Re-experience PHYSICAL MEDITATION in Malaysia

Ever since I completed my trip to the Tibetan Plateau back in September 2016, I have dreamed to dedicate an entire exhibition for it. I jumped out of bed in the middle of the night in California several months later because I finally found words to express this dream of mine, starting with the term “Physical Meditation”.

Exhibition opening at Hin Bus Depot.

Physical Meditation , the name of my exhibition, came about when I witnessed how Tibetans pray in the monastery. It is a very physical motion and at one point, their whole body lies flat on their stomach on the floor. It prompted me to think about the length I would go as an artist to voice out my unique perspective and role I play in the modern world.

This exhibition was my debut show in Penang, a UNESCO Heritage city in Malaysia with a burgeoning art scene and growing appreciation for cultural conservation. I took a risk to curate my stories from the Tibetan Plateau in multiple mediums from sketchbook pages, photos, watercolor to using acrylic, Chinese ink on both papers and canvases. I didn’t know who my audience would be and how they would react.

A Yak’s Life (2017)
Acrylic and ink collages on canvas, 152.4cm x 183cm

My risk-taking effort paid off when thousands of locals and foreigners showed up at the exhibition filled with curiosity and excitement. Through their eyes, the art pieces that were created based on my experience took on a different life. This mysterious faraway highland suddenly become a portal for visitors to reflect on the ideas of time, ancient totems, rural nomadic lifestyles, the meaning of prayers and spiritual places in their own way, Penang or beyond.

The biggest theme of my exhibition was about finding the familiar in the unfamiliar: Talking about Tibetan culture in Penang might be unfamiliar, but it gives people a chance to explore multiculturalism in Penang from the window of Tibetan culture; The subjects of sacred places, nature, and women in my work though specific are universal; Even when I integrated calligraphy into my acrylic painting, the thousand-year-old-cursive font I use are unfamiliar to most who are used to the block characters on our devices. Some asked if it was Japanese. Though not my intention, it was a valid association because Japanese writing system incorporates many Chinese characters.

Underlying all is the rise of economic power in the East. Many people are increasingly mobile and are exposed to the outside world, and with that there is a push for cultural advancement. Many social conscious people have populated Asia with startup incubators and entrepreneur ventures that promote traditional artisanship, empowering the idea of equality to youth and women, creating a salón-esque platform to gather a community of like-minded individuals with the aim of advancing our society. I have seen it in the Tibetan Plateau, and now I witnessed it once again in Malaysia. Physical Meditation is just one of the many ways I am contributing to that conversation.

Visitors experiencing Physical Meditation in a historical building.

While we might need to answer our society’s call for cultural innovation and advancement, we should always try to find clarity within ourselves first. Therefore, I want to close by defining the word Meditation, which has proved to be an unfamiliar term for some. To me, meditation is a play between the conscious and the unconscious mind. The aim is to collect the rare wisdom that emerges from a pile of unconscious noise of distraction, fear, worries. It’s an exercise of the mind, and it happens when I’m ‘in the zone’, painting. Every painting is the result of a deeper conversation between the conscious and the unconscious. I thank all the Tibetans and Malaysians who have shown me the importance of living in clarity.

Si Jie Loo is a Malaysian artist based in California, USA who tries to explore the different regions of China whenever she can in the name of art pilgrimage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My first week in Penang

For the first blog of the year, I decided to use the same question I posted in my latest exhibition, Physical Meditation, to reflect on my first week in Penang.

In a world saturated by social media networks and selfie posts, how does an artist make sense of her journey in self-discovery and process the world around her?

Just when I was meticulously scheduling posts to promote the artwork from my exhibitions, I received news of natural disasters one after the other from the other side of the globe where I spend most of the year in. “Paradise on earth” is what many would call Santa Barbara, California, for the impeccable beaches and bright orange sunsets. Paradise had experienced drought, wild-fire and now mud slides with fatalities involved. Just two months ago, I was observing the flood in Penang from Paradise. None of us, however hard we try to control our Facebook Timeline and Instagram posts can escape this sinking feeling upon seeing natural disasters unfold in the place we call home.

Yet, here I am, in spite of the feeling, have to continue living the life as a temporary resident in a town that embraces the community of creatives, café cultures and hidden bars. An average day is spent wandering around seeking for yet another delicious street food joint with a friend or two, discussing the current affairs and public taste for art. I would walk into impromptu conversations at Hin Bus Depot, where my paintings are housed this month, whether it is defining the term Meditation or telling stories of my art pilgrimages to a fellow Malaysian or traveler, switching between Mandarin and English.

The modern tech era has introduced ride-sharing and home-sharing technologies to the world, and I am experiencing first-hand the impact services like Uber and Airbnb have within the UNESCO heritage sites of Georgetown. We are interacting with strangers and newcomers to the city every other minute, and whether we are at our Sunday best, we are the ones leaving the impressions to new visitors. It is no longer just the hotelier’s job to welcome guests. Visitors come from as near as Chiang Mai or as far as Quebec to do visa runs or escape the harsh winter will brush shoulders with me, a visual artist whose daily rituals most of the year entails only art-making, watching online streaming services, going to a dance class or preparing a hearty meal for two.

