In memory everything seems to happen to music
Tennessee Williams

In Arrangements, Mark Tan presents over 80 prints and drawings produced in the UK and Malaysia between 2013 to 2017 that take memory, time and place as entry points into the artistic process. By juxtaposing photography, precise geometries, and expressive abstractions, his various configurations become sensory fragments that investigate the methodologies of mark-making. The psychological spaces of memory as a site of constant flux are then used as a trigger for Tan’s practice.

Tan studied Drawing and Applied Arts at the University of The West of England in Bristol. During this time, printmaking became one of the many skills added to his multidisciplinary practice. The processes of printmaking and drawing reflect how memory is captured; firstly how it is immortalised into a photographic record, then abstracted and transferred onto a printing plate, and finally imprinted onto paper. This also embraces elements of chance which affect and alter the image, comparative to how changing and fading memories create new realities of how we interpret ourselves and those around us. What results is an intended tension between Tan’s quest for perfection and the inconsistent outcomes of his chosen medium.

Anchoring the start of Arrangements are images of two symmetrically composed landscapes taken of a reservoir in a forest the artist used to visit when he was younger. These stereotypical scenes of the fertile Malaysian landscape quickly stretch and blur as Tan’s visions are sliced, unravelled and refocused. Tan recomposes esoteric abstractions of these landscapes occasionally laced with ambiguous clues, through a rhythmic sequencing that acts as a cacophony of sights, sounds, smell, touch and taste framed through photography, drawing and printmaking. This process of deconstruction, whereby the meaning of an image is reduced to its fundamental form and shape, is Tan’s intersection between artistic concept and a multidisciplinary, multilayered approach to art-making. This results in 15 variations of the same image, consisting of hard lines and geometric forms erased or cut out from distinct landscapes, that mark the beginning of the exhibition. Tan then moves on to various kinds of prints such as etching, lithography and silkscreen that are further modulated through cropping, collage, repetition, and multiple overlays. Simultaneously, an expressive body of drawings and paintings is produced, that also takes the initial landscape photograph as its starting point. Exploring the potential of reproduction and scale, these various geometric shapes, cut-outs, gestural markings, shadows, textures and photographic splinters act as a personal mapping of the mind as it surveys, analyses and selects information to remember. Subsequently, in Urban Form and Grids and Forms Make Us Transform (GFMUT), a renewed understanding and deft application of techniques are depicted through more simplified and concise arrangements — a series comprising of overlaid geometrical and organically bold, diaphanous and solid forms.

The title of the exhibition pays homage to the musical process of the same name, where compositional variety is created by paraphrasing or ‘rearranging’ different melodies within a piece of music. The sheer volume of work could suggest a type of score, perhaps the legacy of years spent playing the piano and cello during his childhood. Here the evocative qualities of music surface and morph into an alternative visual system for expressing thought, where each work has the potential to be a reimagined note, clef, rest or movement. Therefore, although Arrangements is inspired by places in Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia, it is not a landscape show. The exhibition instead shares the visual energies of memory as mark-making. Tan’s monochromatic images suggest flashbacks to the past whilst simultaneously referencing the black and white clarity of text on a page. These shapes and particularities are Mark Tan’s mind at work — the true subject of the exhibition itself. A quiet introspection of how he relates to his environment expressed across fragments of thought, ever changing and shifting. One minute filled with clarity and confidence, and the next deconstructed and hazy like perception itself, a different understanding every day. But only the artist can decipher the intense concentrations of energy that his black shapes, tangled lines, textured scratchings and inky portals emit. Arrangements is rather a reflection of a disciplined student who practises on a daily basis, subconsciously shaping and sharpening his instincts in creative processes that pivot around the search for perfection. Lost in these dark voids and empty spaces, viewers are encouraged to simply enjoy the mysteries of this romanticised body of research, as a personal geography of space and time, memories old and new.

Introduction by Eva McGovern-Basa


Eva McGovern-Basa is an independent curator and writer based in Metro Manila. She writes widely on Southeast Asian art, with a recent focus on contemporary practice in the Philippines.