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ISSUE 13 : Project Glocal: The Residency
Interview with Fairuz Sulaiman, the artist of Project Glocal
專訪Project Glocal亞洲城市串流藝術家菲洛茲蘇萊曼
February 7th, 2014Type: Residency
Author: Rikey Tenn , Fairuz Sulaiman, 張品杰 (Proofreading)
Note: Project Glocal 2014 will be a series of short-term residency. A number of artists from the Project Glocal artists (old and new) will be sent to a city for 10 days to 1 month. They are tasked to: 1. get to know the artists in that city; 2. find those whose practice suits theirs; 3. create an artwork with them. Preference is on the ephemeral non-sellable art, as this would create the causal feeling of connectedness and then longing. By this it is hypothesized that the artists who would collaborate will continue to seek each other as partners in their creative endeavors, hence strengthening ties. It will happen in Taipei co-hosted by the Digital Art Foundation focused on technology+performative art in March; in Kuala Lumpur co-hosted by Digital Art Media Interactive focused on heritage+community, happening in August; and in Manila co-hosted by 98B focused on technology+heritage+people, which is happening in November. Participating artists are from HongKong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan and the Philippines.

Where are you from and what language are you used to speak there? Do you live in the urban or suburban?

Fairuz Sulaiman: (As a Malaysian,)I Speak two Languages, English and Malay. Malay is of course traditional language to me. But, well, there are many languages in Malaysia. I pick up a bit of Mandarin, Hokkien (福建話), and Tamil (塔米爾,தமிழ் , 一種通行於印度南部的古老語言) as well, because the communities are around. When it comes to food, Malaysians are very experimental. They like to check (cuisine from) other cultures and try (new stuff) in their dishes. I like to do the same thing. I like to go to Indian restaurant; I like Chinese restaurant… So you have a mixture of Languages there, and you pick up a bit of everything in your dish. Also it’s multicultural in the schools. In Malaysia, there’s very popular that. – I don’t know how you call it – it’s a combination of many languages. Maybe the main language is English, but there’s a bit of Chinese, Indian, Malay in it. It’s very common. Not just the languages, food is one of the symbols of cultures. When we talk about Malay culture, we have both Chinese and Hindu influences in it. Malaysia is a very interesting country, even in religions, we have Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Christians, and it’s all intermingled. Malaysia doesn’t have a single race, or religion, or language — Everything is very colorful.


Do you born and live in urban or suburban context?

FS: Yes. I live in a town called “Petaling Jaya”(八打靈再也;簡稱PJ或「靈市」). It’s a city about 20 minutes away from Kuala Lumpur. Jaya can means “victory”. In Malay (language), people just add it but it doesn’t mean anything. I will consider it as suburban context. Because it’s kinda new area, meaning that its still under development. There were a big palm oil(棕櫚樹) station in the city, they had cleared the station for the development of the city.


Have you ever been to other Southeast Asian cities?

FS: Yes, I’ve been to Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Hannoi, Ho Chi Min, Louangphabang(琅勃拉邦,寮國), and I’ve been to Ankor Wat(Siem Reap,暹粒), Prambanan(巴蘭班南), Jakarta, Bandung, Jorja(日惹), Manila. Also other countries like Japan and some in Europe, and mostly backpacking. Mostly I travel these places by myself. Because I don’t like to follow other’s schedules. (If it comes to work, it’s a different thing.) It’s not very serious but I like to travel, especially with my sister in the beginning. Before, AirAsia is around, we travel lots of Southeast Asian countries, like Laos, Cambodia, Viet Nam, Thailand. Just pick up your backpack and go to a city where no men have traveled before. Just explore. We don’t usually have a plan. People would expect to see the Big Ben in London and the Eiffel tower in Paris for instance. But we don’t know what we will see in the trip. Most of the time we find something interesting.


Do you enjoy working under the “regional” (by regional I mean Southeast Asia) measure?

FS: Oh ya! I love to, really! I think one great thing about Southeast Asia is that it reflects… It’s like another continent, and it’s just like the Thai saying, “Same same but different.” I love the “SAME”, because the “SAME” is very particular in/to Southeast Asia. It seems the same…. but not the same. It’s fried rice… but not fried rice. These kind of things are what we do in this Media/Art Kitchen. How familiar other Southeast Asian artists’ work seems to! Even I can’t understand it but I know what you are talking about. Because of our cultural background is similar. When Dayang talked about the language with me, there are some words very funny. She’d say something in Tagalog it means one certain thing, but means the other in Malay. That is very interesting for me to explore. Of course in other countries it’s also interesting, but the greatest thing about Southeast Asia is that the mentality of the people more tends to be sharing, comparing to European or American. It is common in Southeast Asia that if you come to my house, my mother will cook for you. I always appreciate that kind of culture. Even though it’s not the same like Malaysia here, but almost the same.


You’ve been to many places not just big cities. However, considering the previous Project Glocal, it focused on urban than rural context.

