Zai Kuning

Source: Substation

As an artist, Zai Kuning deliberately complicates convenient categorisation, employing a wide range of practices, from video to poetry to theatre, dance, performance art, music and installation art. Zai has had a long and intense relationship with The Substation. He was part of the first New Criteria visual arts programme in 1992, and since then he has been a constant and inspiring presence in our space, presenting many of his works here. Zai collaborated with Kuo Pao Kun in 0zero01 (1993), performed with double-bassist Tetsu Saitoh in Music Space (1996), and has directed and performed in a number of theatre projects, such as Bluemonkish (1996). His String in the Ocean (2000) featured music and vocal improvisations, as well as a highly personal documentary film.

The last few years Zai has spent researching the lives of the Orang Laut in the Riau islands, which began under the auspices of a TheatreWorks residency project. In 2002, he presented a documentary film of this work in progress as part of the Esplanade's Asian Contemporary Theatre Festival. Zai's performance and visual art work has been presented in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Japan, Australia and Germany. As an Associate Artist, Zai Kuning will be exploring the possiblity of a long-term research project based in the Middle-East.

"HYDROGEN The lightest element
HYPOCAUST Hot air was sent as a form of heat
IDIOCY Extreme mental imbecility; utter foolishness
HYSTERIA Functional disturbance of psychoneurotic origin
INANE Enigma of asexless toad"
Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art

As an ironical response to the standardization of the image and the violence of classification, Singapore's ZAI Kuning offered some 200 wax objects, minutely different from each other in shape, arrayed on the floor and hanging from the walls. In contrast to these strange solids the extremely bright lighting in the installation emphasized the abstract exhibition space, recalling a show window. In the past this artist has reported on the sealing of art objects in Singapore and proposed antitheses to the commodification of the work. This naive "resistance to classification" takes as its target the art-museum system in which works are classified and subjected to exhibition.


Zai Kuning, Singaporean multidisciplinary artist sets up Metabolic Laboratory, a Multi-Cross-Physical Culture Project.

1999 Auditorium, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore
(Physical theatre performance with Metabolic Theatre Laboratory under the direction of Zai Kuning)


11/5 14/5 String In the Ocean,
Zai Kuning solo show, Guinness Theatre, The Subsation, Singapore



FUNdaMENTAL MULTI-DISCIPLINARY is presenting "Orang Orang" directed and
performed by Zai Kuning at the Sculpture Square at 8 p.m. from 12 to 13 July

Rediscover the multi-talents of Zai Kuning and travel with him in a journey
of vocal, rhythm, movement and ritual in the 3-parter "Orang Orang".
Inspired by his experience from the Riau environment, "Orang Orang" marks
Zai's entrance into a new phase of artistic development. This work also
marks Zai's return as a director after his last directed piece Noalibi
(1999) which toured Korea, Hong Kong and Tokyo.

Tan Mei
hougang central post office
p.o. box singapore 915303

tel: 90220074
fax: 64893273

About "Orang Orang".................

"Orang Orang" is a performance directed by Zai Kuning.

"Orang Orang" is a performance in three parts with the first two parts
focused on vocal and drumming improvisation. Based loosely on a mixture of
Malay, Korean and Japanese rhythm, Zai found his own unique rhythm that
accommodates his pattern of singing. The vocal presentation will not be
textual, but will have familiar sounds from the islanders of Riau.

Based on ritualistic music and Torajan Funeral chants, "Orang Orang" will
see Zai's return to the dance world, choreographing and directing a group of
performers, mainly George Chua, Misumi, Farah and Angie, into a movement
sequence based on fishermen whom Zai found his inspiration from Riau
environment. The dance will be a quotation of their physical environment
(living on stilt, on sampan and vast seascape). This dance will reflect the
relationship between the body, water and wood.

"Orang Orang" will mark Zai's entrance into a new phase of artistic
development, with focus on the idea of funeral songs- songs for those who
have lose their language.

About Performance Details.................

Date: 12-13 July 2002
Time: 8pm
Place: Sculpture Square (Junction of Middle Road and Waterloo Street), 155
Middle Road Singapore 188977
Ticket Price: $15, $10 (concession); excludes $1 ticketcharge fee
Box Office: Ticketcharge*
Ticketing Hotline: 62962929
Online Ticketing:
Enquiries: 90220074 fmd@p... (email) FUNdaMENTAL MULTI-DISCIPLINARY

*Ticketcharge outlets: Marina Square, Tanglin Mall, Centrepoint, Funan the
IT Mall, Great World City, Forum the Shopping Mall, West Mall, Planet
Hollywood, CHIJMES Service Centre, YMS @Waterloo St, Tourism Court, Jurong
Point, NTUC Downtown East, Century Square, Lot 1 Shopping Mall, Hougang
Mall, Bishan Junction 8, Amara Shopping Centre


Regional Animalities Part I
Visual Art Show
The Substation Gallery
1-5 September 11am - 9pm daily
Free Admission
A five day, video, sound, performance and philosophical
exploration into our everyday relationships with meat
and the killing of animals for food
by Zai Kuning & Yuen Chee Wai.

About Performer/Director Zai Kuning

Zai Kuning received his formal art training at Lasalle-SIA College of the
Arts graduating in 1988 with a diploma of Fines Arts(Ceramics) and later
obtained a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree(1995) from Lasalle-SIA College of
the Arts - Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. Since then he has
emerged as an artist of astute calibre. He has been an active member of the
Artist Village since 1989 and held the post of President of the Artist
Village from 1992 to 1994. He has exhibited locally as well as in Malaysia,
Hong Kong, Japan, Australia and Germany. He has also collaborated with
Indonesian poet and philosopher Suitan Takdir Alisjahbana, as well as
appearing as guest artist for Japanese double-bassist Tetsu Saitoh in Tokyo,
Osaka, Kobe and Yokohama.

