Roopesh Sitharan “Fermentation-a solo exhibition of new media art” 14 Mac - 15 April 2009 Muzium & Galeri Tuanku Fauziah, Universiti Sains Malaysia Project Director & Editor Hasnul J Saidon Design Concept Roopesh Sitharan & Mohd Farid Mohd Zainuddin Curatorial Assistants Afzanizam Mohd Ali, Mohd Firdaus Khairuddin, Aizuan Azmi, Nur Hafizah Ab. Aziz Nor Mohammad Abd Rahim
Tel: 04 6533888 ext 3261/2137/4789/4788/3264 Fax: 04 6563531/6535060 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org www.mgtf.usm.my www.mgtfusmpenang.blogspot.com www.tagged.com/mgtfusm www.facebook.com/mgtfusm www.twitter.com/mgtf www.youtube.com/mgtfusm
Publication Assistants Nor Laila Abd. Rozak@Razak, Safinawati Samsudin Financial Assistant Rohayah Sanapi Promotion & Publicity Nurul Ashikin Shuib, Azizi Yahya, Adlan Redzuan, Salim Ibrahim General Support Radhiyah Abu Bakar, Salmiah Mohamad, Faridah Hashim, Ravi Vansamy Online Exhibition http://mgtf.usm.my/exhibit.php
Roopesh Sitharan,1979Fermentation : a solo exhibition of new media art/ Roopesh Sitharan & Hasnul Jamal Saidon. ISBN 978-967-10008-4-7 1. New media art--Malaysia--Exhibitions, 2. Arts--Malaysia--Exhibitions 3. Art, Modern--21st century. I. Hasnul Jamal Saidon, 1965-. II. Title. 709.05 © 2011 Roopesh Sitharan and Muzium & Galeri Tuanku Fauziah, Universiti Sains Malaysia. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced except for the purpose of research, critism and review, without prior permision from the artist and publisher.
CONTEXTUALISING FERMENTATIONS 8 NIRANJAN RAJAH
READING ROOPESH SITHARAN 22 HASNUL J. SAIDON
EXPOSITION 26 EXHIBITION IMAGES
MY RAMBLINGS 29 ROOPESH SITHARAN
NEW MEDIA WORKS 32
INTERVIEW 46 VIDEO ART 50
FERMENTATIONS 58 ROOPESH SITHARAN
DIGITAL COLLAGE 60
ARTIST PROFILE 68 CURATOR’S BIO 72 ACKNOWLEDGEMENT 74
Passpartout How do we approach the making of art and the making of its meaning in a world that is increasingly characterised by displacement, dislocation and relocation; and where art is made in both old and new media, at multiple sites, by artists who operate with multiple identities and within multiple frames of reference?
RMENTATIONS E F NIRANJAN
Malaysian Media Art in the late 1990s Contemporary media technologies are transforming the way we construct and exchange representations. Also, increasingly closed social networks, proprietary Apps, broadband VOD, file share prosecutions and Youtube copyright strike all evidence the domestication and corporatisation of the internet. In the 1990s while the WWW was still an open public arena, Malaysia was preparing for these corporate developments. We were building the Multimedia Super-Corridor - the first industrial zone for the post-industrial knowledge era. In the time that has passed, this vision has not been fully realised and other nations have superseded Malaysia in this arena. Nevertheless, at that time, Malaysia was undoubtedly a leader. In this exciting time my UNIMAS colleague, Hasnul Jamal Saidon and I had championed the idea that it was necessary to develope aesthetic and critical perspectives in the burgeoning media and information industries. To theorise this proposition, we drew from the work of Ismail Zain who had argued that we have to assert ourselves in terms of our differences, while participating in the commonalities engendered by new media. Ismail had applied Kenneth Frampton’s idea of ‘critical regionalism’ in which local manifestations of international trends develope in an interaction with local climate, culture, myth and craft; thereby resisting the global sweep of modernity. After Postmodernism? Artists generally locate the origins of postmodernism in the Anglo-American reformulation and dissemination of French post-structuralism, but the term ‘postmodern’ was, in fact, coined in Architectural discourse. Charles Jenks, locates the death of Modernism in 1972, when the Pruitt-Igoe complex, St Louis, Missouri, was demolished by dynamite. This demolition has come to represent the end of modernist idealism and the dawn of architectural postmodernism. This image entered popular consciousness via the film Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out Of Balance by Godfrey Reggio.
Detail: Video reflux, Internet/ video installation, 2008, Niranjan Rajah
The architect of the Puitt-Igoe Complex was the late Minoru Yamasaki and in an uncanny coincidence, Yamasaki was also the architect of the ill-fated Twin Towers in New York! This exemplary modernist edifice (postmodern even, in light of its simularcral doubling) was, as we all know, also destroyed in spectacular fashion. This second destruction, allegedly carried out in the name of those who oppose modernity, has entered our collective imagination more pervasively than the demolition of his other landmark. This time the event took place under the ubiquitous gaze of global news media. This spectacle was captured and communicated live - as it happened. This image has since been played, replayed, mourned, celebrated, analysed and interrogated. Yet, it is an image whose facts we cannot determine with any finality. It is an image that subsists in a state of perpetual deconstruction, marking, for me at least, the demise of the whole modernist/postmodernist complex. Post-Traditional Theory The demise of postmodernism calls for new terms of reference. Anthony Giddens has developed the notion of the ‘Post-Traditional’. We are not, he says, in a post-modern period. All the characteristics of post-modernism are just aspects of a fully developed modernity. Giddens suggests that the birth of modernism marks the end of the traditional world. He celebrates the dawn of modernism as the beginning of a ‘post-traditional’ era, unfettered by archaic mores and superstitions. Giddens’ reformulation of the modern as ‘post-tradition’ is useful, but his meaning is completely wrong. Firstly, the demise of tradition is not to be celebrated and more objectively traditions have not ended. They have, continued on into the modern era. They have engaged with modernity in different ways. Just as Giddens claims that modernism continues into the postmodern era, I insist that tradition continues to thrive in the post-traditional era. As opposed to assuming that modernity transfers authoritatively to the various traditions, this theory treats modernism as just another tradition. 9
Early Cinema and the Plurality of Traditions Mike Punt notes that in late 19th century, technologies that appeared to link discrete spaces, such as radio, television, telegraph, photograph, phonograph, telephone and film excited the popular imagination. Within eighteen months of the launch of the Lumière brothers’ cinématographe in 1895, around 800,000 performances had been given at locations around the world. Lumière agents were commissioned to exhibit the cinématographe at locations across the world as well as to shoot documentary films at these sites for international distribution. An important aspect of this ‘new media’ was an ontological dualism. The cinema ‘re-visioned’ the world and affected the viewer’s sense of ‘being’. In the so-called ‘phantom ride’, a camera set up on the front of a moving train (for instance) produces an image that occupies the viewer’s point of view – the viewer becomes the train. Punt observes that “On the one hand, cinema had the hallucinatory effect of uncoupling vision from the world and relocating it in the body…. On the other, cinema’s depiction of humankind as racially defined enabled the ideological recovery of the world as ‘material’”. In this second aspect, cinema served to reinforce geographical distance and racial difference. For the first time people were documented being engaged in traditional activities and presented for the purview of others across the globe. In this cinematic experience of difference, people began to recognise the lives of others as palpable realities. From this point on, no reflective culture could imagine or represent itself as a singularity. Malay = Muslim Reflex Malaysia owes its racial politics to colonial immigration and to Malay nationalism. In our unique social contract, Non-Malays have accepted Malay hegemony and Malaysia’s uninterrupted economic development since the 1970’s must be credited to the unique politics of domination and accommodation developed by the Malay political elite. Instrumental in executing this contract have been the National Economic Policy (NEP), Internal Security Act (ISA) and the less conspicuous ‘Dasar Kebudayaan’. This simultaneously progressive and regressive political formulation was worked to its fullest potential during Dr. Mahathir Mohammed’s tenure. It has, however, been left spent and floundering in his wake. Today, it seems that Malaysia has an outdated political machinery that needs urgent revision. As Suflan Shamsuddin puts it in his seminal call for electoral reform, RESET: Rethinking The Malaysian Political Paradigm, “the underlying problem is the war of ideologies between three stakeholder communities in Malaysia, i.e.: a) Malays, who would like to maintain the hegemony under the guise of a multiracial joint venture; b) Non-Malays, who would like to get rid of this 10
hegemony forever, by dismantling race-based politics; and c) Muslims, who want to put in place a theocracy.” He continues, “Today b) and c) are allies. But the permanence of that allegiance is as secure as the permanence of spring. Unity talks are already afoot between PAS and UMNO to shift the balance of power yet again.” If more fractures appear in the Malay leadership of our multi-ethnic government, allowing the non-Malays to assert themselves inordinately, within or without the coalition, this could result in the sudden and reactionary coalescence of disparate elements of the Malay Polity along a Malay/Muslim axis. This will, I fear, result in the permanent marginalisation of the others. This is what I call the Malay = Muslim Reflex. Anak Ayam Teleng I would like to develope this idea as an image. In the late 1980s I grew close to a group of ITM graduates who met in the informal salons of Ahmad Shukri Elias’s Kiara Gallery. We spent many hours discussing art, planning a group exhibition (Pameran Motivasi) and just hanging out. Amongst our group was Tengku Sabri and one of our conversations centred on Sabri’s work and on its traditional sources. His Teleng series of drawings and sculptures were derived from studies of the hilt of a traditional East coast keris - the Hulu Anak Ayam Teleng, whose elegant form combines the ergonomic imperatives of a tightly gripping palm with a sublime martial symbolism. The image is that of a baby chick (anak ayam) caught in an upward and backward twist of recognition – the reflexive recognition of its imminent demise in the claws of a swooping bird of prey (burung helang). The Anak Ayam Teleng marks the moment of impending doom the moment of ultimate threat, upon which the noble keris is drawn. Indeed, the keris is only drawn at the point of use, the point of no return – in the throes of a defensive reflex. Envisioning a Convergent Malaysia It is the spectre of this Malay = Muslim reflex that looms over contemporary Malaysian politics. The challenge for all Malaysians is to negotiate an articulation of Suflan’s three stakeholder agendas, into a convergent whole – a new social contract; while avoiding the reflex of a threatened majority. Suflan proposes a detailed electoral solution with checks and balances that ensure a perpetual multi-stakeholder partnership at the helm of a post ketuanan Malaysia. His proposal is sound but Lan is under no illusions about the difficulties that face the adoption of its ilk. Just as the Malays have to renounce aspects of their own assumed over-lordship and develope the growing diversity within their own community; the others must empathise with a future Malay-centric nation and partake in it without coercion. Suflan reminds us of the tradition
