This is an essay published in the catalog of Hafiz Rancajale’s solo exhibition, Social Organism (dated May 26 – Jun 09, 2018 at the National Gallery of Indonesia, Jakarta; Curator: Mahardika Yudha). We republished it on the AKUMASSA website in the context of the “Darivisual” rubric.It is very intricate for me to write out how he proceeds in making art works, since I am his wife. To assess objectively or subjectively, will just be the same. Being with him for nineteen years, probably, has made me as the one understanding him the most, both in ideas and in the development process. Intricate, because there will scatter a wide variety of ideas we have learnt together within almost these two decades, mixed with every admiration and aggravations, agreements and disagreements, as well as all kinds of characters I like and dislike from him. An interplay, formulated into a frame of household, while also working since 2003 to build our community, Forum Lenteng (one year after we married), make me feel like talking about myself.
Of course, during his process making all these new artworks, which overall are drawings on paper, I was always there with him. Even every video that will be presented in this solo exhibition is chronological works that he made in between 2003 – 2015, where I was also always there with him as a witness, a friend to be talked to, and a critic.
This time, I only peeked occasionally at his process of making artworks in these past few months. Waiting until everything is collected and unfolded for me to look at entirely. While accompanying him working, our conversations were just everyday talks, about our child’s school, places to dine, the films we watch, the music we listen to — almost all of them were always done together — and naturally about the development of works that have excited us for these past fifteen years.
When the time came to line up those drawings against the wall and he told me vigorously about all the processes he went through, I realized some things, that it was all no different from our life so far. These drawings represent the life we have chosen, with our everyday characters in doing the household and work. I found his very young lines, that I’ve known since nineteen years ago, which he always pulls not only on drawing paper but also on the surface of any familiar medium around our conversations: the surface of a cigarette pack, beer placemat paper, even on the surface of soft tissue paper.
Those lines move organically, generating biomorphic forms. On its journey, those lines converge with geometrical constructions. Suddenly, the movement of those organic lines seems political. A tight rule of geometrical composition seems to limit those lithe flowing lines, however that rule still keeps trying to preserve the organic nature of the increasingly spreading lines, flowing and forming an expanding field.
At this point, I understand he is testing the visual of biomorphic lines he has embraced since long time ago. The insignificant lines which had once been an act of playing were activated into potential forms freed from values and definitions. Pushed to be amiable potential lines with new forms. The socializing and interacting lines.
Like a child growing into adulthood, his act of doodling experiences a consciousness. It is visible from his act of testing the biomorphic lines with the geometric construction. In my opinion, this phase is an important stage, because the repetition of lines he did is a consciousness to repeat, as a constructive act heading toward a statement of mature gesture.
Then he starts to organize his organic lines as if creating a text. Those lines are like a statement about the encounter of biomorphic form, that previously had its own nature, with the geometric construction. This is a statement about a new form, much newer, and even newer, like phases of how organism formed. This phase feels very fast. Before I arrive at that text’s closure, I was startled by an interior, that immediately sort out those organisms into populations of species. I find as if those texts lack of references, lack of intensity. I get thirsty for details. In everyday life, his idea of a whole is always in opposition to his idea about my idea of minutiae details.
A statement can be made so rapidly. I sense this phase as a myth formation process about an interior that has selected the spatialized and dimensional organisms. For the first time, I find a recognizable imagery because it is identifiable. A consensus gives it the name. That is a myth. Although I also understand that myth happens because of a logic process, or more precisely a process of alignment between the logic and the illogical.
The interesting thing about my next finding is that apparently the spaces I have entered in those artworks, are an exterior landscape. On this landscape, there is an act of selecting. I recognize it as a practice of medium and selection comprised of the mentality and gesture of graphics, also audio and visual mentality, which is surely durational. His action on selecting his own process is very interesting. A speculation that can result in many possibilities.
I also sense that I need to seek a specific framing, to track the origin of that process. Then I figure out and try to remember, where should I begin?
The Very Young LinesPerhaps I must start it from our first encounter, May 1999. Precisely one year after the Reformation of 1998, or if I look at the calendar today, that encounter occurred exactly nineteen years ago.
I met him at one night in Lenteng Agung. When he just finished having a duo exhibition with his college mate, Oky Arfie. That exhibition entitled TUBUH (BODY), in Galeri Cipta III, Taman Ismail Marzuki Jakarta showcased their graphic works of woodcuts and paintings. We always had night rendezvous in Lenteng Agung that had become my living place since 1992, because I went to college and lodged there. Since then, we have shared nights together.