I am enjoying this ride, cautiously engaging with the increasingly familiar faces around me, while learning the tools one needs to excel in an exciting place like Penang. Before arriving here, my dad asked me, “Do you know the art market in Penang?” I came with an open heart and I have met very warm people. Whether I will find the answer to that question at the end of my stay, I am enjoying my night strolls to Little India, Tan jetty, whispering my prayers at the 200-year-old Guan Yin Temple, listening to live bands at China House, sipping a cup of Long Black at Ome, and maybe, just maybe, checking out Love Lane.

Preparation of Physical Meditation

The sketchbook that started it all

Physical Meditation

Live Painting event: A Window to the Arts

On November 2nd, I participated in a Live Painting event on State St, Santa Barbara. Enjoy the documented process of how my latest painting “Whispers of the Gobi Desert” unfold in this visual storybook- curated chronologically with narration. Simply click the album below to start!

STRANDS: a collaboration

On October 7th, I performed a public meditative piece called “Strands” with two other female Asian artists Amabelle Aguiluz and Joy Wu Shuang in Helms Design Center, Culver City, LA.

STRANDS is juxtaposing the idea of Feminism and Femininity. We are a group of independent female creatives who are trying to innovate within the ancient crafts that are traditionally weaved into domestic identities, shifting the art-making space from domestic to public.

Strands promo from Joy on Vimeo.

 

 

Amabelle Aguiluz, Artist is a Filipino-American fiber artist with extensive background in clothing design, Joy Wu is a masterful Chinese dulcimer player trained in Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing who also plays the electric bass, and Si Jie Loo is a Malaysian Chinese visual artist who dives into the spirit of ancient China to contemplate modernity. 

Taichi, the gentle giant

How do you measure an immense effort that seems invisible? Effort such as discovering ways to understand and express the human spirit aka the force of the universe, encapsulated in one Chinese Character known as Qi?

It started with this inexplicable yet warm fuzzy energy I feel in my body when I drum. I would express it with colors on canvas, visualize it in my dreams or tame it during a meditation. Later, I tried to depict it through the movement of my body and paint brush…Gradually, my efforts to depict Qi have transitioned into a quest to embody Qi in the many creative expressions I freely roam between.

My most recent pursuit in this quest of Qi is Taichi. The joy I felt when Taichi was revealed to me is so immense that not even a laughter or a smile could do justice. Allow me to tell you the story:

A few months ago, when I was pursuing an art residency in Malaysia, Shea Kang, my dear friend and art collector whom for years had told me about Taichi took me to his teacher. It was my first taste to Taichi, a martial art with series of movement accompanied with cryptic teachings. Before I could learn the whole sequence, I completed my residency and had to return to the states. With the little I knew, I practiced at the gardens repeatedly.

Somehow, the stars aligned for me. Prof. Wu showed up when I needed a Taichi teacher. He is 80 and I’m turning 30. We met shortly after I returned to the states during a Chinese New Year celebration. I was doing a calligraphy demonstration at a community event that I almost backed out of. Prof. Wu was pleasantly surprised by my eagerness to learn Taichi, noting that not many young people, his daughter included, are too keen on learning this ancient art form.

Many of Prof. Wu’s family members knew Taichi. His father was one of the early intellects to return from England in the 30s. He practiced Taichi until he was forbidden to do so during China’s cultural revolution. Prof. Wu’s own teacher stopped teaching when he was 70, citing the challenge to teach when one is no longer at his prime age because he might not be able to demonstrate Taichi sequences properly. But even that does not stop Prof. Wu’s determination at 80 to teach and my determination to learn.

Taichi by Natalia Wrobel’s Painting

We can all be fooled by this subtle force embedded in the art of Taichi. At first, I could not grasp what I learned – Where is the philosophy? Wisdom of the past? Martial art? Secrets to longevity?  Nonetheless, I made time to learn from Prof. Wu, slowly but surely. I learned a total of 75 movements + 13 abbreviated sequence, via multiple two-hour sessions in two months. I could barely memorize 3 movements when I started, but Prof. Wu was “all-in” in his teaching and I was moved by his patience.

Prof. Wu would record the Taichi sequence from his tablet and send it to me, but accidentally hurt his neck while doing it. He insisted on correcting my movements despite feeling nauseous due to his hurting neck. Unlike his grandfather, Prof. Wu can practice all the Taichi he wants and has garnered immense inner power thanks to it. However, since he was forbidden by his family from biking due to his advanced age, I would bike against the wind only to show up at his doorsteps for classes.

The day we finished the last sequence coincides with Prof. Wu’s daughter’s course planning for the spring quarter. She was about to teach a new course at UCSB College of Creative Studies, on music making using inspiration from nature. She invited her father to demonstrate Taichi in one of her sections and I was asked to help translate and assist in his presentation. She also recognized how Taichi coincides with my artistic process and asked me to include some of my artwork in the presentation.

Taichi by Toni Scott’s painting

For some reason, Prof.Wu’s daughter’s invitation sums up my ‘extracurricular’ learning these last months that is so pertinent to my art journey. There is no certificate to quantify my fulfilled dream of conceptualizing the force of life that was unraveled in the form of Taichi. But it is everything I need to take my art, my life, my discipline to the next level. It is the perfect gift to my soon-to-be 30-year-old self.

They say follow your bliss and doors will open. I have been following my calling to the open doors and am still dumbfounded by the amazing opportunities that have been coming my way. I am going to stick to this path, as unlikely as it seems at first for a descendant of Chinese laborers who had migrated to the ‘new’ world merely less than a century ago. I will strive to thrive as an excellent Chinese female artist who knows her history, acts on her passion and is fearless about pursuing a professional life of literature and art!