Monika Behrens

Monika Behrens
'Grafted Soil', 2009. Oil on linen. 150 x 100 cm.

‘Grafted Soil’, 2009. Oil on linen. 150 x 100 cm.

Monika Behrens was one of the Australian resident artist for the year-long Malaysia-Australia Visual Artist Residency in 2009. Her joint exhibition with Australian artist Rochelle Haley and Malaysian artist Shamsudin Wahab was presented in the Underground Gallery at Rimbun Dahan from 28 February to 14 March 2010.

The exhibition included the ancillary event, ‘High Tea at the Pleasure Garden’, a discussion moderated by the managing editors of online arts writing platform ARTERI (Eva McGovern, Simon Soon & Sharon Chin) based on the site-specific installation Pleasure Garden by Monika Behrens and Rochelle Haley in the newly constructed Penang House at Rimbun Dahan.




monicaOver the past five years Monika Behrens’ career has developed rapidly.  In 2005 she was selected by Felicity Fenner to be included in the prestigious annual Primavera exhibition held at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney.  Since then Behrens has shown in a number of prominent group exhibitions such as the Sulman Prize at the Art Gallery of NSW, Girl Band at Deloittes, EEA21 at the Museum of Modern Art in Saitama Japan, the ABN AMRO Emerging Art Award and theHelen Lempriere Travelling Art Scholarship at Artspace, Sydney. In 2007 Behrens completed a Masters of Fine Art at the College of Fine Art, UNSW and exhibited the outcome, Silent Bang, at the Ivan Dougherty Gallery, Sydney.  In 2007 Behrens travelled to Europe on an Australian Council ‘New Work’ Grant to research the historical and contemporary political art in Amsterdam, Madrid and Venice. The research focused in particular on the historical war paintings located in the National Gallery of London and resulted in two bodies of work based on the Australian History Wars exhibited at Gallerysmith in Melbourne and Firstdraft Gallery in Sydney. In 2008 Behrens undertook a year long studio residency at the National Art School resulting in a show at the NAS gallery. Behrens currently is represented by Breenspace in Sydney ( and Gallerysmith in Melbourne (

Under the guise of still life oil paintings comprised of playful, nostalgic and seductive objects Behrens works subversively with serious and insidious ideas. Her work is based broadly on themes of loss, violence, deceit, power plays within society and the subsequent impact on the vulnerable. Behrens’ early works were provoked by her perceived manipulation of mainstream thought by the media and how this influence gives rise to fear and in turn invokes oppression.  These particular works focus on current worldwide events that often involve violence with the opinion that violence is both a barbaric way to deal with conflict and a senseless form of self-expression.  More recently Behrens’ practice has developed into well considered studies which are historically informed and concentrate on her own cultural context, including political, social, and environmental perspectives.  While on residence at Rimbun Dahan, Behrens aims to focus on contemporary political issues within Malaysia.  Local organic materials and Malaysian toys will be employed to create works that contrast perpetrators with victims, violence with peace and destruction with sustenance.

Mike Ladd

In 2009, Australian poet Mike Ladd spent some time at Rimbun Dahan working on four-lined poems inspired by the Malaysian pantun form, as well as writing a prose fiction work about corruption and the world trade in orangutans as pets.

In July 2010 Mike Ladd launched “The Eye of the Day”, a film poem he made during his residency at Rimbun Dahan, at the Lit Up Festival in Singapore. The film features Rumah Uda Manap, the restored Perak kampung house at Rimbun Dahan. Former resident artist Tony Twigg exhibited the film at his Slot Gallery in Sydney.

In September 2010, “The Eye of the Day” won equal first prize for the best new media poem at the Overload Poetry Festival in Melbourne.



Mike Ladd is currently producer and presenter of ABC Radio National’s poetry program PoeticaThis link will open in a new window..

