How to make a music video in 3 days with 3 kids and zero experience.

Last month, I volunteered to take part in “Serasi”; workshops series for inner city kids. I would go as far as to mention it as a ‘disadvantaged community’. Hosted by Pusat Sekitar Seni (PSS) in Padang Jawa, it gave me a chance to be exposed to work with the urban poor youths. Initially, I offered to conduct an animation + architecture workshop. Perhaps to work on a simple stop-motion animation project using scale models or something.

But I quickly realized, my ideals are VERY different than the situation that presented itself in the next few days. I knew I had to come up with a PLAN B  when I met my boys for the first time.

Brabrader gang.

Brabrader gang.

The ‘tough’ boys signed up for my workshop. These are the kind of boys that moms would warn their kids to stay away from at school (if they went at all). The high-school drop outs, the boys who’d skip class to smoke under bridges. Yup, they’d definitely make me work for my money this time. I spent half a day, observing them in the ice-breaking workshop.

But what struck me was their constant fascination with techno music. Maybe because it was highly danceable, and these boys would take any free time to connect his handphone to computer speaker and start dancing.

The other obstacle, was that I was the new ‘teacher’ (or cikgu, in Malay) at PSS this time, with the other facilitators as returning teachers.Sustaining the interest and attention of these boys, would be challenge, especially since I to make the learning interesting for them to come back for the next 4 days. I had to find a project that everyone found interesting enough to want to stick around for. The best way, I thought, was to start with something they liked and knew well; their techno music.

In one of my sessions, I exposed my group to script writing. My plan A, was to have a “storyboard session”. That didn’t work.

I noticed that the boys lacked the ability to visualize. Visualizing is one skill and the other skill was the ability to transfer what’s in the head onto a paper that can be shared and understood by others. That would require another 3 days with my boys. So I skipped that part.

Trying to explain to my group what a script was And why we needed one.

Trying to explain to my group what a script was And why we needed one.(Photo credit: Ili Farhana)

One boy in the group named Johari, had a handphone with the music. I asked him to play the tune on repeat as they worked on their script. Once a loose script was done, we walked to the shooting locations, suggested by the boys (since it was their neighborhood) and prepared for “shoot day”,

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I asked the boys to come up with a short story-line for their music video. They came up with the idea of a boy who was on his way to a concert and met his friends along the way.

The next day, I brought my laptop, my small camera and tripod. Shoot day went by like a breeze. I was so amazed at how well my small production crew of 3, took turns to shoot, direct and act. These boys showed a magical display of teamwork and dedication for their work that suprised me. It was almost like working with a professional team!

Photo credit: Ili Farhana.  We shot our first scene just outside of the space.

Photo credit: Ili Farhana. We shot our first scene just outside of the space.

Screen Shot 2014-12-13 at 1.57.35 AM

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Once we got all the footage we needed, I picked Johari, who was also the eldest in thre group (16 years old), to edit the music video. He was very reluctant because he said he’s never touched a computer, but I shoved my macbook air to him anyway, “You can do it, Jo. I will show you how.” He turned the laptop on and the first thing I taught him was how to organize the footages into folders to make for efficient editing.

Not suprisingly, Johari aced it within hours. He handed me a rough cut before lunch.

Facilitators’ notes

This was, in no way what-so-ever, a workshop about improving one’s skills in technology/digital-based or media arts. I knew this boys were the type that learned from their environment. Howard Gardner talked about the “Multiple Intelligences theory” where he identified 8 intelligence combinations in people:

1. musical–rhythmic

2. visual-spatial

3. verbal-linguistic

4. logical–mathematical

5. bodily–kinesthetic

6. interpersonal

7. intra-personal

8. naturalistic

Looking back at my group, these boys are 1,2,5,6 and 8. They learn better when all their limbs are moving in space.

Digital technology was my excuse to bring these kids together. I knew by getting them to work outside, play with ‘fancy’ tools to produce something as pop culture as a music video, would help bring these boys to function as a team.

My bigger picture was to share the idea of collective learning/working. These boys worked amazingly as a collective. Something, most adults in modern society find difficult to do.

The other thing was, that learning can be a lot of fun, if its done right. Also, that no person is incompetent; everyone just needs to be motivated to work in a team, as a team.  But, I have also noticed, how the kids jumped at anything digital media related. Perhaps it relates with the fact that it’s now very accesible, thanks to cheap knock-off smart phones and mobile devices.

All in all. I hope I can continue my work with such youths mainly because there is so much diversity in the narratives that they can bring to the creative table.

Here’s the final video rough cut vid made by the kids:

The TRASI(EN)T PENANG PROJECT: Open Studios (part 2)

The Form

The non-availability of an art institution forced me to re-think where to present our artworks. This situation resulted in the proliferation of alternative spaces, which often offers a physical space without the management or technical infrastructure. For practical reasons, these alternative spaces double up as a café, restaurant or accommodation. The “café and gallery” or “museum and café” is a common strategy to merge everyday commerce with value-based business. It was obvious to me that we needed to broaden our definition of “exhibition-worthy” spaces to include hybrid spatial typology.

