An exhibition about banned books.
“The totalitarian order depends for its very existence on a precarious equilibrium. Without the heretic, the rebel, the writer, the state crumbles: yet by tolerating him, the ruler equally well seals his fate. As least by implication, Big Brother’s mighty system disappears because he wanted to eradicate the dissident – but could not do without him.”
“Sexual organs move independently of will… from this disobedience of the flesh, mark of a fallen state, none are exempt, not even the guardians of our morals.”
Since 1971, under the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, the Malaysian government has banned over 1500 books, at an average of 36 books a year.
Sensors: Banned Books & Other Monsters comprises two interactive installations that explore censorship as a paradoxical and complex process.
The first is ‘Sensors’, a buzz wire game in which you’re invited to run a hoop along a bent wire in the attempt to reach the end without touching it. The wire is shaped to follow line graphs that show statistics of books banned from 1971 to the present day. Information about ‘sensitive information’ becomes something to be negotiated physically, and the tiniest false move sets off a warning light.
The second is ‘Monsters’, a gallery of monsters housed in a dark room. You are given flashlights and invited to open doors that reveal an international cast of monsters drawn on lists of banned books.
Empirical graphs and irrational monsters – both are shapes of what we’re told is forbidden, transgressive or offensive.
Everything has a shape, even the act that obliterates other shapes. Censorship is the shadowy contour of what we fear as a society, and somewhat ironically, it tells us a lot about ourselves.
The database of banned books in Malaysia that I compiled and analyzed as part of my research is publicly available here.
‘Monsters’ features art from Treasury of Fantastic and Mythological Creatures: 1,087 Renderings from Historical Sources published by Dover Pictorial Archive Series, 1981.
This project was supported by a grant from the Krishen Jit ASTRO Fund.
Readings on this exhibition
- I did an interview with Lydia Chai and Tahi Moore for the exhibition, which you can read here.
- Zedeck Siew wrote a short essay titled Nerd Love, which you can read here.
In 2011, I updated the list of banned books and created a ‘Portable Sensors‘ series.
The ‘Monsters‘ series was shown in Incheon Women’s Art Biennale, Korea in 2009.