of an art piece;  a lascivious man will only see something lascivious. A perverted man will only see something perverted.

 

Furthermore, although only thirteen, this age is still safely within the boundaries of teen-years or adolescence, not childhood. Nevertheless, disputes over the images seen in Henson’s 2008 exhibition at the Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery still provoked controversy. Henson himself maintains the photographs are a self-expression; like listening to a piece of music, ‘…so absorbed are we by the encounter that we no longer experience the work as being separate from ourselves’[6]. Simply recognising the image as a young naked girl is not sufficient and it is the responsibility of the viewer to converse with the work.   Though she is the object of the photo, she is not necessarily the subject. As I examine the image, I feel that it is less about youth but about the overwhelming horrors of growing older, anxieties and apprehension for the future. I can probe further until I do not even see the girl in the photo but my own life.

 

It is perhaps due to the various fleeting ways in which we encounter images every day that has influenced the response to Bill Henson’s work[7]. Advertising and social media promote an entirely different visual language that is intended to be quick, punchy, concise and unsuitable for the prolonged meditation that art requires.  It is notable that many of these images are also highly sexualised. Photography has long been a visual instrument for eroticism, sexuality and desire[8] and many adverts, namely fashion photography, present sexuality and eroticism as essential parts of existence, also making them a driving economic factor in the world of consumption[9]. It is as if we are naturalised to these performances of sexuality and can often mistakenly place the concept of nudity within the same arena.

 

Henson’s nude girl is perplexing when presented in this mind-set. His dubious use of darkness is potentially loaded with all the sordid aspects of the night. As the sun falls, “the city begins to wear a different face than it does during the day.”[10] When the shadows take over, the world can appear more alluring and comes to life in a more transgressive way than the daytime offers. This can be both liberating and shocking[11], verging on the nuances of the sublime. Yet many could argue that under the cover of darkness, voyeurism is given reign; our curiosity increases and we are less aware of how we behave. Hence the risks of lewd and, what is deemed, inappropriate behaviour can be woven into the reading of Bill Henson’s photographs. However, all the connotations involved with night life does not always directly relate to other photos concerning the ethics of depicting children, such as the work of Sally Mann.

 

Rather, Bill Henson plays with the concept of the night, likening it to adolescence as a transient time where one is freed from the protection of rule bound childhood and seeks to discover a true form of themselves. In one sense, it is natural for teenagers to flourish at night. It is a time for amusement and pleasure, a time of intoxication, coincidence and release from inhibitions[12]. The element of freedom associated with the night also gives way to the liberation of the imagination[13]. For the curious adolescent, it is also a time to discover new or hidden possibilities, an ephemeral time in which where one’s supressed fantasies can come to life. Opening up oneself to the inner strangeness within is often uncomfortable, and being confronted with a picture that encompasses these ideas can exacerbate mere confusion or shyness, twisting it into anger or just complete dismissal altogether.

 

This may only be part of a whole cluster of issues in regards to the response to Henson’s youthful nude. Despite the different histories in painting and photography, nude images stand closely related[14].  Artists sought to move the audience with a referral to something higher, something “admirable and subtle – immune to temptation. Yet all of these images served effortlessly as surrogates…for a lack of enlightenment, an absent object, inaccessible pornography.”[15] The camera’s reputation for capturing pornography should not hold sway over the fact it is also an implement for exploring themes for identity. Bill Henson is among these artists who is rooted in the idea that “the best art always heightens our sense of mortality; [and makes us] feel more alive”[16].  Spiritual sexuality as a subject matter has always been somewhat taboo, provoking misunderstanding; but once combined with a young teenager, there is inevitable moral outrage. Granted she is a particularly young teenager, her body still underdeveloped and child-like, we must realise that Bill Henson has used a girl on the verge of sexual maturity for a reason. This reason is not to titillate or stimulate rage but is crucial to the concept of feeling more alive, or even coming to life. As Melinda Hinkson describes her, she is placed perfectly “between the stages of girlhood and womanhood, and between the possibilities of enlightenment and infinite nothingness.”[17]

 

As tropes of Baroque frescoes, enlightenment and liminality surface, they serve to promote the sacredness of Bill Henson’s work. It is impossible to escape the liminal nature of Henson’s work as it permeates every aspect discussed so far. In fact, one could be so bold to say that the photographs are about the liminal states of being. Henson’s focus on adolescence as a time of turbulent change is not unusual. The Western world has an obsession with youth and their wild yet familiar antics. I believe this is because adolescence is, in fact, a time of great transformation that happens over a range of time; a progression that is in constant movement. Therefore we should “regard [this] transition as a process, a becoming”[18]. Within indigenous societies, these liminal states of becoming are celebrated through sacred ceremonies that are collectively known as rites de passage. These rites de passage occur in all societies punctuating one’s life journey, important times being “birth, puberty, marriage, and death”[19]. Different cultures will understandably ritualise each milestone differently. Much of the symbolism attached to and surrounding the liminal persona is complex, mainly modelled on human biological processes[20].

 

“They give an outward and visible form to an inward and conceptual process. The structural ‘invisibility’ of liminal personae has a twofold character. They are at once no longer classified and not yet classified. In so far as they are no longer classified, the symbols that represent them are, in many societies, drawn from the biology of death, decomposition, catabolism and other physical processes that have a negative tinge…the other aspect, that they are not yet classified is often expressed in symbols of gestation and parturition. The neophytes are likened to or treated as embryos, newborn infants, or sucklings by symbolic means which vary from culture to culture.”[21]

 

This paradox of life and death seems to come into play when viewing Henson’s nude girl. Simultaneously, she hangs lifeless in the frame yet more alive than ever as if in a euphoric state, in deep ecstasy like Bernini’s Saint Teresa. In liminal states, one is outside of structured society and within indigenous cultures, this is often perceived in terms of exposing the liminal persona to a deity or superhuman power[22]. Henson has ritualised the liminal state of adolescence using the available tools and conventions of his culture. His youthful nude floats in the void of liminality, facing the unknown in order to know. Although rites de passage seemingly conserve lore, they also seek to inspire new thoughts and customs by confronting you with memory and cultural history.

 

On considering the photograph’s negative reception, Dr. Mary Douglas proposed an insightful theory on the concept of pollution[23]. The manner in which the general public received the photo is merely a “reaction to protect cherished principles and categories from contradiction”[24]. She developed this statement, concluding that what is seemingly unclear or contradictory is deemed (ritually) unclean[25]. Upon viewing the photographs from Henson’s 2008 exhibition, rather than approaching the image with this knowledge, many simply saw a naked adolescence and classified it in a fleeting instant as pornography; something they are probably much more familiar with or exposed to through mass media. Other than the fact she is naked, there is nothing that could indicate a sexualised image. She is not splayed out on a bed or staring down the camera in a way that is seductive.

 

Her nakedness is essential to deliver the message that Henson set out to create. If she were to be fully clothed in an angelic white flowing gown there would be no point. She is not a Christian image of an angel though she is sacred. She is undergoing the long and treacherous path of adolescence. She is liminal, and unloved by society until she is able to function within it. She is outside of society; her nakedness alluding to both a corpse and a new-born infant that characterises the liminal[26]. She is neither this nor that but is both – on the path to becoming. She is enveloped in darkness or silence to better understand herself and the world surrounding her. Although it may appear as if she is breaking taboos, her nudity is key to us comprehending the vulnerability felt by young in-betweeners during this crucial time of growth, and will eventually come to stand for truth.

 

Whether people choose to see a work of art or pornography is not the discretion of the artist. Here, self expression takes priority over communication. Henson has portrayed an entire sentiment, encapsulated in the single image of a beautiful, young naked girl that cares not for critique but only liberation. She shakes off the shackles of childhood, not yet imprisoned by the burden of adulthood. Through art, he testifies

 

“we sense that simultaneously proximate and intimate yet utterly abstract presence…and at the same time sense the unbridgeable gulf that now exists between ourselves and that distant past, we know that we are in the presence of something magical.”[27]

 

This work is not only self expression but expands to all human experience. Perhaps if people accepted nudity as something natural and understood the liminality of adolescence as a sacred time, the confusion surrounding images of youthful nudes would be less prevalent.  She speaks to the ever-growing child within all us, out from the darkness with a raw and otherworldly energy, unabashed about her nakedness as if to say “Hell-on-Earth is probably growing old with regrets.”[28]

 

 

bibliography

  • Turner, Victor, ‘Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites de Passage’ (1964), in American Ethnological Society (eds), Proceedings of the 1964 Annual Spring Meeting of the American Ethnological Society: Symposium on New Approaches to the Study of Religion, UK: Blackwell, 1964, pp.46-55.

 

  • Hinkson, Melinda, ‘Australia’s Bill Henson scandal: notes on the new cultural attitude to images’, Visual Studies, 24(3), 2009: 202-213.

 

  • Koortbojian, Michael, ‘Mimesis or Phantasia? Two Representational Modes in Roman Commemorative Art’, Classical Antiquity, 24 (2), 2005, p. 285 – 306.

 

  • Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, ‘Bill Henson: artist’s perspective’, Bill Henson, Sydney, 2005, pp.8-9.

 

  • Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, ‘Bill Henson the art of darkness: a critical perspective’, George Alexander, Sydney, 2005 pp.4-5.

 

  • Bronfen, Elisabeth, ‘Sexuality and the City at Night’ (2008), in Stahel, Urs (ed), Darkside 1: Photographic Desire and Sexuality Photographed, Germany: Steidl, p.109

 

  • Erdmann Ziegler, Ulf, ‘Satyrical Horn: Presuming Innocence’ (2008), in Stahel, Urs (ed), Darkside 1: Photographic Desire and Sexuality Photographed, Germany: Steidl, pp.326-330.

 

  • Stahel, Urs, Darkside 1: Photographic Desire and Sexuality Photographed, Germany: Steidl, 2008, pp.10-11.

 

  • Thomas, Nicholas, Oceanic Art, London: Thames & Hudson, 1995.

 

footnotes

[1] Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, ‘Bill Henson the art of darkness: a critical perspective’, George Alexander, Sydney, 2005, p.5.

[2] Koortbojian, Michael, ‘Mimesis or Phantasia? Two Representational Modes in Roman Commemorative Art’, Classical Antiquity, 24 (2), 2005, p. 286.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Koortbojian, Michael, ‘Mimesis or Phantasia? Two Representational Modes in Roman Commemorative Art’, Classical Antiquity, 24 (2), 2005, p. 287.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, ‘Bill Henson: artist’s perspective’, Bill Henson, Sydney, 2005, p.9.

[7] Hinkson, Melinda, ‘Australia’s Bill Henson scandal: notes on the new cultural attitude to images’, Visual Studies, 24(3), 2009: 206.

