0 Comments

I have been putting off doing another post, partly because after we left the Cameron Highlands we went to Penang and I didn’t have that much to say about it. I didnt do any drawing either. I’ve been spending a lot of time reading, maybe you would call it researching, but it’s a funny old thing this artist’s research business, because, as with other areas of art, it has blurred boundaries. I am never really sure if I am researching or just doing normal stuff that people do. If you are an artist and you are interested in something and you read about it, then you are doing artist’s research. If you are a normal type and you read about something you are interested in then you are just doing a general life activity. If, as an artist, I read about something that I find very interesting but it is not related to my practice, is this research or is it general life activity? What if every time I read anything there is the prospect of me finding something out that might inform my practice, then maybe everything I do is artistic research? And we have not even begun to talk about other activities that don’t involve reading.

The answer is probably that artists are in a constant state of arting about. The problem is that this is why we get on the nerves of the non artist types a bit, because we do anything we like and call it artistic research. But my thinking is that everyone should be an artist and then everyone would just be doing artistic research all the time. I would like to think that we’re not arting around saying we are different and special, we’re saying, come join us, it’s different on this side, it’s better. I’m not suggesting you don’t need bank managers and bin men. I am a support worker, but I am also an artist. It’s not one or the other.

I find it much easier to read when I am away from home because I often find it hard to concentrate when I am at home, in the pattern of normal life. This has a lot to do with my busy workaholic problem. I associate being at home with needing to be productive. I have found it much easier to read here. I have finished a book called ‘The Opium Wars: Drugs Dreams and the making of China’ by Julia Lovell which is firstly an account of what happened in the Opium Wars between Britain and China and secondly, how this made an impact on China since. The British Empire behaved appallingly when they forced the trade of Opium on China and since then, the wars and events that surrounded it have been used by the Nationalist and Communist Parties to encourage the Chinese people to follow and support the parties’ political agendas. I wonder if anyone even contemplated, when we were blasting our way into Canton, that one day the worm would turn.

It is not mentioned in the book, but it also got me thinking about how we learn very little about the terrible behaviour of the British Empire in school. When I was little, my general impression of the British Empire was that we went galavanting around conquering and the like and it was very naughty of us but we don’t do that kind of stuff anymore, as we now know it is wrong and we gave all the foreign territories back because the British are all very decent and all that. I don’t remember hearing much about the legacy of the actions of the British Empire, the wealth that still remains, built on the exploitation of other people and the damage that still remains in its countless forms.

I am now reading a book called ‘Chinese Whispers: Why Everything You’ve Heard About China is Wrong’ by Ben Chu. It’s a good read so far. The main misconceptions always seem to stem back to the Chinese Communist Party wanting the rest of the world to see China in a certain way, or wanting the Chinese people to maintain certain beliefs about China to ensure the Party stays in power. I do a lot of reading on this subject but I have so far been careful about what I say online, because I would like to be let back into the country. I am probably over cautious but I am still unclear as to how far you can go in openly criticising the CCP. As an artist I want to be free to tackle any subject In any way I like, but if the consequences are that I can’t actually go to the place that I want to make work about, then there has to be some compromise.

I have this idea that I would like to do a sort of book, or pamphlet, a publication anyway, with short interviews about the idea of collectivism as opposed to individualism, which I would illustrate. I find this subject intriguing and it was a big revelation to me when I went to China. I remember going for a meal with my friend Tim, who is Chinese but studied in Holland, his wife Ling and two of their friends who didn’t speak any English. They asked me what I drink in the UK and Tim translated the question. I said I like a glass of wine or a gin and tonic. Tim carefully explained that the question in their minds was about what drink I would order for the table, not what I would personally be drinking at a meal out, because that is what happens in China, the host chooses food and drink and everyone shares everything, the waiter doesn’t go round asking individuals what they would like to drink.

It was a bit of a lightbulb moment for me. I was quite surprised that no one had mentioned it before, but I am not sure how much it is considered in Chinese society. Do they talk much about their collective way of life? I can’t say that in the West we talk about our individualist way of life, we probably don’t even realise there is another possibility out there. That’s one of the reasons I want to make the publication, because I want people to think about alternatives. Is it ok to go to China and produce a book that questions the behaviours that come from collective thinking, when it is something that is pretty vital to the success and power of the Communist Party? I read this article today that helps explain what I mean about the two ways of thinking. Interestingly, it is co-authored by a professor from Xiamen University. I wonder if he would speak to me.

http://www.globalethicsnetwork.org/m/blogpost?id=6428686%3ABlogPost%3A22613

There are officially around 5000 Chinese people living in Liverpool and unofficially up to 35,000. Liverpool’s Chinatown is home to the oldest Chinese community in Europe. Yet I don’t personally know any Chinese people in Liverpool, other than my friend Eric and other students I have met, I don’t think my friends know many, if any Chinese people and I certainly don’t know any Chinese artists based in Liverpool. The problem with any Chinese related art that goes on in Liverpool is that it often has something to do with the Confucius Institute or an other organisation that has ties to the Chinese government and it will always be influenced by that to some extent. I would like people in the Western world to have an insight into the real China, without overwhelming them with too much information, so starting with this important difference in social outlook.

