"Essay", Gapura Buwana_
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Where is Gegerboyo’s Visual Production?

English | Indonesian

The process of working on “Gapura Buwana”, 2021. (Photo: Muhammad Dzulqornain)

Two things have impressed me when I had just discovered Gegerboyo. The first was “Goro-goro Gegerboyo”, their commissioned work for “Normal Baru” (an event by Jogja Biennale, 2020). In that project, Gegerboyo aptly found the relevance of drawing and digital technology to reinterpret the visual and tradition of wayang. The Goro-goro Gegerboyo “GIF wayang” series adopted the .GIF format to present a series of humorous dialogues in short videos, framing the pandemic through a ‘profoundly vernacular’ approach. I defined it as so, because their audiovisual production—pivoting on the documentary tradition—includes sounds (‘noises’) from the streets and conversations among people in angkringan to their dialogues. Through this method, we can state that Gegerboyo preserves oral culture as a narrative source.

Second, Gegerboyo’s answer (spoken by Ipeh Nur) to my question when they were working on a project exhibited in Art Jakarta 2020—a development of “Goro-goro Gegerboyo”. The question was about their method of producing drawings. Ipeh explained that they were working like tonil—or the “folk theatre”: not strictly bound to any long script; no detailed standard. In folk theatre, the dialogues between actors flows flexibly. “They (the actors) exchange eye contact,” thus, roughly, were her explanation. Such a method is useful for them to understand what their partner say and how to respond to their words, creating a purely improvised dialogue.

When it comes to drawing, Gegerboyo applies the same method. Their mutual understanding and frequency on the idea of their drawings have been embodied among them. ‘Eye contact’ (in this sense, I will call it ‘image contact’) plays an important role. Through this method, the visual they create can be a result of improvisation. For Gegerboyo, drawing becomes their medium of communication. A member continues an image by responding another member’s drawing. Creating an image is a matter of action-reaction; a shared response.

***

I think there are two possible consequences from assessing Gegerboyo’s final works. First, indeed we will arrive in the middle of a vast visual field, plentiful in its opportunities of interpretation. As an example, when interpreting an image in Gapura Buwana’s exhibition, a visual fragment can be associated to a wide range of context, and this context can be more substantial if—optionally—we associate it with other fragments in a different side of the wall. 

The second one has been raised by Agung Kurniawan (one of the speakers in “Gapura Buwana” public discussion, April 20, 2021): “We can get lost or bewildered while we choose, dissect, and interpret their visual codes.” Especially, in demand of a narrative, we might get confused trying to capture a story or meaning from Gegerboyo’s seemingly random arrangement of images.

A mural in “Gapura Buwana” exhibition, 2021 (Photo: Muhammad Dzulqornain)

When it comes to art, we tend to have expectations on the final work, on what is served in the white cube; and it binds us to the question “What is the meaning of this artwork?”. On the other hand, a willingness to assess a work from its process of creation might give us the opportunity to grasp something beyond the sight. This assessment might not answer our curiosity on “the meaning of the work”, but if we dive deeper into how the ‘work with unknown meaning’ is created, we might detect patterns that direct us to the things concerned by the artist while creating the work.

The desire to recognize something unseen in the final work underlines the importance of assessing the “production process”.

In other words, these consequences are not something to be regretted or fussed of. We can believe and accept it as the part of the ‘aesthetic experience’ inherent in Gegerboyo’s works. For me personally, it is enjoyable!

But, to consider the two consequences, I feel the need to mention and elaborate Syafiatudina’s (one of the speakers in “Gapura Buwana” public discussion, April 20, 2021) statement on Gegerboyo’s artistic practice in the context of Gapura Buwana: “drawing is a social practice.” The two impressions I have elaborated before are indirectly related to this topic.

The first, regarding the “GIF wayang”. In one of Goro-goro Gegerboyo “GIF wayang” video, we hear other hustles and bustles around the angkringan and the street as a background of the dialogue voiced by Gegerboyo members. Gegerboyo’s wayang characters were talking about the impacts of the pandemic. But the noises surrounding the conversation seemed more interesting than the conversation itself. Listening through the wayang-style performance of a scene, we feel the sense of communality in an everyday social occurrence. In the recording process, Gegerboyo included ambience of their surroundings (they even admitted to intentionally leaving some noises ‘leaking’ through while recording the conversations). Real events, outside the performed scene, were included as an artistic element. This is what I meant when I dubbed their work as “pivoting on the documentary tradition”.

