"Essay", ∆HRT = ∆HOR + (∆HP-HR)_
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The Poetic in Process, Data and Events

Indonesia | English

The Poetic in Process, Data and Events

Curatorial reflections on Dyah Retno’s Solo Exhibition

Re-examining Dyah Retno’s Solo Exhibition titled ∆HRT =∆HOR+(∆HP-HR), which was presented from 2-30 July 2022 at Cemeti Institute for Art and Society, Yogyakarta, we can explore the elaboration of concepts of “process”, “data” and “events”.  Further, in its connection with ceramics, it is also about what is offered by efforts that put aside established conventions in the presentation of ceramic works. These efforts suggest, among other things, an invitation to curtail presentations that reify—or are oriented towards the achievement of—final objects. 

The curatorial premise of the exhibition implied that the larger concept of ∆HRT =∆HOR+(∆HP-HR) was the re-interpretation of relations between art and scientific research. That which has been assigned as the production of art is here also designated as scientific research, an experiment and intensive observation of a kiln made out of used glass wool.  Dyah did this to understand the efficacy of glass wool as an alternative material in the production of kilns. What followed in this conception of reinterpretation is a consciousness of the importance of the conjunction of two methods—which are generally tied to the term “experience” —the idiographic and the nomothetic.

Borrowing from the Neo-Kantian perspective, we understand the idiographic method to be aimed at specificity, while the nomothetic targets the general.[1] In the first method, a series of values are determined based on knowledge of the characteristics of concrete and unique realities, while in the second, values are understood to derive from generalised knowledge of reality.[2] Using these different approaches, here we attempt to draw a comparison: “experience as the basis of skill” is somewhat more idiographic, whilst “experience as the basis of knowledge” tends more to the nomothetic.[3] 

Historically, art is seen to have liberated itself from explicitly “statistical” forms of communication. Traditions like this indirectly differentiate themselves from practices that are normally classified as scientific. The majority of art practice focuses on individual issues; art foregrounds the firm and singular values of unique subjects. Unlike traditions of knowledge production that rely on empirical approaches, art tends to frame issues in a focused way that prompts speculation rather than drawing general conclusions to explain a problem.

However, Dyah Retno more often prioritises a scientific approach as the primary framework in her artwork. Or, at least in ∆HRT =∆HOR+(∆HP-HR), she attempted to conjoin the two different methods which I have touched on above into one concrete artistic action. She sought idiographic evaluation through nomothetic values. At the same time, she tried to build nomothetic descriptions on top of intensive idiographic investigations.  As an “empirical activity”, project ∆HRT =∆HOR+(∆HP-HR) examined how “experience (both that of the artist and that of the audience) of a work” can become a “machine” for the creation of the whole work itself. Meanwhile as an “artistic activity”, this project implemented “empirical notations” as a poetic language which determined the nuances of the work. Subsequently, in revealing a schematic from works like this, the ∆HRT =∆HOR+(∆HP-HR) exhibition was concerned with the “language of process”. Also implicated in this scheme is the “poetic potential of data” and “facts from the production/research event” as its aesthetic goal. These three aspects actually revolved around Dyah’s experiments with the kiln made from used glass wool.

The Poetic in Process

In presenting the language of process, that is the “process of experimentation and observation of the furnace”, first and foremost the ∆HRT =∆HOR+(∆HP-HR) exhibition maximised the archive.  Next was an emphasis on the significance of action. Specifically in the context of this exhibition, this is action inside the gallery space. To complete these two points, there was a third: duration, which was consciously considered in order to specify the manifestation and utilisation of archive and action.

Remembering that the production activity in ∆HRT =∆HOR+(∆HP-HR) was also a research activity, in the same way it is in a studio or a laboratory, the actions taked during this production/research are the most important events of the project’s implementation. Because “events”—in which the archive and actions exist simultaneously—were a concept specifically emphasised within the project, duration also became an aspect which was closely attended to, and which determined the shape of the process that took place. In the end “archive”, “action” and “duration” were the constructive pillars of the exhibition, locating or translating the ceramic art project ∆HRT =∆HOR+(∆HP-HR) as process art.

According to Robert Pincus-Witten (1981), in “process art” the process is present and empathically visible so that in fact it is acknowledged as the main content, while that which is conventionally understood as content is, in the end, merely the audience’s intellectual “recreation”to the artist’s action in making the work.[4] Further, the path to foregrounding the “creative process as content” proceeds via the rejection of “aesthetics” in order to encourage the elimination of the “art object” and its replacement with ideas.[5] From this perspective, any output (final works) of the art-making process is no longer important, as the “final work” itself is intended to be a trace/residue, or simply a witness to the process that has created it; the output which would be a “final work” is no longer seen as an object with independent aesthetic significance[6].

Conceptions based on this understanding, I believe, were manifest in the ∆HRT =∆HOR+(∆HP-HR) project. This can be understood through our attempts to draw meaning from the “archive”, “action” and “duration” within the project, especially in their position as three interconnected elements.

