Monday, 26 August 2013

Out of the Kampung

This week has been quite lively, full of social events, meeting new people including the owners of Rimbun Dahan, Angela and Hijjas Kasturi; close encounters with wildlife; escaping to Kuala Lumpur for some cultural activities and starting some sample dyeing from the garden. Oh, and in keeping with all things Malaysian, this post will focus on food, because its been a week of trying lots of new things.

During the week I was invited by a Malaysian batik artist to attend a Malaysian Tourism expo in Kuala Lumpur  which was held near the National Textile Museum, in Merdeka Square.

Muzium Tekstil Negara, Kuala Lumpur
This was a good adventure for me, finding my way to KL from our kampung after three weeks of immersion in studio work. The Mughal-style building was completed in 1905 as the headquarters of the Federated Malay States Railways, and was re-opened as the Muzium in 2010. The four main galleries house lovely examples of batik, songket, Iban ceremonial cloths, embroidery, jewellery and costume.

The Muzium had a stand at the Malaysian Tourism Expo, with demonstrations of weaving:

Demonstrating weaving techniques with rug wool and card
There were also demonstrations on how to prepare various national dishes including a giant vat of Dodol, a confection made from coconut milk, jaggery and rice flour, heated and stirred until thick and gooey, which is a traditional sweet during Eid ul-Fitr (Hari Raya).

The leg on the top left indicates the size of this bowl!
It was delicious, followed by an ice cold glass of my favourite beverage assam boi, made from the juice of calamansi or kasturi lime with preserved sour plum.

On Saturday night Angela and Hijjas hosted an 'Open House' at Rimbun Dahan, where they invited around 200 guests for dinner. The whole place was transformed into a sparkling sea of lights, with outside dining tables lit by candles, and many food stations where different dishes were prepared for you on the spot - it was magical.  I forgot to take photos until the end, when everyone was excited about eating the durian, that King of Fruits you either love or hate with a vengeance.

Abang Jesme getting ready to slice a durian open
Inside the creamy, custardy - and stinky - flesh
Actually, I didn't mind the taste at all, and other guests on my table  gave me the low-down on the different grades and qualities of durian, and the prices to match.  Rimbun Dahan does grow its own durian, I can smell them as I walk long.  Apparently they drop when they are ripe so I'd better alter my route to the laundry room pretty soon. Other wonderful fruits on offer were fresh rambutans, mangosteens and a desert called 'ABC' or ais kacang. This brightly coloured desert basically consists of ice shaved by a machine (below),  with red beans, grass jelly, and cubes of agar agar topped with condensed or coconut milk and red rose syrup and brown sugar.  Mix it all

Special ice shaving machine
Well, it can't be that bad for you if it consists mostly of water....? 

Anyway, my weekly encounters with wildlife....Yes, I have now met Mr and Mrs Tikus, who ran into my studio the other night hunting two little frogs who had hopped in from the renovated fishpond. I've never jumped on a chair so fast in my life. And I found this giant snail in the garden towards dusk just outside my door. Hard to tell the scale here but I think it was around 10cm or so. It looks like the introduced African Snail, Achatina fulica, but correct me if I am wrong.

Achatina fulica
Not nearly as exciting as the book I mentioned last week, "Camping and Tramping in Malaya" (1898).  So far I've learnt how to pack and smoke an opium pipe; how to prepare and chew betel leaf; how to erect a primitive overnight shelter in the jungle; grow and winnow rice; and, most importantly, how to dodge man-eating tigers - with graphic descriptions of what befalls the not-so-lucky.

And before you think I've just been spending my time reading, eating and socialising, I have include a photo of my studio with almost finished piece of work I started last week.

Yes, trying to hide under the table is Santan.......nakal!
Next week I promise I will have photos of the dyeing I have started and some of the other drawings I've been doing.

Until next week,

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Awas! Walking heavily at Rimbun Dahan

What a difference a week makes in a new environment! Although nothing seems totally familiar yet, I have started slipping into more of a routine and gathering resource material and ideas for new work.  The end of Ramadhan and the start of Hari Raya has also altered the ambience of Jalan Kuang (the street out the front) - the fireworks have lessened, although not stopped completely; there is a different muezzin on the block, and the calls to prayer are much shorter and less frequent.  I have pretty much walked the length and breadth of Rimbun Dahan, which continually throws up surprises in fauna and flora.

The front driveway of Rimbun Dahan
During my walks I have come across some strange and interesting specimens, some I have never seen before, and others like the palms and ferns, that continually inspire with their architectural shapes, robust textures and vibrant colours.

