Thursday, 3 April 2014

Angkor Hospital for Children - The Mural

We spent five days ( at the end of March 2014) with a team of students and staff from the charity Colors of Cambodia to complete this mural for the Angkor Hospital for Children's Outpatient's Department.

It really was a joint effort by all concerned and we are very proud to have been requested to do this.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

100 words for Indian artist Madan Lal

Urban Phulkari is a modern age, fifty four inch by fifty four inch, tapestry intricately woven of acrylic colours and spray paint onto canvas. It revels in symbolisms which meld the ancient with modernity, in an all encompassing glance at Indian urban life.

Red lipped angelic faces are counterpointed with the images of serene bulls amidst which, at first glance, appears to be a cacophony of symbol and colour, but which reveals itself to be an instructional diorama of the complexities of contemporary living. An overall warm palette brings the brightness of Mother India into golden sunbeams and Rajasthani pinks.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Amongst the Chinese

both dog
and lion
but neither
clanging of gongs
small children with ear mufflers

Ang pao
give goodwill
beer and oranges
or regurgitated
bringing luck

New horse year
spring cleaning
Yee Sang
small child repeating alphabet
drawing faces
Pai Nian visting
more midnight firecrackers
midday firecrackers
lunch firecrackers
breakfast firecrackers
driving demons
and my hearing
for prosperity
or posterity.

Be glad for
figure hugging
slim waisted
pert nippled
Buddha nature


Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Into the Light, Space Gambus Experiment's third album

Kamal Sabran’s Space Gambus Experiment (SGE)’s third orbital pass - Into the Light, fairly bursts into the woolly stratosphere of our collectively cloudy minds with all the pent-up sunshine and strident musical energy/excitement of an efficaciously euphonious explosion. 

Though, obviously, the third in an extant trilogy of musical albums -  think Return of The King, sooner or later SGE’s Silmarillion will appear and make us all redefine our knotted notions of fusion, music and harmonics. Until then, Into the Light brings us the continuing saga of progressive, spaced-out, music ala the equator’s very own experiment with gambus and space.

As an opening track, Pegembara cahaya vii flares into our consciousness with a steady, thumping, heartbeat of drums. This is masterfully overlaid with a melancholic gambus tugging at our heart and mindstrings. It is a rocking little number, reminding us all that SGE are, at heart, still rockers. As an opening track it is well designed to get us out of our seats …and dance? Dance perhaps like some equatorial, robotic, nuevo  Gary Numan. I am bound to say (as I did for their last album review) that  somewhere in the harmonics of this number is a vague reminiscence of Fritz Laing's uber Sci Fi film Metropolis, and the incumbent music of Gottfried Huppertz defining both modernism and expressionism. When the electrics grab hold - beware! It is as if the kings of krautrock - Kraftwerk, in league with some demonic Werner Herzog biting Nosferatu, have invaded Asia, as opposed to Peru, with their enigmatic, rhythmically pounding mellifluousness, setting about claiming the jungles as theirs with a post-modern sturm und drang Musique Concrete.

Like all good albums there are continuing refrains, musical links if you like, which hold disparate concepts together. In Only from the heart can you touch the sky, a solitary gambus sounds somewhere in space. This is curtesy of Mr Sabran’s archive of (literally) celestial sounds. It is the heart of sound, a heart full of sound and a heartful sound ricocheting from a space tuned and retuned as our senses adjust to an overdrive which seems interstellar bound and machined in silver.

For much of this remarkable third album, titillating tracks occasionally oscillate between Kraftwerkian krautrock, with an Asmovian stomp, and a subtler Tangerine Dreamery. At times there are pounding, robotic vocals, echoing as if through some futuristic Caves of Steel, in sync with the musical notions of Kraftwerk rather than Tangerine Dream, Amon Düül II or Can. At other times a gambus, now a solid symbol for the fusion of East/West harmonics, once again echoes amidst cosmic electric crackles. Is it gold buried Smaug or some deeply dreaming Troll King awaiting either a Bilbow burglar or a Per Gynt to awaken their echo deep inside some mythic, metaphoric mountain, or is it the soul’s memory.

Numbers like You have to breaking your heart until it opens; project a solid bass heralding virtually ecstatic electronics as we await the instructional ‘voice’ of a prototype model of some robotic voice synthesiser in this catchy, practically dance, number. Other tracks hold a gutsy beat which serves to meld this space melange together - threaded with the ubiquitous gambus. After listening I am left with the question -  just what is it that reminds me of early Hawkwind (before Lemmy’s leaving).

Altogether this album is a progression over the last two and, perhaps, we might still witness some melding of native vocals and poetry, with the celestial sounds, before too long. The robotic vocals do give this album an added depth, but SGE must be careful not to overuse such gimmickery in the future and move on from tributes to the golden age of progressive music, to creating more of their own uniqueness.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Contexts @ 69

‘Jalan Petaling - Ice Man at rest’  Azwan Mahzan

1839, Frenchman Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre presented photography (through his daguerreotypes) to the waiting world. It was a marvel, unique and astonishing. Since the 1820s Daguerre had been researching his invention, fine tuning the camera obscura, and dabbling with the diorama to bring his moment of truth to the Académie des Sciences. It was a triumph.

