I’ve spent the last few days trying to finish a proposal for my epic art/multimedia/videogame/genre-busting/enterprise project.

As usual, it’s eating up more time and sweat than I thought it would. First steps always do. They’re the litmus test. If you can’t get past this stage, how are you going to hold up to the rest of the journey?

Halfway through, in a one of those fits of despair-clarity (desclarity? clarpairity?) I tweeted: Proposal writing is like pushing a dream through the sieve of reality.

No matter what project you’re trying to birth, this is one of the most difficult things to do. It’s also one of the most important.

I’ve written probably more than a dozen proposals – for myself and others. Hanim used to call me ulat proposal or the proposal worm. I like that. A worm is the right thing emulate. You’re in the darkness, turning the soil, working hard, trying to prepare the ground where (hopefully) your 250ft Tualang tree is going to grow.

Be a worm, my comrades!

I’ve realized that the ones closest to your heart are the hardest to write. This year is the first time in a long, long while that I’ve written proposals for myself, not as an application for a grant, residency or external opportunity of some kind. There’s no deadline, except the passing of the days, the realization that… FUCK, is it October already?… the end of the year is coming.

I’ve talked a lot about this epic project to friends – how it’s going to be a total shift, what it’s going to take, the outfit I plan to wear at the launch. But writing it down sets it in stone. No turning back. It becomes real, to you.

So real that, as I was scheduling the work plan and budget, my heart started pounding uncontrollably. ‘Chill the fuck out’, I ordered my brain. ‘It’s art, not saving lives.’

The enormity of the task felt overwhelming, and also slightly ridiculous. Was it right to dedicate so much effort to realizing a personal vision? Did it not smell a little of hubris? Selfishness? I saw a wave coming towards me, completely swallowing up my life for months, perhaps even years. Shouldn’t I use this life towards a greater good? Art… pffft.

These are the kind of powerfully stupid thoughts that kill worthy dreams before they even start. Where do they come from? I cringe as I write them down. Do you get them?

I can’t really answer whether art is more important than say, education or saving the environment or bringing down a corrupt government. But I do know this: many best efforts go awry, and many good intentions do harm. So how? I don’t know. I’ve chosen the Taoist/anarchist route: do what only you can do. What no one else can do. Keep to that, and maybe I’ll do less wrong. Who knows, perhaps I’ll even do some good in the bargain.

Incidentally, that last paragraph is basically what the Epic Project (that what I’ll call it from now on, until I’m prepared to reveal the proper title) is all about.

Fucking hell. I figured it out. I was dead stuck at the ‘Project Context and Significance’ part of the proposal. That’s it. Taoism. Anarchism. Doing only what you can do.

God, I love blogging. Thank you, imaginary readers. You help me in unimaginable ways.

Now back to proposal writing.

Why is it difficult? Because it’s a start.

Why is it important? So that you can see what you need to finish.

I started to calm down as I plowed through the business plan and working schedule. I broke it down into parts, and then into smaller parts. I cut out anything that wasn’t absolutely essential, then thought hard about what I could realistically accomplish, and gave myself more time. I took a deep breath and I thought…

I can do this. I think.

Pics: I was in Sabah recently and went on a canopy walk amongst Tualang trees that were as hard as rock, and hundreds of years old. I felt like a little seed invited to a party by living ancients. It was cool. 

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A very long P.S. –

From a professional artist point of view, writing clear and effective proposals is a skill well worth developing. It takes practice, but it can be done. The question is, do you want to do it, and do you need to?

Many artists have difficulty describing their work in words. It feels unnatural, something of a ‘mistranslation’ when you want your art to speak for itself. If you want to pursue the path of getting gallery exhibitions, grants, funding or residencies, you need to write good proposals. This is because the intersections of art, commerce and social-economic development are getting more complicated and sophisticated. It’s a bureaucratic jungle. If artists want to grow there, they have to justify their work in terms of objectives, goals and wider social significance.

There are choices, other paths to take. That’s not the only way to be an artist. You can focus on engaging your audience the way YOU want to, by talking about your art the way YOU want to, and so gain more autonomy through self-representation. That’s what I’m trying to do with this blog.