The heritage status public buildings in George Town made it impossible to find a large open-plan space that could house all of our activities, instead we had to look for a viable alternative. We began to explore the option of a series of inter-connected spaces, where we linked several smaller spaces together. We strung together a hostel, an empty shoplot, a godown, a fine-dining restaurant, the post card shop and the state Penang state museum.

The Formless

At the start of the project, Dayang and I were aware that TRANSI(EN)T PENANG would be an urban intervention expression. It is a project that investigated the local urban conditions and social relationships would through different audience participation urban interventions.

We selected artists whom we feel would thrive on such social encounters. We knew also that the artists’ own understanding of George Town’s local dynamics was crucial to the success of their initial expressions (works were not expected to be final; instead were more of a work-in-progress) where we allocated into our programming “getting to know each other and getting to know Penang” spread over a week. Within this time, Dayang and I discussed with the artists’ their daily observations, that eventually narrowed down to which area they would like to focus on, although Dayang and I had loosely agreed on specific sites for each artist, based on Dayang’s perceived optimum conditions. In hindsight, our suggestions merely served as a conceptual perimeter to begin our discussion with the artists.

Programs for Transient Penang centred on the production of the Open Studios. The Open Studio coined by Dayang, became the operation platform between artist and the public. To me, it functioned like an open laboratory where semi-orchestrated social encounters took place. The artist created a different `atmosphere’ to separate the existing environment with their open studio. Instead of the open studio marked by physical four walls (imagine a conventional painters’ studio), artists create an ‘atmosphere’, designed to invite, coerce or simply narrate the artists’ expression of the site.

Below is one of the Jaffa Lam’s Open Studios at Chinahouse.

<p><a href=”″>Transi(en)t Penang: Jaffa Lam’s Skylight for the Chinahouse</a> from <a href=””>dac</a&gt; on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

(To be continued)

The TRASI(EN)T PENANG PROJECT: Curator’s Notes and Observations (Part 1)

Hello there!

Allow me to attempt to reconstruct what transpired during the production of Transi(en)t Penang. Despite working with a shoe-string budget, the positive support and response we received have been tremendous. However, to ensure that I always improve my capabilities, it’s important to reflect and critique the project. We are thankful to our main sponsor, George Town Festival, for their help both financially and physically.Thanks to Dayang Yraola, my sister from another family, for believing I could pull it off.


Addressing the Site: George Town

<p><a href=”″>Transi(en)t Penang 2014 post_event</a> from <a href=””>dac</a&gt; on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

George Town is a city borne out of trade and commerce. Even before British intervention via Francis Light in the 18th century, the Kedah island known to the locals as ‘Tanjong Penaga’; had already attracted small traders. The calm strait waters and abundance of local resources made it an ideal stop-over for ships. Light, a young and tenacious entrepenuer, pounced at this opportune moment, and strategically acquired the island’s rights to trade from the Sultan of Kedah, at all costs. Mirroring the British colonial’s administrative models, Light laid out the modern foundations of the new British trading outpost, known as today’s George Town.

Fast forward 300 years, the town continues to be a hub for commodified exchanges. And recently, adding to the list of goods for sale; is heritage. George Town’s inception to the UNESCO world heritage listing unleashed pressures of globalization such as gentrification and mass market tourism. “From an economic perspective, globalization has truly changed the world. The core features of globalization has truly changed the world. The core features of globalization are increased free trade between nations, easier movement of capital between borders, and a massive increase in foreign investment.”-Nick Gibson, Pros and Cons of Globalization: Controversy and Discussion, 2014 (Accessed 3 Dec. 2014)

We witness, not only a trading of goods, but also the selling of cultures, both old and new. There seems to be a renewed interest all things “past-related”, translated into vintage, retro, old-school kitsch, anything that looks old and rustic, is now a trend.

But more popularly, are the street art culture and the mushrooming hipster cafes, perhaps more appealing to the social media obsessed generations, thus making them more consumable cultural commodity.

Cultural goods make an easy transition as artistic commodity. Without the super forces of high art institutions like the Tate Modern, Esplanade Singapore or the Guggenheim, how would art-based projects navigate itself in George Town?

Art thrives within an ideal space; manifested not only as a white box but also with its structured organization that buffers the artists from the local social, political and economic forces. If one removes institutions from the equation, artists will have to deal with these forces head-on. That said, it comes as no surprise that artistic endeavour in George Town has a stronger economic peragotive, either through the semantics it communicates or by its physical package. As the saying goes, “If you can’t beat them; join them”.

In dizzy concoction of commerce and cultural commodification, we oriented TRANSI(EN)T PENANG. Massive improvements in networks, roads and telecommunication have increased individual mobility in Penang, where everyday life takes on an increasingly machine-like pace. This shift has radically affected social behaviour of its residents. The congenial conversations with old uncles over kopi is now replaced with placing numerical orders via a Starbucks a microphone and speaker.

