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Familiar Territories

Posted by on Thursday, 1 October, 2009 at 2:20 PM. Filed under: Reviews

Different But Same (1-14 Sept) at Wei-Ling Gallery presented current works by local practitioners who are pushing the boundaries of modern photography in Malaysia. While some works used straight photography to get their points across, others are more experimental in nature, adopting photographic strategies which are not specifically associated with the medium. The exhibition of these works challenges the way we look at notions of photography as a creative process and also how different treatments of subjects can lead to alternate interpretations of a photographer’s work. The featured photographers were Alex Moh, Alex Wong, Azril K Ismail, Azrul K Abdullah, Bernice Chauly, Ceacer Chong, Eiffel Chong,  Erna Dyanty, Lim Hock Seng, Pang Khee Teik, Tan Chee Hon and Yee I-Lann.


Erna Dyanty, Untitled (Taman Dagang), 2008, Digital print on Kodak Endura paper, 75.5 x 165 cm

Erna Dyanty’s striking pieces of KL’s urban spaces hit a spot with me as too often I find myself staring into the distant lights of the city at night, awestruck at how beautiful and alive KL is at nighttime but in daylight, although busy and packed with life, looks grim and gray, thanks in part to the omnipresent smog. Erna’s choice of urban spaces are those inhabited, or at least frequented by people. Such places, during the day, are highly populated and easily overlooked as subjects in art. And so it seems a little ironic that the beauty of these spaces shines through and becomes precious to the beholder during the night when they are seemingly devoid of human presence.

Yee I-Lann, Kinabalu Series: Anak Negeri,  2007,  Digital print on Kodak Endura Paper,106 x 205 cm

Yee I-Lann, Kinabalu Series: Anak Negeri, 2007, Digital print on Kodak Endura Paper,106 x 205 cm

Yee I-Lann’s works are, and of course I’m not being biased, immensely thought-provoking and visually arresting. The interaction between her “subjects” and their “settings” seem to teeter between being funny and serious but her works for me conveys some very subtle ideas about people and the society they are in.

Bernice Chauly, Killing Time Series 1, 2009, silver gelatin on photographic paper, 12' x 32' (diptych)

Bernice Chauly, Killing Time Series 1, 2009, silver gelatin on photographic paper, 12' x 32' (diptych)

Bernice Chauly, Killing Time Series 3, 2009, silver gelatin on photographic paper, 12' x 32' (diptych)

Bernice Chauly, Killing Time Series 3, 2009, silver gelatin on photographic paper, 12' x 32' (diptych)

Bernice Chauly’s Killing Time on first sight did not do anything for me, to be honest. I was not even sure what I was looking at and the title failed to connect any dots in my head. It was only when I was reading a news piece on rape and murder, in the instant of a horrifying flash of the imagined crime in my mind that I had this unexpected epiphany. But of course, “killing time” here could just as easily mean to waste time by sprawling at random places around the house, having some other deeper meaning that I could not fathom at the moment.

Azril K Ismail, Kristen, Working Title (Metropolis), 2009, 48 x 48 inches 1999

Azril Ismail’s Kristen also took me by surprise. At first I thought it was a very clever photograph of a doll, taken to resemble a young girl. But on close inspection, I realized it was indeed a picture of girl (um…right, it is a real girl, isn’t it?). Her blonde hair and closed eyes fooled me initially. But why was this photograph of Kristen taken in such a manner, using this approach? Who is she? A Malaysian-born Caucasian? A Malaysian child wearing a blonde wig? What other clues give away her identity? Her name? (Which, by the way, means “follower of Christ”). And even if her name gives the biggest clue in interpreting the piece, what’s the whole point of this line of questioning? At what point does an observer stop asking too many questions to figure out a piece of work and just enjoy the work as it is?

American photographer Ansel Adams once said that “There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.” Good photographs, to me at least, are those that do not leave one’s memory for some time and forces you not only to feel positively or negatively about them, but also to think about their significance, however fleeting, at that particular time. There are still so many areas within photograpic approaches as well as discussions on photography that are worth exploring. While it was not the photography techniques used by each respective photographer that moved me, I feel that it is because each photographer endeavored to use different techniques in their work that one comes to appreciate how the details afforded using a certain approach contributes to the interpretation of these works. And so, while it is possible to play with a recognizable subject over and over again, depending on how photographers treat the subjects, the resulting work can seem familiar yet foreign at the same time.


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  1. weewwfss says
    01/10/2009 4:51 PM

    are those Bernices’s own kids?

  2. Paul says
    01/10/2009 6:10 PM

    Keep writing we are checking and reading your review..:):):)

  3. Pang says
    02/10/2009 10:01 AM

    Interestingly, the picture you displayed here by I-lann was not the one in the exhibition. And if you read your local papers for political murders and rape, you can see how Bernice’s pictures reference Teoh Beng Hock.

  4. mbak sosro says
    04/10/2009 2:11 AM

    hallo friends,

    Missed spelled my name dear, it should be Erna Dyanty, with a ‘Y’ and not an ‘I’.

    And No I am not related to Kris Dayanti.

    :) with love to arteri
    Erna Dyanty with a T.

  5. admin says
    05/10/2009 10:54 PM

    Hello Erna with a ‘y’, will get that fixed for you. Sorry about that!

    Much love back from Arteri.


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