of Malay hospitality. If, in our post-traditional Malaysia, the Malays must not forget how to give this gift, non-Malays must learn how to receive it. As an immigrant one can only truly know one’s new home, one’s new earth (bumi) in an engagement with the culture in which that earth is constituted. Until one engages with the metaphors and the idioms of the prior peoples, one is always going to be living somewhere else (metaphysically speaking). On the other hand, the suppression of immigrant identity by aggressive hosts, raises resistance and works against assimilation which is necessarily a two way process. Non-Malays must see beyond the simplistic vision of a Malaysian Malaysia (one Malaysia or whatever), and move on to finding a way to become comfortable occupying this Malay land jointly. This will require a slow asymptotic evolution wherein the challenge for the Non-Malay is to parttake in more aspects of Malay tradition and to better understand Islam as the overarching ethos of our nation, while the challenge for the Malay is to accept the others as their own, without extracting the traditional price for complete acceptance - conversion (Masuk Islam, Masuk Melayu). While this binary identity shifting (in or out) has been invaluable in preserving Malay identity, culture, religion and power, it also belies the extent of non-Malay assimilation into this Tanah Melayu over the centuries (Peranakan Chinese, Melaka Chettis, Melaka Portuguese Eurasians). Given the religious foundations of our communities, it will also be necessary to develope a trans-theological (as opposed to inter-faith) discourse in Malaysia. We need learned Muslims who can respectfully explicate identity as well as difference with Christian and Hindu scripture and vice versa. Both sides have to learn how to Masuk Malaysia. Bentuk Malaysia Tulen After the National Cultural Congress in 1971 the indegenisation of Malaysian culture was in full swing. What it was to be a Malaysian artist and to make Malaysian art were both hotly contested. Indeed, the more fundamental question of what it was to be a Malaysian was at stake. This is the era of Islamisation and the institutionalisation of Ketuanan Melayu. Redza Piyadasa’s Bentuk Malaysia Tulen (1980) is a challenging work in this context. It presents an image of the artist whose Indian origins belie his acquired Malay Muslim Identity (Masuk Islam, Masuk Melayu). In any event his looks, as represented here, are not easily distinguishable from the visage of an ostensibly ‘authentic’ Malay Muslim Malaysian. In the upper part of the image is stencilled in Jawi “Apakah ini satu bentuk Malaysia yang tulen?” (Is this an authentic Malaysian form?).
What is an authentic Malaysian form? Perhaps this question in jawi is indexing the viewer and interrogating his or her authenticity as well! MGR From early on in the life of Tamil cinema industry, film has been brilliantly used to make political propaganda. Screenwriters, C.N Annadurai and M.Karunanidhi; and screen actors M.G. Ramachandran (MGR) and Jayalalitha, all rose to the highest political office in Tamil Nadu. As a leading man, MGR, developed the persona of a poor underdog who stands up to oppressors. In 1956 MGR joined Annadurai’s Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party, which propounded Dravidian Nationalism, caste upliftment and anti-Brahminism. Expelled from DMK in 1972, he founded the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK, initially called ADMK). He became Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu in 1977 and was much loved in the global Tamil diaspora. As Gopalan Ravindran notes in his ‘Negotiating identities in the Diasporic Space: Transnational Tamil Cinema and Malaysian Indians’, Malaysian Indians understood Tamil Nadu narratives in terms of local issues and aspirations. MGR’s DMK class and caste narratives were not difficult to translocate into the suppressed Indian ‘estate’ communities given their triply disenfranchised (caste, class and race) status in their new domicile. Further, the anti-Brahmin politics of Tamil Nadu were not of direct political import in the Malaysian context, so Tamil movie fans were able to follow MGR regardless of class, caste and linguistic origins. Puthiya Vaanam
Puthiya Vaanam, Puthiya Bhoomi, is a song sung by playback legend T. M. Sounderarajan in the 1966 release Anbe Vaa. The wonderful lyrics are by Vaali and the music by M. S. Viswanathan. புதிய வானம புதிய பூமி எங்கும் பனிமழை பொழிகிறது நான் வருகையிலே என்னை வரவேற்க வண்ணப் பூமழை பொழிகிறது
puthiya vaanam puthiya bhoomi engum panimazhai pozhigiradhu
naan varugaiyilae ennai varavaerka vannap poomazhai pozhigiradhu new sky, new earth everywhere dew falls like rain as I come, to welcome me a shower of beautiful flowers in the light of the new sun as the world awakes the cool breeze of the Himalayas touches my heart on those hills, where Cheran flew his flag that golden age is with me now that golden age is with me now When I see groups of little children when I hear their innocent prattle I know all good people will prosper and this belief is confirmed that they must succeed, they must prosper this desire quivers within me this desire quivers within me no question of nationality no distinction of caste seeking the path of love man worships nature like soaring mountains, minds have risen high they prove this doctrine in their lives This delightful slice of popular film making is in fact deeply coded with DMK political agenda. The â€˜new sky, new earthâ€™ of the chorus can be read as a lyrical analogue for the DMK symbol which consists of a shining sun (sky) rising between two mountain peaks (earth). The first verse recalls the glorious Chera dynasty that ruled Dravidian lands and beyond up till the 12th century. The second asserts the belief that the good will prosper. The third, promises a communion of 14
mankind beyond nationality and caste. It also propounds the worship of nature, perhaps a nod towards atheism; at the very least it is a clear push away from organised temple worship, rituals and Brahminism. Father and Son Puthiya Vaanam, Puthiya Bhoomi (2006, single channel video) is the title of one of three videos by Roopesh Sitharan based on the Tamil movie theme, with his father playing MGR. While the original was shot in Shimla, Himalchal Pradesh; Roopesh shot his footage in San Francisco, California. The father/son relationship is an ongoing focus of Roopesh’s work. As early as 2002, in the text for his ‘Son`s Ecclesiastical Authority` (2002, web art), he interrogates filial piety in the contemporary world in terms of the Old Testament. In Puthiya Vaanam, Puthiya Bhoomi, he seems to be conflating the traditional father/son relationship within the actor/director relationship, while bringing forth what matters most in all of life’s relationships - joy. Enakage (2007, single channel video) enacts another MGR classic ‘Ulagam pirandhadhu enakkaaga’, this time from ‘Paasam’, 1962. This song consists of Kannadasan’s lyrics and Viswanathan Ramamoorthy’s music, once again sublimely rendered by TM Soudararajan. உலகம் பிறந்தது எனக்காக ஓடும் நதிகளும் எனக்காக மலர்கள் மலர்வது எனக்காக அன்னை மடியை விரித்தாள் எனக்காக Ulagam piranthathu enakkaga, Odum nathikalum enakkaaga, malarkal malarvathum enakkaaga this world was created for me the running rivers are also for me flowers that bloom bloom for me Mother spread out her lap for me sounds that float in the breeze waves that move on the sea in all these I know God exists and that He himself knows me 15
The moving moon is a golden chariot a star-studded bejewelled crown sweet bird song an art academy this is my Kingdom even as all these are in me still She holds me within her that Mother’s heart is my temple and She is forever my Goddess This is a joyful celebration of nature in classical Tamil tradition - the earth, rivers and forests; the moon, song birds – all of nature is presented as object to be possessed and as possessing subject. The identification of nature with the Mother (the Goddess), is in keeping with the familiar DMK invitation to step away from Brahmanical ritual and temple worship. In Roopesh’s remake the nature imagery is echoed beautifully, with father frolicking his way through the MGR routines with particular acuity. The golden chariot verse/scene, which in the film is on a boat, is here in a rickshaw, with our ersatz thalaivar graciously giving the rickshaw man a ride. The Mother metaphor is concreted with father poignantly giving respect and love to his own aged mother. Inbam Enge (Where is Love, 2003, single channel video) is based on an enchanting song of the same name, rendered by Govindarajan in the film Manamulla Marutharam (1958). Inbam can mean joy or pleasure or love. This piece begins with father skipping down a rather steep hill. It is interesting to note that Roopesh has left in some involuntary exclamations of concern from himself as he films his father stumbling and falling at the edge of a steep drop. This accident reveals his presence as the cameraman, thereby confirming the reflexive nature of these works. Also note that he does not, in fact, put the camera down, exposing the problematic father/son – director/actor complex he is working with. Nam Naadu Roopesh’s Nam Naadu (Our Country, 2008, single channel video) is the epitome of diasporic translocation. Roopesh has made a remix of Tamil song and dance clips shot in Malaysia and set them to the soundtrack Sorgamae Endralum (Even if its Heaven) from the 1990 film Ooru Vittu Ooru Vanthu (Leaving Home, For to a New Country). Sung by Ilayaraja and Chitra. The chorus goes -
