on 16 January 2010, 8pm
at HOM, Ampang

The exhibition runs from 16 Jan - 13 Feb 2010

A Metre Perspective 

A Metre. A basic unit of length. Being derived chiefly from the Greek word μέτρον (metron), denoting 'measure'. But measurement not only provides us with a technically precise knowledge of scale, it further suggests a grammar of art. For a metre is also the poetic value of a creative resolve. In poetry, it describes the rhythmic structure of a verse. 'I think more of a bird with broad wings flying and lapsing through the air, than anything, when I think of metre' observed the Englist novelist, D.H. Lawrence.

The confluence between the technical and the poetic is found in A Metre Perspective, an exhibition featuring both emerging and established artists in Malaysia. In many ways, the guiding principle of the exhibition, that participating artists should create artworks measuring one metre by one metre, establishes the rule of the game, through which artists are challenged as well as encouraged to take their practice to another level.

Like the value of the metre, as a system of measurement that is conventionally defined, the established one metre by one metre guideline for this exhibition is also arbitrary at best. However, it is by setting up the constraint as an ordeal, a task, a hurdle, or whatever you want to call it, that creativity as an approach to problem-solving, as a triumph over limitation, is underlined. Yet, this isn't a logical endeavour. Art never is. Was it not Samuel Taylor Coleridge who opined, 'Poetry is not the proper antithesis to prose, but to science. Poetry is opposed to science, and prose to metre'?

Given that most participating artists are inclined towards creating artworks on a larger scale, the exhibition provides a refreshing perspective into the diverse range of artistic skills by firstly taking artists beyond their comfort zone (in this instance, the familiarity of painting on large canvas), and then secondly, giving us an opportunity to experience their work on a different scale (for viewing a one metre by one metre work of art makes us see differently than viewing a bigger piece of work).

The task is then setting this confinement of scale as an opportunity for the artists to rethink their practice and hone their poetic metre. And interestingly enough, artists in this exhibition have taken up this challenge and interpret it in a number of ways.

One way is to consider it as a mirror, a reflective surface through which artists can continue to explore themselves as painted subjects. Both Jalaini Abu Hassan's The Fascist and Ahmad Fuad Osman's Victim of Circumstances are self-deprecating portraits playing the role of a political megalomanic and an object of derision respectively. Elsewhere, Ahmad Zuraimi Rahim's Ayahku Seorang Great Master pays a filial homage to the paternal figure of the artist life as a progenitor of his creativity. In Bayu Utumo Radjikin's Being, the artist continues to fashion himself as a Malay warrior, embodying the spirit of courage and strength as elements central to his creative pursuit.

In other instances, we can consider the metre perspective as a binary between transcendence and materiality. Mohd. Saharuddin Supar's Super Internal No. 14 Rising 2K, Ramlan Abdullah's Connection, Sabri Idrus's Revisiting Architecture, Ahmad Shukri Mohamed's The Great Wallpaper #21, Wong Chee Meng's A Meter Away, and Hamidi Hadi's Float evince both emotive and analytical interest in artmaking. Here abstracted forms articulate the tensions and dynamism between an artistic interest in the materiality of the artworks and the desire to evoke the emotional tenors that existed within the chosen medium.

Another approach is to consider the works of the artists as windows looking out to our social reality. Phuan Thai Meng's Perspective highlights youtube and Internet as a channel for social commentary; often capable of exposing the unsettling absurdities of the world we live in. In Kow Leong Kiang's Whatever, the artist revisits his well known portraits of kampung Malay girls, capturing them in the melancholic beauty of their rural surrounding, encapsulating the spirit of youthful abandon.
Other works look into the issue of creative expression, often employing surrealist vocabulary to articulate a dream-like statement. Jeganathan Ramachandran's iconoclastic Crying Buddha develops an emotive iconography in response to the conventional image of the serene Buddha figure. Hamir Soib's Mimpi Bulan Disember explores the deeper recesses of our psyche through the use of bitumen as a medium to suggest a primeval state of consciousness. Masnoor Ramli Mahmud's Pukul Berapa Datuk Harimau makes cinematic references to legendary Malaysian director P. Ramlee, bridging artistic impulses towards storytelling that narrative painting and film share.

Malvin Chan's The Magi narrates the anxiety of the artist embodied in the figure of the amagician, who is unsure of whether the butterflies of his creation might overcome him. Similarly, in the only sculptural work in the exhibition, Daud Abdul Rahim's Ulat Logam- Pemburu di Buru is a playful title alluding to the creative exploration of form as an act of hunting and being hunted by ideas, inspiration and experimentation.

A Metre Perspective can hardly be called a thematic exhibition. Its subjects too varied, ideas too complex, styles too diversed. The single binding feature that all participating artists share is the challenge to translate their visions and ideas into a scale that is unfamiliar to their repertoire. This calls for a reevaluation of art making, a chance to consider the possibility of creating maximum poetic effect in the restriction of space. After all, creativity blossoms in moments of great constraints. These are some perspectives through which we can come to appreciate this imaginative undertaking.

Simon Soon