Born in 1959, he grew up at Blackwood in the Adelaide Hills. After completing a Bachelor of Arts in English and Philosophy at Adelaide University, he began to publish his poetry widely in Australia. He has often collaborated with musicians, including the groups The Drum Poets and newaural net. Mike has published 6 books of poetry. The latest, Transit, was published by Five Islands Press in 2007.

In 2006 he was awarded the Barbara Hanrahan Fellowship at the Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature and was a guest of Venezuela’s World Poetry Festival.

Works in Progress

Here are some of the “Pantun Rimbun Dahan” in progress during Mike’s residency:


I start the great four-bladed ceiling fan.
Seconds later, a gecko drops to the floor,
stunned. Yes, the world’s like that.
We all hang on as long as we can.


From the estate’s wall grey macaques leap
into the laden mango tree.
From your side of the bed, you told me to sleep,
but the night’s so warm, and I want something juicy.


Oil palms, oil palms, oil palms, oil palms.
Freeways, freeways, freeways, freeways.
Oil palms, oil palms, oil palms, oil palms.
Smoke-haze, smoke-haze, smoke-haze, smoke-haze.


In the warm evening, smoke drifts from the end
of a sweet and unhurried clove cigarette.
Your mind has thinned, then gone, old friend.
But the sense you made, I won’t forget.


That cicada sounds like a dentist,
drilling all day into my eye-tooth nerve.
Shrilling on and on about Time,
everything you love,  but can’t preserve.


Out of the sky of luminous black
rain falls joyfully. You and I
who lived so long alone together
now walk again under one umbrella.

A Delicate Situation

A Delicate Situation


The contemporary dance work A Delicate Situation was created by Australian choreographer Lina Limosani. It was first developed during Lina’s Asialink residency at Rimbun Dahan in 2008, and was aso redeveloped with a short residency funded by Arts SA in 2012.  Lina initially worked with four Malaysian dancers to create the version of A Delicate Situation which was performed at Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre, 12-14 December 2008.

A Delicate Situation (2008) was nominated for 3 awards at the 7th Annual BOH Cameronian Arts Awards:

  • Best Featured Performer — Elaine Pedley
  • Best Choreographer in a Feature-Length Work — Lina Limosani
  • Best Costume Design for Dance — Eve Lambert

Performance Notes

In the darkness, things are waiting. Their past is sorrow, their
future is pain, and their hunger cannot be satisfied.

In an empty house, a cold room, they cling tenaciously to the walls.

Are her fears normal, or is her imagination running away with her? Is
he a prisoner or merely insane?

Choreographed by Lina Limosani (and dancers)

Performed by Malaysian dancers Suhaili Micheline, Rathimalar Govindarajoo, Elaine Pedley and Low Shee Hoe
Sound design by Hardesh Singh
Costume design by Eve Lambert
Photography and graphic design by David Loke

12-13 December 2008 (8.30pm)
14 December 2008 (3pm)
Pentas 2, Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre,
Jalan Strachan, off Jalan Ipoh,
Sentul 51100 Kuala Lumpur.

Supported by MyDance Alliance, KLPac, Asialink, Arts South Australia and Scottish Arts.

Promotional Images

Photos by David Loke

In Rehearsal

Photos by Bilqis Hijjas.


Check out the photos of ‘A Delicate Situation’ in performance, taken by Philip Craig.


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.

Megan Keating

Megan Keating
The Orchard, 2008, Oil on canvas, 122 x 153 cm.

The Orchard, 2008, Oil on canvas, 122 x 153 cm.

Dr Megan Keating was one of the Australian artists of the year-long Malaysia-Australia Visual Artist Residency at Rimbun Dahan in 2008. At Rimbun Dahan she created Plantation Nation, a body of large-scale oil on canvas works, which explores the idea of “home” and how we cultivate an environment to ‘ manufacture’ this idea.

About the Artist

meganMegan Keating was born in Sydney, Australia where she worked in a design studio before attending the National Art School. She holds an Honours degree (first class) (1998) and a Doctorate of Philosophy in Fine Art (2002) from the University of Tasmania.