சொர்கமே என்றாலும் அது நம் ஊரைப் போல வருமா அட என் நாடு என்றாலும் அது நம் நாட்டுக் கீடாகுமா Sorgamey endralum athu nam ooru pola varuma adhu yen naadu yendralum adhu nam naatuk kidaagumaa Even if it is heaven it cannot be as good as our home (kampung) Whichever country it might be it cannot be as good as our Country (negara) In titling this work Nam Nadu, Our Country, Roopesh celebrates his country as a Malaysian Indian! But which country does he celebrate? This work reverses the action/location relationship in cinema. The Indian subjects (Vikram, Saadha, Madhavan, Sneha, Vijay, Nayanthara, Jayam Ravi, Asin, Surya, Manoj, Richa Pallod, Trisha and Lawerence), gyrating in the foreground, recede from subjecthood as the background – the various locations of Malaysia (Subang Airport, Batu Caves, Masjid Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz, Penang Bridge, Tugu Negara, Langkawi, Petronas Twin Towers, Putra Jaya and the Sultan Abdul Samad building) come forth into subjecthood. While, most of the clips are contemporary (Anniyan, Paandi, Parthale Paravasam, Billa, M.Kumaran s/o Mahalakshmi, Unnai Ninaithu, Kuruvi, Alli Arjuna), the piece opens with a scene from the 1973 film Ulagam Sutrum Valiban (Globe Trotting Youth). MGR and Manjula ascend the ramp from the tarmac at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (Subang) – the gateway to ‘our country’. This was MGR`s second outing as director. While the film is an absolute blast of Kollywood kitsh (the `youth` of the title, MGR, was in fact 53 years old), it was also a serious vehicle of political ambition. MGR plays two roles, a scientist and his hero brother. With this movie, art and life come together as MGR consolidates his Puratchi Thalaivar (revolutionary leader) film persona and makes it a political actuality. Having, manoeuvred himself out of the DMK he contested the 1973 Dindigul by-election under his own banner ADMK. Initial indications were that he was going to lose but MGR pushed forward the release of his film. It opened in Dindigul 10 days before voting started and apparently, people went straight from the cinema to the voting booth. Thalaivar won his seat and the rest is history. 17
MGR’s location shoot at Subang took place in 1970, just months after the May 13th riots. When Ulagam Sutrum Valiban was released in Malaysia for Deepavali 1973, the ban on midnight screenings under prevailing security restrictions was specially lifted acknowledging the films large following. However, tickets sold out early, tensions rose and frustrated Malaysian Indians lived up to their rowdy image, throwing stones at the theatre, causing damage and triggering police action. A quarter century later, in 2007, mismanagement of the screening of contemporary Super Star Rajnikanth’s Sivaji led to similar disturbances. This raging energy stems from deep frustrations within the Indian community. This energy has been tapped to powerful political effect by Hindraf, but their confrontational approach seems to have reactivated some unsavoury Malay idioms (janji keling, keling kapal karam, keling minum todi, even keling makan biawak). In the course of the ongoing protests over the use of the term pariah in a required form five text, one so-called guru besar (SMK Kuala Kubu Baru) is alleged to have said to some form five students, “Kenapa orang India garang? … Keling memang dasar pariah sejak sejarah lagi”. The term pariah derives from paraiyan or ‘drummer’. The Paraiyan caste forms the largest low caste community in all South India. The term is also used to refer to the many ‘out’-castes - all those so low as to be beyond the pale of Hindu categories. Indeed, many Malaysian Indians are from the lower castes, but, with regard to the other Malaysian Indians, Hindu tradition dictates that one loses one’s caste by leaving the land of one’s birth, especially if large bodies of water are crossed! So, as the good guru suggests, here in Malaysia, we are all pariahs. The term should not be an insult to us at all, regardless of how other Malaysians intend it. Nevertheless, without questioning the integrity of the author, the insensitivity, ignorance, arrogance and hypocrisy of the Ministry of Education, in insisting on this book, must be called out. While it is clear that either the book or the term has to go, the predictable indignation and the confrontational approach taken by Malaysian Indians, or rather, by their ‘politicos’, is also problematic. Annai, thambi,… Relak aah!… Avangga bukkai avangga vachirukkatum… Naanga aadi, paadi, villaiyaduvohm... ithu thaandah, Nam Naadu!… Kedang!... Kedang!... Dang!… Dang!… Dang!! New Media The earliest works in this exhibition are digital print works - the Self-Colorful Series (1998, C-prints). These works show an interest in the body as a subject of computer imaging. Direct acrylic body prints on black paper were scanned and finalised as digital prints. This theme of computer imaging of the body persists throughout Roopesh’s work. In another print series, Fermentations (2001, C-prints), Roopesh presents images whose superficial beauty belie the ugly, close-up exposure of his direct-scan body images. Two other print series are derived from 18
interactive media works. In PixelCity (2001-2002, desktop VR stand-alone application) Roopesh reduces a sophisticated architectural walk-through of UITM’s new campus to its wire frame and renders it with the underlying code. The UploadDownload (2002-2004, web art) project involved web-based collaboration - a social network based on drawing and sharing portrait photos. This was a joint project with Hasnul Jamal Saidon. The earliest installation piece in the show is Pendapat tidak mendapat tempat (2002, interactive installation). This piece uses programming, monitor, printer and paper shredder to lead the viewer through a process wherein he or she answers a questionnaire on environmental issues. The ‘system’ records these views and prints out a document. The print falls directly into a shredder! This piece is a playful contemplation on information flows in Malaysian democracy. This early work has a neat formal quality, with its deliberate use of three pedestals to index traditional sculpture! Another information piece, Sila Tinggalkan Pesanan (2005 performance/ audio work) uses voice recordings taken off Roopesh’s San Francisco answering machine. NonMalay speakers are surprised, embarrassed, think they have called the wrong number and are even angered as Roopesh’s welcome message is in Bahasa Malaysia! Even Malay speakers seem to express surprise. I recall my own encounter as I called in from Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, in my capacity as his external adviser on his MA programme. Reality Media Jammer (2008, single channel video) is an installation that is interestingly classified as a video work. This work consists of a video projection on the floor. The image and sound qualities of the piece are determined by environmental input – audience movements, direction of movements, the number of participants and factors like humidity and noise levels. The output is recorded as a single channel video that becomes the finished art work. Artistic Paternity In Post Traditional Media It has been gratifying to me and Hasnul that Roopesh has emerged to take on the challenge of the New Media scene that we helped develope during 1990’s. He sought us out individually and worked with both of us independently, completing an apprenticeship of sorts and developing deep friendships and strong professional relationships. I still remember my own approach to Redza Piyadasa when I was new to the Malaysian scene. I remember the thrill of learning from him and the joy of becoming his friend. Now I have an idea of how delighted he must have been to have me come along - someone from the next generation who really understood and appreciated his most conceptual work. This passing on, of the fire in art, is as rewarding for the giver as it is for the recipient. Fraught, as it surely is, with the fear of oedipal usurpation, it is also full of joy – a kind of artistic paternity! 19
In Wink (2008, single channel video), we see an acknowledgement, or appropriation, of Hasnul’s winking Van Gough, a computer animation that makes its first appearance in Mirror Mirror on the Wall, (1994). This trope reappears in The Smiling Van Gough and Gauguin (Fashion Parade) (1997). Hasnul’s Van Gough is, for me, a cipher for a reflexive and self-aware Malaysian postmodernism. Roopesh transfers this ‘wink’ to national figures found on the bank notes of USA (George Washington), India (Mahatma Gandhi) and Malaysia (Tuanku Abdul Rahman, the first Yang di Pertuan Agong). Roopesh intercuts clips of himself staring out at the viewer, blinking occasionally, with a cycle of unanimated bank note portraits followed by a second round in which the figures all give us the Van Gough wink! Roopesh’s earlier Son’s Ecclesiastical Authority` (2002, web art) uses a web page as a site for hyper-linked narrative exploration and expression. He uses direct scan imaging, pinpoint hotspots (blemishes of his hair follicles) and pop up windows (car alarm!!!), very much in the manner of the author’s own The Failure of Marcel Duchamp Japanese Fetish Even (1996) and La Folie De La Peinture (1988), which, in turn, owe a lot to the navigation or hyper-linking developed on the early adaweb.com. Roopesh explores the father son relationship in a thinly veiled self-expose. He developes a very personal exposition of the travails of youth as he explores the basis of traditional paternal authority, its limits and its possible usurpation in contemporary life. The Great Non-Malaysian Portrait The installation presents a large painting in an ornate gilded frame. It is hung in portrait orientation. In front of the painting is a barrier, keeping the viewer from getting too close and indexing it as a ‘masterpiece’. What initially seems like a blank painting becomes, upon approach, a mirror of sorts, silhouetting the viewer and echoing his or her movements. If the viewer gets even closer, a video appears in the face area of the silhouette. This colour video is of a dark skinned face making a series of expressions. It is the artist of course. Software accurately locates the face on the moving figure. The artist is literally imposing himself upon the viewer. The work’s title seems to refer to Redza Piyadasa’s Great Malaysian Landscape of 1972. This piece was joint winner of a 1972 landscape painting competition and as T. K. Sabapathy notes in Piyadasa: An Overview 1962 - 2000, it marks the institutionalisation of conceptual art in Malaysia. If Piyadasa’s piece critically deconstructs the representational/conceptual and the national/international dichotomies of Malaysian art; Roopesh takes a less didactic approach. While opening up the painting/new media dichotomy, he also explores the question of identity in an emotive engagement. This work seems to take on different meanings at home and abroad. In the United States it seems to address the black/white dichotomy, whereas in Malaysia, it seems to open up a whole different can of worms! 20
