Shadows That Flourish – A Solo Exhibition by Kim Ng

Shadows That Flourish – A Solo Exhibition by Kim Ng

Rimbun Dahan presents

Shadows That Flourish

a solo exhibition by Kim Ng

DATES: Saturday 11 July to Sunday 2 August
[CLOSED on Friday 31 July for Hari Raya Haji]
OPENING HOURS: Weekends 10am – 5pm; Mon to Fri by appointment only (Whatsapp Angela at +6012-210-4229).
ADDRESS: Km. 27 (entrance before Lorong Belimbing), Jalan Kuang 48050 Kuang, Selangor
Admission is FREE.
You are also welcome to walk around our indigenous Southeast Asian garden and view our heritage houses during your visit.

About the Exhibition

Influenced by living habits and the environment that we live in, Kim Ng’s work has a strong connection to social experience, human conduct and memory. He collects an abundance of abandoned objects from the street for their aesthetic values and possibilities, taking pictures of the marks, textures and graffiti left by men and nature. To him, those are gestures of storytelling in their pictorial and physical forms. Those traces also indicate the behaviour left behind by someone or something that held the story of the past.
The artist residency in Rimbun Dahan provided Kim Ng the opportunity to explore and investigate, rather than being tied down to a fixed direction of excessive production. His exploration in various materials and art forms is related to his experience in art-making. A new level of sensitivity towards the materials and forms has been established during his stay in Rimbun Dahan which allowed him to delve into a much deeper aesthetic awareness through further exploration and encounters with various materials and visual propositions.
Shadows That Flourish pulls together Kim Ng’s six months of explorations into a finale and is presented in the Underground Gallery at Rimbun Dahan. Artworks are divided into three types: unprimed canvas buried in the ground or cement, speaking to the transformation of material essence into something that signifies the rural and the urban, and ceramic sculptures and installation works that express nature and social phenomena in a metaphorical way. His colourful mixed media and silkscreen prints on canvas convey a complication of emotional feeling towards the environment. The series of found objects keep track of the authenticity of the materials and their origins, reiterating the existing history of the materials beyond their surface values, and rebuilding their meanings from the past for new interpretations. Much of the thinking process of his art-making was associated with the subject matter, materials and forms, attempting to build a dialogue with the viewers through the visual presentation, and evoking different senses of experience through a variety of materials.
Kim Ng is sensitive to the fact that each different material and form has their own voices. He does not particularly highlight the making process through his works, but from the processes of making, he creates symbols and meanings for further communication and dialogue, contributing to the sensual reading of the work on a personal level when one confronts them.


Read more about the artist and his residency at Rimbun Dahan >>

This exhibition is supported by Dasein Academy of Art.
To request a copy of the electronic catalogue, please email Kim at

You Belong to Night by Wong Xiang Yi & Rojak Aesthetics by Chuah Shu Ruei, Rimbun Dahan Residency Exhibition 2019

You Belong to Night by Wong Xiang Yi & Rojak Aesthetics by Chuah Shu Ruei, Rimbun Dahan Residency Exhibition 2019

Rimbun Dahan presents You Belong to Night & Rojak Aesthetics, a two-woman show by Rimbun Dahan Yearlong Resident Artist 2018, Wong Xiang Yi and Rimbun Dahan Half-year Resident Artist, Chuah Shu Ruei.

Xiang Yi contemplated her relationship with nature, her tools and practice, questioned the elements in her works as a means to convey her messages to the audience and reinterpret the ‘female gaze’. “The medium or art form that an artist uses should be chosen because it is the best way to convey a message or idea. The best form must make a huge impression on people, but an artist should never fool the audience by creating form with no meaning.” The works in this series entitled You Belong to Night let the audience see the the youthful bodies through the artist’s eyes, in a dreamy and illusory effect.

Shu Ruei accumulated data and input from her collaborative projects with local communities and other artists which resulted in four installations that explored notions such as “the ideas of multiculturalism, interconnection, collective authorship/ownership, ever-changing composition and the relations between centre/periphery and art/craft”. The artist wants the audience to “feel comfortable, included and also to have a sense of belonging to, with and of the artworks” when they come to view the exhibition.

