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Thursday, 27 December 2012



Judging art can be taken as a scholarly pursuit, meant as a way to acquire and form a body of knowledge. Therefore, all judging methodology, interpretation and conclusion are opened for further discussion and discourse. An art competition should not just be read as a celebrative event, but also a discursive platform for the public at large. Notwithstanding the ‘festive’ (pesta) nature that surrounds this art competition, the competition and the eventual exhibition of the winning and selected works should also be approached as a site that honors differences of opinions. The process of evaluating and appreciating will continue despite the finality of the judges’ decision.

It has to be noted that appreciating, judging and evaluating an artwork is a subjective and relative process. There is no single and absolute standard to refer to in evaluating art. Appointed judges for any art competition will normally discuss and decide on the methodology and criteria of evaluation that can be agreed collectively. Such methodology and criteria may differ from one panel of judges to another. Therefore, the choices of any panel of judges may not satisfy everyone.     

The following is a list of criteria that were used by the judges as a guide:

i.      Submitted work must fulfill all the competition requirement
ii.    Commitment, originality, maturity, fluency and creativity in translating/expressing personal interpretation of the given theme and subject
iii.  Exceptional skill in using selected media/medium, technique and style, especially in achieving mood, temperament and feel that are suitable to the personal interpretation
iv.    Innovativeness, especially in regards to new, fresh and least explored approaches
v.      The overall strength of the work, especially in comparison to the current practice of contemporary art in Malaysia and beyond

In addition to the above-mentioned criteria, several other factors that are more specific to the role and significance of this competition in regards to the Penang State Art Gallery as well as the Penang and Malaysian contemporary art scenes were also taken into consideration. Other than maintaining (if not protecting) a positive and favorable ‘brand’ name and position of the competition, the selected winning works must also reflect and signify Penang as a repository of outstandingly talented contemporary artists, both young and old. Penang Open must be read and seen as a competition and exhibition that attract artworks of highly unique and unrivaled quality.

Since the winning artworks for this competition have been customarily included in the permanent collection of the Penang State Art Gallery, the judging criteria above must also compliment the purchasing or acquisition policies of the Gallery.

Therefore, the winning and selected artworks should:
i.      Be regarded as major contributions to the development of art in Malaysia and beyond
ii.    Be expected to play critical roles in advancing scholarship and enriching intellectual capital, especially in regards to forwarding new ideas, challenging and shifting old paradigm, setting new approach, rejuvenating tradition, championing new style and proposing alternative perspective
iii.  Contribute in epitomizing a spirit that is pertinent to a particular time and space
iv.    Echo the often-times obscured social-conscience and discourse prevalent issues
v.      Play a significant role in reflecting upon major events, chronicle history, or simply provide a unique form of aesthetic delight or pleasure

In short, the winning and collected works should embody both tangible (material) and intangible (intrinsic) values that are of great historical and cultural importance to Penang and Malaysia.

With such criteria and consideration, Penang Open should not be read lightly as merely another event, but as ‘the event of the year’ that not only epitomizes Penang’s art scene, but also its promises of the future.

Judging & Selection Process
The judging and selection were divided into two categories, seniors and juniors. The process began with a briefing by the curator of the Penang Art Gallery, Puan Haryany Mohamad. This was followed by a discussion by the judges on judging criteria, consideration and methodology.

The judging and selection began with a positive approach of preliminary selection phase. During this phase, all the judges went through all the submitted works to vote for artworks that fulfill the agreed criteria and consideration. Artworks that received more than one vote were taken into the second phase. Eighteen artworks by the juniors were voted into the second phase, and ten artworks by seniors were voted in.

Submitted works by seniors were also selected based on similar criteria and consideration. In addition, all the judges felt that works by seniors should be ‘exemplary’. They should set a high benchmarking for the juniors to emulate. In other words, the judges felt that selection for seniors should be more stringent.

During the second phase of selection process for the seniors, many works were eliminated. Many works featured techniques, media and styles that were already prevalent in the local Penang art scene. Such artworks would not augment the ‘brand name’ of the Penang Open. In fact, their cliché and staid approaches, perhaps prompted by a rather ‘play-safe’ attitude, will only put Penang art scene into the back seat of contemporary art practice in Malaysia and beyond. On the other hand, several decent works did not even fit the given theme, thus were not selected. At the end, only three works by the seniors were selected.