FS: This is also about the “same same but different.” Imagine many cities in Southeast Asia for instance, you have a bit of different cultures here and there, but typically the mentality in cities are different from the mentality in rural areas. Therefore, in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Bangkok, the mindsets are quite similar. And the commercialism and high house price; you have to work very hard; those are similar issues for all urban dwellers. So you have the same kind of mentality if you do the same project in this background. I think it’s important. But outside the city, the mentality is different. In one project I did with my sister and some other friends of us in a small fishing village, we conducted a workshop for young kids. We don’t know what we can expect. It’s in a community, and we did a programming class using a free software called “Scratch” developed by MIT media lab. It’s simple to drag and draw and you can see right away the effects. And they had no problem to use it. But the class is not about the programming, it’s to learn about their stories. So these children were telling us their lives as growing in the fish villages, which are stories you can’t find in cities. City and country have different problems. To investigate the problems of the city is more interesting than to live in it.


Does it mean you think Project Glocal is not only under urban context? What is the most important thing in Project Glocal?

FS: I’m not sure about the Project Glocal before, but I understand it uses “country” as (its scale), to connect artists from different countries together, to collaborate and create works. As my understanding, it’s very very good. It’s also very interesting to look at… not only the economics but also the religions. Like, the Muslims in Malaysia are very different from Indonesia. The former is a bit more radical than the later, but the later have highest population in the world. So how come the Malaysia is more orthodox? It’s also something very interesting to look at in the countries.


Please tell us what do you study in university?

FS: I studied multi-media animation in university and I graduated in 2005. After that, I didn’t go straight to “arts”. I have the same job-finding problem like everyone else in this country. It leads me into “teaching” for 3 years in the university…. No, there are not many certifications for media art in Malaysia — maybe now there are many, but when I graduated, there weren’t many. There are a lot of animations, a lot of film-making, but media art? Maybe a bit about the technology of programming for the websites….


Can you tell me more about your interest in new media art or technology?

FS: As a child, I liked to take things apart and see how they work. I think it explains lots of my works now. Because “hacking” for me is the way of understanding the way it works. And because lots of technology is to cover something in the box, you see it working but thinking why at the same time. How does the machine work? how does the tape move? and how does the sound come out of speakers? So the only way for me to figure it out is to take it apart and look at it(inside). I love to do this. But in nowadays, technology is not as mechanical as it was before. You find nothing but circuit in the box. It’s nothing for me to understand. So I like to do now is looking at technology like “Instgram”, “WhatsApp”, or “Facebook”, and try to understand that technology, but in a more tangible and physical manner rather than (it ‘s just up there). It’s visible, but how does it work, how does the internet(signal) come into your phone, and you see contents on it? That is what I want to understand now.


So what kind of the skill and form do you specialize in art making?

FS: As a media artist I would not say that I have certain “skills”. I learnt a lot of different things in school, and I picked up a little from everything, but not very deep into it; only trying to understand how they work. If you are asking what is my favor medium, I would like to answer you : as many as possible. Because I think each medium has its strength and weakness. So you can find the strengths(goods) of, say, digital media or analog media, or both media and put them together, and see what will happen. So in terms of technical skill, I do not really specialize in them. But I like to connect things together. You know some objects and its environment are usually not connected, I like to connect them and see how it works or not, or what makes it work or not. Because you can even learn how to improve it by bad connection. That is might be what i specialize in if you want to call it.


Do you also do programming by yourself?

FS: No. I try to do programming but it’s hard for me. I try to understand the system; how does the program of the system work. Just like google. If you search a word (vocabulary), how does the engine find the related assemblage of it? The google looks at words which most people looked for. So the mostly viewed result, or the mostly clicked link will show up at the first priority for your search. Once I understand the mechanism, I’d like to play with the idea and turn it into a work or maybe a performance; make it tangible rather than invisible in the virtual space.


You mentioned 2 different things here. One is to understand how it works and use it further, the other is to know how social media influence people in the virtual way, and to “translate” it into the physical way.

FS: Correct. Though I’m still interested in mechanical stuff, but technology is very interesting. Such as how people depends on social media and connects with each other (through it), but they don’t know how it works or how it functions on their lives. Last work I did was about Instgram – how I transformed it from the virtual into the physical – and sharing, because it is about to share, to like, and to comment.


Please give us some examples of how you connect different things together in your artwork?

FS: What I concern is not only technological but cultural as well. Another series of my works is to bridge traditional culture to media art, for instance. I look at the “Wayang kulit”(註1) or shadow puppet, then to research how they are performed and how to use them. Look at now these cultures; how do we make that kind of cultures interesting for people to experience, how do we make them interesting in contemporary context which we live in? For example, every Southeast Asia countries have some similar forms of the wayang kulit, though some is flat, some is 3D or object, so I look at it and try to conceive of something from it, and transform it into digital or programming, or with Kinnect, Nitendo, whatever. I try to take the contact against with something traditional or historical, to push it forward, describe or leverage (appropriate) it in modern background. It’s the same thing with my hacking digital technology. In both way I try to present it in a more common, simple, and demystifying way so that i could be understandable for everybody. Then it won’t be the same when the audience has experienced it (in my work) as putting every parts back together.

I don’t think it will be a question. Because I don’t think Dayang will recommend someone whom I can’t work together with. She should have screened out the suitable candidates for this project. I trust the curator. Although I don’t really know her well, we just met few months ago. However, she is close to my sister, Suzy Sulaiman, who has helped curate this project “Media/Art Kitchen” for 2 years.

[1] Wayang kulit is a traditional form of puppet-shadow play originally found in the cultures of Java and Bali in Indonesia.