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Squinted Speculations: A Response to the Discussion Thread of ‘Back and Forth’

Posted by on Tuesday, 19 May, 2009 at 10:15 AM. Filed under: Essays, Highlights


A little background: I was rather excited by the polemics and arguments that emerged from Simon Soon’s review of Marion D’Cruz’s performance lecture. While I might not agree with many of the things said, they nevertheless were invigorating and challenging, especially when polemics in the discussion on art and culture are rare and few. Anyway, the discussions provoked or inspired me to write this, and the editors thought we should post this as a new article to trigger perhaps another discussion, hopefully by a more varied group of people. But the below might not make much sense unless the reader refers back to the earlier discussion.


Since the discussion here began with the discomfort of the phrase in the review: “It is a moment of marriage that many of us, coming out of ill-considerate medley so common in po-mo art, are wary of”; I will also begin here.

What is this “ill-considerate medly so common in po-mo art”? Is it a mistake, and the phrase ought to be “ill-considered”, or is it something else altogether? If the phrase was meant to be “ill-considered”, then does it mean that “po-mo art”, a phrase many will shudder to use now, is an ill-considered project?

The discussion then enters into perhaps unnecessarily dichotomies: art emerging out of Malaysian or national/historical narratives, and art emerging out of rejections of these purportedly hegemonic narratives; art that does away social-cultural issues as being more politically effective. Then the discussion thread continues with more polarities – the old/young, inside/outside, past/present, etc.

First, a little digression. I think it is simplistic to propose that postmodernism does away with politics, history, cultural/social issues. Consider what Edward Said, one of the early progenitors of postmodernist theory, better known as post-structuralism then, proposed. He argued against monocentrism, or a monocentric manner of thinking.  He saw a need to avoid seeking “profit where there is waste”, “concentricity” where there is “eccentricity”, and “continuity” where there is “discontinuity”. This waste, eccentricity and discontinuity are gaps, perhaps ruptures in narratives that one needs to examine; so the role of critical inquiry is to look for these disjuncture and gaps. Postmodernism calls for the examining of these disjunctures, not to do away with narratives, historical or otherwise altogether.

Jacques Derrida proposes a slightly different way of looking at these gaps which he calls “absence”. The notions of “presence” of being – historically seen as closer to truth – are highly suspect and this hierarchy needs to be challenged.  In his postmodernist deconstruction if you will, when one talks of presence, we need to look deeply at its absence or “erasure”. Just as we write, we also erase. And in all erasures, there will be traces, but these traces do not exist as marks, but rather, in the absence of marks. Despite this, examining these traces is crucial to the dismantling of “presence”.

Post-modernism, as far as I know, has continually sought for an examining of dominant narratives, to look for inter-relationships and retrievals of signs and signifiers through deconstruction and critical inquiry – it has never proposed looking at art, literature, performance, film, etc. through an erasure (which ultimately still contain “traces”) and annihilation of past/history.

Moreover, if one chooses to be even more hip and trendy, “po-mo” is rather dated now, especially since post September 11. Writers of this century, critical/cultural theorists like Jacques Ranciere, Giorgio Agamben, Antonio Negri & Michael Hardt, are arguing that in this day of neo-liberalism and imperialism, art and culture must find ways to confront these frighteningly new imperializing enterprises. The recent Perak fiasco seems to aptly fit Agamben’s notion of the “State of Exemption”: where citizens are rendered naked and their lives bared, and the State exempt from laws that bind them together. And Negri’s & Hardt’s notion of the “Multitude” as an emergence of unrelated groups of people from disparate ideologies, ages, across cultures and religions spreading across laterally and rhizomically, each taking on the New World Order independently. In fact, they argue and end their book with a recalling of “love” – unspeakable in the heydays of postmodernism – a social and political love that reaches beyond the sexual and religious.

Contemporary art and culture, in much of discourse in these trying times, seem not about being “po-mo” or not. It is about speaking, articulating the unspeakable; whether it is Malaysian,  global/internationalist, culturally/historically specific or not do not matter.

To concretize my meanderings a little: did not Andy Warhol, have a deep knowledge of American culture of that tumultuous 60s/70s, and thus was able to challenge what constituted iconic or speakable at that point, and dissecting them? Even Abstract Expressionism, often derided by young artists, grew out of both personal and historical events/circumstances?  Pollack, Gorky and Rothko emerged from the heydays of left idealism, and its aftermath in the complete collapse of idealism post WW2. That shattered idealism and lost of faith in the human body (or human condition) became the underlying power of abstractions of that period – it became a speech/voice/text to visually articulate the unspeakable. But precisely because of that lost of faith in the human condition, this venture, for the latter 2 artists, became ultimately untenable.  Suicide, the complete annihilation of the human body and thought, was the only way out.

Fast forward fifty years to the hot-shots of the global art scene: Takashi Murakami’s kawaai, Matthew Barney’s revels in the surreal and grotesque, Marilyn Manson’s androgyniety and appropriation of fascism, the Chapman Brothers intense dialogue with philosophy and history, Tino Seghal’s ephemeral performative interventions, Gregory Schneider’s explosive unrealized Qa’aba proposal for Venice – all these challenging ventures grew from specific environments, cultural/historical developments and contexts.  And much of it is about articulating the unspeakable. Even Olafur Eliasson’s hypnotic light installations grew out of historical, scientific, material and place-specific understandings of light and temperature. He made speakable these often-intangible sensations to everyone.

History (and memory) is really larger and more encompassing than national history and narratives.

To deny context (or history) is not to believe in anything. Art and culture, like it or not, are affirmations of existence: the existence of people, of places, of time. It is not about amnesia. Nothing can grow in a vacuum. Nothing emerges from personal or national amnesia. Even a disavowal of history, politics, socio-cultural issues presuppose an acknowledgment of their existence. To suggest that this negation of history is new, young and liberating – as opposed to the old, staid and hegemonic – is to say the least, “ill-considered”, if not inaccurate and intellectually reactionary.

And sure hell, by legitimising something that sounds superficially cool, hip and “revolutionary”, are we not turning the clock back? To erase thought, language and dialogue? If so, what then are those seemingly nihilistic alternatives? Is there a point to even consider making art then, and share it with a public?  I find these terrifying prospects in this failing State called Malaysia.


Wong Hoy Cheong is a visual artist who occasionally writes and curates. He believes in the multiplicity of the arts, with a partisan interest in aesthetic and sociocultural contestations.

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  1. Daniel says
    19/05/2009 11:25 AM


  2. ah Fei says
    19/05/2009 4:29 PM


    collect ?”

    Hiu-neng (638-713).

  3. simon says
    19/05/2009 10:20 PM

    wah… why everyone’s response thus far is so zen one?

    and Hoy Cheong, you dismiss nihilism as if it’s a stinky word! :P

    on a more serious note, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on this topic!

    Like you I too agree that post-modernism does indeed signify a movement in both discourse and art practice that are more historically conscious and context-responsive.

    Now depending where you want post modernism to begin, whether it’s Rauchenberg or Warhol (for practice) it’s undeniable that a history and context has since become central to art making and thinking.

    Actually, I don’t exactly know how u got the impression from the previous discussion about post modernism doing away with history and context. Did not the statement ‘medley’ suggest a combination or a confluence of cultural forms that is at least responsive to context?

    On another note, I do wanna ask your opinion about a statement you’ve made, ‘To deny context (or history) is not to believe in anything.’

    I think of the dada artists and the more radical veins of surrealism (Man Ray, George Bataille, etc.) as a prime example in the history of modern art that do away with context and history, in fact their singular goal is to destroy received ideas. yes they do operate within a context, and are responding to it, but that’s hardly the question. What is interesting is that they do deny context and history. Would be interested to know, do you think they don’t believe in anything?

    My opinion is they don’t and it’s not a bad thing.

    One of the examples that you’ve given are leftist painters such as Pollock, Gorky and Rothko. I’m not saying that context based reading is irrelevant, but their background and involvement in radical politics is hardly the most interesting thing that gives insight into their practice right? As much as I love Ranciere and friends, sometimes their writings are a bit too jargon laden and their reading of art is a bit too sloppy :/

    Also, you mentioned…

    To suggest that this negation of history is new, young and liberating – as opposed to the old, staid and hegemonic – is to say the least, “ill-considered”, if not inaccurate and intellectually reactionary.