Bibliography Frampton, K. “Towards a Critical Regionalism: Six Points for an Architecture of Resistance” in Foster, H. (ed.), The anti-aesthetic: essays on postmodern culture, Cambridge (Mass.) and London, 1983, pp. 16-30. Giddens, A. Modernity and Self-Identity. Self and Society in the Late Modern Age. Cambridge, 1991 Ravindran, Gopalan. “Negotiating identities in the Diasporic Space: Transnational Tamil Cinema and Malaysian Indians” Cultural Space and Public Sphere in Asia Conference, Asia Future Initiative/ Institute for communication Arts and Technology, Hallym University, Seoul, 2006 at http://asiafuture.org/ csps2006/50pdf/ppt_pdf/csps2006_5d_ppt.pdf Retrieved on 5 January 2001 Jenks, C. The language of Post-Modern Architecture. London, 1991 Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out Of Balance, Godfrey Reggio, An IRE Production, Film, I983 Malaysia Chronicle. Interlok and “orang India garang”: Cops grill pupils for 10 hrs at http://malaysia-chronicle.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=8677:interlok-and-orang-indiagarang-cops-grill-5th-form-pupils-for-10-hrs&Itemid=2 Retrieved on 8 March 2011 Punt, M. “The Post digital Analogue and a Metaphysics of Immanence: Early Cinema and the Appropriation of Tradition”, A Keynote Presentation at New Forms Festival 2004 Sabapathy, T.K. Piyadasa: An Overview 1962 – 2000, Balai Seni Lukis Negara, 2001 Shamsuddin, Suflan.Reset: rethinking the Malaysian political paradigm, Kuala Lumpur: ZI Publishers, 2004 Selvam. Ulagam Sutrum Vaaliban - (1973) - Behind the Screen, Golden Tamil Movies at http://goldentamilmovies.blogspot.com/2008/10/ulagam-sutrum-vaaliban-1973-behind.html Retrieved on 10 March 2011 Ismail Zain Retrospective Exhibition 1964 – 1991 (exhibition catalogue), National Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur, 1995
RO OP ESH
SIT HA RA
I came to know Roopesh Sitharan in 2003 during a portfolio review for a youth art programme called Sonneratia. The review was a part of a stringent selection process for aspiring participants of the 5 day programme. Roopesh was one of the candidates initially short-listed from more than 100 applicants.
ID J SA NUL
During the review, Roopesh showed and screened his digitallycomposed 2D artworks along with his digital animations. As a student from an I.T-oriented university (Multimedia University), his technical skill and knowledge were somewhat expected by the panels. But what impressed me as one of the panel members were his historical, theoretical and conceptual flairs. I was pleasantly surprised by his fluency in substantiating his studio practice with convincing arguments, something that I found commonly (if not alarming) lacking amongst most college art students in Malaysia. He reminded me of my colleague Niranjan Rajah, whose theoretical flair especially in regards to critical theories and new media became one of my major sources of supplement for my studio and other professional practices. In fact, Roopesh did mention that he had even read some of our writings (which I thought were not very popular then, if not incomprehensible). Of course I tested him, and he passed with flying colours. I remember saying to myself, this is going to be another Niranjan in the making (Niranjan then, had already migrated to Canada). While I was testing him, I could also sense that Roopesh was emotionally eager and intellectually restless in sharing his endeavours in new media art. He also emitted a youthful exuberance and innocence enthusiasm, which had probably helped in influencing the panels to select him as one of the chosen few for the programme. Roopesh shined during the programme, especially for his critical contribution during most of the â€˜thinkingâ€™ part of the programmeâ€™s daily sessions. The physically, mentally, emotionally and perhaps
spiritually taxing programme became Roopesh’s rite-of-passage into the local contemporary art scene. It left a deep impact in him. It forged lasting friendships, some of which have been instrumental in luring him further to many fronts of the contemporary art scene in Malaysia. Since then, Roopesh has been persistently carving a promising multi-dimensional career as a visual artist-researcher-curator-writer-academician. His anchor nevertheless, has always been new media art and its adjacent critical theories. I have enjoyed the privilege of working with him on several projects. Most of these projects have been well-documented, if not written about by Roopesh himself. We became acquainted, especially in regards to the practice of new media art in Malaysia. Beyond that, we became good friends. At times, I became his part-time counselor, lending my ears for his intellectual ranting. Sometimes, the topics meandered into other more personal territories, mostly connected to the slippery efforts of translating human conscience and spirituality through the confines of form. Intellectually, we began to exchange jabs and punches, all of which have somewhat helped me to stay awake and fit in encountering the challenging terrains of new media art practice. Throughout Roopesh’s young career, I could sense similar lingering intellectual restlessness that I initially saw before. Roopesh of course, has been more than aware of the place of new media art within the context of contemporary art practice in Malaysia. His reading of modernism in Malaysia and the looming dominance of modernist paradigm has always been infused with his own awareness of his position vis-à-vis Malaysian political, economic and socio-cultural fabric. Racial stereotypes and clichés aside, Roopesh could sense that his interest and understanding of the imperatives of new media technology have been at times marginalised by the ubiquitous dominance of painting in the local art scene. In the midst of the local art scene’s love affair with painting, he sees the potentials and the impending challenges of new media technology in providing fresh, innovative and new avenue for young artists to express themselves. As more new tools and gadgets become accessible (or user-friendly), the younger generation of Malaysian citizens will become more comfortable in communicating their thoughts and feeling via new media technology. For Roopesh, these young people will become active users that may influence and determine the ways in which Malaysians define themselves politically, economically, socially and culturally. On the other hand, the socio-cultural dimension and impact of new media technology seem to be rather sidelined in the light of the more politically and economically-pronounced agendas. At times, online fluidity is taken as a threat to offline stability, if not ‘national security’. Prescriptive
culture and fixed notion of cultural identity seem to be more constricting in response to the need to provide more discursive and inclusive platforms, made possible by the ‘non-linear’ and multidimensional nature of communication technology. This explains Roopesh’s restlessness, especially in relation to the local contemporary art scene. One of his central concerns is the apathy of such scene in embracing and engaging critically to the present and future imperatives of new media technology. Such concern has been expressed through his works, including Upload-Download (2003/4). The project explores the influence of information technology, specifically the internet towards the notions of self, identity and nationality. The project was his first collaborative work with me. We collaborated virtually via the internet with Roopesh in Kuala Lumpur and I, in Fukuoka, Japan. We engaged youths (mostly university’s students) from Fukuoka and Kuala Lumpur to work on several online ‘assignments’. Theoretically, the project was largely informed by our own interpretations of information and cybernetic paradigm as well as cultural studies. In retrospect, the project has further reiterated post-structuralist’s ‘deconstructive’ stance on the instability of language, meaning and identity by using the internet as a case example. Identity, especially online identity, can be read as a form of becoming rather than a fixed entity, always in a fluid state of continuous ‘virtual’ deconstruction and reconstruction. We also read such take on identity as rather more ‘spiritual’ and in tune with the way our brains function. Similarly, we propose that identity, including ‘national identity’ in the age of global telecommunication, can also be read as always in the state of becoming, fluid, plural and multidimensional. For the project, we applied several key principles of new media technology as well as Asian traditional design paradigm, such as interdependent, inter-connectivity, multidimensionality, simultaneity, non-linear, ephemeral, inclusive, participative and communal. Such paradigm, then became the central premise of Roopesh’s next major project with me (and Niranjan Rajah) entitled Re-locations – The Electronic Art of Hasnul J Saidon and Niranjan Rajah. It was a two–man exhibition that was well-documented and comprehensively explained in an accompanying catalogue. The project, partly based on his MA research, was a partner exhibition of a larger ISEA 2008 International Symposium of Electronic Art in Singapore. It epitomises Roopesh’s research, curatorial and writing flairs, not to mention his growing international network, credential and recognition. I will not venture into reviewing the project. Readers are welcomed to read the catalogue and come to their own conclusions.