[8] Stahel, Urs, Darkside 1: Photographic Desire and Sexuality Photographed, Germany: Steidl, 2008, p.10.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Bronfen, Elisabeth, ‘Sexuality and the City at Night’ (2008), in Stahel, Urs (ed), Darkside 1: Photographic Desire and Sexuality Photographed, Germany: Steidl, p.107.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Bronfen, Elisabeth, ‘Sexuality and the City at Night’ (2008), in Stahel, Urs (ed), Darkside 1: Photographic Desire and Sexuality Photographed, Germany: Steidl, p.109.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Erdmann Ziegler, Ulf, ‘Satyrical Horn: Presuming Innocence’ (2008), in Stahel, Urs (ed), Darkside 1: Photographic Desire and Sexuality Photographed, Germany: Steidl, p.326.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, ‘Bill Henson: artist’s perspective’, Bill Henson, Sydney, 2005, p.8.

[17] Hinkson, Melinda, ‘Australia’s Bill Henson scandal: notes on the new cultural attitude to images’, Visual Studies, 24(3), 2009: 204.

[18] Turner, Victor, ‘Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites de Passage’ (1964), in American Ethnological Society (eds), Proceedings of the 1964 Annual Spring Meeting of the American Ethnological Society: Symposium on New Approaches to the Study of Religion, UK: Blackwell, 1964, p.46.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Turner, Victor, ‘Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites de Passage’ (1964), in American Ethnological Society (eds), Proceedings of the 1964 Annual Spring Meeting of the American Ethnological Society: Symposium on New Approaches to the Study of Religion, UK: Blackwell, 1964, p.48.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Turner, Victor, ‘Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites de Passage’ (1964), in American Ethnological Society (eds), Proceedings of the 1964 Annual Spring Meeting of the American Ethnological Society: Symposium on New Approaches to the Study of Religion, UK: Blackwell, 1964, p.49.

[23] Turner, Victor, ‘Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites de Passage’ (1964), in American Ethnological Society (eds), Proceedings of the 1964 Annual Spring Meeting of the American Ethnological Society: Symposium on New Approaches to the Study of Religion, UK: Blackwell, 1964, p.48.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, ‘Bill Henson: artist’s perspective’, Bill Henson, Sydney, 2005, p.9.

[28] Ibid.

 

 

Ꙩ You are able to view the original essay, and are welcome to download it here

Time to Haiku

1.

Still from the 2008 Israeli animated war documentary film, Waltz with Bashir, by Ari Folman

My fingers through yours
As bullets nuzzle brothers;
Float in the bloodstream.

 

2.

Temple of Olympian Zeus, Athens. Construction began in 6th Century BC and was completed by Roman Emperor Hadrian in 2nd Century AD.

Pieces of Corinth
Crack the long fragility
Of patterned design.

 

3.

Joseph Mallord William Turner, Light and Colour (Goethe’s Theory) – the Morning after the Deluge – Moses Writing the Book of Genesis, 1843

Dawn extends her hand
Over my burning eyelids.
From crawling, I stand.

Music That Makes You Smarter: PRINCESS NOKIA

Kicking off a new series I think is necessary to share with my friends and the interweb, I want to post one of the latest video compilations I’ve caught on YouTube of Destiny Frasqueri aka Princess Nokia.

Quirky  and raw from the get-go, I was immediately in love with her vibe. I have been a huge fan of her work for a wee while now and have been increasingly impressed and humbled by her evolutionary direction as an artist.

Truly deserving of the title feminist, she’s a young woman who is actually sending empowering messages to what is – I can’t help but consider sometimes – a largely uninformed public of what that really means.  The catalogue of her music offers the sense of a deep self-acceptance, flaws and all, and why that makes you so magnificent. And that in itself, is the most humanist shit I’ve heard in a while!

Songs like Tomboy contain hilariously honest lyrics proclaiming  how her  “little titties and [her] phat belly” are actually pretty fucking cute, oozing true body confidence. Everyone wants a slice of the pie if you’ve got that natural pizzazz, that effortless messy elegance.

Yet, I feel her softer songs like Cherry Cola (above + originally off the project, Honeysuckle), encapsulates that relaxed unraveling of feminine abundance that is oh so soulful and sweet.

Although it may seem like it, it’s not so contrasting really, it’s one and the same. At least to me. They both are rooted in innate strength.

Hands Up (off of Metallic Butterfly) was another that really got me in its surrender and acceptance. I heard it at such a pivotal time in my life.

I think the first song I really loved from her was the downtempo, Biohazard Butterfly, in what; 20fucking15? So much has gone down since then, it honestly feels longer.

Now, seeing her speak for Vogue, Bershka and Champion, I’m like whoa… So proud to be a fan.

Thanks, Destiny!

(and thanks Mass Hendrix for making videos of so many of the tracks I love)

Ouroboros Monologue

I am the dragon.

I am a creature of an ancient origin.

I am beautiful and wicked.

I am to be feared.

However, I also fear,

as you fear.

But I am in love;

a love so bottomless, all I do is

plunge further and further into the heart of it.

And it’s like walking on water.

There is no up or down.

I am simply centred.

My love wriggles through my entire body –

you can spy it as I move like a titan mamba through life.

I keep myself coiled tight.

It’s my duty to protect my friends and family,

even if they don’t know it;

My sleek dark body is tough and thick,

and I shield my close ones from all the demons in this damned vortex.

Spawns of hell line up like boxing opponents; I knock them down one by one.

I gobble their strength and I grow more savage,

more majestic.

Some of them, I whip with a quick flick of my tail.

This tail that I chase with the youth and joy of a pup.

And I am centred.

I balance you within me, my beloveds.

 

I am the guardian.

I am the avenger.

I am with God.

I am the dragon.

Feel with gusto, the beating of my wings in your hooping ribcage/

In the rhythmic canter of a wild horse/

In the gentle rap of knuckles on the door/

In the tick tock of the clock/

In the kickdrum that persuades your bones/

I am alive.

I am the dragon.

A Conversation with Donald

I caught Donald Abraham at the local mamak before grabbing a coffee at a quieter location. He’d just come from bundle shopping bearing his findings. A down-to-earth, laid back kind of guy, he walked me through some of his latest creative works with humble confidence.

His style, although fluid across mediums, is easily recognisable. This is partially due to his method. Perusing through his oeuvre, our eyes scan across vibrant, bustling paintings that appear as a subconscious flow. Gathering inspiration from life all around us, the universe is spat back out through a Donald-tinted lens.

He emphasises the importance of technique in his work. A trademark of true artists; honing one’s style and craft takes precedence over the finished product itself. Prolific and persistent when working, Donald finds the night provides him with the quiet he needs to paint with very few people around to bother him and break his concentration. Before beginning his work, he ensures he is in a good state of mind and prepared by eating well beforehand. Thus, he can continue with very few breaks. If he cannot attain this level, he concludes it’s not a day for painting.

Recently, his Instagram is dotted with 3D sculptures he’s been making in his home studio. An installation of a lofty toaster monster and the so-called Yak Yak Totem and are currently on display at the House of Vans MY. Incorporating his most significant experiences of life, Donald uses broken skateboards and rehashes them into a pyramidal totem of puppies. The sculpture is structured like the 3D puzzle piece toys his daughter plays with. Here, he demonstrates his acute awareness of the interplay between location and his own vision. He whips out his phone to show me a series of inspirational photos that include spiral staircases, overladen signposts and six-point stars for the Yak Yak Totem.

Thematic concerns of ‘life direction’ seem to bubble to the surface. The spiral is perhaps the most potent symbol of creation, rebirth and becoming there is. Accompanied by the imagery of signposts and alluding to “man’s best friend”, Donald indicates there are many ways in life you can go and no matter which way you choose, there’s always going to be something close to your heart that will guide you. If you’re feeling lost, take a leaf out of a skater’s book – do a 360 flip and look around. By virtue of all dogs coming together, there are many avenues.

As a teenager and young adult, skateboarding was his primary passion. Tell-tale signs of his blossoming talent saw Donald occasionally customising a deck for his friends. Further experimentation with painting on canvas came later, after a skateboarding injury changed his course.

He cites Keith Haring and David Hockney as two of many influences in his work. Considering his aesthetic flexibility, I asked if he painted to music and whether this affected his brushstrokes and the general outcome of a piece. He nodded his head side to side as if to say ‘sometimes’.

He went on to talk about Rage Against the Machine as a standout band. Although Donald’s work is not intentionally or overtly political, through his observation of the world around him, he provides an honest, unique social commentary and the all too familiar disquietude we feel about it.

However, he also listens “to country music, classical, punk rock and metal,” offering additional insight into his wide range of tastes, “and pop.” he adds with a laugh. “Yes, some of the songs…I regret listening.”

As for his larger, commissioned works, I enquired into the murals. Three murals that feature heavily in the public eye are those painted at Publika, the National Art Gallery and most recently at Medini Mall in Iskandar Puteri. Overall, it’s evident to see the stylistic development of his mural work emerging. Like in some of his earlier canvas paintings, cartoonish characters cluster together in an expansive family portrait of Malaysia’s essence. All seems light-hearted and well at first glance but upon closer inspection, the empty-eyed creepiness of some of the faces sets in. We react to the mystery of passers-by in his mural in a way that is familiar and uncanny.

Donald states working on the murals with “different tension” affects his flow and thus, the stream of characters we see in the final image. At Publika, his working conditions were “very chill, nobody comes, I can just draw for a few hours and nobody comes to talk to me.” Whereas at the National Art Gallery, the atmosphere was more disruptive with people taking pictures and asking questions. His patrons also had a somewhat Nationalistic agenda of their own and attempted to direct his artistic vision. They asked him to include Malaysian imagery with hopes of promoting the national identity; “they had lots of things they wanted actually – that I couldn’t give to them.”

The Mall of Medini proved an interesting work environment for him. Other than being a productive site for his creations due to it being “very new and quiet, very chill lah”, he had a peculiar run in with the local Medini ghost. He lights another cigarette and begins to describe the story of the four murals he completed there.

Located at Medini Mall, MapIP’s Blackbox initially saw Donald paint a subtle black on black matte piece. However, due to it’s curved wall, the lighting was uneven and half the mural faded away and was eventually painted over in white. The compositions started from sketches, which were then approved and spontaneously developed on site.

Depicted like a flower in bloom, Donald’s last mural at Medini Mall is more spacious and takes on a somewhat different tone. Found near the Thai café, the shop owner requested it to be minimal. The overhanging awnings, about 5 feet from the wall, also became part of the creative challenge and forced him to rethink his approach. Using a scissor lift, he had to be resourceful and manufacture an extended paintbrush out of extra pieces of wood to reach the wall. Understandably, this took him a long time to complete up to the standard he set himself.

On the last night of its completion, he caught a glimpse of something in the shop mirror. He described it as the reflection of very long hair. Looking around, he saw nobody. Working late, at 3 o’ clock in the morning, Donald descended the scissor lift and proceeded to run up and down Medini Mall in search of what he saw. He asked a cleaner working at that hour if he noticed anybody, who then confirmed his Medini ghost sighting. “I haven’t eaten, I’ve had no sleep, I’m so tired and I see a ghost,” he laughs, reminiscing.

