Ini karya yang paling mencabar sepanjang aku bergelumang dalam seni. Dibuat khusus untuk menyertai pertandingan Bakat Muda Sezaman (Young Contemporary Award) anjuran Balai Seni Lukis Negara pada tahun 2002. Bayangkan lebih 200 ekor ikan laga yang harus aku install selama hampir 2 bulan pameran. Ada yang survive hingga penghujung, tak kurang juga ramai yang sampai ajal. Akibat itu, aku menerima nota layang yang ditempel di karya..sebagai kejam! Ha.ha.ha.
Aku ingin mencuba sesuatu yang avant-garde (konon!)dalam dunia seni tampak tanahair. Bakat Muda Sezaman sememangnya platform yang paling sesuai untuk pelukis mempersembahkan karya-karya berbentuk eksperimental dan lari dari kelaziman lukisan-lukisan konvensional. Karya ini diberi Hadiah Juri dengan wang tunai RM 5000.00 (yang hampir cover kos penghasilan dan pengurusannya). Di bawah aku tampilkan teks yang mengiringi karya tersebut. Masih mencari versi Bahasa Melayu yang menyorok di celah-celah fail dalam komputer..
THE MAN: Sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep—where am I? That’s what I want to know: where am I? Must keep awake. Nothing keeps me awake except danger: remember that: danger, danger, danger, dan—Where’s danger? Mus’ find it. What am I looking for? Sleep—danger—don’t know. Ah yes: now I know. All right now. I’m to go to bed, but not to sleep. Be sure not to sleep, because of danger. Not to lie down either, only sit down. Ah! (GEORGE BERNARD SHAW: ARMS AND THE MAN, ACT 1)
1) A peaceful man discovers the universe within himself because he detaches himself, abstracts it from layers of body, mind and intellect, and sees the universal dwelling in himself. He achieves in his own surrounding, the completeness of being through his own perspective of the eternal/eternity and thus realises a living depth in him. He does not merely live on the surface of things which blinds him from the reality. Knowing that man is a duality—the scum of creation and the crown of it—a peaceful man leads a creative life: swimming happily in his own utopia, sleeping and avoiding danger instinctively in his own aquarium of life.
2) Out of selfish political necessity and socio-psychological demand, rise the monsters of propaganda—the scum of creation—disturbing the peace of universal pond. Realizing that a society accepts its view of any man from (i) the nature and deeds of the man, and (ii) the nature and needs of society, they alter the normal rules of the social games to their advantage, using the basic recipe from the propagandist’s point of view: the suppression of inconvenient facts, the magnification and repetition of convenient facts, the skilful distortions of motive, the careful omission of the context of speech and action, the argument in a circle, the appeal to unreasoning emotion and the innuendoes and straightforward lying. Their objective is not to appeal to or deceive the processes of reason, but to establish an emotional response-pattern of the same general type as a conditioned reflex. By creating monumental villains, they project two of man’s most important subconscious characteristics—the sense of frustration and the sense of guilt. This projection, undoubtedly, is a presentation of stimuli eliciting aggression; the Freudian “frustration/aggression” hypothesis.
3) In some aspects, aggressive behavior arose through natural selection in animal kingdom and in primitive man. Although this agonistic behavior does not depend solely on external factors and circumstances, but also on internal motivations, the stimuli, presented by irresponsible and dominant political and social scum in our midst as a means to achieve their ends, are always successful in creating the elements of self-protective and withdrawal response in the society which is conducive to the development of aggressive potentialities. The sense of frustration and of guilt together with human ignorance and misunderstanding of one another, are manipulated recklessly in order to create social upheaval and spatial havoc (thus in keeping with the hallowed doctrine of catharsis) to the propagandists’ advantage.
4) Anthony Storr says in his book Human Aggression: “that it is only when intense aggressiveness exists between two individuals that love can arise.” How far is this true? Go and ask the bettas, the fighting fish…which, like ourselves, are surrounded by confusion and error—that we may misunderstand contemporary events and misinterpret contemporary motives—as we are only the stimuli objectives in the hands of cunning political and social villains.
