Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
‘Still Building’ is an exhibition at Selasar Sunaryo Art Space, Bandung, showing contemporary art from Singapore, 27 May – 15 June 2012.
Still Building – Jason Wee (curator)
The exhibition takes its title from a much-acclaimed play by the Singapore playwright Haresh Sharma of the same name. In it, Sharma writes of Singapore as ‘a dangerously peaceful country’, a country that touts the ways its highly engineered development takes place through ordered urbanization and rapid capital accumulation. Yet the seeds of this peace have germinated other, more painful affects, its urbanization and ostentatious prosperity creating fatalism, resentment and melancholy in their wake.
Through the works of twenty artists, Still Building suggests that this island country remains a knotty conundrum. For all its slick sophistication, the city remains in many ways a place and a culture that is under construction. While the official state narrative of how the country is shaped remains a pervasive influence, these artists have shown how urbanity is lived differently, that the social life of the city takes flight on paths the country cannot plan for.
Some of these artists - Frayn Yong, Tay Wei Leng, Hong Sek Chern, among them - explore the way the city is built and is still building, how its public housing programmes shape the visual representation of the city. Others such as Patrick Storey and Hazel Lim examine the marginal spaces in the city that escape the reach of city planning. Our highly acclaimed cinematic artists, Charles Lim, Tan Pin Pin, and Royston Tan, take us along neglected infrastructures such as our canals and waterways, as well as places haunted by the ghosts of our past.
Others such as Godwin Koay, Heman Chong and Lucy Davis, look at Singapore within a network of other cities, and see how, far from an isolated red dot, it is enmeshed within a complex matrix of cross-border relationships. The exhibition Still Building will show how the story of urban life and urbanity in Singapore is one that is excitingly still under development, one that can still be told in a myriad different ways.
Image: Geraldine Kang, ‘Snow Burial’ (Giclée print, Crane Museo Silver Rag, 43x56cm, 2012)
Tuesday, May 22, 2012
“The real difference between art and science lies in the specific form in which they, in a totally different way, provide us with the same object: art in the form of ‘seeing’, ‘perceiving’ or ‘feeling’, science in the form of knowledge […]. [T]he special character of art is that it makes us perceive something […] that alludes to reality.”
Remembering Silence - an exhibition by Dadang Christanto, curated by Agung Jennong, at Yuz Museum, Jakarta, 24 May - 24 August 2012.
Monday, May 21, 2012
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
One curator told me that he doesn’t attend openings anymore because he is bored. Another curator said he sees his job more and more as being a clerk. An art manager told me that she is exhausted because of complaining artists and demanding collectors. More and more artists feel cynical about the art market and the roles collectors, gallery owners and curators play. Recent news of art sales certainly doesn’t help:
Andy Warhol’s ‘Double Elvis’ sold for 37 million US dollar;
Roy Lichtenstein’s ‘Sleeping Girl’ sold for almost 45 million US dollar;
Mark Rothko’s ‘Orange, Red, Yellow’ sold for 86,9 million US dollar;
and Edvard Munch’s ‘Scream’ sold for 119,9 million US dollar.
We go into art because we feel passionate about it, but as soon as it becomes a career – since when has art become a career path? – boredom and cynicism lurk around dark corners. If originality, creativity, vision, and consistency are only market(ing) assets, passion goes out of the window very quickly.