Besides its formal purpose to present reality in our everyday lives, ‘the act of documentary’ is an effort to dissect reality to reveal the ‘unseen/unheard truth’ of what is seen and heard. Listening to the conversations of Gegerboyo’s “GIF wayang”, we are invited to understand how far the pandemic has become a part of the local citizen’s lives—how it has become a new routine in the new normal era. Thus, this documentary aspect demonstrates that the production of moving images in “Goro-goro Gegerboyo” is a part of a genuine social occurrence: in a location, they capture the experience of the citizens by becoming the citizens themselves.  

Secondly, regarding the interactions among Gegerboyo members underlying a method or pattern of creation of the drawings (as stated by Ipeh). I will describe this second point below, a little bit longer, by referring directly to the Gapura Buwana exhibition project.

***

THROUGHOUT March, Gegerboyo often came to Cemeti around three o’clock in the afternoon to finish the drawings on the gallery wall, which is approximately 160 m2. They worked from Tuesday to Friday (sometimes, until Saturday), finishing different parts of the drawings from afternoon to the evening (about nine o’clock). The vastness of their drawing field and their work routine—which we must note—can be an indicator to understand the depth of the work, not only in the level of content, but what emerges out of the artists’ high ‘intensity’ and ‘endurance’ in wrestling with their medium. What amazes us at the end is not the story they illustrated, but a visual aura.

However, the significance of Gegerboyo’s collective production process does not lie in that aspect alone. They worked on Gapura Buwana cheerfully, they often draw while listening to songs played in their smartphone (some of them are Javanese, some of them are Western, and the genre varies). Also, they often tease each other, commenting each other’s words or behavior. It is not rare to see one of them relaxing (procrastinating their work) while observing other members who are drawing. Once, they decided to stop drawing for a while and chose to go to a place together, for some reason (but I know that it was related to the production of Gapura Buwana).

Regarding the behaviors of Gegerboyo members while they produce their work, I am drawn to recall one of the questions from Syafiatudina, “I am curious,” she says, “what did Gegerboyo talk about while they were drawing [Gapura Buwana]?”

Communication between members of Gegerboyo is a routine that preserves the creative process. In agreement with the ‘dictum’ of the father of Indonesian modern art on the Jiwa Tampak ‘visible soul’, theoretically, we may state that the drawings on the gallery wall in Gapura Buwana automatically represents the Gegerboyo’s conversations, references, and daily activities. (Now, are you starting to think that the songs Gegerboyo members listened to were probably illustrated in the drawings in Gapura Buwana? In which part would that be…?)

It’s a trap! The reason is, if we return to the question of representation, we would be trapped in the attempts of guessing. Is a specific issue (let’s say that such an issue was illustrated in Gegerboyo’s drawings by some chance) really a matter they often talk about daily? Or vice versa–if you by chance have heard what they were gossiping about–does such a topic commonly discussed within Gegerboyo appear in their drawings, or not?

Syafiatudina’s statement (on drawing as a social practice) anticipated this entrapment. Instead of bothering ourselves to translate Gegerboyo’s visual illustrations, we are invited to experience the traces of events (of this drawing production) which had been experienced by this group of artists.

The idea mentioned above seems to be a postscript on where and how Gegerboyo’s sketches are being, come to exist, and operate. We can define the chat between the members of Gegerboyo during the process of their drawing as their ‘fundamental sketch’. (It is apart from the other types of sketches I have speculated in my previous article, “Where are Gegerboyo’s Visual Sketches?[1]). But that does not mean that these sketches immediately appear (or materialize) as “storytelling” images. In this case, if we agree that Gapura Buwana is Gegerboyo’s praxis trace on their commentary of social issues, the importance no longer lies on the social issues, but on “the event of commenting”, in which we can see and touch their traces in the exhibition, where it is present in the form of drawings (regardless of the existence of their meanings). We can say that the “physical memory” of the “production process” is being emphasized, and it becomes Gegerboyo’s purpose beyond the textual meaning—as we usually expect will be—narrated in those drawings. In another word, Gegerboyo’s drawings do not “narrate something”, but rather they “situate us”.

In interpreting the act of drawing as a social practice, the problem is not the social issues contained by Gegerboyo’s drawings, but to understand their drawings as a result of a social occurrence, namely (in the context of Gegerboyo’s social practice) the result of a gathering and gotong-royong (mutual cooperation—trans.). Does it get any higher than this topic when we attempt to imagine a ‘social kinship’ in people’s lives? Without any intention to be moralistically patronizing, Gegerboyo’s drawings are what we might call the ‘sharing of experience’. And, if we were to ask, “Where does Gegerboyo’s ideology lie?”, we can tactically explain the answer: ideology does not exist as something narrated through (or contained by) the drawings. This ideology, the ‘ideology of kinship’, is imprinted on the wall—the image itself.

