WE are playing a colossal repertoire, a performance that involves almost all of the man on earth. Pandemics choreograph daily actions and shift the way we see reality and change the structure of our social interactions. Artists pack up and theater doors are closed. The stages are empty. That’s when the ghost light turns on longer than usual, for over months till the almanac changes its year while the pandemic still threatens.
While the ghost light is still on in the theaters, he holds out the working papers for his solo exhibition project which will be opened when the calendar is on 16 June 2021. That was two months before the exhibition, supported by Cemeti – Institute for Art and Society, will be opened. Besides the installation that will liven up Cemeti’s gallery with dark and dim colors, he also plans to make a short film based on the choreographic montage of the actors’ bodies interacting with the installation materials.
He is Timoteus Anggawan Kusno. I, along with some of his close friends, call him Dalijo. I will write his name with a familiar nickname: Dalijo.
In order to the agenda of making the short film, to us—Jamaluddin Latif, Ari Dwianto, Teguh Hari, and I—Dalijo told about ghost light, a term that refers to a dim light bulb that is usually placed in the center of the stage when the theater is empty. And from that term, he also gives the title of his exhibition: Ghost Light. Meanwhile, the title of the Indonesian version is taken from the famous line of poetry entitled Aku written by Chairil Anwar: Luka dan bisa kubawa berlari (‘Wound and venom I carry as I’m running’).
That said, originally the ghost light—I will keep the original term instead of translating it into cahaya lampu or lampu hantu or anything related to it—was surrounded by a kind of superstition that the theater is inhabited by ghosts. I mention the words “that said” because the thing about that term is not really clear, as dim as the light emitted by the ghost light itself.
Ghost light fills the list of the past superstition stories that have many versions of the mystical aura of the theater. The ghost light is believed to allow the ghosts to be calm and not cause any damage to the stage equipment, or that the supernatural beings can play their own repertoire among the dimly lighted flares, while the performance created by artists is on vacation. The narration of ghost stories in theaters could be a long list but this essay is not going to do anything superstitious. In addition to these superstitious reasons, ghost light also has practical reasons, so that the custodian does not have accidents when walking in the dark. Ghost light is the only light source so that the last person to leave the stage and the first person to come on stage do not have to walk around feeling one’s way with their hands and feet. In short, ghost light relates to the idea of safety and security.
IN its development, ghost light was adopted as a metaphor for the conceptual framework of dramaturgy. In 2010, Michael Mark Chemers published an introductory handbook on dramaturgy entitled Ghost Light: An Introductory Handbook for Dramaturgy. Through this book, published by Southern Illinois University Press, we see how this superstitious term is turned into a projection of knowledge about the history and philosophy of dramaturgy, analytical framework and methodology, and practice. Through the metaphor of ghost light, Chemers imagine the role of a dramaturg who wanders into dark places, avoiding jeopardy potential, preventing missteps, navigating the journey, digging for the hidden, uncovering the hidden, etc. Dramaturg is assumed as a flare incandescent the light in the dark alley of drama, providing a choice of bright paths for the complexity of characters or characterizations, paving the way when the creation process reaches a dead end, observing artistic choices and forms, looking for resonance between the drama/performance with the social context outside the stage, and so on.
However, of course, what has been described above is not the main one, eke the only topic to unpack. Ghost light is the entrance to then widen the gaze. The method we take is to re-abstract the artistic objects that Dalijo has created. Then parse the narratives around the installation elements and at the same time imagine the possible repertoire. Then pack it back into one statement: wound and venom I carry as I’m running. If we continue the line of the rhyme, we will see hingga hilang pedih peri (until the pain leaves). The last quote is hidden status. Or, purposefully to be kept because the pain has not gone away. Pain is seen as a moment, as an event. If ghost light is a condition that suggests a dim landscape, a space where all kinds of confusion and anxiety are conveyed, then the ‘wound and venom I carry as I’m running’ is a moment where the subject continues its will, while carrying the burden of the remnants of past wounds. And, that’s how the short film actually articulates the pain while the subject draws oneself up and it’s okay even though there’s a wound and venom I carry as I’m running.
IF the goal is to make a film, then the most natural way is to write a script or draw a storyboard and do it in front of the camera. However, we did not do it that way. We chose a meander and detour path. The script is made by creating a performance first. While the performance was built from a series of improvisations by actors and then scripts began to be written based on improvised movements.