    If you follow the previous thread, I don’t think any of us have stated that this negation of history is something new. I think we have used the word ‘new’ together with the word ‘generation’ to describe a new generation of artists rather than a ‘new work’ and I agree with you, this breaking away from tradition and history is largely modern project, although it’s not entirely inaccurate that a new generation of artists are revisiting this model of practice.

    So maybe the question now is not so much focused on what artists are doing but what is the best approach or methodology to read art. Thus far, art criticism and writing in Malaysia is to my knowledge, pretty context heavy. Not enough close reading, it’s as if the art work’s a token for some political ideology or a support within a championed theoretical framework.

    The questions, which I think is summed up nicely by a few observations made by Zedeck in the previous thread:

    – do critics and writers need to find a new vocabulary to describe what is happening?
    -Do we need to catch up with what artists are doing and acknowledging their departure from this context-driven practice or should we continue to read context into their work?
    -Is this the most valid or relevant methodology in terms of art criticism and writing? Does it need to be complemented and supplemented with other forms of reading? If so, what?

  4. Burhan (Bruno) says
    20/05/2009 5:51 AM

    As someone who’s actually writing his dissertation, a close-reading of some texts in post-structuralism, let me be a bit finnicky when it comes to general semantics.

    In my book, post-structuralism, postmodernism, post-colonial theory and deconstruction are not the same thing.

    Post-structuralism, as a philosophical thematic, is more of a response to European formalism and structuralism. The main figures here, I would say, are Heidegger, Maurice Blanchot, late Lacan, Derrida and parts of Foucault.

    Postmodernism is more closely allied to Lyotard’s stuff about metanarratives (although I admit that the word means a whole lot of different things in art, culture and politics, i.e. when we speak of it outside of theory and philosophy). We could also, perhaps, include Baudrillard here.

    Post-colonial theory and philosophy (not post-colonial studies or criticism) has more to do with the early works of Spivak, Said, Bhabha etc. Also Fanon, Senghor etc.

    Deconstruction, on the other hand, is more closely allied to Derrida’s very idiosyncratic ‘method’ of close reading literary texts. Other figures here might include Jean-Luc Nancy, Lacoue-Labarthe & Avital Ronell (all students of Derrida). Deconstruction is really more of a Heideggerian movement in literary criticism.

    People often mistake postmodernism with a certain very popular — perhaps, naive neo-liberal — Anglo-American academic movement (1980s to early 1990s), namely the field of cultural studies, cultural criticism and identity politics.

    A lot of people who participated in this movement were not, strictly-speaking, deconstruction-ists or postmodernist philosophers per se, but third to fourth-generation readers of Derrida, Spivak etc.

    The field of identity politics, as a theoretical field, is currently declining and losing its rep in philosophy, mostly because it was too popular.

    The field was never really ‘philosophy’ per se as it was ‘applied philosophy’: using ideas from Derrida and applying it to approach the field of sociol studies, political studies and so on.

    Deconstruction is less a socio-political issue of ‘undoing’ hegemonies than a question of reading certain literary texts extremely meticulously.

    In fact, postmodern and post-structuralist theory is also in sad decline, mostly because the main figures have died, and mostly because the ideas have lost their theoretical momentum in culture. The field has become more an issue of commentary and annotation rather than new kinds of theories.

    As the writer might have indicated, Ranciere, Agamben, Negri, Laclau, Zizek, Hardt etc. are the big guns now and, sadly, not Derrida and his immediate students. I’m also more into Alain Badiou now, but that’s just me. There’s also this new political and technological turn going on.

    Or, perhaps, philosophy truly is dead…

  5. Shao says
    20/05/2009 11:56 AM

    I would concur with Burhan’s separation of the ‘posts’.

    More political philosophers such as Agamben, Negri, Laclau, Zizek, Hardt, Badiou etc. are not necessarily dominating what philosophy is. Heidegger is enjoying a resurgence (at least in New York). As for previous unmentionables such as “love”, both Zizek and Badiou have recently written on St. Paul which would have been unthinkable for many leftists not so long ago. Though for Zizek, St. Paul is to Jesus as Lenin is to Marx…

    Just some thoughts on the newer ‘big guns’. I can’t comment on Ranciere but what the rest share is a commitment to political change, usually from the left and of the left. Their imaginary is simultaneously global and Eurocentric. Their target: the Western imperial behemoth of the last two decades.

    Their ideas, often provocative and delivered with rhetorical panache, are interesting, but I have found after 9 years with these authors, and personal encounters with some, that there are serious problems of utility both in Malaysia and in Euro-America.

    These problems have to do with their relative disconnection from the political movements they champion or lionise, and stems in no small part from their specialisation as professional philosophers.

    When I asked Michael Hardt why he and Toni Negri didn’t try to concretise their conception of the ‘multitude’ – which was vague and amorphous in “Empire” (Harvard UP, 2000) – his reply was, “We’re only philosophers.”

    Regarding Zizek, a student once reformulated Marx’s famous quip as, “Philosophers have only sought to entertain the world, the point is to change it.”

    Artists aren’t under any obligation to change the world, though they are usually expected to entertain it. But those artists with ambitions for political impact may need to look beyond such philosophers, even as they may be entertained or stimulated by them.

  6. Daniel says
    20/05/2009 2:06 PM

    Yusuuuuuuuuuf Martin! Get in here.

  7. 蔡长璜 says
    20/05/2009 3:59 PM


    一、艺术创作与艺术批评(或者艺术欣赏)的出发点不必然是相似的,在某种特殊情况下,比方说,意识形态(Pattern of Consciousness)、文化逻辑、价值取向,等等,创作者和批评者(或者观赏者)之间的话语结构便可能出现非常巨大的鸿沟(Gaps),思想观念难保没有偏见(Bias)。换言之,双方(或者多方)绝非存在于一种直接、平行的关系中;更多时候,两极(或者多极)之间,简直就是泾渭分明,互不通气。尤其,如果我们将视线拉回本地,不难察觉此间的艺术批评和艺文写作几乎都是面向收藏家,以及具有“广告效果”和“社会教化”的功能,创作者根本无法从中得到任何启发!

    二、对话(Dialogue),无非是希望可以在不同主体之间产生交集作用,否则,更多更长的贴文只不过是浪费时间而已,仿佛鸡同鸭讲。有所交集、互动的对话过程,意即对进行对话的双方都能够产生影响,不管是良性/积极的冲击,或者是恶性/消极的碰撞,大体上都可视为一种“有效的沟通”(Effective Communication)。相对来说,“无效的沟通”诚如之前所谓的“鸡同鸭讲”了。类似问题的发生,往往是(某方面的)对话主体的知识和思想的封闭性使然:尽管好像发表了许多意见,甚至把许多问题抛给对方、耐心等着别人的回应……但是,实际上,他又能容忍自己的观点被干涉(being interfered)被挑战(being challenged)到什么程度?

  8. Burhan says
    21/05/2009 4:56 AM

    i don’t believe there’s any real difference between ‘abstract’ and ‘concrete’ thought, since everything that involves words and ideas is always, in a sense, divorced from reality (and it’s not even a matter of degree).

    and there’s also this idea that philosophy – in the university or outside it – has a unique political function that sets it apart from street activism, and even from sartrean political commitment.

    but I will admit that western leftist theory has been undergoing some deep upheavals and soul-searching during the past two decades, especially since the fall of the Berlin Wall and even more so since 9/11.

    i did not realize just how fashionable was this new ‘political turn’ until I was at this rock concert a few weeks back: the ‘on the idea of communism’ conference at birkbeck college London.
    tickets to the event sold like hot fried bananas.
    a lot of the big guns were there, and the issues of theory versus practice and of singularity versus universalizability were the main ones discussed. there’s another zizek film being made, and the active publishing industry devoted towards translating badiou shows no sign of subsiding.

    singularity versus universalibility in political philosophy, I think, is an extremely difficult problem. as a symbolic and linguistic product, philosophy cannot help but be on the side of the general – which is problematic, since it will unavoidably lead to unjustified overgeneralizations. but we also do not want to fall to same trap of particularism and cultural relativism – or even some sort of ‘affirmative action’ when it comes to doing philosophy – which is what had been happening in cultural studies for the past few decades.

    but i am also starting to think that philosophy really is, perhaps essentially, a western phenomenon, and alternative modes of thinking need to be explored.

