Wednesday 4th August saw the third in our series of presentations by creative practitioners from around Asia. This time we were pleased to host the curator/writer Simon Soon and conceptual artist Chi Too, from Malayasia. Under the title of "Playing with the Public" the two creatives introduced a number of projects initiated by themselves and other artists in Malaysia which seek to challenge our notions of public space.
Simon Soon is currently in Tokyo under the The Japan Foundation "JENESYS Programme: Invitation Programme for Creators" and investigating the city's arts resources. He is a key a key leader in the arts scene of Kuala Lumpur and has a highly in depth understanding of contemporary art from the wider South East Asian region. Having engaged in the commercial art world as well as seeking to find new expressions outside of the system, Simon is well placed to comment upon both the art market and the alternative arts movement in Malaysia. He also plays an important role in trying to encourage the engagement of new audiences with art, and widening participation and disscussion in this field, particularly promoted by the internet site arteri (http://www.arterimalaysia.com/), which allows the public to comment upon and review the arts and has already gained much success within its first year.
In his presentation Simon idenitified three main types of creative public engagement. Firstly he introduced the notions of participation through the utlization of web 2.0, then the physical mobilization of groups and lastly building encounters and dialogues through performance.
In terms of web 2.0 and social media Simon introduced the activities of popfolio and internet forum which hosts a net based TV show "pop TV" which includes "The Fairly Current Show" and the "The Effing Show" which try to draw young people into critical debate upon social and political issues through various humorous strategies. Further to this he presented the ironic "6th Kuala Lumpur Triennale", devised by Ray Lagenbach in 2009 which was an imaginary Triennale taking place only on second life. Other projects included Projek Angkat Rumah, 2008 in which crowds of people came together to move a house through the street, Sudden Death, 2009, a project organized by Mark Teh in response to the assaination of an opposition leader who was pushed from a tower block, Let Arts Move You, 2007, a project taking place on trains with performances, screenings and installations, Contemporary Art in Schools, 2008, which brought contemporary artists into a junior high school to work with students and realize collaborative projects, and finally Buka Mulut, 2010, a performance night taking place in a family resturant, again engaging a very new audience to art practices.
Chi Too is an artist whose career has only spanned 1 year yet has already achieved a great deal. With a background in activist film direction/production for NGOs Chi Too has always been trying to make a statement, but when it comes to art he avoids heavy handed messages, becoming tired already by the over-political traditions in Malaysian contemporary art. Instead he makes jest of the art system, subverting its values and attempting to engage the arts scene in self-mockery.
Chi Too went on to introduce more projects which he has been directly engaged in including the activities of "The Best Art Show in the Univers", including everything from cookery lessons to giant tiger pinata to watching paint dry. Pushing his playful humour, wit and irony to a peak in the collaborative project with Simon Soon in the "3rd Pyongyang International Arts Festival in Kuala Lumpur 2010". An art festival taking place in an abandoned house in a popular area of KL, with all artists supposedly hand selected by the "dear leader", with installations, performances and live bands and the participation of highly respected curators and civil servants, proving to be a highly successful event.
Avoiding direct commentary on political/social conditions but highly mindful of the siutation around him, Chi Too makes humorous, sutble gestures which attempt to infiltrate the public awareness. In response to the burning of a church in ethnic clashes, Chi Too sought to reassure people by initiating the project "Everything's going to be alright", gathering a crowd of friends and strangers in a central commercial district to give out flowers to passers by. He is now using this public space as a regular platform for performative events, including "The Most Important Thing in the World", a performance by Sharon Chin who invited strangers to listen to each others hearbeats, and the recent "Flash Mop", a play on the term flash mob, bringing groups of participants together who proceeded to mop the streets.
Finally Chi Too spoke about his ongoing project 'Main Dengan Rakyat' (playing with the people) which is running every month in the national square of KL. This is a highly politicized and highly regulated space, which is utilized for nationally endorsed events and also as a space for oppositional protest. WIth a high lack of public spaces in Malaysia, with only malls and cafes allowing for people to come together in any sense of the public, Chi Too attempts to reclaim spaces for public use through the innocent activity of playing childhood games on the wide green space of the national square. A group of people now join together regularly to play games here, despite the 27 by-laws which prohibit any kind of action in the space. Through a very simple inoffensive action Chi Too has been able to infiltrate the space and defy the regulations which prevent participation from the public.
Simon Soon and Chi Too offered a highly engaging insight into the relation of art and public space in Malaysia, with critical commentary and observations not only upon the arts scene but also upon the social, political and economic situation in the country which is very much the point of departure for many of these creative acitivities.
We are very grateful to Simon Soon, Chi Too and also Darryl for his great translation.
You can view the presentation on ustream