Early Internet Art in Malaysia 10


In 1999 Hasnul Jamal Saidon and I founded the pioneering Eart ASEAN Online portal which, as the text on the homepage used to say, was an “interactive resource for electronic art in Southeast Asia. This site consists of a comprehensive Database of new media art including profiles of artists and samples of artworks, a Journal dealing with the historical development of electronic art in South East Asia, theoretical and critical issues related to the use of electronic media in the visual arts as well as reviews and analysis of electronic artworks, a Forum for online discussion as well as Links to related websites worldwide and a space for developing and hosting Webart by Southeast Asian Artists.”

The Webart  section of Eart ASEAN set out a criteria for web art and a theory of how online art works might be integrated within the physical infrastructure of offline world. Integrating Peter Anders notion of cybrid space, which involves the complete coalescence of the virtual and the real, and Jochaim Blank’s problematization of the presentation of net projects in physical space, I outlined a curatorial agenda for our own ‘Cybrid Spaces.’ The call for submissions read – “CYBRID SPACES aims to promote the assimilation of the Internet into Southeast Asian art practice. More specifically CYBRID SPACES will facilitate Internet art works and projects that engage with the various institutional and physical spaces of mainstream Southeast Asian art. CYBRID SPACES will work with artists (offline and online) in the region bridging communication gaps in the arts infrastructure of the region. CYBRID SPACES invites projects proposals (send to eartasean@hotmail.com) from artist practicing in the region”.

This first presentation under this rubric was a set of web works that explored this new ontology. These were all works, that featured in the Virtual Curation exhibition at the Ipoh Arts Festival and they were linked via the curatorial essay I wrote for that event. This was the inaugural presentation of CYBRID SPACES and many of the works, particularly Ting Ting Hook’s Tortoise Zone, exemplified the proposed agenda. Sadly, there were no further presentations in this section as, having given it our all for a couple of years, both Hasnul and I moved on to other things.

It must be said, in this regard, that the Eart ASEAN Online portal was clearly ‘ahead of its time.’ This was both, the measure of its success and the cause of its ultimate failure. The project may have arrived at a time when the Malaysian electronic art scene was too well rooted in the analog realm to envisage the benefits of virtual community (this was well before the advent of social media) and dissemination. Also, it seems that the majority of those becoming involved in the new media were more in tune with industry and, although we had incorporated the the applied dimension of the arts into our programme and welcomed them, we could not induce much participation. Most significantly we had set out the geopolitical framework of ASEAN for the project and most of the states involved – Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, Brunei Darussalam, Viet Nam, Lao PDR and Myanmar and Cambodia would take some years before gaining the Internet infrastructure and capacity to participate. Nevertheless, Eart ASEAN laid out the theoretical framework and exemplified the social networking and platform development any such endeavor would have to involve, even today.

https://web.archive.org/web/20011115023154/http://free.freespeech.org/eartasean/index.html

https://kathryn23.wordpress.com/2010/10/26/cybrids/

https://web.archive.org/web/20021231121635/http://free.freespeech.org/eartasean/html/webart/cybrid.html

https://web.archive.org/web/20020103051608/http://free.freespeech.org/eartasean/html/webart/virtualcuration.html

https://web.archive.org/web/20120305183403/http://www.fortunecity.com/westwood/gucci/369/index.html

Early Internet Art in Malaysia 4

In the introduction to his profound work on the cinematic image, Signatures of the Visible, Fredric Jameson writes, “The visual is essentially pornographic, which is to say that it has its end in rapt, mindless fascination.” Explicit pornography is thus the acknowledgement of the true nature of the filmic image, a “potentiation” of its call to “stare at the world as though it were a naked body.” There is no doubt in my mind that, from the perspective of the Traditional School (with Coomaraswamy and Guenon as exemplars), that the visual abjection that Jameson attributes to cinema is simply the culmination of what one might refer to as the ‘ocularization’ of human civilization in the course of Humanism, the Enlightenment and Modernism.

Exemplified by the entrenchment of single-point perspective as the representation of reality (indeed as reality itself!) in art of the European Renaissance, this ocularity has permeated all aspects of social, cultural and political life in the mainstream of our civilization. Jameson orients his critique towards the centrality of images in consumerist society, wherein our very sense of being in the world is first and foremost visual. He says, “our society has begun to offer us the world … as … a body, that you can possess visually, and collect the images of.” It is this very photographic and pornographic ontology that Marcel Duchamp had earlier articulated and developed through his oeuvre. In all his work, be it his readymades, the Large Glass and most profoundly, in Etant Donnes, this obscenity, inherent in the image is both indexed and exploited.

This critique of visuality and the nature of the image is the impetus for my own The Failure of Marcel Duchamp/ Japanese Fetish Even! (1996). According to Tyrus Miller, underlying the various senses of Duchamp’s use of the word ‘delay’ in connection of the work The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even is that the glass of the so called ‘ Large Glass’ is a medium in which and through which ‘delay’ is realized and manifested, “by virtue of its material properties of transparency, reflectiveness, and refraction of light, and hence, by implication, the splitting of a present act of seeing into temporally different streams, ranging from maximum to minimum delay in the passage of light.” Indeed, I saw the slow download speeds of the early WWW as a vivification of Duchampian ‘delay.’

