A play of lights
Writer: Sharyn Shufiyan
Published: Fri, 01 Jul 2011
As we turned the corner, bright lights greeted us from a distance. With the dark of the night in the background, shades of red, blue, green and white burst into view. We were entering a neon forest.
At the entrance, we had to pay RM10, although the ticket said RM5. “It’s a weekend,” said the ticket woman. The lights are switched on for the same duration whether on a weekday or weekend, so paying for electricity must not be the reason behind the price hike.
Regardless, there was a queue. It was a busy weekend at i-City. There were a lot of people out and about – families and friends. It was my first time there. The lights were intoxicating, piercing through my pupils, forcing their way into my retinas. But the spectacle left an unconvincing feel on me. The mash-up of colours seemed gaudy, distasteful.
The accompanying figures of a life-size giraffe and Santa Claus complete with his reindeer seemed disjointed and awkward, as if they were just plonked there. There is no specific theme to this light show – is it winter wonderland, is it Africa, is it supposed to be local with the Chinese lanterns?
Yet none of the other visitors seemed unperturbed. They were happily posing and snapping pictures with the LED-infested trees, coloured shadows cast upon their figures. Those with Instagram would have had a blast.
There is a Tourism Malaysia office at the business centre. I wonder if i-City is meant for tourists or locals, but I would think tourists would not be impressed. The only localised displays would be the Chinese lanterns and peacock designs. It would have been great to have a traditional Malay house with the festive lights just to complete the Ali, Ah Chong and Muthu formula. But
instead, the displays were very much foreign.
Tourism Minister Ng Yen Yen believes that the “Snow Walk would be a great tourist-puller, especially those from the Middle East, Asean and South India”. Dubai already has Ski Dubai; just north of India is Nepal, which only houses the highest mountain in the world. And let’s not even talk about Eastern Asia. So who are we really attracting?
To me, i-City seemed utterly pointless. I sarcastically muttered that it was no wonder we want nuclear energy to power such ostentatious displays. i-City is fundamentally kitsch, a worthless and pretentious form of art which largely appeals to the masses. Ouch.
Whitney Rugg wrote that kitsch “tends to mimic the effects produced by real sensory experiences, presenting highly charged imagery, language, or music that triggers an automatic, and therefore unreflective, emotional reaction”.
But then I walked around and saw that people were actually having the time of their lives. It was a night outing, and I, for one, have always encouraged people to spend time outside and make use of public spaces rather than being cooped up in malls. So I bit my tongue.
They didn’t care that Santa Claus appears six months prior to Christmas; they didn’t care that the existence of dinosaurs contradicts their concept of creation; nor were they bothered that a giraffe stole the show rather than our own Malayan tiger.
The displays were just displays for photo ops. It was a smart move: using light as its main attraction, people get to enjoy the night’s cool air so that they actually do want to venture out.
Thomas Kulka wrote: “If works of art were judged democratically – that is, according to how many people like them – kitsch would easily defeat all its competitors.” I don’t know how much the visitors to i-City actually consider the displays a work of art, as it seems that for Malaysians, the concept of “art” is still confined within the walls of the National Art Gallery or Petronas Art Gallery.
There’s no doubt the magic of i-City lies not in its art form, but in its ability to wow us with a play of colours. But it also goes beyond colours; the displays are representations of things beyond our reach.
Blogger Triplets plus One wrote: “[S]ince this was the closest we could get to snow, it was okay I guess.” Perhaps we like to see things we do not have, and unlike the art that hangs in solitude on a cold wall somewhere obscure, the displays at i-City are approachable, warm and friendly, and it doesn’t take much for the public to enjoy them.
Only idiots like me would try to comprehend something that doesn’t need comprehension. And maybe we should also adjust our views on art, that art transcends mere aesthetics. After all, art, as we have come to know it, is largely a Western concept. And the real prized possession, I think, lies in the human bond among the people who visit such places.