  9. Sharon says
    21/05/2009 8:59 AM

    Sapporo greetings!

    This is my poor translation of Chang Hwang’s comment. Please read with the disclaimer that I may have missed/misunderstood some points. Chang Hwang or Sau Bin, please feel free to correct me.

    What follows is one person’s reflections, not to be considered as a reply.

    One, artistic creativity and art criticism (or appreciation) is not necessarily similar. In all sorts of contexts, for example, ideology, cultural logic, value, etc.
    the language/dialect of cultural/ art critics (or art appreciators) even more clearly shows extremely large gaps. It’s impossible that one’s notions or thoughts to be free from bias.

    In other words, both (or many sides) of the dialog don’t inhabit direct or parallel universes. More often than not, these many approaches don’t see eye to eye. Especially, when we pull back from the global to the local(?), it’s clear that alot of art criticism or writing is directed at collectors, as well as having ‘copywriter’s or promotional’ and ‘social education’ functions. Cultural critics have a hard time getting any enlightenment from it!

    Two, dialogue – no matter how much or how long – unless it hopes to create intersections between different voices, is actually like chickens talking to ducks. The process of this intersecting cross-debate and interacting with each other brings effects to all who are involved in the dialogue. Even if it’s positive/adulating sort of rebuttal, or a nasty/passive collision, it can be considered a sort of effective communication.

    On the other hand, ‘ineffective communication’ can be deemed the aforementioned ‘chickens talking to ducks’. A similar question that arises is, often, people who are engaged in dialogue are set in what they know or feel: even though there’s the appearance of putting forth many opinions, even the asking of questions to the other person, as well as the patient waiting for a response… but, when you come down to it, how far can he/she tolerate their point of view being interfered with or challenged?

  10. simon says
    21/05/2009 11:26 AM

    Hi guys,

    Great comments. I’ve almost forgotten about social theories since I left uni! This is indeed a refresher’s course.

    This is also more like an aside and perhaps in line with the discussion we’re having to sought out all these theoretical frameworks.

    I’ve recently realised that I have completely forgotten what post modern dance means and realised that the statement I’ve made about appropriation of forms in post-modernism mostly reflects reactionary strategies in the visual arts and architecture. apparently this is not the case in dance, which seems to be more self-reflexive, about movement being movement rather than representative or symbolic about something else. or at least in what is described as early post modern dance anyway. I think there is a shift in its later development, but this needs to be highlighted if we would like to continue talking about Marion’s works.


  11. Daniel says
    21/05/2009 11:55 AM

    Hello from the failing state!

    This is in response to Sharon’s translation of Chang Hwang’s comment combined with HC’s piece:

    To me, the challenge of communication these days isn’t so much about ‘chickens talking to ducks’. It’s 6.8 billion people cooped up on a small planet like chickens in a battery farm.

    Before industrialisation begin about 200 years ago, world population was estimated at just ONE billion. Have a look at the dramatic spike here:


    Now THAT is what happens when the human capacity for love, at least on a sexual level, is combined with the medical technology that arose from our interest to care and save lives. The later requires experties but the power of love does not require preaching or special knowledge. People can find their own way to it fine without following any holy texts or Negri’s & Hardt’s take on it.

    If there is a sense of amnesia, schidzophrenia, or nihilism, I am sure it is partly due to the many complexities that comes with such massive influx into the planet. Imagine if you were having a nice quiet dinner party and suddenly a busload of new guests dropped in. Some people feel lost and less special, some like the New World Orderers see only chaos and wants control, some party hardy, most people I think, are out there busy grabbing the food on the table :/ No time to say grace anymore.

    I think the philosophers are way cool but my bet is on the nerd of the party to save the day again. So instead of beating up such kids as did the Arts Stream gang did in Tan Zi Hao’s 2nd Serdang piece, I think the arts community should be reaching out the science kids and vice-verca.

  12. Shao says
    21/05/2009 10:44 PM

    Just to clarify, Burhan, I didn’t mean abstract/concrete as in the idealism/materialism opposition. I meant concrete as in substantive, detailed, and modestly empirical since Hardt & Negri named movements such as Zapatismo, but didn’t really elaborate how and why they fit within their framework.

    Writing within philosophy often gives license to just making references within a particular genealogy of ideas, but since they were pointing to real social movements (incl. street activism) in the present I felt they could at least have given readers more detail. Especially since poor activists from IMF-stricken Argentina were making pilgrimages to seek audience with Negri in Italy only to have him ask, “What crisis in Argentina?”

    I asked Michael Hardt the question I did after feeling somewhat sorry for him after he got mangled by Trotskyists at a debate where most of the audience was with the party and were ganging up on him.

    I guess the point is that even though such knowledge may present itself to us dressed in the garb of high theory, it is still a quite limited knowledge on its own terms as wanna be political manifesto (specifically H&N’s “Empire”).

    If we want relevant philosophy for our place and times, it is probably up to us to make the attempt. There are unwritten rules that confine ‘philosophy’ as it is taught and practised today to the Greco-Roman-Christian tradition, which limits its geographical applicability.

    Even the make up of our troubled state owes much to that limited tradition, but the latter is not its sole intellectual parent.

  13. Shao says
    22/05/2009 1:54 AM

    Oh, by the way, sorry for taking this post off topic from dance. Although I thought Hoy Cheong was opening it up somewhat. :D

  14. Daniel says
    22/05/2009 12:20 PM

    Singularity/Empire/Hegemony/The One or Multiplicity/Locality/Hybridity/The Many in the cutlery world


    All for one and one for all!

  15. Burhan says
    22/05/2009 4:22 PM

    i want to play the devil’s advocate.

    *on finding ‘meaning’ amid the nihilism*:

    that is precisely why i think that a lot of the ‘postmodern’ philosophers still remain to be read. people tend to equate their works as just cynicism and simple nihilism. not true.

    from the very start, most of them were concerned with how to continue to live, to think and to philosophize amid the chaos — how to think at the limits of thought, at the margins of philosophy, at the end of history. which is why, for example, derrida and the gang talked about the idea of friendship, community and otherness over rigidized relationships and structural hegemonies.

  16. Burhan says
    22/05/2009 4:26 PM

    *on philosophy trying to become more substantive*:

    so long as they do philosophy, philosophers are never going to abandon theory because that is precisely what they do. it’s like demanding a quantum physicist to take up literary criticism.

    philosophy, by definition, aims essentially for an abstract and theoretical mode of knowledge. it approaches the world from a theoretical, universal, speculative, non-particularistic and non-empirical viewpoint – but with the aim of getting into the ‘heart’ of things. if political philosophy was any empirical it would be called ‘political studies’, ‘political criticism’ or maybe ‘political management’. i guess that might be why hardt said he was ‘only a philosopher’.

    there will always be something obscenely unjust about theory because it will always over-generalize too much and too soon, and it will always remain at an irresponsible distance from the object it studies. that is how it works. its weakness is also at the same time, precisely, its affective power.

    the times for vilifying the theorists and the intellectuals for being too ‘abstract’ or ‘difficult’ (even executing them, just because they wore spectacles, like polpot did) is gone. the issue, i think, is not for theorists (i.e. theorists as theorists) to become street activists or to conduct detailed fieldwork. the issue is how they can contribute to their own capacity, by allowing them to do what they do best as theorists.

    all this is not new. political philosophies of praxis had already been seriously formulated during the turbulent 1960s (e.g. althusser, sartre, and foucault). and the serious attempt to make it less ‘western’ and more inclusive of the marginalized groups of the world was also already there since at least the 1980s — that was how cultural criticism, identity politics and subaltern studies became so popular that people got tired. people are still debating whether anything worthwhile came out of it, be it either on a practical level or on the quality of philosophical scholarship that ensued.

    we must also remember that finding an effective empirical theory of praxis is a very difficult problem. social science and economics today is extremely empirical, with all the meticulous statistics, data collecting and detailed fieldwork conducted. but it was not able to formulate the correct policies to avert the current economic meltdown.