Perhaps a sign he has been working too hard. Curious, I queried what the ultimate goal of his career would be. To which he simply replied, “I wanna be Picasso.” Big shoes to fill yet he seems aware of this as he continued that it was “hard living with a dream, you know? Right now what I’m doing is…I do what I do best lah. So I don’t stop. I’m just consistent. Just do work.”

 

 

 

PublikArt; Chong Kim Chiew

Iskandar Puteri, formerly known as Nusajaya, is currently undergoing a humungous transformation with many innovative projects taking place there. As it steadily grows into a forward-thinking city, spreading passionate values of sustainability and collaboration amongst its community, the arts have been enthusiastically employed in order to create a place identity. PublikArt is a large public art project born out of such a place-making initiative to increase the liveability of Iskandar Puteri.

Public art is instrumental in defining the character of city; the works take on a life of their own beyond the control of the artists via the contribution of the citizens that live there. Whether a sculpture, a fountain or an outside-the-box structure, it is truly what the work becomes to the people over a period of time that ends up being significant. Public artworks, like old trees, grow in age and wisdom overseeing the situations of the cityscape. They begin to take on various characteristics that range from a harmonious landmark that children grow up with; a teenage meeting point; an unusual object that interrupts our worried thoughts.

Many of these artworks around Iskandar Puteri are facing this state of liminality as they are still being encountered by the public there. Naturally, commissioned installations are aesthetically concerned as they are designed to enhance the urbanised living. Yet it is of great importance they are also thought provoking and endure the test of time. Carefully curated by Intan Rafiza, Lisa Foo, Nani Kahar and Yeoh Lian Heng, PublikArt testifies to both regional and local themes that reflect on history and the surrounding environment.

Within close proximity to Singapore, the location of Iskandar Puteri allows for numerous avenues for growth and development. Boasting two international airports and five seaports, this city is one of South East Asia’s most connected hubs of development and is logically the region’s most enticing settlement. A PublikArt project that ponders on the influx of people approaching Malaysia as a place of opportunity is Chong Kim Chiew’s Bas Pekerja.

In his artist statement, he describes the project as a tribute to the nameless and stateless workers, stating that upon his first visit, the site was teaming with worker buses around the area. Notably, these were transporting workers to and from various construction sites;

“On daily basis, there are many foreign workers coming to Malaysia for work and reversely there are many Malaysian workers crossing the border to work in Singapore. The worker buses not only carry passengers from one location to another gateway, they also carry their dreams and hopes, like a moving bridge. This project for me is about mobility, migration, interchange and communication.”

In the interior of a worker bus, Chong displays his sentiments on the migratory nature of the workers. Deserving of it’s monumental scale, the roads and pathways of Malaysia are mapped out on the seats and the ceiling of the bus. As our eyes and minds travel around the bus, we are challenged to think about these noble, nameless workers and their movements as they navigate themselves across the social, political and literal landscape of Malaysia.

Art History’s long romance with maps has brought many different analyses of what they really represent. When we observe maps, we often assume they are scientifically objective tools formulated to help us journey from point A to B that amount to nothing more but plain, factual truths about the world. However, maps are subjective. As the case with any form of art and design, they reveal stories, unveil the attitudes and ideas of the times in which they were produced.

Interestingly, Chong Kim Chiew believes “attitude” to be a more critical factor in the creation of contemporary art than the method, medium and materials used to create it. In an organic fashion, these necessities are only considered when appropriate to the artist’s thoughts. Following the contours of Chong’s conceptual thoughts in Bas Pekerja, the notion of trace becomes apparent. Not only are we noticing the cartographic tracing or copying but also the idea of seeking and exploring the roots and deeper meanings behind the surface of first impressions.

Every migrant has a story. Beyond the stereotypical search for benefits, what is it that has brought them here? What makes them work so hard to build a country that is not considered their own? How does the meaning of their lives fluctuate like the environment around them? Our city is full of these unknown workers who are the backbone of our society, the unsung heroes of a nation. Staring at the lines that trace their existence along the empty seats, the bus acts witness to those who build our cities and fizzle into the world us.

 

AOES + DOTA Bootcamp

Attention all gamers!

There is already much hubbub surrounding the upcoming DOTA 2 Bootcamp, from the 9th October – 23rd December, held at Medini Mall. The Academy of eSports is pleased to be receiving recognition amongst the wider Malaysian public and as a result, seeing its ultimate mission come true.

With intentions of elevating the Malaysian eSports scene, AOES provides two eight-month long programmes for plucky gamers to transform themselves into professional players or, if they prefer, learn to organise and navigate the world of eSports through events management. Whoever pursues their dreams ultimately feeds back into the subversive, cyber subculture that raised them, connecting together a tight-knit community.

A world that was once rather exclusive and relegated to fringe of society has emerged from the shadows of bedroom gaming and cyber cafes. Even large corporations such as ESPN have shown interest and recognise it as a “true sport” – at least on its website. The cause of much controversy over the definition of sport, many serious gamers argue that eSports requires the strategy, perseverance, emotional control and skilful execution asked of typical athletes.

It was not until the late 2000s when spectatorship in live eSports events saw a large surge in popularity.  By 2013, it was estimated that approximately 71.5 million people worldwide watched eSports with the availability of live streaming. Its rapid takeover has resulted in many game developers now actively designing towards the professional eSport subculture. Due to its tremendous growth, it has seen the birth of many new jobs and opportunities for those who religiously game online. South Korea, at the forefront of eSports, already has several established eSports organisations which have licensed pro gamers since the early days.

So even whilst still in its youth, the Academy of eSports looks promising! With its excellently tailored curriculum, it is surely soon to be the leading platform for fanatic gamers in Malaysia. Already receiving a great deal of interest, the AOES proves it has a strong community backing it and believing in its cause. It has definitely opened up many doors for people to forge a future doing what they are most passionate about, whereas before it seemed relatively difficult or even unachievable.

The Bootcamp will entail intensive training coached by some of the best in the industry, such as Muhammad “Groov” Yusuf, Wilson “ShenGG” Quak and Kieran “ZergRush” Lam. Not only are these guys renowned eSports athletes but Kieran also happens to be the principal of the unusual school, and the other two are AOES lecturers. Having these underdog experts as guides would give any eSport enthusiast the edge needed to break into their career.  In just a week, you can experience what it feels like to be a professional gamer with gaming desktops, keyboards & mice provided. Your passion and interest will ensure you a place on the priority list if you wish to join the Academy of eSPorts for next year’s intake.

If you fancy yourself as a gaming superstar or behind the creation of involving events within the culture, the six-day Bootcamp is not to be missed. But I would urge you to be quick as there is a limit of forty participants maximum each week. You can find more information and register online as an individual or a team for totally free at their website. http://www.academyofesports.com.my/. You can also keep up with their movements and latest news on Facebook.

Rapa Nui Moai

This video is a fascinating introduction to the moai of Rapa Nui which have long captured the curiosity and imagination of many people across shores.

 

These humungous, monolithic carvings face inland, with their backs to the sea. Given the small the size of Rapa Nui, it may appear as if they stare out to oncoming seafarers and storms but while doing so, they primarily gaze across the island and watch over the community. They are infused with deep mana.

Ahu Akapu and the moai figures at Tahai further in the distance

Moai are situated to overlook ceremonial spaces; a localised version of the Polynesian marae known as ahu. This indicates they once were associated with ancestral lineage and areas of clan land. Most ahu are located on the coast and typically consist of a raised stone terrace (already reaching heights of 7 metres), on which they placed these monumental, ancestral deity figures, running parallel with the sea.

Moai were carved in situ in a quarry of soft volcanic rock on a hill called Rano Raruku. The method of transportation is highly innovative, simply using a system of rolling logs. Some are capped with red scoria topknots or pukao and are brought to life by inserting shell eyes.

245 ahu sites have been identified on Rapa Nui. Some of them show evidence of maintenance and up-keeping of the moai. The cyclical nature of statue-raising is a proclamation of the importance that these ancestral temples held within the culture. They were built continuously between AD 1000 – 1500.

As someone who is interested in early exploration, settlement and trade routes; essentially, the knowledge of how we have come to live today, it never ceases to amaze me how relentlessly determined and powerful these early voyagers were. Navigating between atolls and islands, the settlement of the Pacific was not some accidental happening. The deep understanding of their environment, respect for their traditions and resourceful ingenuity led to a thriving network of cultural exchange.

Love how Dr Wayne Ngata describes Pacific culture and the ocean as a continent, a home to which we all belong as it surrounds and connects us all – this world of water, Oceania.

IP Kreatif

Iskandar Puteri, in the state of Johor, is fast emerging as a bubbling hub for the arts and forward-thinking culture in the heart of South East Asia. With a rich history of trade and cultural exchange, it continues to renew this tradition in exciting, new ways. The utopic, two-day festival that was IP Kreatif ran through the belly of Medini Mall. It sang out as an exclamation of the city’s creative community and an attraction for like minds across the nation.

The space provided by the Medini Mall was expansive and airy with huge entrances from the drop-off area to the plaza on the other side, giving IP Kreatif an outdoor market appeal with all the safety of downpour coverage. The mall reverberated with the echoing thunder of footsteps and chatter as you walked through, immersed in the entertainment coming from the centre stage whilst perusing innovative workshops and local businesses. This joyous and conscious tone was set against the backdrop of lively murals by Donald Abraham and Adeputra Masri; two artists that proclaim an informed social commentary on contemporary Malaysian society, captured in two very bold, distinctive styles.

Artist, Donald Abraham also hosted a watercolour workshop where he showcased some of his latest work. Other standout workshops included Rico Leong teaching his craft of woodcut in your own unique design on small blocks. Tomi Heri, in a similar fashion, was offering lessons in the art of stencils. These latter two artists were situated at the ‘Creative Urbans’ post under Minut Init, an infamous place for upcoming street artists and rebellious, youth culture. This generation of young adults have been growing up under an increasingly policed gaze which expressively, and most concisely, translates into their craft.

Beside them, sat a traditional fishing boat that hosted a small, quiet sanctuary of a library. The collection of books on loan were a protest of their own calibre. It became quickly apparent there was a common thread through the books, weaving together one, unified political voice coming from the heart of Malaysia. The thematic concerns discussed Indigenous rights alongside the wider issues of deforestation and the country’s resources and assets. It could not have been more apt than to contain this knowledge in a traditional vessel of transport, placed in a very public setting; as if to declare these undercurrents of Malaysian culture to the country.

Streaming down the mall were small, local business stalls bringing their homegrown and thoughtfully sourced products. Artfully packaged coffee made with locally farmed milk was definitely a delicious purchase that kept people chugging along throughout the days. Another key feature in keeping spirits high were the various performances thrown at the main stage. Highlights were the dazzling Mirror Men in their head-to-toe disco-ball costumes. They proceeded to own the stage with their coordinated dance moves to popular songs. This was instantly a winner amongst children and families, with the Fire Eaters being hot contenders.

