Young Guns

Malaysian Art Award And Exhibition Travels To Singapore

20 February - 9 March 2014

Chan Hampe Galleries is proud to announce its first project in partnership with HOM ART TRANS - Young Guns - an art award and exhibition that aims to provide opportunities for Malaysia-based artists. Held tri-annually, Young Guns provides recognition for artists under 33 years old who have achieved excellence in their artistic practice.

“Good art needs to be celebrated, and having been a part of the industry for awhile now, we recognise how important awards are for artists, especially young ones. It can really propel their career,” explains Bayu Utomo Radjikin, Director of HOM ART TRANS and member of the MATAHATI art collective, Malaysia’s longest running art collective.

The Young Guns recognition entitles them to a three-city showcase of their works including MAP@Publika in Kuala Lumpur, The Whiteaways Arcade in George Town, and Chan Hampe Galleries in Singapore.

Artist:

  • Haslin Ismail
  • Seah Ze Lin
  • Najib Bamadhaj
  • Anisa Abdullah
  • Chong Ai Lei
  • Fadilah Karim
  • Akhmal Asyraf Mohd
  • Donald Abraham
  • Azam Aris
  • Ruzzeki Harris
  • Mohd Al-Khuzairie Ali
  • Chi Too

 

LIGHTING THE FIRE:
IN CONVERSATION WITH BAYU UTOMO RADJIKIN

Bayu Utomo Radjikin in conversation with Adeline Ooi via Skype on Sept 11, 2013

Can you tell me more about the background and idea behind Young Guns?

In my mind, Young Guns is a form of recognition, an accolade to salute the selected young artists for persevering, for being committed to their practice and for toughing it out so far, as an artist’s journey can be full of uncertainties - one minute you are up, next minute you are out, or worse, you are forgotten.

Young Guns is an exhibition; it is for invited young artists only. My plan is to hold it once every three years. The age limit is 30 years old, but for this first
exhibition, I’ve made an exception and pushed it back to 33 years old as there are a number of the artists I feel should be included in the show, but they have passed the 30 years old age limit and are in their early 30s. Invited 18 artists but unfortunately only 13 artists could participate due to their busy schedules. And they have been shortlisted based on a set of criteria. Each artist will be commissioned to produce an artwork that measures 200 x 200cm (minimum).

So, what are the criteria for making it into Young Guns?

We are looking for those who have been “steady” – meaning steady in their artistic development, showing improvement or progress. Their work should be consistent in dealing with their subject matter/s, should show that they are confident handling images, and have a bold existence in the art scene…

Can you tell me more about the selection process? Is there a panel of nominators? Who are the decision makers?

Young Guns is my personal project. I wanted to be sure it did not include the same “hot” names without doing proper research. So, I went through the database of young artists who have passed through HOM’s doors. I asked my fellow artist friends who they considered were the promising young artists in our art scene today; I asked the young artists fellow peers and their seniors the same question, I also asked the opinion of collectors as I’m sure there are young artists who are doing well in the commercial scene that I do not know about.

It is a bit like organising MEAA (Malaysia Emerging Artist Award), but the difference is, MEAA is decided by a panel of jury who cast their votes based on the artworks submitted by young artist. MEAA is an open call. The jury will vote on the artworks without knowing who the artist is.

For Young Guns, I make the selection based on artists’ input. People might ask why this artist and that artist, some people might say it is biased, dependent only on my taste. So it is important that I ask around, consider other people’s answers seriously.

I think artists can be a good judge of other artists’ careers, we can differentiate the stronger artists from the weaker ones; we know the struggle, we know when someone is taking the safe route, we know when someone is just being an attention seeker…Who the artists consider “steady” or “solid” may not be the same as the collectors or galleries - they will have their own favourites and their own standards of measure. Their agenda is different (from artists). What I want to know is this: collectors can be talking about a certain handful of young artists, galleries are talking about the same handful of young artists but the question is, are the artists talking about the same group of artists too?

Why do you feel the need to initiate a project like this? Do you feel there are not enough awards out there for your young artists?

