Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Rehab, My Foot! by E.H. Chee at The Space, 212 Beach Street, Penang Island

Sangfroid, 死撑 2009, at the front portion of The Space


''Komuniti'' series

''Son, don't come back''

Back portion of The Space


Rehab, My Foot!

E.H. Chee is English educated. When he was offered a dilapidated shophouse in the World Heritage Site of George Town for his solo exhibition, he looked to Pink Floyd the English psychedelic rock band which he loved for inspiration.

Chee thought that the lyric of Pink Floyd songs such as Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun is philosophical and deep with meaning. Only when he further researched into the song did he realize that the words were borrowed from Chinese poetry of the 9th century Tang Dynasty, from poets such as Li He 李贺and Li Shangyin 李商隐. That set Chee thinking about his own identity. He turned to Malaysian culture, in particular Malaysian Chinese culture for inspiration. Hence, Rehab, My foot!

Chee has been painting a series of figurative work entitled Komuniti, his imaginary community of men and women, most of whom with facial features which are verging on the detestable. Komuniti has yet to be shown to the public as a series. A number of galleries were interested in the series but shy away from giving Chee a solo. Simple reason being, in their view the paintings will not sell.

The dilapidated space, once owned by Tye Kee Yoon the last Qing Dynasty vice consul to Penang, became an ideal space to show case Komuniti and a series of accompanying works, with 3’x2’ canvas depicting torsos or limbs, combined with clothing, footwear and other objects, some found on site, to make a site specific installation.

Among the works is The Volunteer, I-suka-I-rela-I-want, 愿者上钩 showing a man hanging by the noose by a staircase. The archetypal Penang civil society volunteers always start their work with passion and enthusiasm but many end up exhausted.

Another is Son, Don’t Come Back, where a Chinese man in his white singlet and blue stripped pajamas reclines on a metal frame, plastic striped armchair, with a bamboo stool by the side with an assortment of ointments on it. The man is on his mobile phone telling his overseas son that he is doing fine and that the son need not come home. Depicting the sentiment of many Malaysian parents who have sent their children out of the country seeking a better life.

Another is Ultra-Wallet Protection, a man sunbathing with a red wax-paper umbrella by him and a tube of sun block. Chee explains that the Chinese community seems to think they can protect themselves from all ills as long as they have money.

Other provocative works are No Title Yet 还没封拿督; Got Project Ah? 有空头,无?; Father and Emigrant Son; Drop Pants to Fart, Dahlah… Tak Yah Lebih-lebih脱裤子放屁; Sorrow of an Emigrant’s Wife两头家庭.

The final work entitled The Great Skull @ Miluo River is a 10’x7’ painting of a skull, and in the foreground lies a Manila hemp rope tied to a heavy stone, and a granite tablet on which two Chinese words 天问are inscribed. This work makes explicit allusion to Qu Yuan 屈原a patriot and tragic figure who despaired at the corrupt state of his country Chu 楚in the third century BC China. The line "witness the man who raged at the wall as he wrote his question to heaven" in Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun was borrowed from the pessimist poet Li He, whose work brims with dissatisfaction and depression. The man described in Li He’s poem was Qu. Qu, whom the Chinese honoured as the epitome of selfless patriotism lamented that his beloved country was being destroyed by gullible rulers and conniving politicians. Qu wrote a poem Questioning the Heavens 天问where he posted more than 170 questions about many things in life, especially the state of the humankind. Perhaps Chee is questioning the same? Should we not too?

Lee Khai
Curator
3 September 2011


Rehab, My Foot!

An Art Exhibition by Chee Eng Hong a.k.a E.H. Chee at No. 212, Beach
Street, Penang in September 2011.

Chee has in the past produced a diverse body of work in drawing and
painting which have been exhibited in local art galleries and abroad.
Among them were the famed Sahut (Answering The Call) and Mother and
Child series.

Rehab, My Foot! presents the crescendo of Chee’s artistic journey to
feature his brand of expressive abstractionism that has been
designed to give art lovers a different sensory experience. This is
done in a variety of material used – in addition to oil
on canvas, he uses daily objects such as clothes,
rope and materials found at the exhibition site, making his installation work site
specific.

The Exhibition Space

The space is a 180 foot long ruin of a shophouse aged no less than a
century which used to be owned by the last Qing Consul to the Straits Settlement of
Penang, Tye Kee Yoon,
a Taipu Hakka. The exhibition, which employs the rich
historical background of the edifice, is in this sense
unique.

Because of the poor lighting of the space, most of Chee’s works on
show can only be viewed through the light of a hand-held
torchlight.
As such, the exhibition will offer a rare experience to the gallery visiting public.

Said Chee: “When viewing the paintings set in such illumination and
space, the viewer will be taken on a curious journey of mystery as
each theme unfolds with each work they see as they take their
steps from one station to the other.”

“Moods of eeriness, superstition and fright may be experienced too,”
said the artist, “but then I also want you to question what
you feel. Is your mind playing tricks on your consciousness
as you see each work?”

The Mood

Intentionally making the mood of the exhibition bordering on the
depressive and even destructive, Chee wants the viewer to
experience the longings of legendary figures and their despair in
situations similar to what our present society is undergoing, and in that
moment, find the strength to rise above the hopelessness.

The Story

Working on this project allowed Chee to ponder the wisdoms and
folly of leaders and the society in which they are exalted or despised and
through fables and historic tales of heroes of eras past.

“I want the viewers to dissect the values these mythical heroes and
historical figures hold in their days and judge for themselves if they
are still relevant to the current corrupt society,” said Chee. “All
the stories are thematic, reflected through proverb and poetry –
culminating in the work of Rehab, My Foot!”

Chee adds, “in this venue, an old but significant piece of historical
remnant, I take example of a pride of place created by the owner. How
proud he must have felt when he first built this house, and
how it has been left unattended and reduced to this dilapidated state.”

“The house probably bore silent witness to the events that shaped
the owner’s generation, experienced his dreams for it
. It is a situation that mimics what
our forefathers have dreamt for us, their future generation, only to
have their aspirations and sacrifices shattered by some of our apathy
and blind pride.”

And from the tailspin towards destruction, the artist saw a glimmer of
hope that rises from the ashes of ignorance that have enveloped many
of us. Hence, perhaps there is still hope in the rehabilitation
of thought and action – or is there?

Rehabilitation, My Foot! is thus born.

- Review by Eng Swee -