By Law Siak Hong
Because of the Annual General Meeting (AGM), the nearly-completed shophouse No.24 on Panglima Lane got a last minute clean-up for the occasion. The different levels built into the interior were adapted to our needs. In this flowing space, the AGM felt like a minor cultural event.
What a difference professionals made to the quality of our lives. Our gratitude to Nick, for hanging the photographs and making cosy the setting for our AGM; and to Zemang, for setting up the video installation and perfecting the synchronisation. The video installation was the conversation piece. The photographs were much appreciated, even though they had to be viewed in available light. The high tea by Pakeeza Restaurant was more than satisfying; most of us had multiple servings.
Despite our effort to inject interest in this annual gathering for members, the AGM, again, did not get a quorum; it was concluded in the presence of observers and invited guests who out-numbered our members two to one. I hope more members will come to the AGM next year to form the new Management Committee. For the absentees, read below what you have missed.
Hayati Mokhtar: Video Installation: “No.55, Main Road”
About the video maker: Hayati Mokhtar studied Fine Art at Chelsea College of Art and Design (B.A Hons) and Goldsmiths’ College, University of London (M.A). She lives and works in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She utilizes the moving image in examining places and landscapes. Her video installations have been shown in Malaysia and internationally.
About the video: Shot in full HD, “No.55, Main Road” infers the address of a century-old shophouse in Kampong Kepayang which is the home of 87-year-old “Uncle” Chang Ching. Consisting of one main road, the trunk road between Simpang Pulai and Gopeng, south of Ipoh, the fate of this virtual ghost town is sealed by the dominating, fast and incessant flow of traffic which besieges the shophouses. Hayati observes, “The sound of traffic is there, always.” The three-channel 17-minute video appears on three LED screens, played continuously, with a sound track of passing traffic and two of Uncle Chang Ching’s favourite classic Mandarin pop songs. The video portrays Uncle and invokes the historical cultural landscapes of the tin mining towns of Perak. Of her work, Hayati writes:
“The truth is bleak: soon, the town that one sees now may not exist at all. The District Council considers these two rows of old shophouses structurally unstable and therefore unsafe both for inhabitants and passers-by. In 2010, when the video was made, they have been marked for demolition, under Section 83 of the Street, Drainage and Building Act 1974. The overriding motivation behind this move is: the trunk road needs to be widened again. There is a chance that one row will be saved on the side opposite Uncle’s shophouse, given the presence of the mosque at the end of the row. And the Malay village and orchards near the Raia River will be spared. But the coherence of Kampung Kepayang, built up over more than a century, will be gone. Some of the townsfolk are resigned to the loss of this place; others don’t really care. As for Uncle Chang Ching, who has lived here for 50 years, he is determined to stay put and live out what remain of his days.
“The work is spread across three screens: one shows a long tracking-shot across the fronts of shophouses; the centre screen is a static shot of Uncle’s living room, open to the road; the third screen reveals details of this living room, and of spaces to the rear of it that are glimpsed down a passage. By reading horizontally across the screens, one image can broaden the understanding of another – and there is a sense of concurrency as well as sequence, forming a diffuse narrative. For instance: in one screen, notices telling the occupants to quit their building are posted; this contrasts with, in another screen, the air of long-standing permanence in the ordered clutter of Uncle’s possessions and photographs – treasured souvenirs and left-over stock of valves and resistors from the days he ran a radio and TV repair business.
“Uncle’s stubborn attachment to his home and the town so familiar to him is an act of resistance to the dictates of a short-sighted bureaucracy that is acting to facilitate supposed progress. In shophouse No.55 joss-sticks are lit while a kettle boils; the key is in its usual place by the back door. Yet, what remains of the next shophouse is only a facade. Further down the street there are more abandoned buildings: strangely beautiful and melancholy structures that are littered with remnants of belongings, photographs and altars – and with staircases that persist simply as a pattern running up a wall. Each of them invites us to construct an imagined past although some of them offer more clues than others.
“Less pervasively, less overbearingly, there are the reflections of the traffic. Flickers of light are cast on the scene by passing cars and lorries as they hurtle along the road that cuts through this one-street town.
“This work emerges from my preoccupation with the ‘hold’ that places can have over us – be it a hometown or a house. Perhaps, this is because they epitomize our desire for a sense of belonging and continuity as we are forced to reconcile with a modernity that appears not to accommodate such needs. ‘No.55, Main Road’ focuses upon the transition, the process during which ‘a place becomes a space’. But here we see in juxtaposition both the persistence of the personal realm, the daily ritual and its fragility up against the ungovernable forces of the outside world, and indeed, up against neighbouring shop-lots that have already succumbed to dereliction.”
We have good news for you: Hayati’s next video installation on the Falim House is a work in progress. I heard that it will involve twenty-eight screens. Falim House should have been a “national heritage”. For its relevance to Perak, PHS will do its best to bring the world premiere of this work of art to Ipoh. To do that, PHS will need your volunteer power and financial support. What a challenge that will be.
Alan Ng: Photographs: The Falim House
About the photographer: Born and bred in the sleepy yet famous tin mining town of Sungei Lembing, Pahang, Alan Ng spent much of his childhood roaming the nearby forest, fishing in the river, improvising toys and inventing games. From this outdoor pastime, he developed a love for heritage and old things, and an enduring passion for photography. His love for nature and jungle trekking remains, and the rainforest is a recurrent theme in his photographs.
He works exclusively in black-and-white photography, with a Hasselblad. Over the years, his pursuit of photography has also helped him make a living: he prints off traditional silver gelatin glass plates and negatives, often for artists and professionals such as Soraya Talismail and Raja Zainol Ihsan Shah, custodian of Sultan Ismail’s collection of photographs.
His photographs have been exhibited at Sutra House, Kuala Lumpur. He has also helped curate various group exhibitions, notably “Never-ending Peace and Love”.
He never quite embraced the digital revolution. Instead, he daydreams and follows the dictates of his own rhythm to produce beautiful monochromatic prints of evocative, memorable images to fill the void in a world given to instantaneous and often throw-away colour imagery.
About the photographs: Alan Ng is a poet. Through his lens and by his hands, images become stunningly beautiful photographs, printed on silver gelatin fine art paper. His photo-prints are archival; they will last a hundred years, and in optimal condition, a hundred more.
Alan explored the Falim House. Looking into every nook and corner in every room, taking pleasure in the rich textures presented by the abandoned objects and relying on available light, he composed selectively. He saw objects with layers of dirt and vines creeping into the building. He says, “It was as if they wanted to talk to me.”
With these photographs, Alan has preserved for posterity the melancholy Falim House in evocative and, definitely, saddening images.