Sunday, 10 June 2012

Maps, Reimagined (2).

Esai untuk pameran ini, dalam Bahasa Inggris. 
If young artists in Jakarta may be categorised according to their distinct characteristics, then we will find a group with the following traits: possessing formal education qualifications in non-art fields, and divide their time by being in the artworld as well as in the world of industry (in especially the creative areas) where they work as professionals. In Jakarta, this position has a unique higher education background, where due to the lack of adequate fine art courses (unlike in Bandung or Jogjakarta, for example), thousands of prospective university students each year enrol in programmes such as Visual Communication Design, Graphic Design, or the like, that are available to them. For them, these programmes are the only means by which they are able to explore their interest in art, within a higher education setting. With all the opportunities it brings, this educational strategy also carries with it an important limitation: unlike art programmes, these courses prepare their graduates to become specialised agents for the creative industry, where the cultivation of creativity always encounters factors such as client’s wants and target markets.

Both of these worlds – the worlds of art and industry – have close affinities to one another and could no longer be separated by fixed boundaries: all the artists involved in this exhibition are those with first-hand experience of how the relationship between the two are formed. To them, the positions they hold in these two different worlds undoubtedly create specific anxieties and tensions. Does the artworld provide them with greater creative freedom? If the majority of their time was not spent working on commercial projects, will they still have the discipline to create artworks? Do work methods shaped by the industry influence their habits in making art?

These tensions shape an artist’s sense of cultural identity that appear to be different from those that one may find in other cities in Indonesia that are thought to be art hubs. In a sense, the democratisation of art practices come to be more immediately felt: as it turns out, works of art are not necessarily the products of those with a background in the fine arts. Although there are distinct rigours that one may only acquire through formal education in art, these are no longer considered as an absolute necessity in art-making. Formal art education is not the only foundation upon which the artistic process grows since there are certainly other elements, such as creativity and originality, that an artist possesses despite his formal education.

Working with them, I came to realize that one thing that also stands out is how their involvement in the world of industry also forms distinct attitudes towards art-making itself: old myths about the lonely figure of the artist, who only works based on moods, who is oblivious to deadlines, are replaced by a new awareness about the importance of network and team-work, recognition of how viewers may receive the work, and, to ensure that the work is seen by the public, it is also suggested that an artist may benefit from bearing in mind that the process of creating a work should have a time limitation rather than carrying on indefinitely.

This line of thinking then became the backdrop against which this exhibition was made. When the seed for this exhibition was planted, the majority of the artists – as well as the curator – do not yet know each other well. Unlike an exhibition made by a group of friends within a community, we had the initial challenge of getting over the tricky, awkward first steps that inevitably occured when thirteen people who hardly knew each other decided to work together. Putting together a ‘group’ or ‘community’ was never in the agenda; rather, the aim was to create an initial platform for those who share the same anxiety to continue making artworks, whether individually or collaboratively, in the future. It is important for this exhibition that all the different processes that bring it together stimulate art-making not only in terms of expression or representation, but also in terms of experimentation and provocation.

Thus, this exhibition should not be regarded as the final end-product of a series of discussion that took place between everyone involved, from the artists themselves, to the gallery owners, curator, mentor, and media representatives. Instead, it is perhaps more suitable to consider it as one of the outcomes borne out of an intensive process; how could we not, considering the fruits of the other seeds that were planted at the same time may only be properly observed in the time yet to come.

During the making of this exhibition, I was advised – somewhat wisely – to try and formulate what is hoped to be achieved by this exhibition. This then led me to an array for further questions, such as, what, essentially, makes for a ‘good’ exhibition? Is it enough for it to contain ‘good works’, whatever that may mean? Even if the works were considered to be good, but are not involved in a larger discourse through engaging in wider discussions, are we still able to think of it so highly? This is an important question to ask, for it is directly connected to the issue of the ‘use’ or ‘function’ of an exhibition.