  17. Burhan says
    22/05/2009 4:33 PM

    *on trying to learn from the science geeks, trying to be ‘crossdisciplinary’*:

    take it from someone who has tried. the difference between art and science or the humanities and science is just too profound for there to be any interesting interaction at their borders, except oftentimes only, in my view, on a gimmicky level. scientists have a deeply different approach to things, different methodologies and different interests.

    i admit there is something of a ‘scientific turn’ going on in contemporary theory, with alain badiou’s philosophy of set theory, the current ‘cybernetic’ readings of deleuze, the stuff going on in medical ethics, and the studies on technology and the new media.

    i see the reception on the part of the humanists and i don’t think much is being taken up. for example, most of badiou’s readers are interested in his political theory. but not many are able to follow the complex intricacies that are going on in the mathematics – which is difficult for your average liberal arts graduate because you actually need to take a postgraduate seminar in advanced logic to be able to understand it all.

    let me also be completely honest here. go to your average university science department today and i bet that a majority of the faculty will openly and often proudly admit that they think most of the research being done by their counterparts in the humanities is just a bunch a fluff. sad but true.

  18. Daniel says
    22/05/2009 6:18 PM

    Yo Bruno, the ‘fluff’ is fairy dust :)

    Yeah, your observation is valid but I’m less pessimistic about the divide of the two cultures. I was an Art streamer myself but at Edge.org there are many readable sciency stuff by top brainies. When I check out TEDtalks, I see how some of the best in the Arts and Sciences are reaching out to the mass with their ideas. The only philosopher I’ve seen speaking on that stage is Dan Dennete. Some of the designers who talk there are pretty lame but the musicians always manage to woo the crowd.

    For me its the biz ppl that I have a hard time understanding. They really have no sight of the long term future.

  19. Shao says
    22/05/2009 6:23 PM

    Abandon theory? I didn’t suggest it at all. Making political theory more persuasive by examples? Yes.

    What theorists ‘do best as theorists’ is sometimes not good enough if they are trying to be politically influential, and I restrict my remarks to this sub-category of ‘philosopher’.

    Political philosophy isn’t quite as purely theoretical as your polemic seems to suggest. Machiavelli’s work is littered with concrete examples. Each major contention is illustrated with the case of an historical figure. No data regressions to be sure, but no less a political philosopher (and yes, I am aware his status has been debated, but I don’t think he’s about to be excised from the canon anytime soon).

    If you accept Marx as a philosopher then he certainly realised that his commitment to communism could not rest on philosophical practice alone. Since Hardt, Negri, and, when it suits him, Zizek, share the same commitment, I find it valid to hold them to a similar standard of immanent critique within their own tradition.

    Empiricism doesn’t in and of itself bestow timeliness or relevance to social science and economics, nor do such researchers necessarily get to make policy. The venal enthusiasm of the markets and neo-liberal dominance in policy-making pushed away those with pre-emptive insights to the fringes (e.g. UN agencies).

  20. Shao says
    22/05/2009 6:48 PM

    Daniel, Deleuze’s work sustained an engagement with mathematics and science, although more as resources to supply precise structural analogies for his concepts. His disciple Manuel de Landa recently wrote a book on Deleuze and Science which might be art friendly since de Landa has talked about that kinda stuff at Documenta. My old art theory lecturer was also quite fond of Gregory Bateson, polymath pioneer in cybernetics, but also some anthropology in Bali.

    Artists shouldn’t feel too worried about the carping between different branches of the academy. There’s plenty of interesting resources in both. Scientistic types will cling to the power of laws (nomothetic), while humanities types will defend meaning and interpretation (idiographic). You don’t really have to pick either/or unless you have to bluff your way into an academic career in one or the other.

  21. Daniel says
    23/05/2009 7:31 PM

    “You don’t really have to pick either/or unless you have to bluff your way into an academic career in one or the other.”

    Shao, I am not quite sure what you are implying with that statement. It would be nice if someone as erudite as you actually consider an academic career since there’s such a shortage of teachers.

    Maybe its obvious to you how these two camps function but I am afraid that our high school system here splits thousands of 16 year-old kids into the two paths without first giving them adequately preparation. At this point in time, most hardly realize that evolution theory has been omitted from their textbooks or that art can be more than a landscape painting.

    Many of our creative students then end up in the hands of the corporations and the social elite who make them do endless advertising and entertainment work. Heh, at least its not the religious institutions anymore.

    If there were more direct conversations with scientific types, I believe such exchanges can be lead to better infographics, healthier entertainment content, the production of engaging and critical educational resources, as well as less friction between the integration of man and machine. Such materials are invaluable for creating informed citizens and a less destructive society of the future.

    So yeah, I worry about this split but I do agree with you that it is not a question of either/or.

  22. hoycheong says
    24/05/2009 4:53 PM

    thanks everyone for postings and feedback from the rant. guess i have some responding to do eh?

    simon, guess your postings provoked the most in the earlier thread of “back and forth” with ideas (polemics?) that should engender further contestations.

    simon, burhan: “nihilism” – as a complex philosophical sydtem/model for epistomological investigation, yes, why not? but as a framework (as subject) for a day-2-day living when one has to constantly deal with ethical, moral, existential equations, it seems just not practical and tiresome/tiring, does it not? this is coming from a pragmatist point of view really. your thoughts?

    also regarding the issue of disavowal of history, am not sure if we are actually agreeing or in disagreeing? aren’t all “avant-garde” developments trying to break away with/from history? Isn’t this almost like a “given”? and this seems to be the case for manray, bataille or rothko, pollock. On the other hand, isn’t that kind of re-thinking, challenging, even castigating of history observable through the sweep of malaysian or regional or international (whatever they really mean?) histories. isn’t what is new just another ebb & flow of art-making as artists respond to a socio-cultural world in flux?

    is there any difference from abstract (or semi?) painters who still dominate the scene in Malaysia explaining that his/her work is not about history or socio-cultural issues but about the “inner soul/space”, “the paintings are about the paint, the canvas and my dialogue with them”? How is the non-engagement with the past different? are there parallels? or disjunctures?

    i kinda like to suggest that history is beyond national history. and histories cannot simply “dumped”, not exist for the process of art making. even the painter needs to know about the history of paints, oils and pigments. somehow, painters who seem to know this make, to me, “better” works. leonardo, who ignored the history and needs of fresco painting, had a disintegrating last supper the moment he finished it. (and i don’t think it was conceptually meant to disintegrate?)

    while historical consciousness, socio-cultural concerns can be burdensome, what i do not agree is that the curiousity and investigation of them are deemed unnecessary. should they be, like a bag of stones, be dumped and be buried? (i used the word “amnesia” as idea.)

    is there really any difference between the new voice and the voice of abstract painting (of the old) which often argues that “politics” is in the “brush-stroke”and “the mark”, and not in history or socio-cultural issues. that art is about the “inner soul/space”, “paintings are about the paint, the canvas and my dialogue”? is the new non-engagement with the past different? are there parallels? or disjunctures? are these new aberrations or actually long-held ideas?

    ok enough, am kicking out this first response…

  23. hoycheong says
    24/05/2009 4:59 PM

    am realising that it is difficult for me to have extended ideas and trying to write in a 2x5in rectangle…space bit tight 4 dinosaurs.

    so please ignore a repeated para:”is there any difference…”

    the one at the end is the actual one…

  24. hoycheong says
    24/05/2009 6:27 PM

    simon: responding to issues of art criticism…

    finding a new vocabulary to describe the now? looking at work beyond context-driven readings? personally, in my limited curatorial/writing/journalistic excursions, i have found that discussing the context of the work (not necessarily that the work is context-driven) is easier. it can allow for more openness but it can also be stultifying.

    “It is my dream to create an art which is filled with balance, purity and calmness, freed from a subject matter that is disconcerting or too attention-seeking. In my paintings, I wish to create a spiritual remedy, similar to a comfortable armchair which provides rest from physical expectation for the spiritually working, the businessman as well as the artist.”

    always liked this quote by henri matisse. has a layer of truth often dismissed.

    for me, in terms of art criticism, if we take away discussing the context of the work, and its existence (and perhaps raison detre) within the milieu including that of place and time, we can end up in a dicey world of aesthetics. if matisse proposes that his work should be a “comfortable armchair”, do we then, as writers/critics/curators, look at the materiality of the armchair? is it really comfortable? would it be more comfortable in winter if it was made of leather and down? what about the materials and design? did matisse understand his choice of materials. was he aware and engaged with the “distracting” socio-cultural ideals of “comfort” then?

    these seem like some questions and issues to consider…but can looking at the work (materiality) be separated from looking at context? it can be much easier to discuss context, and invariably more difficult to speak of materiality cos the latter can easily be entangled in issues of taste and sensibility.

