‘Medium at Play’ at Gajah Gallery Yogyakarta explores the relationship between artists and their materials, and the potential of medium to implicate wider social and political spheres. Curated by Dr. Wulan Dirgantoro, researcher on transnational feminisms in Indonesian art, and Singapore performance artist Jason Lim, the exhibition weaves together issues of gender and medium in the context of Indonesia, in order to engage viewers with the physicality of material and initiate a conversation on the layered socio-political complexities.
Arahmaiani Feisal, "Burning Country", 1999-2018. Matchsticks and fabric, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of Gajah Gallery Yogyakarta.
While being the first all-female show on Indonesian artists presented by Gajah Gallery, the exhibition prevents from being reductive by focusing on the dimension of materiality. As Jasdeep Sandhu outlined, ‘Medium at Play takes the focus out of idealized, individualistic ideas of "Greatness" and instead sheds light on what has long been treated as backdrop: material, process, and audience.’ The audience are forced to go beyond appreciating the works as simply ‘art by female artists’, and instead examine the subtleties of art-making practice that elucidate their sociopolitical and historical contexts.
Ayu Arista Murti, "A Box of Love", 2018. Acrylic, aluminium, charcoal, plastic, wire, neon wire, neon lamp, box, 30 x 40 x 20 cm per box. Image courtesy of Gajah Gallery Yogyakarta.
The curatorial approach examines ‘medium’ in several dimensions in relation to the context of Indonesia. Firstly, the physicality of material and the perceptive qualities are highlighted throughout the exhibition, giving attention to the fluid relations of control between the artist and materials. Secondly, medium is linked to its social implications, to explore how it can both reflect and transform social norms, allowing repressed voices and perspectives to emerge. And lastly, the curators consider the politics and power involved in choice of material and process of making.
Fika Ria Santika, "Tumpuk Lapis Tampak Batas: Rona (Layers and Exposure: Hue)", 2018. Resin, acrylic sheet, acrylic rod, pigment, flexible LED, stainless steel, 100 x 100 cm. Image courtesy of Gajah Gallery Yogyakarta.
Regarding the first dimension, artists reflect on this key question of ‘What does it mean to give agency to the material, to follow the material and to act with the material?’ Their approaches range from complex and tactile to quiet and subtle, from using trivial materials like plastic and cotton to industrial materials like acrylic and LED lights. Ayu Arista Murti utilizes trivial and everyday objects, such as acrylic, alumunium, charcoal, plastic and wires, and recreates them with popular culture references to achieve a sense of wonderment with childhood. For Fika Ria Santika, she explores the ideas of transparency and light through industrial materials such as acrylic, mirror and LED lightings. In Tumpuk Lapis Tampak Isi (Layers and Exposure), these materials become the sole focus of the artwork instead of taking on a supportive role.
Arahmaiani Feisal, "Concept Trap", 2016. Stitching on fabric, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of Gajah Gallery Yogyakarta.
As female artists in Indonesia make increasing use of traditional craft materials associated with femininity, such as batik-making, embroidery or pottery, they challenge the nature of material and consider its dynamic, evolving qualities. Keeping in mind their function beyond exhibition spaces, their associations with power, the artists investigate diverse mediums, themes, and moods from different localities and time. Concept Trap (2016) by Arahmaiani Feisal, for example, involves pillows embroidered with Indonesian words and Jawi scripts such as ‘Love’, ‘Compassion’ and ‘Wise’, contrasted to ‘Anger’, ‘Hate’ and ‘Ruthless.’ A collaborative work between the artist and Islamic high school female students in Yogyakarta, the raw material of red threads and white cotton ‘invite the observers to relive the ‘feeling’ from the mind’ in the artist’s own words, while forcing viewers to reflect on the association of embroidery and craft with females.
Octora Chan, "The Desired Fiction", 2018. Silkscreen, wood, 111 x 155 x 3 cm. Image courtesy of Gajah Gallery Yogyakarta.
Lastly, in terms of the political nature of materials, artists like Octora Chan make use of politicized media to question historical narratives. The use of photography in Octora Chan’s works serves as an entry point to the unstable ground between image, official narrative of history, and collective memory in Indonesia. She stated that ‘to work with photograph is to work with ongoing historical time ... the position of the artist somehow will contribute in the future of looking this material, which means to intervene the historical gaze.’ This is seen through her work The Desired Fiction, a series of negative portrait on silk screen, which reflects the gaze of early Dutch colonials on Balinese women, and represents how the colonials produce and reproduce the idea of ‘other’ through ethnographic photographs.
Loli Rusman, "Kalipucang vs Kaliurang 1", 2018. Acrylic on canvas, 175 x 150 cm. Image courtesy of Gajah Gallery Yogyakarta.
‘Medium at Play’ is overall a progressive exhibition that challenges medium as a ‘marker of gender identity’, based on the Indonesian socio-political context. Ultimately, we cannot escape confronting the issue of whether material and medium are linked to gender identity. There is no definite answer of whether contemporary art has blurred the distinction between male and female medium, what is certain is that the awareness and conscious effort to subvert established notions is a step forward in redefining traditional and contemporary media.
Click here for more information regarding the exhibition.
Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.
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