DATES: Sunday 20 January to Sunday 3 February

OPENING HOURS: Weekends 10am – 6pm; Mon to Fri by appointment only (email Xeem Noor at

Admission is FREE. You can find the Facebook event page is here.

At 9 am on 3 February, Angela Hijjas will be conducting a tour of Rimbun Dahan’s grounds and traditional village houses.


Residencies in Review – Malaysian Artists

Residencies in Review – Malaysian Artists


Rimbun Dahan’s permanent collection consists of selected works from all the residents artists who have stayed for a year long residency, and for whom Rimbun Dahan hosted exhibitions. The current show is exclusively works by Malaysian resident artists throughout the twenty-four years of Rimbun Dahan’s Residency program. As many of our artists have become important arts personalities, this exhibition is a journey through a crucial period in Malaysian art history.

DATES: 1 & 2 December 2018, Saturday & Sunday

OPENING HOURS: 10am-6pm on both days

Admission is FREE. Refreshments of homemade nutmeg sodas and crispy fried bananas will be served.

There will also be a free guided tour of Rimbun Dahan’s gardens and traditional village houses at 10am on 1 December conducted by Angela Hijjas. Please click here for our Facebook event page.

Rimbun Dahan is also a part of Gallery Weekend Kuala Lumpur (GWKL), 29th November – 2nd December 2018, a dynamic celebration of aesthetic and cultural diversity across Malaysia’s capital city.



Material, Order & Chance by Zulkifli Lee, Rimbun Dahan Residency Exhibition 2017

Material, Order & Chance by Zulkifli Lee, Rimbun Dahan Residency Exhibition 2017

Rimbun Dahan presents Material, Order & Chance, a solo exhibition by Rimbun Dahan Yearlong Resident Artist 2017, Zulkifli Lee. In the well-trod tradition of past resident artists, Zulkifli has taken inspiration from the natural and built environments of Rimbun Dahan and the results are textured, detailed large canvases and surfaces with geometric designs and compositions influenced by the repetitions and colours that occur in the landscapes he has been immersed in for a year.

DATES: Sunday 26 November to Sunday 10 December

OPENING HOURS: Weekends (26 Nov, 2 & 3 Dec, 9 & 10 Dec) 10am – 6pm; Mon to Fri by appointment only (email Syar at

Admission is FREE. For the event page on Facebook please click here.

There will also be a free guided tour of Rimbun Dahan’s grounds and traditional village houses at 9am on 10 December, conducted by Angela Hijjas.

Rimbun Dahan is also a part of Gallery Weekend Kuala Lumpur (GWKL), December 8 – 10 2017, a novel, annual 3-day celebration of aesthetic and cultural diversity in Malaysia’s capital city.

One Day Installation of Works by Haffendi Anuar and Veronika Neukirch

One Day Installation of Works by Haffendi Anuar and Veronika Neukirch

At the end of their four month residency in May 2017, Haffendi Anuar and Veronika Neukirch briefly displayed their individual works and collaborative work in the airwell of our underground gallery. The play of different materials, dimensions, and angles made for a very interesting, short-lived installation. Photos courtesy of the artists.

Everlasting Love by Azliza Ayob, Rimbun Dahan Residency Exhibition 2016

Everlasting Love by Azliza Ayob, Rimbun Dahan Residency Exhibition 2016


Rimbun Dahan presents Everlasting Love, a showcase of recent works made by Malaysian artist Azliza Ayob who, in her 16 year career, has worked in many mediums such as collage, painting, sculpture, and installation. She has spent her year in residency exploring the possibilities of creating art from discarded and unwanted daily items to sustain and survive in the field that she loves most, which is making art. The exhibition also ties together the themes of labour, community, tradition, and sustainability.

DATES: 27 November – 4 December 2016

OPENING HOURS: Weekends 10am – 6pm, Monday to Friday by appointment

Admission is FREE. For the event page on Facebook please click here.