Roopesh’s first solo exhibition at the Muzium & Galeri Tuanku Fauziah (MGTF), Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) partly came from my persistent bickering. Roopesh, on the other hand, has always been critical of a gallery’s ‘white cube offline paradigm’. Being a multidimensional artist as he is, I believe that Roopesh has accepted and embraced the irony and paradox of online and offline paradigms. I don’t think that it is important for me to explain his works for this solo because I think Roopesh, who is currently doing his Phd, can do it better himself. I just want to note that it is rather imperative for Roopesh to begin to take his own artworks and his personal growth as a ‘theoretically-grounded multidimensional young artist’ in Malaysia seriously, because such ‘species’ is rather rare in Malaysia. Having the privilege to host his solo is therefore an honour.
S MY RAMBLING 11 AR AN , 20 HS ITH PES RO O
My practice emerges from the accumulation of philosophies and theories by various Malaysian artists such as Redza Piyadasa, Ismail Zain, Hasnul Jamal Saidon and Niranjan Rajah that have been influential to me. These influences are adapted in literal, analytical and conceptual senses as they manifest through various approaches that I imply in my practice. In this respect, examining my practice highlights the theoretical underpinnings of my dialogues with the ideas and politics of these artists. The layers of meaning and subtle invocation that possibly appear in my work are simply my expression of the postmodern conditions I deem specific to Malaysian society. I strive to generate a space for critical exchange with the audience, while creating art that reflects the cultural politics of difference from the Malaysian perspective. It also reflects the habits of function, forms of artistic expression and aesthetics that inform my subjective experience in adapting a particular (and standard) mode of representation – as an artist, curator and academic. Standardisation establishes its rule by imposing ill-fitting names and tendentious terms of value to areas of unfamiliar foreign “reality” (including Malaysia) that were purportedly modernised and rationalised in order to introduce them to the larger world. Without a choice, the cultural policies and modernisation efforts of Malaysia are adopted from the West, to keep itself at pace with the world at large. Through the penetration of such understanding to the realm of the Malaysian art scene, artists such as myself are compelled and sometimes are even required to adopt the modernist values that are perceived to be the gatekeepers for fame and success in the global art market, becoming a prerequisite even for a simple discourse on art. I swiftly realised that my attempts to critique such values enforce binary politics of being the insider and outsider. On the contrary, by pushing such criticism from the postmodernist perspective, what becomes obvious is the context of such criticism itself. In the postmodern context, a wide array of political perspectives that emerged gave rise to fragmented, heterogeneous political views that have little common content and often contradicted one another. In this respect, I intentionally detach from the representation of ideology (binary politics) to subjectivity (fragmented political views). I want to force a viewer to acknowledge how one can be defined by the context of representation as being framed by the institution through the display of my works. Thus, through this solo show I simply revealed myself as a fertile source for open criticism by anyone’s subjective interpretation. 29
Arguably, my solo show also affirms the core mechanisms of social values through the construction of meaning in an image and its maintenance by contemporary culture which reflects our collective judgement. The act of seeing entails split-second operations of categorisation and organisation that are in themselves reflexive, unconscious judgements of sorts – the reckoning of difference. This perhaps is an obvious link to the works of Ismail Zain, in regards to how he constructed his artwork by bringing together different values through digital collage. By adapting Kenneth Frampton’s Critical Regionalism into media theory, Zain constructed his criticism by claiming that the forceful global (universal) needs to be critically engaged by the stationary local (other). In his approach, Zain assumed that the local is static and the global is dynamic, as media technology alleviates the spectrum between universal civilisation and the particularities of place. Critical regionalism simply requests the recognition of a static local, often in the form of the imaginary found in cultural authenticity. This recognition must mediate the difference by “deconstructing” the eclecticism of the acquired “other” through the assimilation of universal construct. Ironically, the solo show also successfully reveals a form of interdependency between the institution and myself (as an artist). By examining this interdependency - the most immediate issue that becomes apparent to me is the attempt to objectify my presence (the use of my artworks as a representation of myself in the solo show). This act of objectification reveals the assimilation process of the “other” (me as an artist) through the universal construct (the MGTF as a museum) as theorised by Zain in his adaptation of Critical Regionalism. This assimilation could also be justified through the postmodernist canon that claims for interdependency in current global society. However, by addressing the tension between the institution and myself – I want to speak of the “dynamic” local (me voicing out) by exposing the subjective authority of the institution. I decided to use my solo show to emphasise the interaction between the artist and the institution, specifically by appropriating my individual resistance (me writing this text/ criticism as part of my very own solo show) towards the objectification process through the institution’s very own “subjectification” exercise and practice (the decision of the museum to allow my text to be published). My critical emphasis of this relation (artist-institution) through this text is to reveal the dynamic and subjective nature of the local (my critical voice as an arts practitioner, or artist in this case) is equally vital to the global (institution). The individual sense of subjectivity appears as a result of being subtly invoked by the realisation of a complex set of intersecting values. One main point of reference in this argument is that the situation fostered through this solo show reduces the forms of my identity to mere objects (or artworks) floating freely in transmission and exchange on (as well as off) the screen. I am
stripped away from any attribute of myself other than what is being displayed. But on the other hand, identity has become a complex formation of personal and subjective experience, constantly being constructed, deconstructed and reconstructed. Such process presents identity as fluid, heterogeneous, playful and malleable – I want to believe this is something we all are experiencing as a nation at the moment. Merely than the clash of values, I want to use my sterilised exhibition to critically examine my subjectivity and the formation of my dynamic identity (and I am using identity in a very broad sense) that will not be fixed by institution (which includes anything beyond MGTF). I am attempting to make use of the postmodern existentialist trajectory as a critique of the authority of institution in defining the identity of an individual (a critique of the role of an institution to validate me as an artist). As seen in my solo show with the sterilised-exhibition (the same old white cube for every/any art exhibition), it becomes difficult to define an indisputable, concrete basis for an artist’s identity. Identity is easily reduced to just one of many “identities” that are subject to ontological and philosophical criticism (especially in regards to the institutional setting). According to this perspective, which differs from my solo show’s display, my writing suggests that every aspect of subjectivity is dynamic, as it requires the context of its participation to be critically examined and scrutinised. There is a specific reason as to why these questions, issues and concerns are the driving force behind the investigation of this catalogue writing. At this juncture, it is crucial to reveal that the “Fermentations” exhibition that is central to an investigation of my ramblings is the artist (author) himself. By thoroughly acknowledging my subjectivity through this writing, I hope at the very least that I can make a claim that this experience of writing for my very own solo show expresses the affects as an artist, curator, Indian, Malaysian, immigrant and many other temporal modes of representation as a contemporary subject. In other words, as I draw closer to addressing the needed conclusion to validate my solo show, as well as finding value in this writing for such validation, I ultimately want the work (and writing) to remain open for new thoughts and alternate perspectives based on anyone’s subjective construal. Roopesh Sitharan 2011
VIEW (Vision in Every Wisdom) 1999, Interactive CDROM Custom programming, PC based stand-alone application
3DSS (3 Dimensional Stereoscopic Sculptures) 2000, Interactive CDROM Custom programming, 3D glasses
Sonâ€™s Ecclesiastical authority 2001, Web art Custom programming, HTML
PixelCity 2001-2002, Virtual reality Custom programming, PC based stand-alone application
UploadDownload 2002-2004, Net art as well as various events and formats Web based programming, custom-software programming, video projection * In collaboration with Hasnul Jamal Saidon
2002, Interactive Installation Custom programming, monitor, printer, paper shredder
Pendapat tidak mendapat tempat 2002, Interactive installation Custom programming, monitor, printer, paper shredder
Sila Tinggalkan pesanan 2005 and on going, performance Voice recording from phone messages, media based performance
Made for Accrediation (MFA) 2007-2009, performance Media based performance, C-print, multi-channel video
