kakiseni article by Rachel Jenagaratnam, 17. 07. 2008
Some confessions ought to start this piece off nicely:
First, when asked to review Multhalib Musa’s recent exhibition at Wei-Ling Gallery, I had absolutely no idea who the artist was. The exhibition’s Chubby Checkeresque title, Twist, suggested milkshakes and black-and-white linoleum flooring, but these American dreams came to a halt when I googled the artist’s name.The second confession is that I actually found nothing on the search engine. I later discovered that I had misspelled Multhalib’s name.
For this, I am sorry -- self-diagnosed dyslexia really doesn’t make for very professional criticism, nor does the admission that it was Facebook that came to my rescue. Still, it was there that I first saw the Rimbun Dahan alumni’s work and learnt that I was not going to see any kitsch from the fifties, but rather, a formidable body of contemporary sculptural works made from metal -- works whose form induce a sense of the organic and contrast starkly against the harsh, cold material in which they are produced.
‘A Tale of Two Boundaries’, Multhalib’s winning submission for the 6th Oita Asian Sculpture Exhibition (2001) is a good example of this. It features a series of minimalist spade-like forms assembled together in ascending, and then descending sizes, to form the overall piece. If my description falls short of adequate, I urge readers to picture a fish without a tail or fins. And, if the picture fails to form, help is only a mouse-click away.
Altogether, viewing Multhalib’s works online first was -- to be perfectly honest -- a little intimidating. Sculpture, especially those entrenched in contemporary gestures, remain amongst the most difficult to comprehend, analyse, or appreciate. The minimalist works by Donald Judd or Eva Hesse, for example, are great culprits for this and it certainly doesn’t help when accompanying literature on the subject is written in academic jargon that confuses more than it clarifies. It may be easier poking fun at Michelangelo’s David, but -- and, as a recent exchange of words right here on Kakiseni has shown -- this forms the crux of the great debate between high art and populist art. Is one any better than the other? And, where does Multhalib’s work stand in relation to this dichotomy?
In Twist, sculptures -- both standing (the ‘twist’ series) and wall-mounted (‘linear twist’) -- bear the artist’s signatory approach of deriving each piece, or expanding it, from a central idea or form. Here, the overriding principle is the gesture of twisting, and the form du jour, the fin (or, an elongated S-shape). Each piece is a subtle variation of these combined elements.
These metal works are, as noted by Gina Fairley in the exhibition catalogue, an extension of Multhalib’s formal training as an architect. References to Frank Gehry’s architectural marvels abound, but how exactly does the language of architecture translate into that of art, or more precisely, sculpture? For one, it’s apparent in the process of creation, which Multhalib has documented with great diligence and detail. The blueprints of his work (available online) are evidence of the shared technical vocabulary between the two fields, and, the actual physical quality of both is similar. Like buildings, Multhalib’s works -- more evident in the standing sculptures than the ‘linear twist’ pieces -- necessitate an all-encompassing viewing experience; you are required to work your way around the sculpture, appreciating it from all angles and the small changes each approach affords. At the exhibition, the ‘twist’ series were exhibited on plinths, so it is a great shame that I am so short; from photographic reproductions, I understand it is quite a view from the top -- the variations between the one, two, and three fin sculptures are more notable.
So, is Multhalib’s work high art and inaccessible? The context of the exhibition (a private commercial gallery) notwithstanding, I wouldn’t argue so. Seeing the works in-person and some words with the artist himself enlightens me that Multhalib himself veers towards the classification of public art -- works that, in the right environment, engage viewers and enhance the landscape in which it is situated. The ‘twist’ series may be a little too small for public spaces, but there’s no denying the engagement it prompts in viewers. I, for one, imagine Lilliputian characters running up and down the most precarious of spiral staircases -- a hypothesis that lacks intellectualism, but highlights the possibilities with works that don’t prescribe or dictate any preformed notions upon its viewers. In short, it’s perfectly fine to remove the shackles of academia.
The ‘linear twist’ family, on the other hand, may find its way into a corporate space, but still, the works withhold the capacity to actively engage viewers through its evolving temporal and physical qualities. The metal used for these works will rust and ‘linear twist 1’ (2,3,4, and 5) will visibly age over time -- just like us. It’s arguable that paintings and other artworks age too, but conservators -- like the great plastic surgeons of our day -- conduct exhaustive efforts to reverse this very process. Multhalib’s works won’t be going under the surgeon’s knife, but instead, will be allowed to transform naturally.
