"Essay", The Memories Hurrying Home

Remapping Suvi Poetic Mapping

English |Indonesia

Remapping Suvi Poetic Mapping

Artistic reflection on the practice of creating The Memories Hurrying Home

THE MEMORIES HURRYING HOME begins with a framework of awareness of the body as a subject (as well as an object); a body to which so many narratives are attached. The body seems to be a medium for the recording of events, which events are often projected into the realm of mental images through memories. When it has passed, the “materiality” of events can be brought back and measured in many ways, one of them is through sound (air medium; oral), when they are expressed — told, again and again.

If we treat memories as abstract forms of events, there are times when we will see the body as a living inscription, because on this body that events have been “engraved” by experiences – the body of the subject is an important material of experience, because it is unlikely for us to be able to touch back those experiences physically, but remembering them. Getting to know the body, or “unravel” body’s narratives, means exploring the unique possibility to “feel” any event that has been engraved in life. The engraving of events can vary, but the most bitter – from which we learn much about the importance of peace – is the carving of wounds, both in their physical form and in their conceptual position.

Meanwhile, things that are surging within can simultaneously push out into complex expressions. Rarely, there is a need to contextualize personal matters with the public events that accompany them. If then ambivalence — the impact of that effort — influences the expression and the determination of the process of enriching self-conception, can it be a possibility of seeing the relationship between personal struggle and existing social tensions? When responding to the issue of violence, an artist can consciously position himself as a representative of certain social groups that are in contact with other social groups. The framing done by artists about the complexity of their personal and social experiences can be another offer of poetry mapping conflict awareness.

Positioning himself as a specific laboratory to unravel his subjective understanding of identity politics and experiences of violence, Suvi tries to explore the possibility of ambivalent situations that are also caused by memories and trauma of violence. As the heir to the social-cultural conflict narrative that engulfed the previous generation, Suvi agreed that his personal body had become a metaphor for the concept of home to which various bitter memories — of family, birthplace, overseas area, and social relations — pressed for rushing home. Suvi responded his body as a source of anecdotes that were inevitably connected to broader social, political, and cultural meanings. In the home (or body), instead of remembering, Suvi communicates — if not wrestle — with memories of returning home.

In fact, Suvi Wahyudianto works (Bangkalan, Madura, 28 April 1992) are often as visual translations of what is experienced and felt in his own body and in the bodies of people in his surroundings. In other words, Suvi indeed start a long research project on the experience of violence due to social conflict – which at one moment took a short break to spread into solo exhibition – from a very performative idea. However, in Suvi’s artistic exploration, the idea of ​​performativity (we call it that because it departs from exploration of body), which become the basis of its visual map about the polemics of violent experiences, does not necessarily translate into “medium” art practices the body “- say for example performance art – only. Suvi precisely works a lot with a two-dimensional approach, while his several other works (ie installation of objects) are selected very tight to become a key hook for a number of different issues which is framed in his painting series.

Obviously, all of these questions pivot three important questions: How does the body understand the experience of violence? How is the body’s understanding that, then, unpacking it as a way of seeing, or imagining, other narratives that have been hidden so far? And how the narratives, in the end, are constructed as new ideas / possibilities that lead to the idea of peace and reconciliation ?

These questions tried to be answered by the artist by processing the findings he obtained while doing the Rimpang X Kelana residency program in West Kalimantan (by visiting four locations, namely Pontianak, Singkawang, Sintang, and Sambas). This residency is part of an experiment to “re-experience” the residual discourse of violence. “Pilgrimage” to these locations – that’s how the artist termed his research – was conducted 20 years after the conflict. From the artist’s point of view, this experiment is an attempt to determine the limitations of the body (both psychologically and physically) in dealing with personal trauma occurring in the domestic sphere and collective trauma that develops in society; two forms of trauma which, allegedly by the artist himself, are interrelated with one another. The findings are elaborated with other materials that refer to past experiences before the “pilgrimage”.

Framing the creating process of Suvi’s visual works, the curation of this exhibition departs from a scenario that underlies the artist’s intentions (based on his own confession): when meeting memories of the birthplace, as well as other memories in overseas, Suvi realizes that some of his experiences were very personal (which is generally related to the form of the relationship between him and the members of the batih family) that has a strong connection with – or is part of – a larger social event. The memories jostle into his mind, throng the threshold of his feelings, then his body can fully “re-connect” the after effect of real experiences of the past, and then influence his perception in interpreting existing social interaction models. All of these memories are present simultaneously as a rain of fragments of the story, which increasingly fills the spaces of his body (home) and forced to be shed. One time, the fragments were so slashing, tearing apart, but at the other times it also triggered a state of solitude, infrequently they also appear ambiguous and gray. Screaming, perhaps, is a way to push the fragments out of the body / house. But Suvi did not forget to think: is there another way to blow everything up to aesthetics …?