Further, like Jameson, I saw that the fight about power and desire had to be brought to that place “between the mastery of the gaze and the illimitable richness of the visual object.” In making The Failure of Marcel Duchamp/ Japanese Fetish Even!, I took my own object to the site of Duchamp’s notorious diorama, Étant Donnés, and made an intervention and a photograph. My image was later digitally composited with a pornographic one appropriated from the internet and offered as an online presentation which was inaccessible without the conscious intention of the viewer. If the viewer chose ‘to proceed,’ this gave rise a slow download of the new image, delayed by the bandwidth of the Internet of the day! The first commercial modem, was introduced in 1962 by AT&T and had a download speed of 300 bits per second. By 1994 speeds had reached at 28.8 kilobits per second and in then 1996 the 56K modem was invented. Very slow in comparison to speeds we are familiar with today. For instance, my provider in Vancouver offers fiberoptic data plans with 75mega bits per second (MBPS), 940mbps and 1500mbps download rates.

Also of note is the fact that in January of 1996, 5 years after Tim Berners-Lee published the first ever website and also the year in which The Failure of Marcel Duchamp/ Japanese Fetish Even! premiered at ISEA, there were, according to one source, only 100,000 websites (unique hostnames) on the World Wide Web (an alternative figure for that year is 257,601 websites). Today (as of August 2021), there are well over 1.5 billion websites. Of these annual numbers, 75% are believed to inactive sites or parked domains.

https://thecharnelhouse.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Fredric-Jameson-Signatures-of-the-Visible-1992.pdf

https://modernistreviewcouk.wordpress.com/2020/07/03/a-delay-in-glass-marcel-duchamp-the-possible-and-the-aversion-to-deja-vu/

https://whirlpool.net.au/wiki/d_u_m_h

https://www.pingdom.com/blog/the-web-in-1996-1997/

https://www.internetlivestats.com/total-number-of-websites/

Early Internet Art in Malaysia 2

In 1996 I made a web work titled The Failure of Marcel Duchamp/Japanese Fetish Even! which is the first Internet art work in Malaysia and, as far as I know, also in Southeast Asia. This work was both an admiring tribute and a harsh parody of Marcel Duchamp’s Étant donnés (Given: 1. The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas) which is installed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In this meticulously realized work, Duchamp cleaves from logos, an abyss of eros. I suggest that it represents the culmination of the humanist trajectory in the philosophy of being, as in its presentation, the visual perspective of the ‘eye’ is fused, or confused, with the ‘I’ of the anthropocentric worldview. In this hypostatization of the ontology underpinning photography, sculptural form and visual image are rendered indifferent, arguably heralding the end of the retinal orientation in the art of the West and the birth of conceptual art. Étant donnés is a paragon of visibility, a par ergon of reality, a hyperreality even!

My own work remixed an image appropriated from a Japanese bondage site, an erotic or pornographic element, within the photographic documentation of an intervention I made at the site of the Duchamp installation in 1993. The erotic element would have been unacceptable on Malaysian servers and so was isolated from the rest of the image and located, with the help of media artist Paul Sermon, on a server at the The Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst (Academy of Fine Arts) in Leipzig. Part of the aim of the work was to address territoriality and cultural difference in the Internet. The work underscored the fact that information that was then becoming globally accessible is not universally acceptable. Another aim of the work was to reify, in the context of what was in the mid 1990’s, the ‘slow download’ of the Internet, Fredric Jameson proposition that the visual Image is, in Itself, essentially pornographic. With the advent of the mass access to computer mediated communications brought about by the World Wide Web, Duchamp’s delayed image was no longer an esoteric encounter. It was becoming democratically accessible (Given:) as the slow download (The Waterfall?) on a personal illuminated screen (The Illuminating Gas!).

The The Failure of Marcel Duchamp/Japanese Fetish Even! was launched at a poster session at ISEA 1996. That presentation, from which this post has been developed, was titled Locating The Image In An Age Of Electronic Media .

http://isea-archives.org/docs/1996/proceedings/ISEA96_proceedings.pdf


Early Internet Art in Malaysia

I am honored to be featured in a keynote by Associate Professor Hasnul Jamal Saidon at the 6th ICACA (International Conference on Applied & Creative Arts), Faculty of Applied & Creative Arts, UNIMAS, 18 August 2021. Hasnul generously describes the work I did at the Universti Malaysia Sarawak between 1995 and 2002 as a very important legacy with regard to Internet art and online art in Malaysia. He describes me as the pioneer of Internet art in Southeast Asia and the forerunner in the region of critical engagement in the context of the shift from offline to online art. He notes that my The Failure of Marcel Duchamp/ Japanese Fetish Even! (1996) is the first Internet art work in Malaysia and that I curated the first online exhibition in Malaysia at the 4th Ipoh Arts Festival (1999). I am happy to be remembered and would like to return the recognition by noting that Hasnul is himself a pioneering contributor to electronic art in Malaysia through his early forays into video art, video installation art and his own critical and theoretical writings. Beyond our individual contributions, I believe that it is what we achieved together, by way of curating the 1st Electronic Art Show (1997) and the founding of the Eart ASEAN Online (1999) portal, that constitutes a platform for further developments in Malaysian new media art.

