Sunday, September 23, 2007

Invitation to Sensors

You are cordially invited to the opening of

Banned Books & Other Monsters

on Friday, 21 Sept 2007, 8pm

Exhibition dates: Fri 21 Sept – Sun 7 Oct, 2007

The Annexe Gallery, 2nd Floor, Central Market Annexe, KL
Enquiries: +6 03 2274 6542 / +6 03 2070 1137
Opening hours: 11am – 7pm (Mon – Sat), 11am – 5pm (Sun)

Admission is free

About Sensors

'The totalitarian order depends for its very existence on a precarious equilibrium. Without the heretic, the rebel, the writer, the state crumbles: yet by tolerating him, the ruler equally well seals his fate. As least by implication, Big Brother's mighty system disappears because he wanted to eradicate the dissident - but could not do without him'.

-Andre Brink-

‘Sexual organs move independently of will… from this disobedience of the flesh, mark of a fallen state, none are exempt, not even in the guardians of our morals’.

-J.M. Coetzee-

Sensors is an exhibition that takes banned texts as a motif. Two interactive installations explore censorship as a paradoxical and complex process.

The first is a buzz wire game, in which the viewer is invited to run a hoop along a bent wire in the attempt to reach the end of the wire without touching it. The wire is shaped to follow histogram charts of texts that have been banned from 1971 to the present day. Information about ‘sensitive information’ is turned into a spatial entity to be negotiated physically, and the most arbitrary false move sets off a warning light.

The second is a ‘gallery of monsters’ housed in a darkened space. Viewers navigate the work with handheld torches, opening doors to uncover strange and mythical beasts inhabiting lists of banned texts.

Empirical graphs and irrational monsters – both are shapes that only suggest, not define what is deemed forbidden, transgressive or offensive. A book may be banned in Malaysia according to detailed guidelines, but any attempt to objectively define these guidelines is difficult. How do we draw these essentially arbitrary limits in ourselves and society? Thinking about censorship draws for us merely shadowy shapes of our fears, which disappear like wraiths when exposed in the light of knowledge and discourse.

This project is generously supported by a grant from the Krishen Jit ASTRO Fund.

Sensors : Penerbitan Haram/Banned Texts

Sensors: Penerbitan Haram/Banned Texts (1971 - 2007)
Installation at Central Market Annexe with buzz wire & graphite
Dimensions variable

Sensors: 5 Categories

For the following graphs, a random sample of 827 from the total 1446 banned titles were sorted into five categories: Agama/Religion, Seks/Sex, Bukan Budaya Kita/Counter Culture, Bangsa/Race and Politik/Politics. The texts were categorized by identifying certain keys words in the titles.

Sensors: Agama/Religion
Installation at Central Market Annexe with buzz wire and graphite
Dimensions variable

Sensors: Seks/Sex
Installation at Central Market Annexe with buzz wire and graphite
Dimensions variable

Sensors: Bukan Budaya Kita/Counter Culture
Installation at Central Market Annexe with buzz wire and graphite
Dimensions variable

Sensors: Bangsa/Race
Installation at Central Market Annexe with buzz wire and graphite
Dimensions variable

Sensors: Politik/Politics
Installation at Central Market Annexe with buzz wire and graphite
Dimensions variable

Sensors: installation and detail views


In a blacked- out room, viewers were provided with hand-held torchlights and invited to open doors and look inside them. 11 works in this series, featuring an international cast of monsters drawn on lists of banned texts.

Monsters: Chi'Lin
Color pencil & digital print on paper, wooden box
83 x 78cm

Monsters: Ghoul
Color pencil & digital print on paper, wooden box
58 x 38cm

Monsters: Headless Ghost
Color pencil & digital print on paper, wooden box

Monsters: Manticore
Color pencil & digital print on paper, wooden box
63 x 93cm

Monsters: Unicorn
Color pencil & digital print on paper, wooden box
73 x 93cm

Monsters: Installation view

(Note: these images were taken with flash)

Nerd Love : An Essay by Zedeck Siew

Lately I have come to believe, more and more, that the end of sentient life, its goal, is more sentience. This is, perhaps, a foolhardy belief, one that can never be substantiated. I am convinced that this conviction of mine comes from a fondness for reading: books, television, graffiti, faces on the street. There is something seductive in the acquisition of facts and ideas and emotions, for acquisition's sake. I have started believing that, by this amassment and in considering it, I might come to know myself a little better.