In relation to this, what is it that we mean we speak of the ‘value’ of a work: financial or intellectual worth? If all the works in an exhibition are sold, is this then to be considered as an apt indicator for their ‘value’? And in reverse, if we are only concerned with making an exhibition that stimulates the mind, then what function has it served if it has not ensured that the artist involved will have the financial means to create future works? Considering that the factors involved in setting the benchmark for success seem to be endless, here I am trying to define a couple of points that may serve as measuring standards for this particular exhibition.

Besides their similar educational background in non-art areas and their professions in the creative fields, most of the artists here have not exhibited frequently; in one case, there was also one who has not yet made an artwork. Considering these likenesses, then perhaps persistence and progress could be seen as the main benchmarks. That is, in the sense that they will persist working consistently, and develop their artistic potential by engaging themselves in a critical way both with themselves and with their surroundings.

Furthermore, ‘work’ should be understood in terms of making an artwork, which is inevitably different from industry-work. For, even if the industries in which they work are based upon creative paradigms, could not the anxieties they experience – about time, money, and so forth –be thought of as proof that the boundary remains (no matter how thin that they often almost go unnoticed) between art and industry? In short, what we may hope to accomplish by the process involved in making this exhibition are the two aims mentioned above. There is certainly no guarantee that all of they will be reached, and it is only in time that we will be able to see the results.

Maps, Re-imagined.

For this exhibition, the chosen theme had the specific purpose of digging deeper into how each artist negotiates their positions within all the different maps that they are located in in their everyday lives; in relation to the above explanation, for example, are the maps of the art world and the world of industry. In its literal meaning, ‘to map’ is an attempt to represent an area and the relationship between spatial elements that are contained in it, such as territory, routes, roads, the contour of a landscape and so forth. Here, mapping is understood in terms of how one imagines it to be, and the artists are invited to envision their very positions and the different relationships that influence those very positions, in a way that they have never done before.

Generally, these artists began their process of creation by thinking about the negotiations they have to go through in their positions within the variety of maps they are located in, which although intimately linked, nevertheless create specific tensions. This then led them – unexpectedly –  to an unpacking of issues such as ethnic background, urban density, marriage and family life, the role of sounds in our everyday life, and the politics of the creative industry.

In a photo-series entitled Unfamiliar Roots – Walking Banana, Stephanie Yaya Sungkharisma  wraps herself in a banana skin. The skin of a banana represents a terminology she encountered in an English-speaking newspaper during a visit to Shanghai: ‘banana men’, which refers to Chinese descendents who were born and raised in western countries (in especially America). Since western culture – with its stereotype of being ‘white-skinned’ – have become so ingrained in them, they are likened to a banana: white flesh, with a yellow skin. This shows that one of the main problems that Yaya probes into is the idea about cultural identity. As a Chinese descent who was born and raised in Jakarta, how should she position herself in an identity-map that is made up of two wholly difference cultures? For Yaya, the question of “who am I” always brings with it a sense of unease, for the two cultures that are supposedly ‘hers’ in fact feel foreign and unfamiliar.

This was strongly felt during the above-mentioned trip to Shanghai: physically she would easily blend in there, but she remains a tourist without the native tongue nor real knowledge about the local culture. The sentiment that she may never wholly feel at home in any of the two cultural worlds is represented in the photographs by her fragmented body. Although they are not in their correct places, these body parts still remain to be the correct anatomical whole: there are no missing or repeated parts. This reminds us that a person’s identity does not necessarily comprise of parts that ‘fit’ together, but ambiguous fragments that make them unique. These works display a strong understanding of ‘concept’, not only in terms of how it explains the reasoning behind a work, but of ‘concept’ as a battle-field of ideologies and problematics that an artist tries to solve with their work.

Angela Judiyanto maps herself based on the territories that she classifies according to the level of likes and dislikes that she has over things, people and events. Then, the different conditions that influence whatever categorical changes that may have occured are written down in labels and become a sort of ‘field notes’: in a way, the work may be seen as a form of archaeology, where the object under observation is herself. The different samples acquired from the ‘research field’ are then placed inside different jars, to be considered as data and further analyzed. 