The second phase of the judging and selection process for the juniors was marked (if not marred) by apparent lack of quality. All the judges were disappointed, if not surprised by the fact that only few works displayed desired criteria of a winning work. Upon closer inspection, the judges collectively gave the following observations:

i.      Lackadaisical, immature and superficial interpretation of the given theme that implied lack of commitment in engaging with the theme and chosen subjects. Most interpretations were very casual and displayed a rather ‘snapshot’ reading of the theme. Many works did not even suggest any kind of interpretation. They were merely pictorial representation of foods, or literal abstraction of objects and scenes related to foods. Several works gave a lingering suggestion that they were college assignments made under totally different contexts. It seemed like the given theme and chosen subjects were interpreted superficially or added (if not forced upon) as an after-thought to justify the entry. The judges also felt that most of these aspiring artists did not really engage seriously with the theme. It appeared as if they were merely testing their luck in striking a prize without much effort. 
ii.    Apparent weakness in technical skill, especially in handling and matching myriads of media and techniques. Several brave attempts, especially in exploring  unconventional 3D media, lacked quality finishing and appeared as if they were executed hastily to achieve instant visual impact. Poor finishing were abundance, further worsened by literal reading of the theme. Several entries were swallowed by overzealous and hasty attempts to put ‘many things’ together without considering the overall cohesiveness of the work. The end result was disjointed visuals that only confused any attempt to read and appreciate the works.
iii.  Several decent works, especially in relation to skill in handling the chosen technique and media were not ‘challenging’ enough. Most were too safe, easy and lazy.

All the judges were a bit alarmed by such apparent lack of quality. The works did not reflect the intended benchmark of Penang Open, not to mention the acquisition standard of the State Gallery.

At the end of the second phase, eight artworks were selected. These selected works were then evaluated further to select the winning works.

The final stage of judging and selection was marked by a strong collective decision by the judges to not award a major prize to any of the selected works. By taking into consideration the quality of major award winners from the previous years, the judges have decided that none of the selected works deserves the major prize. The decision also reflects the stand of the Penang State Gallery in only acknowledging and acquiring artworks of exceptional standard. The decision is also pertinent to the need for the Gallery to maintain the brand value of Penang Open. Most of the judges also felt that the major prize winner must be comparable to winning works of other prestigious National level art competitions. In the case of this year’s selected entries, none did.

The judges however have agreed to award a minor prize to “Superduper Fast Food”, a mixed media piece by Christina Kang Kher Shin and consolation prizes to seven other entries.

Review of Selected Works
“Superduper Fast Food” by Christina Kang is in a league of its own. The work presents a witty twist to the way we consume myriads of local foods, turning them into packaged products meant for health, if not commercial enterprise. Underneath its witty and casual demeanor, there is a lingering sense of irony and parody, especially in regards to our consumption pattern and cultural sentiments towards local forms of traditional ‘fast foods’.  The use of product shelf, vitamin bottles and grid-like arrangement induces a depersonalized, mechanistic, clinical and sterile feel to the whole presentation. Such ‘visual semiotic’ further adds irony to the whole reading of our ‘cultural taste’, especially in regards to the relationship between our eating habit (sometimes used to define us culturally) with food-related illness. The work pinches our normal perception of what we culturally consumed as a part of our daily diet, luring us to ponder upon its fate in the midst of the fast-paced urban lifestyle, global capitalism and the burgeoning health-related industry.

Christina’s work is a good example of creative interpretation of the given theme, especially in presenting a fresh and different perspective. Her choice of presentation is also innovative. The only setback is the technical finishing of the work, which the judges felt rather lacking. Notwithstanding the setback, Christina’s work promises an impending personal growth and future endeavors that can further contribute to the Malaysian contemporary art scene. Congratulations and food luck to Christina.     

Supriyono Yasin’s “Food Cabinet” shares almost similar approach to Christina but lacks deeper interpretation, other than being too literal. Several other works can be clustered together under different readings.

“Spice Route” by Suhaidi Razi for example, re-composes the route of spices that Penang has been historically known for. Through this work, food and taste are read as instrument of historical, geographical, political and cultural mapping. The work was skillfully rendered, but is rather more illustrative than interpretative.

Yeoh Hooi Sze’s “Flavors of One Penang” rings like a touristic campaign for ‘belly tourists’. His work represents some of the more decent assemblage works that feature the use of collage, found object and mixed media. The work also represents a cluster of interest in interpreting the theme through a tight (if not crowded) narrative composition, with multitudes of fused images in multiple perspectives or eye-views (predominantly top view). In most cases, foods as the main subject are literally ‘served’, rather than ‘interpreted’. Such ‘servings’ include dim sum and pasembur as exemplified by the works of Tan Bee Geik and Lee Weng Khim.
Syamila Solihin’s “Keliru” epitomizes a sense of bewilderment as one encounters so many choices of foods to eat in Penang. Rahim Abdul Aziz’s “Bawang 5 Kupang” can perhaps be taken as reminiscing Penang’s past economy via an abstract composition.  

Patrick Lasak’s “Cinta Satay” (Satay Love) can be taken as the ‘main dish’ of the exhibition. Notwithstanding its humorous title, the work is ‘loud’, dynamic and visually intriguing. In this work, twelve satay sticks float aimlessly on a dark charcoal black background, accentuated by a fiery splash of high-intensity red glow. Perhaps a food lover himself, Patrick seems to be interested in capturing the mood surrounding the process of preparing the food, and cleverly (with a touch of light humor) relate it to the burning passion of someone madly in love (perhaps implying Patrick’s current emotional sentiment). 

