Wei-Ling Contemporary presents Seen, bringing together 10 leading Malaysian and renowned international artists to showcase their visual and activist projects – from documentary and photography to conceptual practice, appropriation of censored imagery to re-contextualization of leaked footage – the curated exhibition provides a critical insight into contemporary surveillance culture, exposing the hidden gaze and the anonymous watchers that are absent from thought, yet present everywhere, thereby blurring the boundaries between the private and the public space.
Seen exhibition marks a breakthrough and milestone in the contemporary Malaysian art scene. For the first time, Malaysian audiences will be able to witness works by some of the leading contemporary names in the art world at Wei-Ling Contemporary, Malaysia. With a line up of impressive international artists, including Ahmet Öğüt (Turkey), Roger Ballen (USA), Heather Dewey-Hagborg (USA), James Bridle (UK), Paolo Cirio (Italy) and Viktoria Binschtok (Russia), who will show alongside Malaysia’s own H.H Lim, Anurendra Jegadeva and Ivan Lam.
From surveillance cameras perched upon street stands to anonymous figures imbued with an aura of absence that inconspicuously blend into the background of our daily lives, the all-encompassing gaze of surveillance has transformed our environment into spectacle. Yet, beyond the initial questions of “who is watching?” and “for what purpose?” comes an awareness of the gaze that transforms an individual’s relationship to society. Government voyeurism has initiated a new-found sense of intimacy between institutions and individuals. As the public hide under the transparent veil of privacy, Big Brother, and to some extent Little Sister, too, infiltrate private spheres, reassuring the public that no act goes unwatched and no trace can ever go missing.
Wrestling between the desire to see but not be seen, the wish to document and the ethical need to forget, contemporary surveillance culture begs for a new kind of dynamic relationship between governments and their citizens. Subverting the surveillant gaze, the ten featured artists, representing six different nationalities (America, Russia, United Kingdom, Turkey, Italy and Malaysia) have subverted instruments of surveillance to expose the intrusive mechanisms employed by institutions to abstract the individual into a set of data to be analysed by private and public entities. Both renowned Malaysian and international artists employ a range of approaches to present works that visualize the omnipresent, yet covert presence of surveillance practices in contemporary society.
The exhibition brings into view what lurks in the background. This idea found a literal interpretation in Viktoria Binschtok’s Suspicious Minds, a selection of photographs with a focus on figures that lead a life in the periphery. Binschtok appropriates press photographs of state receptions, public announcements and religious speeches. Yet instead of capturing the mighty of the world (politicians, religious figures), the artist extracts the “watchers”, selecting section, point of view, and image formation in a way that exposes these guardian figures that inconspicuously shadow their forerunners with a stern poker-face. A reluctant tension is present in each composition, not only due to the remarkable parallelism that permeates through the series, but also due to the fact that the subtle figures watching over others are also subject to the gaze of the surveillance cameras. The curated photographs that are featured in Seen, Body #12, Body #123, Body #125 (2009), are united by distinct hand gestures. Whether arms outstretched, fingers pointing, or palms folded into prayers, each gesture alludes to the powerful figure that is cropped out of view.
“Who watches the watchers?” becomes a central question that runs throughout the exhibition. Yet, artists are not investigators on a quest to uncover answers. They are explorers on a journey that exposes the holes in an enclosed system that shakes at the presence of their curious discoveries. Employing this investigative approach, Heather Dewey-Hagborg’s installation, entitled Stranger Visions (2014), explores the potential for a culture of biological surveillance. Collecting traces of ordinary individuals, from discarded cigarettes butts, chewing gum and stray hairs found in public spaces, the artist uses these samples of genetic data to identify the race, sex and further intimate details about the individual. After the initial research, the extracted DNA from the collected data is then analyzed computationally to generate 3D printed life-seize portraits renditions of what those individuals might look like, based on genomic research. Disturbing in its potential to transform seemingly innocent traces into likely profiles, the installation calls into focus the developing technology of forensic DNA phenotyping, as well as the intrusive emerging era of biological surveillance, and how it changes our perception and experience of public space.
The exhibition, to open on May 3rd, will also host a range of talks and panel discussions. Featured Kurdish artist from Turkey, Ahmet Öğüt, will also be joining the opening of the exhibition. Öğüt, a socio-cultural practitioner who has exhibited at the 53rd Venice Biennial, the 11th Gwangju Biennale, amongst others, works with a broad range of media including video, photography, performance, installation, drawing and printed media and will be exhibiting two works, This area is under 23 hour video and audio surveillance (2009) and his latest work, to be shown for the first time, The Missing T (2018), both addressing topics such as surveillant gaze, state suppression, censorship and forms of resistance.
Seen will be showing from 3rd May to 1st July 2018 at Wei-Ling Contemporary.
Wei-Ling Contemporary is located at Lot No RT-1, 6th Floor The Gardens Mall, Lingkaran Syed Putra, 59200 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Admission hours are Tuesday – Sunday 11am – 7pm. Please call +603 2282 8323 /+603 2260 1106 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.