Here Angela continues to sharpen her illustration style, this time with the media of acrylic paint on transparent paper. These illustrations are then placed inside jars of various sizes, and the accompanying labels explain why she has chosen the objects. For example in the picture containing Mark Rothko’s painting, Angela explains how she first encountered them during university, and was fascinated by them since the layer upon layer of paint, to her, speaks of feelings and emotions. In the largest jar, Angela painted this current exhibition: by using a jar this size, she explains not only how she likes that the people involved share the same passion, but that she is also satisfied with the work she has made since it is unlike any that she made previously. Since the illustrations inside these jars are small in size, then viewers must stand close to them in order to make them out clearly; as a result, an intimate relationship is built between the work and the viewer, who is now inspecting their delicate details.

If Yaya and Angela explore their own private maps, G.H.O.S.T. – in their work Infantile Substrate – speaks of the creation of a new map when two people – with their own quirks and differences – enter the world of marriage. One thing that strike both Agra and Yesy is how a marriage interweaves the fine threads of different cultures: this textile installation is the concrete form of a complex acculturation between them, where all their different backgrounds melt into a new identity. This manifests itself clearly from the chose materials, composition of different artistic elements, and the various visual analogies that make up this work.

Agra works as a graphic designer where as Yesy is a graduate from a Textile Craft program (Institut Teknologi Bandung). In this work they have used ready-made ulos fabric (Yesy comes from a Batak lineage), which is hung like a canopy to represent the procession ceremony of their wedding. This fabric is then embroidered with with an array of symbolic objects: one of them is wahyu temurun, placed the fabric’s front part. Here, wahyu temurun does not simply represents Agra’s Javanese culture. Because they have changed the colour from its traditional brown to bright pink and embroidered it onto ulos, the wahyu temurun then stands for their identity as a couple. At the end of the fabric, a traditional Javanese men’s jacket (beskap) is put up, still unfinished, just as their own journey as a young married couple is also still far from being finished. Graphic forms could be seen from the halo and its rays of light, as well as the Sacred Heart, behind and on the chest of the beskap, that signify the holy union of a marriage. The installation of this work, hung from above and made to look as if suspended in mid-air, make it appear grand and majestic.

In their works, both Natasha Tontey and Dibyokusumo Hadipamenang take up the theme of mapping in terms of the politics of the creative industry: Tontey is part of the creative team of a design company, and Dibyo is a freelance producer who often creates commercial videos. In her work, Tontey tells us of the sense of disproportion she feels between the desire to create artworks and the responsibility she carries in the world of industry. Tontey feels that the relationship between the two world so easily gets heavier on one side – in her case the industry side – and this lopsidedness often comes with a sense of hopes and fantasies disappearing into thin air. Dreams that used to encourage are now melting; as a whole, this work can be seen as an expression to the feeling of helplesly sinking into the world of workplace responsibility that restrict her every move.

Tontey continues exploring the media that she has used previously, which are mass-produced found objects that are made up of plastic. Tontey found that the store-bought dolls, that burnt when lit by a fire torch, do not give her the melting shape and colour that she desires. Thus, she had to create new dolls made up of silicone and wax based on the dolls she already has. These newly-made dolls are then glued onto an iron table, before covered in resin and painted the shade of the artificial skin colour usually found on those factory-produced dolls. All of the dolls’ body parts are mutilated, broken up only to be put back together in their unnatural places: on the surface of the table, pieces of their faces, heads, eyes, limbs, are arranged in a scattered composition. The work may be put within the tradition of Surrealism, where the juxtaposition between childishness and absurdity creates an eerie poetic quality.

In his video entitled Bias, Dibyokusumo presents a satire of an art world that continues to be industrialized, where all interests inevitably refer to commodification and the search for capital. The main theme of this video is a chess-game of all the different types of systems – in which the creative industry and art practices are only two examples – that he feels are taking over globally. It underlines how a person involved in these two worlds is required to devise cunning strategies for their every maneuver. For Dibyo, these two worlds inhabit the same map, where a move made by one side will trigger a feedback from the other.