    And I think “context” in visual art writings of most genres, in malaysia, can enter into different realms – airy meditations and posturing on art and the artist/s, and on the other hand, agenda-ridden, context laden writings.

    writers have written poetry and “poetic” meditations on art; some have, completely ignored contexts and have then layered contexts onto the work which doesn’t have (like arguing that the abstractions are about “war and oppression”); others construe the works and artists as though they were historically determined by contexts, national or global, and everyone gets trapped by these determinisms.

    honestly, don’t know if there are “new” ways, or that needs to be. personally, i am more interested in the exploring of both materiality and context. much writing has ignored this or have seen them are separate. But to me understanding the materials/materiality of a work constantly needs recourse to histories…for both writers and artists…

    so i guess, ultimately, discourse/polemics/dialogue, theory, and yes history (as un-pc as it might seem) provide levels of knowledge and various lens to see and read the “world” (for the mirage it is??), and experience/interpret it sensorially?

    one issue that bothers me, and I think is a genuinely new development in this decade in many of the countries in this region is the emergence of new “kingmakers” with the ballooning (and recent bust) of the art market. This new contemporary “class” of opinion makers are closely linked to the market system if not directly employed by it. they also have control of the production and reproduction what constitutes the “in”, “new”.

    the challenge to an old historical order – as in the “gerakan seni rupa baru”, indonesia, “new scene artists” or “matahati”, malaysia – emerged and existed through the thoughts and actions of artists, thinkers, cultural activists, etc. they wanted to push for new investigations and “truths”. however, now, it seems that gallery-owners and curators hired by them are largely replaced that voice. to me, these dominant voices are the ones that need to be challenged and laid bare. are there voices not “aligned” to commercial/trendy interests that need addressing? are artists/art criticism slowly being subsumed and probably pleasurably subsumed by these interests?

    Question: is this blog/rant the place to “pontificate”? are these all too pompous, snooty and be assigned to the depths of the ocean?

    ok enough verbosity for a day….:)

  25. Zedeck says
    25/05/2009 12:56 AM

    “The questions, which I think is summed up nicely by a few observations made by Zedeck in the previous thread:

    – do critics and writers need to find a new vocabulary to describe what is happening?
    -Do we need to catch up with what artists are doing and acknowledging their departure from this context-driven practice or should we continue to read context into their work?
    -Is this the most valid or relevant methodology in terms of art criticism and writing? Does it need to be complemented and supplemented with other forms of reading? If so, what?”

    Hey all:

    I don’t have the vocabulary to contribute in any significant way to this discussion. Just a gut feeling: that speaking with authority, these days (and rightly so), needs to come with a caveat about the stuff one is ignoring.

    I think there’s enough going on to accommodate the old vocabulary as much as a “new vocabulary”. There’s as much context-driven work going on today, as non-context-driven work.

    This is as much as a delineation may be observed. I’m a broken record here, but I think, again, that this either-or dichotomy is just bollocks lah. Worse, its a hegemony that we, as observers of artistic / cultural practice, impose on ourselves. All our old / new ways of talking about art, old and new, is interesting and valid — aren’t they?

    I’m not sure whether I’m making sense here. Just trying to articulate some annoyance …

  26. Burhan says
    25/05/2009 3:29 AM

    There are so many comments I want to respond.

    Deleuze is one of the grandmasters. But those who are already versed in the mathematics still debate whether his frequent metaphorical disgressions into differential calculus and dynamical systems (this is according to De Landa and Brian Massumi’s readings) were all just fluff.

    Alan Sokal showed this. Deleuze, Lacan, Kristeva and Baudrillard grossly misunderstood the science in the analogies they employed & made mistakes so embarrassing it’s almost a joke. What’s for sure none of Deleuze’s ideas have crossed back into mathematics and contributed there.

    As for De Landa, & maybe Badiou, for me, the jury is still out. Their lofty philosophical scholarship is one that I can never imagine myself attaining. And they both clearly understand deeply the sophisticated technicalities of the mathematics involved. But I have yet to hear enthusiastic response from any of the prominent scientists.

    Moral of the story for artist: it’s all fine making colorful double-helix sculptures of the DNA, if it’s only meant to be pretty. But if you want to formulate some serious philosophical, political, social or aesthetic statement via the appropriation of some high-level scientific idea or concept, make sure you understand enough of that concept first!

  27. Burhan says
    25/05/2009 3:32 AM

    Omg I loves Edge.org! I’ve also read all of john brockman’s edited books. All the main writers in pop science are there.

    Daniel is right about Dennett, whose case I forgot to mention. ‘Santa Claus’ Dennett’s disciplinary designation is not really ‘Theory’ in the sense of what Derrida, Hardt & Deleuze do (‘continental’ philosophy), but a different ballpark altogether, ‘analytic’ philosophy.

    An overwhelming majority of scholars in Anglo-American philosophy departments work in this field, which is fiercely scientific, rationalistic & not mainly about merely interpreting texts. Its founding thinkers were after all mostly mathematical logicians or cognitive scientists.

    Analytic philosophy is a case of where science has, in my view, successfully penetrated into the humanities & produced fruitful scholarship, despite the intended limits of the methodology. But, like pomo theory, the movement itself is sadly dwindling and losing students.

    If you think scientists & humanists can’t get along, wait until you see the nasty fights between the analytic & continental philosophers!

  28. hoycheong says
    25/05/2009 5:13 PM

    turning to the discussion on theory, what burhan, shao, changhwang all seem to suggest the difficulties of different “academies” as suggested by burhan in discussions and dialogue. How true. But these contestations somehow seem important. dialogue and arguments in good faith pushes us to be alert. this is especially so in malaysia, where the state promotes amnesia. (mahathir recently opined that he hopes perakians/malaysians have a “short memory”. This was his dictum when he ruled.)

    on the question of empiricism, it has its importance and limits in the sciences and social sciences. and yes, such data could not avoid the current domino economic collapse. got an interesting story about empirical knowledge:

    in areas of anesthesiology and pain management, doctors found out that even with test results, data, physiotherapy, etc. they are not able to accurately gauge “pain” levels. empirical data served no purpose, no clear correlations. a modified ruler, with a sliding marker (even with a smiley) functioned as the most direct/honest/”truthful” – and most simple – way to understanding and gauging pain accurately. how ironical!

    and i agree that the earlier notions of class-struggle, theory/praxis, and attempts to transform society through art, as we can see from the sweep of history, do not seem to have materialised. well, it can be through coercion like in stalinist ussr and late maoist roc through state approved grandiose productions. but it other than having a sheen of transformation, artists were (like in other areas of life) discontented.

    they all seem rather hollow.

    but that is why i thought writings by agamben and negri are valuable re-investigations and insights into seeing the world this century. and further speculating, as i was observing what was happening in political scene in malaysia, the elections of 2008, the growth of civil society, i thought of negri and hardt’s “multitude”. been ages since i read it, but i thought that the emergence of so many different types of people/groups, and most importantly of different ideologies, reminded me of the idea of the multitude argued by the authors. and it was not the homogenising “rakyat rising up” which was the common explanation. what happened was something most have not seen.

    and more interestingly, when nizar became the cm of perak, once of the first things he said was his government was of love, or something close to that.

    agamben’s “state of exception” also gave me some framework to understand what the malaysian state was becoming. rule by decree, “the law applies to all except me” (the state), the people rendered quite naked to authoritarian forces, all simmering in a backdrop of the international siege on muslims, and the resulting seige mentality of muslims.

    curious for your comments on this observation? are these authors really that euro-american centric? are malaysia’s political dynamics vastly different? are these ideas conflating very different lines of thought?

  29. Sharon says
    25/05/2009 8:32 PM

    I dunno where to start. Each of these comments seem to constitute a post in itself. Since I’m freezing my butt off (heater bust) and drinking tea + warming agent (vodka), I’m just gonna jump in and start hitting around with big stick.