However! Whether it’s for a selection committee or for personal use, writing a proposal is a helpful tool (whatever the ‘project’, e.g. running a marathon, writing a cookbook, starting a recycling campaign, planning an urban garden, etc). It kicks the logical, analytical, left-brain part of yourself into gear. It sends a clear signal to your central system: no kidding around. I. AM. Doing. This. Because this is how I’m going to do it.

So, try it out. There are some good tips out there on the interweb.

I’m thinking of doing a practical guide on How To Write a Project Proposal. I mean, a proper one, with templates and real instructions. Drop me an email or a comment if you think that’s a good idea.

Seriously, there’s a way to do it. I’m going to show you how.

This is not a hidden metaphor. I am not trying to be profound.

I’m just going to show you how to straighten a goddamn muthafuckkin bent wire. So that in the off-chance someone you need to impress goes: ‘I need this wire straightened out, how?’,  you can take charge. You can say: ‘Like this.’ And proceed to impress the pants off said person.

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If you’re wondering, I needed to do this for my artwork Portable Sensors. It’s a set of interactive buzzwires based on statistics about banned books in Malaysia.

The work is currently touring in Indonesia, as part of the exhibition Kembara Jiwa (The Travelling Soul). Nur Hanim Khairuddin (the curator and all-round art superwoman) sent me some pictures of people playing with the work:

People touching my art. This makes me so happy.

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Let’s get to it!

STEP 1: You’ll need a power drill, pliers/wire cutters, and of course, some bent wire.

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STEP 2: Find somewhere secure and wrap one end of the wire around it. It needs to be firmly attached to something, preferably part of a building structure. A doorknob or towel rung on a shut door would work. I’m using this little hook at my front entrance. You can see the remainders of many past bent wires.

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STEP 3: Open up the chuck of the drill and put the other end of the bent wire in there. Tighten firmly. Firm enough so that when you pull on it, the wire stays in.

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STEP 4: Now stand-up, stand back, grip your drill firmly. Maintain a gentle pulling tension on the drill towards yourself as you turn the drill on. The wire will twist around itself. Continue holding the tension and pressing the drill button until it straightens out completely. Don’t over-straighten! The wire’s structural strength will be compromised and it may snap. You’ll find that the wire will also get a bit warm as it turns.

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Cut the wire off and YOU’RE DONE.

 

So straight.

You can bend this totally straight wire into lovely shapes. Just like I did. Well my shapes are graphs about Malaysian censorship. You, you can do whatever gets you happy. Now, go make something.

You’re welcome!

Love,
Sharon

P.S. Here are some rejected Portable Sensors prototypes. It’s bonsai wire. Turns out the coating of black paint makes it unable to conduct electricity. That’s Zedeck’s finger doing photo-bombing. He said the wires reminded him of an album cover. Any idea which?

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This is a series of weekly blog tutorials about how to do various things, from the practical to the esoteric. Go here to see past How Tos. 

Over the weekend, I played around on Pinterest.

I uploaded all the photos of house gates I’ve been taking over the past few months.

I still don’t know exactly why I’ve been collecting gates. They’ve been sitting in my phone, accumulating digital dust.

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My favorite one. What a beauty. Petaling Jaya.

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Assembling them on Pinterest has been surprisingly useful. I can see a visual idea developing. Will it turn out to be sweet song or thundering fart?

So much of art is waiting, stirring the pot.

Stir, stir, stir.

I think gates would make good graffiti, especially over existing graffiti.

A mural of gates. A tribute to all the places we can’t go, all the things we keep locked up and protected, all the people we keep out.

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Kuala Lumpur

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I like using Pinterest as a tool to document, observe and understand. I’m not so hot on the marketing and social part.

Warning! If you’re just grazing around the interweb, looking for random grass to chew, Pinterest has the time-suck potential of a small blackhole. In other words, if you have work or life needs doing, APPROACH WITH CAUTION.

There’s a lot of talk about Pinterest monetizing and leveraging off the collective creative soup out there on the internet… turning it into a finte resource like privatized water, or bottled oxygen.

Some very good links here and here, about Pinterest’s ethical grey areas, and the importance of creating a culture of proper attribution on the internet.