The lack of ideal artistic infrastructure forced me to rethink the definition of arts’ space and eventually question the meaning of art within the George Town context. My regular association with Penang gave me a better understanding of the local dynamics, which I brought onto the table to decide the curatorial model to be used for TRANSI(EN)T PENANG. My close friendship with the brainchild and lead curator; Dayang Yroala, made me search for an alternative between the capitalist overtures that drove most of the art in George Town. In the words of world renowned curator and theorist, Nicholas Bourriaud’s ‘Relational Aesthetics’, he posits ‘artwork as a social interstice that can elaborated in the following passage:

“Before giving concrete examples, it is well worth reconsidering the place of artworks in the overall economic system, be it symbolic or material, which governs contemporary society. Over and above its mercantile nature and its semantic value, the artwork of art represents a social interstice. This interstice term was used by Karl Marx to describe the trading communities that elude capitalist economic context by being removed from the law of profit; banter, merchandising, autarkic types of production etc. The interstice is a space in human relations which fits more or less harmoniously and openly into the overall system, but suggests other trading possibilities than those in effect within this system.”

Based on these two challenges; the lack of ideal artistic infrastructure and a “mature” art audience; we took the project to function as a discourse everyday inter-human relations.

(To be continued…)

Visuals for Musicals: Latest work on Pan Productions’s the Last 5 Years.

burning pic

Jamie + Cathy’s wedding photo burns throughout a scene, depicting a love lost.

When Nell approached me for this project a few months ago, I was a bit reserved. I was hesitant because I find that musicals and video sets can overwhelm the performance. Since the video projections takes up the most prominent and largest visual space on stage, it can distract the performers’ singing. And my experience with Malaysian clients, subtly is not in their vocabulary. But in our discussion, Nell explained the story and I was immediately drawn to the musical’s narrative structure and the melancholic mood. It spoke a couple falling out of love in a series of monologue, expect in one scene. Visuals for monologue would be appropriate.

The stage was very small (compared to the regular stage I’ve worked with around KL). With a projector screen fixed at the wall on stage, I assumed that this space was designed for talks and small gatherings. There was very limited space for set transitions and props, so the settings of each scene would depend entirely on the projections. Therefore, the best solution to overcome this limitation of space on stage was to turn the video into moving set.

We went through each scene and brainstormed the visuals based on the script. I was careful to choose visuals that would not to upstage the Nadia or Peter’s performance and instead, played-up on the mood of each scene. This also meant visuals that complemented the movements on stage by the performers. Too add another challenge, was that the musicians were to be on stage as well. There was no space for any sort of curtain, screen or partition to separate or hide the musicians, so they would take up a large part of the performance, both audio and visually.


Bathe in moving images: Since the musicians will be on stage because there were no other place to have them, they became part of the on stage visual composition. We decided to have them wear white. I prefered ALL white, but oh well 🙂

The visuals had to carefully recreate the settings and mood of the script. The story was set in Ohio and New York, so the sceneries had to feel a little American, more north American streetscapes and climate.

Playing videos on the wall, felt too conventional for me now. I wanted to be creative not only with the composition of visuals, but also with its technique. So, we got a chance to be a little experimental in 2 scenes, production-wise, was scene 10: ‘Climbing Uphill’ and scene 13: ‘Nobody Needs to Know.’ Nell and I came up with the idea of an American Idol scene where there are 3 bored-looking judges in the background. This needed a separate video recording was shot under very constraining conditions and session with the “judges” played by Edwin Sumun, Alizakri Alias and Nell herself.


Each of the judges were shot seperately, then composed them together. Edwin’s CB face wins hands-down. Audience laughed at this humourous take.

In “Nobody Needs to Know”, Jamie is having a conversation with himself in the bathroom mirror, after he finds himself waking up next to his affair. Bathrooms have always been associated with vulnerability and revelations (think Hitchcock’s horror-thriller film ‘Psycho’). I suggested a webcam feed as visuals, where Jamie would sing into the webcam ‘live’ on stage. This contrast of him attempting to hide his affair despite his facial expression being seen by the entire audience is the “irony” I wanted to portray by using this technique.


Peter looks into my webcam and his face is projected ‘live’ on the stage.

Overall, my visuals-team did the best they could under such a tight budget. I did learn a few more things where about theater visuals productions, like its adoption of certain technical systems.


Musicians camoflouged as books.


Nadia’s hands are as such because she’s holding onto a steering wheel and there’s a road video played on loop behind her.

Visuals for musicals can be quite challenging because, inappropriate visuals actually distract the audience from the lyrics and songs. Most of the story happens in the songs and one must listen carefully. It would be difficult to listen when the eyes are focused on the videos, which is a natural reaction. In this case, I am more optimistic to use visuals for dance or movement performances, rather than musicals. But all in all, it depends entirely on the openness of the director to explore and trust their team’s decision and the fact that discussions for visuals must be developed as part of the art direction, and as a superficial addition.


Curtain call.

“Workshops” as my canvas of expression

For the longest time, I wondered why my creative outputs have always been in the form of workshops. Why do I enjoy creating workshops? What kind of gaps am I trying to bridge? Learning gaps? Artistic gaps?


Partial post-worshop exhibition

Upon reflection, I observed that I enjoy the creation of a learning environment that centers on artistic creativity. Just like when a person goes to an art gallery and admires a painting, the person is engaged with the artwork. Although the engagement level is passive, he/she is still “interacting” with the work where the artwork becomes the “object” and the space where the viewers’ are its “field”. This idea is based on Stan Allen’s “ From Object to Field: Field Conditions in Architecture and Urbanism”. I became especially aware of field conditions during my short interior-architecture practice. When it came to design, it would be done in a office but when it came to construction, the design moved to the field, or what architects’ called; the site. I guess that explains why I create workshops. A visitor would reflect and contemplate over a painting, trying to decipher the artist’s cryptic message.

