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A fact has no appearance

Posted on 01.26.16 under a fact has no appearance, art beyond the object, j.redza, Redza Piyadasa, singapore national gallery

Art beyond the object…

I took a trip down memory lane in Singapore to attend “A FACT HAS NO APPEARANCE: ART BEYOND THE OBJECT,” featuring the work of Redza Piyadasa, Johnny Manahan, and Tan Teng Kee which examines the impact of fresh ideas that arose in Southeast Asian modern and contemporary art in the turbulent 70s.

(National Gallery is huge and mostly unfilled)

(This is how you know you’re in Singapore)

It was the seminars of Prithwish Neogy at the University of Hawaii in 1976 – 1978 that triggered spirited discussion and debate between Redza, Peter T. Brown, Doug Doi and me about the meaning of art beyond the mimetic representation of objects and situations and interior or landscape design.

(Prithwish Neogy)

Honolulu had a vibrant art scene in the 70s. It was before AIDS. It was before Wall Street, the trickle-down economics of Ronald Reagan, and the real estate speculators that were first manifested as Japanese with duffel bags of cash trolling Kahala and turning $200,000 houses into $1 million. Those were the days…

ptb frisbee_lite_2
(Peter T. Brown by Malcolm Wong)

My partner in art and the photographer for the b/w images in this post, Peter Brown, committed suicide in 1981. His father had been the vice-president of the University of Hawaii but he and his wife had returned to Cornell in Ithaca, New York. The Browns were atheists so there was to be no funeral although there was an insurance policy at Borthwick Mortuary that paid for cremation. No one in his family came to take care of belongings. That was left mostly to me. We sent Peter off in an informal ceremony at Makapuu. We put his ashes in a glass urn I blew and I threw it out in the ocean to break on a rock. One of our girlfriends murmured: “He always wanted to spend more time at the beach…”


(Manana Island from Makapuu)

We packed a box of Peter’s most personal things to send back to his parents. I deliberately made it as personal as possible: his Nikon camera with the 80mm lens, his baseball glove, and his glasses right at the top. I wanted to evoke some emotion, to give them some kind of closure since they seemed to have denied it.

I wrote to Redza to tell him of Peter’s passing and he wrote back to say how sorry and shocked he was to hear this news. It was the last time that we exchanged communication. Redza died in 2007.

I kept Peter’s negatives that were stored carefully in an old footlocker of his father’s. They were put in the attic of our family house in Nu’uanu. I moved to Osaka with my wife and baby son in 1983 and then to Tokyo in 1985. The footlocker stayed in the attic until 2007 when the family house was sold and a 1031 was executed to buy land on Maui. The footlocker and our other possessions went to Public Storage until the Wailuku house could be completed in 2011. Everything in storage was packed into a container and sent by Young Brothers barge to Maui. When I unpacked the container, I realized that I had to do something with the negatives — they had lain dormant for thirty years. I couldn’t keep dragging them around behind me forever. I took them out of the footlocker, brought them to Tokyo, and started to scan them a little at a time.

Among them were these…

temporal condition_lite_2


As I did, the memories came flooding back. Was I the only one that remembered? I posted a photo of Redza that Peter Brown took, “ART IS A LIE,” on this website.

a fact,adele

In 2015, Adele Tan, a curator at the new Singapore National Gallery contacted me. She had googled and found that image. The museum was planning an exhibition that included Redza and wanted to know more about Redza’s time in Honolulu. Redza had made many objects, but as a conceptual artist, most were ephemeral.

I found more negatives of a “rebuttal installation” that Laura Ruby (another grad student) made and placed outside Redza’s studio. You have to admire her indignant passion!





I sent everything I could find to Adele. The gallery designers did a great job with the presentation and I think that Peter’s photos really contributed to the presentation.







I believe I felt both Peter and Redza’s spirits on opening night. It was like being enveloped in a field of electricity. It was Redza’s night and it was exactly 35 years earlier, exactly to the day, that Peter committed suicide.

There are at least two exhibitions featuring Redza’s work, one at the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) and the other at the National Gallery. It was so gratifying to see the impact that Redza has had on Southeast Asian Art. And it was wonderful to meet two of Redza’s children, his daughters, J and Lynn, and hear stories about his life after UH Art. Born a Hindu, converted to Islam to marry his first wife, he often took his oldest daughter, J., to Christian cathedrals and he meditated in a Zen manner.

(J. Redza)

(from left: Andrea Monteiro (my sister), me, Rick Hungerford, Lynn Piyadasa, Theva (Dave)

Rick Hungerford is an old classmate from the University of Hawaii Art Dept. He ran the woodshop when Redza Piyadasa and I were hanging in the Sculpture courtyard.