Wednesday, May 6, 2009



How appropriate that there should be a Light Show during these dark times; when we would be so near, yet so far, to more transparency; when some of our politicians would be innocents and angels but have been brought down, hard, by murkier intents; when streetlamps and cctv cameras seem to cast nothing on the rising crime rate. And while lava lamps are not exactly passé, plasma globes are still used to launch anything new. We might well be losing our way.

With this show, we bear witness to the end of the Fluorescent Light that once ruled the land, solo and monotonous, from morning to night in bungalow and apartment block, high rise and low rise, living room and boardroom, security guard pondok and stesen keretapi. To be sure, this hardy tubing is unbeatably cheap and lasting, but what a relief that at least now there are warm white and cool white tone options. Our hours have been and are being inside-outed, not only by turns of events, but also by designers, developers and Ikea. Now, more Malaysians can afford to enjoy a variety of light, and not just an Astro package, to paint their lives with colour and feeling. These are new ways to move the human spirit. Still, how many Malaysians does it take to change a light bulb? None. They’ve gone to call the Bangladeshi.

If there is any polemic this show wears, then it is environmentalism. So often, this is a tedious and smug ideology. Such conviction, in the face of no scientific consensus, that humans do have a real impact on the future of the planet! Such complacency that Nature is a pussycat that will purr to the caress of carbon footprint trading! Such intellectual convenience in the idea of a ‘planet in peril’ and all we need do is re-cycle and re-use to rescue it! How deeply conservative this ethos and what a restraining order, even as it looks so hippy and laidback. Meanwhile, there is God, who made the world in seven days, beginning with Light, and might just snuff it out irrespective of mortal efforts…

In this show, however, there is an integrity of idea that in most instances, has ample evidence to support. That is, with adept use of a range of materials – created, found and/or recycled – here is an environmentally-conscious aesthetic that is light-footed not leaden; not just bastardized, also beautiful. The old and new fashioning with light emitting diodes (LEDs) and plastic bottles; combinations of natural and artificial light sources; preoccupations with the elegant and startling, and how light affects spaces and interiors… this is wit, clarity and craft that is plain to see and persuasive. Bright minds are also making light work of the limiting divisions of discipline between architect, theatre-maker and film-maker.

When movies were first viewed, they terrified audiences for appearing as if out of nothing but they soon became popular as the Greatest Light Shows on Earth. In the 1920s, various artists were fascinated by the prospects of the ‘new’ art and famously in Dusseldorf, Germany, a three month-long exhibition was held using projected images, music and dance that was attended by millions. Such was fascination with the new form.

In the arena of this show, filmmaker Bernard Chauly can be found providing a cheeky yet evocative insight into the heritage of private and public taste in lighting. Kok Man, theatre director and lighting designer with a predilection for innovative even bravura extravaganzas of experience turns up a series of quiet surprises; Landscape architect and sometime set designer Carolyn Lau presents lamps and other works that fuse a confident designer’s flair with a mother’s fear for the next-in-line who must deal with the debris of unbridled consumerism. She makes innovative do with the discarded, in charming yet provocative ways.

Farah Azizan’s imagination, which brought us the memorable yellow pages-sofa, is again harnessed in strong conceptual work with a practical twist. Jazmi, who sees such potential in mobile technology creates an installation with humble ol’ straws, adroitly turning what we take for granted on its head – such human ingenuity; sip on it, folks. Architect Fabian Tan’s Gu-light forms, derived from the marbles of the popular childhood game, are a joy to behold. Richard Lau’s ‘head lights’ suggest that we might all be migrants with migraines from the detritus of present day living, yet we will find ways to go on. The artistic duo of Lisa Foo and Mah Su Sim continues to create intriguing new shapes, going deeper than their earlier visits into marine life that created a popular series of deep-sea creatures.

The show’s diversity of movement, sound and music together with sculpture, fused plastic bag heads, oil drums and soda bottles, multimedia installation, lampshade apron, water-bottle headpiece and a raft of other pieces are surely all signs of progress. They are each a tiny solution in the scheme of things but in sum, like fireflies, they are around to be found, praise be. If there is one regret, it is that there are no epic pieces here. Perhaps we can look forward to even more in the next Light Show. Hopefully, it will be an annual event and extend to sites wherever. For now though, experience the rare chance to delight indeed in re-examining what we need, what we use, and what we know.

Congratulations to the producers Carolyn Lau, Farah Azizan and Lisa Foo.


excerpts from TLS09 catalogue

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