– Spring/Summer 2018

/Cloud/ Watching or Portrait of a Young Artist in 1990s Kuala Lumpur

Simon Soon

Yee I-Lann, Huminudon, Kinabalu Series, 2007, digital c-type print, 106 x 205 cm. Courtesy the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art, New York

In 1996, architectural firm DNA Studio (later labDNA collective) staged a multimedia bildungsroman epic, To Catch A Cloud, at the National Planetarium of Malaysia. For the occasion DNA Studio founders Yee I-Lann and Nani Kahar published an accompanying booklet titled cloud watching.1 The zine-like catalogue comprises textual and graphic collages on the subject of clouds contributed by family, friends and simply anyone they could get hold of. In the top right-hand corner of each right-hand page is a tiny box with a digital graphic outline of a landscape; flipping through at speed animates this corner with the passing of clouds across a mountain, brought to a close by an approaching storm.This semblance of a narrative is the only binding element across the collage, yet it also sets up a different rebus. Colours on one page bleed into the next, transforming the abstract image into an atmosphere for one brief moment, buoyed by the cacophony of voices, as fleeting and as impressionable as clouds.

Yee I-Lann, YB No. 9, YB Series, 2010, 35 x 26 cm. Courtesy the artist and

  1. Yee I-Lann and Nani Kahar, cloud watching, Kuala Lumpur: DNA Studio, 1996.

  2. Ibid.

  3. See R. S. Milne and Diane K. Mauzy, Malaysian Politics under Mahathir, London: Routledge, 1999, pp.57–59

  4. See Syed Hussein Alatas, The Myth of the Lazy Native: Study of the Image of the Malays, Filipinos and Javanese from the 16th to the 20th Century and its Function in the Ideology of Colonial Capitalism, London: Frank Cass and Company, 1977, pp.22–23.

  5. See Mahathir Mohamad, The Malay Dilemma, Singapore: Donald Moore for the Asia Pacific Press, 1970.

  6. See Abdul Rahman Embong, State-led Modernization and the New Middle Class in Malaysia, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002, p.74.

  7. Malaysia became an urban majority nation in 1991. See Fujimaki Masami, Tarmiji Masron and Usman Yaakob, ‘Ninety Years of Urbanization in Malaysia: A Geographical Investigation of Its Trends and Characteristics’, Journal of Ritsumeikan Social Sciences and Humanities, vol.6, 2013, p.84.

  8. Matt Grimes and Tim Wall, ‘Punk Zines: “Symbols of Defiance” From the Print to the Digital Age’, in Fight Back: Punk, Politics and Resistance (ed. Subcultures Network), Manchester and New York:
    Manchester University Press, 2014, pp.287–303.

  9. PT Foundation, previously known as Pink Triangle is a non-profit organisation that provides HIV/ AIDS education, care and support.

  10. Ooi Kok Chuen, ‘An Ancient Art Form that Continues to Inspire’, Penang Monthly [online journal], May 2016, available at http://penangmonthly.com/article.aspx?pageid=2480&name=an_ancient_ art_form_that_continues_to_inspire (last accessed on 29 January 2018).

  11. There was an attempt to capture this in 2012, which resulted in a three-hour long recording with Yee I-Lann and Nani Kahar providing a cultural map of who had slept with whom in the Kuala Lumpur art scene. Unfortunately, the recording on my smartphone did not survive the washing machine.

  12. Gayatri Spivak, ‘Righting Wrongs’, The South Atlantic Quarterly, vol.103, no.2/3, Spring/Summer 2004, p.526.

  13. Wong Hoy Cheong, ‘Contradictions and Fallacies in Search of a Voice: Contemporary Art in Post- colonial culture’, First ASEAN Symposium on Aesthetics (ed. Delia Paul and Sharifah Fatimah Zubir), Kuala Lumpur: ASEAN Committee on Culture and Information, 1989, pp.122–23.

  14. Isabelle Stengers, ‘The Cosmopolitical Proposal’, in Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy (ed. Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel), Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2005, p.995.