The idea of a publication begins to answer my dissatisfaction with the way the art world operates. I mentioned in a previous post that I have been feeling dissatisfied. I am sad that non art types, as a general rule don’t go and see much contemporary art and I believe that the art world as a whole, starting with the artists and arts organisations who want to benefit from public funding, needs to take responsibility in recognising and trying to solve that problem. If I put on an art exhibition, generally the people who come are already part of the artistic community. There are plenty of cases where that is perfectly reasonable; not all art is appropriate for the masses, as with any other subject, if you want to really refine what you are doing or trying to say, it is not logical to expect people who have no training in that subject to fully understand it. But generally speaking, I would like to see a world where the public can feel confident going to an exhibition of contemporary art because they know what to expect from that particular exhibition, because they have had good experiences of seeing contemporary art before and because they feel comfortable and welcomed; even if the artist does not want to provide contextual information about their work, the audience should at least feel welcomed.

This is not something that will happen overnight and until it happens, my theory is that, if you can’t get the people into the galleries, then you need to get the art out to the people. This is more or less easy depending on the discipline that you work in. For artists like me who generally work in two dimensions and make things that don’t withstand the weather, it can be a problem. A publication is one way of responding. It also helps to answer the problem with buying art. Many people are not willing or able to by my artwork. Most people who buy a painting do it so they can put it on the wall. What if an artist makes paintings that don’t suite the living room situation? And people only have so much wall space anyway. There are lots of people who say they are interested in my work, but who have and never will buy a piece of work, but they love it when I give them a postcard and many ask if I do prints (which I don’t very often) and when I do, people do buy them. So maybe they would buy a publication that contains my artwork.

A publication also offers a platform for art to be presented alongside contextual information and can question the boundaries between illustration and fine art; a subject which I love and brings us all the way back round to my dissatisfaction with the art world and its elitist idea that fine art is at the top of the artistic hierarchy. I don’t mind defining something as, illustration, or applied art or fine art or whatever, but It’s a shame that the current situation pushes artists to define their work as fine art to gain the respect of the art world. So maybe the work that I put in my publication will be illustrations and if serious artists don’t do illustration then maybe I’m not very serious. But I think that’s something you know about me already.

 


0 Comments

We are in the Cameron Highlands. It is sold as Malaysia’s answer to the Lake District but it is more like Matlock Bath, with a lot of mock tudor.  The climate is cooler and they grow strawberries and tea and you can have cream tea in the cafes, but it is sort of a funny version.  I love the tea plantations and the patterns they make on the hills.  They perfectly represent the order and disorder themes that I am interested in.

 

 

The guy who runs our guesthouse is very funny. He is pretty young but knows everything about British and American polotics and current affairs and lots of sort of interesting facts.  He says funny old English phrases, for example he says ‘as you were’ when he leaves us to it after a conversation.  He has caught me drawing a few times and says they are pretty good but his favourite artist is George W Bush. I didn’t realise Bush had become a painter but it is true, he paints strange pictures of famous political types from images that he gets off Google.

 


0 Comments

Before travelling to Kuala Lumpur we had a night sleeping in the jungle on a sort of ‘how to survive in the jungle’ trekking trip. I have learnt so much. The main thing is that bamboo is the most amazing stuff! You know how bamboo sticks look like they are made up of different segments, well each of those segments is full of water! You use your machete to cut a small hole and then you make a little pipe from a small piece of bamboo and stick it in the hole as a little pourer. If you pick quite young bamboo (I am talking about massive bamboo trees by the way) it is not so dry, so then you can cut a bamboo segment, cut a bit bigger hole in it and then you can pour rice and veg and whatever else in through the hole, stuff the hole with leaves and make yourself a pressure cooker that you stick on the fire till it cooks, then cut it open and serve. We carved ourselves bamboo mugs and spoons as well.

In the jungle were rubber plantations that just looked like part of the forest, integrated with the other trees, except they have been tapped for rubber. The farmers get up before sunrise, maybe even 2.30am to cut the bark so the rubber starts to drip out before it gets too hot and the flow dries up. The rubber drips into a plastic container and they collect it later on. We took a bit for starting the fire, as rubber is flammable.