Exciting musical acts such as Pita Hati and The Times brought in thralls of energetic crowds through Medini and into Black Box. As if Publika had teleported to Iskandar Puteri, a great black stage was set up in the back corner, next to the classic White Box space. White Box showcased an array of works from Segaris Art Centre and collectives such as Make It Happen. A prominent showstopper for everyone’s hungry eyes was the Edible Art by Grace. As owner of a bakery, her culinary skills were displayed on canvasses, announcing the recognition of food as art. Together, these two yin yang spaces of originality and imagination culminated in a balanced atmosphere of both pumping vitality and calm poignancy.

Towards the plaza at the very end of the mall, a permaculture workshop brought by Wak Kang tied the whole festival up nicely, in an effort to teach the IP public about simple lifestyle changes like composting and its benefits. In the emergent wake of climate change and global warming, everyone can do their part in helping the planet. If there was a message to be taken by IP Kreatif, it was that thoughtful, individual practice combined with teaching and listening to one another can create awesome vibes and better living for all.

You can read  the edited version of my review here as part of the IP portal, complete with photographs! It’s an honour to have my voice and writing recognised in this community.

 

 

Jamil Zakaria Solo Exhibition Opening – LUBOK

Art Row is usually a peaceful place to chill and wank on about art with a few friends but the opening night of Jamil Zakaria’s installation was a frenzied flurry of upcoming artists and Malaysia’s most talked about. Outside the humble gallery, new and familiar faces were mixing and mingling, carried by the beat of busking kids having fun. The party trickled down to Titikmerah studio-gallery, creating a lively buzz down the street akin to a miniature block party.

So what exactly was everyone buzzing about? The gallery itself was dimly lit to set the tone of this poignant, otherworldly piece. Upon entering, we are instantly drawn to the glittering sculpture that flows out from a waterpipe protruding from the wall. Everything is executed in silver; a netting that is moulded into a lyrical waterfall with leaping fish hanging in the air from strings, and springing from the fabricated pool that spills across the floor.

Ignoring my immediate urge to jump into it and ruin the sculpture for everyone, I pondered on it and walked about it, noticing the accompaniment; a soothing soundtrack of trickling water punctuated with chimes of meditation cymbals. This clearly calls the viewer to the theme of introspection. The whole conglomeration of effects made me think of feeling out of place – out of myself – transported elsewhere through some profound tunnel in both a metaphorical and physical sense.

Before long, I soon located the artist for some chit chat. He explained his work is inspired by a couple of Malay proverbs that he has interwoven to create the general, lucid theme of this piece:

“ada air ada ikan” – literally translating to where there is water, there is fish. It’s like home. You can count on the water, if you need fish. Where we live is the place we make our living

“bonding air bonding ikan” and “seperti ikan pulang ke lubuk” – another fish metaphor here, about a fish returning to its former place or in other words; one who travels far will never forget his village and will surely return home.

“lain lubuk lain ikannya” – different places have different lifestyles and traditions. (different kind of fish.)

Sure enough, the vibes I got related to these concepts of transcendental travel. However, Jamil pushes this further and considers the full circle return and our relations to others around us. The water streams out of the pipe, characterising how we all come from the same place. Some of the fish are flying high soon to fall back into the ocean where they originated, connected by the very material they are made from.

We are inevitably tied to our home, the place we grew up. Jamil revealed that he grew up fishing amongst the paddy fields of Kedah and the chosen medium for his sculpture is pukat, the tools of the fisherman. Through his materials, he has demonstrably connected Malay culture and his personal family history with art. There is a certain mystical quality to his work, shrouded in folklore and rich in tradition.

On the fundamental elements of his sculpture, Jamil explores the idea of lines. He talks about this as one of the basic principles of any artwork, representing relation, connection, unity and journey. Lines create narratives, build pictures or scenarios in works of art. There is almost something painterly about his approach to its construction. Not to mention something hella therapeutic about our reception of it.  Taking one day to install, the presence of this piece will linger on for a great deal longer. The exhibition closes 13 August, get your ass down to Art Row for some quiet contemplation.

Gua Tambun (and the consequential trip to Perak)

Day 1

On the 29th, I got the train from KL to Ipoh, Perak.

Faizal came with me, which turned out to be a good thing! It was fun having a companion on the journey and also extremely helpful when it came to navigating my way around the city.

When we got there, it was getting dark.

Originally from Perak, Faizal was keen to show me an old jamming studio he remembered from back in the day. But we arrived and it was abandoned. He began to tell me about how the Malaysian music industry was dying. Many studios all over the country, even in KL, were shutting down. Particularly, jamming studios crumbled under the changing music trends. The technology is behind, big record companies are all overseas and, when it comes to art in general, there is a lot of oppression.

We got a cab to Rumah Khizanat, the guesthouse. We were the only two people staying there. It was pretty awesome. We pulled out a mattress into the front lobby and I flicked through their large collection of National Geographic’s.

On the hunt for dinner, we happened on the guys he was looking for in town.

So concludes another  night where I need to learn Bahasa Melayu.

They were from a band called Muck and we listened to one of the records that Faizal produced. He wasn’t too convinced with the mastering of the music.

We all went and got burgers at the Reggae bar in town. They played a bunch of Kiwi bands, I think potentially in my honour?

day 2

Got the bus to Kuala Kangsar. This is Faizal’s hometown.

And he hadn’t been there for a while. I think it was something he really needed to do.

Walking around, everyone seems to know him. Met some of his old friends, cousins, aunties, uncles – who all seem to love and miss him.

We did some archery with his friend and old band member.

Archery takes way more strength than I thought! And a clarity of mind.

a nice crappy photo of both of us at the bus stop

 

Waited to get the bus back into Ipoh for what seemed like ages.

Again, we were the only two staying at the hostel. Faizal had some great memories and old stories to talk about.

I smoked weed for the first time in a while. Let’s not do that again. My anxiety is out of control. But I kinda forgot about how you melt into music when you’re high. That was nice, and I soon fell to sleep.

DAy 3

Early birdy start! Got breakfast at Restoran Vegas. Apparently it’s a pretty well known eatery in the area. And only fifteen minutes from Gua Tambun! I ate a really good nasi lemak and downed a coffee before ubering to the rock art site.

Finally, the purpose of my trip! I’d been planning to attend one of the Gua Tambun workshops for a while. Arranged by heritage researchers at the Centre for Global Archaeological Research – Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), the awareness project is relatively new (2015). Malaysia is pretty shit at protecting their heritage. There’s not nearly enough funding and the country’s economic growth has been violently corrupted.

Anyhow, Gua Tambun is one of the oldest known rock art sites in Malaysia. The initiative programme aims towards public awareness of Malaysia’s prehistory. Public involvement is quite critical when it comes to conservation, and what will hopefully be long-term management of Gua Tambun.

We arrived early and hung out with two local Chinese guys who volunteer there. One was called Simon, the other I forget…I’m terrible with names. Shortly after, the USM student tour guide arrived with a group of kids for the workshop. The site was only a short hike and some steep stairs away.

Faizal video recording on his phone at Gua Tambun

This proved to be a trip in time, chasing paint back 4000 years (new propositions/arguments in research now state 7000 years) at the largest Neolithic Orang Asli Rock Art Site in Peninsular Malaysia.

I have such huge respect for the indigenous people of Malaysia. Their neolithic paintings are just another reason to take pride in the raw beauty of this country. There was an Orang Asli dude from the Temiar community on the trail with us. I said “Elok Gah!” (Temiar for hi, how are you! – a general welcoming.) He was there to talk about what he thought the paintings indicated, as a modern descendant of those who left their mark on the landscape here.

All the artworks were displayed high on the wall, suggesting that some sort of structure must have been built to reach the chosen placement of their enduring pieces.

Above

Canvas Wall

Blazing across the stone wall in red, orange and deep purple; the colour of the pigments differ according to which mineral or stone was chosen from the earth. But the colour is also largely dependent on the concentration of the mixture and whether they have been burnt prior to their use.

I wonder how meticulous some of the rituals may have been in regards to the act of painting.

X-Ray Style Deer

Waterfall and Man

Some snaps of the most intriguing markings and images that appear on the walls include:

  • floating soul/aquatic creature; so-called dugong?
  • man with a waterfall/aquatic creature/petai leaves?
  • man amongst deer – notably executed in X-ray style where a pregnant deer is clearly visible
  • tapir
  • sunset

Most of the painting styles on the wall include the solid silhouette but the stippled style is also sighted, illustrating the boar and various so-called exclamation marks. Some styles are seemingly more popular in different eras.

Boar

My favourite was the sunset, actually facing out towards the direction of the setting sun in the Malaysian sky. Bold and vivid in red pigment and depicted like a wavy haze, the neolithic Orang Asli painted a reflection of the sky.

Sunset 1 + 2

For archaeology buffs out there, you can find more academic information quite readily available online. There is a rather comprehensive paper by Noel Hidalgo Tan and Stephen Chia which is great foundational knowledge on the Gua Tambun research. It discusses the various forms, categorising them panel by panel – some of which are now faded away or difficult to see with the naked eye. The paper not only acts as a detailed account of the site itself but is now an important historical record as the face of the wall is quickly becoming damaged via light and rain, exposed to the elements more since trees in the area have recently been cut away. Due to mining activity, there are large cracks running down the length of the wall and much deterioration to the surface wall has ensued.

The workshops are held the first of every month. You can check out their FB page here and find their website here .

Please offer your support, spread the word and don’t forget to admire the work of Malaysia’s ancestors!

Textures

 

 

 

 

 

Penang w/ Ange

DAy 1

Woke up bright and early to get the bus from 1Utama to Penang at 9:30am.

Also managed to squeeze in an hour of meditation. I’m really trying to remember to cultivate love and kindness towards everyone whilst attempting to balance with myself, and rooting myself in my values at all times. I feel like this shouldn’t be hard but damn.

I met Ange at the bus station. She got out the GrabCar in front of me.

We had one hour to kill at the mall so I quickly bought some new headphones for the ride, a bunch of kuih to munch on and some nasi lemak for breakfast.

I listened to D’Angelo on the bus. Really Love is a beautiful and astounding song.

When we arrived, we wandered around the Love Lane area and found a great, simple hostel that was only rm50 a night between us. We got our own room and shower to share as opposed to a dorm. It was ideal!

We chilled for a bit and then went out to explore.

Located within walking distance to Little India, we gravitated over in that direction. Also, they have great vegetarian dishes, which can be hard to find in Malaysia. I got a Palak Paneer.

It was Vesak (Buddha Day) and the streets of Little India were lively. Celebrations rang out and there was a huge float being pulled by cattle, surrounded by music and people.

We wandered around some more, checking out all the beautiful garments and ended up in a CD shop and listened to a lot of Indian music, requesting various songs. I ended up wasting my money on some hilarious yet awesome records. One was a saxophonist to some Indian beats and the other was Krishna Trance.

 

 

Day 2

Meditated with Ange in the morning.

Both of us went through the day feeling tired and heavy and super lethargic.

We walked around and lots of the places were open at strange times due to Vesak.

It was so humid, it took some time to adjust to Penang weather. We found a place that served the most incredible cendol.