    On dialogue + polemics: I think that Chang Hwang and Zedeck make a good points. ‘Chickens talking to ducks’ – everyone has a opinion, their notion of the truth, specific knowledge of philosophers/history/scientists/web tech, etc. etc. etc. Polemics polemics polemics – enjoyable, because really, you can go on forever (as witnessed in this comments thread) because it’s like tennis. ‘Your opinion, my opinion, your opinion, my opinion’. HC (+Simon, Burhan, Shao, Daniel), you seem much attached to polemics, but I would suggest that it’s just another comfort zone. (NOT saying it’s NOT valuable, just a comfort zone) Where interesting, ‘new’ things happen is the intersection between different opinions, e.g. actually going to that show you think is ‘crap’ or readjusting your view of what constitutes something valuable.

    Polemics itself is old, old old and dusted. In the most universal polemic of all: capitalism vs socialism – we have seen that neither ideology (thesis and anti-thesis) can sustain itself. The arguing is pleasurable, because there’s always something to react against: you build something in reaction to something else.

    These attempts to draw a line between theory and practice, i.e. ‘let theorists do what they do best’ – another comfort zone. Similarly, The very idea that theory should be more practical (as in, be more politically effective in the ‘real world’) is just reinforcing the divide.

    Unfortunately, I do feel that there is some serious pontification going on here. The absence of other voices suggests that something impenetrable is being created… what I would term a comfort zone, for all its appearances of ‘discomfort’… of ‘arguing’ etc. What a paradox.

    What’s ‘new’ for me is plunging into the sidelines of our OWN centers. Those are the important boundaries. A new language, a new group of colleagues, a new way of thinking about one’s own art career… these are the important frontiers. Which is why it’s so cool that HC brought up this new class of creative ‘kingmakers’. The challenge is to balance yourself enough so that you don’t fall into a position of resistance EITHER WAY. You take whatever is useful and with it, move on ahead to whatever goal you think is important. We need to move beyond, not against.

    Theory is usable if you want it to be.

  30. Sharon says
    25/05/2009 8:37 PM

    Just realized I was being polemical by dissing polemics. Heeheehee. Whatevs. I think I jsut want this thread to be O.V.E.R.

  31. Shao says
    25/05/2009 9:27 PM

    I think I jsut want this thread to be O.V.E.R.

    Hee hee. I think Sharon just tried to employ a state of exception. :P

  32. simon says
    26/05/2009 12:21 AM

    hello from humid Malaysia!

    Sharon you’ve raised some very very interesting points and this is perhaps what we’ve been talking quite a lot about and probably have to disagree on since our positions on this issue has crystallized over the past few months.

    e.g. actually going to that show you think is ‘crap’ or readjusting your view of what constitutes something valuable.

    Daniel was suggesting something similar through a self-induced experience of the sublime when I last spoke to him. Interesting idea, maybe he can elaborate on his point. I’m going to try this out a little and report on this.

    But what’s wrong with polemics in the first place? Just because it’s old, it’s useless? You operate on the assumption that just because a person sticks to his/her own values, it impedes the person from understanding what someone else is doing.

    I was speaking to an artist today and he said something quite important about an artistic position, ‘Either you change others or others will change you’. One can argue for a middle ground but that really looks better in the abstract.

    Why can’t I say a show is crap based on my own values, no matter how parochial it is? I have a problem with consensus, it’s polite and feel-good and it’s a fake feeling. Now, I’m happy to do these sort of writings whether for strategic reasons (marketing, selling art, promoting a community, etc) but we need to go beyond this.

    Fostering dialogue can mean listening to someone else. But to go to the extent of readjusting one’s views of what constitutes as something valuable? Kinda a bit like cheating oneself. Not that I don’t constantly challenge my own views, it changes everyday. But distance and a position are just as important.

    This doesn’t mean I’m not open to looking at what’s out there, or listening to what other people have to say, or try to understand where they are coming from, but of course I’m not going to abandon my values for relativism. I’m not an anti-relativist, just an anti-anti-relativist ;) If it’s crap, I say it’s crap, I don’t want to make myself believe it’s not, or try to find an angle to convince myself it isn’t. You’ll probably disagree with me, but it’s more important to be honest now than ever, because the art world here is pretty dishonest.

    The arguing is pleasurable, because there’s always something to react against: you build something in reaction to something else.

    But… but… This is what a dialogue or an exchange is about! Isn’t it?

    why do you want this thread to be over is a strange request indeed. Didn’t we set this up so a discussion as frank as this can happen? It’s a great opportunity to clarify our positions, and I really like to know where everyone stands on an issue such as this. this is, in my opinion, a much more honest process of understanding. And more importantly, I grow from it.

  33. simon says
    26/05/2009 12:52 AM

    Hi Hoy Cheong,

    Thanks for your response re: art criticism. Yes, you are right, discussing the context of the work is definitely much easier. I mean, why we study history in the first place is really to study the context which gives rise to the methods in which artists have been able to creative address a given set of problems, no matter how much of a formalist one is.

    Chang Hwang is right too in pointing out how effective we’re communicating, using the duck and chicken analogy quite aptly. But I would like to acknowledge we’re doing just fine and that this opportunity to even discuss this constitutes progress.

    Anyway, back to the question of context. Your suggestion of material + context, describes quite well how I would normally try to read an artwork – basically the structure of the work and how ideas are communicated through the structure and what this structure means and how it relates to history and culture.

    Coming out of a generation of graduates who are at least more critical on the bashful optimism of new historicism (in literature) and visual culture (in art history), I tend to see how context is being abused as the determinant in which, in its grossest form of interpretation, take to the belief that artistic response is completely determined by history or culture, essentially reducing art to a footnote of history or History.

    Your example of Matisse’s statement is an excellent example of how we should approach something as lofty as that. I don’t generally spend too much time mulling over what an artist has to tell me about his or her work. Not that it’s not important, but it’s also very important to do one’s own reading of the work and see if it matches up. I guess this is what you mean by materiality, a litmus test on how effective an idea is communicated through the form or structure of the work.

    however, now, it seems that gallery-owners and curators hired by them are largely replaced that voice. to me, these dominant voices are the ones that need to be challenged and laid bare. are there voices not “aligned” to commercial/trendy interests that need addressing? are artists/art criticism slowly being subsumed and probably pleasurably subsumed by these interests?

    Maybe this is why ARTERI is important. One of my initial idea is to write about things I wouldn’t normally be writing about in my capacity as a curator. Well, at least, I know that I’ve written mostly about things that the gallery couldn’t care to promote or from a angle that I wouldn’t be able to put to paper in a promotional essay.

    Curators are at the end of the day, advocates, no matter how independent a curator is. Dissent and disagreement is just as important in sustain a critical dialogue and you’re right, things have indeed change on a discursive level.

    Question: is this blog/rant the place to “pontificate”? are these all too pompous, snooty and be assigned to the depths of the ocean?

    What are you referring in your second question? I don’t really get it. Sorry.

    On your first, as crass as a word ‘pontificate’ might sound, I certainly hope it achieve some level of ‘pontification’. Why write art criticism (I’m not talking about the sociological kind of cultural landscape mapping) in the first place?

  34. Burhan says
    26/05/2009 1:05 AM

    On contextualist criticism:

    Not all art criticism should be socio-politico-historical criticism, though there’s room for it. We Malaysians have been ignoring other forms, which, though difficult, are still legitimate if they are sophisticated enough to be aware of contexts. I am not ready to give up on aesthetic reflection.

    An all-too-strong demand to ‘acknowledge contexts’ is paradoxically where ideology can sometimes dangerously function in its most cunningly powerful form. Scholarship suffers when art becomes rigidly naïve liberalism (or conservatism).

    Double bind: on one hand we think context-specificity is fair. On the other hand, it can be a new species of ‘Other-ing’. In the act of being too particularistic, we are indirectly avoiding any true engagement with the artist or the artwork, engagements that have to be transgressive in order to succeed.

    Multiculturalism’s classical dilemma is that by being too ‘respectful’ of the Other’s specificities – background, culture, race, sexuality blablabla – we are actually keeping at a distance from it, like admiring some tribal mask in a museum.

