3 Young Contemporaries is VWFA's annual exhibition to introduce 3 emerging artists from Malaysia and the Southeast Asian region. The aim of this show is to seek out fresh approaches and highlight the many ways in which young artists are shaping responses to contemporary experience and pushing the possibilities of current practice.
This year's 3 Young Contemporaries are: Angki Purbandono (Yogyakarta/Indonesia), Lena Cobangbang (Manila/Philippines) and Sharon Chin (KL/Malaysia). All three artists are making a name for themselves in their respective home countries. Apart from their individual art practice, they are also agile multi-taskers, often involved in other projects, working as writers and managers or committed members of an artists' collective or space.
Their works are charged with tensions and provocations borrowed from the streets and popular culture. From issues of identity, history, displacement, mobility and space, they each bring with them stories about their respective environments expressed through a range of media as various as painting and drawing, digital images and video, found object installations, embroidery and many more.
3YC: 3 Young Collectors
The artists in this year’s 3 Young Contemporaries come from vastly different worlds. Their aesthetics and artistic inquiries reflect their respective training, environment, interests and obsessions --from history and identity, shared narratives to space and displacement, and the mundane living of the everyday. Yet, their three bodies of work share a serendipitous bond: a firm commitment to concept, artistic process and a strong engagement with the audience. The artists overlap with each other’s intent, “to go lo-fi”, working with the elements around them --what they know best, gleefully appropriating motifs from the ordinary, and a tendency to collect (information, photographs, lists, memories and a plethora of paraphernalia). They are witty, enthusiastic and dedicated, bravely moving against the grain, carving out niche territories of their own and refusing to be pigeonholed under any one label. They belong to a unique generation of emerging artists, agile multi-taskers, often involved in collaborative multi-disciplinary projects, working as writers and managers or committed members of an artists' collective or space.
“Sorry, no camera today” is the underlining theme of Angki Purbandono’s current body of work. Since his return from a yearlong residency in Seoul, he has shifted his focus from photography –and its process-- to the photograph as a document. The year away in a new environment so concerned with high-speed advancements and digital technology has driven the artist to look back and reconsider the value of the photograph during its analogue days. “What is its significance? What is its function? And how do/did we perceive the photograph?”
Armed with a desire to “return to simplicity”, he sets off to rediscover photography and its basic nature. He sheds the role of the photographer to play the excavator, the historian and the collector trawling the flea markets of Yogyakarta for old photographs, re-looking at images of the past, “the visual practices among common people as reflected in the photographs”, the significance of the day or event of those who are forever immortalized in an image –“who are they?”—and the way we might interpret such images today.
The result is “Project Anonymous”, a three-pronged installation consisting of lightboxes – the Ano-Light Series, a collection of old photographs, and a video documentary. This work celebrates the shared narratives of common people, the significance and emotional value of a photograph, recording and commemorating the different milestones of our lives.
A photograph with an accompanying label inspires the video: Wonosari Mei 1935 (Wonosari, May 1935). Twenty-seven young men stand in rows, clearly members of a football team. Two men in uniform flank them on either side; behind them there is a plaque in Dutch, which reads. “Detachment Veldpolitie Wonosari” (Wonosari Field-Police Detachment). “Who are/were they? Were they police officers of the Netherlands-Indies in Wonosari? Were they local Javanese townfolk? Or perhaps of Javanese-Dutch descent?”
Those who grew up in Indonesia under Suharto’s New Order period are aware that the years of indoctrination of ‘official history’ has left a huge gap in their understanding of the past. There is a need to reconcile with history, to go back in time and remember is one way to reclaim one’s memory, and in turn, identity. Alternative history, or ‘history from the ground’ as many Indonesians call it, is about filling in the gaps of their past and adding to the layers which have been erased from their shared collective memory. In many ways, the video documenting the artist’s journey to Wonosari and interviews with the town’s older folks about this particular football team is a small attempt to add to the layers. “It is about making it yours, owning it.”