It was absolutely necessary to get out of the sun and cool down.

We asked some dudes who confirmed that this was most definitely the best cendol. The cendol stall across from it got completely comped out. Yeah, we love cendol.

To kill some time and to, again, hide from the sun we decided to make the most of the tourist attractions. The very popular Upside Down ‘Museum’ was horribly overpriced but I suppose if you’re from a rich country, it’s nothing. We basically paid for a ridiculous photo shoot but I have to say looking back over the photos, they are pretty great. We definitely had some laughs and were entertained for a while, taking our mind off our heat-induced headaches.

Libby, what the fuck are we doing?

-Angelica

I talked with Sliz intermittently throughout the day. After seeing his tags around Georgetown, it was pretty obvious he was from here.

We visited a thrift store and I bought myself a rm2 Tupac tank top that proclaims ‘thug life’ in rhinestones.

After, we headed back to the hostel and took a break. Did some quick emailing and had a shower before getting picked up by Sliz, Nicole and a tree.

Nicole drove us to an amazing hawkers and we ate the most delicious asam laksa in Penang with fresh mint leaves and a generous portion of fish. It was fragrant and fruity and sour and full of goodness. More like awesome laksa am I right? We also had some muar chee which was on point!

We then went for another drive to get more food. We got this amazing Penang style peanut baklava-esque type thing. I don’t know what it’s called but here’s a video. If anyone out there knows, please shout out!

 

Me and Ange shared a beer.

We then headed back to Sliz’s apartment/studio space; Rumah Studio. We met Bibi, another one of the resident artists. Very cool house; typical crumbling, peeling Penang vibe – old, Chinese architecture.

Nicole knew so much local history of Penang. Well, she had grown up there her whole life.

So happy to meet such great people!

Went straight to sleep after getting dropped back.

Socializing really takes it out of me.

DAy 3

Got up at a reasonable hour.  And then slept in a little – for the first time in what seems like a while.

Ange is a super chill person to be around – ALMOST TOO CHILL!!

We met up with Leo and Tui! So buzzy to see them again in another part of Malaysia, after they left Minut Init. I had a wee moment with Leo later in the day; both of us tripped out, pondering and musing on how we both came to be here. Never thought out of all the people from high school, I would be meeting him in Penang all these years later.

But first! We all intently watched Leo stir water with a UV light he bought from a camping store. I’m thinking I should invest. The light kills the germs and bacteria, and I would save money on bottled water and reduce my consumption of plastic packaging. SO CONSCIOUS. But for real, it’s a good idea.

We took a Grab to Cecil St Market for breakfast. It was pretty sizeable wet market. I purchased lots of kuih, congee and otak otak. Oh god, I am spoilt here. I love Penang. All the food was exceedingly excellent.

Sliz slept in, of course. Malaysia lah!

After breakfast, we walked to the incredible Hin Bus Depot and took a look around:

 

 

If you can’t tell by the pictures, the Hin Bus Depot is an old, abandoned bus depot that has been transformed into an outdoor gallery with murals, nice cafes and work spaces. It is quite the gem.

We then grabbed a coffee and met Sliz. He had arranged a legal wall around the corner from Hin with his Melbourne friend, Fletcher or Facter. There was plenty of paint to go around and we all painted up this alleyway. I painted part of a whale before running out of my favourite colour. Sliz did a funky 80’s looking piece and Facter painted a hornbill in his signature style. It was a super fun time!

 

Tomi Heri’s paste up with Facter’s hornbill at the end

 

  

Once the guys had completed their work, we all went to get asam laksa and cendol. Best place in town.

Me, Tui, Leo and Ange then went for a wander around for cheap clothes. I should have held out for these beautifully coloured, long, batik shorts but I got some cute two-piece batik outfits anyhow. Finally making our way back to the hostel, we rested up and tried on our new clothes and told stories.

As night fell, we got ready and left to meet Facter and Sliz for some beers. We gained some tag-alongs on the journey. Had some good chats and it was real fun getting to meet everyone on this level. We then went to get makan makan and me and Ange managed to make it in time for our bus back to KL.

Had some beautiful deep and meaningfulz with Ange on the way home before falling asleep in that fridge on wheels.

Ended up crashing at Minut. Second home waddup!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Collective Individuals

By far, this was one of the coolest exhibitions I have ever been to.

The term “collective individuals” is rather apt in this millennial oriented showcase. Never before has a generation shown such extreme demonstrations of this concept. Looking at a “Millennial Wave” poll finding, it was interesting to note that certain gender differences occur with males leaning towards individualism whereas females are more likely to be collectivist in their behaviour.

Observing the pieces in this manner, it is interesting to see the difference in expression between the genders. For example, Caryn Koh’s Uniformity II shows us the blue school pinafores worn by young Malaysian girls hanging from the ceiling. It offers a slightly ominous feeling of how we raise young girls to look and act the same like a standardized product. As we descend the stairs, SLiZ provides the rebellious individuality with his anti-establishment, road sign paintings.

Collective Individualist behaviour is often identified as that contradiciton which characterises today’s ‘Generation Y’ demographic; while they are intensely individual, almost determinedly so – in the way they obtain and use information, make choices and reach opinions, they are simultaneously the most collective generation we’ve seen, sharing everything from activities to opinions and constantly seeking affirmation for the same.

Featuring the work eight visual arts collectives, with a total of around forty artists give or take, this was an ambitious and fun exhibition to attend, full of variety and flare yet calling out in one unified voice, proclaiming the attitude of a generation.

The collectives featured are:

FOURSOME

HUAGUOSHAN

MAKE IT HAPPEN

MEKAR STUDIO

RUMAH STUDIO

RUN AMOK

TITIKMERAH

SECRET HIDEOUT

There is such an array of talented artists working in Kuala Lumpur. As a newbie to the scene, I’ll let the Daily Seni handle a more in depth review!

It’s a great rush to be meeting the young, underground art scene here in Malaysia. So far, I’d been meeting the odd artists in strands from various galleries and art socials around the city. I am mainly familiar with the Publika based gallery, TITIKMERAH, meaning Red Dot. The name alludes to the the little, red, circular sticker that gets placed beneath a sold piece of artwork.

Tomi Heri of Titikmerah really stood out in the exhibition, with his unique pop-graphic style. Maybe I’m just bias because I totally crush on him. When I first met him, he was designing his laid-back skater crocodile sculpture that I was seeing in front of me. A solid month’s work paid off.

The exhibition is part of the Urbanscapes 2017 Festival, falling from the 5-28th of May.

I also got photographed by a chick for my sweet threads! haha love it.

Secret Hideout tag; can’t wait around for white rabbits to take you there every time!

 

 

 

Vipassana Account

When one experiences truth, the madness of finding fault with others disappears

S. N. Goenka

I am officially a victim of my own hippiedom. But Vipassana is the fucking truth.

I recently got back from a meditation retreat at an eco-village in Johor Bahru. I went with my good friend, Ange, from Sweden.

I have found the particular technique of meditation they teach highly beneficial for organising my thoughts and feelings. I feel like everyone would benefit from it.

The technique is from Myanmar. It is the only place where the Buddha’s teachings of Dhamma were preserved. (Obviously the Buddha did not teach Buddhism, just as Jesus did not teach Christianity.) I think most Vipassana courses, if not all, are under the schooling of Goenka.

My personal experience of this has brought me much insight.

It is the infamously hard out course that you’re probably aware of; where you spend ten days in noble silence, just you and your thoughts, meditating for twelve hours a day eating fairly little vegetarian cuisine and very minimal exercise. It was like a boot camp for the mind.

For the first three days, we spent our time focusing our awareness on the tiniest area of our body, the space between our nostrils and lips, feeling the sensation. It is different for everyone but other than feeling the air passing in and out of my nose, a pulsing sensation emerged to the surface.

On the fourth day is when the Vipassana training actually began, and we spread this awareness across our face and scalp moving over the skin to discover more sensations such as tingling, itching, stretching, tension, weight, heat, atmospheric conditions also, all the while understanding the constant flux.

It was stressed that you do not mix any techniques such as visualisation as this includes the imagination. The idea is to know things as they are. Impermanence.

You then proceed to scan through the entire body, piece by piece. (Towards the end of the course, you are able to move free flow and symmetrically.) What I found, was I get stuck at the shoulders a lot, where I carry A FUCK TONNE of pain.

The fourth day was complete agony. I couldn’t believe how much your conscious mind is unaware of, or at least pays very little attention to. I sat there very still for an hour in bodily torture, trying not to break focus and keep an equanimous mind (devoid of craving – the desire to pursue pleasure, and aversion – the desire to avoid discomfort: These 2 characteristics can define all thoughts.)

My body felt contorted and twisted, always very right-side-heavy. A growing pain that I had noticed over the course of last year….

Unlocking one’s unconsciousness to explore the pain fully and in great detail breaks the sensations apart and you are able to differentiate them and understand what makes up the bulk of the pain.

e.g. the pain in my right shoulder gave rise to heat and throbbing and tension and weight and tingling, trickling. At one point, it felt as though I was being burnt with a cigarette from the inside, searing across my shoulder.

As you may have probably guessed, these sensations bring up certain thoughts that circle around in your head, or thoughts you like to ignore, and as you get deeper, old buried thoughts and conditioning right at the root of the stock of reactions. These are like the seeds of trees you planted long ago, branching out into all kinds of behaviours.

After dealing with the preoccupation of some surface issues, I found I was able to trace a trickling sensation down the right of my spine to what felt like deep gash that I could claw open – it was a deep, dense, dull throbbing sensation that pulled tension across the entire right side of my back and around the front of my torso.

The continuation of this practice is helping me to make peace with a lot of things whilst simultaneously furthering my self-knowledge in a calm dissection of how my mind functions.

The things I had come to learn seemed like things I had always known. Yet rather than grasping these ‘philosophical’ concepts (- not even really philosophical or spiritual -) at a mere intellectual level, but at a much deeper experiential level has lifted a huge weight from my shoulders, and offers true wisdom which is knowledge in its purest form.

The pain returns and builds but i can deal to it a lot easier. But at least I can feel my chest has opened, and I feel like i can breathe again. It is all quite uplifting.

As soon as the silence was broken, Ange and I proceeded to have a play fight. Typical!

A sincerely bonding experience no doubt.

Gonkar Gyatsu, Buddha In Our Time, 2007

The Orang Asli Dilemma

I think I slept for about a full twelve hours last night.

I meditated.

I was then brought a breakfast of roti canai by my aunty and we touched base.

For lunch, I went with my cousin and her friend for some real good banana leaf somewhere near PJ.

Spoilt for food, am I right?

After stuffing my face all day, I got dropped at Jaya One where I made my way over to The School. Considered to be Malaysia’s first ‘enrichment mall’ with intentions of promoting better education, they provide classrooms for hire, interesting events and many of the lots are occupied by establishments that create spaces for learning. Also, there is a little bit of retail indulgence on the side.

