Architect by Training, Sculptor by Choice
KLIA Times magazine: interview 2007 by NOR HUSNA KHALID
Abdul Multhalib Musa introduces the mathematics of fine art to
NOR HUSNA KHALID
Published in KLIA Times, January 2007 issue, pp 5.
In the Malaysian art circle, Abdul Multhalib Musa is reputedly the only active sculptor in the country. But that is hardly surprising because sculpting is what he has chosen to do full time, although by right it should have been architecture. “The best thing in life is to be able to make a living from doing what you like doing,” said this Penang-born artist whose passion has earned him invitations to participate in international shows in Australia, Japan, Singapore and Europe.
Multhalib could well be holding down a job as an architect, having graduated in 1998 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Design Studies (Architecture) from the University of Adelaide, Australia and in 2000, a Bachelor of Architecture (Honours) from MARA University of Technology, Shah Alam, Malaysia. But, as he says, “I would be doing art and art related stuff, even if I were working as an architect... or in any other profession for that matter.” His years of training in architecture have however not entirely gone to waste. Indeed, his pieces – often large, sleek and geometric in shape and form – exemplify the mathematics of fine art, and the fine art that is mathematics. In addition, Multhalib distinguishes himself from other sculptors in respect of his methods and approach to his art.
He designs all of his sculptures, made from laser-cut or water-cut steel, on the computer. A team of builders then takes over to “execute the plan” – yes, just like how a building is erected. “I supervise and give instructions on each piece to my team. It also involves continuous consultations with the ‘engineers’,” he explained. According to Multhalib, every detail is meticulously worked out well before implementation, down to the selection of materials (steel mostly), their handling and amounts required, and the tools needed for the job. “I would send the steel along with my designs and measurements to a steel cutter. When the cut pieces come back, my team gets to work on the welding, and when that is done, the ‘polishing’.”
Most of his sculptures have the rusty, weather-beaten look, with the “eroded” effect being achieved by spraying salt water on them. He also sometimes incorporates shiny steel for contrast and to enhance the illusion of depth. “The eroded effect has a strong pull. In fact, many people prefer the rusty look to the polished one. They say the rusty colours give the pieces an antique look,” Multhalib said. Some art fans have even mistakenly thought his sculptures were all made of wood when only a few pieces are actually so. Why not sculpt more in wood? “Steel is more suitable to my style, I can bend and shape them better.
In addition, working with wood can be quite wasteful. I have to buy them in stacks but will end up using only a small amount... they get damaged or have cracks and have to be thrown away,” he said. “It’s bad enough that hundreds or thousands of trees are cut down for timber every day. Steel is recyclable, so I’ll keep on using that.” As for other materials, Multhalib is eyeing metals like pewter, copper, brass and aluminium for use in future projects. “Each metal will have a different effect. I am in negotiations with various suppliers. We’ll see how this turns out.”
For now, Multhalib said, demand for his work is good. “But maybe a time will come when there is no more market for my work. Still I will probably continue to do it, although obviously if I can’t make a living out of it I wouldhave to get a job... maybe become an architect,” he grinned. But, he points out, one should always choose to do what gives one more creative freedom.
Post Exhibition – A Retrospect/Looking back
Published in REVUE2, Dept of Architecture and Planning UITM, 2004.
Published in REVUE2, Dept of Architecture and Planning UITM, 2004.
A personal account on the process of taking part in an international sculpture competition
The design of the work was initially intended to be built within the compound of Rimbun Dahan, the residence of architect Hijjas Kasturi in Kuang, Selangor. However, when there was a call for entry for ‘The 6th Oita Asian Sculpture Exhibition 2001 Open Competition’, the maquette, which was already made, was submitted rather spontaneously. The result at the national level came out in July 2001, in which the design was one of four chosen to represent Malaysia in this prestigious competition in Japan. This was followed by the preliminary selection process in Oita, where 33 maquettes were chosen out of 355 entries. The following November, the first stage selection was carried out and the work was one out of five that was nominated for the final full-scale reproduction. The other four finalists were Japan (3) and China (1). Each nominee was given an outright grant of 2,000,000 Yen (about RM60,000) for construction, transportation, and installation of the final work at the exhibition site.
When the announcement was made that the work has been selected for full-scale reproduction there were roughly 6 months to complete the work. This does not include the one month required for shipment, and about another month to install the work in Oita. In addition to this the annual Rimbun Dahan Residency exhibition in which I was to take part in, was set to go on in March 2002, followed by the Oita Exhibition later in June. The Rimbun Dahan exhibition required at least 10 works, which means about 15 sculptures had to be made for selection purposes. Taking all into consideration, logistic and timely execution were the critical factors if both exhibitions were to be successfully completed.
