AFTER-IMAGE: the One, the Many & the Unrepresentative – Minstrel Kuik
August 13 – September 6 2015
If the general election was a quadrennial art event, its visual impact is close to what an international art biennial would aspire to achieve. The artist Minstrel Kuik was very intrigued by this visual proliferation during the 2013 pre-election campaign. At the time she was lecturing in photography in a local private college and in response to this allure she designed a module in which part of it required the students to collect and study a range of this political paraphernalia. At the end of the assignment she was left with boxes of this material: caricature political figure badges, party flags, collapsible water cups and etc. Minstrel had become an accidental hoarder and not knowing exactly how this material might be used, she decided to keep this material: to let it simmer in the hope that something meaningful would evolve.
It has been two years since our last general election took place. This collection along with her photographic documents and newspaper clippings became the starting point for this exhibition After-Image: The One, The Many and The Unrepresentative. Minstrel decided to survey these articles, looking past their intended function and treating them as raw material. In this way political party flags became the raw material for sculptural work and political memorabilia became props for her performances. She internalised these objects by ways of ironing, folding, braiding amongst other gestures as an attempt to tame the grand narratives and subvert them with personal idiosyncrasies.
Minstrel’s work often takes a non-linear route through her creative process. Sometimes she assumes the role of field photographer, carrying a camera around wherever she goes and snapping away at whatever intrigues her. Sometimes she stages performances with friends and family members. Minstrel’s performative and intervention does not end with the photographs. In one of her works, The Day of The General Election (2015), she digitally subtracts, multiplies and masks elements within the photographic plate for the result she desires. A few of her works were tile-printed then glued together to form the full image. This propensity to oscillate between deconstruction and assemblage is evident in her practice. A discerning audience might recognise recurring images in different body of works. Framed work on a wall is not necessarily the final landing point for some of these works, as they could be revoked from their inscribed meaning to be re-contextualized, re-shuffled, re-activated into new narratives.
This exhibition feeds on the turbulent social movements, which took place before the 13th General Election in 2013. It will take the form of a quasi-social science centre displaying both political paraphernalia collected throughout the last general election period; treating them as critical objects of reflection. The artist attempts to totemise these objects with her personal history and poetic narratives. If photography is the memento mori to remind us of our vulnerability and to evoke the ghosts from the past; Minstrel’s repetitive act of the triangular folding of the flags can be seen as a gesture to put the unrest to rest, and to reconcile with the past. (Text by Hoo Fan Chon)
Discouraged by the outcome of the 13th General Election in May 2013, I have stopped reading the local news for the fear of being asked what more do the Chinese want, not to mention having to deal with the daily absurdity acted out within Malaysian politics. Thus reviewing, the memorabilia collected by my students for their photographic assignment on the 13th General Election paraphernalia which remained untouched in the 1Malaysia recycle bags in a locker at the college, until the day of my resignation in March 2015.
There were tainted nylon flags from different parties, banners printed with non-photogenic figure and awkward body language of the candidates, odd free gifts decorated with each mascot or manifesto, badly designed leaflets served as self-promotion and equally shameless accusation of the opponents, newspaper clippings of whole page advertisements from the controlled media, etc. at the last minute, I decided not to throw them away, but to bring them home with me.
Living with these ghosts in the house was not a good idea because their presence constantly irritated me, as a heartbroken voter who swung from the hope of change to the cynical disillusion of what happened between the year of 2011 and 2013. The longer I looked at the objects packed in empty promises, produced by the most expensive election in the Malaysian history, the deeper become my frustration and angst. When subsequent failures gradually being internalized as the Malaysian norm of anxiety, I realized that I should do something, even if the process could be as awful as a breakup that not many lovers could recover from. But if we do, we will wake up from a sweaty night full of unsettled dreams, and continue to live with the afterimage until the awaken personal agency unfastens our fear and doubt.
So I started sorting the items in the bags, first analysing their materialistic logic, classifying them in groups and studying their potential of being something else rather than what they were intended to be. Gradually, I have experimented with the idea of domestication – to feminize, to soften the once exuberant, masculine and heroic objects. Flags were kept immobile by being folded and sewed, whereas the political iconography of the objects is muted by the abstraction of form. Sometimes I would play with the mise-en-scène of objects and studied them through the camera’s viewfinder. In parallel, I also worked with pictures taken at different social settings, such as protectors at Bersih 3.0, which occurred in 2012 by focusing on small groups of individuals, or random villagers in motorcycles riding past by the décor of the election at my hometown of Pantai Remis on the 5th of May – the day of the 13th General Election.
To vote means to vow, and to make a wish. To vote, an individual learns to negotiate with a larger group of people to form a ruling government under a democratic setting. To vote, we participate in a long process of building a future, interwoven between the personal life and the national destiny. However, here and there, movements of resistance from the people are growing stronger and more radical due to a drowning sense of powerlessness, following by non-negotiable suppression from the authorities with stricter and conservative regime. I would like to apologize for all these detours and gestures, but they are necessary if the aesthetic distance is a possible way to create an entry point for individuals to revisit those passionate and empowering moments that embrace both the individual and the other.
Courage of hope, urged once a man on the stage. Courage of hope, prays still the same man in the prison.