Like a seismograph machine, Suvi’s hand becomes a needle that moves as a result of repeated memories and experiences; and the Memories Hurrying Home series are seismograms that indicate a psychological fluctuation with a scheme that can be explored to understand the social tensions that surround the personal lives of the artist, also us: contemporary society that walking on collective trauma from various conflicts, both those that occurred in the past, which is still ongoing today in its latent nature, or is actually happen today in various regions. Also in the scheme, a little articulation of self-identity is subtly indicated in order to recognize a social position that is tightly determined by cultural contestation and overshadow power relations. Emphasizing criticism of the situation, Suvi raise game of language that utilize contrasting characters, both in terms of formal construction (visual experiments) and substantial (issues contained or framed in them).

Objects such as cows, Juang leaf, yarn and paper, and crock — which construct Suvi’s poetic map construction in this series — are not without reason. All of these objects are, in fact, on the one hand are deeply attached to Suvi’s personal life. However, on the other hand, in the society environment of Suvi’s hometown, Madura, these objects also carry values that locally believed to signify a channel of communication, classification and social status, identity politics, and certain expectations. And of course, with different but quite identical treatments, these objects also live in communities in other areas along with the context of their particular local problems and beliefs. The intersection between subjective meanings of these objects in terms of personal, and how the values inherent in those objects are understood, preserved, modified, or abandoned by the society in the development of wider and longer social life, are the main vertices Suvi was drawn deliberately to map the relationship between his personal bitter experiences and tragic events in the phenomenon of violence that were considered to be the aftermath of cultural conflict, which were actually laden with socio-economic-political factors.

It is interesting to review how Suvi experimented in emphasizing the concepts of ambiguity and contrast that I alluded above, as we can see in the series of paintings depicting the carcass of a single cow lying on the ground and backed by a lonely horizon. Deliberately displaying conditions that contrast with how local society in his village usually interpret the position of cows – a symbol of courage and self-success achievements (male) – Suvi seems to criticize his cultural position in order to reflect the situation of subjects torn apart by the trauma caused by the cultural conflict. The expanse of the sky is empty, but with a bubbling color composition that is quite dynamic through experimentation of brushwork with watercolors and tobacco extracts on paper, coupled with a protruding red color from the roar of the wound that fills the carcass flesh that looks “chaotic”. An impressive composition of a state of loneliness after brutality — for whatever reason — comes as a disturbing silence because it still keeps traces the loud and noisy memories.

By being aware of the context of local values contained in cows as one of the markers of a particular society’s culture, the painting series not only represents the artist’s rage, but also stimulates our sensitivity to the tug-of-war of violence cases, many of which have not yet been never finished. The silence, or the quite, seems to be a far more reverberating moment than the violence that preceded it — or caused it. And is it not in latent moments, usually, we can actually feel more tension and then be compelled to more closely to examine issues of violence that are so familiar and disturbing?

In accordance with the above interpretation, we can appreciate that Suvi’s cows are taxa expressions, on one side, in the sense that they instinctively present as a doubt of the cultural values that have so far not only affected the painter, but also us. On the other side, Suvi’s cows are also a form of articulation about taxa itself, because it is constructed as an assertiveness to criticize the factual situation and describe the current situation of individuals or groups of people existence who are “…di bawah angin” (“… under the wind”)[1]. Furthermore, it becomes a deconstructive step to re-examine the context of tradition as well as the power relations that construct that tradition.

It is important to note in this essay that Suvi’s own recognition of the cows he painted: “The cow is me.” Deliberately “embodied” the symbolism of the cow to himself, Suvi indirectly slices layer by layer of discourse which determines the social meaning of himself in the middle of society. The intensity in exploring the visual logic of a cow object — referring to a stack of cow’s eye sketches and the installation of four pages of a sketch of the artist’s and cow’s body fragments — would indicate how far Suvi struggles with his personality, while directing our interpretation to the artist’s struggle in searching the relationship of personal problems with things outside himself, especially when this series stands together in a sequence with his other works.