Works for these major events had to be carried out simultaneously, which was very difficult since the two exhibitions were distinct not only in terms of scale, but also the venue of one of the exhibition, which was to be in Japan. This brings about further complications that need to be addressed beforehand. For instance, the work for Oita has to be built in components and parts for shipping requirements. Also, because the sculpture needs to be assembled on site, anticipation of the different construction and labor system than to what we are accustomed to here in Malaysia, needs to be taken into consideration. Hence, the work was designed to be adaptable in its installation considering the many variables and problems which might be encountered in a foreign country that can hardly communicate in English.
For someone whom has never actually executed works of this nature, this was an attempt in doing an architectural project like no other. Basically, the mental preparation was immense and no architectural studies could have prepared one for the momentous undertaking of this nature, especially if you are a fresh undergraduate with no prior working experience.
The work began with a few humble construction drawings and 3D computer generated renderings to study the spatial qualities and material finishing of the work. As the design stage progresses however, it was apparent that a conventional step-by–step design development process cannot be adapted for this type of work. The highly artistic nature of the design and the fact that the final work cannot be altered from the original maquette submission, coupled with the complexity of the structural system, are only among the initial problems that need to be resolved and reassessed at an ongoing basis.
By this time, the geographical information of the site in Oita concerning wind speeds, rain downfall, seismic conditions, temperature, precipitation, and humidity needed to be addressed. A factor that was overlooked was that the work had to be highly durable and can withstand the harsh outdoor conditions in Oita. Hence, the initial proposal to use mild steel had to be reconsidered so aluminum, stainless steel, or some composite materials had to be looked into as an alternative.
After numerous discussions with engineers, manufacturers and builders, the choice was rather obvious that the sculpture had to be constructed purely in stainless steel. Initial consultations with renowned artists and designers such as Redza Peyadasa, Hijjas Kasturi and Ramlan Abdullah has already indicated that stainless steel was the better choice. At one stage, even the Oita Organizing Committee advised that stainless steel be used even though the winning maquette was proposed as high quality timber. However, working purely in stainless steel means that the cost would be about 8 times higher than mild steel, and twice as much if stainless steel cladding was applied on mild steel structure. One reason for this was the fact that the 30 columns of the sculpture are comprised of 3mm thick rectangular hollow sections, which is not your typical construction material. Furthermore, it is almost impossible to acquire the required quantity of material for a small-scale project such as this, especially when the only preferred quality of stainless steel was manufactured in Japan.
As tempting as it may sound to cut costs by using mild steel, the design went ahead with the more permanent characteristics that can only be achieved through stainless steel. Before the actual work was carried out, a 1:1 scale mock-up was constructed for a portion of the sculpture to study the different aspects of the design, structurally and aesthetically. Deliberations went on between other designers, engineers, and builders. Following some minor changes, the fins were the first component to be constructed. The 6mm thick plates were shaped exactly to profile using water-jet cutting technology. Each fin was then fixed to a single column member. They were then packed into crates and were off on their way to Japan.
In Japan, construction went without a glitch. There were some problems initially with the base construction, but the Japanese seems to be very resilient with their technical know-how. The reinforced concrete base were constructed with a slightly different mixture, and cured in less the time than the specifications provided by the engineers. However, this was because the method they had was more efficient and the builders there were more like craftsman in their own right, rather than as contractors that simply builds according to directions. Since virtually every part of the assembly was rehearsed, welding and putting together the sculpture was relatively a straight-forward procedure. The assembly work in Japan took about 3 days to complete, with a few more days for polishing and cleaning up.
The following people were instrumental in the materialization of this work: Angela Hijjas and Hijjas Kasturi, Azhar Ariff, Azizul Sulaiman, Bambang Gunawan Mohyani, Fairul Zahri Mohd Abas, Mohd Saharuddin Supar, Wan Marhafidz Wan Mohd Omar, Zainal Mohamad, and Zainol Abidin Kasim.
Second Prize Award of Excellence '6th Oita Asian Sculpture Exhibition & Open Competition 2002’ Fumio Asakura Memorial Park, JAPAN.
Sculpture is on permanent display in Fumio Asakura Memorial Park, Oita, JAPAN.
Open Competition July, 2001 – construction completed June, 2002
below is a write-up for first round competition proposal, July 2001:
The 6th Oita Asian Sculpture Exhibition 2001 Open Competition
The Fumio Asakura Memorial Park
‘A Tale of Two Boundaries’
Submission by Abdul Multhalib Musa
It is with great honor that I am able to represent my country as a contestant in this highly recognized competition, the 6th Oita Asian Sculpture Exhibition. Indeed Japan has been one of the leading advocates in helping to promote the standard of sculpture for the Asian region, as well as the international level.
Personally, Japanese art and tradition has been a pursuit of interest, and a major inspiration for my entry in this competition. Malaysia, rich in cultural and natural heritage, has further contributed to the final composition that attempts to manifest itself in this cross-cultural understanding.
Therefore, it is with humble gratitude and privilege that I am able to exhibit my work among other great Asian artists and sculptors entitled ‘A Tale of Opposing Boundaries’.
