Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Art on a journey

Arts & Fashion Sunday November 4, 2007
Review by SU-MAY TAN

A unique project takes art out of its stuffy box and into the public domain in an attempt to engage the man in the street.

Period: Oct 27-Nov 4
Venues: KTM Komuter, KL Sentral, Old Kuala Lumpur station

THE word “art” brings to mind the clink of champagne glasses, plush interiors and the titter of the discerning art critic in halls so quiet you can hear the echo of postmodernist theories leaping off the walls....

A serene slice of London sky – representing space for dreams and desires – photographed by Li Cassidy-Peet and mounted in a KTM Komuter train attracts attention. – CHUA KOK HWA / The Star

A unique public arts project, Let Arts Move You (Lamu), staged in trains and train stations breaks all those moulds – though the discerning art critic is still present albeit in the form of the college student on her way to class or an IT manager taking the train back home.

Lamu is coordinated by Kolektif Pembangun Seni (Art Developer Collective). Its main objective, says project director Lim Kok Yoong, 27, is not to promote any particular artist but to bring art to the people in a subtle and discreet way.

KTM Komuter passengers and people passing through KL Sentral and Old Kuala Lumpur stations today will find themselves transported into a mobile gallery space, surrounded by art in places you’d never expect, like hand rails, overhead displays and train roofs.

The event, which began on Oct 27, brings together 11 artists from Malaysia and around the region and features work as diverse as video clips, digital prints, photography and story readings that gently intervene into the journey of the traveller.

“(People) won’t realise when the art starts and when the art ends,” says Lim.

One piece that stands out, however, is a musical installation called Sing Along that comprises a karaoke set just sitting on a platform. The idea is for people to pick up the mike and sing along to the music. But the catch is there are no lyrics, you have to make up the words as you go along.

At first glance, the works seem to be a hodgepodge of different pieces of art in different media, but look
closer and a recurring theme emerges: the fusion of public and private space.

With the urban landscape developing rapidly and becoming denser, city folk are withdrawing within themselves. Like the denizens of the world’s biggest cities, KL-ites now prefer to hold textual conversations over a mobile phone or stare at somebody’s shoes. Public space that used to be shared with smiles and conversations is now being “privatised”.

Lamu wants to melt this boundary by encouraging people to look around, to look at pictures evocative enough to start conversations, to pick up a mike and start singing something crazy or to laugh at people who do.

Does it succeed? Malaysians – being Malaysians and “truly Asians”! – don’t like to draw unnecessary attention to themselves.

Artwork for the taking: Kok Siew Wai’s installation comprised digitally printed cards entitled We Are lost. Please Show Us the Way.

Interestingly, out of seven people that walk by, one is usually willing to give it a try, says Sing Along artist, Goh Lee Kwang.

Sing Along is the exception; throughout all the other works of art, subtlety remains a key feature. Devoid of titles, labels or frames, some works might be missed or mistaken for advertising, such as Indonesian artist Sa Dewa’s Spinning Camera, which is an abstract image of colours situated in an advertising light box. Then there are local artist Kok Siew Wai’s sign cards hanging from train handrails like flyers. Up in the overhead display are photographs depicting local life that you could possibly mistake for another Visit Malaysia poster.

Was this intentional?

Singaporean artist Urich Lau’s installation, Finding Substation, involved video projections on underground subway walls and exterior bodies of passing trains.

Lim says Lamu is a pilot project that, perhaps, had needed to bear the consequence of “pushing too hard yet being too subtle.” The idea was to tap into the routine of the passengers and to give them something to contemplate, suggesting that art does not have to be titled, framed, hung or dressed up to be considered as such.

Did people get the suggestion? Certainly, many of the Lamu works caught more than a few eyes the day this writer went on the media tour. And certainly, Lamu as a concept is original, innovative, ingenious even.

As a pilot project it holds great promise for bigger and more impressive impact in the future with works that, I believe, can afford to be more in-your-face and interactive.

KTM, a commercial organisation, must be applauded for supporting such a pioneering initiative. And the National Art Gallery is encouraging, suggesting the possibility of extending this event to audiences in Ipoh, Seremban and other locations. It is heartening to see corporate and government support for daring creativity.

And it is heartening to know young artists have not given up on trying to keep alive a city’s soul that is said to be drowning in far from subtle advertising images....

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