Between the dimensions
A two-man show at Our ArtProjects converge and bounce ideas between two different mediums.
WHERE do we meet? It is easy to say where we meet on a map, a point that can be expressed through coordinates or in relation to landmarks.
So having an exhibition with a title like This Is Where We Meet sounds like it could offer precisely this, but it does not.
The last thing this show at Our ArtProjects in Kuala Lumpur does is tell you where to be, or where you are.
However, what it does do is extend an invitation to the world of two artists whose works, visually speaking, look more different than they are similar.
It offers multiple entry points into a discussion that revolves partly around the idea of suggestion or supplementation, and partly whatever else you want it to be.
With This Is Where We Meet, the devil is in the details, with more curiosities coming to light the closer you look at how the show is presented.
The works from Lee Mok Yee, 29, and Liew Kwai Fei, 38, look as different as day and night at first glance, one appearing to be colour blocks on canvas layered on with a shaky hand, and the other seemingly taking a leaf out of bees building their honeycombs – the relation to his art being the meticulous crafting and repetitive element apparent in his works.
The display is irregular: some of Lee’s cork and incense works are placed alongside Liew’s colour block paintings on the white wall, pitting protrusions against flat surfaces, rough and textured against smooth and flat.
Some of Lee’s installations find a home on the floor, while Liew’s paintings are seen existing in isolation.
The works are hung at different heights on the wall, not quite messily enough to scramble the senses, but just enough to hint at how different perspectives can change outcomes.
So where do they meet?
Is it where Selangor-born artists Lee and Liew’s art practices converge? Is it where sensibilities collide?
Who really knows, because one of them is keeping mum about what makes him tick.
Lee’s obsession with the material of his choice comes through in his talking about his work, while Liew seems so resolute with doing away with definitions, categorisation, labels and preconceived notions that he prefers to not talk at all.
Snow Ng, Our ArtProjects gallery director, explains that this attempt at absence of association is intentional, that Liew wants the viewer to be able to appreciate each artwork as it stands, without linking it to creator or concept.
Why has he decided to call every single painting here by the same name? He has 10 works in this show, all titled The Art Of Painting, because apparently this is what it is all about.
“His focus is on the physicality of the works with the entry point being just one thing, the art of painting,” says Ng.
But isn’t an absolute absence of association an illusion, no matter how hard one tries? It is hard to imagine that no one has tried to impress this upon Liew.
For Lee, in the beginning there was rubble, and it is from the unremarkable and everyday that he builds his craft.
The Stacking Memory series, for instance, is fashioned out of cork board cut up into small pieces, each measuring a centimetre in height, and arranged to create something new.
Its humble beginnings are hardly the stuff shiny dreams are made of, but he makes it work.
At the core of his art practice is the material he chooses to work with, a fundamental element in his art that goes beyond mere physical form and function.
“In deciding what to use, I always consider the material’s background, utility and characteristics. For me, the material is not just something physical, it is something that binds us through association and knowledge,” says Lee.
Case in point, a cu s only a cup because we assign it a function of a cup and call it one, he muses.
So through his works, Lee might tweak, mould, deconstruct and recreate, but he lets the material speak for itself.
“It has its own language, I am just the fabricator and facilitator. I am open to any interpretation of my work but I think it is important to appreciate it from the perspective of the material used,” he notes.
The effect he creates in The Stacking Memory series certainly becomes more compelling with the knowledge that the works are composed of cork.
It is a material he has been exploring since for about three years now, following a visit to Borobudur, a Unesco World Heritage Site dating back to the 8th century, in Indonesia.
The stupa and temple complex is a breathtaking structure in itself, but what especially struck Lee was the intricately carved relief panels and the stones cut to measure.
“It felt like I was looking at a combination of artificial and organic form, a thousand years after it was created,” he says.
“Just like my work made from pieces of cork that come together, the resultant form is an organic one which looks like it was built spontaneously,” he adds.
So where do these two artists meet?
Do they meet at the halfway point, somewhere between repetition and ascribed meaning?
Or do they meet in that imaginary void where ideas drift but never really take form?
Or perhaps they do not meet, and the only way in which they do meet is how they do not. And that’s okay, too.
This Is Where We Meet is on at Our ArtProjects, Zhongshan building, Jalan Rotan, off Jalan Kampung Attap in Kuala Lumpur till Nov 11. Open Tuesday to Saturday (11am to 7pm). Sunday by appointment, closed Monday. Visit ourartprojects. com for more information. Call 03-2260 1388.
The Art Of Painting
Lee’s The Stacking Memory No.1
Liew’s The Art Of Painting