She is a multidisciplinary artist crossing installation, painting, and paper cutting. Her practice explores the nature of extremes. These extremes or conflicts can be seen as conditions and consequences of contemporary living; such divergences include tradition and modernity, beauty and terror, craft and technology, media and reality, nature and culture. Within this forum Keating often uses motifs that nudge at the edge of acceptability such as bombs, military iconography or pornography, which she renders as elegant silhouettes.

She has exhibited extensively since 1999 with recent solo projects including Different Reds, Gallery 4a, Asia- Australia Arts Centre, Sydney (2001); And then there were none… Gowlangsford Gallery, Sydney (2003); In Dreams Begin Responsibilities, 2-28 Memorial Museum (curated by Yaohua Su), Taipei (2006); The Year of the Rat, Xue Xue Institute, Taipei (2007); Deep Water Dark Water, Criterion Gallery, Hobart (2007); and Hard Love, Devonport Regional Gallery (2008). Group exhibitions include Papercuts, Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne (2003); Love Letters to China, Ivan Dougherty Gallery, Sydney (2003); Drawn Out, Perth Institute of Contemporary Art (2005); Her name is Tan Hua, collaborative performance with Mei Li, Taipei (2006); This Crazy Love, Linden Gallery, Melbourne (2007); Loop, Barry Room Gallery, Taipei (2007); Under My Skin, Asialink touring exhibition to Manilla, Hanoi and Singapore (2008). Keating has also been the recipient of numerous awards including an Asialink Residency to Beijing (2000); Australia Council Residency, Tokyo (2003); Arts Tasmania Research and Development Grant (2003); Australian Council New Work Established Grant (2005); Asialink Residency, Taipei International Artists Village (2006) and Artist–in-residence, The European School, Taipei (2007). In 2008 Keating was the recipient of the year-long residency at Rimbun Dahan, Malaysia. Her work is held in the collections of Artbank, BHP Billiton, Pat Corrigan Collection, Australia, Australian Embassy, Beijing, National Gallery of Australia, Rimbun Dahan, Malaysia, Taipei Artists Village, Taiwan and the University of Sydney.

Keating currently lives and works in Hobart where she lectures in painting and graphic design at the Tasmanian School of Art. In 2009 Keating will return to Tasmania to curate an exhibition of contemporary Taiwanese art for the 10 Days on the Island Festival and the University of Tasmania.

She is represented by Criterion Gallery, Hobart.

Plantation Nation

Plantation Nation is a body of large-scale oil on canvas works, which explores the idea of “home” and how we cultivate an environment to ‘ manufacture’ this idea. Images and inspirations have been taken from observations of Malaysia, especially around the locality of Rimbun Dahan whilst concurrently thinking about the issues related to being away from home, what is a home, returning home and trying to establish a sense of home in a foreign environment.

Lauren Black

Lauren Black

Malaysia-Australia Visual Artist Residency 2008

Lauren (right) talking to visitors at her studio.

Lauren (right) talking to visitors at her studio.

Lauren Black (b.1971) is a contemporary botanical artist from Tasmania, Australia. During her residency at Rimbun Dahan her work has focused around the theme of disappearance; exploring themes such as rare and endangered species, the relationship between human culture and botanical life and, the transient beauty of plants.

Works on exhibit will be in watercolour and pencil.

Artist’s Profile

Lauren Black is a leading figure in contemporary Australian botanical art. Her career in this specialised field commenced in 1997 with studies at the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne. Currently working as a freelance artist and teacher she has been involved in many projects and commissions including collaborations with botanists, artists, universities, community and government organisations. As well as exhibiting regularly as both a solo artist and as part of group exhibitions in Australia, Lauren has also curated numerous botanical exhibitions of historical and environmental importance.

In 2004 Lauren won the inaugural Margaret Flockton Award for excellence in botanical illustration, NSW, Australia. In 2005 she was awarded an Asialink visual arts residency to develop her practice further in Sri Lanka.

