Kuala Lumpur

I Gusti Ayu Kadek Murniasih, Aku dan simbolku (Me and My Symbol), date unknown, acrylic on canvas, 39 3⁄8 × 118 1⁄8". From “Dream of the Day,” 2022–23.

I Gusti Ayu Kadek Murniasih, Aku dan simbolku (Me and My Symbol), date unknown, acrylic on canvas, 39 3⁄8 × 118 1⁄8". From “Dream of the Day,” 2022–23.

“Dream of the Day”

Gustav Metzger described the “Cloud Canyons” David Medalla began making in 1961—kinetic sculptures known informally as his “bubble machines”—as generating the “random activity” of a “quarter million forms continuously changing, reflecting, growing, disintegrating.” The uncontainable spuming energy of Medalla’s artworks embodies the spirit of the sprawling exhibition “Dream of the Day,” which draws its title from a 1965 poetic manifesto by Medalla, emblazoned near the gallery’s entrance. Curated by Patrick Flores and featuring more than eighty works by thirty-nine artists, predominantly from Southeast Asia, the exhibition aspires neither to articulate nor to capture an essentialist regional identity or representation, but to rouse our minds from such dead-end desires and imagine unpredictable, unconventional ways forward.

To that end, the exhibition features as its key proposition a significant display of work in a Surrealist vein. Lined with Medalla’s vivacious pronouncements, the gallery’s entryway frames, head-on, the zany, sexual, hybrid figurations of I Gusti Ayu Kadek Murniasih, better known simply as Murni. This directness is, however, purely spatial: In the undated Aku dan simbolku (Me and My Symbol), the largest of five enigmatic paintings displayed, a large jade dragon has, in place of its head, a book of empty pages—an emblem of our witlessness about the artist’s sense of self. On either side of this display are several other impenetrably Surrealistic paintings. Literalizing a metaphor, Lucia Hartini’s The Eye, 1990, depicts a single steely oculus staring out from the heart of a roiling storm. In Manuel Ocampo’s pair of slime-green paintings, Mitra contra Goya and Tout est permis, both 2020, an emaciated naked creature with a disproportionately elongated nose, among other foreboding symbols (a skull and a snake), annotate a backdrop of owls and bats derived from Francisco Goya’s 1799 etchings. Indifferent brown bovines of different sizes, some gargantuan with hyperbolically long tails, populate Ivan Sagita’s The Essence of Cow in the Macro and Microcosmosis, 1989.

The exhibition features a number of moving-image works to similar effect. Taking place in a jungle, Worldly Desires, 2005, a film by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, shows itself to be a mise en abyme, a film about the filming of a film. An increasingly visible and restless crew shoots two interchangeably relatable stories about the elusive search for love and happiness. A girl group in matching white ensembles practices singing and dancing to a saccharine pop song; elsewhere, a miserably wailing heterosexual couple attempts to evade unseen dangers. Poignance is felt not in the film’s predisposed melodrama, but in its farcical revelation of itself as a work in progress.

Veejay Villafranca’s Magicians of God, 2011, consists of twelve black-and-white photographs that document “psychic surgeon” Jun Labo performing surgery on patients’ bodies with his bare hands, sans anaesthesia, in his home and clinic in Baguio, the Philippines. Call it faith or madness, but these photographs, installed in a sharp corner of the exhibition space, have the power to shift the viewer’s faith away from Western medicine. And those are not the only works here that promise to transform our worldview. Scattered among a sequence of black-and-white photographs by Jess Ayco, Van Leo, and Lionel Wendt, mostly of identifiably male torsos, Alfonso Ossorio’s paintings depict inchoate totemic figures against vivid backgrounds; these lurid thrashing scribbles unsettle the conventionally beautiful physiques seen in the photos. The exhibition’s atypical curatorial constellations—of artworks carrying kindred ideals but originating from different times and places—compel us to reimagine inherited art-historical models. In the same way, a buoyant Medalla dreamed, in his manifesto, of creating sculptures that “breathe, perspire, cough, laugh, yawn, smirk, wink, pant, dance, walk, crawl.”