There will also be a free guided tour of Rimbun Dahan’s grounds and traditional village houses at 9am on 27 November, conducted by Angela Hijjas. Our other current resident artist, Si Jie Loo, will also be having an open studio 10am to 6pm on Sunday, 27 November.

Nature plays a strong part in her work and like many previous Rimbun Dahan resident artists, Azliza took inspiration from the surrounding grounds and the various types of flora and fauna growing in the gardens, using her time cleaning the lawns in front of her cottage to understand different types of leaves. In that process, she also got acquainted with the inorganic things accumulating (and “growing”) within the grounds as well as in the surrounding village. Azliza started out with one studio and a small collection of plastic bottles made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET). One year on, the scale of her work has required her to utilize two studios to house pieces made from an estimated 2000 PET bottles and other materials. The bottles were either handpicked from the roadside and the trash or donated by fellow artists, friends, family, and eateries and shops from Kuang all the way to Kuantan.

“I am fascinated with the transparency of PET bottles,” says Azliza. “I’m fascinated by its longevity and how it’s so easily accumulated to the point where it is ‘haunting’. [Through working with the material], I became more sculptural. The process is so tedious, but the result is satisfying.”

Azliza learned various traditional crafting techniques from a young age and put this knowledge to use to both figuratively and literally weave together her unconventional and modern materials into softer forms, organic shapes, and detailed sculptures and collages. She has used plastic bottles in an interactive site-specific installation titled For Our Daughters (2011), glitter to fill thousands of mushroom forms and pink rain drops for her residency exhibition at Fukuoka Art Museum in 2012, and paper collages in her 2014 solo at Wei-ling Gallery, All That Glitters. New materials joined her repertoire in making work for Everlasting Love.

“I made weavings by substituting plastic strips, wires and wire mesh for traditional mengkuang, I incorporated glass and plastic beads, rhinestones, oil paints mixed with spray paints, recycled printed items, glitters, stuff from local hardware stores and all-in-one convenience shops. The materials [I use] must be considered trash, unwanted, or too ordinary and unimaginable to create art, it must show the laborious process of art.” She supplements these with the inclusion of a more sentimental material – batik cloths from her own personal collection, mostly wedding presents from her mother-in-law’s Kelantanese family. Ordinary perhaps, but certainly not trash or unwanted. “These batik cloths have gone through and withstood the vigorous activity of a mother, wife, artist, and best preserved in art.”

The use of everyday materials was both a matter of principle and necessity. Azliza says, “I find being creative is somehow connected with being frugal. Working with limited finances is possible with good interpersonal skills and when you work together in a supportive community. In this way, I think of creating art as a way to empower our economy, to live cleaner and greener, to help us think of sustenance and sustainability as a way to maintain our freedom (to love, to be, to do).”

Rimbun Dahan is also a proud participant of Gallery Weekend Kuala Lumpur, a festival tour of the rich and innovative arts and culture scene of the city happening 25 – 27 November 2016.

Gallery Weekend Kuala Lumpur 25 to 27 November 2016

Priceless: Featuring works by 2015 resident artist Al-Khuzairie Ali

Priceless: Featuring works by 2015 resident artist Al-Khuzairie Ali

PRICELESS Web header

Rimbun Dahan presents Priceless, showcasing works made by ceramic artist Al-khuzairie Ali during his six-month residency from July to December 2015, where he explored the concept of human connection to the external world (an ongoing focus in his work) through the subject of animals. The external world overflows in Rimbun Dahan, a green lung home to a variety of wildlife, tucked away from the bustle of the city. Within the grounds humans, animals and plants alike live under a canopy of branches, leaves and steel beams, providing fruitful intersections of the organic and the constructed. This setting provided the perfect incubator for the artist and his explorations.

Khuzairie hails from Pahang, home of the largest portion of Taman Negara, one of the oldest rainforests in the world. This sense of place informs his connection and exploration of the natural world time and again – from his studio in Puncak Alam he began to think of what used to be lush, thick jungle disappearing under development and construction, habitat disappearing under greed. “I look at the hideous side of the human character which has an impact on other beings in the ecosystem,” says Khuzairie of his inspiration. “We know that some animals are threatened with extinction but the modern world focuses on the importance of money and this has many people losing their judgment and ignoring the nature of life.”

