‘Traces, Legacies, and Futures’ was a conversation on electronic art between Hasnul Jamal Saidon and myself, presented under the auspices o the Muzium dan Galeri Tuanku Fauziah, mediated by Ropesh Sitharan. It took place at 9pm (MYT) on 30 September 2020.
Apa sebenarnya kemampuan sesuatu kejadian seni itu, dan apakah kewajipan seniman yang menguruskannya?
What are the affordances of an art event, and what are the obligations of the artist in managing these?
In the late 1990’s Hasnul and continued the work of the late Ismail Zain in laying the theoretical and the practical ground for new media in Malaysian art. We did this as we worked together at the Faculty of Applied and Creative Arts, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak over a period of about 5 or 6 years. While we have exhibited together in Relocations 2008 in Singapore, curated by Roopesh Sitharan, and shared the occasional speaking platform, we have not worked together since. We have, in fact, barely kept in touch kept in touch in the conventional sense but somehow, we are completely connected in the core of our beliefs in terms of the purpose of art, the meaning of art and of the role of the artist in society.
‘Traces, Legacies, and Futures’ is a live-streamed conversation on electronic art between Hasnul Jamal Saidon and Niranjan Rajah, mediated by Ropesh Sitharan. The event is hoisted online by Muzium & Galeri Tuanku Fauziah, Unverslti Sains Malaysia.
The practice of art is contextual in that it is responsive to, or critical of, the time in which it is performed. Especially a work of art that invites us to foresee the possibilities to come, akin to a message that tries to teach (some say warn) future generations. In this sense, an artist is not someone who mimics the ordinary for a palatable outreach, but who is ready and willing to use their talents to challenge norms and shift perceptions. This casual conversation with Hasnul and Niranjan probes such significant efforts of ‘shifting’ in their art practice – what we have come to refer to as ‘new media art’ today. It will address the diversity and the various trajectories in their practice that have substantially contributed to the ongoing conversations about art, culture and technology in our lives today. Indeed, it is hoped this conversation on past ideas, expressions and arguments by them will help preserve their legacy and launch critical inquiry into the future of electronic art in Malaysia as these ideas find their way to the relevant institutions.
‘Traces, Legacies, and Futures’ will take place at 9pm (MYT) on 30 September 2020.
It will be accessible on -WEBEX https://usm-cmr.webex.com/usm-cmr/j.php…
Facebook Live https://www.facebook.com/mgtfusm
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.
In 1993 I made my first trip to New York. My wife Jane and I were living in London and had bought a Hoover vacuum cleaner. As part of the infamously disastrous (for Hoover) promotion of the time we got two free tickets to New York. I had, as an artist from Malaysia practicing in the London art scene, been working with found objects and performative interventions as a means of making a Janus faced engagement with the Modernist canon. I had already identified the ceramic bedpan as the the key readymade in my growing collection of objects – a pastiche and/or parody of the primordial Duchampian readymade. I sourced a plastic version that would be more suitable for travel and planned the performative action. Jane and I left for our holiday with an exciting itinerary that included a visit to the Twin Towers, a Cecil Taylor concert, a William Dafoe one-man theatre performance, a personal tour of the Electronic Arts Intermix archive, a social visit with pioneering avant-garde pianist Margret Leng Tan and an intervention planned in the space of Duchamp’s Étant Donnés installation at the Philadelphia Museum of Art…. The photograph featured in the The Failure of Marcel Duchamp/Japanese Fetish Even! was taken by Jane as documentation of this intervention.
In 1995 Jane and I moved to Kuching so that I could take up a teaching position at the Faculty of Applied and Creative Arts at the Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS) which had been established in 1992 as the newest University in Malaysia. Its founding coincided with Malaysia’s sophisticated Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) strategy of the 1990s and we had a cutting edge Internet infrastructure and a commensurate technology centered academic programme. I had been practicing my art in the space between material objects, text, image, performance and the physical placement of the work in space. I had found myself developing a critical practice wherein context became part of the work. As I stated in an Interview with Roopesh Sitharan, it was when I joined UNIMAS that “I was introduced to the WWW, and most significantly, I met Hasnul who was already teaching there and in the early stages of developing an art and technology agenda initially envisioned by the visionary artist and theorist Ismail Zain. Hasnul encouraged me to consider the new media and I quickly realized that the new user friendly, ubiquitous, hypertextual, multimedia Internet was a medium that I had been waiting for – more and more my installation works had been yearning for a transcendence of materiality, geography, narrative hegemony and context – and this transcendence is what the WWW appeared to offer, even embody in its very ontology. I made ‘Failure of Marcel Duchamp’ in 1996”.
When this web work was presented at Explorasi, the inaugural Faculty of Applied and Creative Arts exhibition at the Petronas Gallery in 1997, I also presented a set of four framed 8.3 x 11.7 inch computer prints (in a single edition). Each print represents one key stage in the interaction of the website. The last print was framed with a frosted section in the glass to veil the pornographic element in the print. This website went offline after some years and was reconstructed and temporarily revived for the Relocations exhibition curated by Roopesh Sitharan for ISEA 2008 in Singapore. It was hosted on the 12 Gallery website during the period of the event. What remains of the work today is just the bare bones as archived without images on the Wayback Machine website. In this light the framed set of prints is the only tangible residue of what is slowly but surely being acknowledged as the first online artwork in Malaysia and Southeast Asia. In considering the print version of my work, I am obliged and honoured to acknowledge Ismail Zain’s Digital Collage series. If Digital Collage applied Robert Rauschenberg’s flatbed aesthetic to the computer mediated remix, my The Failure of Marcel Duchamp/Japanese Fetish Even! composited its remixed image in a live download from servers at disparate geographical locations. This print set was exhibited again as part of Rupa Malaysia curated by Reza Piyadasa in 2001.
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.
Keling Maya: Post-traditional Media, Malaysian Cyberspace and Me, presented at the Aliran Semasa Symposium, 2013, at the National Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur.