Selasar Sunaryo Art Space in Bandung turns 20

Artist-run initiative celebrates with exhibition ‘Lawangkala’ and a group show
By Tanya Michele Amador

On 15 September, the artist-run initiative Selasar Sunaryo Art Space (SSAS) celebrated its 20th anniversary in Bandung, Indonesia with the launch of ‘Lawangkala’, a solo exhibition by founder and artist Sunaryo. In partnership, Bale Project at Bale Tonggoh Alternative Space shows ‘SSAS/AS/IDEAS: In Collaboration with 20 Artists’, a group exhibition curated by Hendro Wiyanto. Site-specific kinetic art installations are presented in collaboration with Septian Harriyoga and Sunaryo in an exhibition titled ‘Circle’ at nearby Wot Batu.

 Sunaryo in front of title piece ‘Lawangkala’, 2018, bamboo and rattan, site-specific installation, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of Selasar Sunaryo Art Space.

Sunaryo in front of title piece ‘Lawangkala’, 2018, bamboo and rattan, site-specific installation, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of Selasar Sunaryo Art Space.

A common characteristic of Indonesian artists is to work collectively and to support their peers. In that same spirit, SSAS was built on a vision to nurture some of the most talented artists Indonesia has to offer as well as those of the next generation of emerging artists that  follow.

The Indonesian word selasar means an open space which connects with another, or a “breezeway”. In this instance, it also represents the intention of the artworks to connect with the audience, thus aiming to bring diverse cultures together. The endeavour was established at the same time as Indonesia’s Reformasi (Reformation) in 1998, a tumultuous time for artists such as Sunaryo.

In the catalogue for ‘Lawangkala’, Wiyanto narrates Sunaryo’s sentiments at the time; disturbed by the nation’s socio-political unrest, Sunaryo’s emotions resonated in his inaugural exhibition ‘Titik Nadir’ (‘The Inferno’), which took place just four months after the May 1998 riots.

Lawangkala is a hybrid term. In Javanese, Lawang means gate (or door) and kala means time. Understanding this is the first step in comprehending and appreciating the works in this exhibition. Time, as we know it from Newton, is differentiated from space and object (mass), while in Sunaryo’s illustration, time is instead communicated as an object that unites with lawang. In this scenario, lawang is seen as a physical architectural element that inhabits a space, which unites with kala.

The exhibition, curated by Agung Hujatnikajennong, features 20 abstract paintings in which Sunaryo’s aesthetic approach uses diverse techniques such as slashing, sewing, peeling, clotting, and erasing as means of expression. Materials include acrylic paint, rope and cotton threading and the pieces resemble the piecemeal sewing of an untrained doctor operating on a patient.

Sunaryo, however, is certainly not an amateur; the result of his labour is a beautiful array of stitches and patches on canvas such as can be seen in ‘Taburan Kata’ (A Sprinkle of Words). The tapestry-like surfaces of most of the pieces are primarily executed with earthy tones and some are alight with blood-like pigmentation seeping and clotting to illuminate the canvasses as seen in ‘Gugus Waktu di Langit’ (Time in Celestial Clusters).

 Sunaryo, ‘Lawangkala’, 2018, bamboo and rattan and video, site specific installation, variable dimensions. Image courtesy of Selasar Sunaryo Art Space.

Sunaryo, ‘Lawangkala’, 2018, bamboo and rattan and video, site specific installation, variable dimensions. Image courtesy of Selasar Sunaryo Art Space.

Sunaryo’s massive site-specific, walk-through installation is the exhibition’s title piece and is at once harmonious and congruent, conveying a sense of grace and serenity. Working with natural materials, the piece pulls the walking viewer into a tunnel of rattan and bamboo. This participatory stroll takes one along a journey of time and space, with the walk culminating at what looks like a fish trap made of woven bamboo. There is a video playing below the surface of this portion of the installation mimicking a gently bubbling stream. A pleasant symphony of chirping birds enhances the feeling that time is standing still in this space. Absorbing this audio-visual is at once a calming and almost spiritual experience.

 Selasar Sunaryo Art Space,’ SSAS/AS/IDEAS: In Collaboration with 20 Artists’, Exhibition installation photo. Image courtesy of Selasar Sunaryo Art Space.

Selasar Sunaryo Art Space,’ SSAS/AS/IDEAS: In Collaboration with 20 Artists’, Exhibition installation photo. Image courtesy of Selasar Sunaryo Art Space.

Continuing over to the adjacent gallery from where Sunaryo’s works are presented, Bale Project’s showcase proudly exhibits a robust curation of Indonesian artists such as Agus Suwage, Irfan Hendrian, Iwan Yusuf, and Made Wiguna Valasara, just to name a few. Many of the participating artists have taken a post-formalist approach in their interpretations in this exhibition as it pertains to the medium and agency of their artworks. For instance, broader discourse is encouraged through text and narration as well as new symbolism.