Interestingly, these points recall the work of Carl Andre (an American minimalist sculptor working in the second-half of the twentieth-century), whose infamous floor-pieces were made with grids and mathematical efficiency in mind. Andre’s works, made from metal sheets or bricks, were placed directly on gallery floors and viewers were allowed (encouraged, even) to step and walk over them. This example hints at a more symbiotic spectatorship. Michelangelo’s David, on the other hand, isn’t quite as welcoming, or rather, the guards protecting his manhood aren’t and you are forced to take in his virile marble body from a distance.
In 1967, Artforum published art critic, Michael Fried’s, seminal essay, ‘Art and Objecthood’. And, like the other great advocate of Modernism, Clement Greenberg, Fried abhorred Minimalism, arguing against its lack of distinction from mere objects and its overt reliance, or loan, on theatre. In short, he felt these works had no function as art objects without the presence of a spectator who was needed to complete it. Indeed, like the works of Minimalist artists, Multhalib’s also require a degree of theatricality: they demand our time, space, and physicality, but so what? I think we all need a little drama in our lives.
Read another view of the same exhibition by Eva McGovern here.
Rachel Jenagaratnam is a free-lance writer.
Abdul Multhalib Musa: Travelling with Moving
kakiseni article by Eva McGovern, 08. 07. 2008
Stillness. Stasis. Movement. Action. Sitting in traffic on the way to Wei Ling Gallery to see Abdul Multhalib Musa’s recent solo show Twist, I didn’t have a book, newspaper, I-pod or other useful strategy to pass the time en route. I glanced at my taxi driver who was reading an article on the aphrodisiac qualities of watermelon, which sadly, were of no interest to me.
Therefore lost in thought, I contemplated the notion of travelling without moving which is what immediately struck me when first confronted with Multhalib Musa’s work. Somehow the stillness of the cars trapped on the road, the frustration of motorists impatient to arrive at their destinations, the stop-start motions of the cars in contrast to the seamless buzzing of traffic on the other side of the road all lent themselves appropriately as the starting point to the exhibition. With the geometry of the city all around, I was anticipating precision, chaos, architectural lines and organic punctuations.
I entered Wei Ling Gallery and climbed the stairs to the exhibition space. The very nature of the gallery with its labyrinthine internal architecture, lends itself to an interesting dialogue with the work of Abdul Multhalib Musa, a well established Malaysian abstract sculptor who is also a trained architect. His architectural background resonates strongly in his practice, which explores the possibilities of seemingly rigid metals, in this case, steel and how it can be manipulated to be both precise -- in his use of technique and repetition of form -- whilst simultaneously fluid and rhythmic.
The exhibition displays two different motifs; a wall based series of steel panels entitled Linear Twist and free standing spiralling sculptures: the Twist series that both take up the entire gallery space. This represents a new body of work for Multhalib Musa (that has evolved from an earlier series) in response to paintings by Yusof Ghani entitled "Biring" exhibited in 2007 at the Gallery. The action and movement from Yusof's painting's subject matter, the cock fight, inspired Multhalib Musa to create a series that echos the blurring pace of bodies in motion.
There is a clear and precise delivery of the work, realised by computer design and laser cutting. The Twist sculptures display a mathematic sensibility which is made up of multi-layered blades similar in shape to those found in food blenders or airplane propellers consisting of either two, three of four fins. Stacked to form an undulating screw like totemic structure, the striations from the cut steel etched into the edges of each blade display metallic greys, blues and golds reflecting a myriad of colour which heightens the movement of the sculpture. The Twist series follows on from the artist's earlier mobiles work and although made of steel and dense in form, there is a certain lightness to these structures. It is easy to imagine them turning in the wind like their lighter spiral mobile counterparts found hanging from household porches. In addition there is a delicacy in design that shows a consciousness of organic forms such as the spiral of a sea shell.
