Lecturer, Multimedia University, Malaysia
Co-founder, artists collective Studio in Cheras
Director, KLEXFest, Kuala Lumpur Experimental Film and Video Festival
Co-director, Sama-sama Guesthouse Mini Alternative Art Festival 2010 (Malaysia)
Siew-wai Kok is a video artist, voice improviser and independent artist-organizer. She gained her B.A. in Media Study at SUNY Buffalo, New York; and her M.F.A. in Electronic Integrated Arts at Alfred University, USA. Siew Wai has participated in many local and international exhibitions and festivals such as Digital Art & Cultural Festival 2011 (Malaysia), EX!T 2010 Taiwan Experimental Media Art Festival (Taiwan), Kuala Lumpur Contemporary Music Festival 2009, Malaysia-Japan Video Art Exchange 2009/2010 (Malaysia/Japan), Iskandar Malaysia Contemporary Art Show 2009, Choppa Eclectic Improvised Music Festival 2008 (Singapore), International Film Festival Rotterdam 2007 (Netherlands), Les Rencontres Internationales 2007 (France), Beyond/In Western New York Biennial 2005 (USA), 25hrs International Videoart Festival 2003 (Spain) and many more. Siew Wai is the co-founder artists collective Studio in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur (SiCKL), festival director of Kuala Lumpur Experimental Film & Video Festival (KLEX), and co-director of Sama-sama Guesthouse Mini Alternative Art Festival 2010 (Melaka, Malaysia). She is currently teaching at the Faculty of Creative Multimedia, Multimedia University, Malaysia.
Q: What vital experiences at UB / DMS helped shape who you are today?
I studied at UB during 1999-2001 as a transferred student from Malaysia. To be honest, I didn’t know that DMS was such an “artsy” department when I applied. I thought of being a movie director! Accidentally, all the film classes were full so I had to take some video classes. It was in Tony Conrad’s Video Analysis class that I was first introduced to video art/experimental cinema, which was a “shock” initially because it was not what I’d expected about cinema and art. I’d discovered a very unconventional and inspiring teacher-artist in Tony, who has continued to inspire me until this day. I also discovered the works of Maya Deren, who becomes one of my favorite filmmakers. These unexpected exposures and experiences have totally changed my perception of cinema and art, and have opened many doors and possibilities for me. They deeply influenced the artistic journey that I’ve taken thereafter, as a teaching artist, making very personal work in video, sound and sometimes improvised music, and becoming involved in independent art curatorial work.
Q: How would you define Media Study as a graduate of DMS?
From my own experience, I think it’s a very “open” kind of environment with many possibilities, and it’s very supporting to artists, probably because most of the teachers are also very active practicing artists. Instead of trying to “shape” the students into certain categories, it is more like a place that provides an open platform for the students to “discover themselves”, and what really makes sense to them. There is a lot of freedom for what kind of work the students can do. DMS is also quite supportive of the activities of local art organizations, so students get exposure to interesting events outside of the academic setting, which I think, is vital for self-motivated learning.
Q: While at DMS what other programs, departments or regional events / activities did you engage and how did they inform your perspective as a maker?
While at DMS, I worked as an intern at Hallwalls and occasionally a volunteer at Squeaky Wheel. As an intern at Hallwalls, I’d worked with Julie Zando for the “Ways of Being Gay” film festival, which was my first encounter with a gay-themed film festival in my entire life! I’ve also worked at the Artists & Models annual art party that took place at the Broadway Market’s parking lots. In addition, I also got to see a lot of interesting music concerts curated by Steve Baczkowski at Hallwalls, so my first “education” of free jazz and improvised music started here. There were also many smaller screenings and events in town, such as the Open Screening series at Squeaky Wheel, which is a very good platform where I could show my “student video” and gain feedback from non-academic audiences. All of these were invaluable opportunities as I got to meet artists and other people in the field, and got to learn how things work in the “real world”. I’m especially inspired by the open-mindedness and the DIY spirit of the humble scale artists-run organizations and projects – independent, down-to-earth, and most of the time supporting one another instead of competing.