When I think about last year, my mind turns to mash – I can’t remember if I did a thing five months ago, or two years ago. So I’ve been putting this off, because I don’t want to think about what that formlessness of time might mean. Why do the days of 2015 seem like a solid block I can’t enter, where can’t see myself in time?
One possible reason is that I tried to be at least three different people simultaneously.
Sharon-1 wanted to do journalism. Somehow she got attached to the idea of what it meant to be a journalist: objective, authoritative and inherently useful to the public. Maybe she wanted to get away from all the ambiguity and subjective doubt in art – its apparent uselessness, its aura of weakness. This made things harder than they had to be, because those reflexes had already been imprinted on her mind like a muscle memory.
I went places, talked to people, then came home to draw and write stories about what I’d observed (including observations of myself observing things). Mostly I paid attention. I don’t know if I was being a good journalist (for one thing, I can’t write to deadline, which is, like, a baseline requirement), but I was an artist doing something akin to journalism.
For ‘In The Land That Never Was Dry‘, I’d planned to do six illustrated pieces about water issues in Malaysia. I barely managed three.
One was about micro-hydro electricity in the interiors of Sabah, and another about hundred year-old wells in Kampung Hakka Mantin. The draft of the last one, about connecting water pipes in Sarawak, I submitted to my editor hours before the year ended.
Each one felt like wrestling a beast in a dark cave for months, only to find, on cutting off its head, that it was my own shadow.
In August, I went to the Tangkap Najib and Bersih 4 protests, and did stories on both. Those were easier, more immediate. I learned that the more time elapsed after an event, the more a story would turn into that dreaded shadow beast. Better to kill it quick, when it’s young and fresh and dripping life.
Draft I submitted just before the year ended
Sharon-2 was still a contemporary visual artist, no matter how much she disavowed the ‘art world’, no matter how hybrid her practice. In fact, 2015 marked a solid decade of making and showing art professionally. While in university getting a parent-sponsored fine arts degree, she remembers flipping through the glossy pages of Art Asia Pacific and dreaming about the Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, because Montien Boonma, an artist she admired beyond anything, had taken part one year.
In truth, although my love for Montien Boonma’s work hasn’t diminished, that dream does not occupy the same space it once did. I don’t mean a higher or lower place, as if on a ladder, but space – either I’m bigger, or the dream is smaller.
In any case, it was still something of a big fucking deal, and it’s stupid to say otherwise. Taking part in APT8 was fun, an honor, stimulating, profitable, problematic and hard, hard work. I made 10 WEEDS paintings in 6 weeks, and burnt out the muscles in my eyes, neck and right arm in the process.
I also made activity pages for the Kid’s APT publication, which was pure joy to do.
In November, I went to Brisbane for the opening of APT8. The walls of Queensland Art Gallery are fancy and beautiful. I thought about 2013, when the first series of WEEDS paintings were shown in a one-night gig/art party at Merdekarya. It was a grungier space, but no less beautiful, and certainly more beloved. Both, I thought, nodding to myself. That’s the challenge. The work has to hold up in both places. But what satisfied me most was that I’d made it for Malaysia first.
Top: Weeds/Rumpai Series I at Merdekarya. Middle: Series II in progress at home. Bottom: Series II in APT8
Sharon-3 was trying to reconcile -1 and -2, trying to knit the disparate threads together; prevent any notion of a harsh and foolish split. She tried all sorts of things.
She filled a binder with inconsequential drawings on foolscap paper and called them antidotes.
She wrote a thing, which, for the first time in her life, she was actually afraid to publish. She even read it out loud to a room full of people.
She made linocuts for someone’s stories, and together they pasted these up at bus stops along Jalan Pudu.
She sent emails.
She watched Mad Max: Fury Road over and over. She took her mother and father to watch Mad Max: Fury Road. She watched the greatest friendship of her life wither, then die. She watched the sunset, drinking whiskey to dull the pain of being an animal capable of feelings, hunger, loss, and muscle fatigue.
She wasted time on the internet. She wasted time worrying about wasting time, wanting every moment to be accountable, unaware that -1 and -2 were doing the same, and that was why the animal was tired, why it wept – it was trying to tell you only machines can use a moment more than once.
The first image (source) is a screencap from Whisper of The Heart (Studio Ghibli, 1995, dir. Yoshifumi Kondo). Zedeck and I watched it on new year’s eve. He wrote about it, and it says something about our hopes for 2016, better than I can.