The juxtaposition of motion and stasis is clear, the Twist sculptures display each frame of movement of the whirring blades, methodically measured, the spinning firecracker in slow motion as if in water. Industrial Duchampian figures both ascending and descending the staircases in the gallery. However, unlike the drama of the cockfight from Ghani’s paintings, there never seems to be a moment when this capturing of movement gets out of control, the blades are dull, deliberated corroded to a specific point by the artist and then preserved to become an untouched relic. Reminiscent of Deconstructivist concerns of unpredictability and controlled chaos as seen in the works of architects like Daniel Libeskind, Rem Koolhaas and Zaha Hadid, the work never turns into architectural meglomania. The monumentality lies in the silence of these relatively small sculptures.
The wall based work possess a different quality, one that is deliberately more organic, more lyrical and sentimental. Each steel panel has had multiple half circles cut into them which is then lifted out of the surface to create patterns similar to sunbursts or fallen leaves. Where as the Twist sculptures have an implied industrial quality the Linear Twist series is meditative, with an iconic natural/spiritual factor that give the work a more implicit meaning, limiting the possibility of multiple interpretation. The real strength of this body of work lies in the free standing sculptures where the artist's preoccupation with the relationship between art and architecture is much more apparent.
Ultimately it was the dialogue between the gallery space and Multhalib Musa’s work that create a tightly woven and effective total installation. The zig zagging of the gallery’s staircases, hexagonal flooring, exposed brickwork and remnants of the original internal structure create movement within movement. With each floor visually accessible to one another the viewer's gaze is able to travel both upwards and downwards, as it does when taking in the upward and downward spiralling motion of the sculpture or form bursting from the panels. Coupled with views of the city outside where the eye constantly takes in the motions of a living metropolis, highways, sky scrapers, the organic forms of trees and grass, industrial cranes building one structure after another all echo what was happening inside the gallery. Even the whirring blades of the floor fans on each level seems to become part of the show complimenting the artists inspiration from the built environment.
Reference to Yusof Ghani’s work is strangely absent in the exhibition except for a few lines in the press release which questions the importance of this starting point to the work. This context does not seem to be a crucial inclusion in the construction of the exhibition. The use of painting as a subject to respond to would have been interesting to explore especially with such tectonic work but in this case it seems to disappear from consciousness completely as the sculptures and gallery architecture overwhelm any such concerns.
Abdul Multhalib Musa’s career is going from strength to strength. A former Rimbun Dahan artist, he has exhibited consistently in group and solo shows since 2000 and has been commissioned to create a public sculpture for this year’s upcoming Beijing Olympics. As I left the gallery, anticipation to see how this artist’s practice develops filled my thoughts as I waited to be held in traffic once again in the growing city, like Multhalib Musa’s practice: travelling without moving.
Eva McGovern is an independent curator based in Kuala Lumpur. She has recently relocated to Malaysia from London after working in a major contemporary art institution where she organised exhibitions and public programmes. Eva's primary research interest is contemporary South East Asian art and performance art.
gua.com.my artikel oleh Syaliza Shapiansuri, 13 Julai 2008
Itulah yang dilalui Abdul Multhalib Musa, seorang penggiat seni arca logam. Melihat kepada arca yang dihasilkannya, segala usahanya nyata amat berbaloi dengan pulangan yang diterima.
Antara pertandingan yang pernah dimasukinya ialah Minggu Cegah Kebakaran Kebangsaan (1991, juara), Galeri Shah Alam; Pameran dan Pertandingan Warna Air (1993, naib juara), Balai Seni Lukis Negara dan ‘World-Wide Millennium’ (1999, anugerah khas), Kuala Lumpur.
Selama setahun menimba ilmu seni dan bereksperimen sebagai artis residen Rimbun Dahan, Multhalib berpuas hati dengan apa yang boleh dihasilkannya kini. Setakat ini bukan sahaja Balai Seni Lukis Negara tetapi pelbagai lagi pameran yang pernah memperlihatkan karya arca logam ciptaannya.
Terbaru, Multhalib menghasilkan arca logam bertajuk Twist. Melalui Twist, Multhalib bereksperimen dengan logam dan menghasilkan satu item yang cukup menarik. Tiada sebarang maksud tertentu dalam karya Twist, sebaliknya lebih memperlihatkan ekspresi kreativitinya.
