Metaphorical Garden

Date Published: 8/2/2011
Category: Past Photo Exhibition

Date and Time: 1 Aug - 30 Sep 2011, 10:00am to 10:00pm

Venue: Nikon Photo Gallery, Nikon Centre Kuala Lumpur, Berjaya Times Square.

Photo by Lim Li-Ling

From tracing the invisible cities to contemplating the myth and illusion of the cityscape, Goethe- Institut Malaysia is proud to present another photography project featuring a visual exploration of Kuala Lumpur’s urban landscapes. This exhibition entitled “Metaphorical Garden” features new photographic works from 14 talented local photographers in a 9 months long stint to interrogate and explore the meaning of “garden” in the city. The exhibition was on show at the Kuala Lumpur Gallery in the Kuala Lumpur Library from 26 May to 26 June 2011. Now, the collection of works are being presented at the Nikon Photo Gallery, Nikon Centre at Berjaya Times Square Kuala Lumpur for the next two months (1 Aug- 30 Sep).

Photo by Erwin Chong

Garden has always been associated with the place of recreation, play, cultivation, and relaxation. However, these photographers have creatively reversed the outcome into something sinister and provocative. The selected works documented the ambivalent nature of our relationship with garden and a much needed contemplative look at urban culture. They questioned and confronted the concept of garden within urban modernity, commercialism, our reverence for technological dominance over nature and obsession to domesticate nature.

The photographers were facilitated by renowned photographers Azrul K. Abdullah, Eiffel Chong, Alex Moh and Khairul Azril Ismail. Participating photographers were free to explore and experiment their ideas and presented in monthly formal and informal meetings with facilitators. This has been a journey beyond just another photo-shooting assignment. For them, going through the rigorous process of critiques and reassessments is also a course of self discovery.

The Shooting Stars project and Metaphorical Garden Photo exhibition are presented by Goethe-institut Malaysia with support from Nikon Malaysia, and Epson Malaysia.

Participating Photographers:
Chu Chok Seng, Edwin Shiaw Chin Han, Erwin Chong, Hirhaniff Tahir, James Valentine Singh, Lenice loh, Lim Li-Ling, Mazlan Saleh, Mohd Shazni Zainal, Munira Rohaizan, Myra Cheng, Nafizah Nayau, Wong Chee Kin


The idea of finding relationships between urban experience and photography began from the successful ‘Mapping Invisible Cities’ project supported by the Goethe-Institut in 2009. Led by a German Photographer, Peter Bialobrzeski, the project traversed over six Southeast Asian cities, and involved 37 photographers. During the touring exhibition in Kuala Lumpur, in a workshop conducted by a local curator and a photographer, Alex Moh and Azrul K. Abdullah, an ingenious idea was put forward to bring more local photographers together to promote the exploration of city experience and urban subjects through photography. In the months that followed 13 local photographers who wanted to share their own personal visions of their city came together to form the ‘Beyond the concept of city photography’ project. Guided by experienced photographers, Alex Moh, Azrul K. Abdullah and Kelvin Chan, they shared ideas and held discussions in a continuous dialogue to develop their individual visions. The outcome of the project was presented in an exhibition entitled ‘Beyond our city: Lights and Myth’ at the Annexe Gallery Kuala Lumpur in February 2010.

After the completion of Beyond City project, a new group was formed in March 2010 with a new name, ‘Shooting Stars.’ This collective group of 14 photographers was given the task of exploring the meaning of ‘garden’ in the city. Similar to the Beyond City Project and guided by a group of slightly different photographers, Azrul K. Abdullah, Eiffel Chong, Alex Moh and Khairul Azril, group members held regular discussion meetings with facilitators. They developed their ideas individually and presented their pictures for regular critic sessions to help them improve.

The real voyage of discovery consists of not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. ~Marcel Proust, French writer

It began as an arbitrary theme ‘Garden’. What is a garden? That was the initial question posed to the photographers. This project began with a concoction of literal uninspiring images of flowers, trees, gardens and parks. It was an uphill battle to break the photographers’ mindsets to think beyond this simple theme. What conjures in our mind when we think about gardens? The nostalgic images of family strolling in the park? Children at the playground? Or the orderly and neatly arranged flower garden? Photography can never be able to justify a meaningful and universal answer to the questions. But we are not looking for a universal answer. We are only looking for something atypical to the literal dictionary meaning of garden, hence the title ‘Metaphorical’. Metaphor comes from the Greek work metaphora meaning ‘to transfer’ In Aristotle’s Rhetoric, he described metaphor as to give names to nameless things. This word ‘metaphorical’ is perhaps the best description of our futile effort to pin down a universal truth for garden. And so the photographers set out to discover and locate their own personal truth about garden.

Although almost all images are void of human in clear sight, human presence is inherent in a ‘garden’. A garden is dependent on two things, the role of nature and the care of the gardener. In these pictures, we are made to question both the role of a garden as a functional space, and of the gardener’s intention. For some of the photographers, rather than finding a garden from the external world, they find their personal garden from within; constructing the metaphorical garden from the elements by deconstructing the real.

“A photograph has edges, the world does not.” ~Stephen Shore

Photograph serves as an unreliable witness to our world. Simply because we are concealed from seeing beyond the edge. A photograph lies by omission. The selected subject in the frame represents the thought process of the photographer. Our skepticism towards the truth contradicts with our mind’s eye to see transparently through the picture and accept the object as it is, as real and tangible part of the world. The garden that exists in a photograph is limited by the frame. Garden of the real world also has a boundary. It separates two opposing worlds: between work and play. Some photographers found their inspiration in this conflicted space between our own desire to be close to nature and our insistence to keep nature at a distance.

The selected works document the ambivalent nature of our relationship with garden and a much-needed contemplative look at urban culture. They question and confront the concept of garden within urban modernity, commercialism, technological dominance over nature and obsession to domesticate nature.

Capturing and freezing the moments of our surrounding environment have never been easier. In today’s world, everyone can take photographs. City streets become the hunting ground for many new photographers. Inevitably, photography today has become a generic reflection of our urban culture and who we are. How can we make photograph relevant again? I believe it is by injecting a little of our personal selves into the picture. Perhaps we should pause and think more critically about our choice of frame and subject. Or maybe we should be more than just a passerby and ponder upon the relevance of our own existence in relation to the spaces we occupy. Perhaps in that short instance, the moment we freeze and capture our perception with our camera can become more personal and profoundly more relevant in that way.

Working on this project has been an incredible journey for me. I sincerely thank the facilitators for their time, their thoughts and experiences with the group. Most of all, I truly appreciate the kind support from Goethe-Institut Malaysia for making this project and exhibition possible. My gratitude also goes out to Nikon Malaysia and Epson Malaysia for their support in promoting photography in Malaysia. For the participating photographers, my heartiest congratulations to all of you for a job well done. I hope this project has enlightened some, if not all, to think maybe a little differently about photography and what it can achieve.

“To change life, we must first change space.” ~Henri Lefebvre, French writer

~ Lim Thian Leong 
Coordinator for Shooting Stars Project