According to Dibyo, the collapse between the world of art and the world of industry may be seen clearly in how artworks are reduced to mere commodity. The rampant commodification of the artwork, in several scenes, are symbolised by red dots. These red dots continue to emerge, just like the desire to accummulate capital continue to haunt one’s every action. However, the fact that art continues to be industrialised need not breed a sense of pessimism. When these two worlds are no longer considered as oppositions, then one will be able to cope with whatever differences (working methods, idealisms, and so forth) in a positive manner. As Dibyo believes, in this map there is no longer friend or foe; all are interconnected in the same, and all have the same opportunity to deal with it optimistically.

The attempt to map is the attempt to represent specific spatial experiences. In some of the works displayed here, the urban experience become the central theme. Caves’ work – a collaboration between Mahesa and Niken – called Sara Bara Club, reconstruct the experiences they have gained from living in different cities, that have now sedimented onto their memories and continue to shape their everyday habits. Metropolitan cities are strongly associated by the extreme overlaps of various physical (colours, textures, lights, scales, and so forth) and non-physical (digital technologies, ethnic diversity, gender issues, socio-economic gaps, and so forth) elements within an increasingly dense space. This atmosphere is here recreated in a space of 2,7 x 2,3 x 1,7 meters.

Inside this space, the high contrast that define urban spaces (in especially, in their opinion, Jakarta) are simulated by layer upon layer of torn pieces of paper of various types and colour. In most parts, they are made up of Mahesa and Niken’s own illustrations; in a sense, these illustrations are archives of their artistic development. The spatial texture produced by plastic and neon colours, alongside the audio-visual experience from the video work, bring the urban experience so often characterised by a bombardment of stimuli, into this instalation space. When we find ourselves inside this space, can we truthfully say that we are not in the least bit reminded of the dizzying buzz of metropolitan cities?

Our dependency on what we see frequently lead us to forgetting that those stimuli are also digested by our other bodily senses. The sound instalation that Jonathan Kusuma creates – a musician and graphic designer – reminds us that mapping is a thoroughly embodied act. When we say ‘embodied act’, the bodily senses that dominate are considered to be the eyes: this is the ‘ocularcentrism’ that has colonised the way we experience our surrounding world. By manipulating the meeting room of a gallery through sounds, Jonathan beckons us into becoming more aware of the role that sound has in our everyday experiences. Here, he used welcoming bells that we encounter in small shops or ‘mini-marts’. By using a group of the same bells, Jonathan is referring to a relatively recent cultural phenomenon in Jakarta: the mushrooming of mini marts all over the city. He had purposefully chosen one type of bell to emphasize the very homogeneity of the generic stores. The bells are then arranged according to previously designed compositional scheme: as a result, the audience do not only undergo a specifically composed experience of the sounds of everyday life, but are able to create a musical experience from their interaction.

There is a common idea shared by Jonathan print and sound works: that a person, in whatever position they occupy, does not stop creating relations with other things, objects amd people. In his digital illustrations, this is apparent in the lines that connect the circular shapes. Here, the idea of ‘relations’ are elaborated on in three ways. First, how relations are made up of things we can and cannot see; second, relations as branches, going to different directions, from the a single point or position; and third, how one position breeds branches that are interlinked with one another. I personally feel that they somehow accurately depict the relations that I have with my surroundings.

The idea of ‘maps’ and ‘urban experience’ is also discussed by Andyani Dewi’s works. In her photo series, Dewi photographed models that were constructed using a variety of found objects. The childlike images created here were inspired by her own experience of being a young mother: from leaving behind old habits, to forming new routines based on her responsibility to her child, to juggling different challenges in order to obtain a comfortable position of child-caring, doing day-jobs, and making artworks. To her, an unexpected outcome of this process was they way it shapes her perspective as an artist: the ability to appreciate things that may appear simple and banal, and understanding that they already have an inherent complexity that are waiting to be explored.

