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Back To The Future!

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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 Therefore this was when practical needs were superseded by the image or idea of these products as an extension of our mind/body identity, status and prosperity which has been coerced to mean ‘happiness’.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/

This article was first posted on the original Arteri site on 2 August 2010.

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