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Encoding Memory: The Eternal Presence of Absence


recollection, in particular.
- a concept in Plato's epistemological and psychological theory that he develops in his dialogues Meno and Phaedo, and alludes to in his Phaedrus (wikipedia).
Klang is a town steeped in history; it is one of the seventh royal towns in Malaysia that still bears many traces of its royal past. Although I was born and lived in Klang for more than two decades, I have little knowledge of the town’s historical development, except for a brief historical account of the Klang War that dates back to the late 1860s. Nevertheless, my recent work-related visits to the town have piqued my interest in its history, particularly its forgotten urban artifacts and cultural treasures. What value do we gain, you wondered, in trying to recall the urban artifacts that most people had never known or seen? Why is it worth remembering?

The unknown and the unseen have always held a certain appeal to me and forgotten urban artifacts are no exception. I may not have seen the artifacts with my own eyes, let alone experience the spaces first hand, but the visual images of the forgotten urban artifacts themselves are suffice to help me generate mental constructs of the place where the objects of antiquity were first built. Many urban artifacts may have been obliterated from the face of the earth forever, but their momentarily existence shall not be let to dissipate into the abyss of nothingness as every artifact, whether it is large or small, has a fascinating tale to tell, and forms part of a wider cultural narrative of its rich and colorful past.

Thus what began as an interest in the historical specificity of a place quickly grew into an inspirational impetus for my artwork. I began my artwork with a seemingly inquisitive inquiry: if the urban artifact is no longer standing, then how can an artwork serve as a proxy to rediscovering the palimpsest of the absence in the context of the presence? The result is a series of artwork that represents a whimsical fusion of static visual representation (painting on canvas) and dynamic information content (website). The work shown on the subsequent pages marks my first foray into artwork that focuses on memory and place, and revolves around the notion of anamnesis. It attempts to offer an alternative medium of memorializing urban artifacts that have long been forgotten; and also to act as an aide-memoire that would take viewers on a nostalgic journey back in time.

From a personal perspective, this series of artwork is an outgrowth of my ongoing interest in my birthplace, Klang or more importantly:- it is an outgrowth of my ongoing interest in spatial remembrance. Memory and fantasy, remembrance and imagination, are constantly intermingled and woven into the fabric of our life. As Juhani Pallasmaa eloquently puts it, “one who cannot remember can hardly imagine because memory is the soil of the imagination. Memory is also the ground of self-identity; we are what we remember.”