Scaphium sp.       Sterculiaceae -  Kembang semangkuk
This wonderful flower with olive-like seeds is from the Sterculia genus in the mallow family, colloquially known as tropical chestnuts.  You can look this up in your Funk & Wagnells (oops showing my age)...Wikipedia.... to see the many things it is used for.

This little fellow was having a great time with his mates this morning.
And each morning I am woken to the frolicking of monkeys in the trees outside.  They are so tiny and quick that it took me ages to even focus my camera on them, and as it is a very simple camera, I do not have a telephoto lens to really get in close, so apologies for the poor quality.  However, you get my drift. Excellent subject for endless procrastination in the studio.

A plethora of  inspiration just outside the door
Lovely chevron markings on these trees
 So...why have I been walking heavily at Rimbun Dahan??? The other day Sean nearly stepped on a snake in between his studio and house and yesterday I took an excursion to the nearest town, Sungai Buloh.  Just outside the RD gate on the footpath guessed it...a snake. Dead, thankfully for me, not so for the snake.  Earlier this year I was on residency in Bundanon and the other artists and I perfected the heavy, snake-deterring-walk-with-a-big-stick on our forays to the river, so a bit of deja vu happening, not just at Bundanon but also during my Hill End residency and my studio at Pialligo.

Actually if you go to the Bundanon website they have a slideshow of images on the homepage and if you look carefully I am in one of them, can you see me? Thanks to Camille Serisier and her Bundanon project.

The main drag - Sungai Buloh
Sungai Buloh was built in the 1930's and was the second biggest leprosy colony in the world. The settlement was equipped with advanced facilities and planned following the principals of a garden city. Today it is known for its flowers and plants.

After that hot shopping trip, an afternoon swim was called for in the RD pool just outside my studio.

The main house is in the background
 And then it was back to work. I have found that I work longer if I pace myself thoughout the day with either walks or a swim to break the torpidity of the afternoon heat.  I then work through until around 9 or 10pm, with a break for a quick bite to eat around 8pm.  The local restaurants have still not opened up yet, but I am really looking forward to it!

I have been reading my way through this tome on Natural Dyes, as a follow up from my recent workshop with Joy Boutrup and Catharine Ellis at Penland School of Crafts. Cardon gives a lot of information about dye plants, and fauna, all over the world, which I have been cross-referencing with the plants on the RD website.  I have also been finishing off work for my upcoming exhibition in November at Narek Galleries, whilst I gather thoughts for new work inspired by Rimbun Dahan.

Remember, I will only be posting updates once a week, so until minggu depan,
jumpa lagi,

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Selamat datang ke Rimbun Dahan

Welcome to my first post from Rimbun Dahan, Malaysia. I arrived quite late last Thursday night and have spent the last few days acclimatising to my new environment (and temperature!) - unpacking, setting up my apartment and studio space, meeting the other artists in residence and familiarising myself with the extensive grounds.

View of my apartment space at Rimbun Dahan with studio underneath
After a few hours sleep I was awoken at 5am with the call to prayer from the small-mosque-with-the-mighty-sound directly across the road. We are coming to the end of Ramadhan here, and everything is gearing up towards Hari Raya this week. Not only do we have the mosque across the road, but it sounds like several muezzin are all competing with each other in the immediate vicinity, with varying degrees of vocal dexterity. And don't forget the retort of constant fireworks! At 5am there is also the added cacophany of the frogs in the huge pond next to my apartment, and also the monkeys.....

The best mosque on the block, I like it so much I have recorded the muezzin several times...
There are some traditional houses that have been re-located and restored from other parts of Malaysia on the grounds, which are used for residents and guests.

The Penang House, where Sean and Claire and children are staying

Rumah Uda Manap
The grounds of Rimbun Dahan are just spectacular, and you can read more here about how the owners, Angela and Hijjas Kasturi, are developing them to create an indigenous garden environment.

Amazing colours.....

and textures....

and some very strange fruit......
As I mentioned, I have met all of the other artists here at present, and many of the lovely, friendly staff.  I have yet to meet the owners, Angela and Hijjas, as they are currently on holiday but are due back in a couple of weeks.  I have, however, met the five dogs - Santan, Upeh, Belacan, Sagu and Samson.  And it seems both Santan and Belacan have adopted me whilst Angela is away.  They are my constant shadows, studio companions, and Santan, who has the special ability of opening doors even when they are shut, tries every trick in the book to get into my room.

Santan is making sure I don't get lost in the grounds!
As I am in the apartment block myself, located away from the other artist residences, it is kind of comforting to know that Santan and Belacan are just outside my door at night.

I have already started working in my studio and will post some photos in the weeks to come.
Jumpa lagi, Julie.