I WROTE this essay from the beginning without leaving out parts of my previous notes on Gegerboyo. After following two public discussions held in Cemeti – Institute for Art and Society as a part of Gegerboyo’s Solo Exhibition: “Gapura Buwana” (April 9 – May 7, 2021), I felt the need to thoroughly reassemble the guidelines of my subjective analysis on Gegerboyo. It seems like the notes I had taken while observing Gegerboyo’s creative process on Gapura Buwana throughout last March was merely one out of the many “gates”. There are still plenty other “gates” inside their vast visual world, waiting to be remarked on.
UPONG starting off this analysis, I would like to note the importance of the answer given by all members of Gegerboyo to my question on our second meeting at the end of January. The meeting was held to discuss the preparation to their solo exhibition. I implicitly asked the same question in our next few meetings, and their answer remained. This repetition underscores its significance.
It was a question about their sketches. When I asked about it, they seemed uncertain; teetering around hesitantly before coming to an answer: Gegerboyo has never created any sketches.
Personally, I found the answer quite disturbing—and potentially troublesome—since it would have been hard to research and comprehend an artistic practice without the artists’ previous sketches. Yet, I did not believe, even now, that Gegerboyo does not create any sketches in their collective production and creation process. It might be better if I put it this way: Gegerboyo “has never created” any sketches.
This situation moved me to propose a home or studio visit to each Gegerboyo members in our upcoming meetings as a main agenda to prepare the exhibition. In determination, I thought to myself, “I want to discover Gegerboyo’s sketches with my own eyes.” While observing each members’ personal workspaces, the studio visit was a chance to talk to each other at ease, to find out how they assess and understand each other’s works. It is also important to note that this essay will refer to my commentary at the time, and (more importantly) their assessment of each others’ works and individual artistic practice.
In one hand, our studio/house visits confirmed Gegerboyo’s previous answer regarding the existence of the sketches, that most of the time they “never make” any sketches when they produce collective visual works. They still keep their documentation archive of their previous works in their hard disk drive (which I had hope would become a starting point to discover the sketches), but I could not access it thoroughly due to technical problems—their disk happened to be broken. But I had the opportunity to assess some of their works, both digital and physical works, produced individually by each of Gegerboyo members. The works were not produced under the name of Gegerboyo, but under their own names as individual artists. In respond to this discovery, I categorized these works as the “first-layer of Gegerboyo’s temporary sketch” in my observational process. This categorization is important to distinguish their characteristics and how the “potential form” of these characteristics would interact in the context of Gegerboyo’s collective production process.
On the other hand, the result of this observation confirmed my confidence, that members of Gegerboyo as individual artists rigorously produce sketches throughout their creative process; these sketches can be understood as sketches of individual works, not limited to scribbles upon papers. On the condition where only these sketches remain, I will categorize them as “second-layer of Gegerboyo’s temporary sketch”.
INDEED, two months (January – February) worth of assessing only a small part of their individual works would not suffice to conclude the individual artistic character of each Gegerboyo members. But this small discovery still stands for something. Our mapping had triggered a series of dynamic and productive discussions, and for me personally: the ideas they stated in these conversations challenged my prior hypothesis on Gegerboyo’s drawings.
Upon our introduction, I had presumed that Gegerboyo’s drawings always refer to merely a certain narrative regarding a certain site. It turned out that site-specific narratives only stood out in two or three members, even this was not always the case, these narratives only appear in one or two series. According to my findings and observation, “site-specific narratives” were only discussed in Enka Komariah and Prihatmoro Moki’s individual works. In the works which I had referred to, the “locational narrative” seemed to underlie a visual structure implying the concept of “transition”.
In Enka’s Juxtapose (2018) and Fort Istiqlal (2019) series, for example, the “spatial transition” becomes a language implying movement or transitions in time. Through visual, Enka imagined a location going through changes in form and function throughout the time, dislocating its historical significance. In these series, Enka’s drawing seemed to turn “process” as a “content”, at the same time presenting a “multiple layered setting”.
Meanwhile, in Moki’s Colony Post Colony series (2019), the “narrative transition” becomes disruptive: a tragedy in the form of fact, transfigured into a critique in the form of fiction. Moki has distorted reality by transfiguring real subjects into symbolic figures in order to disentangle the discourse of power, a possible cause of this tragedy he referred to.
If we look closely at the physiognomy of the three works I have mentioned above, we can sense an invitation for the spectators to “walk around” the illustrated scene. In the three series, the artists presupposed “space” or the “setting” inhabited by the figures they have drawn as a zone of “exploration” if we “enter” the scenes in their frames.