Saturday, May 12, 2012
Thursday, May 10, 2012
In a previous post I listed art organizations in Indonesia, here is a list of blogs and websites by artists and other individuals in Indonesia (this list is, of course, far from complete, send me an email for missing links):
Albert Yonathan - http://albertyonathan.blogspot.com/
Agus Suwage - http://www.agusuwage.com/
Farah Wardani - http://farahwawah.tumblr.com/
Marco Kusumawijaya - http://mkusumawijaya.wordpress.com/
Yuki Agriardi - http://www.agriardi.com/
Budi Adi Nugroho - http://budiadinugroho.blogspot.com/
Dita Gambiro - http://ditagam.carbonmade.com/
Duta Hardono - http://hasanapress.org/
Edo - http://edoandedo.com/
Erika and Erik - http://erikunderika.com/
Faisal Habibi - http://www.faisalhabibi.com/
Fauzy Prasetya - http://fauzyprasetya.blogspot.com/
Pramuhendra - http://pramuhendra.com/
Gustaff Iskandar - http://gstff.wordpress.com/
Muhammad Akbar - http://killtheafternoon.blogspot.co.uk/
Nuri Fatima - http://www.nurifatima.com/
Radi Arwinda - http://radiarwinda.com/
R.E. Hartanto (aka Tanto) - http://www.rehartanto.info
Tisa Granicia - http://tisagranicia.blogspot.com/
Tromarama - http://tromarama.blogspot.com/
Yusuf Ismail - http://fluxcup.com/
Eko Nugroho - http://ekonugroho.or.id
Narpati Awangga (aka oomleo) - http://www.oomleo.com/
Cinanti Astria Johansjah - http://keni-johansjah.blogspot.com/
Tommy Aditama Putra - http://www.tommyaditamaputra.blogspot.com/
Anggun Priambodo - http://anggunpriambodo.com/
Papermoon - http://www.papermoonpuppet.com/
Iwan Effendi - http://elieffendi.blogspot.com/
Deden Hendan Durahman - http://www.gegelink.com/
Yudi Yudoyoko - http://yyudoyoko-nudehead.blogspot.com/
Ariani Darmawan - http://arianidarmawan.net/
Wimo Bayang - http://parkiranpikiran.blogspot.com/
FX Harsono - http://www.fxharsono.com/
Mella Jaarsma - http://www.mellajaarsma.com/
Putriani Mulyadi (aka Uci) - http://erosentropictundra.blogspot.com/ and http://kinderlysilly.tumblr.com/
Veronika Kusumaryati - http://provokasikubrick.blogspot.com/
Krisna Murti - http://melsa.net.id/~krisnart
Melati Suryodarmo - http://www.melatisuryodarmo.com/
Davy Linggar - http://www.davylinggar.com/
Wednesday, May 9, 2012
Revealing Identities - Sabina Gillani at Platform3, Bandung (13 May - 10 June).
For my review in the Pocket Arts Guide see here.
Monday, May 7, 2012
See here for more photos by Jim Allen Abel.
The Representation of Visual Illusion
Uniform is an important part of social life where communal ideas are highly valued, such as in Indonesia. In cultural studies, the uniform has become part of a social symbol, exceeding its functional value as clothing. How the uniform is socially signified, one may observe the borders between individual/communal, I/we that is continuously intersecting and dissolving. The art project that Jim Allen Abel has been engaged in the past two years, explores his interest in how the idea of uniform is often used to obscure the existence of individuals and their specific roles in constituting a bigger entity.
Jimbo, that is how Jim Allen Abel is nicknamed, based his art project on his personal background and conversations with his father who was a teacher. As a civil servant, teachers also dissolve their individuality and merge with a greater entity, namely the ‘civil servants corps’ with their distinctive uniform. The conversation with his late father about how the figure of a teacher, especially a history teacher like his father, had given major influences in shaping the social perspectives of students, this brought Jimbo an awareness that reliance to initiatives of individuals who are bounded to a certain entity would not take us very far. Uniform as a representation of teacher, for instance, is required to build a social system that will support the realization of their objectives. At this point, individuality has to deal with bureaucratic procedures— the person often overshadowed by the social system. From this rather simple outset, Jimbo developed his idea by collecting various types of uniforms whose associations have been widely perceived in public. He selects some of the uniforms to highlight certain social groups deemed important in the history of the formation of modern Indonesian society and to represent distinct social groups that are more recognizable to an Indonesian audience.