It is clearly visible how these photographs represent the various problems that are specific to the city: wild traffic jams, untended piles of garbage, seasonal floods. However, here these photos are given ingenious, whimsical twists. If only we could so easily move to the clouds, as the koala is doing out of contempt for his city. And imagine how absurd our cities would be, if the heavy traffic that entrap us everyday were caused by a panda and a bear that are locked in embrace. The initial idea of imagining maps have brought Dewi to re-imagining her surrounding environment; despite their childlike appearance, these photographs are strong visual representations of the realities of the city she lives in.

Unlike the works I have described above, Ika Putranto and Isha Henning specifically speak of parts of the map as a concept: Ika takes up the theme of ‘borders’ in Through the Looking Glass, whereas Isha consideres the idea of ‘navigation’ in The Vessel. Ika began her thinking process by creating an analogy that an artwork is a map made up of different territories: imagination, memories, desires, anxieties, and so on. She then questioned the attributes of the borders that separate each territory, and came to the conclusion that not all borders are everlasting and permanent. Instead, there are borders that are permeable and may easily be cut through. Borders do not necessarily restrict, but may act as something that must be passed through in order for change to happen.

The animal objects she has chosen (made of wood) are visual representations of fables. In order to represent her ideas on borders, Ika used a glass structure. Within this composition, it is as if each animal cuts through piece over piece of glass, and the changes that they go through are clearly visible from the striking illustrations. From one side these animals appear relatively normal since they have all been painted in the same style, but this is no longer the case when we change our position and see the odd mixture of painting styles on these animals’ body parts. This illustrates Ika’s interest in the complexity of perception, where one’s understanding about things and events in the world easily shifts according to a change in their positions and perspectives. The sheer size of this sculpture - 2,7 x 1,5 x 2m  - creates a mood that is both charming and bizarre, since the viewers are almost dwarfed by the row of a flamingo, a dodo bird, a deer and a red rabbit.

For her video’s execution, Isha departed from the idea of using Tetris, a video-game that was popular in the 80s, where players had to map up the given ‘tiles’ in order to win. Isha chose Tetris out of nostalgic reasons. For her, nostalgia plays a strong part in shaping a person’s identity: unlike the literal meaning of nostalgia for a ‘longing for the home’, nostalgia is here understood as a longing for things that are not so easily described. Nostalgia, for Isha, is a concept that cannot be adequately explained in words, but must be experienced.

All maps contain directions and routes: attempts to plot these routes may roughly be defined as navigation. This is an idea that Isha explores in this work. At the beginning of the work, we are presented with a spaceship made up of Tetris tiles, which is taking itself apart; afterwards, they gradually reconstruct themselves to create a sailboat. This happens simultaneously as the landscape from the sides of the screen takes over the background, so that we end up with an absorbing experience of the sailboat journeying over the changing sceneries. Here, the routes taken by the sail boat represent her current personal directions. Whereas as a spaceship appears grand but is removed from reality, in a simple sailboat that moves slowy, Isha imagines herself to be closer to the world that surrounds her and more open to appreciate whatever adventure she may come across.


The eleven works displayed here, in their own peculiar ways, together took apart a central theme in order to construct new ideas about things that we may have become so accustomed with that they so nearly become overlooked. I have found that these works concretely show that all the different aspects of the creation process – the early experimentation from which the seed of an idea comes about, interaction with other people and the surrounding environment, further exploration about thoughts as well as media, struggles in execution or other obstacles that may be encountered – are no less significant than the final work itself; it is not such a farfetched contention, to claim that this process may be the essential foundation for the strength of a work.

I hope that I am speaking for at least most of the people involved here in stating that by engaging in the long and often difficult process of critical discussion, dialogue and debate, then we are moving towards discourse-making in a real sense. I personally feel that continuity – for each of the artist as well as this exhibition as an activity – is one of the biggest hurdles that we will encounter. After continuity, another test that we must pass concerns the notion of perseverance: how a person relentlessly pushes themselves in working in order to go beyond previously-laid benchmarks, should not be considered as an easy challenge.  Having said this, I am sure I am not alone in thinking that all of these aims may certainly not be fulfilled instantly; figuratively speaking, I often liken this exhibition with a seed that needs to be consistently nurtured and cultivated if we are to reap the desired results.

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