In relation to the “From Object to Field”, my focus is less on the object, but more on field. In the field, I deliver my message through an active and structured engagement process between the artist (myself) and my audience (workshop participants).

When I was dubbed as a ”workshop artist” by YCAM, I was perplexed. They invited me to conduct a community workshop for them as part of their “Asia Dive” program extension of the “media art kitchen-Yamaguchi” exhibition last August.

The institution is highly regarded in Japan and is known internationally as a progressive media art center equipped state-of-art technology. I wondered why on earth do they want me to come? My knowledge on technology and computers are almost none, compared to what YCAM’s capable of. Soon I realized, it was YCAM’s interest towards my educational practices (found in the kind of workshops I’ve done) and together, hopefully, we can start to formulate a different approach towards learning about the community (and local environment) with media.


Korogaru pavilion has turned into a community space where kids hang-out, most of the times, leaving their parents behind.

Excited as I was to be there; hung a dark cloud of self-doubt over my head. Will I be able to deliver? What if it doesn’t work? The fact that I know of YCAM’s international reputation, made me feel very insecure about my capabilities. Not wanting my lack of confidence to damper my spirit, I looked forward to what I would know, will happen, that is to finally meet the curators and producers I have been exchanging email with for the past few months and of course, get to experience YCAM from both sides, as a first-time-visitor and as a guest artist.

From bullet trains, busses and local lines; I arrived to my destination in one piece and not entirely surprised by the fact that the reception at my hotel could not speak English.

“su-zi-su-ra-ma?” said the soft spoken reception lady.

“Yes. Suzy Sulaiman.”

After I dropped my bags in the room, I decided to walk to YCAM. Tears of joy streamed down my cheeks (really! That was how moving it was!) when the building came into the horizon. Greeted by sounds of children’s shouts and laughter, I saw Korogaru pavilion with my own eyes.


The media center shares the building with the local library

YCAM itself was a very polished and modern building, something I would expect from a Japanese public building, also shared its compound with the local library. As I walked through its automatic doors, I was nearly knocked over by 2 kids who rushed out with boxes over their heads and drenched in their own sweat. I nearly laughed out loud with this juxtaposed of wild, chaotic kids within a formal and masculine space- made me realize how truly lucky I was to be here.


Korogaru Pavillion has 2 playgrounds; One enclosed + the other exposed.

I spent the next few days to enjoy the other programs at YCAM, like sound tectonics (and the company of musicians and sound artists who took part), visited Ato project, Kogaroo pavilion and their fab-lab.

 The Child as The Medium

Finally it was time for me to get down to work with workshop prep work. In our email conversations prior to my trip, I suggested that we work with a local community found in the area. The workshop focused on imparting basic research skills in the children where the community will be their subject. Lead curator, Kumiko Idaka, had done all the groundwork and my presence during the meet-up with the local businesses was a formality. YCAM has a good reputation among its citizens, so it was quite easy to get the green light from the shop owners.

Having said that, there was one shop owner who was reluctant to participate. It was a family-owned sake shop. Since most I couldn’t really understand what was said, I recalled how the elderly woman motioned me to stop taking pictures. Kumiko then worked her charm, and spoke to a middle-age lady, probably the daughter, and explained our intentions. As Kumiko spoke, the grand daughter quipped in. I just smiled and nod, having no clue what was went on but patiently waited for the translation to come once I stepped out of the shop.

Daiya told me that in the beginning, the grandmother was not interested in taking part because she said she is busy with customers. But when Kumiko explained to the mother, her daughter volunteered to join the workshop too and they left the shop with the child’s details for registration. I thought how wonderful children are and glad that I have one of my own.

It drizzled on the morning we packed our things into N3 Gallery and I couldn’t get why I felt pre-show jitters despite being very prepared. Maybe, it has to do with the fact that this was the first time I ran a workshop overseas and in a language foreign to me. So, to shake my jitters off, I called for a team circle upstairs to gather everyone’s confidence. We held each others’ hand and made a circle, then said out loud how our expectations for the day.


Kids hard at work in YCAM

Slowly but surely, the parents’ dropped off their kids. After a few introductory excersise and a brief introduction by yours truly, “Hello my name is Suzy. I come from a country called Malaysia. In Malaysia, I live in the jungle with orang utans…!” to which the kids responded with widened eyes and a shock look.

By the end of the 3rd game, the kids begged for us to start. In groups, the kids walked to pre-determined site with their facilitator.

The brief was for the child to observe the various designated shops through their 5 senses and then have a short interview with the shop owner. All of these findings were digitally recorded through the tools we provided for them. I purposely requested that YCAM provide the most basic digital cameras and audio recorded for the fact that I wanted the kids to feel intuitive to them. I did not want a complicated interface that could hinder the reactive movements of the child.


Documentation photos fished out from the workshop cameras. I always find it fasinating to see how a child sees the world around her. Bottom right is a pic of our cameraman.