***

BORROWING the principles of Soviet Productivism, ‘situation’ (as well as ‘facts’) is understood as an outcome of a production process. Through this perspective, like I have already mentioned before, we can define Gapura Buwana as ‘a situation’. But what kind of situation? And how would it be?

Syafiatudina defined ‘Gegerboyo’s practice’ more broadly, as ‘creating a common space’. Based on this statement, we can argue that Gapura Buwana is a ‘situation of the common space’. On one hand, it is a common space for each Gegerboyo members who are creating their art. On the other, it is a common space for Gegerboyo and the public to see their work. In this context, it is clear that the artwork is understood not as a didactic-monologic entity; not as a one-way information space that answers the public as clear as possible, playing a short, enclosed role—after the public’s question or curiosity has been answered, the relationship between the work and its audience ends. On the contrary, this argument underlines the work of art as an interactive-dialogic entity; as a two-way communication space in which the process of knowledge creation depends on the initiative of both communicating parties. While we demand meaning to the image, the image also demands us to think.

The drawings of Gegerboyo, as the comments I have heard from some people, are images that trigger and leave a question mark, provoking ‘confusion’; this condition binds the public in an endless process of communicating with those images. It is true when someone said that we are drowning in a visual tsunami of Gapura Buwana, drowning in questions. In fact, this situation provokes us to be active instead of passive.

***

SOME of you would reflect on the situation ‘demonstrated’ by Gegerboyo through the visual tsunami of Gapura Buwana, as Maryanto (one of the attendees of the Gapura Buwana public discussion on April 20, 2021) had commented. That Gegerboyo’s drawings in Gapura Buwana exhibition—again, we must use this term—represent the situation of contemporary media life, a situation in the age of social media that are symptomatic of ‘information tsunami’. We are engulfed by so many images. These images can even be disinformative, and we seem to be required to constantly move from one image/information to another, quickly, endlessly. While those informations may not be related to each other, somehow this situation leads us to keep moving; it tosses us to the sea of digital information. And in fact, not few among us enjoy it.

Of course, such an interpretation is interesting, and it makes sense. The situation in Gapura Buwana accommodates the direction of interpretation. But personally, I try to avoid it, given the paradox of the reality of social media today. The ease of technology and the abundance of information, to a certain degree, do not provoke people to be more active. This accessibility might even create an anesthetic passive condition; we are in a dysfunctional phase as entities that should be actively producing knowledge. I do not want to enjoy Gegerboyo’s drawings in such a way.

Gegerboyo, “Gapura Buwana”, 2021. (Photo: Muhammad Dzulqornain)

To anticipate this, it would be interesting (and more challenging) if we understand the ‘situation’ presented by Gapura Buwana from a constructivist point of view.[2] In a sense, to see Gegerboyo’s drawings as a ‘faktura’ (in the terms of Alexei Gan, namely: “the whole process of material cultivation”[3]). The material is understood in its raw state (in other words, image as image itself), deliberately chosen and used (by the artists) without limiting/concealing the intelligence of practical and experimental activities. The notion of faktura, according to Buchloh[4] may reduce the possibilities of an image to represent something, turning it into pure indexical signs. An image, as faktura, represents itself without any mediation. But this situation allows a critical change in the audience who sees it.

Gegerboyo, “Gapura Buwana”, 2021. (Photo: Muhammad Dzulqornain)

The problem is that the cultivation of a material will certainly transform the material into one form and into another. For example, visual elements transform into images, and a collection of images forms a certain visual sequence. Faktura, in Gan’s term, is how these material transformations remind us to their primary form, but at the same time convey the possibilities of further transformations. In other words, the visual is not supposed to be a mere ‘result of a completed material processing (production)’, not a passive output, but it must exist as an entity that actively moves and causes motion. The ‘production of image’ or ‘material processing’ is not final and will continue to happen, even when it has been presented to the public. In relation to this, constructivism places artwork as a ‘construction’ rather than ‘composition’, that considers how the artwork will be placed and [will] interact with viewer; which emphasizes a certain spatial and perceptual contact (‘contiguity’), and—most importntly—ensures that the contiguity is contained in the work’s ‘kinetic potential’.[5]

If ‘composition’ is an artist’s ‘contemplative approach’ in their work, we can consider that Gegerboyo has left this phase, because as we can see, they have crashed and destroyed the compositional boundaries and provisions. As a ‘construction’, Gegerboyo’s Gapura Buwana is an organization of the ‘kinetic possibilities’ of objects and material: to realize the potentiality of an image (which lays passive on the flat plane) as something that can create a new movement [on the bodies of the subjects who view the work]. The process of production, conceptually and practically, is put forward and is no longer an event behind the artwork. Its production no longer belongs to the work’s past, but it continues as the ‘present situation’ of the work.