We invite you to visit the exhibition and experience Al-Khuzairie’s work as well as the surroundings that made the work possible.


Weekends 10am – 6pm, Monday to Friday by appointment
16 – 24 January 2016

Admission is FREE.

Rimbun Dahan is also hosting our annual dance event, Dancing in Place, a series of site-specific contemporary dance performances by dancers from all over Asia, on 16 and 17 January.

There will be a guided tour of Rimbun Dahan’s grounds and traditional village houses at 9am on Sunday 24 January, conducted by Angela Hijjas. For the event page on Facebook please click here.

YEAH: solo exhibition by Azam Aris, officiated by Angela Hijjas

YEAH: solo exhibition by Azam Aris, officiated by Angela Hijjas

In 2012, Malaysian artist Azam Aris (also known as Helmi Azam B. Tajol Aris) underwent a year-long residency at Rimbun Dahan, working both on paintings and three-dimensional work. On August 5 2015, his solo exhibition YEAH opened at HOM Art Trans and was officiated by Angela Hijjas. The text of her speech is below.

Killer On The Road (Storm), 2015 Acrylic on canvas, 156 x 162 cm​

Killer On The Road (Storm), 2015 Acrylic on canvas, 156 x 162 cm​


Thanks to HoM for the invitation to speak tonight at the opening of Azam Aris’ new works. I would like to take the opportunity, first of all, to express my appreciation for all that HoM, the House of MataHati, has done over the years in supporting young artists by giving them an opportunity to mix with a broad range of people and influences, and to explore new ideas in a very supportive environment.

I first met Azam when he participated in our Art for Nature exhibitions, where his quirky clocks were always a huge hit with visitors and collectors.  He used battery operated clock hands to animate his figures in weird and wonderful ways.

I got to know Azam a little better when he was a resident artist at Rimbun Dahan in 2012, and became very familiar with the works he made at that time.  His show at Rimbun Dahan was a great success and he contributed significantly towards our programme.  I’m sure too he benefited from the joint experience he shared with the Australian artist, Jonathan Nichols, with whom he staged an exhibition with us in early 2013.

The current works on display tonight are a surprisingly intense distillation of that past practice in which he explored the supernatural and the extra terrestrial, with a cunning insight into Malay culture and its superstitions and our quite natural fear of the unknown.

The figures in this new body of work have completely lost the individual quirkiness of his earlier works, and are repeated to such an extent that one is forced to look very carefully to search for what Azam is trying to say:  individuality and personality are squeezed out by the sheer force of numbers, and the density of his compositions is relieved only by the lightest of variations… could all this be a reflection of the current atmosphere in our beloved Tanah Air?  Who are these people and where are all these figures going? How indeed are they going to move with the fluidity of his mechanical hands, arousing the magic of the bomoh and the waving of a magic kris?  A few individuals in the mass manage to wave in desperation or jubilation, like drowning victims or audience members at a rock concert, but they retain the look of the ultimate selfie…. Repeat repeat repeat, losing their individuality at the expense of the instant gratification of a self styled and posed photo of how we want the world to see us… but unfortunately no one is looking, no one is going to see one small figure and find it remarkable, only in the massing is there something remarkable that has an energy that a single figure cannot accomplish.

I can’t help but infer some political message in these massed figures:  here we are, all crammed together, lacking any capacity to make decisions and shape our own destiny, wandering like a herd, waiting for a leader to organize us into a rational and responsible machine.  The energy and numbers are there but is it fear of the unknown that makes us reluctant to take the next step?  In a society that has known nothing else for over half a century it is always hard to see a different way ahead, but there is indeed a different road, and I hope that Azam’s figures work it out soon!

I doubt if I spoke to Azam about this he would say that he had any political agenda with these works, but in the light of these dark times it is hard to ignore.  He has looked at the dark side before in his Republic Sulap works, where mad scientists manipulated weird machines against a backdrop of outer space, and Malay bomohs looked blindly on creation while mouthing unintelligible incantations;  but with these works tonight I wonder if I am looking at some insoluble image that I have to stare at until it coalesces into an understanding that once made can never be forgotten, and inevitably the thought occurs to me that with today’s preoccupations with corruption at the very core and at every level of our society perhaps we are all complicit, every single self that is replicated repeatedly… we have stood aside for so long that we no longer have any capacity to act.  I certainly hope that this isn’t the case.

The enormous changes that the Malays particularly have had to cope with in the last 40 years have not been strong on cultural and political development.   Instead the changes that were wrought by education and urbanization, by leaving life in the kampong and substituting it with life in a condo have proved to be a little empty.  Pursuing the dream of comfort, convenience and security in the modern world is not an end in itself, we still need a sense of purpose;  and then technology stepped in with another promise: use your iPhone and experience the world, be a part of everything, in effect be a cog in the elaborate plot of buying and consuming the latest  technology; but in the end it will not change your life at all. To do that we still need our individuality and our own powers to think and act.

We have the magic of instant communication at every moment to every corner of the world, our selfies plaster our self-awareness with a sense of accomplishment that is no more real than the bomoh’s incantations. We have been hoodwinked into thinking that we have an intrinsic importance that repeated images surely validate: but communication should be a means to an end, not an end in itself, and I think these works are a poignant reminder that we are in danger of being hoodwinked ourselves.

Thank you, Azam, for these works, and for inviting me this evening, and I hope this show will give all of us the impetus to be more than just a cog in a machine.

Angela Hijjas, August 5 2015


Bricolage: Rimbun Dahan Residency Exhibition 2015

Bricolage: Rimbun Dahan Residency Exhibition 2015

Bricolage March 2015 Website Header

Rimbun Dahan presents Bricolage, a selection of works by our current resident artists from various countries in South East Asia and Asia Pacific. The exhibition combines works of varying mediums as well as varying viewpoints, showcasing the differentiated results of the artists’ time spent working and living in Rimbun Dahan.

The artists featured are: Malaysian sculptor Anniketyni Madian, Australian artist Jennifer Tyers, Indonesian poet Khairani Barokka, Vietnamese painter and sculptor Tran Dan, and Thai painter Yuwatee Jehko.

Opening Hours:

Weekends 10am – 6pm, Monday to Friday by appointment
15 – 22 March 2015


Km 27 (entrance before Lorong Belimbing), Jalan Kuang 48050 Kuang, Selangor

Entry: Free

Guided Tour

At 9am on Sunday 22nd March 2015, there will also be a guided tour of the Rimbun Dahan gardens and traditional houses by Angela Hijjas.

For further inquiries about the exhibition or the artists you can contact Syar, Arts Manager, at

For more information on the artists visit:


Tim Craker, 'Botanical Data File #3'. Plastic safety fencing, hand-cut. 205 x 300 cm. 2008. Now in the permanent collection at Rimbun Dahan.

Tim Craker, ‘Botanical Data File #3’. Plastic safety fencing, hand-cut. 205 x 300 cm. 2008. Now in the permanent collection at Rimbun Dahan.

dot-net-dot-au was an art exhibition by Tim Craker and Louise Saxton, who separately undertook short term artist residencies at Rimbun Dahan gallery in Malaysia in 2006, exploring their most vivid impressions of the time they’ve spent travelling between their home country and Malaysia. dot-net-dot-au is an artistic meditation on the links that bind us geographically and metaphorically.

The exhibition travelled to Malaysia and Singapore. In Kuala Lumpur it was presented at The Annexe Gallery, Central Market, 10-27 July 2008, where it was supported by the Australian High Commission, Kuala Lumpur. In Singapore it appeared at The Substation, 5-17 August 2008.

Tim Craker and Louise Saxton produced two individual series of artworks that surprisingly complement and work in tandem with one another. Put side by side, the collection of works reveal a disarmingly quirky and personal insight into the experiences of two artists exploring Malaysian life and culture as outsiders.

Running through the entire series is Tim Craker’s elaboration of the net, literally and metaphorically. The net describes communication links, the sieve of memory, a tool to capture experiences and also the imaginary walls that separate cultures.

