In 1999, I curated the first exhibition of online artworks in Malaysia for the ‘4th International Ipoh Arts Festival.’ The artists in the show were all students and faculty from the Faculti Seni Gunaan dan Kreatif (FSGK), Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS). Indeed, between 1995 and 2000 Hasnul Jamal Saidon and I had worked to established FSGK as a leading new media hub in Southeast Asia. My own art work during this time was web-based and our students were encouraged to explore and integrate this newly accessible interface to the Internet into their art works. The exhibition in Ipoh presented an array of computers each featuring one web art work, in an effort to integrate the private online experience into the more public offline space.
The show included Prasembah 2000: An Antologi La…! by Hasnul and Rainmaker by John Hii, both of which are not available on the Internet archive. There are two works for which fragments are still available on the Archive. Below are sections from my curatorial statement for the show –
In “Tortoise_Zone“ by Ting Ting Hook explores the relationship between interior and exterior in human consciousness in terms of the notion of ‘place’. Using the conventions of painting and installation art as points of departure for an Internet work, he invokes a slightly hallucinatory mode as the viewers disembodied impressions of a virtual place impinge on his or her encounter with an analogous physical site. The differences between the outdoor site in Kuching, Sarawak, and the online interactive domain increase with time, as the intense tropical climate rapidly takes its toll. Eventually the physical place is left as a residue of an event, a ‘marked site’, a scar even! While the virtual site, remains unweathered and unchanged in perpetuity. Documentation of the real site was uploaded to the website as the event progressed.
Modernism withdrew from painting the function of representing visual reality and gave it instead the role of constructing a pure aesthetic order. Painting became the “high” art form of an initiated intellectual elite. Each artist was considered a genius and each painting a unique object of aesthetic veneration. Mondrian represents the epitome of modernist aesthetic obsession and intellectual alienation. “Mondrian in Action!“ by Ling Sew Woei deconstructs this great icon in a simple online engagement with the “viewer.” “Composition with Red, Yellow and Blue” is extended into the third dimension and rendered interactive in VRML. As we pan, rotate and zoom in and out of the now sculptural copy, we overcome the passivity with which we would have approached the original. Indeed, we are able to manipulate the image from whatever remote location we happen to occupy. The “PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH” of modern painting is undermined in the ‘PLEASE INTERACT’ connectivity of the Internet.
Another early UNIMAS student work, for which fragments are available in the Internet Archive, was not included in the Ipoh show. It was however included in my INET 1998 paper presentation in Geneva and is described below –
“My 12 Friends: Representation Less Reflection” by Tham Chee Chong uses the of the Internet to present images of boxes whose contents index the personalities of his friends. Initially the friends were invited to put something of theirs, something of themselves even, in the boxes. These were then marked with the names of the friends and installed in a grid in a public space in the community to which the friends belong. The shift from intimacy to the public sphere and then on to the anonymity of the Internet is an abstraction of sorts — from the meaningful to a situation in which reflection would yield no meaningful result. We are left with signifiers for personality without specific referents. Tham uses some of the particularities of the interface to engage the viewer in a playful movement from box to box that yields no conclusive result.