Lauren’s residency at Rimbun Dahan has introduced her to the rich and diverse flora of the tropics. She hopes to continue this relationship with tropical flora; developing projects that can reveal both the extraordinary beauty and precarious nature of this region for a wide audience.

Lauren’s work is held in numerous collections including:

  • HRH Crown Prince and Princess of Denmark
  • Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Tasmania, Australia
  • Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, Tasmania, Australia
  • University of Tasmania Fine Art Collection
  • National Library of Australia, ACT
  • Royal Botanic Gardens Library, Melbourne, Vic. Australia
  • Private collections in Australia and Malaysia

Gabrielle Bates

Gabrielle Bates

Malaysia-Australia Visual Artist Residency 2007

BatesG1The 2007 Australian artist in residence at Rimbun Dahan is Gabrielle Bates (6. 1967). An honors graduate from the University of Sydney, New South Wales, she has exhibited professionally since 1993 and is the recipient of a number of awards, grants and residency placements. Gabrielle’s works have been acquired for corporate, institutional and private collections in Australia, UK, USA and Malaysia.

‘Mouth of flowers’ is Gabrielle’s new body of experimental paintings, objects and video work produced this year while in residence at Rimbun Dahan, Kuala Lumpur. Gabrielle’s exploration of patterns and figuration has produced a series of canvas-based works that combine water colour, Rimbun Dahan pond water, hand-embroidered nylon thread, Chinese ink and synthetic polymer paint. The works combine Southeast Asian motifs, signage and local media with figuration to explore the political and poetic subtleties of life for artists in Malaysia and southeast Asia.

Artists such as Saiful Razman, Noor Mahnun Mohamed, Husin Hourmain, Donna Miranda, Ahmad Fuad Osman, Shaffudin Mamat, Low Shee Hoe, Lau Mun Leng and Bilqis Hijjas have all posed for Bates during her residency. In turn, she has transformed them into players within a fictional narrative that circles the conflicts, anxieties, insights and advantages of (self) censorship.

Her objects, collected from the ordinary Kelompang jari (Sterculia foetida) pods, have been reconfigured with nylon thread and decorative elements such as sequins and velvet appliqué, morphing the pods into a collection of anthropomorphous objects.

Gabrielle presented ‘Mouth of flowers’ at the 13th Rimbun Dahan Residency Exhibition, alongside the work of Malaysian resident artist Ahmad Fuad Osman, 13 to 27 January 2008, at the Rimbun Dahan gallery.

The elasticity of a golden thread

by Gina Fairley

Our lives are filled with pattern: The patterned regimentation of our actions; our personal ‘style’; the family that frames us; our cultural fabric; conservatisms and beliefs. We wear an invisible code that defines who we are, our DNA. Collectively, this is ourpattern.

Gabrielle Bates has long used quasi-ethnographic motifs as a device to transfer information about the people she paints. In her earlier portraits the sitter reverberated across the canvas, floating on a flat colour field. Like a print slightly out of register, their ghost-like repetition, or flaw, reaffirmed their humanity. Bold black outlines held their pattern allowing us to decode who they might be.

While these early portraits offer a clear trajectory to these new works, the “Mouth of Flowers” series comes from a very different position: psychologically, emotionally and culturally. Their patterning goes beyond a descriptor to physically consume the form. The body and pattern have fused as one.

Malaysia’s hybridity makes an indelible impression on every artist visiting Rimbun Dahan. For Bates that engagement was filled with multiplicity: it offered an organic tangibility to the work spawned from its bounty of pods, natural patterns and pond water; it provided the solitude to rediscover embroidery, sewing a personal and emotional narrative; and it offered the gift of insight, journeying beyond perceptions.