Maybe because he just finished having an exhibition, his atmosphere and spirit of painting are still left. Almost every night I accompany him painting in his rented house while talking. Our night talks resulted at sheets of sketch paper. Doodling of lines are always created on those papers. Lines that continue to appear in the following years.
Between conversation about ‘I’, ‘you’, and ‘us’, he talked a lot about body. The personal body, the political body, and the body who rejects body. From the sketches he made, I find many figures of body, sneaking between his game of lines. The very same figure of body that always exist from year to year.
Body, that seem to be a self representation, is present as a very personal body. Sometimes, it is also present as a body that represent a cultural and political statement.
For him, the body is a representation of an identity search of a 28 years old artist who is struggling with ideological issue in the era of post-Reformation of 1998, between art or daily amenities. And also the body that is present in the middle of social and political chaos in Indonesia.
This search reminds me of the many discussions conducted by the painters in Indonesia in the pre-independence and post-independence era, up to the 70’s era, about the search for identity of Indonesian art. Like a very young human, the search for identity is an inevitable process. Even human will surely keep searching for new forms, or keep experiencing the process of change in life. The search for identity encouraged by the spirit of nationalism as a new nation, was formulated from era to era through the process of production, various debates, creation of manifests, as an obsession to free the self from the trauma of colonialism which clearly carry modernism within its teaching. It seems as if those debates were never over. Discussions seem to always dwell in the search for the meaning of national identity through art. However, the new forms of the production mode, works and new ideas are keep ongoing, aren’t they?
Thus, the biomorphic lines I met in those nineteen years are also never finished. They keep flowing searching for its identity.
And those personal bodies echoing a cultural statement politically are always present. Those bodies writhe, trying to pull out from the colonization of modernism that has bequeathed many undeniable characters continuing to carry over in life.
He was a provincial child living in a very “Jakarta centric” era, migrated to Jakarta to begin a new phase in his life, finding many new cultures that looked more ‘modern’ and strived to adapt them, to become more complete as a child of time. Discord between the values of Islam, Malay, Minangkabau and the values of freedom, Westernism, metropolitanism, makes him turn away slowly until finally forming his new self-character. An adjustment has caused his prior values to collapse one by one, replaced by the new ones. Whilst some values are able to be combined by compromising. Indubitably, the traditional values collapse more than the others. Thus modernism erodes the world, until the time comes for the machine of modernism to lose one of its screw and jammed the systematic work system massively, a person will glance back and reckon the traditional values he once believed, and then he makes it as a new screw to patch.
The identity of Indonesian art has been experiencing a transformation from traditional art, to colonialism that brought modernization, and then following the changes of time until now. Indonesian art has never experienced the formation process of modernism that has influenced the growth of art genres in the West. It comes out of thin air and we take it for granted, then apply it in our cultural process.
His lines of life experiences and artistry are stretching and twisting, trying to get out of traditionalism he experienced since he was born up to the time he matures, until finally freeing himself from the contention about which identity he really is.
For years, he received Western thoughts, which has been priorly received from his father who is an imam of a mosque and a modern oil painter at once. Then he keeps performing that system according to its principles.
Testing the TextIn his progress of working in the field of art for these nineteen years in which I’ve known him, he’s not very active in writing. I’ve seen archives of the writings he made before we knew each other, and surely I am acquainted to the writings he made after he lives with me. Some of his writings were published by mass media such as Majalah Ekonomi-Politik, Indikator, while his writing about art was published in magazines such as Visual Art. Aside of that, he writes for the catalogue of exhibitions or festivals he curated.
