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Studio DL – behind the scenes & the making of Resonance

It started with a phone call from Think City. The person on the line was Jia Ping, an old friend, and she was wondering if we could help her with a wall. Only it wasn’t any old wall but a very long one in the Masjid Jamek station. Not knowing what to expect, we said, “Yes” and was immediately ambushed by an army of projects from other clients.

Two months later, we finally found the time to visit this very long wall. It turned out to be 342 feet long, and Jia Ping wanted to fill it with pictures of Kuala Lumpur. Among us, we had quite a few photographs, shot during our spare time. But they were all over the place and lacked a common theme. “Let’s sleep on it,” said David, boss of StudioDL. “Hopefully one of us will wake up with an idea.”

Now if there’s one word to describe Kuala Lumpur, it would be this: Resilient. The city began as a few houses at the confluence of Sungai Gombak and Sungai Klang. Merchants, Miners, and Muslim holy men poured in and called it their home. They survived fires, floods, gang fights, pestilence, war and more, while building what would eventually become the nation’s capital.

Resilience could be captured in many ways, depending on one’s worldview. Instead, the question we asked ourselves was, “Why?” Why does KL keep bouncing back? How does it do that? Like a giant Timex, it takes a licking and keeps on ticking. We picked up our cameras. We put down our inhibitions. We didn’t have to look for inspiration. The city itself is an inspiration.

As we walked from shop to shop, street to street, we felt a kind of energy. It was as if the city itself was a huge living, breathing organism. The people were like hairs standing on end. The trees swaying to an indiscernible beat. Ok, so we can’t quite put it in words but were determined to capture it in pictures.

Back at the studio, we looked at the 1000s of shots we had taken. We would be lucky if there were at least 10 good ones. David wasn’t looking for an ordinary photo of something extraordinary. Instead, he wanted an extraordinary photo of something ordinary. There were many well composed shots in the second set. But good composition alone won’t cut it. A great photograph needs soul.

The shortlisted work was spread out on the floor. Something was missing. A sense of rhythm and movement, perhaps? We called Aswara (formerly known as Academi Seni Negara), and asked if we could ‘borrow’ their dancers. There are four elements- earth, water, wind, and fire- could they interpret and personify each element? Joseph Gonzales, Aswara’s Head of Dance, said his people could do it in their sleep.

The dancers arrived at our studio. Space. Time. Weight. Flow. With these four factors, they re-created the four elements. And just like that, the dancers faded into the background. All that was left was the dance itself. We closed our ears and listened with our heart. Each movement became a word. Each dance a poem. Every line and stanza was reverentially captured on camera.

Next, we juxtaposed the dance onto images of the city. Two contrasting feels in the same picture. Like different voices singing the same song. Sometimes in tune, sometimes off. Kuala Lumpur, we like to think, is the same. Held together by all kinds of perfectly imperfect relationships. It’s what makes the city beautiful, what makes the city our home.

We selected the final shots and stitched it together on computer. It’s a very long wall, remember? You can see in greater detail how the whole thing was made- from briefing to final product- in the video below. The work is up at Masjid Jamek LRT station until July 31, 2106. Please drop by when you have the time. We hope you like what you see.