One such example is Valasara’s ‘The Scene, Part of the Universe’, a hand-stitched illustrated canvas. Although depicting a traditional Balinese theme, Valasara’s implementation is a divergence from formalist painting in a three-dimensional style encompassing monochromatic figures.

 Joko Avianto, ‘Poem of Epiphyte’, 2018, site specific installation, variable dimensions. Image courtesy of Selasar Sunaryo Art Space.

Joko Avianto, ‘Poem of Epiphyte’, 2018, site specific installation, variable dimensions. Image courtesy of Selasar Sunaryo Art Space.

Joko Avianto’s enormous site-specific installation titled ‘Poem of Epiphyte’ greets visitors as they enter the foyer of the gallery. Made of epiphyte, it bends and sweeps throughout the space sending a profound statement to the viewer that akin to the epiphyte plant in nature, which is known to be a parasitic plant that protects the seedlings around it, the installation is safeguarding the young artists in the exhibition.

 Selasar Sunaryo Art Space,’ SSAS/AS/IDEAS: In Collaboration with 20 Artists’, Exhibition installation photo. Image courtesy of Selasar Sunaryo Art Space.

Selasar Sunaryo Art Space,’ SSAS/AS/IDEAS: In Collaboration with 20 Artists’, Exhibition installation photo. Image courtesy of Selasar Sunaryo Art Space.

The exhibition’s strength, however, is in its performance and installation art. Works particularly worth mentioning include Mella Jaarsma’sRakus’, an object-performative installation. The title translates to the word “greedy” and the work is inspired by a long-tongued evil demon called Rangda which is found in Balinese myth.

The performers wore leather aprons. In place of the character’s distended tongue were silver spoons, and their claws were replaced with serving tongs. The actors periodically clicked the tongs when viewers came too close, startling most observers. Symbolising greed in the form of gluttony, deceit and the dirty underhandedness of the powerful in Indonesia’s present-day politics, Jaarsma’s depiction is in keeping with her ethos as an artist, and as usual, very well thought out and executed.

 Abdi Karya ,  ‘I Thought We’re Born from the Same Womb’, 2018, performance documentation video installation and sarongs, variable dimensions. Image courtesy of Amador Arts Projects.

Abdi Karya, ‘I Thought We’re Born from the Same Womb’, 2018, performance documentation video installation and sarongs, variable dimensions. Image courtesy of Amador Arts Projects.

Abdi Karya’s ‘I Thought We’re Born from the Same Womb’ is a multi-media video installation and performance piece using the iconic Indonesian sarong. The composition was born from a public participation project composed by Bale Project and Karya. Using social media to get the word out, the collaboration collected sarongs from a wide audience.

In the video piece, Karya is shown folding the sarongs until each one takes on the form of what almost looks to be a doll. In the gallery, he displays them in a pile on the floor, with the video screen suspended above them, cradled by another sarong. The sarong, which has multiple meanings in Bugis society and to Karya, is in this case, an ode to Sunaryo meant to remind the audience of his passion and commitment to the artists he nurtures.

Using stones of different types and sizes to create a 200 square-metre outdoor area, Sunaryo makes use of his lyrical landscape at Wot Batu. Wot Batu means stone bridge in ancient Javanese and is meant to envisage the intersection between the tangible world in which we live and the nonphysical world. By creating a composition that suggests time passing, both the installation and its environment evoke a sense of the past before industry and urban growth began to sprawl. A reminder of this urbanisation is the expansive view of the city of Bandung from the garden.

 Wot Batu, featuring Septian Harriyoga, ‘Engkang-Engkang’ ,  2018, aluminium dural, brass, steel, motor DC 12 Volt, 45 cm (d) x 70 cm. Image courtesy of Amador Arts Projects.

Wot Batu, featuring Septian Harriyoga, ‘Engkang-Engkang’, 2018, aluminium dural, brass, steel, motor DC 12 Volt, 45 cm (d) x 70 cm. Image courtesy of Amador Arts Projects.

In perfect symbiosis with Sunaryo’s installation at Wot Batu, Harriyoga’s kinetic works are a selection of simple, yet playful technological delights that surprisingly converse naturally with their wildlife surroundings. ‘Circle’ is a series that features pieces made from aluminium with many of them sitting in the lakes spanning across the garden. Their motors and propellers are quiet and their movements seem to convey messages of nature’s cycles as a bird or an insect might.

After twenty years, Selasar holds a distinctive place not only in Bandung’s contemporary art arena for nurturing and engaging young artists, but also externally and into many parts of Indonesia as being known as the place to find abstract art in Indonesia’s burgeoning art scene. Hendro Wiyanto writes, “Recently, with the development of post-formalist art discourses, Bandung artists have begun to expand their interpretations of formalist viewpoints regarding an artwork’s medium or vehicle…”  This is evident in the three exhibitions and as the sun sets on Sunaryo’s Wot Batu and Harriyoga’s works every evening, quietly chatting with the stones and the water. Time seemingly stands still in this poetic space as Bandung’s friends, family and guests are reminded of the tremendous and valuable legacy Sunaryo has created.