However, the script is not for the film, but to build the structure of the performance. Or, it could also be said that the script is an “editing” stage to compose a series of separate and fragmented movements.
The movements performed by the actors are based on the artistic objects presented by Dalijo. He brought most of his installation materials: pedestals, lanterns, crows, and ghost light. From those four objects, discussions were held and we agreed to do improvisation separately based on each object. This choice was made because we needed to make some kind of “intimate encounter” with each object to see the narrative that the object offered and the possible movements the object suggested. In addition, the movements that appear have context and history of interaction with objects. Later, when the process has entered into the construction of structures, we have understood that certain movements originate from interactions with certain objects. I would like to call this “interaction” the context, or history of movements.
SO, what movements do these objects suggest? Pedestals, or rather pedestal frames, choreograph actors about institutionalized power in the forms of noble statues, memorials, and so on. This pedestal frame simultaneously choreographs the memory of who should be remembered, and at the same time, who should be forgotten and removed. Or, who won and deserved to mark an area with the noble gesture of the statue monument and who is lost and dying under the power of the victor.
Throughout the repertoire, the position of this pedestal frame does not change or stay in one place. This pedestal is like marking territory, outlines territory. If one monument is torn down, the other monuments will be built, followed by power transition with their characteristics. This skeletal pedestal triggers speculative conversation around “will” and “have”: will be built and have been torn down. Memories are frozen in monuments, or monuments institutionalize memories. However, of course the institutionalization of this memory is not instantaneous and always takes the form of a statue monument. It can also take the form of writing historical texts that ignore facts and distort narratives according to agenda interests, or through cultural products such as films, literature, and others. The pedestal frame is a metaphor for colonial idols (or colonial-tempered power) who build the foundation of their power with guns and bloodshed, normalized inequality, neglected injustice, and so on. Inside the monument dwell the ghosts of history.
In contrast to what the gloomy pedestal frame had to offer, on the contrary, the lanterns splashed light. However, the lantern does not necessarily translate as the long-awaited answer or hope. It’s just a splash. Or, let’s say explosions, some kind of underground resistance effort. If at the exhibition the lanterns are displayed at a certain height and all of them emit lights, then the position of the lantern in the performance is at the bottom (floor) and only one lantern is lit, the others goes off. In certain scenes, the lanterns collapsed, or were knocked down in a scattered position. In other words, the imperfect choreography of the lanterns marks one thing that the world is not as simple as the dichotomy of good-bad, black-and-white, and so on.
Meanwhile the crows resonate with the crowd. We also consider the mythological landscape surrounding the story of the crows. For example, it is often associated with death. He is also a vulture, able to mark enemies, a messenger bird, has a strong memory, etc. Crows articulate both mystery and memory. Like the lantern, we chose a crow that had landed and was standing on the ground. We ignored the crows that were flying in the air. The crow that had landed announced that it had arrived at its destination. Right at the targeted land, a human lay dying and spoke to the crow that personified their murders. Although the crow symbolizes death, it is not projected as an antagonist. As the lantern is also not seen entirely as hope, but as the protagonist. The artistic elements that have been described above, such as the dim ghost light, we do not present something clear and bright. Ambiguity—including confusion and anxiety—is the key.
WHEN the first layer of directing has been completed and the script or storyboard has been successfully created, the second layer of directing works by relying on cinematic logic. Whereas in the first layer of directories we work with the formal logic of the proscenium stage where the performance can only be seen from the fourth wall, then in the second layer of directories the camera crosses into the stage and captures the details of gestures and expressions.
We take this meander and detour path so that the video montage in the form of visual fragments stands on the context, that is the performance. When the video montage is unfolded, what is seen is the whole event, the history of the movements.
If in this essay I refer to Dalijo’s artistic elements as artistic “objects”, but it is not what we meant in the case of our creation process. Just as the actors become the subject and choreographs Dalijo’s artistic materials, these artistic materials also become the subject because of his ability to choreograph the actor. Both the actors and the artistic materials of Dalijo, exchange roles and positions, exchange the choreography. They interacted under the dim of the ghost light. (*)
 The English translation of this verse refers to Timoteus Anggawan Kusno’s interpretation.
Shohifur Ridho’i is a performing artist based in Yogyakarta. Crafting theater and dance performances, participating in art exhibitions, writing essays and poetry, and curating exhibitions and performances.