Exploding onto the art scene last weekend, with the Open Studios Penang arts festival, came a new and exciting project spearheaded by Ivan Alexander Francis Gabriel. As a multi-disiplinary artist himself, he has collated work by a vast variety of Penang-based creatives, from graphic designers to playwrights to biologists to comedians. As I said in my mini-summary of Open Studios Penang, this exhibit is a manifestation of the variety of imaginations in Penang and it has been beautifully curated.
Each artist has been given a block of chipboard that was 8 inches by 6 inches. Formerly these blocks were unwanted furniture, that, rather than discarding, were given to an eclectic group of creatives from around Penang, to develop into something rather more spectacular. There were no rules except to use the wood somewhere in the final piece.
The building where the resulting Project is displayed itself has a curious history as it was once a swiflet house, and now is an occasional gallery / workshop space, so you may not have heard of it before. It is very easy to find and there is plenty of parking nearby. As you enter you move past the crumbling traditional frontage and into a chic contemporary space, and there is plenty of food for thought within. My favourite thing about this exhibition is the interactivity of it. As a champion of accessible arts, I love work that is playful and here there are so many things to touch, twist, feel, and discuss. This is a big movement elsewhere in the world, and I am pleased that interactive art is coming to Penang.
At first I was instantly drawn to the prints by Tauras Stalnionis. Each one with a painted background that identifies it’s uniqueness. There are playful lines and an interesting story to try and decode within them. I was also very attracted to a white resin piece by Aboud Fares, where it looked like the wood had been torn apart and was made of chewing gum on the inside (that was fun to touch). Near this was a fish paper cut by Onna Ariya that I spent a very long time looking at… partly because it is exquisitely beautiful but also partly because I was asking “where is the wood?”. When interviewing her later she was very humble and said she had cut it up and hidden it underneath the paper so as to create the depth and allow for the paper to curl in the humidity. She had based her work on topographical drawings, trying to illustrate the fish in 2D, as they gather together within a 3D space.
Nasir Nadzir’s work and Esther Geh’s work have been placed together which is something I have wanted to see for a long time. He works with minute detail, observing the animal kingdom with pen and colouring pencil. She works with minute detail as well, but observing wildlife with delicate watercolour. They really complimented each other. Both as well tried new techniques for this exhibition, as the canvas was small enough to be experimental. Esther carved the wood to get down to the texture and represent bark, then collaged her exquisite watercolour vines on top. Having that extra element of texture and real 3D relief makes the image pop out more. Nasir also carved the wood to create a bark texture but used a much more stylised approach, developing a vibrant golden pattern. When I asked him “why an owl?” he replied “because I met one…” and promptly showed the photo on his phone of a huge owl sitting outside his house. Both works are meant to be touched and these artists enjoy the tactile nature of their new experiments.
My favourite piece in this show lies quietly in the corner, barely noticeable until you turn around to leave because it is right behind the door. I think that Lijynn, the artist, quite likes that it is little bit hidden. I confess I would have walked passed it had I not overheard the explanation for it. From Lijynn I have learned the adhesive for chipboard has formaldehyde in it. This is to give it rigidity and water resistance, but it also happens to keep away insects. Sadly what this means however, is when one is disposing of cheap furniture, one is disposing of toxins too, that can be harmful to nature. Lijynn said she started her piece by thinking “where is this from? How is it made? And how can I return it to nature?”. Through doing lots of research she found that nature has its own way of neutralising the toxins and rehabilitating the soil, and in this case that way is the Indian Mustard plant (Brassica juncea). So she cut the wood and planted it in soil, alongside mustard seeds, and as they grow, the toxins will be neutralised, and the wood can return to the earth. Seeds grow slowly though, so Lijynn has put a fully grown mustard plant in there to for us to visualise. She has also illustrated a beautiful booklet for information purposes (rm15) and is painting the grown plant continuously throughout the show. Magnificent.
There are many more pieces by famous Penang names such as Fa Abdul, Garu, Rebecca Wilkinson, and Tommes, as there are 30 artists involved in this exhibit, so there really is something for everyone here. And if that isn’t enough to persuade you to visit? Ivan the curator will be giving a guided tour of the work on Saturday 22nd June from 11-1, in conjunction with the PACCAM meet up group. This is a landmark show for Penang, and I hope that it influences future exhibitions, encouraging more interactivity, more imagination, and more curiosity for both the artist and the audience.
The 8”x6” Project Exhibition
Project 26, 26 Lorong Carnavon, George Town
Open 21,22,23 June & 28,29,30 June from 12-6pm
Curator’s Walk Through with Q&A from artists on 22nd June 11am-1pm
By Lusy Koror