Throughout the day, each participant went through the following step:

  1. Team organization
  2. Data collection
  3. Data organization
  4. Reflection
  5. Interpretation
  6. Design communication
  7. Presentation
  8. Items 1 and 2 were carried out in the morning and in the afternoon, we continued with the rest. The finale was the public presentation where the kids’ families came to watch as well.

I had the chance to follow one of the teams on their data collection assignment, which happened to be the smallest group. 2 kids and a facilitator, I observed that this partnership had an amazing complementary chemistry, so I asked the facilitator if they were siblings. He said, “No. They just met today.” They visited a local coffee shop and documented the coffee making process. They were even lucky to get a free cocoa drink and so did the facilitators! With a bellyful of hot chocolate, the kids proceeded with the interview session. After the formal thank you’s and good byes, the youngest in group quipped to the facilitator,” Where are we going next? I’m hungry!”.

In the hours that followed, we had lunch at N3 and then left for YCAM to conclude the day. At the center, the kids worked in groups to prepare for their final presentation. They were allowed to use anything they could find in the lobby and we left them with their facilitators to manage themselves. As, agent provocetour, I kept tabs on the time and even added a few more assignments to the team when I saw a few kids idle.


At last, came presentation time, and all the teams did amazingly. Their honest comments and observations about their experience at the shopping arcade was refreshing and the audience laughed with them.


My experience as a speaker at YCAM’s “Localizing Media Practice” International Symposium

Myself in my good luck kebaya. Photo credit:Hiroyuki Hattori

Myself in my good luck kebaya. Photo credit:Hiroyuki Hattori

I was unusually nervous that morning, before my symposium. Despite the typhoon alert, the organizers at YCAM expected a big turn out because of the title and speakers. “Localizing Media Practice” was the title and the speakers came from Indonesia, South Korea, India and myself; Malaysia.

Perhaps, partly because we were told to keep our talk to 15 mins each. Our speech needed on the spot translation, so we must expect a lag in our presentation. Despite the many projects I’ve been involved in throughout the years, I had to zero in to what really matters. What would really be relavent to the audience I spoke to. I didn’t want it to be about ME and MY ideals, but start a conversation everyone could be a part of.

Plus, I wanted to minimize the “lost in translation” moments and wanted to speak in a manner that the audience could understand without really needing to wait for the translation. Somebody told me; the biggest challenge is to keep your ideas simple. Not use big jargons. I tried to practice the art of minimalism in my presentation.

And that scared the hell out of me.

I didn’t prepare ANY slides. Instead, I logged on my facebook page and spoke from the pictures in my photo album.

Below is my script for the introduction for my presentation:


(I began with a short story; to put the audience at ease and myself especially)

Once upon a time, there lived a little girl in a country called Malaysia. She loved making tents from bedsheets and had a WILD imagination. In her world, she was a pirate, a superhero, a shopkeeper and she liked to perform in front of her dolls. She liked digging holes in the garden, climb mango trees with the neighborhood boys, and once, even rescued a stray puppy from the drain. Together with the help of the neighborhood kids, they built a doghouse out of card board boxes.

Unfortunately, she didn’t like school very much. Because of this, she was a weak student. Sometimes, even known to teachers as a “trouble-maker”.

But things changed when her parents moved to the USA. In the American school, she found school was a fun place too. She discovered that she actually enjoyed learning. Every day, she would be the first to be at school and the last to leave.

Soon it was time to go back to Malaysia. When she came back to Malaysian school, she re-lived her bad memories about school again. It was a daily nightmare. She stopped being interested in learning. She knew she was a good student, but the local school system did a good job at making her feel stupid. This made her very sad.

She gave up on school and withdrew from her family. Her imagination had no place in local school. Because of this, her imagination was killed. As she grew up, she struggled to find her imagination again.

Oh! Sorry I forgot to mention this girl’s name.

Her name is Suzy. This is girl is me.

This is my journey as an artist/curator/producer/educator, whatever you want to call me. I wish to save children’s imagination from the death created by school systems. I think, living in the current world of constant uncertainty and instability; imagination is an important part of every day life because it helps us “problem-solve”.

///// (end of part one)

My intention of narrating it in this manner is to SHOW what it was like, rather than TELL people what it was like. They can think whichever way they want and I believe to offer that opportunity to be objective in a perspective is important for awareness & understanding.

Plus it was a depiction of a “childhood” and I hope that would be the common ground that brings the audience and myself together; because everyone has a childhood and memories of school.

I wanted to begin with a situation that is common to all humans, despite culture, age, country or language. So I started with a simple story…

Next, I proceed with 2 projects (which I flipped from my facebook album). They were both localized to meet with local issues, but share similar processes and objectives.

That I will write later lahhhh. 🙂

Let’s hanggg!: where to do-it-with-others (diwo)

“…it is an inevitable path of video art to have a workshop, because of its characteristic, because of the medium itself.”

Taken from “As Room For Discourse” by Katsayuki Hattori, OK video post_event catalogue, 2003.

What instrument can you play? Well. If 'playing' an instrument means 'to get sound out of it'; I can play ANY instrument!

