Short essay by Zedeck Siew for my solo exhibition Sensors: Banned Books and Other Monsters.


Lately I have come to believe, more and more, that the end of sentient life, its goal, is more sentience. This is, perhaps, a foolhardy belief, one that can never be substantiated. I am convinced that this conviction of mine comes from a fondness for reading: books, television, graffiti, faces on the street. There is something seductive in the acquisition of facts and ideas and emotions, for acquisition’s sake. I have started believing that, by this amassment and in considering it, I might come to know myself a little better.

Sensors: Banned Books & Other Monsters, Sharon Chin’s latest exhibition, is obviously my thing. It’s about books, those conduits of revelation, shortcuts that preclude us from the need to reinvent ideological wheels. It’s about banned books, a state-sponsored symptom of the socio-political belief that some knowledge is inherently evil — a notion rife with delicious paradox, just like the processes in which banning happens. One could literally spend hours fondling the twists and revolutions of this Rubik’s puzzle.

The exhibition is also about games: both installations — one, a Goldberg-like construction of wire, electrical current, and statistics; the other, a horror house of darkness and paintings of mythical bogeymen, obliquely glimpsed — are, essentially, overgrown basement toys. Let not the jocks on the field or on their Xboxes tell you otherwise: games — whether configuring bookies at the stadium, competing to identify constellations in the night sky, painting little miniatures, or rolling dice to slaughter ghouls — are the realm of geeks. Our plane of power, if you get the lingo: our natural 20, our auto-hit.

This is especially true if the sport is representational: war, political campaigns, the sale of art — or banned books. The processes involved (building guidelines that interpret real-life data, manipulating the resulting system, then refining it) offer a wealth of insight — but they are also time-consuming. Only operational obsessives, with brains hung like horses, would have the attention span to exert themselves in that way.

In other words: artists are nerds. Whether she admits it or not, Sharon has come up with a fanciful set of rules: come opening, they will be in open beta, ready to be play-tested. Serious fun for fellow disciples of erudition await. I can already anticipate one disclosure: that books are games are books are games. Both offer me information to pick up, store, and chew again, when I’m bored: both will tell me more about the phenomena that surround me, and maybe tell me about myself. Hopefully, I’ll get some exercise in the bargain.


Zedeck Siew is a writer based in Malaysia.