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Back To The Future!

Posted by on Monday, 2 August, 2010 at 9:28 AM. Filed under: Essays

Dear Readers:

Sorry for the absence on my part I have been working on a show in Singapore and then prepping for upcoming projects. It’s been too much to contribute at the same time. But now that I have some head space I wanted to release into the ARTERI ether some thoughts on the ‘future’. The inspiration for this post was this Singapore show I did with June Yap, Jason Wee, Vincent Leong and Roslisham Ismail @ Ise called the Future of Exhibition: It Feels Like I’ve Been Here Before, which was a playful self reflective look at the making of exhibitions, as well as the opening itself and notions of time and the politics of the gallery space. It wasn’t so much about the future but somehow the title seemed to work because the future is such a loaded word and something that everyone is casually curious about.

However if we were to indulge in a few predictions in the direction of contemporary art exhibition making, and the types of spaces and places art should and could take place and in what form what would your wishes, dreams, and hopes be? Let’s try to not be all dystopian, Terminator/1984 or whatever dysfunctional rainy, metallic future rhetoric springs to mind but discuss observations on the past and present in contemporary art in Malaysia and the context of the global world to provoke, entertain, reclaim and consider where the hell this ride is going?

In international discourse key economic moments have led the artworld to consider the death of the object, the endgame of painting and the move towards art as pure entertainment or amusement park as well as the impact of rapid technological advancement  and the status of the internet. For example, in relation to the death of the object this moment seems to have been when economies shifted focus from the quality of product to the advertising/concept/lifestyle associations with that product. Therefore this was when practical needs were superseded by the image or idea of these products as an extension of our mind/body identity, status and prosperity which has been coerced to mean ‘happiness’. This shift occurs at different moments in time (the 1960s in the US and Europe) when in Malaysia I am not sure. However this transition led to the birth of Conceptual practice or idea based production that was not so concerned with the final object but the potency of the idea it represented. And in the 1970s Performance Art as a creative medium was validated as a meaningful art form in its own right. This moment shifted attitudes towards art dramatically.

Ok but that’s in the past, what about Malaysia and what about our future? Do I go all Anita the Facebook Physic and say something like ‘Reader my sweetie, the future of the Art World is all about the Internet. Stay online and you’ll be fine!’ Well I’ve said it now anyway. But the final frontier of art for what seems like a long time now has been looked to cyber space. The future is all about technology right? And socially the internet has changed the way we communicate experience and exchange knowledge. However, although I feel that exciting things are being done and experienced online I wonder how we consolidate this into established notions of viewing and experiencing art in a gallery environment? Perhaps it could be said to be a true experience because we are often alone and more engaged, less distracted when viewing our screens and that gallery spaces are no longer the ideal chamber for art? Do we get rid of galleries and museums altogether and make art a democratic for the people construct which shuns hierarchy and elitism? But isn’t the nature of avant garde a testing ground for ideas before they become mainstream and therefore types of culture elitism will always exist??

I sometimes wonder in relation to international trends whether Art is heading down towards total Post Modern oblivion. Because Art is about creating a pause to consider creative ideas about Art + Life. It allows us the space via the gallery or whatever psychological modes of display have been implemented to think, be challenged, question, enjoy and be affected by what we see. Could it not be said to be a form of meditation which is all about being present in the moment, to open our eyes, to see the world around us and its infinite possibilities and contradictions? If so once we understand this, is the need for Art is completely defunct? A reader said in a comment on another post, that we all need stories because it gives us hope, which perhaps is a way of saying creativity gives us energy and inspiration. I believe this to be true. But the needs for Art obviously depends on audience, on the understanding of what Art is in relation to objects, beauty, class, entertainment, provocation, activism and so much more. Or is Art about banality, spectacle, whimsy – Art is a powerful tool for tourism, capital and the entertainment industry. Does this mean Museums, Biennales and Fairs will become increasingly like theme parks? With the posh opening serving champagne and hot dogs, cavier and designer candy floss? Oh wait hasn’t that been done before? Is this what we want?

The problem with thinking about the future, as the Fortune Teller I saw for a reading on the success of the Future show in Singapore told me, is that its all about context. The Fortune Teller said that local High Art (he didn’t clarify what this was) would never happen in Singapore because culture is imported from the West and well although we could take this on numerous directions, there is a certain point there. Now considering that Malaysia is still in its infancy, despite KL seeming on the surface to have a certain recognisable, modern global infrastructure the question is culturally where are we going right now? What is this moment we are living in? And is there is enough room/history to consider with some authority and or distance the building blocks that have been laid of Malaysian contemporary cultural consciousness to consider our future?

As always lemme know your thoughts.



Image from: adtention.wordpress.com/2009/01/

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  1. Roopesh says
    02/08/2010 3:49 PM

    some of my humble questions/thoughts:

    1-why is the gallery/exhibition space function as the point of engagement for art?

    2-what is the distinction between art and life?