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Room to let. They want a Chinese Female only. 

Let’s do this! 

Ready?

It should take about an hour. You can wear this all weekend and soak in its glory. 

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STEP 1: Gather the ingredients

You’ll need: 

- Safety pins 
- Scissors & glue gun
- Cheap wire headband 
- Thin ribbon in as many colours as you like
- Flowers*

*I’m using those from my #bungaBERSIH dress, which already have safety pins glued on. You can use any kind of fake flower (handmade or store bought) and hot glue a safety pin to the back.

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STEP 2: Cut a ribbon 3 times the length of the headband

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STEP 3: Tie ribbon to one end of the headband and start wrapping around it, going in between the teeth. Leave a nice length at your first knot. 

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STEP 4: This is what it’ll look like when you’re done. Now you’ve got a nice base to pin the flowers on.

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STEP 5: Line up the flowers so you’ll know in which order you want them to be along the headband. Fire up your glue gun and glue a safety pin to the back of each flower (be sure to glue the non-moveable part of the pin). 

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STEP 6: Pin the flowers to the ribbon base. You can also sew the flowers on, but it takes longer. Also, with safety pins you can change the flowers when you feel like it! Not to mention take them off your head and pin them onto other people.

Flowers all pinned down: 

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STEP 7: Tie some short lengths of ribbon randomly between the flowers. This will make it look pretty.

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STEP 8: Tie longer lengths of ribbon close to the first tooth of each side, so they can flutter around in the wind. 

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YOU’RE DONE!

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Enjoy! 

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Read more about #bungaBERSIH in the last blogpost and on my website

Tell me if you make this! I wanna see. 

For the makeup geeks: Neon yellow eyeshadow from Sleek Acid palette under the eyes and all the way up and down the temples. Line the bottom waterline with white liner (Revlon Matte Luxurious Kohl in Pure White #004). Sheer purple lipstick (Rimmel Moisture Renew in Electric Plum).

Hello dear readers, I spent the weekend trying to write this blog so it could go up yesterday.

You see, I had A PLAN. 

Mondays I would post updates from the frontlines of Making Art Happen – all the stuff that goes on in my head and heart. I would call it Makenarten Mondays. 

Wednesdays I would post geeky How Tos – practical, technical, mildly tutorial type things, which would also veer into strange territory like the last post

Fridays I have a surprise brewing, which is not ready yet. I promise it is cool, and importantly, contains things other than ME. 

But, as you cannot fail to notice, it is already Tuesday. I am late. Fuck. Beautiful plan is no longer pretty and perfect. So maybe instead of doing what I always do, which is makenplannen, I’m going to try to makenhappen this first and see where it goes. 

Ok? Ok. 

~

Warning: this is going to be long and messy. 

I’ve realized that blogging works best the closer it is to now. Fresh dung is golden, stored up things get stale and heavy. But I want to blog about #bungaBERSIH and Bersih3.0.

It’s been months since the momentous day of the street rally. I finally feel like I can talk about it. There were a lot of voices and opinions in the lead up to 28 April – how people felt, how they didn’t feel, analyses, reflection, criticism, resistance. It just went on and on, like a bursting river of pent-up emotion. It was fucking elemental. 

I’ll be honest, part of me wanted to hide and drop out. Not because I was above it all, but because I couldn’t fucking hear myself think or feel. I can’t have been the only one. (Introverts of Malaysia, you feelin’ me?)

This is where art saves me. It gives me something to do. It can be (I emphasize CAN be) an expression of the self that doesn’t try to win over or control others. 

There were calls for creative people to ‘use our art for a good cause.’ 

I didn’t know how to deal with that. Here’s the thing. I’m not neutral politically. I’m comfortable with politics – it’s part of living as a citizen in the world. I’ve also been on the far end of this ‘using art’ spectrum, having spent a brief stint making actual political propaganda. It was a good experience. I got paid for it. I might do it again, if the spirit moves me. 

But something about the idea of ‘using’ art fills me with dread. I think it’s because if you believe there’s ‘useful’ art, then you also believe there’s ‘useless’ art. I can’t buy into that. I don’t accept that art of higher moral standing is more valuable, and I’m wary of anyone who says it is. 

