Some people look at violent images or videos and feel disturbed. Contemporary artist Yeoh Choo Kuan, however, uses them to shape his art.
For his latest work, the 28-year-old Kota Baru, Kelantan-born uses footage of global events, found on the video-sharing site LiveLeak, to explore society’s exposure, encounters and relationship with violence through the mass media.
His exhibition, appropriately also called Live Leak, is a series of abstract, object-based paintings, which invites viewers to question themselves about how violence has affected their minds and daily lives.
Yeoh’s Live Leak is showing at Richard Koh Fine Art in Kuala Lumpur till Jan 21.
“Personally, I have always been fascinated with violent images. Maybe it’s because I had childhood experiences, at some point, which made me always want to hide my feelings. And when you are detached from your feelings, you need something stronger to get you in touch with your feelings. And those inner requirements, I think, brought me in the direction of violence,” explains Yeoh at the gallery.
“Generally, human beings have a desire to look at pain, or violent things. It’s like when you’re driving, and there’s an accident on the road. We want to have a look, don’t we?” he asks.
This is Yeoh’s third solo exhibition and the second at Richard Koh Fine Art.
The soft-spoken Yeoh, who graduated from the Dasein Academy of Art in Kuala Lumpur, first attracted art viewers to his deeply abstract works through his solo exhibitions Private Sentiment (2012) and In The Flesh (2014).
A healthy presence in group shows in KL, like the Malaysian Art, A New Perspective series and I Am Ten series, kept Yeoh’s profile in the spotlight. For the In the Flesh show, Yeoh explored violence in films, such as those directed by Roman Polanski and Gaspar Noe.
In Live Leak, however, the artist moves away from choreographed brutality to more “real” acts (of violence) as captured in amateur videos.
“For reference, I also turned to amateur videos, like security video footage. They are still on a mass media platform, but they are different.”
LiveLeak, founded in 2006, is a British video sharing site which allows users to share and post videos. It presents a certain – hard-hitting – brand of citizen journalism. The site has also courted controversy due to some of its graphic and political content.
“For most people, violence is about warfare and killing. But that’s a very basic, subjective view of it. If you look at LiveLeak, there are so many different forms of violence. It can be funny, amusing, touching or compassionate. It’s not only negative,” assures Yeoh, citing the example of a video last year where some prison inmates in Texas had broken out of their cells to save a guard who was having a heart attack.
There are nine works in Yeoh’s Live Leak exhibition, which the artist spent about six months completing.
His works, mostly featuring “scarred” canvas surfaces of peeled, coagulated lacquer paint, are framed within custom-made boxes.
These wooden boxes double as a “stage” for the canvases, on which Yeoh exercises a process he calls “fleshing abstraction”.
This method, he mentions, sees him making primal gestures, similar to that of fleshing an animal, on the canvas. This technique causes strips of paint to accumulate at the bottom.
“It’s almost like you’re looking at a screen, but you’re looking from the outside. You can’t feel pain by just looking at the pain of others. The lacquer creates another atmosphere,” he explains.
For this exhibition, Yeoh first watched selected videos before going off to create his works.
“The images would build up certain compulsions. And this would turn into the desire to paint with the fleshing gestures. And then I would go back to the videos, and find one that spoke to the work,” he elaborates.
“It’s not about depicting the violent act, or translating it into your work. I don’t think that’s a good way of doing things, it will only hold you back. You need to work on your inner impulse.”
Each of Yeoh’s works is titled after the timestamp of the videos he had watched. These include footage of underground nuclear tests, street protests and in one case, a woman being knocked into a pit by an excavator.
The artist explains, however, that the acts of violence that his art is based on are not as important as the experience of viewing them.
“It’s a viewing experience much like our browsing behaviour on the Internet, like when you are watching many videos at the same time. The setup is based on the thesis of Marshall McLuhan, that the medium is the message,” says Yeoh, referring to the works of Canadian philosopher and professor McLuhan.
“I am not trying to illustrate anything about violence. Instead, I am trying to bring out the nature of a video sharing platform. In life today, when you switch your view, it’s like looking at another video. It’s the nature of the media that shapes how society is today.”
Live Leak is on at Richard Koh Fine Art, Lot No. 2F-3, Level 2, Bangsar Village II, Jalan Telawi 1, Bangsar Baru in Kuala Lumpur till Jan 21. Open daily: 11am to 8pm. For more information, visit rkfineart.com, or call 03-2283 3677 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.