Ester Gerardine Reutens’ “Want to Bubur Cha-Cha” also interpret a local food (in her case, ‘bubur cha-cha’) in a light and witty manner. Befitting the title, Ester seems to ask and invite her viewers to dance with her ‘bubur’, in this case, her colorful, vibrant, fresh, and highly textured painting. The whole mood perhaps suggests the mood of enjoying the visually appealing and colorful food itself. Ester’s use of visual symmetry is further complimented by the alternate use of both warm and cool color registers, making the abstract work appears ‘inviting’ for the eyes. It lures our eyes to ‘dance’ a ‘cha-cha’!      

Loo Hooi Nam’s “Hawker Penang” features a typical street hawker scene that is rather prevalent in Penang. Loo’s work nevertheless, is exemplary in regards to maintaining a long-standing tradition of impressionistic painting. Loo employed the challenging impasto technique to capture a street mood, and how such mood was created through the artist’s skill in capturing the high-contrast interplay of natural light and buildings.      

Curatorial Experiment
In the spirit of public accessibility and inclusiveness, especially in augmenting the appreciation of the selected artworks by the largest groups of Penang Art Gallery’s visitors – school children and college students, a minor shift in curatorial approach has been implemented in presenting the Penang Open. Such shift is also pertinent to the need to invest in the future of Penang Open, other than making it more of an engaging event rather than a ‘hit and run’ yearly celebrative affair that comes and goes without any sustainable long-term impact.

Several curatorial methodologies have been employed, which include placing the ‘artists’ themselves in the same space as their artworks to give their individual expression a ‘human’ face, other than implying a sense of accountability. Running texts provide additional inter-textual data for the visitors to decode, while selected works by prominent Malaysian artists are also placed for further references and comparison.  Audience feedbacks are collected, while schools kids and college students are encouraged to comment, evaluate and pick their own choice of winners.

Such infusion of interactive element into the curatorial practice of Penang Open will hopefully encourage young visitors to be more substantially engaged with the show, rather than becoming passive viewers.    

Generally, all the judges were rather disappointed by the apparent lack of quality submissions for this year’s Penang Open. This sentiment is reflected by the small numbers of selected works for display, other than not awarding a major prize. With current body of selected works for display, Penang Open is rather left behind by other more exciting competitions and exhibitions such as the Young Contemporaries and Malaysian Emerging Artists Awards. These competitions and exhibitions have been known to churn out artworks that are more challenging, mind-bending, heart-felt, bold, innovative, creative and explorative. Penang Open also has to compete with other State-sponsored competitions such as Johor Open and Terengganu Open. Efforts should be taken by the Penang State Art Gallery in attracting quality submissions for this important annual event in the future. Institutions of higher learning, especially in Penang should also take certain measures in encouraging and securing quality works to be submitted for this competition in the future.

Hasnul J Saidon
Chief Judge
Penang Open 2010


The following are several artworks by prominent Malaysian artists that can be used as a good reference for this competition and exhibition. The works can be studied in terms of their thematic interpretation, choice and use of subject-matters, manipulation of skills and techniques, exploration of media and styles, expression of temperaments and attitudes. 

Rambutans and Mangosteens
Georgette Chen
Oil on canvas
70cm x 49cm
(National Art Gallery of Malaysia Collection)

Ismail Zain
Inkjet print
21cm x 30cm
(National Art Gallery of Malaysia Collection)

The Phantom F4
Ismail Zain
Inkjet print
21cm x 30cm
(Private Collection)

Interior Composition 89
Mastura Abdul Rahman
Acrylic on paper
35cm x 52.5cm
(Private Collection)

Noor Mahnun Mohamed
Oil on canvas
70cm x 50cm
(Private Collection)

Talismanic Bowl
Nur Hanim Khairuddin
Mixed media
(Private Collection)

New Year Still Live
Sylvia Lee Goh
Oil on wood panel
121.5cm x 91.5cm
(National Art Gallery of Malaysia Collection)

Hanging by a Peg
Yee I-Lan
Mixed media
89cm x 89cm
(Private Collection)

Kedai Obat Jenun
Susyilawati Sulaiman
Mixed media
183cm x 183cm x 200cm
(National Art Gallery of Malaysia Collection)

Home Kitchen
Yau Bee Ling
Oil on canvas
67.5cm x 67.5cm
(Private Collection)

The Great Supper
Eng Hwe Chu
Mixed media
161cm x 166.5cm
(National Art Gallery of Malaysia Collection)

Nature in a Bowl
Ham Rabeah
Stoneware clay, Oxides and Matte Glazes
38cm x 10cm
(Private Collection)

Small Town at the turn of the Century (13)
Symrin Gill
Color Photography
(Petronas Gallery Collection)

Tay Mo Leong
89cm x 183cm
(National Art Gallery of Malaysia Collection)

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