Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Signs & Symbols intertwined, complemented

In the book, ‘(Symbolism, 1971)’ it was theorized that there are three categories that can be classified as particular element of symbols. There are Conventional, Accidental and Universal. Conventional symbol was the words that stand or to replace something. Looking to accidental symbol, it has the personal features and the universal symbol was something that was based on someone’s experience or the person that understand it because of having the same experience (Chadwick, Charles, 1971)

To me, representational qualities are most often often summed up into signs and symbols, simplified language of associations either in the form of images or iconic symbols. Looking at the local art scene, the employment of signs and symbols in public artworks are not very apparent, though many artists had explored this iconographic language since the post independence era but it was seldom found in sculpture or public artwork.

Let's imagine the scenario, when signs and symbols take hold on an artist's creative process, the typical initial ideation should manifest from countless illustrations playing profusely in the artist's mind, it later becomes a recognised symbol as the artist tries really hard to make sense of the form derived from his/her imagination, the 'found' symbol was then modified to either make a prosaic mathematical sign or perhaps certain heraldic figures or signatures or completely a new kind of form derived from nature and later simplified to profess a sign or symbol exclusively understood by the artists and later was made known to the public thus shared with his/her audience.

'Signs, symbols, emblems and signals in all their diversity are penetrating and deeply marking expressions of our times, pointing to the future by comprising and conserving something of the past.'
Epilogue, Signs and Symbols, Adrian Frutiger, Watson Guptill

I am interested into marrying the two concepts of signs and symbols into one since I discovered that the two elements intertwined and complemented each other rather tremendously. To my advantages, I discovered that most reference books and literature materials grouped these two titles together.

My actual concern is really on the content of the sculpture I intend to study, and signs and symbols are the recognizable tools available for me to fully synthesize the meaning of the studied sculpture.

From my initial observation, there exist instances of local authorities commissioning public sculpture without philosophical and artistic consideration resulting to an incidental phenomenon of unsightly view to the general public.

To be continued.......

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Public Sculpture : Recreational Sculpture

Public sculpture refers to works of sculpture in any media and its creation is solely for public space, is specifically commissioned and its audience is the general public. Public sculpture involves collaboration often between artists, architects, built environment professionals and the public as well as the commissioned party or patrons. Public sculpture should advocate the sensitivity and context of the site.

Public sculptures in Malaysia are often monumental and free standing, most of the public sculpture were commissioned by local municipals, art galleries or interested party in relaying their messages to the general public.

Correct me if I was wrong, but I think the Asean Sculpture Garden, were the only non-commissioned public sculpture in Malaysia whereas the rest were commissioned public sculpture.

There's one [particular genre of public sculpture that have not yet materialised in Malaysia. The recreational public art/sculpture.The healthy numbers of public sculpture being commissioned in the western world was due to the 1 percent law propagated in the 1970s. The law requires building contractors or architecture firms to allocate 1 percent of their project cost to be devoted to public art and many chose to erect public sculpture as fulfilment to the law enforced.In Malaysia, however, such law did not exist and it is the prerogative of the building owners, contractors or the architectural firm to engage sculptors or landscape architects to beautify their site.The National Art Gallery plays a vital role in enhancing the public’s perception towards appreciating sculpture and other work of arts. The commissioning of large sculptures by the gallery in 2000, enhances public’s perception towards the existence of public sculptures.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Public Sculpture as powerful branding of a place, state or country

From the global perspective, I believe that Public Art is an effective mechanism in fostering civic pride and may bring out the patriotism feeling within a population or a community. The existence of a public sculpture in a public space breaks the otherwise rigid environment and imposes some kind of dynamicity of the chosen place. Public sculpture reinvents the urban atmosphere of a place and would encourage tourism, regenerate urban economies, beautify city spaces, and foster a sense of identity.

Art is expected to attract investments and visitors to cities, create place identities, and promote civic belonging.

Public sculpture is one of many elements constituting to a comprehensive urban context and would be an effective tool to project or manifest a certain aspect of culture or contemporary issue in society.

The symbolism and manifestation found on public sculptures give clear evidence of its rich characteristics and may leads to healthy public criticism and discourses.

Public Art tends to urbanize one’s environment or at least inculcate aesthetics within it, where sometimes, it acts as a symbolic turning point from the past to the future. It can make a major contribution in giving a place character and identity and brings people into and through places.

The fundamental elements in characterizing Public Sculpture

Propagating the idea of public sculpture as participatory and accessible to the general public. Instigating the idea of public sculpture as beneficial in terms of possessing positive recreational values through promoting healthy lifestyles and utilizing public sculpture as alternatives in society’s recreational activities. Public Sculpture being a benchmark for the future recreational activities and settings.