Interspersed among the nets are Louise Saxton’s insects, flowers and human figures meticulously put together from embroidered and quilted fabric. The effect is an artistic reenactment of the two artists’ process as they absorb, understand and meditate on Malaysian life and culture as outsiders.

dot-net-dot-au was also a continuation of their exhibition dot-net-dot-my at the Red Gallery Contemporary Art Space, in Melbourne, Australia, in 2007.

Above: Tim Craker, detail of 'Thought Pattern', plastic chinese soup spoons, nylon thread. 250 x 400cm. 2007.

Above: Tim Craker, detail of ‘Thought Pattern’, plastic chinese soup spoons, nylon thread. 250 x 400cm. 2007.

Exhibition Opening

The exhibition was opened on 10 July at 8pm by Angela Hijjas:

It is a great pleasure to be here to open this show for Louise Saxton and Tim Craker, a show that was partially generated by our Rimbun Dahan residency programme. 2006, when Tim and Louise were resident, was a good year for us as we started inviting artists for shorter periods than the usual year long programme. That year we had a rich assembly of artists, coming and going, overlapping with different experiences from Malaysia and Australia. We hadn’t considered doing this before, as until then we had looked for people who could stay for a year, making organization easier for us, but we subsequently realized how great an impact a shorter stay in a new environment can have on creativity.

Tim and Louise are testament to that. Louise stayed with us for just a month, as that was all the time she could spare from a young family and commitments in Melbourne. For Tim, who was with us for three months, it was a chance for him, as he put it, to live as an artist, and it then precipitated the decision to leave his profession as a veterinarian to embrace his real passion, making art.

It is now obvious to me that life altering experiences don’t necessarily take a year; a month or three can be enough to generate new views of the world and significant developments in an artist’s practice. Subsequently Rimbun Dahan began inviting choreographers and performance artists as well, adding to the variety of interactions and new ideas. So I owe a lot to Tim and Louise for their contribution to Rimbun Dahan, and for their efforts since in developing their early ideas into these works in the Annexe today.  Inspiration can come suddenly, but a solid art practice requires time to digest the concepts into new forms and expression.

I was lucky enough to see the beginnings of this show when it was first exhibited in Australia last year, and the potential was obvious. Despite their very different styles, both artists found common ground, not just in the net, but in the everyday experiences that are so easily overlooked in a world sated with materialism.

Above: Detail of Star Flower, cotton and linen embroidery, steel pins on nylon bridal tulle, 300 x 180cm approx, 2008. Now in the permanent collection at Rimbun Dahan.

Above: Detail of Star Flower, cotton and linen embroidery, steel pins on nylon bridal tulle, 300 x 180cm approx, 2008. Now in the permanent collection at Rimbun Dahan.

Louise takes the delicate hand made laces and embroideries of past decades, pieces that would have been treasured as part of a bride’s glory box, that today we rarely appreciate or examine in detail, sated as we are with too many material possessions. She carefully dissects and recasts these delicate pieces into creatures and installations that are suddenly contemporary, forcing us to look closely, to examine the minute detail and to appreciate such a visual treat in our mass produced world. By transforming lacey detail into fantastic insects, she is making a world of fantasy animals that would do nature proud. Some of her animals are indeed real, like the hornbill and koala, but when she expresses them with just a negative space we are reminded of how ephemeral the real world is, and how linked we are to our short term material possessions rather than to the really important things like birds and animals facing extinction.

By contrast, as if from the other end of the continuum, Tim takes inspiration from mass produced plastic paraphernalia that has never enjoyed much aesthetic appeal… but he transforms it into something unique and stunning, in scale and form. In 2006 he made a work for Art for Nature on the theme of appetites, all about food and its roles in our lives. Tim created a huge net of linked disposable wooden chopsticks draped in the light well of our gallery; like a fishing net it was an immense Chinese banquet “celebrating” our disposable culture. With his pieces here today, he has gone further, by choosing new disposable items and binding and cutting into them to create something beautiful and puzzling. Beautiful because of the shift in scale and the surprisingly tactile effect of plastic, and puzzling because of the complete reversal of ideas of durability and impermanence. I just wish he could do something with the orange plastic barrier blocks that now litter our roads at every turn… being stuck in a traffic jam might be a better experience for some artful transformation of the detritus that surrounds us.