Over the years, Zai has honed his talent as a multi-functional performer
exhibiting works in a variety of discipline and media, from pottery to
poetry, writing and music to performance, theatre and installation art as
well as video. It is his deliberate complication of convenient
categorization that allow him to run on a constant revival, actively
exploring notion of identity, socio-political concerns and the role and
function of art in society.


A tree dead and alive

Written by K.S. SRINIVASA MURTHY of Frontline, Volume 21 - Issue 07, March 27 - April 09, 2004
India's National Magazine
from the publishers of THE HINDU


Through a tree trunk, removed from its natural and human surroundings and placed in a new context, a Singapore artist pays tributes to transient belief systems.

A horizontal tree trunk at the rear end of a defunct chapel is all there is, at the outset, to `A Tree in a Room', by Zai Kuning, a young versatile artist of Singapore (Figure 1). The programme was organised by Sculpture Square, Singapore, in February 2004. It is a massive trunk, with a length of approximately 4 metres and a circumference of about 2 metres, laid on the floor inside the Chapel Gallery. The evident simplicity and directness of Kuning's work may appear banal as well, considering the fact that such acts have become quite passe. In the last few decades, artists have deployed found objects for diverse agendas, ranging from aesthetics to politics. However, Kuning's work is refreshing because he resists certain formal and conceptual simplifications. He does this through a number of complex interplays between the physical and spiritual dimensions of his object. The work exists, to be sure, on a physical plane as a log of wood in a chapel and even reasserts itself as part of a tree.

Procured from a saw mill, it is hardly mediated except for a stitch like zigzag pattern made of thick metal wire along the circumference at its centre. The shape of the object is arbitrary as a result of the ways in which it has been chopped at the saw mill. Kuning has not cut it from a tree nor has he transformed it, but for the enigmatic `stitch'. The metal wire is visible only at close quarters..

Kuning leaves the trunk unmediated also by avoiding artificial lighting, which would, typically, privilege the `art' attributes of an object. However, he does exercise certain artistic options to lend remarkable religious and artistic resonance to the log. The position of the log at the rear end of the chapel, for instance, does encourage a frontal view much like religious icons. However, there is enough space to move around the object and to survey it leisurely as one typically surveys a three-dimensional art work in a museum or an art gallery. As I do that, rather habitually, the trunk almost comes alive owing to the specific ways in which the undulating contours of the trunk suggest a giant human torso. The torso, denuded of its limbs, emerges with shocking vitality.

This dramatic but gradual metamorphosis is, of course, owing to the massive size of the tree. The size renders it also rather bizarre as one realises the fact that it is after all lifeless. Its `repose' reinforces, if anything, the loss of its earlier contexts: removed from a saw mill, fragmented and deprived of its natural surroundings, lying horizontally on the floor; it is no longer a `tree'. The trunk thus powerfully articulates the violations on the non-existent tree. It is uprooted and twice dislocated from its context, natural and human. Similarly, the stitched pattern hints at a dubious healing process: the log of wood in the chapel is pretty much intact. It is not cut into two pieces. It flaunts only a mock stitch which does not completely cover the body. The stitch is not even visible unless one pays enough attention. The suggested split and the subtle stitch lead us from the external perceptions and processes of violation and healing to certain self reflections. The trunk becomes almost incidental in these perceptions and processes. Consider, for instance, the impression that it appears more abandoned than ever, for all the exclusive attention bestowed on it. If anything, it adds to the quiet ambience of the new context provided by the defunct chapel. In turn, it pays sensitive tributes to the transient and evasive belief systems. Kuning juxtaposes the chopped-off tree against the backdrop of the empty space that once housed a chapel.

It is through a provocative gesture that Zai Kuning reinvents the context of the found object to focus on certain symptomatic aspects of art and life: the gesture enacts diverse untold stories about the tree trunk which in itself is a visual/performance piece, inspired by a couple of scripts by the late Kuo Pao Kun, a Singapore playwright.


11 Sep (Sat) : "Artists and Other Animals" at the SubStation
Time: Fair from 3-7pm, Forum 10am-6pm

Animals are taking over The Substation in September!

A Visual Arts show, and an animal and conservation Advocacy Fair which includes environmentalists, conservationists, animal welfare groups, artists, writers and the interested public. You will get to meet speakers from Seashepherd, ACRES, Wildaid, WWF, AVA, the Zoo, Nature Society, AVA and more. wildsingapore will be having a poster exhibition featuring the wonderful wildlife that Singapore has.

There will be a forum about human-animal relationships. Join a lively dialogue with over twenty invited personalities: scientists (Siva is one of them!), artists, academics, activists, TV & media workers & public personalities in discussion of: Captive Animals, Captive Audiences & Captive Imaginations - Human-Animal relationships in Singapore & Southeast Asia.

In the afternoon, hang out in The Substation Garden with animal and conservation organisations. Adopt a puppy, kitten or rabbit. Find out more about conservation and environmental concerns. Chill to music by Zai Kuning, EMOT, Yee Chang Kang and UBlues. Catch a Celebrity Talk Show on Artists & Other Animals and the launch of Teresa Teo Guttensohn's durational tree-dwelling, orang utan nest-building performance. Bid for one of Rizman Putra's funky animal chairs, auctioned by Beatrice Chia & Bernard Harrison. Race toy robot elephants in aid of a Malaysian Elephant charity. Grab armbands with elephant totems designed by Colin Reaney. Don a temporary animal tattoo designed by infamous Primitive Arts tattoo artists. Join the Opening Party of the Regional Animalities Art Show Part II, which will close the day's events.