Angki has charged himself with the task of “repackaging photographs into other visual products. With his repackaging, an attempt toward the extension of history is being made. At the same time, an attempt to introduce some history to a young generation is also being initiated.” 
“Untitled” incorporates a number of Lena Cobangbang’s pet interests: lists, movies and nametags. Often described as obsessive-compulsive, Lena Cobangbang’s work thrives on repetitions, developing habits relating to newfound interests from the everyday. “I have recently become fascinated with name tags, particularly the name tags being worn by the staff at a magazine shop I frequent - they were just black and very plain, almost like the plain black plastic tags one wears when in mourning.” The work, composed of 121 nametags of movie titles beginning with the word “Man”, is based on a list the artist has kept since high school. A flurry of text rushes to confront the eye.
The original context of these movie titles has been displaced the instant they have been engraved on the black plastic nametags. There is an inconclusive nature about them, they are no longer just movie titles and have taken on a descriptive nature, conjuring new images in our minds. This particular “inconclusiveness” in Cobangbang’s work is echoed in her video “Fillers”, weaving together two different narrative strains: the artist’s compilation of home videos, and old movie trailers. Time moves in and out and back again, caught in a loop, crossing different planes of reality, creating a bizarre, story-less tale. The conflation between the real and the fictional is a constant element in Cobangbang’s work; “the psychology of design, semiotics of visual presentation, tells us how our eyes look for the expected “signs”, read and process these elements to decipher the real from the fictional. I find it interesting when the signs are all mixed up and confusion sets in.”
“Studio Practice” is Cobangbang’s reaction to the limited workspace she shares with her partner, the artist Jayson Oliveria. The size of this work is the actual floor size of their studio and the embroidered lines are based on outlines of photographs of the “ever changing mess in the studio”, with every painting project, preparation for exhibitions and trips to the mall –“to buy whatever stuff”—from a stuffed boar's head to plastic chickens to wooden letter sets, anatomical models, and coloring books. This work relates to ongoing themes in Cobangbang’s work: mapping, territorial designation, collecting -- the scavenger/explorer bringing home the loot/bounty/junk from her daily outings. Layers of stitches record the chaos of this mess, “until everything becomes abstract, a profusion of lines”. A kitschy plastic figurine, purchased at a Christmas bazaar, states the obvious – “lending a kind of romanticist ideal of the plein-air painter, the easel painters who are always confronted with wide open spaces. It is about landscapes, fictionalized, and mediated, it is about approximating the practice of painting. ”
Since her return from Australia in 2003, Sharon Chin has been making a name for herself with impressive site-specific installations dealing with personal experience, memories, questions of identity and the ephemeral. She describes her latest body of work as her most ‘uncharacteristic’ so far, shifting away from the personal, turning her focus instead onto her surroundings –Malaysia’s socio-political landscape. “The earlier work was so much about materiality, the actual physical stuff things are made of...now I am thinking about machines and actions – even wanting objects to be performative - it's about how they work (and don’t work), not so much what they're made of.”
“Executive Toy” is modeled after a popular desk toy invented in the late 1960s known as “Newton’s cradle”, “colliding balls”, "impact balls", or “the executive pacifier". This device is constructed from a row of suspended steel balls (usually 5 or 7) attached with strings, like pendulums, to a steel frame. To set the cradle in motion, one has to pull the ball aside on the far end and allow the ball to collide against the others to create a chain of action-reaction. Chin’s version consists of 27 ceramic balls. The balls, each bearing a logo of Malaysia’s 27 political parties, are carefully aligned along a horizontal line, just touching. Fragile, brittle and easily broken, the balls are a metaphor for the country’s current political climate. It is ineffective; it cannot be set in motion. The balls remain still, suspended in a row, just touching.
