At a certain point, but one which I didn't register, things became quite easy here. And with that ease came a degree of comfort. And with that comfort has come what seems like a form of complacency. Its a sense of knowing what I need to know, while still knowing that I don't.
I suppose it stems from overcoming the initial disorientation of a new place and new ways of doing things. Removal from the known and familiar to establishing a new familiar and a new known. Here at the halfway stage I'm having to look a bit harder, think a bit deeper and dig a bit deeper. The head-turning moments are diminishing. In the first weeks here so much was noteworthy, photo-worthy. My response to Place is becoming more nuanced and thats reassuring. With the spectacle of the 'new' fading, the more substantial stuff comes to the surface.
The benefit and value of time has become quite clear within the context of this residency. My practical inclinations deem 3 months to be more than enough time in which to produce work. When running, my practice is nothing if not prolific, habits borne out of spending a lot of time working within commercial art projects and a hangover of my time making street art where within a year I could produce thousands of pieces of work, not just make them but present them to a public audience as well.
So being at Rimbun Dahan isn't about prolificacy of production. A studio in KL is much the same as a studio in AK if the focus is driven by production, just give me the tools and I will make it. My time here is about time itself. How time enables a level of personal understanding that informs the thinking and making of work. Work that in turn, reflects this understanding in the manifestation of an audience experience that ideally resonates in the place or manner intended.
So the value of time within this residency isn't necessarily that it enables you to make work, but how it allows you to be still and to think. Its a lesson previously learnt the hard way and its curious that it isn't more prominently located in the subconscious given the impact. Some time ago my practice was based around an intensive ongoing collaborative relationship with a number of other artists. It was successful with a healthy balance of self determined projects funded enough commercial contract work to operate as full time professional artists. But we ran the well dry. In amongst juggling the numerous projects, running a commercial space and managing a business there was no time, no space to just sit. As a result there was no development, just the rehashing of the tried and true until we couldn't force ourselves to continue. So my time here is valuable, irrespective of output.
The idea that time is wasted if there is no clear outcome is pervasive for me and one that I battle regularly. In part it stems from my previous experiences that demonstrate that prolificacy has worked for me before. But there is also a cultural instinct at play. Prior to this residency I would have (only somewhat) tongue-in-cheekily called it "my Chinese" kicking in. A term I have come across recently, baishou qijia (Malaysian/Singaporean version), refers to raising up a family or business with your bare hands, and it is one that I instinctually identify with. Along with keku nailao, which is about enduring hardship without complaint or working hard to overcome hardship, it captures a lot of my own sense of what it is to be Chinese. But of course this is heavily influence by my circumstance and upbringing, my fathers circumstance and upbringing, his parents circumstance and upbringing and so on and so forth..
After looking a bit closer at the nature of the experience of a relatively small group of a huge Chinese immigrant cohort across many years, I'm reluctant now to so readily assign certain behaviour to ethnic heritage. It just doesn't seem to fit, especially for a migratory people who have spent centuries developing distinct local versions of Chinese culture as the migrate further and further from "home". "Chinese culture" is a problematic term within the context of this residency (and beyond it to be sure). The classic Confucian dogma and Mao led ideology that characterises a popular image of Chinese values and beliefs is familiar but really has no presence in my family for a number of reasons. It isn't "being Chinese" that dictates my instinctual value of work ethic, financial independence, family or hor fun. Its a reflection of my upbringing and all it's contributing factors. Yes "being Chinese" can be a fun game to play and when with Chinese friends the familiarity with the hallmarks of "being Chinese" are comforting in that familiarity. However, its too reductive to ascribe behavioural traits to people based so heavily on nothing but their ethnic heritage. Even if loosely correct for a large swathe of that group, it discounts the individual and the richness, variety and value of their often counter-cultural experience or story. And its those personal stories that provide the ability for us to recognise the universal themes we all experience. They enable us to move beyond the unfamiliar and misunderstood, the spectacle of "culture". Through these stories we can identify, recognise and empathise and if a good story lies in the telling, then its just as well I have the time here to work on it.
Post Script: I mentioned hor fun before which got me hungry and thinking of food. So here's a small sample of local makanan I've been into.