    If a western critic simply ‘recognizes’ the Chinese-ness of a Chinese artist’s work, is there real critical engagement? Like friendships – of the genuine and fiery kind – an ‘authentic’ relationship can’t work on the basis of respect alone.

    But how to ‘cross’ that line, or even speak of it?

  35. Burhan says
    26/05/2009 1:35 AM

    on polemix:

    i don’t know, but i loves it. nothing here has turned personal or offensive. you feel so alive and get to refine your ideas. in malaysia, people are nonconfrontational and you don’t get to argue that much in real life. and even so, it’s generally more about being loud and quickwitted and rhetorical. i admit that, unless you’re already in a position of power — like you’re the other’s professor — it’s generally impossible to get someone to come to your side, especially in this age of liberal democracy. i for one always try to be open towards any new or different proposition i receive because it’s more about learning, and less about the ego and proving your awesome-ness. on the other hand i will not simply bemoan ‘why oh why can’t we all just get along!’

    (will respond to hoycheong’s query about my ‘nihilism’ later…)

  36. Zedeck says
    26/05/2009 2:06 AM

    Another buzz in the thread:

    “I was speaking to an artist today and he said something quite important about an artistic position, ‘Either you change others or others will change you’. One can argue for a middle ground but that really looks better in the abstract.”

    Hm, that seems confrontational for the sake of being confrontational, to me. What you are describing is a linear sliding scale: black vs white, with the gradations in between. And a spoke to mark where consensus is.

    What happened to agreeing to disagree, and seeing a multiple of viewpoints? Those platitudes, I find, help me do my day job. They also help me understand art I don’t like.

    “If it’s crap, I say it’s crap, I don’t want to make myself believe it’s not, or try to find an angle to convince myself it isn’t.”

    I agree on the aim to tell things as they are — but isn’t also important to note that “things as they are” is really “things as I believe them to be”? (Unless you really believe yourself to always argue from a position of absolute authority.) You need not convince yourself to a diametric position, but trying to find an angle to understand why other people see things differently — that’s useful, isn’t it? If anything, just to know where your argument is placed in the cloud-net of opinion?

  37. simon says
    26/05/2009 10:13 AM

    Hm, that seems confrontational for the sake of being confrontational, to me.

    maybe it is confrontational. but confrontation doesn’t always end up like what happened in one of the august chambers a state up north. moreover, changing someone else’s viewpoint can also be persuasive. :)

    but trying to find an angle to understand why other people see things differently — that’s useful, isn’t it? If anything, just to know where your argument is placed in the cloud-net of opinion?

    Yes it is and I’ve mentioned that in my previous post. But more importantly, not falling into the trap where one’s personal values are compromised is also just as important. Like you said it, realise where one’s opinion stand. I don’t see how our discussions thus far have demonstrated otherwise.

  38. daniel says
    26/05/2009 3:57 PM


    America’s richest people meet to discuss ways of tackling a ‘disastrous’ environmental, social and industrial threat
    – Timesonline

    When these guys fart, the world can smell it.
    The rest of us can continue to be rich in our opinions ^_^

  39. hoycheong says
    26/05/2009 7:06 PM

    yo all:

    think all discussions in good faith – a phrase that assumes the non-empirical element of faith – should exist.

    zedeck has a point about criticism which had bothered me forever in trying to write about art, and especially in doing interviews or be interviewed. he mentioned “position of absolute authority”; i see it slightly differently – it is a position of power dynamics/relationships between the author/critic and the subject/object of discussion.

    when a writer is consumed by his own certainty of knowledge of power in the almost-always non-equal relationship of writer-artist/exhibition, writer-interviewee, then we get into problematic realms.

    agendas by the writer can, by virtue of the unequal power relationships, over-ride what the art is actually about. and in this case, theory helps…it reminds the writer that throughout the history of criticism, there are always various lens one can use to see, reflect/refract, focus on what is before us.

    artists’ voices are always important to (sometimes painfully) hear out. artists can say x about the work,but whether that x actually translates itself into the work is a different issue. often, it is not what the artist says but what what the artist doesn’t want to say – (the “gaps”, “absences”)- with regards to the work that need the deep focus of the writer. curators sometimes need to function as advocates, and art criticism will not exist without the art, so i think curators/writers need to pay close attention to the “impulses” of the artist but not necessarily agreeing with them lock, stock & barrel. but curators, i think, also must also take steps to maintain a distance, in order to function more independently, and not merely become friends/advocates for artists…

    having switched from writing on art and opinion pieces, maybe zedeck,you can tell us what you found helpful in trying to understand and explicate a subject matter? are there unequal power relationships? does over-familiarity/friendliness with the subject hinder tackling issues?

    “this is crap” because of a, b, c, d, etc. is great if there is substantiation of argument with examples, a knowledge of the materials and contexts, historical developments, etc. both artists and writers need to do this. perhaps this comes with a “responsibility”, a word laden with so many difficult layers, that is often difficult to grasp and practice.

    maybe i am taking a very mainstream (american) academic viewpoint. i was taught that for every project started, one always had to have a thesis (preferably 1 line), understand and tease apart the subject with theories/arguments, and substantiating all your arguments with references.

    “you can only make sweeping claims if you acquire the stature of a walter benjamin or edward said!!” but there is a great element of truth in being able to substantiate, which is rather lacking here. lofty and provocative pronouncements are easily made, but to argue and explicate require a commitment to the idea, the given value system, the ideological framework, which again, theories and “contexts/histories-in-every-nook”provide the basis for that argument/discussion.

    if someone makes a very provocative proclamation, which u consider important, then this person must explain (or at leas attempt to explicate) this phenomenon he/she claims to exist. if we just accept every pronouncement as having importance and truth depending on our personal values, then art criticism/writings might end up in dead end.

    so “either you change others or others will change you” sounds like a indictment of the art industry as creating coercive environments that force change on artists. rather than accept it as is, i would be interested to find out more: would like to know more on how this matrix works? how people have been “coercibly” changed? who are these powerful oppressive changers of people/art? why is the person feeling like a victim, so victimised? or why such disempowerment? is this one of those smart-on-surface one-liners? or a statement which has been through much serious and substantiated thought?

    personally, i think in this time and day, we live in a world of matrixes, and much of trying to really understand/explain a matter (out of the coffee shop) require many more lens, entry points. black and white, simple dualities have whizzed by.

    piya’s use of entry points is no longer confined to few points on a flat surface.

    unless, one has the confidence of lars von trier, who at the recent cannes fest dialogue sessions, claimed that he is the best director in the world and told the audience: “i make films for myself, not you”. he was booed.

    on the new entrepreneurial/curatorial alliance, again we need to look at intersections and ruptures. it is not a judgmental view that such developments are bad. they exist,period. they are rather new developments – lets examine these dynamics. let’s look at what is apparent and what might not be apparent. and arteri has its role in offering opinions other than what the dominant entrepreneurial/curatorial alliances are saying, have said.

    on discussions like this in a blog format – i think the view that this is valid and this is alienating is both true. personally, i enjoy this “pontification” – i like its reflexivity and irony – but also know that there are people who think that this site is snooty… infact, some time back, when i was online, someone asked in malay if this site was only meant for friends…
    but perhaps these issues are more appropriate elsewhere. this was what i meant by suggesting assigning them to the ocean la!

    so many things to think through, so many interesting ones to discuss…but is this the time and place?

    (trivia: a new book just released on walter benjamin’s unpublished writings called: “on hasish”. about his experiments and thoughts on intoxicants like hash, mescaline,etc. published by harvard u.
    check out:http://www.amazon.com/Hashish-Walter-Benjamin/dp/0674022211)

  40. Sharon says
    26/05/2009 8:00 PM

    but also know that there are people who think that this site is snooty

    I told myself I didn’t want to indulge in this thread anymore (yes, pleasurable), but this kind of hits close to home and I want to address it directly.

    Firstly, I’d really like to know YOUR stand, HC, on whether you think this site is snooty. I mean, like… pick a side, or just stop worrying about it! Obviously you find pontification pleasurable (and valuable and useful and all that is milk n honey) – I don’t get why it has to be one or the other. Why can’t the pontifications exist alongside other so called more ‘accessible’ entry points… yes, like you say, those entry points operate on a far bigger playing field than before.

