DOT DOT DOT LINE LINE LINE
by Rachel Jenagaratnam
Mind the dots, mind the lines
Be mindful of Agnes Lau. Her practice is deeply rooted in the principle of creation and the art-making process, and dot dot dot line line line is strong proof of this.
This will be apparent as soon as you enter TAKSU’s space. Pencil ends and pencil shreds greet you and function like battle scars, whilst further in, a video projection of the artist at work recounts her time in the studio.
These documents emit a sense of history to the impermanence of the artistic process and shed a light upon Agnes’ modus operandi. Intangible and of no less importance, notes the artist, are the clandestine ingredients that have fed into the strong repetition that’s present in this body of work – the calmness of the night and soothing classical music.
Repeat, repeat, repeat
These physical elements and the context of her studio in the vicinity of Bukit Tabur do feed into the charm of dot dot dot line line line, but it’s the exhibition’s eleven works that demand attention. Monochromatic and sparse of any pictorial elements apart from tens of thousands of lines and circles, the works sprung from a conversation with a friend about personal routines. “We blindly repeat our daily life, and doing this for a prolonged time may lead to a subconscious act, like the brain works by itself without us noticing that its working,” she explains.
This thought set Agnes on a personal mission to tackle an “extreme system”, and to see if it was achievable. Her first task? To draw 100,000 circles on a canvas.
This endeavour took three months.
“Throughout the journey of calculating and recording the numbers, I noticed the existence of time as every action conveys the passage of time. And through calculating and recording, the moment is frozen. And this is what led to the other paintings for the show which focus on space and time.”
This has echoes to the tangents sought in Agnes’ earlier works. Repetition was also a key trait in her debut series, A Walk Into Nature, a compendium of square blocks that looked into the contradictions between peace and business, life and art.
And, repetition was also present in Trace of Life, a body of work that leaned into the values of wabisabi, the Japanese practice of finding beauty in imperfections. Here and certainly worth noting, is the thoughtfulness and meticulousness that was present in Trace of Life; the works’ traced the natural cycle of life, decay, and death, with each ceramic piece inspired by the shapes of worm bites on leaves and later, assembled to make a large circular whole.
A direct line to mindfulness
This hints at an obvious rigour in Agnes’ approach to her art and undertakings in the process of repetition, but beyond the tens of thousands of lines and circles that dominate today, there is more to Agnes’ works than what the eyes see.
This ‘more’ lies in the artist’s more hushed approach of mindfulness, zen, and minimalism. And these in turn, have links to Agnes’ own background. A KL native, the stresses and sounds of city life have given her reason to turn to her art for more meditative reasons, and this has been a tent pole in her artistic career thus far.
Mindfulness in relation to Agnes, isn’t merely the output on a canvas, but a holistic endeavour that’s deeply individual and rooted in the journey to the finish line.
Calling out influences like conceptual artists Wolfgang Laib and Sarah Dinardo, as well as performance artist Sachiko Abe is only testament to this fact. And so is Agnes’ educational lineage – at DASEIN, personal development and preference are encouraged, and tutors like Kim Ng were pivotal influences in getting Agnes to understand and hone her penchant for repetition.
And for the audience
If forced to classify her works in the grand scheme of Malaysian art today, Agnes dubs her practice ‘conceptual creativity’, but the works in dot dot dot line line are ultimately physical trophies of a personal endeavour in process, mindfulness, meditation. And, there’s no reason to think these qualities are not transferred to the viewer. The works’ lack of chromatic variety or pictorial qualities make for less distraction and demand the mind to be silenced, to be present, to be mindful.
I see this as akin to repetition found in meditation chants or prayer rituals. Or, in the training process for a marathon. Ultimately, I see it as a deeply contemplative process that’s a world away from the art that’s reliant on topical narratives or attention-grabbing tactics.
So, to be mindful of Agnes’ works is to recognise their charm in bringing a sense of calm and peace amidst the chaos of the world. It’s to be aware of the serendipity of their presence in TAKSU, in itself a nook of serenity within Ampang’s hustle and bustle. And, it’s to be conscious of this quiet rising force against the smoke and mirrors of the art world.
Repeat yourself, Agnes? Let’s hope so.
Shanghai, March 2019