At what point does something become history?
Is it a matter of sitting around and waiting for something to age, like cheese or wine, or does the subject need to actively do something historic?
In the Digital Art + Culture Festival (DA+CF) co-directed by sister brother duo Suzy Sulaiman, 38, and Fairuz Sulaiman, 33, that question is directed at George Town’s intangible cultural heritage.
This would be the Sulaiman siblings’ second DA+CF after a four-year gap. The duo have working experience in the fields of architecture, education, video and animation. The 2011 edition was also in Penang and one of the highlights of that year was an outdoor evening performance using video projection mapping on Suffolk House, a heritage building in George Town.
Taking place alongside the George Town Festival in August, this year’s DA+CF is themed “Culturetopia” and imagines the Unesco world heritage site as a place where everything is perfect.
While not a Penangite herself, Suzy Sulaiman says she is drawn to George Town’s dynamic dilemma between progress and preservation. “There is a sense of romanticised nostalgia. They want to move forward, yet they also seem trapped in the past. For me, this irony makes for interesting artistic dialogue,” she says.
Suzy notes that in the Unesco statement to George Town, it mentions the town’s tangible and intangible assets. While the tangible assets like the historic monuments, the kongsi clans and temples can be easily identified, how does one pin down its intangible factor?
The week-long festival, which takes place from Aug 7-16, features various programmes such as art installations, inspired by the sounds of the city, a mobile cinema projecting stories onto George Town’s heritage sites and an exhibition that examines how history is created, presented, re-told and re-packaged for the contemporary world.
The festival’s main event Hari Ini Dalam Sejarah is the only one that’s rooted to a venue: the Penang State Museum and Art Gallery aptly enough.
Using an outsider’s perspective to look at Penang’s history, the art exhibition features works by artists Wang Ding-Yeh, Wu I-Yeh, and Lo Shih Tung from Taiwan, and Tetsuya Umeda from Japan.
Through this process, curator Suzy explores variable pillars of history, like the length of time it takes for an event to become “history” and who decides what is historic – as in the case of George Town’s relatively new “heritage street art”.
With a slightly cynical slant, she wonders if Penang’s history has been condensed into “heritage” that can be bought and sold, reduced to magnets, mugs and T-shirts.
Meanwhile, Fairuz’s programme Warung Wayang takes its cue from film peddlers who once travelled from town to town with black and white film projectors, with his own mobile cinema which projects new stories on designated locations and walls.
In true Malaysian fashion, audiences can grab a teh tarik from the mobile stall while taking in the videos.
The stories will be presented by Japanese artists Matsumoto Chikara and Honda Horoshi, Filipino Anjo Bolarda, Indonesian Andreas Siagian and local artist Sarah Amera Sabran.
The State Of Ebb And Flow, curated by artist/academic Yap Sau Bin, maps the flow of George Town’s migrant communities and charts the influence their labour and culture brough to Penang’s melting pot.
Three Malaysians: anthropologist Okui Lala, graffiti artist Bibichun, Syafiq Samat and visual artist Syafiq Abdul Samad spent several weeks in Penang to trace the cultural thread.
In Sonic Artifact, curated by Soundscape Record’s Mak Wai Hoo, four musicians craft a soundtrack of George Town based on field recordings of the urban sprawl, captured on limited edition cassette tapes.
The four consist of an international mix, including American Chris Golinski, Yan Jun of China, and local experimentalists Goh Lee Kwang and Kamal Sabran (Space Gambus Experiment).