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Thursday, 11 July 2013


The ballads of being useful - finishing up papers at Kebun Rupa.

Last June was crazy, but not without blessings in disguise. 

First, there was the haze. Nonetheless it was tame in comparison to the haze hell I went through when I was in Sarawak before, in the late 90s. 

Then, I had to fulfill a new routine of attending Board meeting for the National Visual Art Gallery of (NVAG) Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, followed by meetings with officials from one or two departments in NVAG, depending on the available time, or my fluctuating mood. I had to chair the innovation and research sub-committee of the Board, so I had to persistently collect pertinent data from all the departments before suggesting any form of innovation. The enigma of being a Board member, and the stigma that follows, would perhaps be spicy conversation materials to reminisce when I'm retired totally from the arts in the future.  

Thirdly, I had to prepare a presentation on the Muzium & Galeri Tuanku Fauziah (MGTF) USM where I used to be the Director from 2005 until 2012. The presentation was meant for a roundtable discussion on Art Institutions at the Petronas Gallery. My instinct told me to skip because it didn't feel right to present the paper when the new Director was also invited to present (since we didn't really discuss the papers, we might be presenting two conflicting directions, and that will not look good for USM). 

Forth, there was this "Aliran Semasa" or "Rearview Forward", a talk, seminar and fringe exhibitions on new media art in Malaysia, organized by the Education wing of NVAG, and spearheaded by its indefatigable curator Koon with the help from Yap Sau Bin, a lecturer at the Multimedia University. Initially I didn't want to get too much involved, I told them that I would rather be an observer. But it was easier said than done. The seminar was partly the brainchild of Roopesh Sitharan, a young and restless new media art researcher-writer-curator-artist currently based in London as a Phd candidate at Goldsmith. Both Koon and Roopesh were the alumni of Sonneratia Youth Art Camp, a creative survival camp I used to direct back in the early 2000. So when they requested me to step up and be one of the panels and to moderate a session, I can't say no. Plus, it would not be nice to stay aside when Roopesh and Koon had worked so hard in bringing back my long lost friend Niranjan Rajah all the way from Vancouver, Canada to spice up the seminar. 

Fifth, I had to put up a simple installation piece for an exhibition called "Kembara Jiwa" at the Chandan Gallery, Publika. Initially I thought of putting up my recent digital print series. But that would not be relevant to the title and spirit of the show, which has to do with a sojourn or travel experience outside Malaysia. Since the show will travel to Fukuoka, Japan, it would be more fitting to put up a special work based on my experience as a Researcher-in-residence at the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum for three months in 2003. Would be nice too to bring the work back to Fukuoka after ten years.

Throughout all these, I also had to complete a long overdue (3 years actually, ya, crazy) report on New Media Art in Malaysia and Brunei, which I had to present in Bandung in the first of July. 

On top of the craziness, I had three undergraduate theses and final exam papers to grade!

All these, in the last two weeks of June.

I had to drive down to KL for the Board Meeting, but was lucky when my buddy Andy was kind enough to drive me back to Penang for him to hang out at Kebun Rupa, and for me to prepare my report and presentation on New Media Art in Malaysia, my presentation for the "Aliran Semasa" seminar, and to finish up my installation for "Kembara Jiwa". 

Andy drove me back to KL on Sunday. I survived the "Aliran Semasa", met my old friend Niranjan and presented my paper on Tuesday, moderated a session the next day, installed my work and drove back (no Andy this time) to Penang on Friday, bought a return ticket to KL for the next day (the organizer in Bandung only provided tickets from KL-Bandung-KL). The next day on Saturday, I took the last Air-Asia flight to KL at 11.45 pm, stayed at LCCT until 6.30 am on Sunday for the early flight to Bandung. In the meantime, I was still working on my paper and power-point.

By the time I reached Bandung around 7.30 am on Sunday 30th. June, and picked up by Sarah and Maya (two students from ITB), I was already high and ready to doze off.  Still, I had to wait at the hotel lobby until 2.30 pm to check in. Kind Sarah and Maya bought me my favorite 'pecel lele' for lunch. I literally finished my paper (still a draft) while waiting to check in. The hotel nonetheless, was more than comfortable. It was exclusive, not surprising since it was sponsored by ASEAN COCI. The seminar at Bandung would require another blog entry.

Why am I telling this? Well, this is the curse of being 'useful'. I'm beginning to grow a dislike for being so busy and away from my wife, my three daughters and my parents. Ironically, I used to enjoy it before, but now, not anymore. Silently I wished to be useless and be nothing. Andy gave a tarrot reading of me at his apartment when I was in KL, whacked me with his usual wit and twist on being 'useful', but not without stressing the 'blessings' beyond all the hooo-haaaa of 'fulfilling' one's usefulness (or even 'uselessness'). 

So what's the blessings?...that will be reserved for those who are willing to drop by at Kebun Rupa and submit to its vibrations.
Enlightening moment at MMU, with ol' pal now turned cowboy, Niranjan Rajah.

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