New Straits Times, 16 July 2011
Art of engaging the audience
by Meera Murugesan
More and more local artists are using interactive elements to engage the audience and break down the perceived wall of exclusivity of the arts scene, writes Meera Murugesan.
A Toddler claps her hands in delight and runs excitedly towards the sound of singing birds while mid-morning shoppers at The Gardens Mall in Kuala Lumpur stop and look curiously at the eye-catching bird cages hanging from the ceiling of Wei-Ling Contemporary art gallery.
The average Malaysian is no art expert and many may even label the art world as intimidating and overly exclusive. Some galleries today are trying to overcome this barrier to welcome the man-on-the-street to art appreciation.
Their approach is simple and effective — draw attention with stimulating artworks and engage the audience through interactive elements.
The gallery is no longer a place to simply view art and walk away. Today’s audience has the opportunity to react to artworks and understand the experience of the artist.
One such exhibition, on-going at Wei-Ling Contemporary in The Gardens Mall, Mid Valley City, is Art Caged/Uncaged. Inspired by classic Southeast Asian bird singing competitions, the kind that takes place in the neighbourhood padang (field), the exhibition features 10 thought-provoking works by local artists who have really pushed the envelope in interpreting the theme.
The bird cage exhibits, hanging from the ceiling of the gallery, range from the bizarre to beautiful and traditional to futuristic and certainly draw attention and spark conversation among visitors.
Even more meaningful is the setting as the gallery has been turned into an open field, complete with fake grass and the sound of chirping birds to mimic the setting of a real bird singing competition.
Each visitor can pick up a form at the end of his visit and name what he thinks is the best exhibit and explain why he thinks so. The entries will be submitted for a competition and the entry with the best explanation and the artist whose work gets the most votes will win a special prize.
Having a competition does not, in any way, trivialise the artworks on display, says Lim Wei Ling, director of Wei-Ling Contemporary.
“This is serious art and we are not diluting it. But we are getting people to engage with the exhibits in a fun manner. It’s also about pushing boundaries in art and reaching out to the audience in a way they can relate to,” she says.
Lim explains that in this exhibition, the artworks represent the prized singing birds, the artists are the bird owners and the public by rating the works, play the role of judges.
Today, bird singing competitions are victims of modernity. It’s a dying art form while on the other hand, contemporary art is growing exponentially.
But both fields share one similarity. They are viewed as exclusive areas that are the playing field of a select few while everyone else is a silent spectator.
By using one art form to relate to another, Wei-Ling Contemporary has found a way to open up discussion and interest in both areas among a wider audience.
The exhibits include a beautifully painted porcelain bird cage by contemporary ceramic artist Umibaizurah Mahir. Aptly named Paradise, it depicts a garden in full bloom and colourful birds feasting on ripe fruit.
Another impressive work that draws the eye is a white bird cage by Wong Chee Meng, decorated in baroque style, with plaster figures and floral embellishments.
Other unconventional exhibits include Tiong Chai Heing’s Predicament, which makes a statement on the excesses in society with a bird cage constructed like a tower and ornately decorated with shells, beads and lace.
Jeganathan Ramachandran’s playful take has resulted in a variety of quaint wooden animals, from birds, insects and snakes to snails and elephants. Either crawling on the wall, hanging suspended from the ceiling or sitting gracefully on the floor, they add a whimsical touch to the setting.
Art Caged/Uncaged runs till July 30 at Wei-Ling Contemporary (Tel: 03-2260 1106).