Sensors: Banned Books & Other Monsters, Sharon Chin's latest exhibition, is obviously my thing. It's about books, those conduits of revelation, shortcuts that preclude us from the need to reinvent ideological wheels. It's about banned books, a state-sponsored symptom of the socio-political belief that some knowledge is inherently evil -- a notion rife with delicious paradox, just like the processes in which banning happens. One could literally spend hours fondling the twists and revolutions of this Rubik's puzzle.

The exhibition is also about games: both installations -- one, a Goldberg-like construction of wire, electrical current, and statistics; the other, a horror house of darkness and paintings of mythical bogeymen, obliquely glimpsed -- are, essentially, overgrown basement toys. Let not the jocks on the field or on their Xboxes tell you otherwise: games -- whether configuring bookies at the stadium, competing to identify constellations in the night sky, painting little miniatures, or rolling dice to slaughter ghouls -- are the realm of geeks. Our plane of power, if you get the lingo: our natural 20, our auto-hit.

This is especially true if the sport is representational: war, political campaigns, the sale of art -- or banned books. The processes involved (building guidelines that interpret real-life data, manipulating the resulting system, then refining it) offer a wealth of insight -- but they are also time-consuming. Only operational obsessives, with brains hung like horses, would have the attention span to exert themselves in that way.

In other words: artists are nerds. Whether she admits it or not, Sharon has come up with a fanciful set of rules: come opening, they will be in open beta, ready to be play-tested. Serious fun for fellow disciples of erudition await. I can already anticipate one disclosure: that books are games are books are games. Both offer me information to pick up, store, and chew again, when I'm bored: both will tell me more about the phenomena that surround me, and maybe tell me about myself. Hopefully, I'll get some exercise in the bargain.

Zedeck Siew writes for Kakiseni.

Transcript: In Conversation with Tahi Moore & Lydia Chai

TM: How does time come into your work?

SC: I don't have enough time! I'm working exclusively off a particular list of banned books in Malaysia since 1971.

TM: What I meant was, with a book it'll take a month to read. With a banned book it'll take no time to read it.

SC: Ya-ha. These banned books have become non-books. They've become reduced to book covers, or titles, instead.

TM: Sex Pistols had a #1 hit (can't remember which) but the song wasn't banned, the band's name was. And Salman Rushdie was made incredibly famous by the reaction to his book.

SC: Are some writers being controversial for its own sake? I guess I am an opportunist.

TM: What kind of opportunist are you?

SC: Hm, I don't know whether I am yet. But I don't enjoy gaining notoriety for myself.

TM: What's so interesting about banned books?

SC: The idea of giving/taking offense, and arbitrary moral values. It's close to insane when tyrannical societies try to ban things left, right and centre.

LC: Do you think bureaucracy is based on mistrust?

SC: Well, it's a fear of chaos. How would you feel if someone took down one of your paintings? Or would you feel thrilled?

LC: There was the time somebody stabbed my painting few years ago.

SC: Oh yeah. Did you find it upsetting?

LC: No, it was more amusing. The more you laugh at something the less power it has. That's why I think that in a dictatorship people learn to laugh whereas in a democracy they learn to complain.

SC: That's very interesting.

TM: When Reinaldo Arenas was in Cuba, he sold more books than when he escaped to America afterwards [because people were less interested in him when he was 'free'.] Later he got an angry call from his translator asking him why he didn't want his books translated into English anymore.

SC: It's about dissemination of information and that itself is hard to control. Writers think of 2 things: making the work and how it will be seen. The 2nd bit is out of his hands, depending on market forces, party/state policy, etc. So that sort of information, or which information is allowed to flow and which isn't, reflects a lot on a society and its time.

TM: Is there a consistent number of books banned per year in your list?

SC: No. It's strange and arbitrary.

TM: Is there a published criteria for books in Malaysia?

SC: There are guidelines. For example, anything that is 'harmful to national security' cannot be published.

TM: The thing about national security seems to be a recent innovation [globally].

LC: You mean since Sept 11? Sharon, do you agree with any kind of censorship?

