Growing up in the rather sleepy town of Kuching, my only point of contact with anything that’s vaguely curated was the Sarawak State Museum. I used to subscribe to a very childish way of thinking, in which, if it’s not showcased in a gallery of any sort, then it’s not art.
Of course, as I started to form cultural consciousness I also learnt that art doesn’t necessarily have to be confined within the four walls of a prestigious gallery, nor does it have to be conceived by an established artist.
Enter Young Contemporary Awards or Anugerah Bakat Muda Sezaman (BMS21), a platform that connects art, artists and the public. The biennial competition held by the National Art Gallery rallies young artists to showcase their creations, whatever it may be, The 26th edition of the highly anticipated competition takes on a different spin as it is held in various sites and open locations across Malaysia.
Although I didn’t have a chance to catch the exhibitions across all states, I did pay a visit to GMBB Kuala Lumpur to catch four ongoing unique installations parked under BMS21 ‘Seni di Lokasi’ theme.
I suppose the almost vacant 9th floor of this creative community mall sets the perfect stage for Chloe Yap Mun Ee’s “I don’t really want you to see me, but I still want to show you.” The setup is minimal; an empty room lined with a few oddly-shaped, non-ergonomic chairs and a very tiny screen. But before that, I am greeted by the writings on the wall. It’s the artist’s statement. Maybe it’s a confession? Some sort of lore? I tried to piece it all together as the incessant drone coming from the other room occasionally erupts into hair-raising noises, followed by a robotic female voice giving out a string of instructions. Imagine Siri, but she’s taken over by some demonic entity.
To be honest, I’ve stepped in and out of the installation space several times, feeling a bit unsettled by the cold atmosphere. This simple setup elicits a terrifying feeling, especially when you’re surrendering to this installation all by yourself. Then, there’s the tiny screen. So very tiny, it reminded me of the kind of photo that optometrists use to measure your prescription. What’s being projected on the tiny screen? I’m afraid I can't tell you that. One thing’s for sure, it sure felt like I was looking at a snuff film. It also felt like I was being watched, held captive against my will, just like the artist herself.
Abstract artist Lim Bo Qiang and motion graphic artist Chow Chin Sien’s “The New Visible Horizon” is an assemblage of digital and traditional mediums of art that soothes the soul.
Elements of fluid painting and project mapping immediately caught my eye as I entered the installation space. The acrylic paintings of mountains blend seamlessly with the graphic motion projections that depict the transition of dawn till dusk. I let my senses be at ease as I welcomed the wafting aromatherapy scent as well as the soothing ambient music playing softly in the background.
According to Nur Fera Ereen, “Alam Maya” is a scathing critique of how the Internet permeates through every facet of our life, even more so with today’s highly evolving social media platforms. She laments how we get so caught up with chasing instant gratifications and the feeling of wanting to be validated by strangers that we often lose touch with our inner self.
Anyone who steps into the installation space will find themselves assaulted by neon lights. There are several pieces of blank canvas on each opposing wall. I later found out that these are actually doodles on invisible ink by audiences during the initial round of the exhibit, which explains why there is a torchlight provided.
The pièce de résistance features a mangled face of the father of Hedonism himself, Aristippus, set against a vaporwave wasteland. The painting extends out of the canvas as it seeps to the wall, resulting in an impressive, larger than life artwork.
This mobile mural should be the first thing that I spot when I reach GMBB, if only I enter through the main entrance that is.
Rais Azmi’s Solitary Wall encapsulates the feeling of being trapped in the early days of nationwide quarantine. A forlorn-looking child is framed by a collage of screenshots from mobile devices that mirrors the banality and also the absurdity of life under lockdown. The child symbolises his worries about what would happen to the younger generation in this turbulent time. I was in awe with this installation, utterly transfixed as I skimmed through all the little amusing details in the foreground—some of which are memes, Spotify music albums, Tweets, Google Meet call screens—made possible using image transfer technique.
Rais’ Solitary Wall was placed in several locations, starting from the courtyard of Galeri Shah Alam to a petrol station and finally here at GMBB. Audiences interacted with the art piece as they doodled, sketched and painted on the back of the mobile mural. It all builds up to an amalgamation of thoughts, musings and drawings from different people from all walks of life displayed as one of the largest installations for BMS21. It’s a giant canvas by the people, for the people.
If you hurry, you can still catch these installations at GMBB before it ends this 31 March. Head on down to www.artgallery.gov.my/bms to learn more about the talented participants of this year’s Young Contemporary Awards and the rest of the chosen locations and sites for their exhibition.