My visit happened upon a huge, two day market event by Art For Grabs themed “Fifty Shades of Green.” It boasted around ninety different booths and stalls. I perused around whilst waiting for my friend, Tony. I checked out the cool zines, and had a wonderful chat with the people running Pogunsavat Craftwork , making and selling beautiful artisan jewellery from North Borneo. Got myself a pair of earrings. The Gerakbudaya Bookshop pop-up also made an appearance at Art For Grabs! I purchased two books on Malaysian Art History to wisen up and the contentious Money Logging by Lukas Straumann, notably the director of the Bruno Manser Fund.

As part of Jaya One’s Earth Hour celebration, a wayang kulit performance by the Fusion Wayang Kulit team occurred. Another great event included the forum A Batik Revolution: Save Our Dyeing Rivers, highlighting issues surrounding the pollutants in batik-making.

But the main reason I attended was for Whose Forest Is It Anyway? The Orang Asli Dilemma, a forum that centred around the logging in the Kelantan region and the infamous blockades constructed by the Orang Asli. This is not unlike the crimes against nature and the people of the rainforest in Borneo, as described in Money Logging.

Orang Asli literally translates to Original Man. They are the true, native people of Malaysia and consist of some of the most peaceful tribes on the planet. I fiercely champion indigenous rights, especially within Malaysia, where corruption is so rife that these people are treated with little to no regard. I would go so far to equate the problem with the Aborigines of Australia and the Native Americans.

The talk focused on the Temiar as two instrumental members of their community were there to speak, and they are directly affected by the logging activity. The panel included Nora Kantin & Mustafa Along, Temiar-Orang Asli activists from Gua Musang; Roger Chan, Malaysian Bar Council’s Committee on the Environment; Lim Teck Wyn, Forestry consultant and Technical Director of Resource Stewardship Consultants Sdn Bhd; and was moderated by Colin Nicholas, Center for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC).

Uninformed of projects and developmental plans, aggressive logging sanctioned by the PAS-led Kelantan government is infringing upon their ancestral homelands. This place is the second oldest rainforest in the world, after Borneo, and although the Temiar community are not estranged to outside developments, they still practice an ancient way of life. They are the guardians of the forest and its creatures. Ancestral graves have been destroyed. Their blockades have been burnt to the ground and torn to shreds via chainsaws and machetes, even shots have been fired. Continued illegal logging has created floods further along the river, downstream where the settlements have been underwater for weeks into the new year. The plantations that spread out as far as the eye can see, have also caused the waters to become polluted. The ‘developmental’ destruction is detrimental to their lands and way of life.

Many loggers have gangster affiliates and there have been times when police impersonators have appeared at the blockades.

The Forestry Department is under the jurisdiction of each individual state whereas the Orang Asli department is handled by the Federal Government, where we can easily see that welfare is divorced from law. The Forestry Department has also confiscated motorcycles from the Orang Asli, which is their main transport, hence limiting their movements and making communication more difficult. You ever tried to get signal in the rainforest?

Court action is underway with fantastic lawyers like Siti Kasim helping out, and NGOs offering their support to the Orang Asli.

Malaysia is all very corrupt.

You can check the full forum uploaded on Facebook.

My red hair appears in the first five minutes or so. Try not to get distracted by my fidgeting.

 

 

The Island [SHORT STORY]

The largest city on the Island was also the only city. Vincent gazed up at the scale of tightly packed stone that formed a wall around the crumbling structures within. The sun’s crown shimmered like sugared rose petals from behind, defining the silhouettes of the buildings, sharpening them with each passing second.

In the beginning, a grey smog rolled over the walls but it had eventually subsided, and the city grew more or less silent as the years went by. However, upon listening closely, the gentle hum of life buzzed within. No one went in or out. Vincent had circled the place hundreds of times and had never been able to pinpoint an opening. The city was sealed and for the people outside the walls, it was everything. What happened in there was a mystery. Rumours stated that there were indoor farms sustaining the city people; that there were bubble wrapped men working in laboratories, attempting to neutralise the seas and skies; that there were military men snatching up mutants from all over the Island for experimentation.

After the oceans began vomiting fish and whales in a sludge of yellow foam, everyone had retreated inland. The coastal towns reeked too hard of rotting corpses. Bones littered the beaches and the sunlight scorched the earth into vapours. Once, green lush life sprawled all over the Island but had now become dotted with rugged brambles and much further inland near the wall, dry thickets stormed the landscape. As the waters rose, selected people were chosen for the city leaving the infected to fend for themselves. Many of them suffered from starvation and the cold. The air held a chill and was thin, particularly in the lowlands that fell away from the centre of the Island where the city was situated.

Vincent scrambled down the rocky valley to his hut. The temperature dropped dramatically when the sun set. Unprepared wanderers often perished in the lowlands, their bodies found in between the spaces created by the boulders and stones.

Vincent’s makeshift shelter was simple. Lean, bendy branches were woven together tortoise shell style. The inside and outside were caked thick with mud, creating solid walls to keep safe from the biting wind in the night. The little hut’s ability to retain heat after dark yet keep cool and dry in the blistering sun was sheer lucky craftsmanship on Vincent’s behalf. Although, he was wise enough to add finishing touches; a circular pit he had dug out in the centre of the hut served him as a warm hearth for added comfort. His arch of an entrance was patched up with hoary black bin bags like a giant dog flap, secured down to the floor at each corner by rocks. It managed to blend in with the surroundings, perched on an obscure, secluded shelf deep in the valley. No prying eyes here.

Other people out here surely keep their homes under wraps. Plashuk always seemed to say things they both knew simply for the sake of conversation. Half the time, Vincent would not bother replying. Yet an air of agreement hung about them as they sorted through their stash of wild berries, old tins of beans and sweetcorn, leafy tit-bits and olive jars. Grabbing a tired Tupperware and a torch from one of the piles of accumulated goods, Vincent hobbled outside and into the face of the rocks.

Strategically planned, Vincent had completed his hut within range of a cave. The opening was a mere crack and Vincent’s stooped posture and slight humpback could just about slip through. However, the cave interior was vast and the shadows poured down for miles and miles into the earth’s crust. It was a complex of underground streams and platforms and rooms like the secret work of giant ants. Heavenly architecture. The tubes folded over one another and the electricity of the cave reverberated around sparking Vincent’s lonely thoughts as he ventured deeper.

Caves! Aren’t they always so magnificent? Plashuk echoes.

Spotlight. Enormous grey teeth on either side. Pointed patterns lined their path, splattered with still, untouched pools of glass. Vincent gingerly approached the lip of one. He met his own eyes; the warm colour of maple syrup. His bulldog face managed a lumpy smile on one side.  And sprung from his lengthy thick neck, Plashuk also observed his reflection. Ropes of matted hair dangled limply on either side of his face. Plashuk’s eyes were luminous, even in the infinite black of the cave. Bright. Brilliant. Toxic. His irises were always pulsating as if lightning bolts were quietly charging there.

Let’s keep moving. Water ain’t gonna fill itself. Vincent did not need Plashuk’s prompting. He found that his contemplation was often disrupted by Plashuk’s logic and brash comments. But he wasn’t a bad guy; after all, he was only a fraction of the man Vincent was and unable to control the body. His mouth over compensated. Vincent often wished Plashuk’s understanding was less like the shallow pools scooped about them but rather, dreamed that he should attain a consciousness that rushed like the underground streams with the prospect of endless possibilities; always changing and flowing with the natural rhythm of things.

He plodded on. Upon reaching the entrance of the usual destination, Vincent always took a deep breath. Maybe it was how thin the air was down here. Maybe it was the peculiar creeping feeling of excitement that took hold of his chest every time. Inhale slow. Exhale slow. Inhale slow. Exhale slow. The entrance was a crevice. A faint glow, cold and blue, frosted the walls of the opening. He drifted through the light, totally enraptured, and surrendered to its staggering beauty. Sweet pure light. Temporarily dazzled, the blinding power eventually gave rise to forms: a vast shining lake, turquoise yet blossom pink like a kiss exclaimed itself and resonated within Vincent’s heart; strong and constant. An orbital ledge swooped around the rim of the crystalline basin.

Capsuled in time and mystery, ghostly aurochs and horses adorned the walls in colours of blood and mud. Their juicy and pregnant bodies overlapped each other in a transparent cycle. Vincent always considered the various painters of these monumental codes; clearly signifying something mystical. Sacred. No doubt it was sacred. The stampede of spirits surged across the rock wall as the resurrected protectors of the secret lake. They travelled like a giant primal scream, echoing through the ages into Vincent’s brain; the complex thoughts, the beliefs and understanding of a peoples had been shaped into the comprehensibility of animals, now long forgotten by most. They also served Vincent as a bittersweet reminder that this land was once abundant with life. This was the birth place of modern man.

Everything exists inside. He concluded.

An hour or ten minutes, Vincent was uncertain of how much time had passed. An affinity with his ancestors had occurred. It was as if the ancient painters’ artistic evolution of perceiving the oneness of the past and future had ignited within him. The eternal presence permeated space and time, and unstoppable forces from far beyond human existence announced themselves. The sloping shoulders of these sacred creatures bounded across the centuries, championing truth to all who dared to care. It all made sense here in the still, lonely quiet.

Vincent opened the lid of the Tupperware and dragged the container through the silken sunset below. It shimmered, waving outwards across the expanse as he lifted the container. He drank gratefully. Plashuk gulped greedily. Please sir, I want some more. Vincent filled the Tupperware again for him.

Sitting on the low ledge, he then attempted to remove his boots, rugged and weathered from forever’s wear and tear. They were stuck on his feet and refused to come off. He struggled once more before relaxing back and taking a deep breath in the wake of the Holy Water.

Ain’t nothing left to be done. Plashuk stated.

Vincent raised one half of his thick wiry eyebrow which seemed to say pfft. Be real. I haven’t had a true crack at it yet. Still got life left pumping up and down and around my sinews. He smiled somewhat wryly.

Oh yeah? You didn’t even have the energy to fight off that gangly slime-mutant fella for that can of chestnuts at the dump the other night.

And what would you be without me exactly? Ummm, I know! Non-existent. Or In hell. Snapping at Plashuk’s cynicism with more cynicism. Vincent resented being made to feel incompetent by a talking growth that could not even raise a finger.

Yeah, well, what’s the point in being me anyway, huh? Plashuk resented feeling like nothing more than a talking growth. And Vincent shot him a sympathetic glance as soon as he realised where his short temper had struck. I’m so fucking insignificant. Plashuk sounded resigned. But his own apathy only stirred his anger. Can’t even do shit…Can’t physically do shit. Might as well be in hell. He simmered down.

Vincent sighed deep and long, his bulbous beautiful eyes transfixed by the lake. He glanced to the right at Plashuk’s defeatist face. There’s no point in saying that shit. You think nobody’s ever felt the way you do? I gotta listen to your self-indulgent blathering everyday. And shit, that’s painful. Vincent attempted a poor stab at something that resembled a joke.

You never listen to me anyway. Plashuk’s voice brimmed over with indignance.

