X marks the way forward: How collaborations may work 2020 onwards

X marks the way forward: How collaborations may work 2020 onwards

Curator Sharmin Parameswaran weighs in on some predictions for the Malaysian visual arts community in the next couple of years.

By Sharmin Parameswaran

2020 may be a restart of a decade but the Malaysian visual arts scene will continue to be characterised by the economics of lacking, volatility and unsureness. Publicly, I do not think we will see an abundance of resources or an emphasis on holistic infrastructural planning of arts development in the country.

This leads my thoughts to the letter ‘X’.

Moving forward, I’m thinking the letter ‘X’ will become all the more pertinent in getting things done, to push and progress our community collectively so that we can continue to express, create and produce for the arts.

‘X’ equates to connecting with others and working together, subsequently establishing relationships that can be built upon.

This will ensure that the visual arts industry continues to be rewarding, interesting and enjoyable to be a part of. ‘X’ equates to collaborations between fellow artists, spaces, organisations, collectors and governing bodies; working across disciplines and sharing resources.

Outside the white cube

Collaborations are often enabled by the availability of fundamental resources. Platforms are needed for visual art projects to happen, which in today’s context includes dedicated or pop-up spaces in community buildings, converted old cinemas or warehouses, F&B establishments, and even the digital realm.

Collaborations are the way forward for artists interested in moving visual arts projects beyond the white cube presentation.

By working together with different platforms, there is the possibility of moving the visual arts from passive presentations to active interactions, encouraging exchange and reaching out to varied audiences. 

One of the interesting platforms to emerge in Kuala Lumpur is The Zhongshan Building at Kampung Attap. The nature of the independently run space is one of openness to creative ideation and on my recent visit, I was duly greeted with a showcase of collaborative projects. 

On the ground floor, behind the storefront of ana tomy, an artisanal stationery and gift shop, sits Kok Far Tea F&B, within which sits a pop-up zine exhibition titled MADE IN MALAYSIA SERIES: Beyond 20 pages organised by SketZINE featuring 12 artists and illustrators. Count the ‘X’s in this equation!

Up on Level One, behind Piu Piu Piu cafe, is visual art exhibition From M to M: Works by Liew Kwai Fei, a project between The Back Room KL X Liew Kwai Fei X Joanne Chew. Liew’s artwork is handed over to Chew’s leftfield, whimsical text interpretations and showcased within The Back Room’s intimate space.

Exchanges between disciplines

I view multidisciplinary collaborations as complacency antidotes or creativity amphetamines.

Ideally, collaborators are challenged and perhaps made uncomfortable, by the process of learning and stimulation. For the visual arts, collisions of interests, thoughts and creative endeavours will challenge our usual ways seeing and doing; infusing artwork with freshness and relevance.

Technology has already enabled an oversupply of information and hyper-connectivity. However, what one does with such knowledge and such a network will only be challenged if held accountable to the next person; which will change ideas, views and ways of doing.

A notable platform encouraging such exchanges is KongsiKL arts warehouse, home to the Seni Tiga multidisciplinary collaborative series. Now onto its 10th series, Seni Tiga has allowed for an exploratory creative playground between dancers, choreographers, filmmakers, musicians, performers, digital/sound/visual artists, and the list goes on.

A recent example of a multidisciplinary approach to the visual arts was showcased at the 2019 Bakat Muda Sezaman (Young Contemporaries) exhibition held at the National Art Gallery. Straddling art, architecture and design research, the visually arresting Merbahaya by Khairul Izzuddin and Muhammad Shamin Sahrum (of No-To-Scale), was an impactful critique of the repetitive design of low-cost housing units in the city.

Making art with communities

On a wider (and international) scale, this year saw artists Sharon Chin and *Yee I-Lann being commissioned by Singapore to develop projects for the 2019 Singapore Biennale and the National Gallery Singapore respectively. Both artists presented collaborative initiatives which included community input; an experiential exchange between arts and the people.

Chin created In the Skin of a Tiger: Monument to What We Want (Tugu Kita) with callouts to the public in Malaysia, and subsequently Singapore, to come together and sew messages on large banners made of party flags from Malaysia’s 2018 general elections. It was a visual representation of viewpoints and wants of a nation, collected at the cusp of a new decade.

By inviting wider participation, the artists have handed over the reins of creativity and development to their chosen communities. This allowed a collective contribution of Malaysia’s thoughts and experiences to be documented through artworks that now serve as time capsules of a decade, exhibited in Singapore.

So yes, amidst our murky political landscape, I look forward to an arts industry brought to you by the letter ‘X’. An industry where schools, artists, space owners, arts managers, curators, institutions, and corporations see the potential of working together to expand and push the boundaries of the arts. An industry where people ask the basic questions of “what can I do for you?” and “what can you do for me?”, collaboratively.

*Read more about Yee I-Lann’s Tikar-A-Gagah here: 2019: The Year in Malaysian Art.

Sharmin Parameswaran is a curator and visual arts collaborator based in Kuala Lumpur.