One of the most interesting historical accounts on the social development of uniform is written by Henk Schulte Nordholt (the Nederlands). His book Outward Appearances describes how the idea of the uniform was introduced as a part of the modern social institution, particularly during the early era of colonialism and the early formation of national identity, where the uniform became a crucial visual symbol.
In Jimbo’s works, we can at least discern seven social groups represented in the self-portrait series in the style of a passport photo. In this series, Jimbo covers the models’ heads and faces with certain objects, drawing the focus of attention to the uniforms, not to the people wearing them. Under the aegis of a uniform, the self being portrayed is overshadowed by the social collective symbolized by the uniform. By covering the heads in the photographs, Jimbo is exposing the subject’s individuality and personality to increasing obscurity within their association with the social meanings of uniform.
In the second photo series, Jimbo takes a step further away from the static concept of self-portrait to action photography. He composes different backgrounds and individual narratives for the subject, enacted by himself, to compliantly respond to a given image of reality. Jimbo is trying to juxtapose the social meaning and association commonly attached to the uniform with something entirely new and different. There is a desire to deconstruct the already established meaning associations and to offer new ones free from existing structures, which require and encourage the audience to construct and form their own meanings. The actions that Jimbo performed while wearing this uniform can be very different from what people may recall most about the profession identified with the uniform.
Jimbo represents the deconstructive actions, among others, by displacing the police, whose image are commonly associated to traffic situations, to the beach, carrying axes and posing acrobatic moves like circus players. Similar actions are also played out by military persona in other images. Just like the self-portrait series, the model’s heads and faces are veiled with foreign objects. By removing the background from its familiar setting, Jimbo tinkers with the idea of displacement in his work. In contemporary photography, displacement as a tactic is often tied to the tendency to emphasize the unusual side of reality, or to accentuate the unfamiliar by manipulating reality to deconstruct established meaning. The use of displacement in Jimbo’s works, by moving from self-portraiture to performative photography, also suggests a non-static impression where we may find many in-between spaces and new possibilities from the visual realities presented.
By moving the location, unconsciously the association of meaning is also shifted. In Jimbo’s works, the shift of uniform’s visual meaning also reflects how association does not have absolute truth. Therefore, the attributes and images attached to the individual wearing a uniform is basically a false image, which refers to the quality or performance of professional or social group rather than the image of one’s individuality. Of course, since it is a part of a social institution, attributes of this kind easily shift its meaning.
In the last series of his works, Jimbo creates an installation that points out something that is specifically found in Yogyakarta. Aside from the phenomenon of uniform as a visual symbol, Jimbo perceives that in Yogyakarta, rear-view mirror is an important commodity in the ‘street’ industry of Yogyakarta. Jimbo presents this installation as a part of his work which is indirectly connected to the issue of uniform and provokes us into a ‘way of seeing’. As a city where motorcycle becomes the dominant vehicle it is relatively easy to find a kiosk selling various types of rear-view mirrors along the street. For Jimbo, the rear-view mirror reminds him to always look back and believe the representation of visual illusion. At the same time, despite its functionality, the rear-view mirrors is often placed simply as trivial accessories. Jimbo plays around with the way we ‘look back’.
What is interesting about the installation titled ‘The Army of Me’ is he gathered a 100 people to be part of this project. He went to public spaces such as train stations, university campuses, and the people he met on the street, he then asked them to wear the military uniform and pose with a gun toy. His statement about this installation is, ‘I want to show people how easy it is to build their own armies, as you can arm them with their own gun and ask them to wear a uniform.’ Each of the one hundred people being photographed were on their own motorcycle, and posed their personal self statements. This proving that the meaning of these military symbols are still dominated by the collective memory of repressive regime from the past.
This process was not easy, gathering 100 people since many of them still think that playing with national sacred symbols, such as a military uniforms, is considered something dangerous. Some people even connect this idea to images of terrorism.