With the encroachment of globalization, we are in danger of losing sight some of the fundamental values that we uphold dearly, which has helped to function and shape the people that we are today. In an attempt to address the contemporary problems at hand, answers to our questions are becoming both clear and ambiguous at the same time.
Notions related to binary oppositions are significant in determining the value system in any culture or society, for only then can we tell the difference between what is right and what is wrong, what is truth and what is false. However, such resolutions exist only if there is a boundary to distinguish the two domains. It is the notion of such boundary by which the basis of the work is to be accentuated and justified… but then again, even the boundary itself at times can be as clear as the blue sky, or as vague as a hazy day.
'A Tale of Two Boundaries' is therefore a work that compromises the concept of mutual binary oppositions prevalent in today's society, particularly to the Asian people of this region.
The work can be read at many levels to gain an insight and understanding that underscores the framework of its composition. At a glance, the sculpture can be perceived as having two dominant facades by which the viewers can engage themselves visually. At a superficial level, these facades are similar in terms of structure and form.
An apparent intervention however is the inclusion of a curved line that is produced by manipulating the curvature of each plane. Thereby breaking up the continuous flow of the movement created by the undulating surface and hence, a boundary of sort is created between the lower and the upper portion of each facade. Upon closer observation, the implied boundary is different on either side, where one is a boundary that physically exists… and the other, a boundary that exists because of negative space. The reading of the work at a subconscious level reveals even more intriguing conception to be explored. For instance, the fenestration through the wall can be seen as a gesture towards achieving a notion of boundary that is more complex, but is necessitated by virtues of visual control of the sculpture.
As the suggested boundary line is placed at eye level of the visitor, specific viewing pleasure can only be achieved if the viewer moves from one vantage point to another. This forced gesture by the sculpture is a self-imposed regulation that suggests a notion of boundary that is compelling in determining the demarcation spaces that it separates.
Accordingly, the implied form of the boundary is now extended beyond the actual work of the sculpture itself, redefining the space within the landscape that it occupies. In this occurrence for example, the dual domain can be read as a binary opposition between man and nature. The surrounding landscape being the elements of nature beyond the physical manifestation of the sculpture, juxtaposed against man, which is represented by the viewer themselves. Standing between these two domains, is the sculpture.
Another example of how the work can be read is by considering the orientation of the work. The sculpture is proposed to be built on a north-south axis orientation, thereby placing each façade towards the east and west. Apart from practical purposed which is to maximize the interplay of light and shadow through its vertical slit and openings, the theoretical framework suggests a more discernible relationship between east and west, another notion of binary opposition.
As each façade can be portrayed as representing eastern and western values, it raises the issue of whether or not the two opposing realms should be fully embraced, or to be left as separate entity. Again, the boundary here plays an important role in addressing this dilemma, that perhaps a boundary that is more flexible be established, which can be suggested by the openings through the louvers. These are only a few possible points of departure of how the work can be read and interpreted. As in any sculptural work, it is the viewer that eventually understands the value of the work, and personifies the meaning that it embodies.
The very notion of boundary is indeed a difficult variable in order to determine between what is black and what is white. Needless to say, an attempt to depict such a vague intention through public art is by no means a simple task. The physical conception is an awareness that is usually neglected when it comes to focusing on current issues that are essentially unique to the Asian people, and to the greater humanity in general. Therefore, the strength of the work lies not in what is apparent and obvious but rather, it harbors in our understanding and belief that an ideology must come to an end, in order for another to begin. ‘A Tale of Two Opposing Boundaries’ seeks to determine both an end, and a beginning.
Multhalib can be regarded as one of
's younger leading contemporary sculptors. He has become known for his 'fluid metal sculptures' which seem to have been effortlessly carved out of metal. The contradiction of transforming a hard material into a supple, pliable form, demonstrates his interest in the manipulation of the medium. This in part stems from his educational background - an architect by training. He pursued his Bachelor's Degree in Design Studies from the Malaysia in University of Adelaide , thereafter obtaining his Bachelor of Architecture from Australia of Technology in 2000. He has been granted numerous international awards and residencies in recognition of the work that he has done. In 2001 he was selected for the Rimbun Dahan Residency in MARA University , and the following year was presented with the Award of Excellence at the 6th Oita Asian Sculpture Open Competition in Malaysia . He was the recipient of the Australian High Commission Residency in 2004, and was commissioned through an international competition by the Beijing Olympic Park City Sculpture Project 2008 to create a major outdoor sculpture for the Beijing Olympics, Japan . In 2008 he was selected for the Asia 21 Young Leaders Summit held in China . Recently his work was selected for the Tokyo, Japan Ordos 11th Asia Arts Festival, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, , and another outdoor work for the Urumqi International Urban Sculpture Symposium held in China . Xinjiang, China
Here you can find stuff about his works, thought process, and what goes on in the background...
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Here you can find stuff about his works, thought process, and what goes on in the background...
view complete profile
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