Laga-laga is an installation piece, consists of two box-like units: a base made from plywood, and an 8 by 8 division of perspex aquarium cubicle placed above the base. The former is wholly covered with photo collages of death and war imagery, overlapping one another using decoupage technique to render multiple viewpoints and visual depths. The aquarium is filled with numerous colorful betta fish—various species: short finnage, round-tail and small size of local ikan pelaga; double-tails, overflowing tissue-paper fins and gorgeous hue of Siamese fighting fish; and immense with fringe-tail and delta fins of American breed—individually put in clear plastic containers and slotted into compartments. The utilization of transparent containers further intensifies the field of view, besides enhancing the plain one-dimensional ‘screen windows’ of the aquarium.
Each frontal plane of the aquarium is visually enhanced with colored strips—red, blue, green and yellow respectively on each side—forming demarcation lines for the compartments and obliquely creating a Rubik’s cube appearance. The use of these primary colors must be appreciated in the light of symbolism and psychology of colors, not formalistic aspect alone. All compartments at the four corners of the aquarium are left empty in order to allow some breathing space, a transformative physical void, to the audience’s meditative vision of the rigorous bettas’ movements. In the middle of the cubicle is positioned a revolving psychedelic disco light, affecting the aquatic ballet dancing of bettas as well as reflecting their kinetic and rather luminous colored bodies. Grim lighting to construct an almost theatrical space further augments the artwork in the hope of allowing the audience “to experience a context in which the familiar becomes strange—a transformation which is the essence of art.” The play of disco light in combination with ambient lighting conveys a strong sense of the ethereal.
The main aesthetic essential of Laga-laga is to consider the relationships between formal elements embodied in the decoupaged images on the base and the floating living organisms in the aquarium, and the interaction between these elements and their contexts in the forms of the space it occupies and the disposition and sensitivity of its audience. The audience’s transformative experience, being one fundamental aspect of installation art, could be encountered through total immersion and sensation in the physical, aural, visual, kinesthetic, perceptual and informational totality of the artwork—despite its lack of interactivity, tactile and olfactory rudiments. Modified by the surrounding context and culture, the audience shall make use of their receptor systems and sensory apparatus to comprehend the inherent messages through the perception and experience of space in Laga-laga. “Man’s sense of space is a synthesis of many sensory inputs.” The artwork takes shape according to a certain spatial logic of installation design in order to articulate the relationship between the representation of artist’s thoughts and the characteristics of the artwork and the space.
Combining a reaction to everyday experience and an expression of hope, Laga-laga conveys visual metaphors and wordless paradoxes, which are principally abstracted from the function of propagandistic media in de/constructing social reality, henceforth man’s reactive response-patterns. Photo collages of gruesome images, portraying the chaotic ruins of modern time, are similes of a ‘square-box’ paradigm (see page 8) of postindustrial public. The overlapping of square/rectangular-trimmed photographic shots indicates the prevalence of cynical and disillusioned mass media in the framework of our lives.
As the twists and turns of Rubik’s cube are operated to produce the ordered state of geometrical patterns, living in a ‘mediascape’ is like playing with the puzzle of reality uncertainty . Psychedelically attractive, mesmerizing and yet confusing, media images engage their own politics of distorting our picture of reality by gruesome mind manipulations and make-belief psychological conditionings. The multiplicity of external phenomena is capable of upsetting the dynamic equilibrium of social order; just like a slight knock on the aquarium wall or the strenuous rotating of light rays will interrupt the peaceful atmosphere of bettas in their surroundings, producing a mosaic of elements of attack and withdrawal—analogous with the butterfly effect in chaos theory.
Laga-laga further explores the struggle of life and death and the meaning of harmonic living. The yin-yang concept of existence is represented by the visual contrast between the frantic pictures at the base and the situational serenity of bettas swimming freely in the utopian aquarium, despite occasional show of aggressive behavior by spreading their fins. The viewers are tempted to reflect on the dichotomy of life and death—the uncertain faraway death in media images in contradiction to the real contiguous life of betta fish. The employment of bettas as an organic aesthetic element in Laga-laga is also with a purpose of representing human agonistic behavior in their psychological defense in times of confusion and error. On the other hand, their sporadic conduct of fighting their own images as reflected on the containing walls also reveals man’s ironic weakness in concealing their faults and paradoxical fright of their own shadows, in spite of their bold demonstration of supremacy and power.