Jim Allen Abel graduated a photography major in the Faculty of Arts of Record Media, Indonesia Institute of Arts Yogyakarta. He is an active member of MES 56 Photography Collective and runs one of its programs, Kantor Berita MES 56 which focuses on expanding information networks and knowledge on photography by covering the latest discourses in photographic studies and practices through regular discussions. The uniform project is one of his individual projects that departs from the collective vision of seeing photography as something that is not only representing reality but is also an attempt to continuously tinker with, manipulate, and problematize the idea of visual reality. In this context, photography becomes a means to perceive everyday life through a critical and analytical lense.
Jim Allen Abel was given opportunity to take part a two-month residency in Korea, where he was involved in a project that ‘forced’ him to work interactively with a public audience. He presented the idea of the Museum of Everyday Life, where he invited people living in the surrounding neighborhood where he was doing his residency to share photos of personal memories and exhibit them as part of the museums collection. This project introduced Jimbo to wider possibilities of becoming involved in more community-based photographic projects in the future. At the same time, during his time in Korea, Jimbo also learned about the development of contemporary art in Korea, as one of the major players in Asia today. The development and the interweaving relations between visual arts and photography seemed to productively inspire Jimbo’s creative process.
Although the uniform series has not developed into an interactive art project, it is carrying the spirit and commitment to explore and maintain certain ideas for a longer period of time while observing its potential development. Jimbo has demonstrated a strong passion for utilizing photography as a learning avenue for understanding social phenomena and looking for ways to represent them through imaginative and aesthetic concepts.
Thursday, May 3, 2012
Glen Loco writes: “You know what? I'm sick of pretending. I went to art school, wrote a dissertation called ‘The Elevation of Art Through Commerce: An Analysis of Charles Saatchi's Approach to the Machinery of Art Production Using Pierre Bourdieu's Theories of Distinction’, have attended art openings at least once a month for the last five years, even fucking purchased pieces of it, but the other night, after attending the opening of the new Tracey Emin retrospective at the Hayward Gallery, I'm finally ready to come out and say it: I just don't think I ‘get’ art.” See here for Loco’s rant against Emin’s work. But why should we ‘get’ art? Senior curator Jim Supangkat from Indonesia defines contemporary art as political – if it isn’t political it isn’t contemporary, he claims – but isn’t contemporary art the intellectual search – Sisyphus-like – for meaning (long given up by philosophers by the way)? And less talented artists and curators assume that this meaning is somehow an essential attribute of the art object, others grab it out of thin air to make art works top heavy and our heads spinning… And see here for how Jerry Stalz is trying to stay sane amongst the cannibalistic tendencies of contemporary art. In 2008, he writes, it “was as if John Travolta’s Pulp Fiction character stabbed the art world in the heart with a giant adrenaline needle! […] But something has been happening of late. Large numbers of disconnected and discontented artists, gallerists and others have taken matters into their own hands, changing the directions of art, its structures and maybe its internal values.”
Wednesday, May 2, 2012
AGUS SUWAGE: CYCLE
After holding his biggest exhibition ever in Indonesia, “Still Crazy After All These Years” (Jogja National Museum, July 5-31, 2009, and Selasar Sunaryo Art Space, October 9 – November 1, 2009), Agus Suwage preoccupied himself mostly with art events and exhibitions abroad. Two significant events that are worthy of note are his exhibition with Filippo Sciascia, “Illuminance” (August 26 – November 14, 2010 at NUS Museum, Singapore, and January 29 – March 4, 2011 at Langgeng Art Foundation, Yogyakarta), and his solo show in New York, “The End Is Just Beginning Is the End” (Tyler Rollins Fine Art, March 3 – April 23, 2011).
Almost all the works that he presented in the two exhibitions deal with the theme of human existence, a theme that he has been working on since 2009, starting with the work An Offering to An Ego (2007-2008). What became increasingly evident in the two exhibitions is the nature of Agus Suwage’s creative work, which engages with one particular theme in an intensive and continuous manner. We have witnessed a similar attribute in his various paintings and installation works in which his self-portrait becomes the main staple—the series of works that the art public in Indonesia and abroad have come to know well, so much so that this character was viewed as a trademark of sorts for Suwage.
