Kemian Hitam

Kemian Hitam

Our staff found some lumps of kemian hitam, a type of aromatic resin that came from the rotting wood of Canarium littorale or kedondong bulan which had been struck by lightning a while ago. Half of the tree was killed and rotting on the ground.


Kemian Hitam from the rotting wood of a C. littorale


The resin has a very nice fragrance when burned. According to the Internet it is also associated with occult practices: it may be used to summon “makhluk halus alam bawahan, Jin Tanah, Jin Pokok, Jin Batu dan yang sebangsa dengannya.” A comment on our facebook post claims that kemian hitam is used in smoking and cleaning woven textile such as songket, limar and kelingkam by suspending the cloth on a rack of netting and smoking kemian beneath it. This method is thought to kill bugs that may feed on the textile as well as get rid of mold.


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.

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

Tony Twigg

Tony Twigg


Australian sculptor Tony Twigg was the Australian resident artist of the year-long Malaysia-Australia Visual Arts Residency in 2005.


Tony Twigg has produced over 40 solo exhibitions of wall-based objects and installations in Australia, Malaysia, The Philippines, Singapore and the U.S.A., and has been included in group exhibitions across Asia and Europe. He received his Master of visual Arts from the City Art Institute Sydney in 1985. He lives and works in Sydney, Australia and Manila, Philippines.

Tony’s numerous exhibitions have been presented in a variety of  disciplines including, performance, film/video, installation, painting and sculpture, as well as curatorial practice. He is represented in private collections and public collections in Australia, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines including: the National Gallery of Australia, the Queensland Art Gallery, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the Ateneo Art Gallery Manila and the BenCab Museum, in the Philippines.

Tony Twigg in conversation with Gina Fairley. Rimbun Dahan December 2005

How did your journey to Rimbun Dahan, from Manila to Ho Chi Minh, up the Mekong to Phnom Penh and Angkor Wat, colour your arrival in Malaysia?

I arrived in Kuala Lumpur with certain expectations of an Asian experience built around the places I’ve gravitated to over the past decade. These are places where people quickly adapt ‘things’ – found objects – into life’s necessities, objects I see as ‘accidental art’. There’s an intuitive creativity in their making which speaks to me passionately of the human spirit. K.L. is a first world city, complete with all the accoutrements of now, where the prerequisites of “life-style” decide how things look rather than human need. Somehow, the first marks I made were ruled lines and then a lot of time was spent looking for a mark that comes from here, that is Malaysia, not just K.L.

Where did you find that Malaysian mark?

Here, along Jalan Kuang, at a demolition site, in discarded fish boxes beside a pasaraya and as crazy looking bottles of Chinese liquor from Kuang. It turned out that the Malaysian mark, for me, was the fish box. I started working with the ‘physical’ line of the object rather than its inspiration. The major impact was the surface. I found the subtle and random shifts in colour and texture of the timber aesthetically moving, so I began using thinner and thinner paint until I had the courage to use none. For me these fish boxes engaged the spirit of the original maker. There are two hands at work in my pictures.

Clearly you have a passion for the found object, but this feeling of a dialogue with the ‘original maker’ is a new development.

It occurred to me while making the works called 30 Fish Boxes. My proposition was simple: join three fish boxes together vertically to make a construction. As I worked the possibilities multiplied and I felt like I was jamming with the guy who made the boxes. The piece MT Madras was an amazing find and the most extreme relationship with the original ‘maker’. I found it in Brickfields during Deepavali and photographed it. The crate collapsed neatly enough to make it back to the studio. Not only did it not need paint, it didn’t need any carpentry either. My role as artist was limited to identifying the object, and conservator. This piece is the end point in the show and it has necessitated relinquishing certain controls over my surfaces and the arrangement of my constructions. Slowly, I’ve become aware of how subversively an object can be spirited. Accidental art has a great deal of beauty that I try to emulate by considering the making process rather than considering what beauty ‘looks’ like. The result is a set of elementary forms that have a certain universal understanding common to places like Chau Doc, Pasir Mas or Manila – the bird cages of Kelantan are a good example of this – but put them in cities like Sydney or K.L., they become exotic.

A dialogue with space is a constant in your work: architectural space, conceptual space, personal space, cultural space – it’s not static. Do you perceive an ‘Asian’ space?

I find the sensation of space physically exciting. I’ve come to realise that the way we perceive space governs our proximity to the objects we encounter. You and I might see U-shaped canyons walking through the city, but a town planner or crane driver would probably see it differently. In that sense, the way we perceive space becomes the operating system of our aesthetic. The idea of stacking space, and how that establishes illusionistic depth without referencing perspective, I think, is essentially ‘Asian’. Seeing Gao Xingjian’s recent show at Singapore Art Museum underlines this and it was also the big discovery for Ian Fairweather, an English artist who worked through Asia in the ‘30s on his way to becoming Australia’s pre-eminent Abstract Expressionist.