SC: That's a hard question. It's difficult, for example, to come up with rules for what's harmful to children. It's all entirely arbitrary.

TM: [When governments go about it] it's about actively seeking something to guard against as opposed to discerning when a line is being crossed.

SC: Is that a sign of a stunted society?

TM: I just think it's less subtle. William Burroughs once said, "The enemy will be ignored out of existence."

SC: Each person has to mark the line in the sand for themselves.

TM: And the line itself can disappear just as easily.

SC: The idea of morality in Malaysia is even divided into 2 sets. Tahi, in Malaysia non-Muslims are taught Moral Studies in schools but Muslim students have Islamic Studies. For non-Muslims, we are taught specific definitions and values and are assessed on how well we regurgitate these definitions verbatim. And the Muslims in turn have a totally different approach to their assessments. Theirs is based on their behaviour (akhlak) and, of course, the Quran. I think this split in the way we learn something as fundamental as values reflects the schizophrenia of our society. It has had a profound effect on our generation but I don't know what effect this is yet.

TM: So it becomes just another subject to study, right, so no one takes it seriously.

SC: Yeah I guess so.

LC: Okay shall we give this transcript to Sharon to edit? I mean, as a symbolic gesture?

SC: Ha ha-

LC: Or Tahi and I could do several versions based on how leftist and rightist we want it to sound, and then it'll be the luck of the draw which ones people get at Sharon's art opening. Maybe Sharon could determine at the opening who she deems conservative / liberal and hand out the versions accordingly.

TM: I think people should be allowed to decide for themselves which type they are.

LC: It's an art opening. Everyone will say they're left.

TM: We'll do the several versions then. For the various categories, "liberal", "ethical", "moral"-

LC: "PC", "parent", "critic"-

-Transcript truncated-

Lydia Chai's recent Footnotes projects were exhibited in Off The Edge magazine and at the Notthatbalai festival in Kuala Lumpur earlier this year. In addition, she writes about art and manages an online database on Malaysian art at

Tahi Moore has exhibited extensively within New Zealand. He recently participated in
Telecom Prospect: New Art New Zealand at the City Gallery in Wellington. Moore’s work spans performance, video, painting, sculpture and music. He is also known for his writings on art in such publications as Hue & Cry, Crease and artist catalogues. His current website project is

Tahi and Lydia married each other in 2005 and are currently based in

Artist CV

Sharon Chin
b.1980, Kuala Lumpur

Bachelor of Fine Art (Foundation Year)
Elam School of Fine Arts, Auckland, NZ

Bachelor of Fine Art (Sculpture)
Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne, AUS

Boats & Bridges, Reka Art Space, KUL

Fourth World, Australian High Commission Kuala Lumpur

50 Ways to Live in Malaysia, Galeri Petronas (KL)
Selamat Datang ke Malaysia, Valentine Willie Fine Art (KL) & Gallery 4A (SYD)
Between Generations, Asian Art Museum, University of Malaya (KL)
3 Young Contemporaries, Valentine Willie Fine Art (KL)

Perfomativity: 1st SEA Performance for Video Showcase, Gallery VER (BANGKOK)
Open SEA, The Substation (SINGAPORE)
Feed Me! An Exploration of Appetites, Rimbun Dahan (KL)
YCA (Young Contemporary Artists) Group Show, Gallery 153, (KL)

You are Here, Valentine Willie Fine Art (KL)
Annual Reka Open Show, Reka Art Space, (KL)

2002 - 2004
4th Baldessin Foundation Travelling Fellowship Exhibition, Monash Uni. Gallery (MELB)
Wallara Travelling Scholarship Exhibition 2003, VCA Gallery (MELB)
Kaidan Short Works Project, The Store Room (MELB)

Australian High Commission Visual Arts Residency (2007)
Wallara Travelling Scholarship (2003)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Thank you

Krishen Jit ASTRO Fund
David Chin & Maureen Chin
Central Market Annexe
Marion D'Cruz
Koh Ee Huei
Valentine Willie Fine Art
Rachel Ng
Liew Kwai Fei
Mr. Heng Seng Kong
Lydia Chai & Tahi Moore
Zedeck Siew
Talens Framers
CIJ (Center for Independent Journalism)