What instrument can you play?
Well. If ‘playing’ an instrument means ‘to get sound out of it’; I can play ANY instrument! (participants letting it ALL out during Bani’s “improv sound” workshop at the media/art kitchen Kuala Lumpur.

Every time there is a video or media art exhibition, workshops are often found to be a part of the events programs. But lately, I’ve noticed workshops themselves are a draw on its own, sometimes the participants by-pass the exhibition all together only to attend the workshops.

I wondered why this is so.

Video art, an extension of media art, both to me, are best expressed socially because, for a person to effectively work with media art, he/she needs to be able to socialize and work with different people.

Some media artists, like SHIMURABROS, and to a large degree, DAM Interactive also a sister-brother team, work in pairs. Others, I’ve noticed; thrive on collaborative practices. On the extreme end, I also know of some media artists who find it impossible to work by themselves, and that at every different stage of their creative production, they must be working with another person.

During a curators’ workshop, I had a chance to visit Kamakura FABLAB in Tokyo. What struck me about this facility the most, was its acute sensitivity to its local placement, both as a community working space and the architecture it was housed in. The honest juxtaposition of its new function as a “media lab” placed over an old wine storage house (at least a hundred years old, if I remember correctly) piqued my natural architectural inclinations. It was striking yet poetic; bold in its idea and mission; yet humble and respectful in its execution and delivery. This, to me is very Japanese; very Asian value; one I hope my future projects would embody.

Fablab blends with the rest of the houses in the neighborhood.

Fablab blends with the rest of the houses in the neighborhood.

I noticed that that the FABLAB was artist-runned where it was creative people with leadership who called the shots. There was a host of tools to be shared. There were a few on-going research, the ones that we saw that day were in the areas of modular pre-fab surface structures inspired by the traditional wine storage that was relocated to Kamakura for the purpose of creating the lab. “What else…?”

2nd floor of the wine cellar had a long table with all sorts of interesting toys Like their self-assembled 3D printer!

2nd floor of the wine cellar had a long table with all sorts of interesting toys Like their self-assembled 3D printer!

 I thought to myself and grinned when I heard the University students presented their research to us. The architecture was love at first sight for me too!

Students from a local high school using the tools at the lab.

Students from a local high school using the tools at the lab.

They said when they worked inside this old wine store, they noticed that no nails were used in traditional construction. Every structural piece connected to each other by clever designs of tongue and groove joints. So, their cutting-edge surface structure research with 3D printer generated working models; was direct result of working inside a traditional modular pre-fab wine store? How the wisdom of the past continues to inspire us moderns, never ceased to amaze me.

I came back inspired and felt very lucky to be paired up with Daiya Aida for the project. He was the head educator at Yamaguchi Center of Arts and Media YCAM and an “educator”, like myself. I took this chance to experiment the idea of a temporary “living lab” called the “media/art kitchen lab” in Kuala Lumpur so that I may observe and learn about the limitation and challenges of re-creating such a facility that I experienced in Kamakura, Japan.

Although we ran for less than 2 weeks, with limited and rudimentary media lab equipment and 90% of our human resource (lab facilitators, organizers, tech crew) were part-time college students; I was able to observe the immediate change social behavior that surrounded the lab.

Firstly, the media/art kitchen lab became a hang-out space for artists and that in turn attracted other people in the field. The spaces around the lab became where ideas, debates and dialogue happened. Often, these conversations were encouraged by the presence of cigarettes, coffee, food and beer. Sometimes, beer bottles are recycled for other uses, like a soldering iron holder in our circuit workshop by LIFEPATCH. 

We even recycle the beer bottles to become soldering iron holders in our workshops! Waste not!

We even recycle the beer bottles to become soldering iron holders in our workshops! Waste not!

Apart from the of the creative individuals themselves;, the equipment, tools and instruments found in the media/art kitchen lab, proved to be an attraction. The public walked in and “jammed” on the technical equipment, materials and tools found in the lab. It became an tactile atmosphere for action-based idea exploration and random technical expression. Programs were semi-structured that allowed for impromptu and flexibility.

Kids' loved banging on our pots and pans, especially when they were mic up to a visualizer (in our sounds + circuit Lab)

Kids’ loved banging on our pots and pans, especially when they were mic up to a visualizer (in our sounds + circuit Lab)


Kids watched and listened closely to a demonstration of an artwork (Beberscope by Fairuz Sulaiman) by our gallery assistant, Azim

People were attracted to the accessibility of the high-tech equipment, technical support or simply to people connection they can make there. The combination of the activities within and around the media/art kitchen lab created a temporary a critical dimension for artists and other practitioners, something I find so central to the media art practice, that is the need to discuss and share ideas.

2013-10-13 15.33.05

After that 30-minute random mayhem, a critical discourse about WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED JUST NOW??

Do-It-With-Others (DIWO): Inculcate Asian values in digital technologies

Oomeleo's Pixel Art workshop starts off with a history lesson & ends with how you can create your own pixel art to tell your own story.

Oomeleo’s Pixel Art workshop starts off with a history lesson & ends with how you can create your own pixel art to tell your own story.

For the longest time, I’ve always asked myself; why the hell do I always gravitate towards producing an event or workshop?

Why can’t I be an artist?