Finding Malaysia’s pattern is complex. At an elementary level it lies in its graphic traditions of batik, henna decoration and Islamic geometry. At a cerebral level it is the patterning of socio-political / religious striations of a nation at a time when it is asking ‘what is its contemporary identity?’ Bates’ work traces a thread across these ideas, oscillating between reverie and bounce. Remove the exotic ‘pattern’ and it is a narrative caught in a web of time, territory and transition.

Bates found this narrative in a coterie of artists, dancers and musicians who explore the peripheral through their creativity. The narratives are dense but less self-effacing; the ‘outlines’ have become diffused. She replaces ethnographic patterning with a floral fragility, caught between romantic apparition and an earthy reality. Often clothed in little more than an organic epidermis, her players are exposed. But these characters are not vulnerable. If we look at the painting “Armour”, banana flowers (bunga pisang) rise up like a noxious weed, beautiful but threatening, clutching at a woman’s neck rendering her speechless. But she does not turn away; her gaze does not flare in distress – it is a knowing censure.

In “Stir” she sleeps enveloped by the same flowers. Is it the peace of submission, death or sleep? Is she weightless or weighted by her floral shroud? Paired with a mirror-image caught between cartoon and apparition, it sits against a brave white ground acting as a stark alter-ego to the velvety, painterly background of the sleeping figure. It is a kind of intermezzo between figuration and the ephemeral.

“KL-ing me softly” is equally charged from the outset, challenging protocols and permissions. But there is an inherent softness that sits counter to any overt act or statement. It mixes memory and ambivalence with a restless exoticism. These works are about a visual psychology. Just as a Rorschach drawing triggers association but has no one reading, Bates has moved beyond the clarity of descriptors to an elasticity of meaning. She pushes us beyond the desire to translate and give over to poetic nuance.

The materials of these new works take on a symbolism we have not seen before. Her stitched portraits have a latent violence or emotional trigger. The act of piercing the surface of a painting has that same duality as a tattoo; it is branding and an aesthetic expression. “First cut” captures this tension, the thread’s assertive lines slashing the canvas. The figure turns from himself but is denied a freedom, anchored by his own voice. Rendered speechless, we ask who has the power of censure over this voice? Caught in the strain between a sewn and brushed mark, it is a courageous embrace of new materials.

Bates similarly plays off the organic purity of seed pods against lurid plastic flowers and synthetic thread. The pods disgorge their floral centres, over-ripe with fleshy fertility. These are incredibly sensual objects that Bates lashes into control. The synthetic materiality of the flowers beg the question, are we fooled by beauty? It is another veil seemingly ‘natural’ yet contrived, controlled and plastic?

Many of these works teeter on the edge where things are raw and flirt with the unknown. To quote writer John Barrett-Lennard, “Accent can be thought of as a kind of excess, a disturbance in the smoothness of sound and communication.” (1.) An accent, like a pattern, has a personal intonation. It is about reading between the lines; it is the place of hyphens. Sometimes it is barely audible; sometimes it has the gentleness of a lover and at others the affirmation of belief. “Mouth of Flowers” is a place to hear things.
Gina Fairley

1. John Barrett-Lennard “Here and Now” catalogue essay for Simryn Gill, PICA exhibition, Perth 2001.


Patricia Sykes

Patricia Sykes

Australian poet and librettist Patricia Sykes spent her 2006 residency at Rimbun Dahan working on the libretto for a full-length opera, The Navigator, a collaborative work with composer Liza Lim. Sykes travelled through Malaysia and to Cambodia’s Angkor Wat researching culture and society in order to enrich her libretto and develop the theatrical aspects of the opera. Sykes is the author of two poetry collections and has edited four books of poetry.  Her work focuses strongly on the interactions between people and their contexts and her residency helped explore how a host culture nurtures itself, its people and the environment.

Supported by the Australia Council.

Tim Craker

Tim Craker

Tim Craker in his studio room at Hotel Penaga, Penang, with ‘Beyond the Pail’.

