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Traditionally, stone, metal, clay, and wood were carved, moulded, and cast to make sculpture. Material Matters explores how artists working today use, adapt or manipulate these traditional materials or processes to make contemporary sculptural work. All of the artists consider the role of craft in sculpture and the exciting juxtapositions that materials can initiate. The artists work across different disciplines; from sculpture, to textiles, moving image and craft, with an exciting range of materials and processes.

Material Matters is accompanied by a new catalogue featuring artist interviews, essays, images, and a new poem by the artist Stephen Harvey. As well as a series of sculpture focussed workshops, and an artist research residency in collaboration with the Sunny Bank Mills Archive.

This body of work was largely inspired by the city of Suzhou, famous for its Chinese Garden landscapes. The designs of doors, windows, and floors in homes in Suzhou presented both Chinese philosophy and Feng Shui, which was riveting for the artist as it presented a blend of different beliefs. Bonsai aesthetics is a big part of Suzhou’s architecture scene in which is popularly incorporated to embellish homes and showcase the socioeconomic status of homeowners. In Bonsai aesthetics, rocks symbolise mountain ranges and towering peaks, whereas small ponds or springs symbolise rivers and lakes – presenting the larger world of nature in a microcosm; interpreting the harmony and coexistence between man and nature.

10 sculptures are strategically presented in an attempt to change the landscape of the gallery space, akin to the Bonsai aesthetics, inviting viewers to walk around the sculptures. The organic-styled sculptures are a result of the wood cork being spontaneously torn apart and yet, systematically built. This process involved stacking wood cork, piece-by-piece and layer-by-layer, becoming a meditation exercise for the artist as the recurring actions were an extension of energy that brought him a sense of calmness and peace. The fabrication process focused on simplicity and practicality, presenting meticulous labour and how the artist tediously managed the materials. This exhibition comes together as the artist’s response to the new digitised world where physical touch, intimacy, and time-consuming labour are seen as detrimental to our current fast-moving lifestyle.

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Reciprocal Space is an online collaborative residency and cultural exchange between  Malaysian-based artist Lee Mok Yee and UK-based artist Laura Porter, who both work in sculpture and installation

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In Locating Malaysian Contemporary Art: The Echo Boomers, the exhibition looks at young practices, specifically artists from the Echo Boomer or Gen Y, also known as the Millennials. This particular generation were born between 1981 – 1996. Each generation is presumably defined and shaped by powerful cultural events, and for this particular group, anthropologist have pegged it to the explosion of the internet and social media – in addition to terrorism (9/11) and the Great Recession. In essence, the ability to access knowledge and information has tremendously shaped the artist’s constitution. The artist is more ‘woke’, so to speak. The key artistic attributes of reading, observing/ looking, introspecting, satirizing has been enhanced by this cultural event, a far difference from the preceding generation whom had been largely shaped by post World War II optimism and nation building. Hence, the prevalence of social political concerns for this older group of artists. This exhibition provides hints of this cultural shift, if not, an indication that the urgency of socio-political commentary in Malaysian art is dissipating.

Izat Arif’s and Lee Mok Yee’s works are reflexive as they contemplate the ‘social requirements’ of their artistic careers. Izat’s work takes it a step further by breaking the fourth wall, in which the art becomes aware of itself and the ecosystem that it resides in. Faizal Yunus’ and Mark Tan’s works consider the reciprocal relationship of nature and man, tapping into the memory process as a cycle of observing the world around them. The act of observing is an important part of their artistic process as it triggers scents and tunes, and deeprooted human instinct. Joshua Kane Gomes’ and Sarah Radzi’s works question the efficiency of human dynamics and navigates unhealthy dependencies within relationships. By extension, the works serve as a mechanism for the artists to comprehend their existence taking place in an isolated solitary phenomenon in an absurd world. But nevertheless, it affords them freedom to define themselves.

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