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Saturday, 9 March 2013

THE RITUAL OF DEVELOPMENTAL MODERNISM AND THE SEEMINGLY INVISIBLE STRUCTURE BEHIND IT

Corporate hero, 2013.


The combination of vibrant studio, gallery and curatorial practices in Malaysia can create its own brand of language and discourse. It can become a form of generic 'cultural practice', thus observable as a subject for cultural studies and critical theories.

Here is one of the observations. Some might still be hypothetical, thus 'trashable'. 

The combination of 'languages and discourses' in studio, gallery and curatorial practices creates its own baggage of rituals, values and meanings to be routinely performed, regulated, propagated, sustained and preserved by its loyal subscribers, mostly centred around or anchored by rich patrons, 'stake-holders' and 'investor'. Therefore, beyond the veil of 'artworks', 'artists', 'art galleries' and 'art events' lies a structure of relationship as well as distribution of power and control. Some would refer to it as a structural trinity of power-knowledge-money. Certainly, it exists within the power structure of our national institutions and establishments (political, educational. economic, cultural etc). 

This observation, on the other hand, would like to look at the power relationship outside or beyond the apparent visibility of those national institutions or establishments.

It can be proposed that the 'structure of power-relationship' that forms an invisible controlling system or matrix for the 'local art scene' to operate, usually hides behind the posture of assisting artists in 'contributing towards a vibrant local art scene'. Such structure is usually made to appear 'natural' and always be taken as 'by default' in approaching 'the local art scene'. No questions asked, so that those who ride on it can keep on 'performing' their roles without any scrutiny and probing. Scrutiny and probing are normally reserved for the national institutions and establishments only. 

Such invisible structure of power relationship is nevertheless, another form of ideological construct too, not much different than those customarily identified through national  institutions and establishments. Like national ideological constructs, it can't claim to represent the 'absolute truth' nor 'the only' or the 'absolute way' of reading, approaching, practising and living the arts. Thus, despite its sometimes 'alternative' stance, it can be also be contested, without which it can be prone to abuse much like in the national institutions and establishments. 

If one is to unveil this structure behind the 'local art scene' and semiotically read it as a form of language in social practice, what is referred to as a 'studio, gallery and curatorial practices' can be pragmatically co-opted to serve as a very linear or developmental model of human progress. They can be elevated to a form of 'index' or 'sign' for  a 'highly developed' successful society. They can pragmatically serve as a marching and paraded product of modernism.  

Thus, it can be argued that those who  'perform' and loyally subscribe to the dominant language and discourse created by the structure, may become willing players who are not even 'aware' of such structure. They may be made to engulf in the discussion on artists and their practices, artworks, art exhibitions or events, creating multiple narratives, to a point that the structure that holds these together are obscured or made invisible. 

Young cultural heroes (artists) appear to emerge or mushroom, including what is taken, validated and acknowledged as new practices and good artworks. Most of the time, they are highlighted and endorsed without much questioning, probing and testing. All appear to occur naturally, even though they may be the conscious products of a deliberate investment, business, marketing and branding strategies to further sustain or 'float' the 'power' of the invisible structure behind it. Few 'players' may chose to be 'in denial' to this invisible structure of relationship like an ostrich placing its head in a hole to feel 'safe'. Some, as predicted, may keep on pointing at the existing political, religious, economic, educational and cultural establishments as the only 'structures' to be 'deconstructed'. 

The question is, beyond the apparent visibility of power relationship within the national institutions and establishment, who and what really constitute the structure of power relationship that propels the local art scene now? Can they be made visible for public scrutiny, questioning and probing? Can they be made available for academic studies and scholarly research? Can they be made responsible and accountable? Can they be evaluated?

Perhaps the most pressing question is that whether  such structure creates a veil of language, discourse, values and meanings that are incomprehensible and detached from the larger 'public domain' in which they like to claim to reflect, serve and comment upon. Larger public domain here refers to all Malaysians not just some small circle of friends and followers in Kuala Lumpur or urban centres only. 

(With special thanks to Rozana Mohamed, Nazli Aziz, Rahim Aziz, Sooshie Sulaiman, Tan Sei Hon, Ling Siew Woei, Aloysius Yap, Roopesh Sitharan, Yap Saubin and Mishko)

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