Australian artist Tim Craker undertook a 3-month residency at Rimbun Dahan in 2006. In July 2011, he returned to Malaysia to take up the first artist’s residency at Hotel Penaga in George Town, Penang. During the residency he created the installation sculpture Beyond the Pail, now on display in front of the main hotel entrance.

Beyond the Pail, plastic buckets & cable ties, ca. 160cm diameter, 2011.

Artist’s statement:

Beyond the Pail is an assemblage of twelve ten-gallon yellow translucent plastic buckets, suspended in space and able to rotate about its vertical axis. The works’s construction is based on the dodecahedron, one of the five Platonic solids, each side of which is a pentagon.

The work stems from a fascination with both the everyday object, released from its usual purpose, and the possibilities of combination that it may offer. The bucket, in this case, is no longer a functional object, but becomes an element of a larger construction that refers to the basic geometry of the natural world – the underlying patterns that are both decorative and seminal – the perfection of which is alleviated by the random positioning of the buckets’ handles.

Suspended and rotating gently in passing breezes, Beyond the Pail provides gentle subversion of quotidian functionality, while making visual reference to – amongst other things – viral particles, Buckminster-Fuller’s geodesic domes (a local example of which is situated adjacent to the Komtar tower here in Georgetown), pollen grains and spaceships.

Beyond the pail, certainly! Beyond the pale, I hope not.

Tim Craker
July 2011

In 2008, Tim’s joint exhibition dot-net-dot-au (with Louise Saxton) toured to Malaysia and Singapore, including works he had conceived at Rimbun Dahan.

Artists’ Statement from the Travelling Exhibition dot-net-dot-au, 2008

In 2006 I was very fortunate to spend three months in Malaysia as a full-time artist. The residency – at Rimbun Dahan, a private estate on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur – was a fantastic and intense period of sensory stimulation, reflection, artistic exploration and creative production, in a luxurious and supportive environment. This series of work stems from that time.

My overwhelming impression of Malaysia – gathered from many previous visits, as well as my residency – was primarily pattern, both natural and man-made. From the tiling of Kuala Lumpur pavements to the lattice of tropical vegetation against the sky, my eye was taken by the prevalence and variety of pattern – botanical, Islamic and industrial.

Pattern is by definition repeated units, and a pattern is discerned through identification of these units, their repetition and interrelationship. Patterns can be merely decorative – children make patterns with seashells at the beach, for example – but we also talk of seeing a pattern, when we discern a connection between disparate objects or events, which hints at a meaning behind them.

One stimulus for the work is a fascination with pattern and how it “works”; another is the excitement of generating substantial pieces from myriad small, unregarded and everyday objects and things.

Several months ago I read in one of the weekend newspaper magazines a regular article about someone’s “favourite things”. This particular week one of the objects was a small length of an enormously long daisy chain, made as an entry in a sculpture competition by the person’s nine-year-old daughter, Lola. Part of Lola’s artist’s statement was: “I like daisy chains because you start with something little and end with something big.” I tore the page out, took it to my studio and stuck Lola’s quotation in my journal.

The materials themselves – objects by which we are surrounded but of which we rarely take notice – are also a stimulus, coupled with a desire to transform or release them from their expected role.
What if a plastic spoon is released from mere function and becomes part of a huge cargo net, screen or trap, for example? A single disposable plastic cup is just a plastic cup; hundreds of cups tied together become something else altogether, and many things at the same time. Dull practicality cedes to other ways of using objects, subverting or ignoring their actual purpose – less serious, unpredictable, more interesting….


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

Plastic disposable materials have been chosen not only for their “transformative potential”, but because they are cheap (nine hundred plastic cups are still affordable, for example!), readily available, light, durable and easily worked. Safety fencing is also a cheap and abundant material – what excitement to buy fifty metres of it! The materials one uses carry a whole set of meanings, though, which are part – even if on a subconscious level – of why they are chosen and the meanings the work may suggest.