First of all, I want to make it clear that I am not trying to compete with Balai’s Bakat Muda Sezaman (Young Contemporaries). Young Guns is very different. BMS is a competition where an artist is judged based on the proposed artwork, whether or not the artist has had a good track record is not a major point of concern. BMS focuses on the quality of that one particular work that has been submitted. Young Guns is about track record; it is about the artist’s stamina, so far. Personally, I have benefited from winning awards; it has helped launched my career in a way, boost my personal confidence - at least there is something I can hold on to when I’m uncertain about what I am doing, if I am on the right path or not. Like it or not, there will be more exposure, support once you’ve been endorsed by an institution –your name will be discussed and talked about in a wider perspective. But let me be clear, it is not just about publicity or exposure. First of all, the work has to be good quality. It has to show potential. Then it makes sense for people to take notice of your career.

It is important too that we recognise our own artists in Malaysia. Not just awards but also recognition. It is important for us to recognise other people’s work, to applaud their achievements. Back in my days, we benefited from being selected for shows like Salon Malaysia, or taking part in Bakat Muda Sezaman, the Philip Morris prize… these awards and accolade helped to validate young artists careers, make their CV look stronger, more convincing and will also take them places – like residency programmes overseas, biennales, etc.

OK. I see where you are going with this. So is this an effort to offer a new platform for young artists to shine away?

Our art infrastructure is not very balanced. We don’t have strong independent structures apart from buyers/collectors/market. Nowadays more and more people in KL are interested in art – they are buying, selling or going to auctions. The issue is, not all of them really know who are the good artists. For HOM, Young Guns is one way to share information about the stronger group of young artists to the wider public who may not necessarily frequent the art scene but are interested in knowing more, I want people out there to know that these guys are good. If they want to keep selling and buying, at least they should know whom they should buy.

I am trying to create another structure for artists. I’ve been around long enough to understand what it is like to be a young artist and what it means to be a young artist – the struggle, the endless questions you ask yourself; it is scary and exciting at the same time. Nothing is set in stone yet when you are in your 30s; the road ahead is filled with uncertainties. What is clear to me is the artists are at an age where interesting things are happening to their practice – they have passed.

the stage of being an art student, they’ve been through the early formative years, have had one or two solo shows, and should be more sure of themselves to some extent. They’ve gained some experience already, made mistakes already, and have also made some good works. And I want Young Guns to be a way to boost their confidence, to encourage them to continue taking on challenges, to remind them to keep going even though an artist’s life can be lonely. Sure, I see your point. We live in very different times. It was harder to survive as a young artists back then, opportunities were few and far between. But isn’t it great to see that young artists are able to fulfill their passion and practice fulltime?

Do you fear that this could cause young artists today to be too conscious about the market?

I think its unhealthy for the young artists’ conversations to revolve around salability only - can you sell or not, this person’s show sold out or not, this young artist is selling for this price and that price. For me there is nothing wrong with that, for an artist to survive, we cannot run away from the selling system. But I would like artists to not be too obsessed about the market.

There is no denying. It was hard to survive as an artist then, but we benefited in other ways. It is not the same being a young artist today; these days it is very competitive. And you need to be ready to face the market. But I want to remind artists that you need to be competitive with the quality of your work too. Having sell-out shows does not necessarily mean that you are making good works. And specially curated group shows can be a great avenue for artists to show their “kung-fu”. Back in the days, group shows at galleries were fun; it was challenging and stimulating. They were an opportunity to think beyond our usual mode of practice. The shows encouraged us to take risks and try new things - and these risks may spark new ideas, you never know - especially the group shows at GaleriWan where artists had to work with specific materials or themes such as crates, chairs, etc. or the group shows presented by Five Arts Centre in the mid 1990s. We would always be looking over our shoulders to see what the others would make, and would want to do better! I remember my artist friends and I would look forward to those exhibitions - some would feel a little hurt when they were not invited to participate and would try to make it into the next show.

I want Young Guns to have that similar effect on the artists. I want young artists to aspire to be a part of Young Guns in the future. Each invited artist is required to make a new work, and I hope this will be a positive challenge for them, and that they will put all their effort into making this work. The work has to be strong, well thought out, and hopefully thought provoking for the people looking at it. We made sure that we conducted studio visits, meet with the artists when they are in the process of making work and hold crit sessions when required, asked questions why this and that. I want them to be proud of the work they will present in this exhibition.

People might criticise me for doing this but for where I am standing, the award feels like the right move and I hope one day it will benefit the young artists. And as far as HOM Art Trans is concerned, this is all that matters.