Jeremy Fernando at Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang

February 21, 2017

On 17 February 2017, in response to the invitation of Dr Burhanuddin Baki — leader of the Art & Novelty research project, and senior lecturer in the department of Philosophy & Civilizations — to be the inaugural presentation of the Aesthetics & Innovation Colloquium Series, Jeremy Fernando performed a reading in the main conference room of the School of Humanities to faculty, students, and staff, of Universiti Sains Malaysia.  

His performance — ‘art & writing; or, the whispers of sand’ — attempted to attend to the notion of writing and its relation to movement, openings, and the possibility of openness to the other. It took place through a meditation on the very moment that he was unable to write; an instance that occurred when he was trying to inscribe his thoughts on, responses to, the magnificent oil paintings made by the artist, Ruben Pang. And since this inscription is only done in memory of that writing, the writhing that has happened, a major part of the performance entailed an attempt to reopen the very memories of the impossibility of writing even whilst writing has allegedly already taken place.

                                         [Ruben Pang, ‘Cradle Me Bravely’, 2016]

By projecting the works, the paintings, of Ruben Pang whilst he was reading his text, he opens the possibility that what was uttered, his remarks, were the marks, what remains, of the conversation that had taken place between his words and Pang’s paintings — this movement between forms being nothing other than another name for art itself.

It was followed by a lively question & answer session — held in the spirit of openness and generosity to possibilities. The warmth of the audience was exemplified by their gracious response to Fernando’s sudden and inexplicable loss of his voice in the midst of the discussion — after which, he had to respond to questions by typing on a keyboard, with his responses projected onto a screen. This moment brought to the fore the hospitality of the good people at USM to ideas, divergences, and thought, as they allowed this potentially disastrous event to open a new register to the performance: that of the conversation, relationship even, between two different media, between speech and writing. 

Attendees included: Professor Dr Narimah Samat, Dean of the School of Humanities; Dr Aiza Maslan, Head of the Department of Philosophy and Civilization Studies, alongside her colleagues Associate Professor Dr Lok Chong Hoe, and Dr Peter Gan; Dr Johan Awang Othman of the Music Department; alongside students and lecturers from the Fine Arts Department in the School of the Arts. 

Following the performance, there was a meeting with Dr Baki and Dr Gan during which future collaborative possibilities between the School of Humanities and Tembusu College were discussed.


The painting in the highlights section is entitled ‘Valium Sky’ by Ruben Pang.

[with thanks and much appreciation to Mr Steward Rickyues Mingat for the kind permission to feature his photographs]

The Tembusu (Fagraea fragrans) is a large evergreen tree in the family Gentianaceae. It is native to Southeast Asia. Its trunk is dark brown, with deeply fissured bark, looking somewhat like a bittergourd. It grows in an irregular shape from 10 to 25m high. Its leaves are light green and oval in shape. Its yellowish flowers have a distinct fragrance and the fruits of the tree are bitter tasting red berries, which are eaten by birds and fruit bats.