The visual experiments conducted by Suvi in this exhibition, of course, include not only the level of processing issues into visual construction in the form of indirect illustrations, but also trying to target and cross the limits of possibilities in terms of medium processing and visual composition in order to find a model layered translation; he follows the desire to free his artistic intuition from empirical burdens. As we can see in the series of installations in the picture of Juang leaf (representation of identity) and thread stitching (representation of wounds) treated with mixed media, Suvi consciously dispels the shackles that usually arise when we are in a situation that “demands” us to be able to unravel the truth of the story as brightly as possible. In fact, by realizing that Juang leaf are contextual icons of violent events related to their cultural significance in a particular conflict area, while wounded images are illustrations that often trap us into cliché narratives when talking about violence, Suvi deals with those traps by focusing on the two objects as the main elements for testing the discipline of lines against the sphere, and investigating the possibility of superimposed technique as a visual language; instead of rambling on issues, Suvi returned to the stance of art corner. Through this practice, Suvi makes art as an idea that can refine the way we reflect the experiences of violence.

Suvi also tried to explore other performative experiences that he framed into the Memories Hurrying Home. One of the interesting experiences to be explored, as noted in Muhammad AB’s writing, is the “dark experience” – borrowing the term Suvi – which is unforgettable, that the event of power outages in Madura in the same year as the events of violence in conflict areas that exist across the sea. Experiencing “darkness” in the true sense, that is the crisis of lighting aids; an event that was experienced massively, not just by Suvi. At those moments too, the emotional struggle within him goes hand in hand with constraints that are felt physically: when he and his friends must go through nights without lighting, Suvi must also pass without the figure of a father who goes somewhere. The memory of this experience is intertwined with the memory of another “dark experience”, which experienced personally: his habit when maghrib came to obeyed his mother’s orders to shout, call his father — who was somewhere — in the crock hole. In the screaming action, dark visual is a performative experience that is so imprinted. In fact, the tradition of calling “a distant figure” (to return home) through a water container — like a crock — also exists in the daily tradition of some society outside the social group environment in Suvi’s hometown. In other words, what is experienced individually is basically a collective experience.

The presence of the crock in the context of the Memories Hurrying Home, finally, became a binder of the lost narratives that revolved around as a result of the conflict that hit the society in general. There, Suvi understood that the narrative of loss that he has was part of a narrative of loss which could be more universal. Choosing with subjective awareness in the context of the aesthetic experiments interests, Suvi presents the crock as a poetic statement to frame the combination of personal trauma and social trauma; Suvi’s crock is a dark container into which we can contemplate the possibilities which overlap but are also interconnected, though not yet explicit — and it is very likely never to be clear.

Elaborating the autoetnographic approach into the art, Suvi’s works in the series Memories Hurrying Home is indeed not in his intention to be a complete picture or illustration of how the discourse of cultural violence and conflict management by power works on the body of individuals and society. Instead of chronological narratives that applies aspects of causality in cases of violent conflict, the map expansion made by Suvi, probably, comes as a self-proclaimed visual performance. They are intertwined with one another as a pattern to signify a state that has actually disappeared: a state of forgiveness and a state of peace. By disturbing our visual and mind zones which are often lulled by pseudo comfort, the concept of violence which is then processed as an aesthetic style in these works might trigger a call – if not trigger us all to join in calling – forgiveness and peace.Indeed, through his works, Suvi is not laying out definitive answer, yet conclusion, whether the latter two things will come or not. Because, as we can explore from one work to another, Suvi is actually narrated them all in poetry. Yet, hasn’t history recorded that “poetry enable free conversation” and “improbable hypocritical cohesiveness”[2], and that poetry is able to soften hard things so that we can together going forward to a new situation, which is better…?


[1] The term “… under the wind” intentionally I took from an informant, which is listed in the interview data (January 1. 2004), and analyzed by Gerben Noteboom for the article titled “Experience of Violence” (See Gerben Noteboom, 2015, Forgotten People : Poverty, Risk and Social Security in Indonesia: The Case of the Madurese, in Southeast Asia, No. 6, ISBN 978-90-04-28298-8, Brill, Leiden, http://dx.doi.org/ 10.26530/OAPEN_613437, p. 243). That sentence, as quoted, indicates the situation and feelings of insecurity experienced by the Madurese society after the violence happened in Kalimantan.

[2] Goenawan Mohamad, 1963, “Seribu Slogan dan Sebuah Puisi” (A Thousand Slogans and a Poem), in Goenawan Mohammad, Seni, Politik, Pembebasan, ed. (Goenawan Mohammad Art, Politics, Liberation, ed.) Tia Setiadi, IRCiSoD, 2018, p. 91-92.

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A researcher, critic and curator with 5+ years of experience in the field of media, arts and film. A member of Forum Lenteng, an egalitarian and non-profit organization based in Jakarta which focuses on cultural activism. He is now artistic manager at the Cemeti - Institute for Art and Society, Yogyakarta, Indonesia.