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Sunday, 10 June 2012


I wrote a lengthy essay for a "Thinkcity Design Conference" in George Town last July. I placed the whole essay (minus the images) in my blog. It was probably too long for a comfortable reading, off the screen. For easy reading, I have shortened and sectioned it here in this blog. Here's the first part, with images taken from my own works as well as works by other artists who I admire and found relevant.

The gist of this presentation is ‘thinking’ and its relation to the dual nature or paradox of the mind. It explores how such duality can be reconciled in design or any form of creative endeavour through several key design principles that have been intrinsic to our own South East Asian traditional culture and heritage. These inherent principles can be applied to bring about a transformative shift of mindset and perhaps eventual return or revival of sustainable design and cultural ecosystem. It may even provide a window to a global state of what the author would fancy as ‘design awakening’. Both ‘mind’ and ‘thinking’ are presented through an odd mixture of sober writing and personal rambling, with a touch of academic nuance to remind the author that he is an academician (he often forgets). Taking off from the cosmology of ‘pohon hayat’ (the tree of life) found in the traditional shadow puppet performance around South East Asia, the presentation rambles through a series of synapse jumps from Eastern mysticism to modular traditional design to information system and cybernetic theory, neural network, mind mapping, multiple intelligences, high energy and quantum physics, critical theories and cultural studies.  The presentation is divided into 4 main parts, namely ‘the prelude’, ‘re-visiting our shared legacy...’, ‘case examples’ and ‘peace of mind. The first section serves as an appetizer or brain teaser, the second revisits our shared legacy through several key design principles and alternate shifts, the third provides several case examples from the author’s own projects done under various capacities and contexts, and the last serves concluding remark. Due to the author’s laziness, this presentation is not equipped with footnotes and references. Further notes and references may be obtained from the author upon request. The author welcomes everyone to check out his facebook and blog entries at  to either clarify or further confuse some of the issues discussed.

Keywords : Thinking, duality of mind, binary opposites, key design principles, alternate shifts, sustainable design and cultural ecosystem.   

1.        PRELUDE

We are living in a country that is anxious to reach its ‘vision 2020’ with the ubiquitous 1Malaysia chanting echoes in the forefront of our local mainstream media. Most of us would readily subscribe to an urban lifestyle as dictated by the ebbs and flow of free market liberalism. We swim or surf willingly with the wave of globalization (read western) and the novelties of ICT (information and communication technology). Even our lifestyle can be perceived as a form of design or creative industry and money making business. 

Nasiha Shaharuddin's (USM)
Nasiha Sharudin's (USM)
Nasiha Shaharudin's (USM)
Noor Ainn Zakaria's (USM)
Noor Ainn Zakaria's (USM)
Raja Shahriman's
Raja Shahriman's
Raja Shahriman's
Ruzeki Harris's

Some of us would aspire to emulate the ways of a post-industrial society – contemporary, liberal, efficient, professional, high tech, trendy, hip and don’t forget, rich. It is a society of spectacle in which impression, brand presence, positioning, business acumen and strategic planning are critical to one’s political, social and economic survival. It is a society that is supposed to operate on a highly specialized, systematic, organized, rational, objective and most importantly, scientific system – an ‘apollonian’ legacy left by the male-centric operational logic of industrial paradigm. Linear notion of progress, development and success are highly equated by tangible or quantifiable forms of material gains and numerical indexes. Such is a scenario dominated by a left-brain thinking mode.

Hasnul J Saidon's & Najjar Musawwir's

We steer our career in the midst of such society. It surrounds our practice. In many ways, it defines, supports and sustains us. Most of us have no qualm about this scenario.

Siti Aishah Said's (UNIMAS)
Yee I-Lan's

But here comes the catch. Ironically, it is in such society that we may mostly encounter random serendipities, accidents (of all kinds), unpredictability and for some, weird coincidences. System crashes (despite ‘logical’ operation), cracks in buildings and highways (not to mention those that simply crumbled down), urban landslides, increasing crime rates, social deviants, corruptions and malpractices are several familiar features of our so-called progressive and developing Malaysian society. They contradict the rational system and objective operational logic that are supposed to sustain the society.

Hawwani Hussin's (USM)

It is also in such society that we may witness increasing inclinations or growing interests in things abstract and intangible. They signify a yearning and searching soul seeking for peace and tranquillity, if not to escape the harsh objective reality. The interests come in many forms, from spa, deep sea fishing, adventure sports, shopping, video games, watching ghost movies and many more.  In some cases, the underlying logic of these interests is ‘no logic’, since they don’t generally operate on a purely logical basis. In fact, in some cases, they rely on abstract vibes, dominated by our right brain mode of thinking.

There is a paradox here, a duality of mind or binary opposites.

I would like to explore deeper into such paradox by using my own working mind as a visual artist.

A right-brain artist like me will probable subscribe to the following abstract vibes – chance, coincidence, accident, kismet, karma, luck, providence, fortune, fate and so on. These are the indulgences of the right brain which for some, represent a lame romantic soul. I like to intuit and meditate upon such abstract vibes. 

I also like to operate on an open-ended outset, even though the outset may at times lead me to no where. I like to invite my mind to float and meander in a suspended reality full of probabilities, similar to the trickles, splatters, stains, plots and spots on my paintings. My paintings epitomize a sense of my mind letting go, of detachment and at times, submission. 

Hasnul J Saidon's

As a visual artist, I am partly in control, partly not. The seemingly random and unpredictable results of my exploration of materials and techniques reflect my own personal search on the intrinsic qualities of (in this case), painting. My free-form organic composition is perhaps suggestive of my desire to return to what some may refer to as the ‘Greenbergian’ view of painting - painting that speaks about the act of painting, nothing more, nothing less. I create lyrical and melancholic work, characters that some may perceive as too ‘sissy’ or not competitive enough or does not stand out in an open free market society. 