Do you consciously push the parameters of space outside the edges of the work to engage the gallery wall?

Yes, it is absolutely vital. It is not a question of an object surrounded by space, it’s a composition of positive and negative space. So, like a doughnut, the defining feature of the work could be an empty space. As a result my works are often multi-panelled because there are moments when the negative space is stronger than the positive space and consequently the work splits in two or perhaps fails to join. In this kind of work there are no right or wrong decisions, and the final relationship of the parts can change as they adapt to the constraints of a location or reflect the taste of a new owner. However, the drawing of the work – its lines, its spaces and its surfaces – remain unchallenged.


About the Work

 Thompson Birdwing Butterfly (above), exhibited at the 2005 Art for Nature exhibition.

Shortly after arriving in Kuala Lumpur, I found a very appealing broken wooden box in Chinatown. Back in the studio, I put it together as an ordinary looking thing that I then tried to liven up with yellow paint. A month or two later, I was on a demolition site and found two pieces of circular something in wood. Back in the studio it was a match for my yellow construction. Once it was together I started wondering if a butterfly might be a solution to the picture, inspired by the Art of Nature show. Bee Ling came to my studio and said that I had a word on my box, and it was butterfly. Next Angela was looking at this piece and said, “Look, a yellow and black butterfly,” just like my work, outside the studio, in the garden. It is Troides aeacus Thompsonii, a male Thompson Birdwing.

Mutalib Mann

Mutalib Mann

mutalibMutalib Mann was the Malaysian resident artist of the Malaysia-Australia Visual Arts Residency at Rimbun Dahan in 1998. The exhibition of his works took place in the Underground Gallery at Rimbun Dahan from 28 August to 27 September 1998.

Mutalib Mann is an artist based in London, born in Alor Setar, Malaysia. He was trained at The MARA University of Technology, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and The London College of Printing in Graphic Design.

Mathew Calvert

Mathew Calvert


mattTasmanian sculptor Mathew Calvert was an Asialink resident artist at Rimbun Dahan in 1998.

Curriculum Vitae

Born Smithton Tasmania, 1969


1997      Poets and Painters, Dick Betts Gallery, Hobart

1996   Survivability, Hobart GPO

Pulp, Burnie, Regional Art Gallery

1995   Bubble Rap, M&B Motors, New Cross, London

1994   Selected Works from the 1993 Anne & Gordon Samstag International Visual Arts Scholarships, Adelaide

1993      Group 16 Exhibition, Long Gallery, Hobart

1991      National Student Exhibition, Exhibition Building, Melbourne

1990      Insitu Fine Arts Gallery, University of Tasmania


1998      Asialink Rimbun Dahan Malaysia

1994      McCulloch Studio, Cite International des Arts, Paris


1997      Art for Public Buildings Scheme, TAFE Training Facility Prince of Wales Bay, Hobart

1991      Installation for Fletcher Construction at the ANZ Centre, Hobart

Scholarships and Awards

1992      Samstag International Visual Arts Scholarship

Dean’s Role of Honour, University of Tasmania


1995      MA Goldsmith’s College, University of London

1993      Graduated with Honours (First Class)

1994      1992   Bachelor of Fine Arts, Tasmanian School of Art, University of Tasmania


Notes on the Asialink Rimbun Dahan Residency Exhibition

by Adam Aitken

Kuang Malaysia
28th August to 27 September 1998

In the six months Tasmanian sculptor Mathew Calvert has resided at Rimbun Dahan, his glass monoliths have attracted the attention of his fellow artists and visitor alike.  Within the Balinese Hindu-inspired water temple surroundings of Rimbun Dahan’s guest-house studio, these pieces are quasi-architectural forms which reflect the on-going modernist desire for pure clean forms, that comment upon eclectic post-modernity and the trace of Asian ideals inherent in their setting.

Each sculpture is composed of up to a thousand pieces of broken plate glass formerly used as building material which Calvert salvaged from a nearby kampung dump (below).  These pieces tell the story of their own salvation from the melancholy fate of rejected industrial materials.  Each piece extends our perceptions of how these materials can be used and viewed, as objects with intelligence and meanings they would not have enjoyed had they fulfilled their original utilitarian purpose as glass for high rise.


Each piece attests to the artist’s ritual of collection, cleaning and sorting the colour and thickness of each single shard before its actual placement. Such a process requires the will to discipline the chaos of the dump, to arrest the process of decay, to rescue perfectly usable material from industry’s unthinking wastage. Each piece yearns to be something spiritually complete, an ideal which an industrialising landscape struggles to realise.

