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Wednesday, 2 November 2011


The majestic Penaga Hotel in Penang. The interior lounge says, "This is a 'green' heritage building".
Class and classic welcome. Reception counter at Penaga Hotel
Warm, wise and firm sofa.
Rich flooring.
A peek into the past, now. View of the lobby and reception counter from outside.
Entrance to the restaurant on the ground floor. Wall on the right is pitched with a good feng shui I guess.
When I was a student of fine art at UiTM in the late 1980s, my friends and I used to refer to artworks that adorn hotel's walls as lobby and lounge art. In those days, the term was used to imply artworks (predominantly paintings) that are safe, polite, non-threatening pretty eye candies that sooth the heart and easy on the mind. Such term was also employed to make a distinction between the experience of encountering artworks in an art gallery compared to a hotel. 

Ana my wife, in front of Khalil Ibrahim's nelayan series
'Lobby and lounge art' may also refer to abstract paintings that are normally large (beyond 2 meter in length or height or both). Some snob cynics and academics may perceive such art as too commercial and not meant to be taken seriously.  But such perception is only pertinent if one reads an artwork through jaded and narrow modernist lenses.

Collection of paintings on display at Penaga Hotel. The one in the bottom picture is by Yau Bee Ling (if I'm not mistaken)
Having paintings or any kind of two dimensional artworks on a hotel's wall has become a by-default requirement. It has become an established and long etched practice to a point that most of the general customers have taken such artworks for granted. Most of the time, they are to be passed through (often without a stop for a second or more look) on our way to our hotel room, or lobby, or restaurant and bar, etc. 

Collection of sculptures
But if such art is to be read as a form of social-cultural and socio-economic practice, one may observe interesting interplay of multiple significations, a kind of subtle inter-textuality in action. They are more than just decorative items.  

Many different parts of a hotel's exterior and interior can be read as 'textual materials' that signify different connotations - political, economy, social, cultural, technological, historical, geographical etc. Amalgamation or convergence of these texts and the resulting reading in the mind (especially on the sub-conscious level)of an audience creates interesting dialogues.  I call the whole convergence of architectural and interior design, soft furnishing and curating as a system (of organic emotional design) that is rich with coded language, waiting to be decoded by a discerning mind. It displays an interesting emotional-feedback dialogue that can be nourishing for the heart and mind.

A painting can be taken as a part of a hotel's wall feature that is having a dialogue with its surrounding interior - other wall features, furniture, lighting, flooring, ceiling features, signage etc. The dialogue may be intended or unintended, pre-determined or open-ended. A carefully placed artwork may become a part of a clever interplay of significations, to create a certain desired ambiance or vibe in its customers' subconscious mind. Like a theater production, an artwork (and other features) can be taken as 'actors' that play his/her part in constructing a story. The part and story can be fixed or flexible.

My sister, Kak Yong with one of the works on display in Penaga
The intended dialogue between the many actors or texts is normally designed to compliment a hotel's business positioning and marketing strategy. It can be read as a subtle (sometimes subliminal) mean to add more spice to a hotel's brand value, or to channel a hotel's unique character and value proposition (example : cool, expansive, high taste, sophisticated, contemporary, cutting edge, oldies, classic, casual, retro etc). 

Retro switch
Vintage signage and room bell
Sometimes, the dialogue is meant to infuse better energy 'flow' or Feng Shui, or as a remedy for some metaphysical imbalance and impurity. 

Since my student days, checking out artworks that adorn hotel spaces and walls have become one of my normal routines during a stay. It includes naming the artist (or making a lucky guest when it comes to works that I'm not familiar with). The highlight would be discovering the works of my close friends. The down side would be having to stare at mass-produced 'originals' before I go to sleep. 

I guess such routine has become my way of enjoying the dialogue between the many different 'actors' or 'texts' (especially paintings) in a hotel's interior. Now, I take it as a form of private mental exercise in decoding deeper connotations embedded within such dialogue.

I had such exercise the last two days in a recently opened Penaga Hotel at Hutton Street, George Town, Penang. With the help of Laila and Radhy, I checked in my sister Kak Yong and her husband Abang Taha (my brother in law) at Penaga Hotel as my small gift to them (of course they happily obliged but later refuse my allow me to pay the bill).

My sister kak Yong and her hubby, Abang Taha, in front of Penaga Hotel.
No, where are not in Europe! This is the main entrance of Penaga Hotel
They flew in from KL for a one night two days stay in Penang. They have been the backbone of my childhood (and even adulthood) life who never fail to support me in so many different ways, so a stay at Penaga would be a good way of saying "thank you. Now, enjoy Penang in close-up".

Luxury in room no. 8
Abang Taha, Kak Yong and Ana my wife, exploring and enjoying the interior of Penaga
We had a quality and wonderful time exploring and enjoying the cleverly restored 'green' hotel building, especially the RM450 per night room. There are already few clever reviews of this new hotel online as well as offline, so I'm not going to do that here. 

Exploring and enjoying the exterior - mini pool, herb garden and spa
As I was busy taking pictures and being inspired, I resumed to my normal hotel routine, checking on the displayed artworks. Since Penaga Hotel is owned by one of the most respected contemporary art supporters in Malaysia and the region (husband and wife art collectors, Hijas and Angela Kasturi), it was certainly meant to be a very pleasant routine. Hijas, for those who are not into architecture, is one of the most renowned architects in Malaysia and abroad.

I saw the works of my friend Ahmad Fuad Osman and others. Of all the works on display, I found Ahmad Fuad's series of witty  digital collages very fitting. The digital works are by themselves inter-textual already. They feature appropriation (more like visual quotation of) old historical photos surrounding Malaya's independence, with a subtle and witty (if not hyppie) twist. The works blend well with the interior. They also stir a subtle and clever dialogue with the whole colonial setting, without being too loud. 

Energy efficient light along the corridor
Ahmad Fuad's artworks
I have seen the works during Ahmad Fuad's show at Hijas's and Angela's Rimbun Dahan in Kuang Selangor. In fact, I intended to purchase the digital works for USM Collection, but Sooshie from 12 Artspace told me that the works had been sold. I was a bit disappointed then, but now, after seeing the works having a dialogue with the interior of Penaga Hotel in Penang, I am more than happy. 

It was a happy reconciliation with Ahmad Fuad's works and a nourishing exercise of inter-textuality at Penaga Hotel.

(Pictures, partly hijacked from Laila's fb album.)

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