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Tickets to Newton's Funfair?

step right up and get your tickets for a wild ride that you won't forget

by Seihon Tan, 22-07-2003

Reka Art Space maybe modestly furnished and spartanly equipped, but what it lacks in size it makes up for with spunk. It has the vision and commitment to promote non-traditional and non-conventional art and artists- a rather unusual proposition for a commercial gallery in Kuala Lumpur. As both artist and educator, Chee Sek Thim focuses on works that are seldom seen in mainstream galleries in order to encourage many ways of looking at art. He hopes that it will not only opens up fresh discourses and understanding of art and the role it plays in our lives, but also to encourage art lovers to be more adventurous in their purchases. In line with the intentions of its director, this latest exhibition entitled ‘Newton’s Funfair’ is as unique and eye-opening as others that preceded it.

Fariza Ishak is better known as Fizzi or Raising Fink, the street name she used for the infamous murals found inside (now partly destroyed) buildings along the usually congested roads of Jalan Raja Chulan. She was also the lead actress in Hishammuddin Rais’s cult classic ‘ Dari Jemaapoh ke Manchestee’. Presently a housewife, Fizzi juggles her time looking after her baby daughter, managing her businesses and making artworks.

Chang Yoong Chia, is a painter, cartoonists with the now defunct ‘wall lizards’, co-founder of the local arts collective ‘Spacekraft’ (an artist run initiative), organizer and art activist. Yoong Chia is in the midst of organizing a workshop for local and regional artists to meet, interact and collaborate. This burst of enthusiasm came about after attending an international visual arts workshop in 2002 called ‘Khoj Workshop’, in India. Being the first Malaysian attendee, it has strengthened his opinion that local artists need to reach out and interact with regional or international counterpart through networking and collaboration for a diverse and healthy local art scene to flourish. He believes active dialogue and learning from other’s experience is necessary to regenerate a somewhat stale local scene flooded with cheap imitators and ‘bourgeois-fied’ artwork.

‘Newton’s Funfair’ showcases Fizzi and Yoong Chia’s collaborative effort after 6 months of intense negotiation, from choice of subject matter and medium to the final outcome. They arrived at three formal structures/ modes which they agree works best as medium for their shared vision. A4 papers with collage and drawings that each intuitively took turns to develop, a coloring book with images based on personal interpretation of roman alphabets and 2 baby quilts focusing on sex and violence.

What motivates this two’s fertile outpouring of irrational, fantastic and also provocative images? Both have very different preferences and influences in art. While Fizzi is fascinated by the many manifestations of popular culture (movies to toys) which reveals the psychological mechanism of the masses, Yoong Chia cites his childhood obsession with TV programs (especially period/ costume series from Hong Kong) to Greek mythologies, the supernatural and fantasy as food that feeds his imagination.

Fizzy admires the technique and the ideas behind Rita Ackerman’s work for its subtle and disinterest representation of everyday realities but is littered with clues that uncomfortably tease the viewers to speculate the intentions or stories behind her painted images. Yoong Chia is influenced not so much by the style of Arnold Boecklin and Fernand Knoft of the Symbolist art movement, but rather the potential (their art) represents- that the idea of art exists autonomously outside of a convenient linear history, especially from the materialists’ ideology that powers it. Despite this differences, both are able to connect through a common interests for foreign films, Art Brut (or commonly known as Outsider Art) and comics. In fact it was their interest in comics that bought them together as friends and later as organizers of the exhibition called ‘Comics?’ held at Arts Café (2001) in the National Art Gallery. It was an independent comics exhibition featuring well-known veteran cartoonists like Rejahab, to some of today’s up and coming talents.

On why the need to collaborate, both concur that it was curiosity to do something out of the usual context that led them to this creative partnership. They perceive this to be a positive step in growing and developing further as artists. The challenges and the experiences gain will serve as a useful reminder not to take certain things for granted. Any collaborative effort involves the partners working closely together. Creatively, both need to negotiate on the direction of their ideas so that it will not lead to a compromise partial to one or the other. Logistically both need to exercise time management and commitments to deadlines. Each must be equally satisfied with the outcome. In this case, Fizzy and Yoong Chia have no complaints.

The subject matter is perhaps one of the main reason why such an exhibition is best presented in an alternative venue. Conservative mainstream galleries may have reservations in showcasing such works due to its perceived ‘explicit’ content and lack of commercial value. However, being true to their craft, Fizzy and Yoong Chia will not permit self-censorship or financial motives dictate their works; some of which are about repressed human urges and others, just plain naughty fun. And if polite society takes offense, then so be it.

Distortions and human anatomy interact freely not so much to remind us of our mortality but rather, to explore or reveal the subconscious reality that we, as domesticated primates have generally written off as belonging to the old world of myths and the supernatural. For that the prescription is an ABC coloring book. The alphabets serve as a point of reference for both artists, to come up with personal interpretations. The result is a coloring book full of provocative drawings that tickles the conventional worldview instilled in us through education and cultural upbringing.

Finally, baby quilts that remind us that the gift of life also comes with the curse of death. In the West, the quilt is seen as a personal item that comes to ones possession having been pass down from one generation to the other. Rather like the price of death humans inherited from Adam’s original sin, as Fizzi points out. The choice of using quilts came from Fizzi observing Yoong Chia’s art performance at ‘Chow Kit Fest 2002’, where he sat at one corner and sew portraits taken from newspaper obituaries. This pairing of sex and violence sewn and stitch on the quilts is not only ingenious in it’s ability to challenge stereotypical images of cute cuddly animals or mindless ornamentation aimed at invoking feelings of warmth and comfort associated with baby quilts, it also serves as a grim reminder that a cruel and harsh world awaits each bundle of joy from the moment of birth.

The artworks in ‘Newton’s Funfair’ show how easily myths that have created artificial hierarchies separating art from craft can be broken. Regardless of whatever medium one chooses, if it is used with the intention to express personal worldviews in a sophisticate manner, it has a rightful place in the world of art.

So come one, come all, step right up and get your tickets for a wild ride that you won’t forget at ‘Newton’s Funfair’!

Seihon is a freelance artist and part time musician from the local arts collective called SpaceKraft. He is currently reading ' The history of Torture'. A steal for only RM14.90.