It’s not you I’m wanting to listen to. Sometimes I just wish you would shut up and stop distracting me from what we’re supposed to be doing. This dwelling in self-obsession…it’s a waste. A waste of the very fact you exist at all! You could be, I don’t know, using your eyes to find food or shelter for us…use your night goggle vision to protect us! Fuck man, you could hang off my neck all day appreciating what Nature gives us. Look at these paintings! And instead of whining, try focusing on…love…selflessness, kindness, whatever! Why don’t you use that mouth of yours for singing? It’s been a long time since I heard a song. You don’t know, you might be good at it.

Closing his eyes briefly, Vincent exhaled an apology. I’m sorry. It’s not your fault. I hope you’re understanding me though. Sometime I just wish you would pay attention to what’s right in front of you. He scooped up some more water in his hands and washed their faces. They took their final sips from the lake and refilled the Tupperware before making their way back up to the surface.

It was already nightfall. The sky – a thick rippling blanket of spider silk, stringing the entire cosmos together, folded over and over and over like the hypnotic coils of a snake in a basket – slammed Vincent to the ground and wrapped him cosily in his bed in an instant.

As Dawn reached out her rosy fingers, the embers from the night fizzled soft in the hearth. Almonds and blackberries on the morning menu.

After leaving the valley, Vincent embarked on his usual tour of the Island. He approached the wall. Looked it up and down. And proceeded to walk around it. In doing so, he stumbled upon a pack of kids. Mutant kids. About eleven of them. They were lobbing rocks at the wall, pulling parts from it, attempting to kick their way through. This was not unusual. Yet today was different.

A small mutant boy of scaly complexion slid out from a crack in the wall.

Nervous. Excited. Blood pumped round Vincent’s heart into his ears. He looked to Plashuk, dumbstruck. A mirrored expression gawked back at him. The kids filed through, the tail end of them gesturing at him.

Check this out!

Shaky at first, Vincent found his feet striding long and fast. It was funny but, in Vincent’s experiences, the kids were always much more accommodating than mutant adults. Less out for themselves, he thought, less lonely and more about banding together. Kids of all ages stuck together. None of them gave a fuck in this world that didn’t give a fuck. The kids hung around in large groups, darting though the unfriendly environment like shoals of fish. Rubbish and sun-scorched concrete, clay and metals from thousands of years ago were of value to them. They felt an affinity with the peculiar objects and bric-a-brac that revealed themselves amongst the rubble. They spent their days playing, creating, building, making life better together. And now, they had brought down the wall – even ever so slightly – had chipped away at the barrier that had pushed them to brink of insanity and back again.

As Vincent approached what remained of the squad, one of them faced him.

I am now the King of this land. He proclaimed with a large withered branch, bringing it down in front of him like a sceptre. He looked about seven years old. His face was pug-like, complete with doleful puppy dog eyes. His body, more muscular and squat than his young friends, had two arms protruding from either side of his torso.

You seem alright for an old dude. You’re allowed in. Pointing his stick towards the not-so-grand gateway. The last of the mutant kids passed across to the other side of the wall.

Vincent’s chest expanded as he inhaled a deep breath of chilled, polluted air. Inhale. Exhale. He could hear the incessant hum of the city drone on. Through the hole in the wall, he could see the light flicker and hush to no end. A shiver slithered up his spine and across his shoulders. He rolled them back and shook away his fear. Vincent took side steps through the hole, compressed front and back. Inhale. Exhale. Thick, thick wall. Metres thick. Dust and creepy crawlies on all sides. He edged closer and closer to the light. He made it through. Inhale. The sun danced behind his eyelids in flying colours and the roar deafened his ears. A thick, thick sound. He blinked, face towards the ground. He stared at his boots, planted in a sandy road. The road stretched out and around, overlooking the city.

The city gasped in the centre. Vincent stood on the mouth of what seemed to be a crater. The outline of its towers like a heartbeat flatline; up and down in the litless shade of a cage. All along the inside of the wall urban paintings encircled, confronting civilisation with the expression of itself. Unlike the sacred cave paintings, these were no animals. But Vincent still wondered what they meant.

Skeletal glyphs and scriptures screamed from the wall. They were round and wide to angular and slender, clustered closely together in conversation. Each successor had contributed meaning with every stroke, envisioning a collective identity of humanity. Vincent’s eyes passed over the wall of documents, processing change. It was as if people were coming to terms with themselves all over again, and the situation in which they found themselves. There was an element of longing trapped in the harmony of letters. And yet also, the angsty recognition of the unduly lamentable forces in their world. The emotions were visceral and raw. They demanded to be heard. They proclaimed their names to the city in uproar. What beauty surrounded them? What was it they loved? Such liveliness gave character to the grey.

But the people? There were none. From his view, Vincent could tell there was no one. Not a soul remained. He could not hear their hearts murmuring from their boxy rooms and cars. Instead, the buzzing that he had assumed was the steady symphony of modern life belonged to the bees. Millions upon millions upon millions of bees spasmed through the air like fluorescent lights. They flew disorganised in all directions. Vincent swayed over their chaotic haze. He laughed. Laughed and laughed. An ecstatic lunatic kind of laugh. He looked at Plashuk. Also infected with laughter. Finally as one, united by laughter in the buzzing madness of the early afternoon.

 

 

The White House [SHORT STORY]

“As a child I felt myself to be alone, and I am still, because I know things and must hint at things which others apparently know nothing of, and for the most part do not want to know.”
― C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections 

 

White gleaming House in the glare of the Sky’s eye. She blinks a million miles an hour and beams the warmth of a bosom against my baby head. The atmosphere hangs low and heavy in the Rainforest. Breathe deep and heave with her.

My mother calls out to me from the veranda. She says it’s time for some coconut. She brings me into her arms, her dress billowing like the clouds. Mummy’s hair falls thick past her shoulders and glows a low-key red that’s dark and purple like a mangosteen. And that smell of sweet spices as she swaddles me, evaporating off mellow, dark pigmented skin. You never looked so beautiful.

Radiance in the Rainforest.

But little monkeys should fear and respect the Tigress of the Rainforest. Her tracks run in concentric circles around the forest floor, echoing out across the great expanse. She owned my life. And I owe her my life.

I slurp pure ribbons of coconut up a straw, melodious and delicious, in the shade of the White House. The wooden floor is hard and cool. The direction of the slats leads into the heart of the White House where all I can make out is darkness. Fan blades from above slice through the thick, black air like choppers. My memory is dim but I sense It, even then. The monster of the labyrinth. It’s as young as I am at this point, but also ancient. It’s a demon crawling round and round into irrationality. The beast dragged us screaming into the maze of mass hysteria, emotions tangled like vines in the Rainforest. It’s black horns and swirling red eyes are watching. Always watching and waiting for the chance to dance on It’s hooves in sick delight. You can get used to It’s presence. Shake the habit.

But for this first confrontation, It stares at me from the darkness of the White House on all fours and slips away from sight. My gravity will pull It into my chest eventually.

My fat hands grasp coconut husk as I look out onto the garden. Beyond that is the Rainforest. The Rainforest never sleeps. Like the monster in It’s cage of blood, She’s always watching. She has many eyes to seek you out but keeps your secret hushed. She beats slow and steady but sends serpents and sudden death to your doorstep. She is juicy and button-lip silent, She makes men literally insane, but the energy She generates howls louder than airplanes. In the night, I have trouble sleeping but then She will kiss me; her breath is hot and will lull me into dreams.

When I wake, monkeys are swinging from the branches and power lines, free and fun. I gurgle,

WAIR IS TH Orangutan?

They didn’t seem to know.

Fatima fixes me a breakfast of durian and feeds me with her hands. It’s pungent yellow flesh coats my palate with a creamy wave of soft cashews. After Malaysia, I will not try durian again until I’m twenty-two.

Fatima always warns me not to stray too far from the garden.

“Hormati hutan tropika.” she says.

They all think the Rainforest is frightening for a little monkey like me. Her scarf frames her gentle face. She is my second mother at this age. But my birth mummy is going to show me the ropes today. It is my first swimming lesson.

The glistening lagoon is nothing but rubble twenty-two years later. Though, right now in the midst of my mind’s rewind, sun droplets skim the rippling tips of the water and whip back and forth in the rush of the tumbling falls. Mummy is a nymph; guardian of this sacred oasis. I blankly watch her glide from the shallows and I already realise that I will never perform with such unabashed grace. There is a touch of carelessness to her grace. Movements flow with the water, each stroke fluid and languid. Her body is slim and streamlined. With each frog leg kick, she becomes the water as it laps around her skin, surrounding that dark brown. My mother is reduced to a shadow below the surface as she swims further through the pool.

I am dunked underneath by mummy. Big Blue is all over me and my baby eyes are shining bubbles in the cooling murk. The sloshing subsides and is instead replaced with the primal roaring of nature, thumping in my ears. Water like blood like a heartbeat.

I can’t breathe.

My flailing limbs take stabs at every angle, unprepared for the overwhelming wash that submerges my being.

Schwunge. Schwunge. Schwunge.

To the top.

Explode into bliss as the jungle fills your lungs. Breathe deep and heave with her. The sun blesses my baby face.

My mother takes me to the neighbours. The youngest neighbour was only a little older than myself. She had a fresh mundan head with a glowing red dot in the middle of her bold, flaming brows. An exquisite specimen of delicate and grotesque features; she was a unique face. Wide balloon eyes, black and bottomless. She looked at me strange.

FUNEE. UR HAIRKT.

I said.

And she looked at me stranger.  I had never seen anyone like her. She was something marvellous.

My scalp sears like a shower of arrows as she yanks my baby hair.

WTHA FUK BTCH.

I bite down on her arm. Hard like the Tigress.

DNT LAF AT ME.

My mother heard me crying and the fight was broken. But I’ve not forgotten it.

Looking back it is petty, ridiculous and almost funny. Although something violent and savage started twisting that afternoon as I turned my first corner in the labyrinth.

I was hot and salty from crying, held up from the floor. And in a blink, I was home.

Mum’s voice chimes What’s Going On?  from the kitchen. Sing on forever.

Dad arrives home. Where have you been all this while? In our hearts we all know that the Rainforest seduced him with all her surprising delights. Always so busy with his mistress. It’s not his fault; when She calls, put your hands all over her. Make it right.

Daddy likes to sink into the woven rattan chair on the veranda, facing out towards the garden. He sits and waits for the leeches to drop off. I crawl over in curiosity. Black and bulging, they crawl sluggishly all over his legs. Streams of leeches, pouring from the sky; they fall down my throat and suck blood through my eyes. They bite down on his flesh and drain him. Scary thoughts scar my mind when I wonder whether one day Dad’s legs will be so weak he won’t be able to come home. The monster in the labyrinth raises It’s head. It can sense weakness. It can smell blood a million miles away. Just rest a second and let those leeches drop.

If only I could always remember not to walk that way too.

Let those leeches drop till I breathe in all of creation as I did when I was a baby.

