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Monday, 4 April 2011


Electronic Art of Hasnul J Saidon & Niranjan Rajah
25 July - 2 August 2008
Singapore Management University
(Partner Exhibition of ISEA 2008 - International Symposium of Electronic Art 2008, Singapore)

curated by 
Roopesh Sitharan

Wide view of the show, composed by TC Liew

The two Malaysian artists who are the focus of Relocations, have been creating electronic art since the 1990s, endeavouring to locate emerging new media technologies within national art practice, before moving onto global platforms.

The exhibition includes single channel video, web based works and installations; artworks which unpick and reconstruct the relationship between art, culture and technology.

In Video Reflux (2007), Niranjan Rajah addresses the decline of the power of video in the face of the sharing, recycling, appropriating and annotating of content over the Internet.

While in Siri Hijab Nurbaya (2003), Hasnul J. Saidon's video installation addresses questions of gender and identity within the global mainstream media.

Hasnul J. Saidon is the director of Muzium & Galeri Tuanku Fauziah, Universiti Sains Malaysia. He works in cross-media, which includes drawing, painting, digital print, animation, video, song composition and theatre production. His artworks have been shown and screened internationally.

Niranjan Rajah is an artist, theorist, curator and academic. He is Assistant Professor at the School of Interactive Arts and Technology, Simon Fraser University, Malaysia, and has practiced and exhibited as a painter, installation artist and as a new media artist in Europe, South East Asia and North America.

Curated by Roopesh Sitharan, a Malaysian artist, curator and researcher and co-organised by Muzium & Galeri Tuanku Fauziah, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Digital Arts and New Media MFA Program, University of California, Santa Cruz, National Art Gallery Malaysia and 12 (Art Space Gallery).

Front glass wall


The initiative to present Hasnul Jamal
Saidon and Niranjan Rajah as part of
ISEA 08 comes from the need to
highlight their contributions to
the development of electronic art
in Southeast Asia, as ISEA makes
its regional debut. The exhibition
is conceived under the ISEA 08
subtheme of “locating media”.
This exhibition highlights the
broad and concerted efforts
of both artists in deconstructing
and reconstructing the relationships
of art, culture and technology
in order to meaningfully locate
new media within non-western art context;
and inversely, to locate non-western
electronic arts on the global platform.
The exhibition is in keeping with the
aim of ISEA to become a meaningful
global symposium by engaging with
diverse perspectives and narratives
on electronic arts. The name “relocations”
is conceived to characterize the critical
repositioning inherent in the works of
these artists, as well as to symbolize
the challenge of curating new media in
the constant flux of redefinitions and
questioning that is necessary in contemporary
electronic art.

As artists, theorists and curators in
the nineties they endeavored to explore,
understand and locate new media technology
amidst the cultural and social realities of
 Malaysia and South East Asia. This exhibition
recalls the efforts that the artists
made by “relocating” their various
contributions of this period within the
current global narrative of electronic art.
They have both done extensive work in
such diverse disciplines as writing,
production and exhibition curation.
They have gained recognition in local,
regional and global electronic art communities
but their disparate efforts have not as
yet been gathered and reviewed together
in any substantial way. The focus of this
exhibition is to highlight their personal
artistic inquiry, supplemented by their
diverse and well-known contributions in
the electronic art and non-electronic art
scenes through the broad overview presented
in the catalog.

The exhibition presents both past and present
works and it is not intended to prioritize
any specific narrative order. This is
central to the exhibition as the nature
of New Media practice itself embraces
a rhizomatic multiplicity and diversity.
The arguments are presented in order to
prompt further contemplation rather than
to embrace a certain reading. In the broadest
terms, the exhibition attempts to instigate
further inquiry into the notions of
‘artist’ and ‘curator’ in an age of
converging disciplines, and to explore the
significance and the limitations of the
postmodern ethos and of post-colonial theory.
I hope that this exhibition does justice
to the struggles and successes of
Hasnul Jamal Saidon and Niranjan Rajah
in their attempts to re-locate themselves,
their art, and the art of the region
in so many different ways.

