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CP Open Biennale 2003 : Sophistication that Confuses

Wicaksono Adi
Sunday, September 7, 2003

The CP Open Biennale 2003 (September 4-October 3, 2003) at the Indonesian National Gallery, Jakarta, could be said to be a part of the efforts to feel out just how extensively modern art in Indonesia can be assumed to have developed within its own context, opening up various possibilities in relation to ideas (in various international events) that are believed to be the basis for a paradigmatic shift toward cultural conditions that are represented through claims of post-modernity, so that, specifically, they can be utilized as an adequate jumping off place for further efforts at theorizing about them in a more reasonable manner. Thus, here, it is not too surprising if one would be immediately reminded of the hackneyed jargon that has been set forth far too often: that art in Indonesia in its most recent developments -- wherever it originates from, even though, as it turns out, it is centered at the two strongest academies (the Bandung Institute of Technology [ITB] and the Indonesian Institute of Art in Yogyakarta [ISI]), -- demands inter-textual threshold reading.

It is imagined, art in Indonesia embraces simultaneously the paradoxes of pluralism, localism-internationalism, differentiation-distinction, center-margin, political identity, mimicry, the naivetŽ of the poor with inferiority complexes toward the idea of the freedom of the global world, the reinterpretation of history, and the Goddess Minerva who flies blindly beneath the dark sky of the dusk of modernity, whose form is not clear, but can be felt directly. Within this pot there is a broken body, ailing and nauseous, sometimes faint, sometimes comatose, stammering and impotent, along with a shaky ontology and epistemology, and alienation, as well as the half-hearted throwing of the existentialist dice. Even the way of speaking of some is self conscious, only partially articulate, copying from this Ð copying from that, over-intellectual and pseudo analytical, while others lose orientation, with some taking on the attitude of a pistol happy cowboy on a shooting spree.

This is all mixed up with misguided desire in a game of confidence and anxiety in the face of all the possibilities of the ideas dangling in the sky of the international art world. And within this game, as is going on in third countries, they seem to not ever have become imprisoned in the turmoil of history with all of the paradigmatic trauma going on in the background. It is as if the modern art that exists far from it place of origin takes on the attitude, Òjust be free, as if I care. You donÕt have anything to do with me.Ó The art world would then be much like the American territory that had not been burdened with those various antagonistic histories to the European immigrants; a place where democracy is celebrated even though the black man is still spit upon and hidden among the debris of a history which has been abandoned by the Goddess Minerva wearing blue jeans with a Coca Cola in her hand.

Thus, this kind of theorizing about art must be built on top of the altar of its own paradigm. A within the context of Indonesia, Jim Supangkat is the prophet who is industriously importing a holy book to be used for preaching at the sheep, who are predominantly illiterate farmers dressed in tattered clothing, which is probably made from copying the rags of the fabric of modernism.

With ever increasing enthusiasm, this glorious prophet has begun cooperatively lugging in rough stones, while developing political knowledge in order to take part in the massive project of building a house of discourse to compete with the Euro-American centrism (which has already collapsed), along with colleagues from his Asia-Pacific neighbors. He has also made an official stamp to legitimize his campaign through the international curatorial network, and even exhibitions and competitions of the ilk of the Philip Morris Art Award.

The enthusiasm of the sheep and the their prophet continues to whirl around us: the prophet consistently seeking the most appropriate way to design the foundation for the discoursing which will connect with the themes of his colleagues, while the sheep are crashing into and internalizing the ideas offered by the prophet even though these concepts often have no direct relationship to their experience culturally. The ideas of the prophet are sometimes too lofty so that they are frequently not understood by the sheep. Some of the sheep do successfully internalize these concepts into their creative work, while some others are forced to simply posture in front of the mirror in order to appear cutting edge, intellectual, and articulate. Those parties who fail to internalize all of this end up producing over-intellectualized works that do not heed the context, and if this runs up against a wall, they are forced to cover up with the declaration that: "Well, this is certainly the contemporary, so what is the matter with it anyway?Ó

So, if you visit that space, be ready to act sophisticated and to over-intellectualize concerning the thinking, but not the experience. You are being asked to observe the ideas, not the forms when the ideas are questioned within the visual experience. The energy of the sheep is indeed impressive, so that this over-intellectualization even begins to appear more and more reasonable. Something that was previously not understood, in their hands, becomes more familiar and so seemingly close to the current/ongoing sociological and even epistemological experience. However, a certain points one will witness how extensively this sophistication has become a procedure and not substance. One will be impressed by their ability to ÒanalyzeÓ but not to ÒpresentÓ ideas/concepts.