Many art observers have often discussed this creative approach of Agus Suwage’s. It might serve us well to revisit the significant issues that Aminudin TH. Siregar has written in one of his reviews about the artist: “Our eyes are being challenged to unravel the mysteries regarding the ‘origins’ of every sign or text that Suwage has constructed in every work or title. The semiotic aspect of Suwage’s works takes us to an ‘eternal chain’ of signifiers which links, elucidates, plays, disagrees, entwines, and builds new structures of meaning from one to the other.”1
As he discusses how Agus Suwage actually often engages in the practice of appropriation, Aminudin TH. Siregar further contends that, “Suwage’s appropriation of his own work is an active process of ‘appropriating appropriation’. Suwage progressively appropriates his previous works to represent them as ‘new’ works although we can often still discern previous ‘meanings’ and familiar elements in their titles.”2
In the introduction that I wrote for the exhibition “Still Crazy After All These Years”, I mention that Agus Suwage’s creative attitude so far—be it about the issues related to the practice of appropriation or how he keeps on piling up layer upon layer of new visual materials that transform the original appearance and meaning—constitutes an aesthetic approach that gives rise to the hyper-pastiche quality of his works, resulting from the act of meta-appropriation.3
I further argue that Agus Suwage’s creative method, in which he often engages in to-and-fro journeys tracing the various paths that he has taken in his own works, constitutes a stance that is equal with the skeptic stance of a scientist who keeps on questioning the different conclusions they have made; the stance that prevents the artist from thinking that he has found the single and absolute “truth”.
Such action might indeed seem excessive as the artist apparently keeps on revisiting, changing, developing one particular work, adding more elements into the work or taking from it. At the same time, however, such action is also reflective in nature; it is a deliberate action, to dare change or improve what had been lacking or “wrong” in the past. That is why we can almost always find self-referential attributes in Agus Suwage’s works, even when he is not presenting them in a series of self-portraits.
The current exhibition, DAUR (CYCLE), presents five of his latest works, which constitute a series that is still related to the previous series of works that he has introduced to us in his previous two exhibitions, “Illuminance” and “The End Is Just Beginning Is the End”. This link, however, exists only with regards to certain elements: some key visual elements and the choice of materials. But, at the same time, we can see that these new works complexly linked to his older works.
Regarding the specific issue of materials, we are now aware that Agus Suwage seems to be moving away from his habit of conveying ideas using paints on canvas. This time, he wants to change and arrange certain materials in order to create an artwork. By transforming the presentation of his works in a fundamental manner, he seems to want to test a range of visual elements and meanings that he has managed to convey using the language of painting.
This time, he smears the surface of his sculpture with graphite powder, and overlays some parts with glittering gold color, in order to acquire a specific color and surface quality in the work. He also uses photography and voice recording as the main element in his work. What is also interesting here is the fact that he uses some materials—corrugated iron sheet and beer bottles—that immediately make us think of recycled used materials.
In terms of the content, apart from continuing the various visual idioms of skulls and human skeletons that he has often used, he shifts the focus of his narrative to issues related to social and political situations around him. This is certainly not a new thing in Agus Suwage’s artistic career. His works at the end of the nineties have revealed such content, in line with the social and political tensions on the eve of the Reformation. Today it seems that Agus Suwage would like to act again as a witness and comment about the many violent acts and authoritarian behaviors to which the intolerant stance of certain groups in Indonesia has given rise.
We would in general agree that this is an urgent matter in the everyday life of the diverse Indonesian nation. We can no longer turn a blind eye to the different conflicts related to the diversity of ethnic groups, traditions, races and religions in Indonesia lately.
