Seeking New Definitions in Contemporary Asian Art:
Five Malaysian Artists Unleash the FU ()
Written by Angie Chong
FU (), the Chinese character meaning to rot (or rotten) is symbolized in the works of a novel group of local artists namely Chong Kim Chiew, Liew Teck Leong, Low Yi Chin, Ng Chew Hsia and Ng Swee Keat. Although one may not immediately agree chemical reaction, corrosion of metal and bacterial decomposition as creative and artistic, FU on the other hand does in the guise of a metaphor. To rot is a natural process, a primordial ritual eloquently designed to complete nature's cycle of birth, life, and death. Such a cycle is a ritualized system of creating and re-creating through subliminal forces within FU. In the meantime, other interpretations take account of corruption of one's thoughts and character especially within social systems and organizations; an appalling social environment leading people to decadence; and, the end of old, the past, the ancient and the commence of the new. Hence, these five artists were stimulated towards a quest for new possibilities or a new definition of an object and subject in contemporary Asian art. Quite ambitiously, these artists have embarked on a mission to unleash the greater FU in terms of art and art forms.
Liew Teck Loong (Anti Corruption) with hundreds of green and yellow talisman pasted on walls is a bold and forceful union between the spiritual and FU. The words written on the talisman abhor corruption of human integrity. The repetitive process of writing the same valued words over a period of time was a personal experience for the artist. It functions to purify the human soul from vice through participation with the forces of FU. Meditation was also a key component in his writing process. It was a means to strengthen spiritual relationships with FU, somewhat like a cleansing ritual. In fact, repetition of these venerated words draw good forces to surround his space, ones that purify and elevate the person away from decadence.
Low Yi Chin (Life Tube 'In Test' No.0), however, takes on a different perspective from Liew. He projects the subconscious' apprehensiveness over birth, life and death. What is before birth? What happens to all our memories at death? And human emotions, where does it all go? Does the subconscious exist after death or was it present before life? Do all these rot in the process of death? Will it revive in the process of birth? Is there a matrix which controls the pattern of existence or is extinction it? Then, there is the question of value. The artist mentioned wanting to add another eighty five test-tubes to the already fifteen. How symbolic is its numerical summation--a one hundred year old live human or a one hundred ringgit note? Given this, the work is subjective leaving the audience to prescribe their deductive theories and beliefs while experiencing transition between birth, life, and death.
While subjectivity allows the viewer to make his or her own conclusions, it can also demonstrate polarities between the old and the new, the young and the aged, the past and the present. Such is the work of Ng Swee Keat (Untitled). The near forgotten art of calligraphy lies heavy in the soul of this young artist. His cultural roots and history lay in the delicate, energetic and yet restrained swerves of calligraphic brushstrokes. Feeling sensitive toward the vulnerability of Chinese artistic heritage, the artist placed each visitor to a test in hope to determine ability to inscribe in calligraphy. The results indicate a decline proving his assumption or hypothesis correct. Similar to Liew's concept, decadence is the gist of the message signifying a decline in an artistic heritage. On the other hand, the urgency lies in seeking a solution to revive calligraphy tradition.
If the subjective and the objective were combined, this would render FU as a emeritus system of complex relationships between the forces of nature. The work of Chong Kim Chiew (The Failure of Cultural Inspection) takes on this challenge. He feels history has many hidden truths and untruths buried deep in our backyard. Literature presents an objective view of history while research can proclaim newer information, unknown facts and details. The historian, the student, and the reader are left to ponder the written word of human civilization delineating for themselves reality from illusion, fact from fiction, history and story.
While the four male artist submerge in intellectualism, Ng Chew Hsia (Troublesome) almost flawlessly materializes FU into a unique art form. Her visual language is profoundly animate. As a budding artist, she feels a great responsibility, at times a burden, to create art. She feels this weight as a poignant moment in her career. A closer look at her work discloses a rather embryonic impression of the subject. Almost everything about this piece is close to mother nature from conception to existence even rendering woman as a similitude of the FU in her life-creating and life-sustaining role. To some measure the female gender equals the invisible forces of the FU, if must a counterpart of an intricate synchronization between life and FU.
FU is a Chinese character profoundly established on the grounds of metaphysical philosophy. It is carries meaning and symbolism into realms of higher intellectualism that can straightforwardly be understood and experienced, or not at all. While contemporary Asian art is unique and individualized, it is not as simple as one may think. Like the FU and its representation in art, demonstrates complex meanings, depictions and interpretations of the abstract. Thus, the artists' choice of subject and the artworks displayed is an endeavor worth recognizing and a show to experience FU.