The Great NON-Malaysian portrait 2009, Interactive installation Computerised surveillance system, custom-made software, LCD screen garnished with a huge, golden frame *In collaboration with Nikolaos Hanselmann and Lyle Troxell
ER NT W VIE 46
Nada: Welcome to another Artist on Art and I am here tonight with my very special guest, Mr. Roopesh Sitharan. Thank you so much for participating in this interview tonight. Roopesh Sitharan (RS): You are welcome and thank you for having me. Nada: Mr. Roopesh is an international artist. He originally hails from Malaysia and has been in the United States for several years. Would you mind telling us how long to be exact? RS: This is my fifth year. Nada: It seems quite an interesting-multiple profession you hold, as a digital artist and a curator. Would you mind telling me a little about what a curator does? RS: In a conditional sense, a curator is someone who introduces art to the public by organising exhibitions and writing about them. This is a typical curatorship in an institution such as museum. Nada: Would you call it the white cube? RS: I believe there is a difference between the white cube and the institution I am referring. The white cube specifically refers to the exhibition space meanwhile the institution from my perspective is about the bureaucracy and hierarchy of the art world order. So, institution is completely different from the conceptual idea of a white cube. This to some extent has triggered me to think about curator as someone who negotiates between these ideological and conceptual spaces that exist within the institution, outside the institution, with the artist and the notion of what an art is. Nada: Recently there are great number of works coming from a different institutional base such as from Asia compared to maybe the United States or more broadly a western perspective? What do you feel about this? RS: I feel a slight discomfort with the stereotypying idea of the “Western” but I certainly do come from a specific institutional background – Malaysia or more broadly as “Non-Western”. The institution in Malaysia is an adaptation of a Western ideology. Obviously this idea is being nurtured into a completely different culture from its origination. Apperantly, the perception and functioning of an institution in Malaysia is entirely different, depending on its cultural location. Nada: In that case, would that difference be the definition of art?
RS: Instead of looking it as the definition of art, I think it has to do with how people perceive aesthetics and how art plays a role in culture. There is vast diversity in the understanding of aesthetics in accordance to the culture it is nurtured. Nada: Based on your explanation, I am sure you have a specific expertise on Malaysian aesthetics and having spent five years in the United States, can you compare and explain this condition? RS: Certainly and personally, I take great pleasure in comparing and thinking about such conditions as in how certain definitions are carried away, why certain ideologies are overlooked and being accepted as the norm. I find this situation challenging, especially in term of curating. Plus, when I travel between United States and Malaysia, I come across situation where different ideologies collide. I am forced to negotiate these ideologies, understandings and conceptual spaces that exist between these two regions. Nada: In your opinion, who decides these definitions and ideologies of art? RS: That is a really difficult question. We all agree that people have different notions on a particular subject or definition across the globe. As for me, what is truly interesting is the attempt to comprehend the platform that gave rise to these notions and the platform I am pointing at is the cultural matrix for any production of definition. Plus, as a curator I acquires the opportunity to talk about art in terms of these platforms. I would like to believe it is the responsibility of a curator to examine these platforms, regardless of being in or outside an institution. Nada: In that case, do you think that a curator carries this responsibility internationally? RS: Yes, especially if one is operating internationally because a global curator is constantly confronted with various platforms. Nada: Right, this is fascinating. I also want to ask you, being a curator, have that affected you as an artist and how do you divide yourself between these two positions? RS: I will have to explicate my past experiences to answer your question. It was during the late 90’s that I started producing my own body of work. It was challenging and difficult for me to present my work in the Malaysian art scene. Nada: What was or were the reasons that compelled you to face such scenario? RS: A specific kind of artwork was being accepted as the norm plus supported by institution. I am not saying this in a negative perception, but that’s reality. I felt my body of work tend to scrutinise the ideas and ideologies that are being accepted as the norm. Thus, from the initial stage, the question of how the position between a curator and artist is distinguished was rooted in my work even without me realising. Furthermore, I am still negotiating between these two roles till this moment and do not have a visible distinction. I divide myself between these two positions in accordance to the norms of operating within the art world. My ideas are usually
perceived as curatorial rather than an artistic practise which I think is enforcing definition on my creative practise. I also acknowledge these work conditions are necessary in order for me to highlight and question stereotypical definitions. In short, it is challenging for me to negotiate between these two roles. Even during the times when I do my own practise, I step in as a curator by trying to justify, define, explain, conceptualise and rationalise my own practise. Nonetheless, I do not desire the artist in me to wither away as I feel beyond these reasonings, there is something that should not be explained or defined but only expressed. Nada: The mystery of art. RS: Yes, definitely and I acknowledge the freedom I gained as an artist due to that mystery. Nada: That is fascinating. You have mentioned in the past, that there is a difference between the rationale and the conception of an artwork. Could you bring some light to that statement or perhaps an example? RS: A role of a curator, especially in an institution has always been cerebral whereby a curator has to reason and explicate the ideas brought forth in an exhibition. Based on my encounters, I am acknowledged and thus qualified as a curator for my intellectual inquiries towards specific genres or artistic practise. Therefore, I am allowed to perform as a curator. Nada: How about as an artist? RS: Each time I attempt to define, explain and understand, not only my work but also the work of others, I still feel there is something embedded in the work which is much deeper compared to what I am trying to understand. I feel it personally as an artist. This is the query that I constantly bring forth in my practice. Nada: Are you saying that there is a kernel to the art practise, which is indefinable? RS: Yes, perhaps but specifically, it is best left undefined. There is a space for experimentation and interrogation that comes with the freedom of being left undefined. Nada: Impressive. Now let’s talk about the examples. You have recently done an art installation at the Museum of Art History; here in Santa Cruz. In that exhibit, you had a framing of a Malaysian face, which is your face to be specific. RS: Well, I wouldn’t say a Malaysian face though it’s my face. The piece consists of a huge LCD screen, framed with a gigantic golden frame and a blank screen. The silhouette of the audience who walks towards the piece will emerge on the screen and my face would appear on the face portion of the silhouette. This seems as if I am enforcing my face on the audience’s silhouette. Nada: Which my mother found magical, we as the audience had the opportunity to participate in this art piece.
RS: I wanted to emphasise that it is a non-Malaysian to provoke the participants to think. How is this face a non-Malaysian? Who is a Malaysian in that case? Is the silhouette a non-Malaysian or the face? What is the non-Malaysian?/What is non-Malaysian about the art piece? Basically, that is where I was heading, trying to make people think and question about the relationship between the title and the piece. Nada: Is this something you will be able to take back to Malaysia and retain its title as the NonMalaysian or is it site specific to California? RS: It’s definitely site specific but the interesting twist about this artwork is the concept changes completely when it moves from California to Malaysia. This is because people would acknowledge the piece as a Malaysian face and it is a Malaysian Indian. My racial identity would reveal. Hence, it will create a perspective as if I want to make a claim that I am not a Malaysian. It carries an entirely different political connotation when it’s being brought to Malaysia. Nada: Are you thinking or having any plan of taking it to Malaysia? RS: I certainly want to bring it to Malaysia however I am unsure if it will retain the same manifestation. Nada: It will be received by the participants from a different perspective. As a result, it’s definitely going to change if you’re thinking of conceptual art today involving how it’s being received and participated with. RS: Absolutely, but flipping back to the whole idea of something unresolved about this art piece, that is the beauty of it. Regardless of what people think about the art piece or me as a curator or as an artist, in my view the space that allows people to think about anything at any moment is the beauty of art. The opening which allows for freedom of opinion and freedom of value is what makes art unique and subsequently attracts me to do what I do. Nada: Mr. Roopesh Sitharan, it has been a great pleasure to speak with you tonight. Thank you all for listening to Artist on Art. I wish you all the best in your future adventures. RS: Thank you for having me here today and I wish to thank everyone for hosting me, it was truly delightful.