From the detritus of a boom gone bust Calvert has transformed the ugliness of broken 10 millimetre plate glass into things conventionally beautiful on the outside, but haunting and threatening inside, a solid oblong and two “sarcophagi’.  Each piece seems to mourn at the unmarked grave of an industrial disaster.  Over the largest piece hangs a billboard sized back lit photograph of a landmark familiar to the KL commuter, a large abandoned skeleton of what could have been just another condominium.  Its bare stairwells and lack of cladding reveal the emptiness of real-estate denuded of its “face”, its loss of status as well as the evidence of KL’s suddenly arrested modernisation.  Through its empty floors one can view bare laterite hills and the transient outlands of the shabby city fringe.  The building has colonised what was once a useful, perhaps picturesque space with its own semi-rural complexities of people, space, work and environment.

matt2This juxtaposition of image and glass pike is a reflexive gesture and a reanalysis of the urban environment, as well as a poignant commentary on the history of all overreaching development.  A wan fluorescence lights this edifice t0 failed vision, each piece emanating the same milky-white pallor of transience, decay, vacancy.  Twentieth century modernity seemed to promise a simple mode of being, but is this  an empty promise after all, a conceptual dead end?

The material to a certain extent has dictated Calvert’s choice of form, and every shard has been placed carefully to achieve a layer-cake of fractured light and resonance.  Through judicious placement of each shard, Calvert has captured both the beauty and the ugliness of glass, which lies in its unpredictable nature:  two perfectly flat surfaces, but the edge can be either ruler-straight, or jagged and chaotic depending how the sheet breaks.

Like Petronas Towers, the viewer is astonished at the weighty impact of something so abstract, single minded, and virtually colourless.  But Calvert’s pieces are ironic commentaries on ideals of giantism, purity and perfection.  Like the generic office tower of curtain glass the surfaces of these sculptures shine with autonomy, and a power expressed through total dominance of medium.

matt5Most of the shards have had minimal but intensive handling, with no intentional breakage.  The edges of each fragment are aligned in perpendiculars, each a brick in the wall that might go on forever if the artist had given full rein to his obsession.  In “Recovery” (right), the viewer, from a confident position of privilege, seems to be walking around disciplined walls of glass, only to find this complacency shaken on looking down into a menacing shark’s mouth of broken edges.

Glass is fragile yet potentially dangerous to the flesh.  Each piece says, “come and view me, but keep your distance!”

The paradox of glass is the fact that it is both solid and transparent, and each piece exploits this double identity.  There are no false bottoms or hollow spaces in “Platform” yet the sarcophagus hints at containing the organic trace of life (below).  But what life?  Does the oblong bury a living thin, an essence of life?  Like Narcissus, we gaze from Rimbun Dahan’s soft watery surrounding, we run aground o the force of these surfaces.  The viewer apprehends the work as a sublime force, both beautiful and terrifying; it promises everlasting life for itself, more permanent and immutable than us.  It refers to a technological future which is frightening, because the abandoned building signifies the incompletion of human creativity and our loss over control.  The abandoned structure will never know the warmth and familiarity of human activity, and is haunted by the disquietude of ghosts.

matt3Ross Wolfe, director of the Samstag Program wrote of Calvert’s early work as being in the nature of “a barricade which assaults and offends the aesthetic, rendering itself unapproachable through gross physical attributes alone.  It’s spirit is open.  As art, it is naked and vulnerable” (Samstag catalogue 1994). In this installation Calvert has disciplined his earlier sense of violence and grossness.  Perhaps these pieces carry a new subliminal message:  that meaning lies beyond cliches of economic rationalism.  It’s wastefulness, is revealed, when the “used” must pay as much as the user in terms of lost space, lost greenery and blotted out horizons.  One question Calvert’s work asks is whether the broken and rejected junk of a throw-away culture can be redeemed.  Calvert’s pieces make us look at the piece itself, and contemplate the labour that makes it a thing in itself with its own aesthetic value, but they also express the human yearning for permanence.  It is also art that risk ugliness and generates a slight feeling of repulsion and alienation one much feel when confronted by effective political art.  These sculptures, born of the scrap heap, are perhaps windows, or more mysteriously looking-glasses for those who can read their destiny, but all they reveal is the law of their own grim presence, one a lot less illusory and therefore more strikingly truthful than the vision of “development” has every quite promised.


Adam Aitken has published two books of poetry, he is associate editor of “HEAT”, the Australian literary journal and was the Asialink Writer in Residency at Rimbun Dahan during Matt Calvert’s residency.

This is an Asialink project assisted by the Commonwealth Government through the Australia council, its funding and advisory body;  Arts Tasmania and the Australian High Commission, Kuala Lumpur.