Laga-laga too allows the audience to meditate upon the existential duality of man—being the crown or the scum of creation. Bertrand Russell once said; “It is in our hearts that the evil lies.” And Carl Jung put it; “It is becoming more and more obvious that it is not starvation, not microbes, not cancer but man himself who is mankind’s greatest danger.” “Love is the dawn of civility and grace.” Love, as an answer to the problem of human existence, could be achieved if man overcomes his separateness and leaves the prison of his aloneness. “Man is confronted with the solution of one and the same question: the question of how to overcome separateness, how to achieve union, how to transcend one’s own individual life and find at-onement.” These concerns could be resolved if man does not accept media’s input uncritically and does not become a mere stimuli objective. Adorno once asserts, “The total effect of the culture industry is one of anti-enlightenment…that is the progressive technical domination of nature, becomes mass deception and is turned into a means for fettering consciousness. It impedes the development of autonomous, independent individuals who judge and decide consciously for themselves.”
The clear visual images of betta fish at the top and photo collages underneath signify an important distinction between realism and truthfulness. By viewing life (the bettas) and appreciating death (the photo collages), the transformative experience garnered by the audience through Laga-laga shall let them dissect the significance of reality in the dynamics of mediascape universe and permit them to contemplate on the meaning of living and dying in the turbulent structures of postmodern world. Laga-laga is a visual manifestation of a critique of the omnipresent ‘square box’ paradigm in order to accelerate a quantum shift towards social and cultural perestroika, or restructuring. By conscientiously analyzing and realizing the dangers, mankind thus can lie down and sleep peacefully (a concluding remarks to the dialogue quoted at the outset of this paper).
SQUARE BOX PARADIGM
Andre Brink states, “Man’s access to truth has never been direct or easy,” due to the nature and function of myth surrounding him. The most valid aspect of myth in the postmodern context is “its ceaseless efforts to transcend the mere facts of things in order to arrive at what may be termed their truth [or] to progress from meaning to significance.” Myth is employed in such a way to distort or deform facts/truths without the audience’s awareness of them until stereotypes are formed in their subconscious. The presence of myth in media is of little value simply to state certain truths, without living and experiencing them. “Life must be lived in order to be understood.” The functioning of myth as an escape from reality and to imagine the real “creates the obstacle through which we recognize and acknowledge the existence both of ourselves and the world.”
John L. Casti says, “We see what we do and do not see something else because of the way in which we look.” He further asserts these ways constitute what he terms reality-generating mechanisms, such as religion, science, literature and art. In parallel analogy, mass media also represents such mechanism. In contrast to the traditional social feedback mechanisms of face-to-face interaction without any artificial interface, modern mass communication systems in the forms of printed pages, spectator media: radio, television and cinema, and interactive media: computer, provide a different angle on reality. Representing a form of symbolic interaction, they act as “a magical window onto other worlds” as “reality is disappearing behind a screen.”
In examining McLuhan’s phrase: ‘The medium is the message,’ Benjamin Woolley emphasizes that the media or systems for carrying information are not transparent. They do not simply show its audience pictures of events. Rather they have roles in determining what the audiences see and how they make sense of it. As a consequence, the explosion of media as another extensions of human body in molding the perceptual world and the extraordinary illusion of reality of the users/consumers, eventually offers a new form of paradigm, a ‘square box’ paradigm.
The term ‘square box’, as a concept and not a geometrical structure, refers to the ubiquitous format of the media, whether printed or electronic. It has the same connotation as ‘window’ or ‘screen.’ By being spectators (or listeners and readers), the audience’s field of view and henceforth their perceptual experience, is faintly limited by the four peripheral boundaries of the ‘square box.’ In their physical and mental states of immersion in the transforming power of the media, the audiences fail to realize other perspectives and visual impressions, which accompany the perception of depth (exclude the virtual reality phenomenon). Through this limited tunnel vision, the audience only manages to grasp reality through illusion because their reality-generating mechanisms are sublimely dictated by the inherent myths embodied in the ‘square box’ media.
In order to attain actual reality (haqiqat) and not synthetic, artificial or distorted realities, modern man needs to free himself from the spiritual bondage of ‘square box’ paradigm. Although they are capable of offering a new vision of reality, the media should only be treated as mere tools to achieve the truth, but not as the ends in man’s philosophical and perceptual endeavor. Man should not try to find absolute solace in mediascape of culture industry without being critical of its propagandistic and illusory nature. Only then man can contemplate impartially upon his existential qualities in the postmodern structures.