In Malaysia during my 2006 residency, I was invited to be part of an exhibition entitled “Feed Me!”. The curatorial theme was an exploration of food and its cultural and social significance. I thought of the role that a common interest in food – recipes, ritual, preparation, eating – has played (and continues to play) in the successful meeting of my family with my Malaysian partner and his family. I considered, on a broader scale, the importance of food – in all its various manifestations – in intercultural relations. Food is sustenance, embodies tradition, and demonstrates familial love and care. It also epitomises cultural difference – while offering the means of transcending it…

Food utensils have been objects and subjects I have often returned to – I realise, in retrospect – in my work. Aside from the tactile attractions of the immediately-recognisable and particular shapes, maybe what I return to is the symbolic representation of order, of ritual, of “civilised” ingestion, of the set table, of sitting down to dinner and conversations over a meal – and what that might stand against.

The materials are plastic and non-degradable – symptomatic of a throw-away society. They have little aesthetic value – their design criteria value low cost first, then functionality. They are disposable and “single-use”, yet fill kitchen cupboards, builders’ skips and landfill everywhere. They are the products of a petrochemical industry itself responsible for vast environmental damage – in accessing raw materials, in the by- products of manufacture and in the consumption of the end-product hydrocarbon fuels.

In a gentle subversion of the dictates of hyper-consumerism, the worthless, “unfriendly” and disposable is assembled in these works on a monumental scale, and invested with new aesthetic worth: the mundane is transformed, the banal subverted. Myriad units are assembled together; grids are formed piece by piece according to certain rules; lattices of both two and three dimensions are captured or created. The construction process becomes meditative – repeated actions of drilling, placing, threading, knotting or trimming are performed, but create an unpredicted and organic result, a molecular array, a crystalline lattice. The grid is also approached from the opposite direction: units of a “found” plastic lattice are selectively deleted to reveal a leaf shape in outline, a botanical silhouette – the plastic scoop removes the fallen leaf from the swimming pool. The contrast between medium and message is between the un-aesthetic, unregarded industrial fencing, used for protection, exclusion and visibility, and the living natural biodegradable leaf, between one pattern and another, between design and evolution. Offcuts, like dead leaves, fall below the screens.

What information might a pattern contain, and how is it encoded?

Does the botanical information always lie within the plastic screen?

Is the screen something we see through, or something that prevents our access?

Patterns are perfect, geometric and regular. More fascinating, however, is the disruption of the pattern: the net sags, stretches and folds; segments of the pattern are excised; the repetition is imperfect; the regular structure is deformed. The perfect geometry of a spiderweb only becomes useful when a fly has infringed its meticulous structure. [Alan Fletcher, “The Art of Looking Sideways”, Phaidon Press 2001]. Pristine rigidity morphs into organic imperfection; patterns and their shadows superimpose in Moire interference: perfection is both an illusion and much less interesting than reality.

At what point does a disrupted pattern become mere chaos?

When do patterns within patterns become too complex to apprehend?

My work in dot-net-dot-au refers to – amongst other things – genetic codes and their transcription errors, to cellular arrays and honeycomb, to the computer-drawing of three-dimensional objects and surfaces, to molecular models. It subverts the original use for everyday objects and materials, and in a gentle way addresses issues of biodegradability and permanence, of the culture of the disposable, of our cultural culinary appetites and of the occident and the orient. The motivation for the work is intuitive rather than primarily conceptual. The works arise from a response to materials, and from a desire – shared with Lola – to make something big out of something little, something valuable out of something worthless, something you want to keep from something you throw away.

Tim Craker
April 2008

Photography for dot-net-dot-au, except profile image of Tim, by Andrew Wuttke & Gavin Hansford.

Above: Tim Craker’s open studio at Rimbun Dahan during his first residency in 2006.

Louise Saxton

Louise Saxton

Louise Saxton is a Melbourne-based artist who trained in painting and printmaking at RMIT and holds a Post-graduate Diploma with the Victorian College of the Arts and a Masters Degree in Fine Arts with the University of Ballarat.