Why do I find myself organizing another “social gathering” when I HATE doing management work?

I start my journey of rationalizing my actions by going back to the 2 observations I pointed out in the previous entry:


  1. Malaysian’s contact with technology ecosystem has always been as consumers of technology and not creators.
  2. Secondly, the Malaysian’s natural and persistent desire to “tame this beast” by means of hacking, piracy and re-ordering its functional structure. 


It seems that I organize workshops to create a temporary spaces of gathering where people can come together and hack or re-order technological consumption for a renewed or more socially constructive purpose.


Hacking, in this sense, happens by re-purposing how we normally “use” the electronic goods. For reasons of resource accessibility, I carefully select everyday digital tools like a standard digital camera, digital audio recorder, a laptop equipped with basic software, a standard printer, and other mass produced digital goods; to be used as “learning” tools.  I have thought about having a 3D printer, but until they become available to the masses; having one would just add to the “digital divide”.


Using them as learning tools, we are able democratize them from coveted consumer items consumed for its status symbol, to something more constructive and for the collective good.  The workshop then tasks the participants to explore and think;  “How can I create from this? How can I make original content that is my own?”


Quoting from Ryuichi Sakamoto; New York-based Japanese musician and composer;


“To me, computers are not that user-friendly in terms of interface. Compare for example a musical instrument and a computer in terms of interface, and the instrument wins hands down. In that it reacts instantly to sensory, tactile actions and conveys change in real time, a musical instrument is in my view a superior beast.”

“Compared to a musical instrument, computers are still in their infancy: An interview with Ryuichi Sakamoto, Creativity Seen and Unseen in Art and Technology: A Compendium of media art and performance from YCAM 2003-2008. p.41


Therefore, I also like to use a variety of tools and mediums. Of course, we all know that now, even the common smartphone has the multi-function ability to shoot, edit, record and distribute creations; all housed into one hardware. However, my reason for using different tools to carry out specific tasks is to expose the participants to the many interfaces and coordinating the mechanics of the tools. For example, when a person adjusts a camera’s lens or harnesses the camera onto a tripod. Or when a child needs to develop a steady hand to hold a microphone as she carefully listens to the sounds it picks up. These are all sensorial experiences heightened by the digital tool to learn about one’s immediate surroundings or locality.


Most important of all, these workshops must promote the spirit of working together. All the tools must be shared in a group. No one person has exclusive rights to any equipment.


I’m a real believer of shared learning. Thus, the final outcome of the workshop usually reflects this “shared” sense of purpose. It must be a product of different people working together towards one common goal. I think, how we order the usage of our tools can be used to encourage more collective (my biasness calls it “Asian” values) attitudes than individual ideals. I recall a conversation I had with my friend Andreas Siagian of Jogjakarta-based art-engineer collective, LIFEPATCH. I casually asked him about the work of LIFEPATCH and he corrected me when I described it as “D-I-Y” spirit.  

“We’re are not about Do-It-Yourself. We are instead about ‘do-it-with-others’…DI-WOoo”


We both laughed at his attempt to acronym it on the spot. 

Why you do this art haaa??!: Media art in my kampung

(“Kampung” if directly translated from Malay, means village. But it also implies “neighborhood, vicinity and surroundings.)

Creativity seen/unseen in Art and Technology

Creativity seen/unseen in Art and Technology


      A few months ago, the gorgeous people at YCAM (Thank you Akiko, Kumiko & Daiya!!) mailed their book Creativity Seen/Unseen in Art and Technology: A compendium of media art and performance from YCAM: 2003-2008 to me. In preparation for my collaboration work with YCAM next month, I decided to spend some time reading it. One essay interview by Andreas Broeckmann: The role of media art and the global world, really struck me because it related to a lot of things I experienced personally in this area also.

 “ The wow-factor of the once “new” media has waned, as those technologies become part of our quasi-natural infrastructure-like running water, electricity and telephone network.” Broeckmann: pg. 175

      I do wholly agree that, even in Malaysia, it technologies are a part of our “quasi-natural infrastructure”. In Kuala Lumpur, wi-fi networks inside buildings are not only expected, they are demanded.  Check out any local semi-traditional coffee shops and discover the wi-fi password plastered on every section of the wall.

     But, I’m not too sure about the “wow-factor of “new’ media has waned”. I doubt that it even culminated to any sort of “wow-factor” in the Malaysian art scene in the first place.

      Perhaps, by the time technology reached our Malaysian shores, it arrived in form of consumer goods. Machines of envy and quickly rose to become a economic and social status symbol, like the BMW’s and Gucci bags.

      Malaysians entered this ecosystem of technology as consumers, and not as creators. There was never a “fetishistic fascination for the technological aspects” as found in the art works of countries noted for their technological superiority. Difficult also is the opportunity to be critical with technologies social and cultural implications.

      Technology, within the Malaysian context, was quickly “normalized” because society accepted it as a part of mainstream culture.

      What I have observed, where media art within the Malaysian context is concerned, the big dilemma lies in the issue of technology consumption. Malaysians want to take ownership of this foreign beast. We, desperately, want to localize it and we do this through “hacking” and “piracy”.