“Twist mengambil masa dua ke tiga tahun untuk mendapatkan idea sebelum final touch yang mengambil masa hanya seminggu sahaja. Keseluruhan arca logam yang dihasilkan untuk koleksi Twist adalah sebanyak 13,” katanya yang pernah menghasilkan koleksi arca Swirl ketika mengadakan pameran solo di Australian High Commision, Kuala Lumpur pada May 2005.
KUALA LUMPUR: Penang- born Abdul Multhalib Musa is one of Malaysia's leading contemporary sculptors. Multhalib, who studied architecture in Australia, has won many international awards and residencies through his work. He has been commissioned by the Chinese government, following his participation in an international competition, to create an outdoor sculpture for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. "All my exhibitions have been different, but mostly architectural oriented designs," he said. Multhalib received the Australian High Commission Residency in 2004 and was selected for the Rimbun Dahan Residency in 2001. Multhalib expressed confidence he would make his mark as a sculptor on the international front. He is currently having an exhibition entitled "Twist" at the Wei Ling gallery from June 26 to July 10. The pieces on display are unique and contemporary.
Q: When did you develop a love for art?
A: My parents told me that I began drawing at the age of three. I drew on their walls using crayons and pencils. I also remember winning a gold medal for art when I was just six years old. I was encouraged by that and have pursued art ever since.
Q: Were your parents supportive of your career?
A: They always have been supportive. My mum was a teacher and my dad a civil servant. They used to send me for art classes and encouraged me to be creative. They also bought me art stationery. My sister on the other hand is a computer whiz and is not into art.
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: I was born in Penang in 1976 and went to primary school in Bukit Mertajam before my family moved to Kuala Lumpur.
Q: Have you always like art and designs?
A: I have always wanted to be an artist. If I can just paint or draw and make things, I will be very happy. I love my work so much that even if I'm not physically doing anything I'll be mentally planning my next sculptures. I'll look at something and get inspired and that immediately triggers lots of ideas. It can be from just looking at people or talking to them or even through political issues. I have some pieces inspired by political issues.
Q: What do you do in your free time?
A: Like anyone my age, I like hanging out with friends at the mamak shop and catching up on things. Maybe catch a game of football. The people I hang out with are usually my school friends. Sometimes I hang out at the gallery.
Q: What do you enjoy most about life?
A: Being able to do what I want to do when I want to without having to follow a timetable. Basically not to have any pressure except the one that you put on yourself.
Q: Have you done anything recently that you are proud of?
A: Yes. One of my sculptures which was commissioned by the Beijing government for the Olympics has been placed in the Beijing Olympic Park City. Actually, I was commissioned after entering an international sculpture competition in 2005 and through that I was selected along with a group of artists for the project.
Q: What are your future career plans?
A: I don't have any concrete plans. I'll just see where my work takes me. If opportunities present itself then I'll take it. You can't really plan anything when you're doing art work.
Perkembangan seni tampak daripada tradisional ke moden dalam semua genre memperlihatkan sebuah anjakan yang drastik - perubahan asas seni yang didominasi oleh pemikiran Eropah Barat, Amerika kepada era globalisasi yang ditentukan oleh aliran-aliran kekuatan seni negara-negara maju.
Fenomena globalisasi inilah yang mewarnai sebahagian besar seni tampak moden dunia termasuk Malaysia hari ini, meskipun usaha mempertahankan nilai-nilai tradisi dan kebudayaan setempat masih menebal.
Bagaimanapun kekuatan kapitalisme dan budaya multinasional dalam era globalisasi, mengakibatkan banyak kegiatan seni tampak dunia mahu atau tidak terpaksa mengikut rentak semasa yang lebih rencam.
Di sisi lain, persoalan ini memberi impak positif tersendiri. Karya-karya tidak lagi terlalu terikat kepada tradisionalisme. Sebaliknya, ia mendorong kepada kebebasan seni yang lebih luas dan matang.
Keterbukaan ekonomi misalnya secara tidak langsung menumbuhkan seni instalasi, grafik, digital dan karya-karya arca yang mengarah kepada fenomena globalisasi atau keperluan semasa.
Globalisasi juga memberi impak besar pada genre seni fungsional — busana, hiasan dalaman dan barangan sehari-hari yang akhirnya turut mempengaruhi seni halus, arca, seni digital dan sebagainya.