Yet, I feel that this pattern does not exist in the drawings by three other members—Ipeh Nur, Dian Suci Rahmawati, and Vendy Methodos.
SOME of Ipeh Nur’s series of works are concerned with site-specific narratives, among them are the ones from Polewali Mandar and Tanah Beru. Before elaborating further, I would like to point out that at a glance, Ipeh’s drawings resembles Enka’s drawings in the way their figures are stacked on top of each other, crowding the flat surface. While Enka tends to dominate her drawings with figures in formations (for example, a formation of a praying ritual), Ipeh’s figures are spread across the frame, interrupting the main formation of the narrative. Many smaller figures appear, seemingly as a “footnote” or a “small, personal commentary” from the artist. Their existence interrupts the central issue.
Enka Komariah’s drawings might have the impression of being constructed like a diorama, and the space between the figures and the background holds itself as a crevice to be explored. We can sense the peculiar characteristic of diorama in this work: even when the scene being reenacted by the figures are limited to the glass box (therefore the setting of the scene is also limited); a diorama emphasizes the three-dimensionality of a space, relying on the “presence” of spectator across the figures in a scene. Such is my impression of Enka’s pattern of work.
While on Ipeh’s case, the construction of her drawings resembles a stage. No matter how spacious, complex, and layered her settings are, we (the spectator/audience of the work) are only placed in front of it. The spaces behind the figures are theirs only—I am referring to the actors of the scene in a drawing—and those spaces are “destined” to exist behind these actors, without any crevices for us to explore.
Emphasizing the visual mode explained above, when she draws a situation, Ipeh tends to conjure the limits of the stage. We can identify them through a form resembling a border on the left and right side of her drawing: borders which frame a situation. Often, these borders manifest in the form of curtains, recalling the curtain we see on the stages of theatres or performance halls. This “stage physiognomy” typical to Ipeh’s works corresponds to her tendency to include “construction of poles (wooden, stone, metal, or made of other materials)” which are complex, intricate, entangled and squeezed within each other, which leads to a vanishing point of our perspective. Generally, the point converges in the center of the drawing surface.
Ipeh’s drawings—in its practical function to frame Mandar and Tanah Beru’s locality—is an ethnographic recording which experiments with form, rather than conjuring the raw reality. For example, in the series of drawing based on her research to Tanah Beru (after doing a residency in Polewali Mandar) in 2019, the boat/shipmaking ritual is framed as a “staged” tableau on the boat/ship itself. This is also the case with her work on a ritual in Mandar (exhibited in Jogja Biennale 2019) titled Pusar. As we can see, the interior of the boat/ship allows her to experiment with the structure of a stage according to the local sociocultural context, which perceived boat/ship as a part of the symbology of the world and the lives of the local society. “The boat/ship as the world” resonates with “the stage as the world”. Therefore, “the boat/ship as a stage” becomes a suitable language to build the mythological fantasy on Mandar and Tanah Beru.
VENDY Methodos has a similar tendency to Enka and Moki when it comes to framing nondomestic spaces. Yet, Methodos’ drawings (often complemented with texts of sociopolitical critique) tend to be less adorned, even though his figures are drawn in the form of nonhuman entities. Elements of “protest” and structure of visual-text combination dominate his works, and “setting a scene” no longer becomes the concern of the content. This is despite the fact that most of his drawings were made (and possibly would still be made) in flat surfaces in public spaces. While Enka and Moki “construct scenes” with their drawings, Methodos’ drawings “provoke situations” (in the minds of the spectator).
Yet, during my time of observing his artistic practice, something new happened. The pandemic has accustomed him to remain home, and this new routine encouraged him to—according to his claim—read more books and start observing domestic objects. For almost a year (throughout 2020) it has influenced his preference in his artistic practice; he did a visual study on something completely new to him. He tinkered with kitchen napkins. Some of his recent drawings and paintings have included this object as a visual idiom.
What is interesting about Methodos’ creative process is his modular method. This means, he had already provided various units or ready-made figures. If I may say, he is armed with a “dictionary of characters”, ready to be assembled and dismantled in a range of situations, narrative, and visual idioms according to the artist’s need in these various occasions.
It is not a surprise to see one of Methodos’ figures in his visual works reappear in another work. They can appear the same in each works, with the exact expression and gesture. What differentiates the context of their presence are the structure of the “language of protest” he expresses, as well as the location and time of presenting the work, and the issue they refer to.
We can consider the figures registered in his “dictionary of characters” as Methodos’ “unique sketch”. Instead of limiting the possibilities to explore visual constructions, this modularity becomes a mechanism to extend his drawing practice. Each unit has the chance to rediscover their context every time they are drawn, again, and again.