In the context of the framework of thinking I have mentioned above, we can feel the significance of the transparent fabrics containing the printed drawing of a gate, hung in a certain distance from the whole, in Gapura Buwana exhibition. The relation between the image on the wall and the image on the fabric becomes an experimental construction, consequently triggering motions. The drawings scattered on every part of the wall is layered with drawings on the fabric that floats and flutter due to the air current (or from bodily contact of the person observing the work). This construction will set the gallery audience in motion, into a condition and perspective that continuously transform and change.

The movement of the audience is no longer to ‘read’ the meaning of the images consecutively, but to participate in the changing perception of the image they see and experience. These exist in a real sense, not as mere narrated representations. The event of ‘audience in motion’ because they are aware of the changing perceptions of the image; that is the main event.

So, what is the importance of the ‘kinetic events’ presented by Gegerboyo in Gapura Buwana? We can answer it by plucking the ideals of Productivism—or Lekra’s life principle of turba (in the context of Indonesia). On one hand, attempting a new translation on artistic occurrences, Gegerboyo places the ‘production of drawings’ as a central discourse. A drawing exhibition is not merely a presentation of finished works, but it becomes a part of the process of producing the drawing itself. An artist produces a situation. To paraphrase Buchloh, I would like to declare this experimentation as a quake, an awakening, which presupposes a revolution of the perceptual apparatus against the social institutions of art that refuse to leave their comfort to “justify the contemplative behavior and the sacredness of historically-rooted works of art.” [6]

On the other hand, in the context of a wider social life—in this paragraph I will conclude by adopting and paraphrasing the thoughts of Walter Benjamin[7] (in adjustment to the framework of this essay): it seems that we must agree with the rejection of contemplation, because its existence has increasingly become an asocial behavior as the quality of life of the borgeois (upper-middle class) declines, and to criticize this situation, a ‘disruption’ needs to happen as a variation of social behavior. Gegerboyo’s formal experimentation through Gapura Buwana exists on that path: to move the art public by playing with modes of perception in their work, ‘conditioning’ the audience in a state of ‘confusion’, and ‘drowning’ them in a sea of questions, disturbing them to the point of ‘anger’.

This is simply to stimulate the creation of new audiences. In line with the ideals of ‘expanded picture’, visual art (or drawing art) urges ‘audiences who are willing to expand’ their thinking mechanism, an active audience, not a spoon-fed and passive one. For that purpose, an image must interupt the initial state of the viewers. I think that is what Gegerboyo has been trying to achieve. Therefore, their drawings, to me, is an ‘epic drawing’.[8] 

***


[1] See Manshur Zikri, 27 April 2021, “Where are Gegerboyo’s Visual Sketches?”, accessed from the website of Cemeti – Institute for Art and Society: https://cemeti.art/2021/07/07/where-are-gegerboyos-visual-sketches/.

[2] Even though we must admit that from its visual forms, Gegerboyo’s drawings are far from the typical stylistic expression of constructivism.

[3] Aleksei Gan, Konstruktivizm, in Kristin Romberg, Disertation: Aleksei Gan’s Constructivism, 1917-1928 (New York: Columbia University, 2010), p. 136.

[4] Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, “From Faktura to Factography”, October, Vol. 30 (1984), p. 90.

[5] See Buchloh, ibid.

[6] See Buchloh, ibid., hal. 93

[7] See Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproduction” (Versi Ketiga), in W. Benjamin, & H. E. Michael W. Jennings (Ed.), Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings (Vol. III, 1935-1938), Harvard University Press, 2002, p. 119. (Buchloh, in “From Faktura to Factography”, also quoted the same paragraph from Walter Benjamin’s essay, but in Harry Zohon’s translation as published in Illuminations, edited by Hannah Arendt, 1968).

[8] To echo Brecht’s idea of ‘Epic Theatre’.

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Di mana Produksi Visual Gegerboyo? | CEMETI

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