The late great SP Balasubramaniam’s last recorded vocal graces Superstar Rajinikanth upcoming film release Annatthee. The song is which is titled Annatthee Annatthee after the the film, seems to usher in a rousing return to the rustic rural styling that the Superstar brand is founded on.
One of the highlights of my days as an early Internet artist in Malaysia is being invited as a guest at Michael Heim’s (author of The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality) virtual world Cyberforum as a guest in 2000. Other speaker that year were leaders in the field – Cliff Joslyn, David Weinberger, Howard Bloom, Francis Heylighen, Bruce Damer, William J. Mitchell, Lev Manovich, Carol Gigliotti, Brenda Laurel, Katherine Hayles, and Peter Lunenfeld, so I was really excited at being invited to participate.
Even with my high expectations the session was not a disappointment. Michael’s pioneering Virtual Worlds Theory and Design team began hosting chat interactions in avatar worlds at the end of 1999. with the aim of researching the dynamics of these spaces as sites for the exchange of ideas about digital technology. I was both a speaking subject and an object for observation in this encounter. Among the outcomes of this research for Michael Heim was an important paper about what he calls ‘flow; in virtual world interactions. The paper was titled The Feng Shui of Virtual Reality. I myself gained great insights about web based virtual reality and the nature of immersion. I incorporated a desktop VR representation of the installation, when La Folie de la Peinture(1998) was presented at the Substation, Singapore in a show titled, Layers … Reality … Memory in 2001. I also incorporated these ideas into a paper titled From the Aesthetics of perceptual Objects to the Metaphysics of Interactivity which was presented at the 15th International congress for Aesthetics in Tokyo. This paper won an Asian Scholars Award from the International Aesthetics Association and the Japanese Society for Aesthetics (this paper is not available online).
CyberForum was built in Active Worlds and was accessible using the Eduverse 3D browser. Active Worlds, was an early Virtual Reality community on the web that let users builtd, visit and chat in 3D worlds in millions of square kilometers of virtual territory. The log of my CyberForum session is available on the Wayback Machine.
The Dari Pusat Tasek show runs at the Percha Art Space in Lumut till the 5th Jan 2020 (EXTENDED TILL 19 JAN 2020).
In the Hikayat Jaya Langkara, a quest for the healing saffron flower leads the Princess Ratna Kasina to a mountain at the pusat tasek where the rising tide brings the miraculous flower up within her reach. While there is no mention of the Pokok Pauh Janggi in this fable, the buah Pauh appears twice in the list of similes used to extoll the beauty of Princess. Princess Ratna Kasina is said to have cheeks like sliced mango (pipi-nya saperti pauh di-layang), and heels like turned (or peeled) mango (tumit-nya saperti pauh di-larek).
For the opening reception of the show at Percha Art Space, Percha Director, Suhaila Hashim, steamed her first Kueh Pauh Dilayang after experimenting with recipes found online. The cake was sliced (dilayang) and served to locate the mango within Malay mythology and aesthetics, and to articulate the core symbolism of the Dari Pusat Tasek happening which includes –
a performance based the mythic realities of the ‘navel of the seas’ or the Pusat Tasik Pauh Janggi.
a gallery installation featuring the Koboi Balik Kampung series of 12 photographic prints and presents an autobiographical take on the complexities of contemporary Malaysian art and society.
and the serving of this rare Kelantan sweet – the Kueh Pauh Dilayang.
My installation for the KL Biennale 2017 at the Piyadasa Gallery, Universiti Malaya is titled The Gift of Knowledge. It commemorates the scholarly work of Durai Raja Singam which centered on disseminating the writings of esteemed art historian and metaphysician Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy. This installation is also a way to mark my personal debt to Durai Raja Singam who was my periappa, my uncle. His generous yet insistant presentation of Coomarswamy and his ideas played a significant role in shaping my own worldview and my sense of the place of art in the order of things.
This installation presents select items of his furniture, personal effects, print layout/artwork, photographs, and most significantly, his publications. It is accompanied by a candid and clarifying video conversation with his son, my cousin Jawaharal Jai Singam, that sets Durai Raja Singam’s legacy within familial, communal, national and international narratives. This installation presents Durai Raja Singam holistically, as a man with a mission within a very specific social, historical and sclolarly milieu – that of Asia in a time of transition from a colonianlist paradigm to a nationalist one. Through his life and works we can glimple the the complex emergence and interplay of modern Jaffna Tamil, Indian, Malaysian and Asian identies in the post-colonial era. As Simon Soon of Universiti Malaya notes, Durai Raja Singam is an important figure in many different contexts – cultural history, diasporic imagination, 20th century transnational networks, Malaysian cosmopolitsnism, post-colonial forms of knowledge, the reconciliation between modernity and spirituality as well as non-mainstream approaches history.
My installation sits liminally at the boundary of art work, curatorship, family memorial and scholarship. It is the recognition of the passion of a man, his sense of duty and his belief that knowledge was a common property that belonged to all. Above all, and in keeping with the belas theme of the KL Biennal, it is the celebration of the charity and compassion of a man and of his ‘gift of knowledge’.
The official opening of an exhibition of the hitherto unreleased drawings of Zulkifli Dahalan was held on the 17th of May at the National Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur. This exhibition was curated by Nur Hanim Khairuddin who kindly included an essay by myself in the catalogue. After I had completed and submitted my essay to Hanim, I was alerted to Hasnul Jamal Saidon’s extended review of the then newly released film Arrival on his Jiwa Halus Blog. The review was titled THE LATE ARRIVAL OF NON-LINEARITY: A NON-OBJECTIVE REFLECTION ON THE MOVIE “ARRIVAL” and was written as a series of three letters to the films director. I was delighted to find that Hasnul had chosen to conclude PART 3 of this innovative series by citing my own application of Keith Critchlow’s ideas on geometry in my essay on Sulaiman Esa for his Petronas Gallery retrospective Insyrah. Indeed, in Islamic geometry, the extension from point to line to plane, and back again, carries the allegory of space into that of time. The non-spatiality of the point in geometry and the bindu in Tantra are indifferent from the intemporal consciousness of the Sufi Ibn al-wakt or ‘son of the moment’. Beyond my superficial delight in finding my name at the ‘point’ of closure of Hasnul’s marvellous serial letter, I was profoundly moved by the fact that after nearly two decades with only occasional contact, our inner rhythms seem to be in perfect synchronicity. You see, Hasnul had appraised Arrival in terms of abstraction, geometry and the Islamic ideas of Shirik (interdiction against life-like representations or concentrations), Tawhid (multivalent singularity) and Fitrah (the original state of man). And I, in my newly submitted catalogue essay, had attempted to interpret the figuration and humanism of Zulkifli Dahlan in exactly the very same terms.