There is something interesting about his writings in Indikator magazine. On our early encounter in 1999, he still worked in that magazine as a graphic designer. But I was still a student in journalism — and had decided to despise the notion of working in mass media – quite impressed by his story about his workplace. He told me about the intellectual atmosphere in the editorial team of that magazine. He admired his Editor in Chief who has strong open-mindedness and high spirit of activism. He learnt so many things about journalistic principles from the people who worked there (especially from the Editor in Chief). Even for him who was not a writer, the opportunity to express his thoughts existed not only in a form of magazine graphic layout, but also in the form of essays and articles related to their weekly editorial meetings, or even review toward the books he read. One of them is the review toward Walter Lippmann book, Opini Umum: Antara Rekayasa dan Realita (published by Yayasan Obor Indonesia, 1994). Nearing the turn of the millennium, this magazine published a special edition about important figures of the 20th century. He had the opportunity to write about Chairil Anwar, an Indonesian poet, and Jose Rizal, a writer and a national figure of the Philippines. Unlike the journalists, he proposed those writings according to his interest. I think, this is where his choice of moving into the area of activism was sharpened. He had been very active in the organization as a student during his college, and he was also involved in student discussions near the time of the military regime collapse. But his actual pattern of organizing was in the editorial work environment, which discusses strictly the national-global-political-social-economic map in every week, while also continuing to meet experts and professors as the source who routinely are brought to their offices to have discussions.
What I actually want to highlight here is that he has become a person with textual consciousness, who considers that writing is a cultural activity to produce knowledge. Even he once opined (when I interviewed him for my writing, published on 14 May 2010, the same date when I wrote these notes, in the journal ww.akumassa.org about the 12 years of Reformation of 1998), that the Reformation of 1998 could not yet be considered successful in changing Indonesian democracy, due to the non-comprehensive records. Not many activists at that time wrote about it. What has changed is only the form of democracy, but not the paradigm. And the changes were not carried out culturally: namely by the way of writing.
I criticize him who also didn’t write much, whilst he has the kind of opinion I’ve written above. Yes, he is not a writer. But he writes. And our movement in shaping Forum Lenteng – an organization focusing on the study of art, culture and media within this pas fifteen year – tries to push the activity of writing as a fundamental program in our collective. It was a combination of two design thinking between his and mine – who has chosen the path as a writer since I was in high school. Then he often makes interviews with Indonesian filmmakers and publish them in our film journal, to fill the holes in the field of criticism, recording and archiving in the Indonesian cinema.
If I look back on the journey of his lines, I arrived at one period in which all the lines entered the stage of becoming textual. They form a statement. They are no longer many small questions, but a big statement.
I often criticize this fast process of testing the text to be a statement. But his ability to organize, makes me agree to his acts, because the life of an organism is about how the cell networks work together to move the organ. That’s what he has been doing. Testing all pulls of lines as a statement, reuniting the biomorphic lines that were previously the anonymous molecules, to become the cells with its own characters, turning into an organism who lives and makes communities.
That criticism from me on the fast process of testing the lines into “statement”, is an expression of worry toward the situation where there is a lack of details, references and intensity in the process. However, after closely looking back on what we have been living until now, seems like I don’t need to worry too much. Isn’t this how when two heads agree to be one? Like two individuals who agree to live together? To fill each other, right?
In the terminology of art he has, what he has done is activating his lines. Activating the presence of the bodies of self-representation, to become the bodies that organically determine (rather than invent) their most sublime identities.
Maybe those long discussions about the search for identity of the most “Indonesian” art has receded now. But the act of consciousness on the sublimation of that identity undeniably infiltrates on its own like the infiltration of modernism through Western colonialism, thus traditionalism, the idea of independent state nationalism, the growth of technology and the global life are no longer limited by geographical boundaries.
Creating SpaceI am a woman who can’t easily believe and agree on something. I always refuse when he tries to convince me about his taste of music. Clearly, we are very different on it. For me, his taste is more melodic, while mine is more rhythmical. But sometimes there are things I don’t need to believe or I don’t believe, I just enjoy it. On long nights before I close my eyes, I often ask him to repeat the story of a scene in a film where a man must walk in the middle of a big pond that was almost dry, crossing from one end to another, in the midst of wind blow, while carrying a lighted candle. Somehow, that man could keep the fire burning. But if the fire went out, then that man must light it up again, and repeat his journey to cross the pond from the beginning. My chest was raised and filled with joy in the end of the story, when the man managed to finish his journey carrying the fire until the other end of the pond.
It is unnecessary to believe or not, in fact, we can share the same visual through his story. Even when we already have that film Nostalghia created by Andrei Tarkovsky in 1983, I didn’t watch it at once, but delaying it for a while, the scene of the journey to cross the pond in that film. I still want to relish that bedtime story from his lips. I delayed the experience that eventually really made my heart bursts by witnessing a scene that collides the film reality and the “actor” performativity under the authorship power of that avant-gardist filmmaker. That is the cinematic imagination. A very complex medium. Cinema is the spring of every subject about line, field, space, light, movement, sound, duration and matters that must fight everything else beyond those all. Human problems. Cinema is our foundation on building Forum Lenteng which combines his interests on art and my interests in journalism and media. Our discussion met its intersections when we both imagine the cinematic reality of a problem.