Since 2000, Louise’s practice has centred on the reconstruction of detritus from the home. This has included the re-use of her own paintings, collections of everyday business envelopes and vintage wallpapers and discarded needlework.

In 2006 she was awarded a Sir Ian Potter Cultural Trust travel grant to undertake an artist residency at Rimbun Dahan in Malaysia. In 2008, her joint exhibition dot-net-dot-au (with Tim Craker) toured to Malaysia and Singapore, including works she had conceived and created at Rimbun Dahan.

Artists’ Statement from the Travelling Exhibition dot-net-dot-au

Based on a collection of small henna-hand stencils (mehndi) I found in KL in 2006, I made (the linen coloured) Hand-work first. I chose the hornbill as the negative motif inside the hand because, being a vulnerable species in Malaysia, I wanted to create a connecting point between Malaysia, my time at Rimbun Dahan (the image was found in a Malaysian Nature Society magazine on the property) and our two very different cultures. I liked it so much that I made the blue one, mirroring the hand and repeating the hornbill negative within it. The Home-Tree was made next (based on an Indian Tree of Life image that I’ve been carrying around with me for the past 15 years) and the koala was chosen as the negative motif. Being a vulnerable species here at home, the koala acts for me, as an Australian counterpart to the Malaysian hornbill. The koala also has a deep connection, within Australia, to the decorative home-based traditions of the past (“Australiana” doilies etc) and as a national icon.

The use of the negative motif inside the highly decorative outer motif becomes a metaphor of vulnerability and potential loss (of species and also traditions) which is common to both our cultures. So, the choices I’ve made here are about my trying to find connecting points between my brief encounters with South East Asia and my ongoing life in Australia.

The majority of motifs I am choosing for dot-net-dot-au were “collected” in Asia and the majority of actual embroidered materials were collected here in Australia. These, largely Western motifs (dotted throughout with Asian inspired imagery) could be seen to represent colonisation, but hopefully, they can also create another link between cultures – that of the home and the garden.

In-filled with hundreds of, individually extracted, embroidered motifs, the Hand-work pieces create, because the palms are opened outwards, a gesture of welcome and offering (which links them to the original henna (mehndi) hands used for Indian weddings and other celebrations). In both Hand-works and Home-Tree there is also a sense of protection, by holding the vulnerable, absent image within their palm or branches. There is perhaps also, the possibility of loss and at the same time, the potential for ‘salvage’.

The other image I have chosen to work with is the Buddha head, also brought home with me from Malaysia as a simple pencil line-drawing. Traced from a book I found in my guest room at Rimbun Dahan, the original sculpture housed in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, is a 7th Century Cambodian Buddha. Imitations of these ancient sculptures are found here in Australia, one being spotted recently sitting outside my local garden shop. The image represents my own fascination with the incredible beauty of Eastern arts traditions, but also the difficult arena of the displacement of traditions, of Colonisation and the plundering of other cultures. At the same time, there seems to exist in the image, an enduring sense of quiet, humility and peace, which allows the image to somehow transcend its appropriation – or does it? The Buddha’s cast-down eyes, in my re-appropriation, are made of pearl-drop lace, a feather and a blue flower. His ear and cheek are embellished with tiny blue birds and a miniature Chinese fishing boat, a delicate butterfly caresses his neck and in his hair knots, (made from over 100 circular crochet and embroidered motifs) ‘nest’ two running-stitched swallows. These embellishments on an image once cast in bronze, and now drawn by me in delicate reclaimed lace, could point to the Buddhist idea of transience? However, it also makes me feel uncomfortable – is it still a “stolen” image? This also causes me to wonder, about the nature of travel, of my residency and my return to Malaysia and Singapore to exhibit this year – while we try to grasp something of the wisdom and experience of other traditions, can we ever really hold on to it, or make it our own?

Louise Saxton
March 2008