Louise and Tim came to Rimbun Dahan, after being art students in Melbourne together some years before, and again in this show. Their works are from very different perspectives, and yet they reverberate against each other to create a stunning exhibition. We are honoured to have this work visit Malaysia, and for that I would like to thank the Australian High Commissions, both in KL and in Singapore for their support. Unfortunately most of the High Commission staff, including the High Commissioner herself, could not be here tonight because of an official visit from the Australian Prime Minister, but I’m sure Tim and Louise would want to thank them for the support that made the show possible.

Thank you all for coming, and I’m sure you will enjoy the show. Congratulations to both Louise Saxton and Tim Craker for a stunning exhibition that illustrates superbly what both Australian and Malaysian artists are working towards: new expression, new materials and new ideas.   And I’m sure you will all enjoy it. Thank you.

Re-Collection: arachnida bellis perennis – daisy spider, cotton embroidery, silk, steel pins on nylon bridal tulle, approx 300 x 240cm, 2007.

Re-Collection: arachnida bellis perennis – daisy spider, cotton embroidery, silk, steel pins on nylon bridal tulle, approx 300 x 240cm, 2007.

Essay on the Exhibition

by Caroline Jordan

In 2006 Tim Craker and Louise Saxton undertook sequential short-term artist residencies at Rimbun Dahan in Malaysia.Rimbun Dahan is set on fourteen acres of lush indigenous gardens featuring a fully restored nineteenth-century Malay house. The location is beautiful but remote. Craker and Saxton were bodily transported from a cold, grey Melbourne winter into a humid tropical environment and exposed to more extreme contrasts as they moved between the seductive isolation of their garden retreat and the sensory overload of crowded Asian cities.

The work they separately completed on their return to Australia they link, literally and metaphorically, to the net – a term of multiple references. Today, ‘the Net’ is everyday shorthand for the internet and the worldwide web, alluded to in the exhibition’s title dot-net-dot-au. Developed in Malaysia, made in Australia, exhibited in Melbourne and exported for viewing to Malaysia and Singapore, the exhibition is part of this contemporary globalised network of information exchange. The net as a physical entity also figures prominently, albeit very differently, in both artists’ work.

Above: Detail of A bird in the hand #1, cotton and linen embroidery, steel pins on nylon bridal tulle. 300 x 150cm approx. 2008.

Above: Detail of A bird in the hand #1, cotton and linen embroidery, steel pins on nylon bridal tulle. 300 x 150cm approx. 2008.

The bridal veil, made of the finest, translucent ivory-coloured net, forms the backing of Saxton’s embroidered wall pieces. This net marks a barrier between self and non-self, or, in the case of the bridal veil, a transition between one state of being (or possession) and another.

Psychologically ambiguous when considered in relation to the body, the net signifies protection but simultaneously advertises the presence of danger. The cosseted bride cocooned in her veil, or the baby breathing peacefully beneath a mosquito net, is insulated from threats lurking in the outside world. In other manifestations, like the spider’s web, the net intended to entangle and entrap is the danger.

Insect metaphors abound because the net, in many ways, defines our human interaction with them. The bee keeper goes swathed in net to collect her honey. The insect collector arms herself with the net and the jar to gather her specimens. Saxton uses embroidery pins to skewer her ‘specimens’ to the net for display. As the veil flutters gently and the pieces cast a shadow against the wall, they take on an illusory delicate life.

