A Studio Pisang Exhibition
14 - 28 Nov 2015
Pictures and images play a central role in contemporary society. Not only do they mediate meaning in seemingly universal language, but their relevance for the construction of perception and beliefs cannot be underestimated. With media cultural evolution and advance informational technologies, these pictures and images circulating the virtual world from one media to another. It is the mean of communication, imparting information mediated by various device. Be it television, internet, advertising in all its form, texts, blogs, all contribute to seemingly burgeoning visual culture. We are presented with new set of challenges: to understand how images and their viewers make meaning to determine what role images play in our cultures, and to consider what it means to negotiate so many images in our daily lives. Society today increasing affected by visuality. Yet, the structure lies behind this growing proclivity conceal from mass perception, but the effects have taken its toll. We are dragged along unwittingly. All these mediated information thrives upon each other craving for attention. But how can we negotiate on this situation? How can we determine which information morally right for our intention? If so, how could we know? Do we have any power to decide upon ourselves?
These are among the questions concerning to Attract/Retract exhibition by three artists from Studio Pisang namely Hisyamuddin Abdullah, Shafiq Nordin and Sabihis Md Pandi. Attract/Retract addresses the impact of environmental change, and its influence towards artists’ endeavour, who take a reflective look at topical issues. Inspired by John Berger’s ‘Ways of Seeing’, the exhibition attempt to explore the issues of technology, information, and its affection to the mind of the artists. The title Attract/Retract outlines by the quote from Berger, ‘(We) only see what we look at. To look is an act of choice (…) We never look at just one thing; we are always looking at the relation between things and ourselves.’[i] Visual data, be it texts or images, simultaneously stimulates the mind, in this case, the artist mind.
Artists have been addressing these issues since the inception of Pop Art in Modern art movement. Artist such Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, and few artists that time used modern idioms as their subject matter. Reference to banal object in Warhol’s Brillo Box (1969) reflects the growing inclination towards consumer culture and also delineate the line between high art and commercial art. On current art situation, Tokyo based artist, Takashi Murakami known for his ‘Superflat’, a self-conscious highly superficial appearance and attitude, takes on his fondness towards two dimensional manga and anime merge with popular culture, style and commerce. Both of the artist, despite comes from different era, demonstrate the pervasiveness of visuality affected every aspects of human lives, constructing behaviour physically and psychologically. Visuality is the politics of meaning. Everything laminated and mediated with several of meanings, represented in its utmost subtle way. The reality as we know built on how these images can be understood and what need to be understood. The meaning constructed upon on disclosure, eventually open up for exploitation of imagery; be it sexual, family, food, manliness, status, etc., the mixture of images produce a new significant.
The artists may represent the different reading on how do we understand the world around us. Nevertheless, they carries the similar issues albeit from different perspectives. Attract literary means ‘cause to come a place or participate in a venture by offering something of interest or advantage’ or evoke, meanwhile retract means ‘draw or be drawn back or back’. The word espouse based on the binary opposition effects, as a strategy to look on how the artist disseminate information they get from their environment. Artworks are only the means to represent they intention, be it as a statement or an expression. In this sense artist seen as an active agent, engaging information as a mean to produce another information.
Interestingly, as the artist build their apparatus to engage meaning to his or her works, this can be the same to the audience who perceived it. Artist may take their personal matters into the artworks, but powerless to control the specific meaning as it evaporate within the confluence space of audience experiences. This resulted the artwork becoming subjectified. The work of Hisyamuddin Abdullah, although seen as a direct, seemingly allude a subtle impression of the artist personal experiences and environment. Hisyamuddin Abdullah is known for his self-reflective portraits depicting a sense of vulnerability and guilt. Often portrayed himself as the subject, he uses monochromatic and single imagery exert with puns on the current issues. In no way can we know the exact meaning of the artworks, but somewhat trigger the subliminal urgency to relate to the images shown in the painting. These are the strategy to regulate a communication within the space of artworks and audience. In self-portrait, the self becoming an object, the artist becoming subject matter. It is not the matter of how the artist sees in himself, but rather how the audience perceived the artist (in his works). Whether we’re aware or not, the artwork itself is part of the artist self.
Communication not often comes in direct manner, but works in other type of tools. Language as we know, are the tool for effective communication, but in semiotics, people learns the rules of sign and meaning. Meaning that, we received information from speaking words in the form of images. This can be said on the works of Shafiq Nordin. The variation of lines in the Shafiq Nordin’s works implied the flatness and the shallowness of two dimensional spaces on his canvas. This particularly resonates references from comics and cartoons, while heavily invested in surreal imagery. The images of weird creatures produced from selective appropriation associates with the metaphorical nuances. Shafiq’s has the tendencies to evoke semiotics tradition with refreshed popular idioms, such a reference from a popular movies, icons, texts and advertising. Shafiq developed his own interpretation towards a topical issues regarding socio-political situation, using senile yet recognizable animals characteristic. Continuing Pop Art tradition, the used of flat and spot colours evoke familiar feeling one’s look at the commercialized visual products (e.g. comics, advertising, etc.). Although Shafiq’s work not in a way to mimic the reality (then it is called realism), but bear the iconic trepidation alluding his own definition of foreseeable future. Pictures were seen not as representations, artificial construct to imitate object, but as being closely related, or even identical, to that object.
While art divided into a spectrum of functionality within the contexts of form and contents, it is always a pleasure to look on the intricacies of craftsmanship. Sabihis Md Pandi continues the tradition of printmaking, but rather on paper as it normally associate with, he works on large scale – printed on canvas. There is a duality in his works, a division between positive and negative space – using print and block placed side by side side. Often work in monotype, Sabihis works projected the unusual, witty yet sombre association with mythical being. Perhaps, in the world that is disintegrated by the ‘picture-making’ culture, the ambiguity depicted in his work signalling a broader looks on the perverse inclination of current visual regularities. Sabihis predilection to use one or more reference from the images of popular culture, high art and metaphorical figure resulting from demystification of object. These images and pictures selectively placed together although the two doesn’t relate to each other.
The exhibition seek to understand the visuality that dictates our everyday life, where ethics, politics, and aesthetics intertwine. The inclination towards visual rooted from the modern tendency to picture or visualize existence. We have moved from a literature culture towards visual culture as evident in our recent development of media technology. Thus, the dependant on images has become a point of validation. This can be said in any form of mediated representation from paintings to news to popular cartoon series. As pointed out by Nicholas Mirzoeff in Visual Culture The Reader quoting from Heidegger ‘a world picture…does not mean a picture of the world, but world conceived and grasp as a picture….The world picture does not change from an earlier medieval one into a modern one, but rather the fact that the world becomes picture at all is what distinguishes the essence of the modern age.’[ii]
By Azzad Diah
[i] Berger, J., Way of Seeing, (London: Penguin, 1976), pp. 8-9.
[ii] Mirzoeff, N. (ed.), Visual Culture The Reader, (Routledge: London, 1998), pp. 6.