Niranjan's "Video Reflux"(2008)
Niranjan's "Video Reflux"(2008) on the left with Hasnul's "Fictional Dialogue"(1997)

Detail of Niranjan's "Video Reflux"(2008)
Hasnul's "Mirror-mirror on the Wall" (1994) on the foreground.
Hasnul's "Mirror, Mirror on the Wall" (1994)

This exhibition consists of nine art works – four by Hasnul, four by Niranjan and one done collaboratively by both of them. The exhibition includes online, video and projection works.

Niranjan Rajah started exploring the Internet as a medium for artistic practice in 1996. He was the first person in Malaysia, and it appears even in South East Asia, to critically engage the Internet as a medium for art. In 1996 he produced “Failure of Marcel Duchamp/Japanese Fetish Even!” In this work he attempts to pinpoint the cultural ordinance in the supposedly unbounded terrain of the Internet. Niranjan flips the utopian view of the Internet as being a democratic and global platform and proposes that it is made up of bounded cultural constituencies. He presents content that is unacceptable to Malaysian society in a Malaysian exhibition space, via a geographically remote server. The intention is for the audience to deal with the possibility of accessing culturally inappropriate content in public space, transgressing cultural taboos and even perhaps the national obscenity legislation. What becomes obvious is that the reading of an online image is bound by the context of its appearance and contingent upon the audience in the physical site of reception.

In ‘La folie de la Peinture', Niranjan extends a similar inquiry to the sphere of site-specific installation art. Installation art addresses the immediate experience of the viewer in the actual space and place of the exhibition. Once the work is taken down, one can only access the piece via documentation; photographed images, video documentation and so on. The images stand as evidence in validating a historical or ‘eccentric’ presence of the piece as documentation supports the “object-hood” of the installation and even becomes the art itself. In 'La folie de la Peinture’, Niranjan examines the ontology of installation art by reinvesting photographic documentation of past site-specific work with an online interactive presence.

Hasnul Jamal Saidon has been rigorously exploring the video as a medium for artistic practice, integrating the medium with other technological and non-technological media  in diverse artistic productions. He notes of his early period, “My initial studio performances were “mediated” by the language of the video camera: the video camera became my witness, my audience. Video became a mediated representation of my journey across borders - within and without. The borders suggest multiple reading and meanings - such as artificial demarcations or boundaries within my thoughts and memories, within my own body, within my emotion, between various artistic disciplines, between nation-states, race and ethnicity, religion, culture, history and even gender.”

He continues, to explain that his encounter with post-colonial theory and Said’s Orientalism had an impact and set him on a deconstructive journey. His response was to produce a series of video shorts combining studio performances, computer graphics, computer music improvisation and analog audio/video editing improvisation. “Post-colon” presents an anthology of short videos addressing cross-cultural encounters as the artist’s comfort zone and his identity are challenged. Hasnul turns to traditional Malay proverbs to express his position.

His video work titled “mirror, mirror on the wall” deconstructs the supremacy of Western art history, in a very humorous and personal manner. In this piece, a video-loop transitions between an animated self-portrait of Van Gogh winking and scenes of the artist apparently struggling with impinging red lines around him. It explicitly addresses the struggle of dealing with local modern art while the discourse is hinged upon the Western history and theory.

Hasnul's "Vanishing Point" (1997)

Similarly in “Vanishing point”, Hasnul deals with both the theory and technique of art production.  The work consists of two videos screened one on top of the other – the upper one zooming into a jungle view and the lower video zooming out on a floor level shot showing signs of human life. In traditional western painting, all perspective lines converge to a single point. On the contrary Eastern traditional painting can carry multiple perspectives. Hasnul comments on the singular perspective of art history and theory.

Niranjan's “How to Explain Malaysian Art to a Kwanju Commissioner  While Slowly Getting Drunk"
Niranjan’s video work titled “How to Explain Malaysian Art to a Kwangju Commissioner While Slowly Getting Drunk”, consists of a ‘ready-made’ video, recontextualized from curatorial documentation to an art work for exhibition. It discloses the background negotiations of the selection process typical of the regional curatorial scenario of the late 1990’s, with regional commissioners from powerful centres like Fukuoka, Kwangju, and Brisbane and with local curators acting as compradors and mediators. This video presents a drawn-out dialog punctuated by translations. Niranjan explains the national art scene, while sipping beer and steadily getting inebriated. To a background hotel muzak, Niranjan drones on - promoting media art but we know with hindsight that his recommendations were ignored in final selection.