This interview was conducted by Nada Miljkovic on 18 August 2009 as part of “Artist on Art Radio show” live on KZSC 88.1 FM, Santa Cruz, California
Inbam Enge (Where is Love| Dimanakah sayang) 2003, Single channel video *In collaboration with Sitharan Punjappa and Raaj Milan Sitharan
Puthia Vaanam, Puthia Bhoomi (New Sky, New Earth | Surga Baru, Dunia Baru) 2006, Single channel video
*In collaboration with Sitharan Punjappa and Raaj Milan Sitharan
Enakage (for ME | Untuk saya) 2007, Single channel video
*In collaboration with Sitharan Punjappa and Raaj Milan Sitharan
Nam Naadu (Our country | Negara Kita) 2008, Single channel video
Reality Media Jammer 2008, Single channel video custom programming
Wink2008 2008, Single channel video
S N O
I T A T N
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itha esh S
I must admit that deep inside I have long wrestled with the concept of “truth”. As I was provoked, revoked, inspired, embraced and encapsulated by New Media, my struggle with truth was amplified by my constant negotiation with the capital “Art”. Sometimes upholding art as a means of pure access to the soul of humanity, at times deriding art for its assistance in ideological and oppressive endeavors, occasionally retreating from the socio-political world in order to practice “pure art” and inevitably delving head-first into the political struggles every now and then - to mark my existence within the system of value shaped by our modern conditions. It was, for all intents and purposes, a highly virtuosic and skilled form of performance that did not reflect the truth instead created the ideal truth envisioned by the system it operates. This is but one way that art functions on a superficial ideal – a veil permeated with glitter and fame I might acknowledge.
As such, this superficial condition conceals the underlying capitalist system that feeds on the glitziness. Indeed this convinced us (including me at certain times) that Art has the ability of transporting the viewer to an unmediated, unchanging and all consuming space in which universal truth is experienced - an ideological truth of the modernist. It is at this crucial juncture, that I have come to a realisation; Art is not the truth, but it’s just another path of discovery (a framework bestowed/blessed upon me) in the larger realm of my human journey that equips me to look beyond such framework - in finding the TRUTH. Such deep provocation instigates the very nature and operation of New Media that brings new forms of destruction to the strongholds of my worldview (an element of ferment). Through the crumbling of my frameworks, my manifesto in life is to seek and understand my TRUTH - who is Roopesh Sitharan? In my personal endeavours, the search for the truth is filled with struggles, responsibilities, discoveries, mistakes, curiosities, confusions, confinements, glamour, fame, glitter, avariciousness, envy and pitch-blackness. This solo show is a documentation of several paramount moments in my life, over the span of 10 years where the inner struggle of questioning manifests in the form of digital prints, video arts and web work. These manifestations of New Media works are 58
fueled by my furious and intense-intellectual engagement with the medium and it’s nature/ characteristic as well as my contextual environment (identity, ideology, relationship, believe, ontology, artist, curator, Indian, Malaysian, immigrant, son, human). Personal stories and memories are an integral part of the fabric in this show. I believe at some point, the intellect must be transcended and this cannot be done by the mind on its own behalf (that would be like trying to cut my own hair without a mirror). Only the heart, which contains something infinitely more powerful than the mind, can overcome long-held patterns, thoughts and beliefs. I must simply toss aside all frames I am holding strong, this one - including (the persona of a new media artist) and just be transparent. I have learned over the years that TRUTH is not to be known, but to be experienced! The word ‘Fermentation’ connotes the anaerobic conversion of sugar to carbon dioxide and alcohol by yeast. It is a dissolving/breaking process of sweetness, something pleasing to the mind or feelings, such as fragrant, free into a relatively colourless volatile flammable substance. It also describes the chemical reactions induced by living or nonliving ferments that split complex organic compounds into relatively simple substances. Perhaps an obvious statement but what is unique about the title of this exhibition is the particular way in which the meaning correlates with my artistic endeavors in challenging the conventional worldview that has held me over the years. At the same time, it is crucial to note that the interconnection between New Media and my subjectivity (and the potential it evokes) has fermented both the subject (mind) and object (matter) of the art process – as a direct physical presence in the artworks, which hovers over my creative process. In short, the title “Fermentations” is not just an exhibition label that contextualises my artistic practice for the exhibition, but it also signifies my internal process of dissolving/breaking and purification of artificial sweetness portrayed by my external appearance – in search for my inner TRUTH!
Self-Colorful Series 1998, prints Acrylic, Digital imaging, C-prints
Fermentations Series 2001, prints Digital imaging, C-prints
PixelCity 2001-2002, prints Digital imaging, custom programming, C-prints
UploadDownload 2002-2004, Net art as well as various events and formats Digital imaging, custom programming, C-prints * In collaboration with Hasnul Jamal Saidon
Roopesh Sitharan http://www.roopesh.com Education Doctor of Philosophy in Visual Culture, New Media & Cultural Studies (candidate) Master of Fine Arts in New Media and Digital Arts Master of Arts in Curatorial Practice Bachelor of Science in Digital Media Selected achievements and awards • Awarded Top 30 promising Graduate from UCSC for the year 2009 • Graduate Research grant, UCSC 2009 • PORTER College graduate research scholarship, UCSC 2009 • DANM Fund for excellent achievement, UCSC, 2008/09 • UCSC Arts Division Scholarship Award, 2007/08/09 • Digital Arts and New Media Scholarship Award, UCSC, 2007/08/09 • Exhibition grant from Singapore Management University, Singapore, 2008 • Fellowship from Korean National University of Arts (K-ARTS) and Gwangju University, 2008 Gwangju Biennale, Global Institute program, 2008 • Regent Fellowship Grant 2007, UCSC • 2006 Researcher in resident award by Asian Cultural Council • 2nd prize, Asean New Media Award, 2006 for cross cultural collaborative project based on undergraduate students across ASEAN region (in collaboration with Hasnul Jamal Saidon) • Student Leadership Award, CCA 2004 and 2005 • California College of Arts Merit Scholarship Award 04 & 05 • Asian Cultural Council, New York- Fellowship Grant 04 & 05 • Excellent Academician Award 2003 by President of Multimedia University, • Cyberjaya, Malaysia for outstanding teaching • Jury’s selection, Immedia 2003, 8th Annual Juried exhibition of Digital and Electronic Arts held at University of Michigan, USA • Finalist for ASIA PACIFIC ICT AWARDS (APICTA), 2002 Selected Exhibitions 2010: Asian Art Forum, SOMA Museum of Art, Seoul, South Korea 2009: “INTERactivate”, Museum of Art and History, Santa Cruz, California
2009: “Fermentations”, Solo Show, Muzium & Galeri Tuanku Fauziah, Universiti Sains Malaysia 2008: The 3rd Carnival of e-Creativity & Change-agents Conclave, New Delhi, India 2007: Asean New Media Award exhibition, Galeri Nasional, Indonesia 2007: Jejak Exhibition, Galeri Nasional, Indonesia 2006: NEWFORMFESTIVAL, Vancouver, Canada 2005: The 1st Carnival of e-Creativity & Change-agents Conclave New Delhi, India 2005: Israeli Digital Art Center, Israel 2005: MAAP festival, Australia 2005: NetArt from all Asia and Pacific Area, Digital Arts Festival, Manila, Philippines 2004: IDEA #7 (Indian Documentary of Electronic Arts), New Delhi, India 2004: “Pendapat tidak mendapat tempat” National Art Gallery of Malaysia 2004: [R] [R] [F] 2004 ---- XP, online exhibition 2004: Thailand New Media Arts Festival (MAF04). Bangkok, Thailand 2003: Upload:DOWNload, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Japan 2003: Sonneratia exhibition, National Art Galley of Malaysia 2003: immedia2003, 8th Annual Digital Arts Exhibition, University of Michigan 2003: BetaSpace Galleries (“Progressions” Gallery), online exhibition 2003: goto(“net.art”), online exhibition 2003: Third Place Gallery by Sony, online exhibition 2003: Perforations Volume 11 (What’s Love got to do with it) online exhibition 2003: MOCA (Museum of Computer Arts), online exhibition 2002: ASIA PACIFIC ICT AWARDS (APICTA) 2002 SHOWCASE, Malaysia 2000: Best of Digital Media at E-Gallery, Multimedia University,Cyberjaya, Malaysia 1999: The 8thBroadcast and Film Festival of National University of Malaysia Selected Curatorial works 2010: “DO PHOTOGRAPHS LIE?” Looking at Puah Chin Kok’s “TITLE OF THE PIECE” 2008: “When you are not your body” Valentine Willie Gallery, Malaysia 2008: “Art as Photography as Art” Gallery 12, Malaysia 2008: “Relocations” invited exhibition for ISEA08 Symposium, Singapore 2007: “LetArtsMoveYou[LAMU]” Public Art Project, Keretapi Tanah Melayu Malaysia 2007: Media Maniac potluck, Annex, Central Market, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 2007: Curator’s Workshop, National Art Gallery of Malaysia 2007: Creative Venture in Social Practice, Lost Generation Space, KL, Malaysia 2007: Educators exchange program, Subang Jaya High school, Malaysia
