Naima Morelli

New book out! Choo Kuan’s monograph’s “This is How it is”

I’m very happy to announce that “This is how it is” the monograph of Malaysian artist Yeoh Choo Kuan, is finally out, published by Richard Koh Fine Art. I have written the book’s texts that translate and interpret the different phases of the artist’s career, and realized interviews that figure as segments in the book.

The book features also a foreword by curator and critic, Louis Ho and was edited by writer Rosa Maria Falvo. It presents a number of images of the artist’s work, from his formative years (2011-2014) to the more recent installations and the iconography of traditional Sinophonic visual culture (2018-2020).

You can find the book at Richard Koh Fine Art

From the first dialogues with the artist and the gallerist back in 2019, to visiting the artist’s studio and getting to know the artist’s environment in January 2020 – right before the start of the pandemic – it has been an incredible journey of discovery. Both in the real world – getting to Kuala Lumpur to see the works in person – and at my working table, through the process of writing.

So, about the writing. To talk about some artworks you necessarily need to excavate deep truths. And Choo Kuan’s monograph was definitely a work where the pen was really attuned to the spirit. What I mean by that? Let me back off a bit and explain where I come from in terms of books.

Before getting down to study Yeoh Choo Kuan’s ouvre, I have written two other books based on my own independent research in Southeast Asia. The first one was published in Italy and is called “Arte Contemporanea in Indonesia, un’introduzione” (2014), and the second, published as an e-series in episodes on Medium and this blog was called “The Singapore Series” (2017).

My process up to that point had been mainly of gathering a great number of interviews with artists, curators and other figures in the art world, mixed with field research, observation of artworks and the art system, a number of anecdotes, plus of course the reference to other writings and research on the topic. It was a huge quantity of materials to manage. To organize it, it was a post-it delirium.

Arte Contemporanea in Indonesia was easier in terms of organisation the sense that it followed an historical progression, while for The Singapore Series I created my own categories of thought to think about the local art system.

For Choo Kuan’s book, I went back to an historical progression, in terms of the personal history of the artist and his practice. He had put all the artworks in a tidy pdf that I could consult. However, I quickly realized that the historical progression met a very clear thematic unfolding. The Kiekegaardian categories of the aesthetic, ethic and spiritual life were incredibly fitting, as well as the classical Nietzschean opposition of the Dyonisian and the Apollinean.

Was I a superimposing of a Western thought system to a Malaysian artist coming from a different trajectory? I must admit I asked myself the question, but both the artist and the gallerist reassured me: while very much rooted in his home turf, Choo Kuan’s influences are really global, and the audience for the book would be international as well.

Potrebbe essere un'immagine raffigurante 1 persona

Established that, and understood through interviews where the artist was coming from, I really let my own sensitivity get attuned with the one transpiring for the works. The first draft was wonderful to produce. Nothing was forced, I was feeling that those works were the perfect conduit to speak about something really visceral and true, a spiritual process of elevation for the artist, the writer, the reader.

I recognized myself in the works, and tried to provide readers with the most enticing keys to enter Choo Kuan’s work as well. This is why in the writing I tended to steer away from critiquese, and tried to connect those powerful paintings and installations to many different fields, western and eastern philosophy, pop culture, all of it. High-brow, low brow, you get the drift.

Now that the book is a physical object – and a really alluring one I must say… what a wonderful edition! – I’m incredibly proud of having been part of this project. I’m grateful to Richard Koh to have given me this opportunity, and Choo Kuan to have given a tour of his inner and outer world!

You can get there book here.