But then, who cares? What the hack!  I am my own master. I want to be free to indulge in the vast emotional and intuitive mental landscape of my right brain.

Such indulgence may unveil layers upon layers of my subjective realities, previously veiled by the cloaks of presumed rationality and objectivity. They may also sharpen my intuition and provide the possibility of opening the gate of my sub-conscious. I yearn for a higher quantum energy. 

In short, I want to dream. I want to fly and ‘get high’, ok!

Hasnul J Saidon's

But then, I need to ‘get real’ too. I need to have my feet firmly rooted on the ground. Even though I may admit that I am not a left brain type (or prefer to silence that side of mental activities), my career is surrounded and in some cases, defined and supported by those left brain types. Therefore, I need to explore my left brain. 

Here’s the other side of my brain :

My left brain would probably brush off my previous dreamy endeavours and label them as a form of escapism or some kind of mental trapping. Nevertheless, my logical mind may admit that even dreams can be turned into a money spinner, if I know how to exploit them.

My logical mind also requires tangible evidence that can be objectively tested and scientifically confirmed. I need a subject of observation to work outwardly. This left brain of mine breeds on the sometimes over-rated claim of objectivity which entails me to separate myself as the ‘observer’ from the ‘observed’. Instead of submitting to interdependency, I cling on the snobbish claim of being independence. No wonder I feel so isolated.

This left brain of mine is also conditioned by habitual ‘by default’ thinking that there is an ‘objective’ reality out there, outside my mind. It creates perceptual illusion of tangible reality as physical objects or experiences. It stabilizes my mind, making me more and more attached to my own habitual left brain thinking logic and perceptual forms. It creates layers upon layers of veils that discriminate, analyze, differentiate and separate. It helps me to dwell into the economics of income, earnings, revenue, proceeds, turnover, profits and loss. It makes me fiercely competitive and in a constant drive for dominance and control.

My act of making art is not anymore about ‘getting high’, but must also include perceptiveness towards the market. I need to look at myself outwardly as a commodity striving for a competitive market value, sometimes at the expanse of disengaging with my own deep emotional sentiment. Spiritual, social, artistic, cultural and other intangible values have to be subtly spread thin or re-branded to be more hip and competitive for the open market.

With my left brain, I think, plan and strategize. I look for forms. I formalize and control. I even like to police others to force them to conform to my own version of formalism, technicalities and quantitative control. If they still don’t conform, I disconnect, discriminate and separate. 

My logical mind will not let go or submit. It firmly and stubbornly retains my continuous state of what I call as objective reality. This reality fears the unknown and the intangible, the vague and the ambiguous. It despises dreams. It doesn’t want to go crazy. It doesn’t want to fly of ‘get high’.

In short, it wants me to ‘get real’! That’s ok too.

Now let us use a quantum state to further dwell into the paradox of getting high and getting real. Matter or a physical object, from a quantum point of view, can paradoxically feature both wave-like or particle-like sub-atomic behaviours. A wave suggests an idea and always in motion, transient, ephemeral, changing. A particle suggests a form that takes a position, local, seemingly permanent, static. A wave suspends our thinking from being fixed, while a particle implies the desire to locate, formalize, control and freeze a form to see an object. 

Such paradox between wave and particle reflects a quantum state in which all potentialities are entangled until the ‘moment of observation’. It embodies impossibility of prediction and control, suspending one’s intent to observe a stable picture of an object from a fixed singular point of view. 

Multiple views or points in modular patterns of Islamic art for example, implies a quantum state, a state of fluid, organic and inter-connected whole.  It is an art in which the ‘moment of observation’ is chosen democratically by the audience. It signals a break from the classical tradition of linear, mechanistic, deterministic observation and description of the world around us, as epitomized by Newtonian physics. It is about ‘getting high’, and in a mystical context, about ascending.

Al-Bukhari International University.

On the other hand, in Newtonian physics, an outcome of a particular event can be predicted correctly – much like a linear perspective system in which all the receding lines converge on a single vanishing point. In this system, all suspended potentialities are reduced into a single point of view, thus a fixed or single way of looking and observing a picture or object. The view is frozen and determined or given and undemocratically decided for the audience. This is about getting real, and in a mystical context, descending. 

1st. Year New Media Students, USM

Zahidah M Zaidi's (USM)

We may notice that many local designers or visual artists work according to the classical Newtonian linearity, or trapped in a mechanistic paradigm that reduces all to a predictable uniformity and homogeneity.

Get high, or get real? Do we have to choose between these two binary opposites?

Admittedly, mind can only operate through such duality or binary opposites. For example, one can only understand love by understanding what hate is.  No rocket science here. The issue is that whether the opposites are antagonistic or complimentary? At war or at peace? In embrace or in arm race?

How can a mind be at peace with itself? How can a mind synchronize itself with the cosmic dance of splitting opposites to attain peace? How can a peaceful mind churn out a sustainable design or cultural ecosystem? Is there a model to refer to? If there is a model, what are the key principles or guidelines that can be applied in engaging with contemporary design or creative work? If mind is our current frontier, what would come after all of us became aware of our own patterns of thinking? How can such awareness shift our so-called ‘reality’? If all of us are aware of our own thinking patterns, becoming the silent witnesses of our own minds and thinking, what would happen next?

Global art & design awakening?


  1. With beautiful Islamic art patterns paving its way in Dubai textile industry, people across the globe are gung-ho about these designs. The ubiquitous traditional ether of Dubai fashion is something that the shopaholics just love to carry back!

    1. The irony glozalization and free market capitalism; of getting high and getting real. In the mean time, quantum connection and spirituality getting entangled along the way.