Abad moden, menurut ahli sejarah seni lukis, H.W. Janson, ditandai dengan meletusnya Revolusi Perancis, Revolusi Industri di England dan perkembangan demokrasi di Amerika Syarikat. Ketiga-tiga peristiwa besar itu sangat mempengaruhi terbentuknya seni tampak moden dunia terutama di awal abad ke-19.
Salah satu ciri pembentukan seni tampak moden itu ialah kemunculan seni grafik yang menandai semangat industri dan kebebasan dalam berkarya yang sedikit sebanyak mula mengikis nilai-nilai estetika yang menjadi keutamaan dalam seni tradisional.
Pada tahun 1841, arkitek British, Welby Pugin untuk pertama kalinya menafikan estetika dalam seni tampak. Dia menulis; “Keindahan tidak diperlukan lagi untuk keselesaan, perilaku dan moral,
Pada 1908, pereka Austria, Adolf Loos menyatakan kekagumannya terhadap kemampuan mesin dalam menghasilkan produk seni dalam rencananya, Ornament and Crime; — “produk mesin indah selama tidak disertai dengan hiasan,”.
Dalam erti kata lain, Loos berpendapat, estetika seni harus mengikut peredaran zaman dan produk seni yang dihasilkan menggunakan mesin atau jentera juga tetap memiliki nilai-nilai seni.
Persoalannya adakah pendapat tersebut tepat atau hanya sebuah teori ketika masyarakat pasca Revolusi Industri di Barat sedang ghairah mengembangkan penggunaan teknologi termasuk dalam pembuatan produk seni?
Jika diteliti dalam perkembangan seni tampak moden di Timur termasuk Malaysia, teknologi tidak pernah mengabaikan estetika walaupun ia menyediakan ruang kebebasan yang cukup luas untuk berkarya.
Intepretasi kebebasan inilah yang ditemukan dalam pameran solo Twist oleh Abdul Multhalib Musa yang berlangsung di Galeri Wei-ling, Kuala Lumpur hingga 10 Julai ini.
Ia menampilkan sebuah kebebasan eksperimen menggunakan kepingan-kepingan besi padu membentuk arca yang unik, menarik tetapi pada masa yang sama cuba membina estetika seni melalui proses grafik yang rumit.
Kepingan-kepingan besi melalui teknik pemotongan laser disusun dan dicantum membentuk sebuah ritma dan alunan emosi yang cukup memukau.
Emosi dan kebebasan dalam eksperimen diluahkan secara bebas melalui susunan kepingan yang membentuk putaran tertentu tetapi dalam pada masa menelusuri luahan emosi dan ruang melankolik batinnya.
Tanpa disedari, karya-karya Abdul Muthalib mengutarakan sebuah kenyataan kesimbangan emosi, antara ketenangan dan kegusaran, kegembiran dan kesedihan atau apa sahaja antara dua elemen yang saling kontra.
“Setiap karya saya tidak mempunyai tema dan tujuan khusus ia dihasilkan. Sebaliknya ia sebuah kenyataan saya tentang kebebasan membina struktur serta putaran grafik melalui kepingan-kepingan besi itu,” katanya.
Mungkin pandangan pereka sosialis British, William Morris cukup untuk menilai karya-karya Abdul Muthalib tersebut. Dia melihat estetika seni tetap hidup selagi produk seseorang mampu memberikan kebahagiaan pada pembuat dan khalayak.
“Seni bukan hanya untuk masyarakat, tapi juga dibuat oleh masyarakat. Apa sahaja yang boleh memberi ketenteraman dan keselesaan kepada pembuat dan `penggunanya’ tetap sebuah karya yang baik,” tulisnya.
Oleh itu, ditangan Abdul Muthalib, seni tidak lagi La belle arti del disegno (sebuah karya seni yang indah). Ia justeru sebuah eksperimen dan percubaan mencari bentuk produk seni dalam wacana modenisme.
Karya-karyanya Twist 3.3, Twist 3.2 dan Twist 4.2 misalnya membuktikan bahawa seni tampak moden mempunyai perkembangan tetap mengutamakan ekspresi seni walaupun dinyatakan dengan pendekatan yang berbeza berbanding seni tradisional.
by Rachel Jenagaratnam, The Star: Starmag, Sunday, 6 July, 2008, pp 14.