Meanwhile the collaborative piece, “How to Explain the Folly of Painting to a Winking Van Gough” is a blue screen remix demo presenting and explaining the artists work from the late nineties.  This video presents both the artists in partially scripted and partially improvised dialog. It explores the computer screen as a presentational space with a non-linear, hypertextual format wherein video works of Hasnul as well as Internet works by Niranjan are opened in multiple windows over the screen simultaneously. Hasnul is seen having a discourse with modern art by appropriating the image of Van Gough. Note Niranjan’s signature urinal object in the background – in this piece it is his daughters’ plastic potty.

“Fictional Dialogue” by Hasnul consists of a video loop projected in a corner of the exhibition space. The corner distorts the projection thus shifting the attention from the work towards the format of display, revealing the importance of display in shaping the perception of media. Hasnul extends this understanding by questioning his own identity and self-awareness. His question seems to be “do we shape media or does media shape us”, as his image attempts to find and hold his ground in a saturated media landscape.

Niranjan’s “Video Reflux” responds to the massive accumulation and circulation of video caused by the new ability to share, recycle and appropriate this medium over the Internet. This work also revisits Nam June Paik’s video wall structures. Niranjan points to a quote from Nam Jun Paik, "Beautiful. Like video wall paper". Niranjan speaks of readymade video content for a portable video wall. This work presents a flow of YouTube downloads, beginning with a set of images of destruction and dissolution that signify the end of the modernist/ postmodernist paradigm. In contextualizing his work Niranjan notes, “Just as the monumental presence of sculpture dissolved in the negative ontology of post modern installation, today an analogous dissolution has afflicted the figurative power of video. The sharing, recycling, appropriating, annotating and recontextualizing of video has become both a disseminative and a dissipative force in contemporary visual culture.”

Niranjan's technical collaborator on “Video Reflux”, Caleb Buxton, has developed a database-driven YouTube sample library manager. The database and sample library are built using open source tools. They are hosted online on a server running free and open software. However, the video file format, sample editor and gallery presenter are developed in a proprietary format - Flash. “Video Reflux” situates itself within a climate of increasing copyright controls, as a proposed amendment to Canadian copyright law, would, if passed, turn circumventers of Technological Protection Measures (TPM) into criminals. Niranjan plans to offer the “Video Reflux” video wall service freely and Caleb will release the code he has written. If Adobe, or even YouTube devise a TPM that requires circumvention for the normal operation of what is currently a legal tool, both the service and the release will be criminalized.
Hasnul's "Interfaces" (2003/4/5/6)
Hasnul's "A Fictional Dialogue" (left) and "Interfaces" (right)
Hasnul performing in front of "Fictional Dialogue" captured by TC Liew

"Fictional Dialogue" from another angle

Niranjan's "Video Reflux" uses clips from Youtube

Our guest and respected sifu, Prof. T.K. Sabapathy, observing "Video Reflux"

Hasnul's "Mirror, Mirror on the Wall"(1994)

Guests during the opening reception

Masnoor Ramli (Malaysia) and Krisna Murti (Indonesia)
Roopesh Sitharan (left), the curator and the brain behind the show
Hasnul (left) and Roopesh (right) in conversation
Hasnul J Saidon with "A Fictional Dialogue"
Roopesh Sitharan (curator) and Hasnul J Saidon

Other online flip book/catalog and related sites :

Heavy-duty essays with some mental mumbo-jumbo and ramblings closely related to my artistic predicament :

Other ramblings in Malay language :

Contextualizing my creative output within the Post-colonial framework (in Malay language):

The saga of 'getting high and getting real' in 10 series :

My two theoretical indulgences - cultural studies and quantum physics :

Cultural studies in confused dialogue (in Malay language) :

Quantum Physics by a guy who failed his physics subject in school (several series in Malay language) :


  1. I'm so glad to experience RELOCATIONS, live, back then when I visited Singapore with our dear friend Roopesh, in conjunction of ISEA2008.

    1. Muid, I'm glad u met Roopesh. U guys are unique species, precious nevertheless. :)