Azmyl Yunor is a touring underground recording artiste, and an academic in media and cultural studies. He has published articles on pop culture, subcultures and Malaysian cultural politics. He adheres to the three-chords-and-the-truth school of songwriting, and Woody Guthrie’s maxim “All you can write is what you see”. He is @azmyl on Twitter.
Portrait of Azmyl by Siong King (August 2012)
Earlier this week, my students organised a screening and talk by multidisciplinary visual artist Gan Siong King titled: My Video Making Practice.
We are also tennis buddies, although we haven’t hit the court since 2013 due to our own different professional paths, but also owing to an injury on my part.
He once asserted that artists need to meet each other outside of the art world.
Gan and I go way back to when we were acquainted through a bandmate of mine, who was his housemate.
While I am a great admirer of his work in painting (his vivid and detailed colour portrait of our first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman [actually, Tun Razak. Memory is a funny thing], on a small piece of paper still stays with me), his latter works in video format are just as fascinating and even more explorative.
Tuan Rumah (Master of the House), Oil on canvas, 2006
To him, light is a medium, as opposed to most assumptions that video itself is a medium.
Film-making and video-making are highly dependent on the presence of light, just in case you didn’t know.
Yes, we live in the digital age and that device in your pocket or purse may seem high tech but ultimately any photos or selfies you take need light for it to appear, just as the earlier analogue permutation of the technology using film.
During his 90-minute-plus screening of his works, which was made up of a compilation of his short video essays with him narrating candidly on serious matters like art and artmaking, his tone and method is always playful.
Play is an important element of the human experience and even more so in any creative endeavour.
Midway through the screening, as he digressed about politics and the self, a phrase in his narration struck me: “It’s hard to lose hope in a place where you have a lot of memories.”
Being jaded seems to be a favourite pastime of most Malaysians, especially the urban, educated, and middle class.
I have had conversations with colleagues and acquaintances who had grown jaded with the lack of progress (or more aptly “consistent regression”) since the 2018 election.
Now that we’re in general election mood again, I continue to hear murmurs from middle-aged acquaintances of not wanting to vote this time around because of this supposed jadedness with not only politics but the system itself.
As someone who fancies himself as a pragmatist, I find this form of jadedness just a symptom of a lack of resilience and failure to manage one’s expectations with the reality of the world.
Worse still, this sudden threat to not partake in one’s given right as a citizen is a clear sign of apathy, a weakness of character in my book.
In spite of all the mainstream shallow hype about resilience and sustainability, not many are really jumping on board and I boil it down to the faults of middle-class materialism.
The aspirations of most middle-class urban Malaysians seem to hinge not only on the universal desire to live a meaningful and comfortable life, but also to partake in consumerist culture without the baggage of political responsibility.
Culture and politics are not two separate mutually exclusive entities. In fact, it’s two sides of the same coin.
To be apathetic and apolitical is political – it’s borderline nihilistic in my books and nothing annoys me more than premature jadedness that I see in droves in my corner of the Klang Valley.
While it is a given that nobody wants to go for the jugular, complaining with inaction is just a limp excuse to consume even more, a form of distraction from the piling heap of your own apathy surrounding yourself.
This brings me back to Gan’s important notion of play and finding different ways to play to make his own work meaningful for him and hopefully to others too.
We have lost the art of play in our lives as we obsess over the desire to keep up with the Joneses and embrace the empty premise we call “adulthood”.
How artmaking can be empowering in our own lives is a matter of motivation – to be engrossed and figuring out something by doing instead of ruminating or even worse – scrolling through endless social media “stories” to fill your time.
No one wants to admit it but all of us – yes, you included – are riddled with self-doubt on a daily basis and spend so much energy pretending we’re not.
That energy is better spent in play, preferably a solitary endeavour that you are not hard up about seeking confirmation and validation from others.
So, let’s play this coming November 19 and enjoy the spectacle since it’s been served to us.
Stop being angry. Channel it into that play on that piece of ballot paper and make some art with a stroke of the mighty pen we are given.
A Mark (tentative), 23.7 x 31.8 cm, Oil on canvas, 2022