“Please sms me a secret”, is the artist’s request, printed in red, on opening night. “Secrets Act” is Sharon Chin’s site-specific performance created for the exhibition. “I have wanted to do a performance for ages, but being watched makes me uncomfortable. At the same time I was thinking a lot about secrets, with the official secrets act being mentioned so much lately.” Sheets of white A4 paper will cover the main window at the far end of the gallery so that visitors cannot look out. Wearing a bright red dress, together with her mobile phone and a red marker, she will stand behind the window, waiting. She will write the message sent to her on a sheet of A4 paper and turn the paper to face the audience; a secret has been disclosed. She will continue until all the A4 sheets have been filled, or until the secrets stop coming in.
“There's always been a tension between disclosure and privacy in myself (and work) - the desire to remain unknown versus a longing for easy, open communication. Anonymity is a rare commodity in dense cities, or should I say home cities, not having it makes me uncomfortable. That's why I like systems that allow for anonymity (which I equate with freedom), yet at the same time creating a very real connection or opportunity for communication. In this way I think the symbiotic relationship between the individual and society becomes clearer. It is interesting for me that the state is as concerned with keeping its demons hidden as I am!”
 Nuraini Juliastuti, Landing Soon No. 1, (Exhibition catalogue), Cemeti Art House Yogykarta and Artoteek Den Haag.
Angki Purbandono (b. 1971, Semarang) studied graphic design at Modern School of Design, Yogyakarta and later at Yogyakarta Art Institute, majoring in photography, arts and media recording. He presented his first solo exhibition in 1999, Kolasmaniac at French Indonesian Institute (LIP) in Yogyakarta and My Brain Packages at Center Culturel Francais (CCF) in Jakarta. In the same year, Angki collaborated with his friends in Revolution no. 9, an exhibition at Antara Journalistic Photo Gallery, Jakarta. This exhibition attracted many viewers as it presented a new approach in photography in Indonesia. He received the Asian Artist Fellowship, working for a year at Changdong Art Studio in Seoul, South Korea in 2005. During his time in South Korea, Angki participated in group shows in Seoul such as Bikini in Winter and Bitmap International Digital Photo Project at LOOP Alternative Space. Angki's most recent exhibition is Landing Soon No.1, the result of a short residency programme initiated by Cemeti Art House. Angki is one of the founders of Ruang MES 56, an alternative photography room in Yogyakarta and he is currently the programme manager at Ruang MES 56.
Lena Cobangbang (b. 1976, Manila) graduated from the University of the Philippines (UP) with a degree in Fine Arts. Apart from making art, Lena writes, was once a vocalist of an indie-band, and is also involved with the independent film-making circle doubling as production designer. She also works an art administrator and is one of the founding members of Surrounded By Water (SBW), an artist collective in Manila. Aside from the numerous projects initiated by Surrounded By Water at their space from 1998-2003, Lena has participated in a number of important focus exhibitions on emerging Filipino artists either as a member Surrounded By Water (SBW) or individually in Manila's major institutions such as Lopez Memorial Museum, Jorge Vargas Museum, Ayala Museum and The Cultural Center of the Philippines. Her 2005 solo exhibition, All That Heaven Allows, at Finale Art File was nominated for the 3rd Ateneo Art Award in 2006. In the same year, Lena received the prestigious Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Thirteen Artists Award, a triennial awards programme which honours 13 promising young artists who are progressively breaking new grounds in their work.
Sharon Chin (b. 1980, Kuala Lumpur) returned from her studies in New Zealand and Australia (Elam School of Fine Arts, Auckland 2001, BFA Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne 2003) in 2004. Within this short span of time, this young artist has already made quite an impact on the Malaysian art scene. Working with text and sculpture especially in site-specific installations, Sharon’s work looks at how we negotiate geography, history, human relations, and language in the contemporary imagination. Sharon’s most recent body of work, Fourth World, was shown at the Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur April 2006. She is the recipient of the Krishen Jit ASTRO Fund Award in 2006.