    On this site pontifications exist together with geeky posts on color pencils, video games, mothers, fashion, etc…

    The issue of accesibility of content is CONSTANTLY on our minds – everytime we have a meeting, we get together to stratagise how we can get different members of the art community (and that includes audiences! i.e. father mother auntie uncle) to feel a sense of ownership for ARTERI. Remember that we don’t operate on the traditional editorial system – anyone who wants to contribute is totally welcome. Totally welcome because there’s no money or self-importance involved. You get in on this because you have a thing you love, or you’re interested in being part of the dialogue, etc.

    Each of us has comfort zones. I’ve been locked in the Bangsar gallery circuit for yonks – and I acknowledge that it takes effort + time to step out there and actually look at what’s going on, take part, build relationships. In terms of fostering genuine dialogue, reviews of shows don’t cut it anymore.

    I would humbly request that those (phantom?) people out there who feel that ARTERI is exclusive or ‘snooty’, to give us some time. We are aware. We aren’t defensive. But also, we need your help to help us! I can’t write in Bahasa or Mandarin to save my life, but I’m willing to take tuition classes until I can do so (so malu-fying, but whatever la). In the meantime, we need to find people who are willing to contribute in those areas that we lack.

    I also in all humility (I’m in Japan now, so doing as the locals do) suggest that those who are part of the art community, who think there are areas in which ARTERI can improve, to devote some time and energy into making those improvements happen. Contribute a post, leave a comment, write us a loving email. Whatever. The time for a distant position, is O.V.E.R.

    Hmmm. Ok, sorry – ranty comment. But I have little patience for this old accusation of elitism, especially on an open platform like ARTERI, ESPECIALLY if these accusations are coming from members of the artworld. Writers, please continue to pontificate if that’s what turns your crank, you know. Suggesting that ARTERI is not the place for it, also hints that the place for ‘serious thought’ is elsewhere… outTHERE, cos’ it’s like… so important, or something. Why can’t it be just… part of the colorful noise?

  41. Shao says
    26/05/2009 9:06 PM

    Sharon, not sure if this would make the frontpage ungainly, but what about a pinned feedback thread – or a feedback button on the upper right ‘Tell Us What You Think’.

    As for accessibility, I am planning to write about killa robots sometime soon. Everybody loves killa robots. :)

  42. Daniel says
    27/05/2009 1:35 AM

    Make it killa robots who play futsall againts reformed zombie nazies inside an F1 ring attended by supermodels and lolcats….

  43. Burhan says
    27/05/2009 7:24 AM

    Hoycheong wrote:

    ““nihilism” – as a complex philosophical sydtem/model for epistomological investigation, yes, why not? but as a framework (as subject) for a day-2-day living when one has to constantly deal with ethical, moral, existential equations, it seems just not practical and tiresome/tiring, does it not? this is coming from a pragmatist point of view really. your thoughts?”

    I wasn’t repeating the uninteresting emo oh-it’s-all-meaningless-we’re-all-going-to-die-anyway-so-why-bother-offering-anything-constructive stance.

    Look,we’ve known forever that structural hegemonies, frameworks, narratives & models have their limits, epistemologically, politically, ethically & even practically. Derrida isn’t even needed here. We already know, from grandpa’s socialism — despite its inevitable failures — of the need to challenge, rupture & go beyond hegemonic systems, for the sake of equality, justice & the good.

    Among others, post-structuralism tries to be more aware of these limits & tries to ‘philosophize’ them without co-opting them into yet another structural system. That’s the post-structural: the after/beyond structure.

    We should use & improve on it, & not regress nostalgically back to those good-old idyllic totalitarian times when everything was decided for us & systematically controlled. We should not revert to naïve constructivism, but upgrade to a neutralized constructivism without constructions, and live & make art under the sovereignty of an aleatory dance, a nonsystematic system that ethically avoids exercising power.

    This isn’t to say that structures don’t have their place in society: e.g. we have them in our Undeng2 & Perlembagaan. Life needn’t be a permanent state of revolution. It’s not clinical ADD.

    But I would say that this day-to-day life of ‘improvisation’, *without ground*, without some framework to fall back as an excuse, is the practice of true freedom & the affirmation of true ethical responsibility. It’s also what makes great art.

    We practice this ‘without ground’ all the time & every day. Someone mentioned ‘love’. When you fall in love (love worthy of its name), you fall in love ‘nihilistically’, by not believing or folowing any pre-conceived romantic metanarrative. The romantic encounter falls under the sovereignty of an event whose ground and justification is the infinite abyss.

  44. Burhan the unromantic says
    27/05/2009 7:33 AM

    On the issue of disrupting versus affirming history, interruption versus continuity, the demand for newness versus repetition of old vocabularies blablabla:

    Every artist is simultaneously ‘old school’ & ‘avant garde’. No traditionalist aims for zero novelty in his/her artwork. Every revolutionary is on some level a closet conservative. Artworks can make something that has been done a zillion times still be interesting, or can be edgy in how they retain old grammars.

    (Discontinuity & continuity — Difference & Repetition, the Eternal Return — propagate essentially and paradoxically through each other: Difference & Repetition, Eternal Return blablabla.)

    When we write, we employ pre-existing words. We don’t ‘speak in tongues’ chaotically.

    I have no quarrel with Malaysia’s strong tradition of historicism. What I’ve become bored with is the methodology of importing some hip idea by theorist X & then merely ‘applying’ it in the context of Malaysian art. It’s like using a determinate math formula & simply plug-in the Malaysian ‘variables’. This is what I call merely ‘applied’ & not real philosophy or criticism. I’ve fallen into that trap as well sometimes.

    I’m not arguing for the ‘indigenous’, the singular, the local, or even the ‘glokal’, but to appreciate the artwork on its own terms & say something interesting.

    Again, the example of love is useful. Writing criticism is like writing why your Lava is so awesome. You don’t say because she (or he) has celebrity A’s eyes, celebrity B’s personality or intellectual C’s intelligence blablabla — just external notions of awesome-ness. You write why you like her as *who* she is instead of *what* she is.

    It might at times seem wrong to use words at all – which is why art criticism is profoundly interesting. It’s difficult & one has to work at it.

  45. ah Fei says
    27/05/2009 3:04 PM

    ‘one issue that bothers me, and I think is a genuinely new development in this decade in many of the countries in this region is the emergence of new “kingmakers” with the ballooning (and recent bust) of the art market. This new contemporary “class” of opinion makers are closely linked to the market system if not directly employed by it. they also have control of the production and reproduction what constitutes the “in”, “new”.

    the challenge to an old historical order – as in the “gerakan seni rupa baru”, indonesia, “new scene artists” or “matahati”, malaysia – emerged and existed through the thoughts and actions of artists, thinkers, cultural activists, etc. they wanted to push for new investigations and “truths”. however, now, it seems that gallery-owners and curators hired by them are largely replaced that voice. to me, these dominant voices are the ones that need to be challenged and laid bare. are there voices not “aligned” to commercial/trendy interests that need addressing? are artists/art criticism slowly being subsumed and probably pleasurably subsumed by these interests?’

    since from the 90’s you are involed in curated a few exhibition in collabration with the commercial gallery here(VWFA ,Galeriwan etc)
    and also writing for Lattif mohiddin exh. at SAM and Chang Fee Ming at galeri Petronas Catalogue.

    and you are also was the few artist in Malaysia that was formally represent by the commercial gallery start from 90’s until now,which you are taken a part from this art market system.

    Do you want to share experience about this?

    Did in 90’s is no/or less ‘Kingmaker’?
    if the gallery which was represent you ,taking part of ‘Kingmaker’,’in’,’new’,how do you avoid that ? do you critic them directly? if the ‘Kingmaker’ want to collect your work?do you said no?
    Did ‘Kingmaker’ happen in the Bienalle,or academy scence?

  46. peludas asiaticas says
    24/07/2009 1:27 PM

    hm. 10x.

  47. Guillermo Santamarina says
    19/01/2010 5:01 AM

    Hello Wong Hoy Cheong,

    Thanks for your articulated and honest thoughts.

    Would consider an invitation to collaborate with a text for a publication associated with a specific exhibition project in Mexico City’s MuAC?

    I sincerely hope you can contact me very soon:


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