The late Redza Piyadasa is no stranger to the Malaysian art scene. The artist, critic and historian pushed boundaries with his artworks and intellectual discourses.
His May 13th, 1969 installation work at Dewan Bahasa Dan Pustaka in KL in 1970 was an audacious and radical reaction to the race riots that rocked the nation a year earlier.
If anything, the flag-wrapped coffin installation was meant to question race relations in the country and perhaps the role of the artist himself to broach such sensitivities in the public sphere.
It only seems apt, then, that the Sphaera: Imagination In The Sphere Of Mere Physical Existence exhibition, currently showing at the Piyadasa Gallery, Universiti Malaya, takes on a similar progressiveapproach. The gallery was set up by the university in honour of Piyadasa, who lectured there.
The exhibition features artists Jeganathan Ramachandran (multidisciplinary art), Ruzaika Omar Basaree (digital print), Nik Syahida Sabri (printmaking), Ramlan Abdullah (sculpture), Lim Kok Yoong (installation/video) and Roslina “Lyne” Ismail (painting).
Sphaera essentially seeks to explore the idea of symbiotic connection between art and science.
Lyne, who is also the curator, says it is not enough for artists to be mere makers. There is a need, she believes, to push the artistic envelope and question the works in the hopes of discovering something new altogether via the synergy between art and science.
“Piyadasa coined the term artist dialectician. What it means is that as artists here in our cultural centre, it’s not just about making and being good at our craft. It’s also about questioning our craft, our ideals and our thoughts. That perfectly sums up what this exhibition is about,” explains Lyne, 49, who is also the deputy director of research and post-graduate studies at the university.Take for example Lim’s No Man’s Land processing application installation. Lim, who is a senior lecturer at Multimedia University Malaysia, recorded his movements in the lived environment by tracking and logging his geo-location data with a mobile phone.
By visually capturing his day-to-day movement as numbers, the project uses the computation of impulses to track movement across physical space.
Consequently, the 38-year-old Lim created an interface that plots this data against how we normally see the world in our everyday life.
As someone who is keen on existentialist questions on the human condition, Lim seeks to show through his work that “even as we are entertaining our everyday passing thoughts in the most mundane moments of our lives, we are experiencing many dimensions of our existence.”
Another example of the symbiosis of art and science are the works by Jeganathan Ramachandran. Using the colour red and his fascination of locating the centre as his subject matters, Jega, as he is fondly called, produced two artworks.
Momentous – RED is a 152cm x 152cm acrylic and sand on canvas painting that is predominantly red with hints of blue and is filled with Eastern motifs that symbolises the concept of “the centre”.
But what is more fascinating is his video art called Pendula Nonagon.
“It’s a study of the balance between colour and sound, to trace the centre of energy movement,” writes Jega in his artist statement.
“The work is primarily based on the oscillation of a pendulum in relation to a baby’s cradle looking at the similarity in the oscillation of the pendulum and the cradle, I came to realise the momentum of movement that leads to a ‘rest state’,” he adds.
What the 56-year-old did was to divide the distance of energy, which is essentially light and sound, and divided it into nine fractions. Each fraction is given a note and a colour. This led to a discovery of the “centre” in colour and sound.
“The purpose of this work is an attempt to help people in different imbalance states to attain calmness and relaxation. We are still in the process of discovering the many applications of this finding,” he continues.
With discoveries such as these being made through artistic pursuits, Lyne realises this cannot remain as just an exhibition.
She says Sphaera kickstarts a four-phase incubation programme that will take place over a two year period “where artists and scientists will collectively prospect the principle questions and methods of doing imaginative research together.” The first phase (Convergence), which is the exhibition itself, will include fortnightly talks on Saturdays where the artists will have an in-depth sharing session about their artworks.
Convergence also requires the artists to also write an article, describing their ideation and concepts of artworks. These will be compiled into a monograph and published as e-books and hardcopy at the end of the year.
The second phase (October 2018 to April 2019), called Immersion, will begin after the exhibition ends. In this phase the six artists will be working together with six scientists, where the studio is brought into the lab.
“We will see the nuances of each of this interaction and where it breaks down and where bridges are built,” says Lyne.
This will culminate in another exhibition in the third phase (May 2019 to September 2019) called Collaboration. And finally phase four (October 2019 to June 2020) called Globalisation where international artists and scientists will be invited to work with the six artists and scientists.
Sphaera: Imagination In The Sphere Of Mere Physical Existence is on at Piyadasa Gallery, Cultural Centre, Universiti Malaya in Kuala Lumpur till Sept 30. Entry is by appointment only. Call 011-3357 3171 (Dr Simon Soon) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.