Abdul Multhalib's Two Sides sits proudly in Olympic Park City in Beijing, the sole Malaysian representative among park's 100 sculptures. - Photo courtesy of Beijing Olympic Council Committee
Abdul Multhalib Musa’s sculpture, Two Sides, was selected from among a pool of 2,700 entries from across the globe to join the works of 99 other sculptors in the park.
As he’s only 32, some may feel this honour is a little premature, but he is, in fact – as many have described – one of Malaysia’s leading contemporary sculptors. His works are housed in private and public collections, including the Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur, and the KL Hilton. He has also participated in a noteworthy selection of group exhibitions both at home and abroad.
His latest series, Twist, is currently on display at Wei-Ling Gallery in Kuala Lumpur.
The artist focuses on one aspect of design for each series, says artist, and for this one, the reigning concept is the physical act of twisting, especially evident in his standing mild-steel sculptures that display minute variations in the arrangements of central fins (think of an intricate spiralling staircase).
The works in Twist were conceived as long as two to three years ago; it takes that long to make his art, Abdul Multhalib explains, because it involves a laborious process defined by trial and error – “They don’t just come out perfect; sometimes, it doesn’t work and you throw it away.”
While Abdul Multhalib confesses to having a rather creative childhood, it is his training in architecture that exerts the strongest influence on his sculptures: “I could not have done this if I had studied fine art,” he says, listing the products of his education that help him create his works.
What’s also come in handy is the skill of working with suppliers to coordinate work, something on which his architectural practice was “very much dependent”. It seems it isn’t simply a matter of sending out a design and waiting for it to come back fully formed; negotiation and persuasion are the order of the day. Manufacturers have to be persuaded to explore and convinced that it’s financially viable.
“Malaysia has all the technology, but they (manufacturers) don’t want to take on small scale and creative works. So it takes time to develop all these relationships.”
He points out the granite bases that hold the standing sculptures in Twist: “Even those took time to source.”
Ultimately, Abdul Multhalib feels his sculptural practice is no different to the practice of architecture, except the former isn’t restrained by a client’s requirements: “I am the client, unless it’s a commission, where I deal with briefs, proposals, and budgets.”
This freedom is a bonus for the creative process. Unmarred by the limitations of a client breathing down his neck, Abdul Multhalib, as he rightly puts, has the “option of being more critical”.
Malaysia’s sculptural dilemma lies in the lack of numbers; there is only a handful sculptors actively producing works today: “When I meet collectors and ask why they don’t buy other sculptures, they say there aren’t that many around.”
It appears it all boils down to the basic economic principle of demand and supply; but what are his suggestions to overcome this?
A step in the right direction, says Abdul Multhalib, would be to “keep up with the times”. He muses on the universities in Australia and Beijing that he has visited that feature well-equipped IT departments for fine art schools, advanced enough to rival the best of their architectural counterparts.
Also, it is a growing field, says Abdul Multhalib, so more arts students should be encouraged to get into it: “There’s a lot of demand, especially for public works, and corporate clients have high demand for sculptures outside their buildings. The situation needs to be sustainable, so corporations continue to be patrons, and on the supply-side, artists are able to work too.”
But does the general public have a taste for sculpture? Is it difficult to appreciate?
Not so, says the artist, pointing out that, “In Malaysia, there’s already a history of craft products. It’s always been there, inherent in our culture.”
Abdul Multhalib cites the example of relief works present in temple facades: “These are more difficult to understand, more complex.”
He feels the most important quality a sculptor needs is sensitivity to the surrounding environment. And it is this sensitivity that defines Abdul Multhalib’s works: they possess an acute sensibility for form and spatial qualities, much like the curvaceous folds of a building designed by Frank Gehry, the renowned Canadian architect frequently quoted in relation to Abdul Multhalib’s work.
The artist says he is informed by the school of International Abstraction, which means that his sculptures – like Gehry’s buildings – possess a vernacular that could easily be appreciated by anyone. In short, none of his sculptures contain any one dominant national identity.
Abdul Multhalib’s public sculpture in Beijing, Two Sides, is a fine example of this, and evidence that art can, indeed, overcome cultural barriers and the divisions wrought by language.
The Summer Olympics may not have commenced, but it’s safe to say we already have a winner right here.
more about TWO SIDES here.
Here you can find stuff about his works, thought process, and what goes on in the background...
view complete profile