I would like to start with saying that I’ve never really considered myself as an artist, let alone a performer. To put myself in the center stage, I’m too self-conscious for that. To produce a work of art, perhaps I’m so critical with the works of others and I get bored easily, I put this non-achievable standard for myself, a spot in the distance where I’ll perhaps never arrive. So I feel more comfortable in the area of writing and research, which is a way of building a dialogue with the works of others. I’ve always thought I have nothing to say, but I love to be inspired (or enraged) by the works of others, I want to interact with people, or sometimes just hear what they have to say. I love that sometimes we start a discussion with a certain thing in mind, but listening to others makes us think about new things that we haven’t really thought about before. And these things will also be new to them. And we all walk out happier and hungrier to do more.
The 69 Performance Club practice session, which I wrote about here, is one of those moments. It is only one of the many platforms of Forum Lenteng, the organization I was active in from 2018 until recently. At first, I started out joining another platform, a visual study learning club, and like many people, I thought performance art didn’t really make sense. I started attending the performance practice sessions, listened to everyone’s response to each other’s works, and at the end had my own opinion too. As a meeting note, the text consisted of many layers, of other’s opinions, of my summary of those, and also my own thoughts.
It’s interesting to learn that a great part of performance art is to be aware of one’s body, its acts, its responses, and its visual consequences in an “artistic event” when it is displayed in front of an audience. The body itself is only one of the components in this artistic event. What is the body doing? How does it contribute to the moments that the audience sense: does it repeat something, or does it find a climax moment at some point? Do the objects or gestures displayed resonate to the content or issue of the art work? Etcetera.
Because I was there all the time, someone would ask me to help out in their performance as an artisan, or a performer in their orchestra. I would be there in the dark, popping balloons, holding some fabric, or I would be the one in the spotlight reading some text, or getting carried out in a shopping cart. One of my first serious performance as an “artist” is a collective piece called Ambangan, or threshold. Six of us performers had to stay in a gallery for 72 hours to draw each other’s portraits and our activities there. We had a rotating sleeping schedule, so even at 4 AM someone must still be awake. A table was set for us to have our meals, delivered from outside the gallery space. The whole scene represents the multiplicity of art collective life, where you eat, sleep, create your works in the same space, but you’re also the one who display it to public. But it’s also an experiment in a utopic space, where you don’t have any distractions from the social media, or any housekeepings or proposal-makings to do. But it’s also funny, the fact that this performance coincided with the start of COVID panic in Indonesia. After we stepped out of the performance, it felt like the world had changed, and suddenly it’s like, we just got out of a quarantine, now we had to get into another one?
My recent performance, it was a part of the work-in-progress performance work in Otty Widasari’s solo exhibition The Partisan. In the gallery, there is a room preserved for performance artists to present their work for a week long. There were three or four performances in a day. The performances were recorded, and replayed in the screen projection in the next performance. The end result was a multi-layered video where you can see most of the performance coming out from the same screen.
I was interested to join, but then panicked, because again, I’ve always thought I had nothing to say. Then I came back to what I’m used to be doing, which is writing. I connected it to the Surrealist method of automatic writing and drawing, originally used to draw out our subconscious thoughts to the surface. I’m also interested with the act of disciplining the body to become a printing machine, with the hands writing nonstop, and then you fly the paper from your writing desk to the floor like a printing machine would do if there was no tray. I did the performance four times in different days. The first time lasted for one hour, then two hour, then it’s supposed to be three hours, but I lost track of time and ended it on a four-hour mark. On the two-hour and four-hour sessions, I let other artists enter the space while I was in there. Sometimes I would mention them in my writings. The last one is a final collaboration piece, where all the artists do their piece in the same space.
Some observations of doing the performance!
- It will never be 100% automatic. At first, I thought I would keep writing until my mind gets jammed and all I can come out with are baby words. But no, it turns out the mind is very systematic, it already runs a process of selection before I write something, no matter how fast my hands move. In one hand, I felt like a machine: I perceive the space in sight and sound, the colors of the audience’s shoes (because my head is down to my desk most of the time), and the looping sound from the videos played in the room, and I write them. These are the easiest things to come up with when you run out of things to write. But there is also a time to explain my feelings and memories that are triggered by some keywords, objects, or sights around me. So it’s not completely a mechanic process, which is interesting for me.
- After I figured out my rhythm, I no longer aim for speed, but I just enjoyed the time to sit and have a conversation with myself. Or at least how to keep myself from being bored and sleepy after writing for a while. An artist who also performed in the exhibition pointed out that my thoughts are being poured out on the paper right when they are being thought, and right away they are displayed for everyone to see. But I don’t think my experience as such an exploitative process, it’s much more calmer and cathartic than I thought.
- It’s about making the right decisions at the right time. At the final performance, I constantly moved my writing spot from one corner to another, exploring the room, something I never did in the previous sessions. At one point, another artist who worked with duct tapes taped around my desk. For a second I was confused, should I let the desk be where it was as a part of installation and moved my chair only, or should I pull out my desk until the duct tape breaks? At the end I opted for the second move, and I think it gave a little bang to my part of the performance, where there had been little to no excitement for the spectator. I liked that about doing a performance, that you won’t know what you’ll be doing until you’re doing it. It’s a bit scary, and sometimes I’m not up for that, but meh, it’s okay.