I know that for always, the family in the Rainforest will examine each other from across the dinner table and laugh. A feast of pisang goreng and ice cream will persist late into the hazy evening, as we share the stories of our past. And the hopeful promise of tomorrow poignantly resonates in our hearts and softly floats in the empty space that separates us. Eternity is ours.

 

Dark Romanticism

John Martin, The Valley of the Shadow of Death, 1829?

passion

blood

sublime

terror

fantastical

irrational

dreams

temptation

euphoria

intoxication

Dark Romanticism is not confined to any singular art movement as such, but is more of a mind-state that penetrates the centuries.

Brassaï, Graffiti

 

Romanticism is a grace, celestial or infernal, that bestows us eternal stigmata.

(Baudelaire, The Salon of 1859)

Romanticism seems to stem from a collective memory in artists, a shared human experience. It finds beauty in the banal, seeks the enigmatic in the ordinary and reaches into the core, exposing raw emotion.

Victor Hugo, Planet, 1866

It was the murky fog underneath the gloss of the Enlightenment; the sinister side of humanity revealed as the political orders and social systems cracked and dragged all of Europe into the depths of suffering. There was much dispute in intellectual circles over reason as a “universal, judgemental authority” with the release of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. In questioning the verisimilitude of this concept, people who previously thought they were so fucking enlightened and progressive became shaken! Disillusionment took hold.

Jean Delville, The Idol of Perversity, 1891

Out of the black pool of the conditio humana sprung apparitions of death, spirits and demons plaguing the mind; Lady Macbeth’s and Grimm creatures; the dark shadows of the subconscious creeping and sprawling across the canvas.

The literary works of famed masters such as Milton, Victor Hugo, Byron, Shakespeare, Dante, Edgar Allan Poe, Goethe helped inform the phantasmagoria now so embedded in our brain folds. Mario Praz wrote a book in 1930 (published in English 1933) called The Romantic Agony. His analysis was on Romantic literature and in particular, it’s preoccupation with the erotic. Yet, tangled in there, he examined the cultural decline of Europe and the passion of the nocturnal psyche. It was established as a scholarly study but understood in terms of GothicismThis is not the same!

There is no true historical era for Dark Romanticism! In fact, in many ways I find a distinct parallel between the so-called Enlightenment of the late 18th century and the Now.

Städel Museum’s exhibition (September 2012 to 20 January 2013), Dark Romanticism; From Goya to Max Ernst  brought together a collection of 200 works from + seventy different artists in an attempt for some proper theoretical exploration.

And Dark Romanticism is deserving of attention.

It touches something very deep in the abyss of the human heart, no matter how buried or hidden it may seem. I think much of the paintings appeal to modern sentiments in their alarming graphic-ness. It is to shock, to puncture our little bubbles of comfortable thought in our comfortable little houses and comfortable clothes and comfortable conventions.

Aristotle’s Poetics tried to explain the human fascination with violence: something disgusting in life is pleasurable in art. And during the late eighteenth century, this occupied the minds of writers and philosophers alike. One of my faves, Edmund Burke, wrote A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful in 1757.

Aaaaaahhhhhh, the Sublime; something that inspires both awe and terror inside of you. BUT apparently, you can only find enjoyment in the Sublime when you know it isn’t gonna directly affect you, (hmmm, debatable!) As it both encompasses the beautiful aka that which imprisons us in the ‘sensuous’ physical world:- so the sublime can free us from it, with its overwhelming and staggering impact. There is no gradual transition from dependency to liberation. There is one or the other.

I suppose ya’ll are wondering where the fuck is Freud in all this?

Well, notably Carl Gustav Carus and Victor Hugo kinda beat him to it. They were devoted to the galaxies of the human mind long before, but I guess not written so ‘scientifically’ … If you wanna refer to Freud as a science … Regardless! The unlocking of one’s knowledge on the world lay in knowledge of self. 

These archetypes delve into the darkest fathoms of human fears and could bring a monster to his knees in profound joyful woe.

GOYA

Francisco Goya, The Third of May 1808, 1814

I’m not afraid of witches, hobgoblins, apparitions, boastful giants…nor indeed any kind of being except human beings.

This masterpiece did not feature in the exhibition but should be mentioned over and over repeatedly.

It is perhaps the only work of Goya’s that illustrates the slightest ray of hope. I think it can still testify as a Dark Romantic through exposing us to the injustice and horror of war; something so repulsively unimaginable but so so real.

This was painted after Napoleon’s occupation of Spain in 1808.  Here, Goya has memorialised the Spanish resistance caught in a face-off with the French military in front of the barracks.

The Spaniards consist of farmers, labourers, countrymen! They are pinned to the side of a hill by the fierce repetition of the firing squad who remain faceless, un-relatable and robotic.  They literally merge into a dark grey killing machine, proven to be rather efficient by the pile of fresh corpses strewn across the ground. In contrast, we see the rebels in a disorganised jumble but bathed in golden light.

Goya has treated the lamp like a division between good and evil: the noble every-man and the anonymous machine in the shadows.  But most importantly it dramatically highlights the martyr of the story; on his knees, his arms flung open like Christ. (If you look very closely, his hands appear to be pierced). The steely guns also point directly towards this glowing figure.

His facial expression is somewhat difficult to decipher but the longer I try to pin it, I find Goya has attempted to convey the deepest depths of human emotion: fear, pain and suffering, yet there is an element of defiance in his stance, also illustrating the power of belief. It’s notable that if this dude stood up, he would be a gigantic figure. He is larger than life and a pretty big deal – much like the concepts of courage and faith that he represents, not only for the Spanish but for people everywhere.

Francisco Goya, The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, 1799

Goya’s most iconic etching comes from a set of eighty aquatint prints called Los Caprichos, critiquing humanity’s irrationality and various blunders, alongside his views of contemporary society/every ‘civil’ society that exists.

[Aquatints get a rich, textured and varied surface]

When approaching this, anyone can ascertain that this is one ominous image! The man (Goya himself?), slumbers amongst his papers and pens with bats and owls encroaching from all sides, while the lynx lies in wait,  eyes gleaming through the dark (- a creature both mysterious and evil in Spanish folk tradition).

It’s pretty interesting to note that sueño means both sleep and dream. We realise we have entered Goya’s nightmare as we lock eyes with some shrouded creature in the centre of the composition. He meets our gaze and forces us to actively participate in this shadowy corner of thought.

Without Reason, evil and corruption prevails. To me, the etching is best summarised in the artist’s own words

Imagination abandoned by Reason produces impossible monsters, united with her, she is the mother of the arts the source of their wonders.

This pre-enlightenment work perhaps signals the start of the ‘Sublime’ subject in Romanticism, then? This dark vision of humanity characterises Goya’s work way before the war and occupies his mind for the rest of his life. And for sure, I can empathise with his despair, and that familiar feeling when you conclude that there is no salvation in a world so fucked up.

FUSELI

Henry Fuseli, The Nightmare, 1781

People were actually warned to stand a fair distance from this painting when first revealed to the public. It’s impact was big and the work was received with a mixture of fascination and alarm amongst the endless crowd pleasers of the Royal Academy’s annual exhibition of 1782. Fuseli ignored the iconographic traditions of his predecessors that controlled the way dreams were supposed to look. Thus, people saw this as emotionally evocative and psychologically charged; “philosophical ideas made intuitive, or sentiment personified.”

The image draws on Germanic folklore in the depiction of what we would recognise as an incubus  and a wraith-like horse. The word nightmare has its roots in mara – a demonic creature much like an incubus, that suffocates you as you sleep (with a particular taste of salacious young women). It was also believed that mara would ermmm ‘ride’ horses which left them very unhappy, sweaty and exhausted in the morning.

With this reference to literature and the classical influence seen in the deathly sculptural figure (it ain’t easy to accomplish that wet-look drapery!), this painting was only just suitable enough for the panel at the Academy. The lusty bed of red she is splayed across heightens the emotion and is literally there to remind us of sex and death, if it wasn’t already overt enough in the heavily menacing-oppressing-voyeuristic-mood of it all.

We are stripped of extra background details; Fuseli wants us to focus on the nightmare, where passion and horror collide expressed in his figures. Kenneth Clark once remarked that Fuseli had exposed society’s ‘hidden neurosis’. Freudian ideas of sublimation also feed into Fuseli’s painting; could this simply be a sublimated sexual instinct? Note: socially unacceptable impulses are consciously transformed into socially acceptable action because the long term conversion of the initial impulse aka art/inventions serve a much greater cultural or social purpose.

The threatening scenario sent rumours flying around London that this crazy Swiss guy ate bloody pork before bed every night and took a bunch of drugs to stimulate his erotically, nightmarish visions!

Visions that solidified his place as a key player in Dark Romanticism.

friedrich

Caspar David Friedrich, The Sea of Ice, 1824

Aged thirteen, whilst ice skating, Caspar David was saved from drowning by his younger brother Johann Christoffer.

But in saving him, Christoffer took his place and fell through the frozen lake.

His life following, and many of his paintings clearly allude  to this traumatic experience.

Caspar David Friedrich, Monk by the Sea, 1824

This is the most famous of all Caspar David’s paintings.

And for me, this is the most chilling and pensive image of the post.

It is elusive, suggesting the integral connections between nature, personal experience and visions of the very complex self. Evocative of silence and solitude, many art historians immediately note the late paintings of Rothko – in the subdued and gloomy colours that hover all hazy-like. He employs something art nerds call  Rückenfigur ; the monk is our surrogate, experiencing the devastating sublimity of nature.

Dwarfed by the landscape, he raises his hands in prayer, contemplating life and all its impermanence as the black waters of infinity stretch out before him. Now, usually when I consider sublime landscapes, all I see is Turner Turner Turner  but to me, there is an understated reunion here between the spiritual self and nature.

Perhaps the monk stands, listening to the breathing of the earth as he recollects his past; his wrongdoings, his failures, his heartbreaks. Perhaps the monk laments a life without a matrix of streets and the descending smog of no return! Perhaps it is guilt, despair, uncertainty, death. Whatever it may be for Caspar David Friedrich, the beauty of this mystic image is based on the personal experience of the viewer.

We end up meditating about our own lives as we melt into the scene and take the place of the faceless monk. The open and expansive sky is awash with poignancy; no stars, no life. But Dawn peers over the clouds, offering a way out. I can imagine being caught in the midst of the elements, the wind tearing through me and releasing me of my troubles; this painting teaches me/us the art of submissionletting go, flowing with the transient nature of life.

Although a heavy silence permeates the picture, this is not dark or frightening for me. In fact it is the ultimate communication. There is something interesting about sharing silence with a painting and the complete strangers surrounding you whilst enthralled in the same, magnificent painting. You break out, look around and realise everyone is dealing with deep emotions and profound elemental insights too. And it’s insanely humbling.

If more people took the time to view and understand such works, we could flicker from hubris to humility in a second.

Thank you for providing such a well of information.

 

Here I am lying down to sleep;

No night-mare shall plague me

until they have swum through all the waters

that flow upon the earth,

and counted all stars

that appear in the skies.

[Thus help me God Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen!]