9 Duchamp

Keling Maya: Post-traditional Media, Malaysian Cyberspace and Me, presented at the Aliran Semasa Symposium, 2013, at the National Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur.

This is the first Malaysia and earliest known Southeast Asian Internet art work. It was launched in 1996 and was revived in 2008 for the relocations exhibition (a two-man show with Hasnul Jamal Saidon), ISEA Singapore curated by Roopesh Sitharan. It is no longer online.

0 Performance
1 Keling Maya
2 Cyberspace
3 Model
4 Heterotopia
5 Rajinikanth
6 Heroes
7 Telinga Keling
8 Keling Babi
9 Duchamp
10 MGG Pillai
11 Pantun
12 Praxis
14 Post-tradition
15 Philosophia Perennis

Valayan Katti

3 abdul


The following is extracted and translated from a post titled AL-KESAH KOBOI BALIK KAMPUNG (28th MArch 2018) on Kebun JiwasHalus’ Blog – Yesterday we went to Merlimau, Melaka. Our guide was Azizan Paiman. The mission was a photo-shoot for the latest Koboi Balik Kampung series by Niranjan Rajah. Niranjan’s Koboi series plays on the problematics of a cosmopolitan identity in the context of contemporary trans-national mobility. Niranjan has taken the photo-conceptual Koboi Project everywhere, the Singapore Biennale, the Burning Man Festival and the KL Biennale. For the photo-shoot in Merlimau, Niranjan continued his discourse, this time with ‘me’ and ‘Melaka traditional house’ as ‘texts’ in his image. The traditional Melaka house refers to my teacher Ismail Zain’s digital collage dot matrix print entitled ‘Al-Kesah’ (1988). This work remains one of Ismail Zain’s most enduring intellectual legacies. “Al-Kesah” features a traditional Malay house as the backdrop for JR Ewing’s family photo (from the popular TV series of the early 80’s, Dallas). Pak Mail touches on the ‘modernization’ of the village landscape – in the context of globalization (or globa-lu-kasi, globalisasau, also gooblelibasi) connecting the impact of mass media and internationalist architecture in a semiotic and inter-textual play.

Hasnul asked me – Whats the term you use for my role in your photo bro? Am reflecting on koboi for my blog now.

I sent hasnul a hasty answer that is included in his post, and now take the opportunity to correct and elaborate on my reply – The Image (which is yet to be finalized and is not the one above) is being developed around the Tamil term valayan katti, which means pengikat dawai or person who ties wire. This is a term which, according to the ostentatiously  named author Sheikh Moinudeen Chisti Syed Abdul Kadir (is this a pen name for some other person of mischievous intent?), was “invented by Tamil estate workers but which became widely used by most Tamils including Indian Muslims to describe Malays”. In his rather informative , if controversial, posting about Malaysian Mamak or Indian Muslim identity the suspiciously illusive Sheikh Moinudeen explains, “…’valayan‘ means wire. ‘Katti‘ means to tie something. So ‘valayan katti means ‘a person who ties a wire’”. He continues, “In the early days of the rubber industry, the British tried to get the Malays to tap the rubber trees. However the native Malays had problems tapping the rubber tree in the proper manner and ended up injuring the tree, reducing the output of rubber. The British had better luck getting the trees properly tapped with the Tamils from India. Malays were then delegated the simpler job of using wire (valayan) to tie (katti) the little latex cups to the rubber tree. Hence the name valayan katti“. While this etymology is corroborated in various other online sources this term and its origins needs further confirmation.

Regardless of my doubts about the veracity of this reading of the term … it allows me to continue the approach I developed in my Telinga Keling (2000) in which I attempt to deconstruct and even to reconstruct a derogatory term that speaks to the depths of our national psyche. You (Hasnul) as a Malay are nominally the valayan-katti in my image. Then again, in electronic art days at UNIMAS,  we were both Valayan Katti – your wire carried the electronic video signal and mine, the new internet data. This brings me to the Ismail Zain reference of this image. You are his student and in a sense his heir … and me too … indirectly … Indeed, I think I can claim to be the valayan katti of Malaysian Internet art. Bringing this allegorical play into the present … despite a decade and a half of separation, given your Gemabelas and my Anugraham, we are somehow still connected or WIRED … working independently yet synchronously with tradition, compassion, physics and metaphysics. Indeed, now our network is metaphysical.

Image: http://hasnulsaidon.blogspot.ca/2018/03/al-kesah-koboi-balik-kampung.html

https://www.malaysia-today.net/2008/03/05/kimma-kurma-and-karma/

https://www.facebook.com/Gemabelas2017/

https://koboibalikkampung.wixsite.com/anugraham