He has been a cinephile for a long time. Until one day in early 2000’s, I saw him fell in love with other medium, video. Surely the easier access and cheaper tools at that time has supported it. He started to produce more video works. He even considers that video can rip apart the grand imagination of cinema since video is very handy, even today we might say that our finger has become the extension of our mind.
Back to his drawings I was deciphering, I found a period where his lines were no longer sublime, they are spatial. I find interiors referring to the intersection of social language.
His experiences of testing his lines have automatically brought up the act of selecting, like human subconscious work. This automation happens because he learns from his continually repetitive act. This journey is like a myth formation process, that has experienced many acts of forming information through constructive and logical ways.
It is possible for his art to experience new form again, like a human who keeps on growing. That new form is the consciousness to activate himself in the community, a contour from a much larger biosphere. Through his process of making audiovisual works (video), it is visible that the construction of film still dominates through the blend of audiovisual elements montaged in a narrative structure. Until on his series artworks about the discussion of Indonesian art practitioners in the 1970’s regarding the identity of Indonesian fine art, I can clearly see that he uses only the basic element of medium born from that culture: audio and visual. Even the presented visual is only the most basic element of fine art: line. Surely his experiences have metamorphosed into a new form, teaching him about other things: movement, duration and performativity.
The Exterior of Now, HereOur friendship believes deeply in progressivity. There is no definition as exact as definitions from exact sciences. It is used to measure the world progress here and now. After tracing down the interior dimension I found in his process, finally I am in an exterior. Not suddenly. Understanding his selection process that has occurred in these nineteen years enable me to sense that gradual change of the interior into the exterior.
Those bodies of self-representation disappears. They turn into myth inherited from an indirect cultural experience of colonialism, modernism and then was derived as a new culture.
I can’t remember the exact moment when those bodies of self-representation disappears. Maybe after his decision to select the lines and medium grows stronger, which all happens in his artistry process. But what I can recall, he always says that art explores the field of speculation. This time I say that speculation might result in many. One of them: failure. The other is prematurity. But it might also succeed brilliantly. Meanwhile, a brilliancy resulted from speculation is caused by several factors. Beyond luck, is also the subconscious factor. I believe that the subconscious doesn’t work irrationally, but it is a result of repetition of experiences, equally holds intensity. He has received the result from his subconscious process of the constantly playing lines. That subconscious process occurs from his believe on the elements of speculation, and the affirmation he receives from his surrounding.
Thus, I see his speculation is more like an experiment. He selects his own process. Not the species of his experimentation like a moony professor in the midst of his laboratory, alone, testing his objects. His experiments are done by activating the social field, animating the individuals inside it culturally, while having his faith in a long process.
If speculation, aside of succeeding, might also create banality, the experiment I meant here is a well-measured process and able to create “another form”.
When I made this long writing, in one of the TV channels near me, there was a news footage of a donation box thief in the mosque who was caught on CCTV camera. The thief wore something, might be a sarong, or a prayer mat, covering his head to make him unidentifiable. After stealing that donation box, he danced happily, shaking his hip and intentionally facing the CCTV camera. He was very sure that he was unidentifiable. In this case, the consciousness of that donation box thief is the consciousness about body and technology medium (video, media). I am sure that by tomorrow, this spectacle will spread in the internet, sparking cross-disciplinary banal discussions. Might be significant, might be just inane.
That’s the construction in the field of art today. If his bodies of self-representation disappears into his artworks, maybe I can consider his process as equal to my own “speculation” on the basic idea of his solo exhibition this time: that the search for identity of Indonesia art today recedes because that identity indeed disappears. Or even the art is the one disappearing? Without body. Rejecting the body. Without art, rejecting the art. It’s not a negative speculation at all, but a kind of statement on the insignificance of the formality in art today, because the autonomy of the body disappears within the process. The term of art diffuses in the junctions of other disciplines. Art is the social practices activating the social sphere. I name it as: ON PROGRESS ART.
Yogyakarta, 14 May 2018
Editor’s Note: The pictures contained in this article are Hafiz’s drawing works taken his personal archives, which had been scanned into digital archives by the exhibition’s artistic team.