      Beyond the geeky computer nerd perception of a hacker; to quote 13-year old Logan Laplante from his TED talk, who spoke about the Hacker Mindset or “Hackschooling” “hackers are people who challenge and change the system to make them work differently;(to make them work better).

Hacker's mindset

Hacker’s mindset- Screen capture from Laplante’s TED talk video presentation.

You can watch his talk here:

Logan Laplante’s TED talk

The media art here is about pushing the machines, along with the technology that comes with it, to do things that it’s not originally created for. Broeckmann called it “the liberation of artistic media, in a sense that it is no longer an ideological choice, but purely a pragmatic one.”


    I can relate this to an experience during my work as co-curator for the media/art kitchen Kuala Lumpur. A reporter from a local newspaper was reeled in to write a feature on the exhibition. Our requested reporter could not make it, so she sent a substitute, who had very little experience writing about art, let alone media or digital art. The reporter wanted to interview Horio Kanta, a Japanese media artist whose work, I can loosely describe as a site-specific kinetic artwork that is assembled of found objects, electronic and analogue circuits. I carefully explained his work to the reporter as Kanta (due to his limited grasp of English) stood very straight and formal against the wall throughout my explaination.

 Finally, the reporter asked Kanta, “Why you do this kind of art?”

Kanta just responded with a blank but polite expression., “Huh? Yes? What? Why I do like this?”

 “Why you DO this kind of art? Why do you use circuits, wires and electricity? Not like pencil, oil paint or acrylic?” repeated the reporter.

      I understood and empathized both of their perplexed response. This was a question of media production within its cultural context. I slowly explained to the reporter, that Kanta is from Tokyo and lived in Japan is whole life. In his daily life, he comes across the arduino boards more often then he finds a paint brush. Kanta’s choice of medium is a practical one and not ideological and that, as Broeckmann said,” …technology in art is nothing more than another art technique.”


Screen cap from Kanta's Interpolation at media/art kitchen Kuala Lumpur last year's docu vid.

Screen cap from Kanta’s Interpolation at media/art kitchen Kuala Lumpur last year’s docu vid.

Kanta’s work: Interpolation at media/art kitchen Kuala Lumpur

Interpolation at media/art kitchen KL 2014 by Horio Kanta

Size matters: the business of “small”

I was in Taipei recently under the invitation of Manila-based curator Dayang Yraola; my sister from a different life now reconnected ; to represent Malaysia’s participation as the next host for Project Glocal

After my standard company presentation, someone from the audience asked, “With the kind of projects you do, how big is your practice?”

“Actually, it’s just my brother and I. Two of us…”

“Wow! That’s a lot for two people to be doing…!”

“Hmmm. Depends how you look at it, I guess…” I replied absent-mindedly.

During my time in Taipei, I was lucky to stay at Bamboo Curtain Studio and met the zestful Margaret Shiu, founder and director of Bamboo Curtain Studio. Her charisma struck me the moment I shook hands with her. She looked deep into my eyes, and floored me with her natural vivacity. She was the “Pied Piper” while I became the unsuspecting rat entranced by her charisma.

When she invited me on a hike with Hong Kong visitors the next morning, I jumped at it. We began our hike from the top of the hill. Physically, a better choice, as we walked down with gravity, instead of against it. But most importantly, Margaret wanted to show us how clean the creek was at the top. As one proceeds downwards, the condition of the creek changes.

What surprised me, within the 2 km hike, I noticed a diverse land-usage, notably the small-scale farmers. Within small, in-between spots of land, I saw an abundance of flowers, vegetables and fruits. There were also several pig and animal farms. Almost every feet of soil is cultivated somehow. Every inch of soil had life bursting at its seams.

Art & ecology

Creek rehabilitation: the success of Plum River Creek project has brought the communities together.

“Don’t underestimate small farmers. According to (I forgot who, an NGO she mentioned. Sounded legit), small farmers, collectively, make a more sustainable impact to the ecology because of their intensive land-use and better controlled and managed waste products. These farmers make the most of limited resources and thus is more flexible in terms of what they produce.”

Farmers become are ecologically sensitive along the creek.

Farmers become are ecologically sensitive along the creek.

Bamboo farms along the Plum Tree Creek growing at angle.

Bamboo farms along the Plum Tree Creek growing at angle.

It got me thinking. Somehow, what she said aptly described my practice. Small but intense; maximizing limited resources. Being small, means we need to be lean and trim, only doing what is essential. Because we are lean in our expenses, we can be more selective about the work we want to invest in. Being selective also allows us more time to do what we want, travel, engage in hobbies or spending time with the people we love.

Winter's end in Taiwan. Young blooms along my morning trek.

Winter’s end in Taiwan. Young blooms along my morning trek.

As I hopped down the boulders during the nature hike; Catherine (our official tour guide) ranting away in Mandarin, I realized the meaning of small yet intense. I understood my business better. We’re not a company that rakes in millions of ringgit annually, but the flexibility that it has because of its “smallness” gave me the freedom to be where ever I want to do whatever that I enjoy. Small pleasures but so meaningful to my soul.

My time in Taiwan was nothing short of an awakening stirred by the people, their art and their gentle tenacity. There’s this tingling feeling that tickles at your forehead every time you know you’re at the precipice of an amazing journey.