2006: Sun Microsystems + Novato Residency program, ISEA, ZeroOne, San Jose, California 2006: “Americas Cultural Heritage” Curatorial project, San Francisco, California 2005: “Siggraph 2005” Art Gallery exhibition, LA Convention Center, California 2005: “Tomorrow Minus Five” Super Deluxe and Arts Initiative Tokyo, Japan 2005: “The Unexpected” Southern Exposure Gallery, San Francisco, California 2004: [R][R][F] 2004 --->XP, video works from Malaysia, Switzerland 2004: “Thailand – Malaysia Online New Media Arts Workshop” Presentation and Talk, National Art Gallery of Malaysia 2004: “InterFaces” Raffles Design School, Thailand 2003: “UploadDownload” Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Japan Other professional appointments and duties 2010: Web consultant for Curatorial Knowledge, GoldSmiths, University of London 2009: Awarding committee (judge) for GARC grant, UCSC 2007: Research Assistant, Virtual Speech Therapist for Stroke Survivors with Aphasia in Rural Malaysia. Microsoft Research, California 2006: Consultant, Interface and online database creation, Leonardo Electronic Almanac, Asia-Pacific Region 2005-2006: Digital Achieve Manager and administrator, Department of Curatorial Practice, California College of the Arts, California 2002-current: Online Editor for Rhizome.org 2002-2003: New Media consultant for U-Wood Holdings Architecture Firm, Malaysia 2001–2002: Multimedia Consultant, Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (Ministry of Culture and Language), Malaysia 1999–2000: Multimedia Designer, Acmedia Pte. Ltd. Singapore Collection Digital Arts Research Center (DARC), University of California, Santa Cruz Muzium & Galeri Tuanku Fauziah, Universiti Sains Malaysia
Niranjan Rajah I am an artist and theorist educator based at the School of Interactive Arts and Technology, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada. I continue with a gloss on the lyrics of Neil Diamond’s 1971 classic, I am, I said LA’s fine, the sun shines most of the time Actually Vancouver is really rainy, but when the sun comes out this can be ‘the best place in the world!’ And the feeling is ‘lay back’ Its so ‘west coast’ – no buzz! Palm trees grow, and the rents are low Northern rainforest - lush, green, lots of mist and moss; Rents are F..K..G outrageous! But you know I keep thinking about, Making my way back Memang betul! Well, I’m New York City born and raised Actually, I was born in Jaffna but KL is my place But nowadays, I’m lost between two shores Uh huh! LA’s fine, but it ain’t home Yup! New York’s home, but it ain’t mine no more I dont Know... I dont know... I am, I said To no one there And no one heard at all Not even the chair I am, I cried I am, said I And I am lost, and I can’t even say why Leavin’ me lonely still ….......
Hasnul Jamal Saidon Hasnul is a visual artist working in painting, drawing, installation, digital print and video. For the past 17 years he has been performing as a lecturer in painting, drawing, electronic art, new media theory and criticism, history of new media, cross-cultural design and experimental video. Hasnulâ€™s supplementary sidetracks involves serving as a guest curator for art exhibitions, writer and editor for exhibition catalogues or books, magazines, websites etc; producer, director and designer for numerous exhibitions, stage and experimental performances, video productions, art talks and art camps. As to his creative endeavors, Hasnul likes to dwell freely online, offline and in-between the lines, neither essentialised nor marginalised, center nor periphery, underground nor above the ground. When life is more forgiving, Hasnul can be seen tending his garden or decorating his home. He is also a full-time husband, blessed with a faithful wife and three beautiful princesses. Hasnul is currently expanding his frequencies into the domain of obscured dwellers in the vicinity of Muzium & Galeri Tuanku Fauziah (MGTF) USM, Penang, under the pretext of his current position as the Director of the Museum.
Acknowledgement by Artist It is customary for an artist to present his most extravagant expressions in a solo show to mark the recognition or accreditation of growth and maturity in art practice over the years. However, given the criticality of essays featured in my catalogue, I have decided to reserve some of my overblown sentimentality; for the gratuitous expressions towards individuals who have been instrumental in shaping my thoughts and emotions as a person. There is a popular phrase or adage in Sanskrit language to describe the order in which one should offer reverence. It represents the basic tenet of existence from the ancient times, one that has been popularised in our modern culture, especially in the Indian community. Adapting this tenet to revere my encounters with various individuals in my life journey, I would like to acknowledge their contributions in my life, all of which have led me to discover myself. Matha (mother, ibu) I would like to express my unconditional love and passion to my mother, Snehalatha Punjappa for having her while walking through the passage to adulthood. It is undeniably the greatest and biggest advantage anyone could have ever given me. Her perseverance in bringing us up (my brothers and me) is admired and seen as an example for many. It is because of the confidence and values that she instilled in us which made us who we are today. Besides her, there are others whom I have encountered as various manifestations of motherly figure to me. I seize this advantage to express my gratitude to Rani (Maami), Kirtana Thangavelu, Devagi Pillaiyar, Naraini Narainan, Felicia Rice, Margaret Morse and Shoosie Sulaiman. Thank you for shaping me into a person who I am proud to be. Pitha (father, ayah)â€¨ I am proud to mention my father, Sitharan Punjappa for giving me the strength to believe that I could be whoever I wanted to be, to do whatever I desired and taught me that there were no limitations to my imagination except for my drive, ambition and creativity. I must also mention several institutions that have been the pillar for my growth - Digital Arts and New Media (DANM @ UCSC), California College of the Arts (CCA),Goldsmiths College (UCL), Multimedia University (MMU), Sek. Men. Subang Utama (SMSU) and Bukit Bintang Boys School (BBBS). At the same time, my gratitude goes to Azhar Che Mat, Raaj Milan Sitharan, Shailendra Sitharan, Annachi (Madras CafĂŠ), Gunalan Nadarajah, Ralph Abraham and others who have been sanity savers in my journey. Guru (Mentor) I must begin with Hasnul Jamal Saidon and Niranjan Rajah, for both of them ensured that I never derailed from the set of rules and goals in life. Your guidance inspired me to the peak and to never to be intimidated by anyone or anything. You gave me a bearing. I must also include Kodai (Madras CafĂŠ), Alex Royappa, Kate 74
Fowle, Soraya Murray, Warren Sack, Ralph Rugoff, Renny Pritkin, Lyle Troxell, Sharon Daniel, Barney Haynes, Don, Piyadasa, Ismail Zain and others (formal and informal encounters) who gave me the spirit to fight for my rights at all times. Deivam (Lord, Tuhan) However my passage might be in this world, I believe throughout that God is indeed within us, as such God is undivided, indivisible and always one. Thus,it is always the oneness and totality of God that is found within each and every one of us (including every encounter/non-encounters) which I perceive is what I would like to express my gratitude towards. This includes everything and everyone that I have experienced in my life thus far. Most importantly, in spite of my over criticality with my rambling, grumbles and purported scrunity of my solo show – I must bow and respect Muzium & Galeri Tuanku Fauziah for the concern, care, patience, respect and kindness that has been shown to me in spite of my short coming and weakness in the process of putting the show as well as this catalogue together. “We are the containers and the contained, intertwined in a reservoir of love, far larger and finer than what we can imagine with the aid of our naked perception. Can we find the frequency…?” Hasnul Jamal Saidon
Sincerely, Roopesh Sitharan
Takung Catalogue, 2005