Reviews

A SHOWING OF INTEGRITY

by Rubin Khoo - SUNDAY STAR, 1 APRIL 2001

For young artist, breaking into the art circuit is a journey fraught with many difficulties. Torn between trying to satisfy the requirements of the gallery and striving ot remain true to one's work at the same time, one would understandably be given to feelings of despodency. It is from such circumstances that CTRL.ALT.DEL, a three-man show by members of Spacekraft, was born.

"CTRL.ALT.DEL is, of course, a technical term, which indicates the moment whenn your computer is stuck and you have to re-start it. We decided to use the title as a metaphor for tthe various points in life when you feel stuck and need to re-evaluate things" says Gan Siong King. "We also thought that it was an interesting adjective to use because, in a sense, it really captures the frustration you feel when your computer hangs," adds Chang Yoong Chia. Gan and Chang are two of the three artists who have come together to exhibit their works in this show. The other is Phuan Thai Meng.

The relationship between the three was first fostered during their days as students at the Malaysian Institute of Art (MIA). CTRL.ALT.DEL, which features works on paper, represents a collection of work developed during their post student days. The four years since graduation, they say, have not been an easy time, and is reflected in the evolution of their work during that period.

"Each of us already had works on paper. That provided the initiative for us to come together and plan this exhibition," says Gan. "It is more or less our first show, and I suppose an element of frustration is evident. But the work basically reflects our transition from students to artists, so there is a lot of different aspects in the development of our work."

In the Malaysian context, they say, they are considered "full-time artists," which basically means having to supplement their income by doing freelance work. In their view, the idea that the art scene is thriving is a myth, particularly for artists like them, who adopt an unconventional approach and whose work have a darker undertone. "We feel that we have to be faithful to our work and maintain as much integrity as we can, so it's difficult to approach people with things we want to show,” explains Gan “Right now, the selection that is available is not comprehensive enough and usually does not include darker works”

Armed with this non-compromising stance, Gan, Chang and eight other artists formed Spacekraft last July. Their objective was to create a platform for artists to freely showcase their works without having to succumb to the powers that be. With a space located in the heart of Kuala Lumpur along Jalan Medan Pasar, Spacekraft provided a suitable breakthrough venue for up and coming artists. Unfortunately, after just six months, Spacekraft lost its space and is now looking for another that will allow it to continue fulfilling its original objectives.

For the lack of a more convenient venue, this exhibition is being held at Rumah Air Panas in Setapak. The venue is basically a workhouse for several artists who maintain their studios there. The residents now hope to develop the house into an artists’ colony, which makes it an apt setting for an exhibition like this.

True to their descriptions, the works project a certain rawness that is not visible in the more conventional venues. They have a somber and dark feel, and deals with issues normally repressed by society, like sexuality, violence and feelings of alienation.

Not all the works embrace this rawness and darkness though. After all, they were produced over a span of four years by three different individuals. Nevertheless, an observation of Gan’s and Chang’s work reveals a certain “in your face” kind of approach. This is only to be expected, given their philosophy towards their art.

For Chang, his influences are derived from fairy tales. “I was influenced by artworks found in fairy tales. So, initially, I presented my ideas using the symbolic approach. My later works are paper cuts. I got the idea to do this when I read that Hans Christian Andersen also did paper cuts,” he says. The work now, he says, differs distinctively from those he did just after graduating from MIA. His art then was driven by fears of how he would be perceived as an artist. Thus he attempted to project a concern for social issues. Painting the lower middle class was one of his major themes until he realized it was not an accurate reflection of himself. Fairy tales may have captured his imagination, but they are not the watered down and sweetened versions that most of us are familiar with. Instead, his fascination lies in a more sinister undercurrent evident in the original form of the tales. His works, then evoke feelings and emotions that are often restrained.

Gan’s early works, meanwhile, portray a certain intensity that leads one to imagine they were created in a moment of frenzy. This is hardly surprising, since, according to Gan, the method he employed was based very much on the subconscious. He subsequently experimented by engaging his ideas onto a blank canvas, digesting them, and presenting them in a two-dimensional form. It’s perhaps because of this that Gan finds it difficult to talk about his past work individually. “I believed when you review a body of work you have to look at which aspect dominate. There are so many layers, content and expressions. The form is not important, but if you study the work, you will find that the ideas are consistent. If you repeatedly document the subconscious, then when you look at it as a whole, you will see a general pattern,” says Gan.

Gan, who is currently also exhibiting at Valentine Willie’s in the Three Young Contemporaries show, says his fascination lies with the figures. And his latest series, which focuses on skeletal images, is an extension of this, and was developed when he came across the images in anatomy books. Gan was intrigued by how the symbol of death can also be perceived objectively and without any traces of emotion when looked upon in a different context.

The third artist in the group, Phuan, draws upon his experiences to form his artistic expression. Through the use of different images, Phuan attempts to give meaning to his work. To further drive home his point of capturing the experience of life, Phuan interestingly makes use of symbols to display his work. Hence instead of frames, Phuan uses clip-boards and drawer-like objects. “This way in which the work is framed has become part of my art. For this exhibition, I used clipboards to display my work. Initially, it was because I wanted to cut costs, but now, that’s no longer the reason. My work is about capturing the experiences of life…normally someone’s details or documents are kept in files and drawers, so that’s how I choose to display my work”.

CTRL.ALT.DEL runs until April 14. Gallery hours are 11am - 6pm, Friday to Sunday. Weekdays and after hours are by appointment only.