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Visual Arts

Jompet Kuswidananto

An intimate confrontation of Indonesia's history


Published: 16 Oct 2019

One re-enacted image of a boxer defending his title, and being beaten up in the process, circulates and is perpetuated in various social scenarios: the boxer becomes a citizen in a mass demonstration against the New Order, and also becomes a restaurant owner whose business was ransacked by a paramilitary group during Ramadan... The circulation of these permutable embodied images reject the notion of chronological progression and therefore avoid the notion of repetition. Freed from the linearity of time, the work builds its own historicity. In one time, the image could be a tool of the oppressed; in another time, it can be a tool of the oppressor.

Ugoran Prasad on Theatre State

Title of artwork: Theatre State
Medium: Video and mixed media installation
Date: 14 Oct 2016 – 2 Jan 2017
Location: Jendela (Visual Arts Space)

In Southeast Asia, from the 1970s onwards, artists have constructed pieces harbouring performative elements, including devices engendering the public’s participation, as a means of narrating difficult stories and integrating viewing audiences into those stories. Indonesian multi-media artist Jompet Kuswidananto, who has worked with Jogjakarta socially-engaged multi-disciplinary performance collective Teater Garasi, is a particular exponent of this approach, weaving performative components seamlessly into his installations.

In the last quarter of 2016, Jompet’s site-specific Theatre State regaled artsgoers in Jendela. Customised specially for Esplanade by Jompet together with the curatorial team, the ambitious kinetic work alluded to performance through the pulley movement of articles of clothing emblematic of people.

Theatre State also appropriated documentary images, film, and sound, which all together referenced key moments of Indonesia’s colonial and post-colonial history. Through combinations of archival material and moving parts, Theatre State corralled viewers bodily into the heart of the work by providing seating – in the form of cheap steel chairs, commonly used at temporary performance spaces in Indonesia -- in the middle of the installation. Spectators were therefore activated. They became participants in, rather than onlookers of, Indonesian history, and thus were obliged to think critically about episodes of the archipelago’s recent past.

Although the work hinted about such fraught times as the 1965 leftist purge, Jompet’s multimedia creation was also visually poetic, this visual poetry helping the allusive delivery of such difficult truths. The piece’s formal rhythm was achieved via different visual and material components, and by working with, and not against the physical characteristics of the Jendela site. The gallery, not originally designed to house art, with its curved walls and ceiling that diminishes in height from front to rear, can be challenging to hang.

Here however, Jompet made the most of Jendela’s idiosyncracies, using them productively by working them into his installation, the end of the gallery, closed, and low-ceilinged, the locus for the more intense and intimate component of his installation. Through the senses and a critical memorialisation of history, Jompet’s Theatre State brought to audiences young and old, Indonesian or not, an understanding of weighty and uncomfortable pasts.

Read Ugoran Prasad's essay on Theatre State
Visual Arts at Esplanade

Commissioned, curated and thematically developed by our Visual Arts team, Esplanade's quarterly exhibitions feature established and emerging artists whose contemporary Asian artistic expressions not only chronicle the issues and sentiments of the region, but also offer vital insight into the complexities of our changing cultural landscapes and identities. These shorts essays and interviews act as complementary material to the exhibitions, allowing for a richer and fuller perspective on the artists and their practice.

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