 

 

We also collected vines that were hanging down from the trees as these make incredible ropes; they are so strong! You’ve got to be careful when pulling stuff down though, as Ron our guide said, you don’t want a stick with eyes. We did actually see a snake and Ron was a bit surprised at first as, firstly the snakes usually get away when they hear you coming and secondly he thought this particular one was a deadly viper, but it was ok, it was a bright green vine snake.

This blog post was meant to be about the art in Kuala Lumpur mainly, sorry I have been going off on a tangent. I find it hard to know what is interesting for you to read. It is meant to be an art blog isn’t it, but I have been trying to think about what that means anyway and have not yet come to a definite conclusion. There are so many crossovers and blurred boundaries in art and this just mirrors the fact that there are so many of these in other aspects of life also. If you want to make art that is about life then you can get away with anything. Maybe we will leave it at that.

Oh, last interesting thing from the depths of the jungle: I learnt that politics in Malaysia is a bit of a sham and worse, they have just passed a law that you can’t say bad stuff about the government, so Dan said, what is said in the jungle stays in the jungle.

Back in Kuala Lumpur, I had the chance to see some contemporary art and i was lucky enough to speak with a gallery owner about art in general in Malaysia. It is Artemis Art Gallery’s fifth anniversary and they rented another gallery space called Map, in the same shopping Mall, where the Artemis Gallery is housed, to hold an anniversary celebration. The Map Gallery is huge but can only be rented for a week at a time and not cheap U.C. The owner of Artemis told me. I don’t usually make a point of chatting to gallery owners, I don’t always know how to start conversations (I think it is a British thing) and don’t like the idea that they think I am talking to them because I think they might show my work, but we wanted to ask where the original Artemis Gallery was and U.C. answered the question (it’s on the next floor up) and immediately started to tell us about the gallery, the artists that she represents and some of her opinions about art and the market. My favourite paintings in the show were these ones by Ruzzeki Harris.

U.C. said that she took the artist’s work to an art show in Taiwan, but no paintings sold. You just cant tell what will sell. I have heard the same story from gallerists in the UK. I am not entirely sure of her back story, other than she studied in Bournemouth and her husband used to go to Hull for work and said it was hell (ha ha) I told her about the City of Culture stuff and that the Turner prize will be there this year, but she didn’t seem too convinced. U.C doesn’t much like conceptual art, she likes to see craftsmanship. She wants to give opportunities to Malaysian artists as these are few and far between, especially if you are not from a wealthy family. I asked U.C. about studying art in Malaysia. She told me that you can’t really do a degree in Fine Art. You can study up to diploma level, but you need to go to another country to study to complete a bachelors. She also described this other technical college which she said you can access only if you are Malaysian. If you are Chinese or Filipino for instance, you can’t go there. U.C was very proud to tell me about the young people who she represents who have had success. She doesn’t understand why collectors don’t support these undiscovered artists like she does. For the price you pay for a Damien Hurst, you can put a good few young talented Malaysian artists through art school. And U.C. didn’t think much of Damien Hurst anyway.

Below is an installation shot of the exhibition and a picture of another artist’s work that I liked. The artists’ name is ERYN.

 

The shopping mall housed more commercial galleries. Not a usual thing in the UK, but in Kuala Lumpur, the Mall is where it’s at, for hanging out or buying anything you want.

In other parts of the city we visited Ilham Gallery, which had an exhibition in partnership with ParaSite Gallery in Hong Kong (I mentioned in a previous post), Wei Ling Gallery, which you enter through a sort of antiques shop (???) then up the stairs into a fantastic gallery space and DR.Ink, a sort of art space, cafe, shop, which offers workshops and sells its own designers’ fantastic screenprinted products. See pictures and links below.

Ilham Gallery, ‘Afterwork’ – very interesting exhibition exploring class, race, labour and migration in the region and beyond. As with Hong Kong’s ParaSite gallery, there was lots of supporting information which I am finding more and more is my personal preference, when it comes to the question of how much explanation to put with the artwork, especially when seeing work that is largely conceptual. I especially enjoyed a film about a Filipino beauty contest that happens in a bus station in Israel and paintings by I Gusti Ayu Kadek Murniasih.
There was also an interesting painting by Cheng Yee Man which was accompanied by a recording of an interview with the artist’s domestic helper. In order to get to know her better, he asked her questions about her life in the Philippines then painted a depiction of her house, based solely on her description.

http://www.ilhamgallery.com/exhibitions/

 

 

Below are pictures of Wei-Ling gallery, with its funny ground floor entrance and gallery featuring paintings by Cheong Kiet Cheng http://weiling-gallery.com/exhibition-current/ and the lovely DR.Ink design shop. https://www.timeout.com/kuala-lumpur/restaurants-and-cafes/dr-inc