    3-Do we have the experience of Avant garde (nature of avant garde) in Malaysia, if so how/why is it relevant to the local context/culture?

    4-What sort of audience are we(we as in ppl invested in the Arts) addressing in Malaysia?

    5-How do we know Malaysia is in its infancy?

    6-Why do we need to consider the future?

    7-Can anything be thought without considering (outside) future?

    These are the questions I ponder, after reading the text. Hope to instigate some discussion and learn from the comments/answers/more questions perhaps.

  2. Cai Changhuang says
    02/08/2010 7:00 PM



  3. wm says
    03/08/2010 5:50 AM

    Hi EM @ Arteri.

    Interesting thoughts. I’ve heard bout ISE’s work via Spore through a friend. Some sort like ala Mr. Nolan ‘Memento-ish’ moment. Kudos.
    In responding to your thoughts, let me try to sum it up without rambling it into an article by itself. :P

    The Virtuality: Yes, the online gallery via internet is awesome as an added value to the ‘art’, the ‘gallery’, but it could not replace the real thing. i.e the real gallery, the actual event and the shared moment with other visitors. However, it is still subjected to..

    The Need: Do most Malaysian visit art galleries or the shopping mall? Should art be open to the masses or enclosed to the elitist? (we could go in circle debating this) My personal view, keep creating despite of the ‘needs’ which relates to….

    The future:
    To answer this question, I’ll sum it up with a quote from Peter F. Drucker, “The best way to predict the future is to create it”.

  4. Selective Answering says
    03/08/2010 10:10 AM

    2-what is the distinction between art and life?
    One is absurdity by choice, and the other absurdity by design, go figure which is which.

    5-How do we know Malaysia is in its infancy?
    Because we felt we haven’t grown up for quite some time.

    Wait-a-minute, which infancy are we talking about? Are there different areas of growth we need to identify?

    6-Why do we need to consider the future?
    Because there have been too much revisionism on our past.

  5. Answering with Analogies says
    04/08/2010 11:08 AM

    1-why is the gallery/exhibition space function as the point of engagement for art?

    Same reason you go to an ice-skating ring to see what ice-skating is about if your are not familiar with ice-skating or really crazy about it.

    You could see pictures of ice-skating in an ice-skating magazine, videos of ice-skating competitions, movies on ice-skating (Blades of Glory), play video games of ice-skating, make toys of ice-skating, host a forum or website on ice-skating, and screw an ice-skater. Some ice-skating geeks feed themselves into this positive feedback loop, creating an ice-skating mad world.

    For most people, being a few degrees away from actual of ice-skating is good enough. Whizzing around on ice is fun but hitting your butt ain’t. Or it’s simply too costly or too far to get to.

    Then there’s the expansion of skating into ice hockey, figure skating, speed skating, and other ice sports. Each alteration would use the ice ring but configured differently.

    There are those who are active or interested in just about anything that attaches the legs with a mobile machine using wheels or boards. From there, you could go on to surfing on the dunes, or skiing on water, etc.

    Knowing what you are really interested in helps navigate you to the most appropriate ‘point of engagement’. For all you know, your interest in skating might have nothing to do moving about on ice, but a weird fetish in seeing girls in skimpy skirts wearing skin coloured leggings.

  6. Eva says
    05/08/2010 12:03 PM

    Hi Everyone,

    Thanks for all your comments! One of the things that came up when doing the exhibition in Singapore was this very question of do we care about the future? Better to just be active now, do things, create things and see what happens? Because being too self conscious creates a certain amount of second guessing but on the flip side being too unaware of circumstances, context, realities and notions of sustainability is also problematic in the art world. And do we think of the immediate future or long term? How far do we want to go in terms of commitment to the future??

    I think how we imagine the future now with so much entertainment media schtick out there is through a certain amount of kitsch – flying cars and android girlfriends as well as a certain amount of anxiety – environmental concerns, over population, more economic meltdown – the destruction of the planet. So its hard to consider the future realistically because we just don’t know and things on the one hand look really interesting and on the other really depressing.

    Roopesh to respond to your questions:

    1-why is the gallery/exhibition space function as the point of engagement for art? Answering with Analogies has rather brilliantly answered this: so I will be brief: because as far as I know this is the accepted and acknowledged point of engagement for art in Malaysia. Art in the public realm and performance, community projects, site specific projects are models that are present but still secondary in terms of popular consciousness. I would love to see more visibility and funding support for these types of projects because they have the possibility to highlight more successfully the relationship between art and life.

    This then comes to question of who are we addressing in terms of audience. Ideally its bringing art to the masses. But this is way to idealistic. So its consolidating an art community (artists, curators, writers, academics, dealers, collectors, arts admin staff, students, and genuine enthusiasts) to be more curious about each other and cross pollinate audiences in order for more people to go to a more diverse set of events and exhibitions in order to generate more discussion, more sharing and maybe enrich the scene. Also very idealistic I know but that’s where I am coming from.

    More soon, this is so long already. . .

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