Today is a sunny day … on the grey floor of Wei-Ling Contemporary in Kuala Lumpur.
It is a place where the sun shines on the idyllic Swiss Alps that amble underfoot. And the view is projected from what looks like a typical red Pos Malaysia box you see around town.
It is also where a future internment camp on Mars exists in the same space as the past Indonesian mass killings of 1965-66.
Plus, if you want to watch surveillance images collated from multiple sources and projected on the gallery wall from a moving platform, then you have come to the right place.
These are among the curious new media works you can explore in Paralogical Machines: When Images Meet Us In Time And Space, the first exhibition of the year at Wei-Ling Contemporary.
Paralogical Machines, curated by Kenneth Feinstein (Sunway University’s Centre for Research-Creation in Digital Media at The School of the Arts associate professor), brings together some big names from the international art scene, including Feinstein himself, global audiovisual improv collective All Women’s Networked Jam Session (AWNJS), Singaporean artists Charlies Lim and Erika Tan, London-based visual artist and software designer NYE Thompson, Swiss-Austrian-American artist duo Ubermorgen, Malaysian artist Rajinder Singh and Indonesian-born Tintin Wulia.
Blurring the lines
Paralogical Machines, with its focus on conversation, dialogue and the blurring of boundaries between the artwork and the viewer, is a sign of what is to come. It moves beyond the role of the observer as someone looking in from the outside. Instead, it requires both observer and artwork to be present and engaged with each other for the experience to be complete.
“As technology changes, so does the world around us. We do not just put screens on buildings, but now the images are coming off the walls, and coming down to join us. As they move off the wall and walk among us, we start interacting with them like they are physical objects. We look at them differently, we start to think of them as things we relate to. Our relationship with media is changing; it is less about ‘me’ and what is ‘out there’, and more about ‘we’,” says Feinstein, whose Post Box Cinema delves into the relationship between the modern and Romantic; the everyday urban and a nostalgic longing for an ideal that never really existed.
“The work is intended to create an uncanny feeling through the physicality of the object. By creating a physical object, the viewer is in the same environment as the object. As such, the viewer’s relationship to it changes; it becomes one based on physicality and proximity. The work becomes part of the same environment as the viewer – they confront each other on a one-to-one basis. This is an example of how digital technology allows creative artists to take imagery beyond the confines of the framed image, the main trope of art since the Renaissance, bringing it into direct relation to the viewer,” he explains.
Feinstein references French-American painter Marcel Duchamp, who stated that an artist’s creation is not complete until it is placed out in the world and viewed by others.
It looks like Paralogical Machines is keen to bring the discussion on the importance of the experiential to the next level.
Pick a narrative
In Tintin Wulia’s video installation A Thousand And One Martian Nights, which she presented at the 57th Venice Biennale in 2017 with two other works (Under The Sun and Not Alone), the audience watches the telling of personal histories and official, state-sanctioned versions, interspersed with a live-stream video capture of the same audience from behind.
“This makes the audience physically and conceptually an integral part of what they are watching. The use of single-channel projection as a medium is deliberate, in reference to a state-sponsored film I grew up with. This violent propaganda film was made compulsory for school students to watch every year as a warning to the evils of communism and to celebrate Suharto’s heroic ascend,” she explains.
It is perhaps a bit unsettling to watch yourself watching yourself, but what when other people are watching you – as in Nye Thompson vs Ubermorgen’s Uninvited?.
In this short film, the projected images glide across the gallery wall, while offering a CCTV footage compilation. This work is the beginning of a bigger project, a horror film in the works. This is a new collaboration between Thompson and Ubermorgen (consisting of contemporary digital artists Lizvlx and Hans Bernhard).
The award-winning Ubermorgen duo have shown their work in institutions such as the Centre Pompidou (Paris) and Moma (New York) as well as the Sydney Biennale and the Gwangju Biennale, among others.
A different world view
In Charles Lim’s Cannot Take: Big Bird Eats Small Bird, a hornbill happily devours a pet song bird while the off-screen commentator laments his inability to affect what he is seeing. So we assume, he watches helplessly, as the Big Bird feasts on the Small Bird. There is another part of the work, that is presented on the flip side of the bird drama, that shows a sailor being carried by sea and wind away from where he wants to go.
“The work presents the viewer with two complementary views of one’s inability to navigate through a world of limited control,” says Lim of the bird video component of his work.
Lim recently exhibited at Gridded Currents at Kukje Gallery in Seoul (2017) and the 3rd Aichi Triennial in Japan, the 20th Biennale of Sydney and the EVA International Biennial in Ireland, all in 2016. He also showed at the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015.
Paralogical Machines is supported by Goethe-Institut Malaysia, the Centre for Research-Creation in Digital Media at The School of the Arts at Sunway University and Pro Helvetia.
Feinstein believes that the best shows are “those that linger in your mind, that has something that sticks with you even after several years”.
“We hope that Paralogical Machines will speak to people that way. We hope to provoke them a little bit and maybe they will find a different way to look at the world,” he says.
Although forward-thinking in many ways, Paralogical Machines is not flashy futuristic. Its lights are turned down low and its flickering projections invite you to walk around, under, and with, them. If you do not move, they will – thus compelling a perspective shift.
“The exhibition expects more maturity from the audience, it speaks with them and not to them. It expects that you have something to bring to this work, something that will make it so much more than it was before. This exhibition is quiet and subtle, but it has some sort of meaning and everyone will walk out with something different,” concludes Feinstein.
After all, if it is truly going to be a conversation or a dialogue, we can communicate without having to yell.
Paralogical Machines is on at Wei-Ling Contemporary, The Gardens Mall in KL till Feb 17. Open: Tuesday to Sunday, 11am to 7pm. Call 03-2282 8323 or visit weiling-gallery.com.