28 October - 15 November 2020
The Zhongshan Building,
Kuala Lumpur, MALAYSIA
Produced in collaboration with Snow Ng Advisory & Projects [SNAP]
View all works here
View virtual exhibition here
The setting: a middlebrow restaurant next to the ████. chi too and I are having fish and chips while Snow is having pho. The waiter brings over the pho before the fish and chips, and when he asks which one of us it’s for, chi too says, “It’s pho her.”
While waiting, I interview chi too about his latest body of work, 95, a set of 95 A4-sized works made simply with pen on paper.¹ The works are part of what he calls the “universe” of Bukan Budaya Kita (Malay: “Not our culture”), a universe that began four years ago and which is supposed to culminate in the as-yet unfinished magnum opus of Bukan Budaya Kita, the titular series recreating historical sites of civil disobedience around Malaysia.
But in the meantime, there’s just a lot of procrastinating — his word, not mine. In the process of making Bukan Budaya Kita (the series), chi too began a number of sub-series (or sub-sub-series?) of works that deconstruct the form of BBK. For “research” purposes, supposedly. With equal amounts of affection and self-deprecation, he calls these side quests his “Procrastination series”. Canvas on Bitumen (2017) was a series of photographs of canvas sheets thrown onto various roads in Kuala Lumpur, identifying sites of major street rallies, while Sometimes When We Touch (2017–18) was his investigation into painting with bitumen, the material used to paint roads. Since protest is a form of mark-making, 95 is chi too’s own exploration of mark-making in its most minimal form, i.e. straight lines.
The works in 95 were created with a careful methodology. Before starting anything, chi too created a chart of three “arrangements” for his straight lines, which were: permutations of how the lines can overlap, permutations of how the lines can be arranged equally in the A4 space, and permutations of how the lines can meet.
As he’s explaining the Bukan Budaya Kita universe to me, Snow interjects, “You know what I think?” Stirring her pho, making eye contact with me but not with chi too. “I think it’s quite psychological. He’s a control freak. He’s a robot and this series is super robotic. When I’m trying to shirk from work, I just clean the house.” She continues talking as if he’s not there.
chi too turns to me as if Snow’s not there. “Let me AirDrop you the artwork photos.”
Snow persists. “If you look at the progression of the Procrastination series, it exactly parallels our relationship.”
“If you keep saying stuff like that he’s going to dock our percentage.” That’s me.
Earlier during the discussion with ███ in ████, chi too had said that he doesn’t want a curatorial essay because he wanted to leave the works open to any and all interpretation. That the whole point of the works is that they’re not trying to say anything. They are a statement against the artist statement, a form that artists abuse as they attempt to make their work speak for something that it simply does not.
As we’re wrapping up with lunch, I ask, “So how do you feel now that the series is finished and ready for exhibiting?” I don’t get it yet: for me, it’s still about feeling.
“I don’t feel anything,” he says. “I’m not supposed to feel anything: that’s always been the point. If I think or feel anything as I’m making a work, then I lose concentration. The whole point of the series is that my entire mental faculty is supposed to be dedicated to the sole task of drawing the straight lines. The work is pre-determined by the charted permutations and I have no say about its outcome.”
It’s a very meditative and zen series, but Snow has her own theory about that. We end the lunch talking about split costs, percentages, and the production budget. There’s nothing else to talk about.
15 January 2020
¹Although the pen chi too used was a cheap one, he always ensures that his paper is acid-free. We discovered this lately when he accused Snow of pricing his works lower than another artist’s. I had said, “That guy uses fancy paper… You just used some normal printer paper, right?” No, wrong. (19 October 2020)