As usual with Agus Suwage’s works, however, all of these issues are presented still with touches of humor, mockery, irony and parody—the elements that have so far made up the contents and appearances of his works. This time, for example, he presents a skeleton with golden wings holding a golden sword. The skeleton sits arrogantly over a pyramid constructed out of thousands of empty beer bottles. Considering the title, Monumen yang Menjaga Hankamnas (The Monument that Protects the National Defense and Security), we might speculate about its relation with the stance taken by those who believe that there is a path of violence that they can take in order to protect the nation from everything that God has forbidden (beer, alcohol). Today, however, the guardian is a mere black skeleton, proud with false glory, albeit a gilded one, sitting atop of a monument that is equally false, albeit one that emits blinding green light.
In Tembok Toleransi (The Wall of Tolerance), Agus Suwage uses as his basis his everyday experience of being besieged by muezzins’ calls to prayer from the mosques around his home/studio in Yogyakarta. The call to prayer that should have been beautifully enticing Moslems to pray often turns out to be jolting and deafening, blaring from three, four or five speakers from several nearby mosques at almost the same time, resulting in successive calls reaching to 120-130 dB, 5-10 dB higher than the loudness level in a rock concert that is generally around 115 dB (or 150 dB at the maximum level). Consider also the fact that the sound intensity of 125 dB is enough to cause pain in the ear. Who dares to protest this, though? Everyone in Indonesia is asked to tolerate this. At the end of the day, we develop our tolerance bounded by walls, merely to muffle the deafening sound.
Agus Suwage is indeed spot-on in his observations regarding the irony contained in many everyday occurrences around him. In Ave Maryam, he presents the image of Mother Mary, a figure whose existence and sanctity are acknowledged among Protestants, Catholics and Moslems, with each religion having its own preconception. However, regardless of the fact that the figure is commonly recognized as a “Holy Mother”, this does not mean that tensions or even conflicts can be averted among those who recognize her—her descendants in contemporary time. It should also be mentioned here that the figure of Ave Maryam here is actually Agus Suwage’s self-portrait, with the artist dressing up to mimic the image of Virgin Mary in the classic Catholic iconography. The artist first presented this portrait almost ten years ago, as a part of the work Holy Beer dan kawan-kawan (Holy Beer and Friends, 2003).
Once again, therefore, we witness how Agus Suwage is engaged in the acts of recycling and reusing materials from his past work, while presenting some new and different elements in terms of the content and looks of the work. With the various used and waste materials that he uses, the five works in today’s exhibition of “DAUR” actually assert the key stance in Agus Suwage’s creative process.
The middle section of this catalogue presents a simple diagram—the result of discussions between Agus Suwage and me—revealing the different relationships and how the recycling process takes place, directly or otherwise, in his latest five works.
This diagram does not only show the different relations among the visual signs that he has used and developed so far, but also explains the shifts in the meanings of the works as he changes these works or adds new things to them. We can also see the relations among the works in terms of the materials he uses and the changes in the visual presentations.
In other words, we can say that the relations that have been formed among the works are neither sequential nor chronological. They are actually discursive, occurring in a series of discussions. This is how Agus Suwage reuses and recycles a range of elements in his works so far, and how he mines various possibilities and inventions from his back-and-forth journey—possibilities and inventions that he might very well test and apply on his future works.
Enin Supriyanto — Curator
1 Aminudin TH Siregar, Menimbang Pause/Replay, in the catalogue Pause/Re-Play, 2005, p.9-10.
3 Enin Supriyanto, introduction essay in the catalogue Still Crazy After All These Years, Studio Biru, Yogyakarta, 2009.
Tuesday, May 1, 2012
The director of the Van Abbe Museum, Eindohoven, the Netherlands, Charles Esche says: “So I think for art and for artists, this is a new challenge. How to depict these invisible structures in visual forms? Can we make pictures of the market? Can we make pictures of the religious power? Not necessarily God, but the religious powers and how it operates in society. Can we structure it? How can we give up the avant-garde […]? How can we give that up without simply giving up to the Market and to God? Because that’s in a way what’s happened […]. When people have given up on the avant-garde, they said, what justifies one painting as a good painting, it’s not the future, it’s the fact that it’s sold.”