Saxton draws inspiration from a collection of women’s domestic crafts she has amassed over many years. Items such as hand-embroidered table linen and lace, once treasures destined for a bride’s glory-box, are now culturally obsolete in Australia and are commonly found discarded in charity shops. Saxton has added to this collection aesthetically-related crafts from other traditions, including Chinese papercuts and Indian wall embroidery. In a painstaking process of extraction and reconstruction that takes place over many hours, Saxton cuts, glues, stitches and backs hundreds of the tiny coloured textile or paper fragments into new configurations. Among the more common motifs found in the Western embroideries are butterflies and flowers, based on and debased from natural history prototypes going back to the eighteenth century. Influenced by this and the memory of the Malaysian garden, she transforms them into fantastical individual insects or cloud-like swarms. Lately, these have expanded into more complex compositions drawing on Asian spiritual imagery: henna hand stencils Saxton found in Kuala Lumpur, a seventh-century Cambodian Buddha head, traced from a book, the Yoga Tree of Life, a Chinese Cloud motif and a Star Flower, based on a Malay Islamic design. These compositions contain a motif-within-a-motif in the negative space in the centre of each work. For example, the Malaysian Hornbill sits within A bird in the Hand and the Australian Koala within Home-Tree. Both species are threatened. As Saxton explains: ‘The use of the negative form within the highly decorative outer motif becomes a metaphor of vulnerability and potential loss, (of species and also traditions) common to both our cultures.’

Detail of Tim Craker, 'Botanical Data File #3'. Plastic safety fencing, hand-cut. 205 x 300 cm. 2008. Now in the permanent collection at Rimbun Dahan.

Detail of Tim Craker, ‘Botanical Data File #3’. Plastic safety fencing, hand-cut. 205 x 300 cm. 2008. Now in the permanent collection at Rimbun Dahan.

As far removed from the individuality and preciousness of Saxton’s salvaged, decorative elements as possible, the elements of Craker’s grids, nets and patterns are mass-produced and interchangeable. Craker chooses items such as moulded plastic spoons, cups and lunch-boxes not only for their ‘transformative potential’, but because they are readily available, easily worked and, not least, cheap (650 plastic cups or fifty metres of orange safety fencing are still affordable). The abundance of these cheap throw-away objects gives the artist licence to experiment freely on a larger scale and to explore the potential of the multiple. As he observes, he likes making ‘something big out of something little’, or perhaps even, something out of nothing. Taken individually, these disposable, transparent, almost weightless objects are so self-effacing and familiar that they almost disappear into their surroundings. Taken together, as units linked into wall or floor-sized configurations they become monumental, although not overpowering. They retain a sense of provisional-ness as they buckle or sag, sway in the breeze or gleam in reflected light in response to subtle changes in their environment. By keeping his touch light, Craker draws out of the banality, even abjectness, of his materials an unexpected quality – grace.

Although Craker works within the staple of abstract art, the grid, and preserves and observes the integrity of his minimalist units, he is not interested in ‘pure’ formalism or in creating self-referential, impersonal systems.  Craker’s ‘recycling’ has a humanistic and environmentalist dimension. This is most clearly expressed in his Botanical Data Files series, in which leaves emerge as positive shapes from a snipped-away grid, the orange plastic leaf litter left in untidy drifts on the floor. Craker’s patterns refer to things in the world, among other things: genetic codes and their transcription errors, cellular arrays and honeycomb, three-dimensional computer drawing and molecular models. By juxtaposing the organic with the plastic and non-biodegradable in Botanical Data Files, Craker draws a different affect out of his despised materials, which he acknowledges as products of hyper-consumerism and an environmentally-destructive petrochemical industry. Similarly, his use of food utensils in such works as Cascade, Blanket and Ripple is not purely a matter of the expediency of a cheap available resource. He has said he is drawn to using food utensils, not only for the tactile attractions of their immediately-recognisable and particular shapes, but to what food and the sharing of food represents. Craker mentions the role food – recipes, preparation, eating – has played in the successful meeting of his family with that of his Malaysian partner. Food both epitomises cultural difference and offers the means to transcend it through common civilised rituals.

In dot-net-dot-au Saxton and Craker are concerned with identifying the threads of commonality that link their Malaysian experiences with their Australian lives – from the mutually-sustaining human traditions of ritual, food and the decorative arts to the global stresses on a fragile, shared environment. This travelling exhibition in Malaysia and Singapore brings their work full circle, back to its source. The Malaysian garden that once haunted the Australian studio now frames the work and reveals its hybridity from a different angle.

Photography on this page by Andrew Wuttke & Gavin Hansford.