Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A decade of Selasar Sunaryo: Questioning art(ist)

Features - September 21, 2008

Aminuddin Th Siregar, Contributor, Bandung

The Selasar Sunaryo Art Space (SSAS) in Bandung marked a decade of presence in the country's art scene last week. The anniversary, celebrated in a low-key ceremony, leaves a lingering question: Where is the gallery heading?

SSAS celebrated with an exhibition, "Redefining Art", involving 33 artists and two artist groups as well as the launching of an accompanying monograph, A Decade of Dedication: Ten Years Revisited.

Journalist and author Goenawan Mohammad opened the exhibition on Sept. 5. The schedule of events proceeded informally and peacefully in stark contrast to the SSAS' opening ceremony back in 1998.

The SSAS, founded by veteran artist Sunaryo, was officially established under great emotional tension with a dash of dramatic performance art, for the event was intertwined with the ongoing social and political upheavals of that year. During the opening ceremony, Sunaryo covered all his works set out for display at the gallery, symbolizing his concern for the country's plight, and literally washed his hands as a symbol of his attempts to detach himself from the misery his compatriots faced.

In short, the SSAS has served as a personal arena in which Sunaryo could reflect and express his concern over the country's political and social situation. The SSAS has also become known as the place to showcase images of a vulnerable country where democracy remains a distant dream. At the same time, the gallery offers a response to the country's stalling infrastructure development.

The very same year, 1998, saw a critical, tearful phase for the country as it headed toward a new democracy.

From the current exhibition title, "Redefining Art", it is easy to infer the substance being explored. But it seems this exhibition is also being used to measure how artists comprehend their artistic efforts. Though the exhibition catalogues are full of artists' verbose explanations of what they understand art to be, their lengthy opinions convey nothing but one common problem faced by artists nowadays. How could that happen?

We all know the effect of the current art market -- how art debates on the brink of the most crucial, problematic situation in history, questioning what is art and what is not.

Art critics may say we are too mired in the terminology of art, but this simple question is hard to answer or may never be answered. While artists and some art critics are busy seeking answers, the art market has come up with a modest definition of art. Art is a commodity. That's it.

This distorted view of art then replicates, touching other professions in the art world: curators, critics, collectors, dealers, gallery owners, scholars and even the artists themselves. "Redefining Art" then is a timely reflection to challenge the commoditizing of art and the artists producing it, in the face of artists' eroding commitment to social purpose, thematic innovation, media explorations, experimental works and much more.

Out of dozens of prominent artists taking part in the exhibition, including Agus Suwage, Handiwirman, Heri Dono, Rudi Mantovani, Tisna Sanjaya and Yunizar, it seems only the works of Asmudjo J. Irianto, Sunaryo, the Tromarama group and Yusuf Ismail are outstanding. In his fiberglass and paint Melting, Sunaryo presents a melted white frame whose drippings nearly touch the floor. He is sending a critical message about how the art market works in the country.

Famous for his satirical works, Asmudjo, also widely known as a curator, shows his latest work Alakazam: Seni Rupa Kontemporer!. In this work, a portrait of a mini Asmudjo gazes at a piece of art hanging on a gallery wall. With Alakazam, Asmudjo strikes right to the heart of the problem: art exhibition and its contribution to the people.

Yusuf Ismail's Call Now is an interactive video. The screen offers a phone number. If you call the number, automatically another visual is displayed.

The work is not pretentious, it merely demonstrates how technology can be used in a work of art. But it also reflects the era in which younger artists like Yusuf Ismail live. With new art exploiting digital media, Yusuf, if he is consistent and loyal to what he has been doing, can compensate for the scarcity of artists specializing in this media. While his peers are busy pleasing the art market with their use of conventional media, Yusuf takes new media art seriously and is willing to go the extra mile to explore its beauty.

Tromarama is a group of three artists; Herbert Hans. Febie Babyrose and Ruddy Alexander Hatumena, all graduates of he Bandung Institute of Technology. This group showcases Ting*, created using stop motion animation. Though a low-tech method, the visual results are astonishing. Tromarama plays with hundreds of pieces of ceramic tableware, arranging them so they move and tell stories.

The video is screened on the corner wall of the SSAS, almost in obscurity, but the ingenious placement manages to draw a bigger crowd.

Nevertheless, the exhibition's theme and the works displayed are not well correlated, which means the participating artists did not fully grasp the theme. This is regrettable for the artists missed their chance to propose works that could have pushed the boundaries between art and not-art.

The artists tend to resort to a common medium which has been uncontestedly accepted as art. Many of the works are conceptually staid, offering nothing new. One decade on for SSAS, the gallery has done much, spearheading the country's art scene and advocating discourse on contemporary art here. Alas, its long and provocative presence are celebrated with a distracting desire to define art. On the contrary, I think it is time to define what an artist is -- what role do they take when their compatriots are facing messy political and social dilemmas like today? Let's redefine artists.

The writer is a lecturer at the Faculty of Art and Design, Bandung Institute of Technology

A Decade of Dedication: Ten Years Revisited

Exhibition: 5 Sept - 5 Oct 2008
Selasar Sunaryo Art Space
Jl. Bukit Pakar Timur No 100, Bandung
Email: selasar@bdg.centrin.net.id

taken from thejakartapost

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