Ilham Contemporary Forum : The conversation is on. Where are the writers?

1 October 2017

Banana Money, Chong Kim Chew, 2017

Picture: Richard Chua

How do artworks speak and converse with each other? Ilham Contemporary Forum co-facilitator Lee Weng Choy brought me around the exhibition. We had a constructive conversation. The seven curators in the exhibition came from different backgrounds. All of them picked a few art-works of their choice, mainly contemporary pieces made during 2009 to 2017. Both of us went way back in Singapore. He was formerly one of the co-artistic directors of the Singapore independent arts centre The Substation, while I was practicing theatre. The meeting was kind of like a continuation of our conversations about contemporary visual and performing arts.

To me, both processes are very similar. Art historian Erwin Panofsky proposed the process involving three actions: Look, See and Think. 1 Like watching a piece of live performance where different elements interact and “speaking” to each other, including sound and lights, an audience member gets stimulated and “entertained”. The stimulus encourages us to develop emotions. The passion compels us to speak directly to the art-works and to the artist. The same process applies to visual art pieces too.

The art pieces in the exhibition were quite different. The common thread might just be Malaysia culture and practices. Tan Zi Hao’s objects (The Soil is Not Mine – 2013) from different people are not just about visual representation, they are about giving and sharing, an important cultural gesture. The big “rumah” in the space is a replica of filmmaker Liew Seng Tat’s Projek Angkat Rumah initiated in 2010, a project KLUE’s Urbanscapes. It is the centrepiece. According to Liew, cited in The Star (2010), “The practice of moving house involves the community, it is an Asian heritage – not just Malaysian thing – and it is a spectacle”. 2 Spectacle, it is. The significance of the rumah could be viewed more as an anchor to the conversations, rather than the functional: The state of Malaysia.

What’s interesting is how this conversation could extend itself to the upcoming KL Biennale themed Be Loved. 3 According to the publicity text, the theme is “… constructive and compassion in nature, instilling positive values such as compassion, sincerity, happiness, honesty, tolerance, mutual respect, solidarity, hope and sustainability” (Mycreative, 2017). How would these categories converse with the notions explored in Ilham Contemporary Forum, namely “’Play, Negotiation, Resistance’, ‘Discomfort’, ‘Reassemble’ and ‘Archive, Narrative, World’” (Lin, 2017). 4

These conversations will be taking place in Malaysian visual arts in 2017. What would be the outcomes? What findings will be revealed from these conversations? That’s where art-writing comes in. Anyone who is keen to contribute a piece of writing or two, just email me at Here’s a piece of good writing by Shyan. 5




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