But one can only wonder whether entering and approaching an altar such as this can be done with the problems that are apparently becoming transcendent: between theory and practice? WouldnÕt it be more pleasant if we just returned to the contexts of the texts, which the sheep are so intent on and active about internalizing? Why is it so necessary for us to have to theorize, and unwrap such a thick description, just to take some inspiration from interpretive anthropology? WouldnÕt it be better if the strategy of reading texts were simply initiated from what is apparent, and not from the basis of what is desired?

However that may be, what we need to remember is that the result of the prophetÕs overwhelming enthusiasm/passion is that the sheep have been induced to leave their pen. Many artists have lost their sense of perseverance in the effort to elaborate on the texts that are close to them. In Yogyakarta, a lot of the artists have lost interest in persevering with modest/simple themes that are directly related to their practical grounding in their own epistemology because they are worried that they will be considered to be lacking intellectually, or to be unsophisticated.

Thus, this hysteria of ideas/concepts has at the very least given rise to two risks. The first risk is the critics, who tend to undertake such sophisticated readings that they overlook what is referred to as ÒTasteÓ within the limits of interpretation. The second is the loss of sensitivity of artists toward context. The first risk is caused by the overwhelmingly massive spirit/enthusiasm for theorizing, while the second is a result of the loss of faith in the texts that have been internalized naturally.

Efforts to build a paradigmatic altar are, indeed, important, but if the text is cleared of and becomes devoid of its context, the distance between the experience of the discourse and the praxis of the prophet will only become much wider. The prophet is moving ahead, way out in front, while the sheep donÕt care about the distinction. The hysteria of ideas has plunged the sheep into a play of concepts, but not into the process relating to how these ideas can be tested and internalized within a text based in their partial experience. In other words, this huge project of discoursing, and also the search for an Indonesian art paradigm being pioneered by Jim Supangkat seems to contain still another risk, that being the reduction in the awareness among the artists and the critics of the distance between theorizing and praxis/practice.

So it would really be nice if Jim Supangkat would be patient and not so tensely enthusiastic about this effort. You cannot dream alone. A battalion of theorists would be required to build that altar. And let the artists be to work with their own experiences, without having to be provoked to plunge into this hysteria of ideas and not into the hysteria of text instead. What is more important is how to start an effort to understand the contexts of the texts that have been internalized within praxis/practice.

Specifically in relation to this CP Open Biennale, it is truly a shame that the forceful inclusion of names such as ES Edos, Gede Mahendra, Heru Susilo, Irman Rahman (replaceable with Dipo Andy), Sasya Tranggono, Toto Kamdani, Agus & Nia Ismoyo, and Sartono, all of whose artworks are not significant to this event, has, in fact, only add to the numbers. Also, it is a shame that there has occurred a disappearance of names like Made Wianta, Nyoman Erawan, Nyoman Masriadi, Moelyono, Agung Kurniawan, Hedi Haryanto, Sutjipto Adi, Hendro Suseno, Ugo Untoro, Isa Perkasa, and Dolorosa Sinaga (whose presence would have more fully completed the representation of female sculptors rather than just Altje Ully).

While it seems that we cannot hope much from the artists such as Nyoman Nuarta, AD Pirous, F Widayanto, Setiawan Sabana, Hendrawan Riyanto, and even Dadang Christanto, who have put in very disappointing appearances in this exhibition, to the point that they seem to have become totally anemic. But, never mind, an event of this massive a scale always carries its own stench, which is, in fact, a result of the ambition to be great.