Last night we, once more, trod the long flight of steps down to the French owned Gallery Fine Art 69, this time lit by ‘night light’ candles. It was six pm and still light, nevertheless the thought was there, and those minuscule candles did not look out of place in that splendidly romantic garden. We, for once, were on time and a little surprised to see that we were some of the first to arrive for the opening of the CONTEXT photography exhibition.

I have always had an ambiguous relationship with photographs. For the philistine that I am, when it comes to photography, photographs have to be great in tone, sharpness, colour or subject matter to impress. Man Ray knew this, and produced some excellent images to puzzle, entertain or simply to awe at, particularly his portraits of Kiki. Henri Cartier-Bresson too knew his relative aperture from his shutter speed, and produced some of the most memorable photographic images the world has seen, but last night we were left, decidedly, wanting.

It was an exhibition of three photographers, judicially arranged to include all three major races in modern Malaysia - Chinese, Indian and Malay, and entitled Context. As the visitor stepped into the gallery, they stepped into the half space exhibition of Mahen Bala (Indian), opposite was the work of Azwan Mahzan (Malay), and down the steps, in a much larger space, was the exhibition belonging to Alecia Neo (Chinese, but from Singapore). From the knowledge of the distribution of the relative exhibition spaces, there seemed an imbalance highlighted, later, by the arrival of the Singapore Ambassador to Malaysia, technically a High Commissioner though called Ambassador several times throughout the evening.

part of Tokyo Serie by Mahen Bala
Mahen Bala’s works were in black and white, or should I say in varying shades of grey, not unlike the infamous book series by E.L.James, but without the sex and were taken of and in Tokyo. On first glance, ‘Tokyo Serie’ was an unprepossessing collection of grey images,  with a larger image to offset the smaller. There was a distinct lack of contrast in those images and, at times (as in the larger) a struggling to determine the subject. My wife guided me back after a cursory unimpressed glance, to let me gaze a little longer, and take the images as a series. That worked better. ‘Tokyo Serie’ is indeed a series, practically a Manga, of sequential photography, working only as a collective, and not individually. I was unsure if the lack of contrast was due to the digital nature of the images - digital photography does have a tendency to flatten out the tones; or a distinct statement on the flatness of Salaryman’s (Sarariman) lives in the city of Tokyo, and therefore an irony.

Home visits by Alecia Neo
Alecia Neo’s plentitude of works were in distinct contrast to those of Mahen Bala. They were bright, colourful - and staged. It was a style of photographic portraiture which seemed to come into being sometime during the 1980s and which, unfortunately, is rapidly become trite. There was a similar exhibition of portraiture in Phnom Penh before Christmas, by a female Vietnamese photographer portraying the ‘real’ (staged) lives of gay couples in Vietnam. The stillness and the colourfulness were there, as was Alecia Neo’s sense of isolation or loneliness, but there was an added attraction of prying into the lives of those living on the fringes of society, which gave those Vietnamese images a depth greater than those displayed by Alecia Neo. As entertaining as her images of Chinese individuals and others are, they lack symbolic depth and had me fairly running sent back to the images captured by Azwan Mahzan, up the stairs and opposite those of Mahen Bala.

Jalan Petaling self portrait Azwan Mahzan
Azwan Mahzan has a keen eye for texture, and for not doing the obvious in his photography. Like the other two photographers in the exhibition, Azwan Mahzan uses digital photography. At times he captures life as it is presented to him - no obvious studio lighting to gain ‘romantic’ or ‘isolated’ ahhhhs from his audience, and at other times Azwan Mahzan indulges in the odd bit of photoshopic trickery to shake us up a little, as in ‘Jalan Petaling, self portrait’. Both ‘Home from the Market’ and ‘Jalan Petaling - Ice Man at rest’ demonstrate an unselfconsciousness absent in the works of Alecia Neo’s work, plus, and this is a big plus - lots of lovely texture - green walls with red stain or white walls with dirt black stains, both are exquisite demonstrations of city life. If I were prodded with a hot telephone lens, I would have to comment that I found one or two of those images in need of a little sharpness, to bring out the texture a little more.

Context was an apt name for this exhibition. All three photographers were shown within the context of their spaces in the gallery, albeit larger (Alecia Neo) or smaller (Mahen Bala and Azwan Mahzan). Mahen Bala’s works, worked only within the context of sequentiality, whereas those of Alecia Neo continued a popular trend in photographic portraiture, putting her work into that staged context, whereas the works of Azwan Mahzan drew their strengths from the contexts of their environment. There was, therefore and perhaps, something for everyone as there should be in any group exhibition worth its compressed weight in digital megabytes and perky pixels. 

Saturday, 18 January 2014

The Invisible Man

Starbucks quiet
Photographer snaps
multiple shots
filling coffee-house
staccato bursts.  
She and she talk 

Venti cappuccino
chicken and cranberry 
placid and flaccid
by stick thin Indian 

Sense of alienation
It is a country
Year of the horse 
towards us 

It's January
it should be 
The Velvet's 
White Light White Heat 
the franchise's 
Heat claws 
the frame
I excuse 
Camus' s Stranger
Hesse' s Steppenwolf 
with no Magic Theatre
Wells' Invisible Man

One day
 while the paint 
is wet 
I will slip 
a more ethereal 
become part 
of a celestial 
The sky will 
in my hair
as my people 
will be remembered 
as once 
being fair