When I was visiting Methodos’ house, the kitchen napkins were being prepared for the next phase: “dictionarization”. The pattern of grid lines (the physiognomy of kitchen napkins) he has been tweaking around throughout the pandemic was still a “proto-unit”, and the “kitchen napkin in its process of cultivation” can also be considered as its “transitional form”. In the context of his artistic practice, the kitchen napkin marks a new phase of his exploration towards visual (object) forms. How would the visual of “kitchen napkin” become a visual pars pro toto which reflects Methodos’ criticism towards—not just the public space, but also—the domestic space, and how would this reflection towards a domestic object be brought to a public context? I think, the modularity of Methodos’ method mentioned above would still play an important role in the development of his artistic practice.
MY OBSERVATION of Dian Suci Rahmawati‘s habit in the middle of our meetings convinced me that it must be impossible for this artist collective not to live with their sketches in their artistic process. She was nearly always drawing something in her journal, especially while listening to her friends’ discussion of their works. Unfortunately, she was the only one who displayed this habit during our meetings, even though it might be intentional.
If we take a close looks of Dian paintings, her visual works might have been inspired by the Japanese artist Tetsuya Ishida or the Korean artist Jinju Lee. Apart from how these alleged figures influenced her work, the focus on women and domestic issues are evident in some of her works. Interestingly, the problem of domestication at hand is not limited to representations of space (house), but also of the bodies—and the friction between both. In her works, this idea is commonly structured as bodies placed singularly in a seemingly boundless space. Color tone becomes an important element to define the borders of space—which relates to how the wall is being presented; the color tone also builds its sense of peculiarity. While the body’s (or part of it) performative gesture acts as the main “dramaturg” to escalate the quality of women’s issue. Regarding the presence of objects (anything outside the bodies/figures), Dian tends to play around with fabric and texture of its foldings, and to illustrate deviations in parts and function of domestic objects.
This assessment refers to two of Dian’s works. The first one, titled Apakah Tubuh: Tak Punya Dinding dan Tak Punya Runtuh (2020): a bed, normally occupied by the body, are presented standing up as a wall—as a part of the house’s body/space—penetrated by a water pipe and a hose, two objects representing the lingga (‘phallus’). While the brick walls (actual representation of house walls) are raised in the middle. They are restricting (yet mediated by) the body, floating low above the floor, its head crushed by a chair. The hose hangs past the walls, its end was entangled with a dead tree branch, still planted to a pot (leaning to the right brick wall) which edge is tilted because it was propped by something on a plate underneath it. On its branch is a clothes hanger, hanging a bra. With a close look, we would notice a pillow, a cable and an electricity plug, and a key (hanging on the hose). One of the dead tree branches penetrated the brick wall, and an object resembling a lump of meat was stuck on its pointy edge.
The second work, titled Perjamuan Tanpa Akhir: Jika Kau Senang, Ambilah. Jika Tidak, Ambilah (2020): a body facing down, served on a long dinner table with a green tablecloth, dining stools spread around the room (some of them are entangled in a string), and an armchair stood at the end of the room, with a cow leg bone hanging above it. Painted on a wide canvas, these visuals echo as if it were a string of sound words forming a poem.
I will add another one, the third work, Leave the Rest to Me (2019): a bedcover and piles of pillow materialized as a weight to be sustained by the body, while a wooden chair frame (entangled with strings) acts as a small cage confining one of the legs of the body. This tableau is situated on an uncovered mattress, in a room with walls without a corner.
The three works represent Dian’s concern in exploring walls and hymen, two keywords she deemed important to explore the issue of women and domestication. To a certain degree, these three works can be seen as a portrait. A more interesting fact is that the prior sketches of this work—I am citing this from my conversation with the artist—are not limited to hand-drawn strokes on a piece of paper, but they also included the photos she had collected. In her process, she enacted the poses herself and asked another person to document it. The photographs of the poses became a reference to develop form into a drawing or a painting.
BY placing the individual artworks by members of Gegerboyo as the “first-layer sketch” as I have mentioned above, we can conclude a few points.
First, Enka’s exploration towards “site in transition” echoes the experiment of multiple realities, while Moki’s exploration of “narrative transition” implies an experiment on the entanglement between fiction and fact. Second, Enka’s dioramic style and Ipeh’s stage physiognomy reveals an experiment which plays with the spectator’s visual perception. The visual structure of their works, in other word, has its own “gestus” which influences the spectator’s attitude when diving in the picture-world. Third, Methodos’ modular approach to his creative mechanism demonstrates a possibility of an adaptive construction to be applied in various situations, narratives, and visual idioms. Finally, Dian’s paintings underline the performativity of the body, space, and objects as a foundation to conjure a peculiar visual idiom as a narrative mode.
