I’ve been meaning to blog this forever. I spent the first 3 months of the year feeling stuck, and without a project to lose myself in, purposeless. So Zedeck and I started Activity Book, where I gave him things to write and he gave me things to draw, everyday.
When Five Arts asked me to decorate their 30th Anniversary party at the end of March, I jumped at a chance to fill my purpose vacuum. It was like a pebble preceding an avalanche. Now, I’m back to having too many things on my to do list. Sometimes I wish I could learn to sit in the vacuum a little longer. The self-intiated Activity Book (stalled for now) was turning out to be so cool. It made me feel like a mini sun, generating art through pure alchemy of the self.
Eventually, when the to do list has worn me out, I’ll go back to that place.
Five Arts is one of the longest running art groups in Malaysia. They’re rock steady. I admire their continuity and appreciate their work, but I know deep down there’s quite the ideological divide between us. They value history, and perhaps as a result of that, seniority; they’re a naturally hierarchical organization.
My first (and only) mentor, Chee Sek Thim, is a member of Five Arts. Not only did he give me my first solo show at his gallery in 2005, but also his time, experience and honesty. His tough-mindedness wasn’t always easy to accept, but I loved him fiercely and will always be grateful to him.
My mindset tends towards the anarchic and autonomous. I used to think that I couldn’t work with anyone because I was too much of an individualist and egoist. This made me feel guilty and ashamed. If I wasn’t a team player, then I must be a megalomaniacal control freak, right? It took me years to figure out that in fact, I love working with people, but only in non-hierarchical situations.
I have thought alot about hierarchy. Sometimes I look at my work and see it as one long-ass question about the relationship of the individual to the collective. I hate being a boss as much as I hate being an employee. Having interns and mentors stresses me out. Projects that have given me the most satisfaction tend to be with partners, not subordinates or superiors.
This explains a little my love for the Internet. But that’s another story.
So for Five Arts’ 30th Anniversary, I decided to play on this tension. I chose lalang – weedy grass – as the motif. It’s a symbol of my utopian views for art and Malaysia – something wild and unpredictable, not entirely desirable, destined to be chopped and yet grow back again and again. Burdened with no other responsibility than to be and grow. Nothing to prove, nothing to gain. No dominion over anything.
Perhaps what I value most about Five Arts is how they invite and synthesize different views. I don’t think lalang reflects the Five Arts approach. Yet, the fact that it was allowed to grow all over the launch of their 30th Anniversary, I think, does.
Happy birthday, Five Arts! May you live long and prosper.
Concept sketches and results
The entrance was stenciled with yellow lalang. I couldn’t find chalk that was bright enough, so I made my own. We also filled one of the giant urns from Marion D’ Cruz’s famous Urn Piece with water and flowers for mandi bunga. I remember drunkenly splashing people and slurring ‘no mooarr sueyyyyy’ at the end of the night.
We used the same flowers and leaves for centerpieces on the tables.
Inside, I wanted to set up an interactive station where people could stencil lalang over a BN banner I’d taken down after Elections 2013. It was decided (wisely) that this wasn’t the occasion for it. Instead, I painted lalang on sheer boxes from Fahmi Fadzil’s Wayang project. Syam used them to stunning effect in his lighting for the Rhythm In Bronze performance.
I’d planned to stencil lalang along the stairs, but ended up with the simpler solution of drawing lalang on glass bottles and putting candles in them instead.
Upstairs, I used posters of Five Arts’ past performances to make a paparazzi wall. The shelves were turned into a mini-museum showcasing past props.
In the airwell, I made my first ever mural, based on a drawing of five interconnected bunches of grass and assembled from sheets of recycled A4 paper. It rained like crazy that night, but the mural survived to see the next day. A wasp stung me in the face during set up, but it was WORTH IT.
Thanks Marion D’Cruz, Grey Yeoh, Hoe Hui Ting, Syamsul Azhar, the interns and everyone at Five Arts.
Five Arts is hosting a ton of programs in 2014 and 2015 as part of ten Ten TEN: Five Arts Centre Celebrating 30 Years. Keep up with them on Facebook or Twitter.
Photos in this post by Hunied Tyeb, Kakiseni, Grey Yeoh and Hoe Hui Ting.