 

 

 


0 Comments

We have moved to eastern Sabah, next to the Kinabatangan river where there is rainforest on either side. From our guesthouse you can take small boat trips out at dusk, dawn and night time to try and see animals. I have seen small crocodiles, eyes of big crocodiles (they glow red in the dark) and one head of huge crocodile, maybe 4 metres long, 3 different types of monkey, lots of birds, an owl and today we saw five (yes five!) urang-utangs. No word of a lie, it was amazing. The first was a mother and baby. One of them was already in his nest for the night. They build a new nest to sleep in, in a different place every night, except sometimes the males are lazy and re-use their nest. If the orang-utang is already in its nest, it has eaten enough for that day and is off to bed.

The river is the best place to see animals because they all either have to come there, or like to come there and they are less scared of you when you are in the boat. Our guesthouse is right next to the river (we all sleep in huts) and there is rainforest on either side of the river. Opposite our guesthouse is the entrance to a palm plantation. You may already know about the problem with palm oil. Huge areas of rainforest in Borneo have been chopped down to make way for palm plantations. Our guide, Rossman, told us that in the beginning, local people could apply to the government to own a plot of the rainforest but they were granted it with no conditions. Later on huge palm oil companies, not necessarily Malaysian, would find 20 or so land owners with plots together and offer them a lot of money to buy the land and the government couldn’t do anything about it. Interestingly, Rossman and other people from his village had to campaign for a long time to get the government to change the rules. So now, if you are given a piece of land you have to keep it as it is. This is a picture of a palm plantation from the roadside. It is mostly all you see on a bus journey.

 

 

Rossman has lived in the village all his life, except from when he went to uni in Kuala Lumpar. He could’t go to uni in Kota Kinabalu because at that time, in the 80s there were no universities in Borneo at all. Being local, Rossman knows the names of and everything about all the wildlife that lives in the rainforest. When he was growing up, the rainforest was his playground. Rossman’s great grandfather was a headhunter. A headhunter in this context is not a recruitment agent who poaches you for another company, it is a warrior who hunts people and chops their head off as a trophy to bring back to the big chief. Each time you take a head to the chief you get to keep some hair, which you attach to your machete. Rossman’s great grandfather had 7 different hairs on his machete. Rossman remembers seeing the machete when he was little but now he is not sure where it is. He thinks maybe his uncle might have it. He said he asked his great grandfather about the headhunting when he was still alive, but he wouldn’t speak about it. I suppose all of this might be made up, but I believed him.

My pictures are looking across the river, from our guesthouse.

 

 

I thought I might tell you about the drawing materials I have been using. A little tip for any budding artists out there, generally speaking, expensive materials are not going to make your drawings any better. Having said that, sometimes you can find a material that really suits you and I do have a few favourite things that I think can make a lot of difference. I like to use a rubber that is like a pen and I have an extra small one that is great for tiny rubbing out. I have recently been using these Derwent Inktense water soluble pencils, which I really like and with anything water soluble, I recommend getting a water brush, which is a more portable way of using a brush with water, so very handy when you are out and about. I think I paid about a pound for one from ebay. Oh and I have these great fun Magic pencils made by Koh i Noor which have three colours in one pencil.

 


0 Comments

I have, in the past few days, realised how blessed I am living in a country with the modern convenience of speedy internet. Here, and probably in many other countries the internet is completely rubbish. It is mainly downloading and sending images, but everything is generally a lot slower or you just can’t get connected to the wifi at all. Borneo seems worse than the Malaysian Peninsular. It is a good thing when you’re on holiday, a bit of an internet deterrent, but I’m trying to get things done and it makes that quite difficult. So rather than blogging little and often it may have to be a lot of stuff all at once.

Before leaving Melaka I did some drawing by the river.

 

 

Since then I have flown to Kota Kinabalu and climbed Mount Kinabalu, which almost killed me. Now I am not a complete wimp I’ll have you know and would consider myself a seasoned fell walker, but Mt Kinabalu is 4095 meters high, the actual climb it is fair to say being less than that, with a climb over 2 days which includes getting up at 2.30am to finish the climb and watch the sunrise. I was fine going up, actually very impressed with myself, but coming down, my legs went into meltdown. I am in two minds about whether to give you a picture or not (I did say this is not a holiday blog) and I will decide when I actually post this on the internet, whenever that may be.

I didn’t draw the mountain (sorry) as I didn’t want to lug any more than I had to up there and my sketchbook is quite heavy, but I did make some drawings of the view from our guesthouse, looking towards some other mountains in the same range and a nice shed and vegetation in the garden.

 


0 Comments