I think the combination between the four points is applied, whether they realized it or not, in their collective visual production as Gegerboyo: “multiple realities”, “shifting narratives”, “perceptual and spatial interruptions”, “flexible presence of the units of figures”, and “the performativity of the body, space, and objects”.
From here, I will continue to elaborate the problem of Gegerboyo’s “second-layer sketch”: media-based (digital) sketches.
IN Colony Post Colony, Moki experimented with tracing as a technique to reproduce visuals, but he would later develop the copy into a new narrative. He also applied this technique in his series of political commentary on the 2019 Presidential Election, which have been published in his personal Instagram account. While the election series referred to photos of the figures in mass media or social media, in Colony Post Colony, Moki traced the visual from a video recorded by a local resident (which also went viral on the Internet) of the eviction of Kulon Progo residents.
In a work titled Doa Kami (2020), Enka used Dwi Oblo’s photograph of a funeral of Covid-19 victims as a reference. He also created a series of posters inspired by some of Indonesian horror films.
Meanwhile, going back to Dian’s artistic practice, we have already discovered that photographic documentations of the poses she had enacted were the main reference to create her drawings and paintings, especially in the three works I have mentioned before.
The behind-the-scenes creative process I have mentioned above were the examples of how the three artists (Moki, Enka, and Dian) does not draw the reality they face or experience in person, but rather they draw the contents of (digital) media. This practice reminds me of the paintings by Marlene Dumas, a series of face and body portraits painted by referring to images in the mass media. One of her statements regarding her mode of visual production: “There is the image (source photography) you start with and the image (the painted image) you end up with and they are not the same.”  Dumas acknowledged that her purpose is to shed a light on what painting does to an image, not on the contrary. Drawing an image means giving a new value to the image in the image-world (subjective world) of the artist.
Apart from the question of similarity between the artistic vision of Moki, Enka, and Dian to that of Dumas, I perceive this tendency as a symptom of the era where social life cannot be separated from mass media; especially today, when it is contained in the form of digital media. Ipeh acknowledged that one of her research methods is to browse visual references on the Internet. We can take her drawings on the Mount Merapi eruption as another example, because they were based on a live stream of the situation in Mount Merapi. Ipeh interprets visual findings on the Internet into a new form according to the particular faktura in her drawings.
Unfortunately, while observing Gegerboyo’s individual practice, these habits—of referring to a photographic or videographic image; digital image—are not found in Methodos’ practice. But throughout the production process of Gegerboyo’s visual works in Cemeti’s gallery, I have seen them referring to some images saved in their gadgets, whether it is a smartphone or a laptop. This included Methodos, even though he might be looking up his digitalized drawings from the figures he had created by himself.
Certainly, not all drawings in Gapura Buwana are created with the method explained above. Some parts of the Gapura Buwana wall drawing in Cemeti’s gallery were created directly, without looking up any referential images, relying on their subjective and intuitive sensibility in responding the images already drawn on the wall. But the fact that digital images have become references to realize ideas into (hand-drawn) images is an important symptom of the collective’s creative process.
In that context, we can no longer limit sketches to manual, hand-drawn scribbles on a piece of paper. In reality, images from the (digital) media have taken a role as “medium of sketches”. Moreover, in Dian’s case, the amount of photographed poses she have acquired is not so few; there are dozens of them. In order to imagine a performative figure, photographed pose is an effective method to collect (and conjure) sketches to figure out a suitable and potential visual construction to develop a more dynamic interpretation to be transformed into the medium of drawing or painting. It is also the case with Ipeh, Enka, and Moki’s visual research through the Internet, and Methodos’ “dictionary of characters” (which are mainly kept in its digital form). In other words, the search for visual reference and the citing of digital images have become a practice of “conjuring” the sketches itself.
As a conclusion, Gegerboyo may never have “created” any sketches, in its conventional meaning. The presence of sketches, for Gegerboyo, has transformed into a far larger vehicle than the limited scope of a manual scribble on a paper. It must be noted that this practice is not new—other well-known artists have also used this method. Clearly, in the context of today, this extension of the source of sketches is the main strength in the contemporary drawing practice, because this activity manifests as a cultural response to our all-digital world of today. *
 See Marlene Dumas’ statement in “Marlene Dumas: The Image as Burden: Room guide” (no date), in Tate.org: https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/marlene-dumas-image-burden/marlene-dumas-image-burden-room-guide, accessed on April 27, 2020, at 11:51 WIB.
English Translator: Dini Adanurani