Cities are judged for outputs in ``performances, expressive work, ideas and symbols'' (Scase and Davis, 2000, cited in Julier, 2005, page 875),

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Celebration of Sarawak

Reflecting on my first commissioned public sculpture 15 years ago, a work primarily made of copper, mild steel and aluminum located alongside Sarawak Kuching waterfront. It was a public sculpture competition organised by SEDC (Sarawak Economic Development Corporation) under the helm of Datuk Effendi Nawawi. I was 34 and was competing against more than 100 participants (artists from all around Malaysia & various design companies, art institutions etc). My registration number was 076 and when I submitted my design proposal I was a bit overwhelmed considering the quality of artists and companies involved in this competition. At that time I thought my chance of winning was pretty slim. Two months after the date of the final submission I was shocked when a letter from SEDC arrived and announced my work as the winning entry.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Porta de Santiago

Perhaps the oldest public monument in Malaysia is the gateway of the A Famosa, named the Porta De Santiago, the only physical remnants of a city with 1 kilometer stretch of walls and bastions encapsulating the then city center.
By right, this gateway was part of the city and should never be regarded or even qualified as a monument. But after the massive destruction effort by William Farquhar in 1807, by demolishing all the structure of the city except for the southern gateway, the structure inadvertently becomes functionless.

This turn of event had altered the function and the context of the gateway.
I would like to call it an accidental artwork. The gateway stands on itself, independent of any association with any other structures, buildings or monuments hence qualify it as a unique (one of a kind) structure. It is three dimensional with considerable ornaments dictating its historic value and is accessible to the public.

The gateway, being historic evidence of the oldest colonial structure in South East Asia at its present state evokes greater appreciation from the public. Its presence enhances the public’s aesthetic experiences because of its monumental outlook, its ancient interiors and its geographical settings being built on a foothill.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


It's nearing to August, our nation's independence month. I would like to reflect on a particular public sculpture named Wahdah. This stainless steel, granite and epoxy sculpture was commissioned in 1997 by the Jabatan Perdana Menteri (JPM) as a momento to the Malaysian public commemorating our 40th Independence celebration. I am going to quote the original write-up submitted to the JPM, it's in Malay and I hope when I have extra time to spare, I will try to translate it to English. After receiving briefings from JPM officials, and underwent a meeting with 45 delegates from the public service departments chaired by the Culture, Arts & Tourism Minister, Dato' Sabbaruddin Chik, I managed to come out with 3 scale models, each with distinctive concept and rationale. I was suprised and a bit awestrucked when the then Prime Minister, Dato Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad personally interviewed me and decided there and then on Wahdah(Unity) as the chosen monument for our 40th Independence anniversary.

Wahdah atau Unity ialah arca yang terdiri daripada tiga ciri yang berkesinambungan. Ciri-ciri Wahdah jelas dipersembahkan melalui bentuk arca itu sendiri. Bahagian atas arca Wahdah memperlihatkan bentuk bulan sabit yang satah-satahnya diklasifikasikan bersama untuk membentuk persefahaman dalam bentuk bulatan. Secara terperincinya, bahagian utama arca ini terbentuk daripada formasi beberapa elipsoid 'linear' yang terbentuk melalui 14 satah bulan sabit. Bulan sabit dikaitkan dalam arca ini sebagai satu perlembagaan negara Malaysia yang mempunyai ketuanan diraja dan negara Islam. Dan sewajarnya, bilangan 14 satah yang berlainan saiz dan bentuk mewakili 14 negeri.

Garisan-garisan halus yang terdapat pada permukaan satah-satah melambangkan kesepaduan. Bentuk kerjasama yang seiring, nilai, budaya, adat resam, perkongsian wawasan juga digambarkan dalam arca ini melalui garisan-garisan halus. Konsep tumbuhan dan bulan sabit apabila diasimilasikan bersama membawaa kepada makna mendalam arca Wahdah. Bahagian bawah arca yang terbentuk daripada batu melambangkan kekuatan dan daya ketahanan masyarakat Malaysia yang kukuh dan stabil. Dalam erti kata lain arca ini menitikberatkan konsep kesepaduan.

Rasional Reka Bentuk

Arca Wahdah diilhamkan daripada dua konsep utama iaitu konsep tumbuhan dan bulan sabit. Melalui konsep tumbuhan, arca ini dapat dilihat sebagai bentuk keratan rentas sepohon tumbuhan yang matang. Di dalam keratan rentas tumbuhan terdapat elemen-elemen seperti floem dan xilem yang memperkuatkan kesegahan tumbuhan.

Bentuk luk keris pada arca Wahdah mewakili elemen floem dan xilem berkenaan dan ia menjadi metafora utama arca ini. Apa yang dapat dikaitkan ialah floem dan xilem mewakili nilai-nilai yang terdapat pada rakyat Malaysia dan penyerlahan bentuk luk keris yang kukuh dan tegap menandakan bahawa rakyat Malaysia memainkan peranan penting dalam membangunkan negara Malaysia. Tanpa keutuhan elemen ini negara Malaysia tidak akan mampu merealisasikan Wawasan 2020.

Picture 1,2,3 & 4 - Wahdah at its new location, Taman Asean
Picture 5 - Wahdah was originally located near the DBKL office