SPACE INVADER(S) is Azad Daniel Haris inaugural solo exhibition which showcasing 19 artworks that will be on display from 15th July – 31st August 2016.
(visit our facebook page to view the artworks)
by Zena Khan
From the mid-twentieth century, globalization has been on the rise. Demarcated by several factors, amongst them, an increase in free trade, economies of scale, as well as international media and multinationals. Along with rapid technological advancements, globalization shrinks the spaces between countries and cultures. While the term itself seems to imply cross-pollination, questions arise if it is actually a new route through which Western civilizations are able to assert dominance in the post-World War II landscape. Indeed, in his essay “Globalization and Political Strategy”, celebrated American literary critic Fredric Jameson asks, if what is really meant by ‘globalization’ is a spreading of American military and economic power, representing new forms of imperialism? At the heart of globalization lies the increasing standardization of world cultures, along a Western (usually American) trajectory, as local cultures and traditions are replaced by American food, TVs, clothes and films. These questions, along with those of consumerism and identity, often inform the practice of Azad Daniel, who continues these explorations in his inaugural solo exhibition, Space Invader(s).
A young Malaysian contemporary artist, Azad has been garnering notice for his portfolio of distinctive super-glossy artworks that extend the precincts of painting as a genre. Influenced by popular culture, and ideas of appropriation, he translates everyday objects such as iPhones and doughnuts into witty, thought-provoking artworks. Over the past few years he has worked to refine an experimental style of painting, where he primes MDF boards or cast fiberglass and Perspex surfaces with cement, before painting on them with auto paint, in a process usually reserved for the automotive industry. While auto paint might not instinctively lend itself to detailing, Azad circumvents this by illustrating his images on a computer, and then prints these images out as a series of super-sized sticker stencils. Layering them onto his surfaces one at a time, he builds up his painted surfaces to achieve sharp, detailed and glossy images that have captured the attentions of critics and audiences alike. This acclaim has manifest in several ways, such as his participation in several key exhibitions, including Iskandar Malaysia Contemporary Art Show (IMCAS) in 2009, the National Portrait Exhibition at the National Art Gallery in Kuala Lumpur (2013), Young Malaysian Artist – New Objection at Galeri Petronas (2013) and World Art Festival in Seoul, Korea (2008). Space Invader(s) excitingly provides audiences with the first opportunity to view an entire body of Azad’s works at once, which conceptually and technically build on his earlier efforts.
Space Invader(s) can be separated into two sets of works: one series of super-flat works and another of three-dimensional cups set against MDF boards. Visually, the series is reinforced as a single thread of thought, via a series of black lines painted on the gallery walls, connecting the pieces, and providing a linear map to guide viewers through the space. Anchoring this exhibition is Azad’s first major installation, titled “Space Invader(s): I”. Standing at 17 feet in length, it is primarily made up of around 800 cups with cast fiberglass lids that replicate Starbucks’ takeaway coffee cups. Azad began working with this fiberglass technique in 2013 with “Private Funk”, a flat fiberglass work finished in auto paint. He went on to experiment with this technique by casting 6 feet high iPhone covers in his popular iPhone series, indicating a desire to push his practice into three dimensional shapes. With “Space Invader(s): I”, he successfully achieves this through the production of these complex-shaped coffee cups and lids; indicating advancements in his mastery and control of this medium. Their cylindrical shapes proved to be technically-challenging, and had to be worked on a 360-degree plan, versus the artist’s typically flat stencils. In order to seamlessly connect the two different materials, Azad glued the lids to the bases before meticulously sanding them down, and applying a second undercoat over the first plastic glue primer. The cast cups are stylized; the distinctive Starbucks logo has been removed, and they are painted in a variety of auto paint colors, overlaid with a high gloss lacquer sealant. The cups were finally arranged in a meticulously pre-planned composition, building up images of Space Invader icons across the length of the installation. Thus, the original connotation of the logo-stamped coffee cups has been recast, and conversations on globalization and youth culture are initiated within a local context.
As Malaysia becomes increasingly educated, urbanized, and affluent, so too has there been a rise in consumer culture, a subject that holds known fascinations for Azad. These changes are occurring against the backdrop of twenty first century globalization, and the rise of social media. As such, individuals now have unprecedented access to products and lifestyle options. Consequently, larger global realities are integrated into smaller local ones, changing the landscape of how consumers think, act, and perhaps most importantly, spend. Social and cultural systems are now overlapping with each other’s values, morals, skills and tastes. Azad, in pointing to himself as a representative for the Gen Y demographic, dissects this phenomenon within a local context, utilizing the cups as metaphors for the shifting social landscape he observes. Where previous generations might have gathered at a mamak stall or kopitiam, Azad sees his generation drawn to the rising ‘café culture’. Throughout the city, international coffee chains such as Starbucks are springing up, pointing to a growing Western influence and homogenization of culture. While on one hand this can be viewed positively as a sign of society’s growing affluence, there is a flip side to the preference of a uniform global identity, particularly for a post-colonial nation. Recalling colonial ideas of Western moral and cultural superiority over the local, the artist questions if this homogenization is instead the surreptitious form of neo-imperialism suggested by Fredric Jameson? In trying to reconcile the multiple facets that construct his identity – from being a Muslim, to a Malaysian, to a member of Gen Y – Azad analyses the possibility that such a homogenization is in fact, an incomplete set of values that gloss over the complexities involved in carving out a contemporary cultural heritage? Or, he asks, is he being paranoid; and is a cup of coffee simply that: a cup of coffee?
Azad’s dialogue with Gen Y is made clear in these works, especially through the use of Space
Invader icons running across the exhibition. Indeed his ability to engage audiences in complex, critical discussions through highly relatable aesthetics is well documented, demonstrating an innate understanding of society’s functioning. The Space Invader icon here is directly appropriated from the popular video game that was created in the 1970’s, and has been a popular cultural icon for Gen Y. As Space Invader itself was a hallmark game that broke the barrier from novelty activity to global industry, it can be seen as a general nod to the gaming industry, as an example of how technology rapidly seeped into the everyday lives of today’s generations. Much like the rise of ‘café culture’, video games have transformed the social landscape, with regards to social and interpersonal interactions. Azad comments on his choice of this motif as an investigation into contemporary forms of ‘invasion’. He deconstructs the word ‘space’ into having a duality of meaning. On one level it could be referring to the galaxy itself, as a literal comment on the video game that aesthetically inspired him. This introduces an element of ‘lightness’ into what is essentially a serious discourse on globalization and neo-imperialism. On the other hand Azad speaks about the creation of a ‘space’ for dialogue, offering the staging of his solo exhibition as an area where audiences are able to reflect on a series of questions and thoughts, in an effort to consolidate their own critical viewpoint. As such, he indicates a desire for Space Invader(s) to act not only as a conceptual and technical progression for him creatively, but also as a ‘space’ in which critical thoughts and debates can be sparked.
What can be inferred from Space Invader(s) is perhaps the fact that a growing world economy and free trade cannot inaugurate a universal culture. With this body of works, Azad comments on the need to strike a balance between achieving modernization with a renewing of individual cultural traditions, as opposed to mimicking the ideas of an overarching Western identity. These ideas connect to his previous inquiries into consumer and popular culture, and subtly propose increased investigations into the rituals of daily life in twenty-first century Malaysia, in the search for a contemporary identity that can successfully invoke the complexities of mixing heritage and development.