Back in 2011, I designed some posters supporting Bersih2.0. I felt like I was serving a greater cause. But deep down I knew I had done it for myself (as with, ultimately, all my art making) – maybe for attention, to feel righteous, to be somehow visible during this historical moment. That doesn’t mean I’m not proud and glad that these posters exist in the world. 

There is a line. And it’s NOT about not crossing it, because to understand anything, you need to go everywhere. It’s about keeping track, making sure it’s there. What is this line? I don’t know. But I think – and this is a theory – it lies in this question and how honestly you can answer: why are you doing this? 

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For Bersih3.0, I knew I wanted to make a costume of some kind.

When I was in Spain last year, I saw someone dressed up as a Mystic from The Dark Crystal in the Puerta del Sol. I dropped a coin into his/her tin and the Mystic did a little dance for me. I kissed it on the nose and went on my way. It was a beautiful moment that made me indescribably happy. My mom took a video. If I find it, I’ll post it up. 

I decided to make a yellow dress covered in bunga (flowers) to give away. 

On the eve of the rally, a few of us stayed over at Shahril Nizam’s place in the heart of KL. (Shahril is one of my favorite people, and an amazing artist) We spent the day sewing and pinning hundreds of ribbon flowers to the dress. 

Shahril’s kitchen table on 27 April. The hot glue flowed and so did the bubble tea:

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28 April came. I watched the dawn from Shahril’s window: 

Bersih3.0 was one the best days of my life – for a few hours, all the invisible walls between art, audience, and power dissolved. People loved the dress, it seemed to make them happy and that made me happy. So much love, no explanations needed. I remember thinking: how do I make art be like this, always? 

I kept putting off the moment of giving out the flowers because I wanted to ride the high… and then, suddenly, the tear gas hit. It was chaos. When rumours of violence started trickling in via twitter, we left the scene. The flowers stayed on the dress. I took it home and hung it on my studio wall to remind me of that incredible day.  

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Now, enter part two. (Sorry, I told you this was going to be long. Stay with me, ok?)

A few months later, the editor at Esquire Malaysia emailed asking if I’d be part of their Media Art Project: interview, photo shoot, exhibitions in three different venues, and feature in their Artsy Fartsy August issue. 

I turned them down. I even drew a little chart weighing the pros and cons (I am a total dork. I really am) and concluded that I needed to be getting on with the epic art project I have planned for 2013. 

But in a fit of perversity, I said I’d do it if they featured the yellow Bersih dress. To my surprise, it was a yes. They’re a game old bunch, over at Esquire.  See, they even let me hold a bag of salt (salt neutralizes tear gas) in the photo shoot: 

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I made A LOT more flowers for the dress, and numbered each one by hand. All 345 of them. I decided to be absent for the exhibitions. Partly because I didn’t want to leave Port Dickson, partly as an experiment in making art happen remotely, from a distance. I prepared an information board that told people to ‘liberate’ a flower, and to email/tweet me which number they got, using the tag #bungaBERSIH. 

  

I was looking forward to the same rush of interacting with strangers that I got at Bersih3.0, only this time, virtually. 

A few good friends (bless their souls) emailed and tweeted me their flowers. The wonderful Esquire intern (@ShawalRas) sent me sweet messages about how everyone loved the dress. No one outside my familiar circle got back to me. 

By the night of the second exhibition, the silence from my inbox was deafening. I think what made it worse was that I wasn’t there in person to see how people were engaging with the dress. On my end, it felt like a total failure. I was crushed. 

The next day, I got an email from someone I didn’t know. It was a single line: 

‘Hey, nice show. I got flower #_____.’ 

One person. 

That one email made me cry. I realized that when people take your art, it’s actually a gift. And if they ever let you know how it made them feel, that stuff is priceless beyond anything. That lone email was as important as to me as the reactions of the huge crowd at Bersih. 

One person. That’s all we’ll ever be. 

It’s everything!

~

P.S. If you’d like to liberate a flower, write to me at sharon@mail.sharonchin.com. Tell me your address and I’ll send you one (yes, through the post office, in the real world), wherever you are. 

P.P.S. Check out the #bungaBERSIH Liberators List here.