The archive, within the ∆HRT =∆HOR+(∆HP-HR) universe, contained not only text, but also objects that were collected and selected by Dyah from previous projects, or from secondary sources during the “pre-project research” phase, as well as those produced directly from the actions that she took during the production phase. 

The textual (and visual) archive in the ∆HRT =∆HOR+(∆HP-HR) project was divided into two domains. The first is the collection of archives that acted as a reflective and theoretical background for forms of action that Dyah selected and implemented throughout the exhibition, one of which was the firing of ceramics using the kiln she assembled herself. Some of the archive (which is based on or connected with earlier projects) contained conceptual frameworks around the scientific steps implicit in the understanding of the material properties of ceramics. This framework, in fact, was a representational description of what, directly or indirectly, propelled Dyah to eventually focus on the kiln as a tool of production, rather than just the ceramic objects it produced.

The textual archive in the second domain functioned as a “direct record”, notations that Dyah made based on what she discovered when she test fired ceramic objects. In other words, the archive in this domain was part of the content that grew continuously alongside the production/research with the kiln, as “exhibition and event”. 

Meanwhile, the archive of objects can be further categorised into three domains. Firstly, there were ceramic objects from earlier projects. In place of “works”, they were exhibited as records of Dyah’s practice throughout her career as a professional ceramicist: her practice attends to the effects that ceramic materials receive or produce post-firing, rather than the beauty and perfection of the ceramic object.  The second domain contained objects that were made from the basic elements of ceramics, especially waste materials. The collection of archival objects in this domain, on the one hand, had the same value as those collected in the first, but on the other hand had concrete characteristics. Which means, these base materials in the form of waste were still used to glean new value and information about the experiment in progress during the exhibition, rather than just artefacts or passive records of Dyah’s research into waste.  Meanwhile the objects that occupied the third domain was the kiln.

The connection between the archive (textual and object based) and the actions (of the artist) in this project, emerged through a phase of “archive activation”. Text and objects were activated, and their “activation” was framed as an artistic activity. Primarily, this was the activation of the kiln. This object was not only an installation, but an operational kiln used at specific times throughout the exhibition. Apart from this, the activation of the archive also appeared through actions of addition and deduction. Several of the textual archives were added to, especially textual objects in the second domain, because Dyah was continuously noting new measurements and evidence that she observed during the process of experimentation with, and observation of, the kiln. Meanwhile, deductions were made from other textual archives, or indeed they were deliberately removed (taken down from the gallery walls).  In reality, throughout the exhibition, the discoveries made through the kiln experiments expanded until a number of the textual archives in the first domain were no longer relevant to the project’s narrative. They were then replaced with ceramic objects that had not previously been in the gallery. Deductions to the archive were also manifested through the transformation of the objects’ form: Dyah took some of the waste material from its original location (in glass jars arranged on a shelf on the wall) to be re-used as test pieces and fired in the kiln. In this way, the activity created a “new object”, fired ceramic test pieces; these become a primary record of the artistic production/research event in the gallery.

The activation of the archive (or the artists intervention on the archive) took place at a particular frequency throughout the exhibition. Here, the durations overlap. First, there is duration in the context of the exhibition’s duration. Secondly, there is a sepcifc duration for each action the artist takes when she intervenes on (adding to or deduction from) the archive. The duration at the level of the archival intervention encompasses, among other things, the duration of the artist’s handling of waste materials when she is creating test pieces, the duration of the artist’s interactions with the kiln (primarily in the moments of waiting and observing the process of firing), and the duration of noting data about the firing process and its results.

Elsewhere, duration is also something that is embedded in the data: the second domains of the textual and object-based archives, in line with their development as part of the exhibition’s content, actually represents information about the duration of the artist’s specific actions. Textual representations of the duration of actions occur, for instance, in the notation of figures, while one objective representation appeared in the various colours that were shown through the fired test pieces. And these representations took place continuously throughout the exhibition.These overlapping durations indicate a kind of rhythm in the implementation of ∆HRT =∆HOR+(∆HP-HR). From the perspective of “event-based art”, we can agree that this durational rhythm transfigures the process into a mode of language. Duration, in any case, always assumes a particular resilience and intensity in time and space, and basically defines the limitations of reality and expression—there is a beginning and an end. However, overlapping durations in the context of this art project, which had several levels, comprised various parts which resonated with each other and existed together as “direct events”, events which experimented with the productions/research in the project itself; experiments which were framed as an exhibition. These overlapping durations were not like durational frameworks for a particular performance. They were actually temporal aspects of an entire event that was factual, appropriate, natural.

The Poetic in Data

There are many initiatives in the world that have embraced data as an expressive element for artistic articulation. Interventions like these usually try to extend the possibility of data beyond a mere vehicle for informative communication, by broadening its potential for visual representation.

Artistic utilisations of data as a representational object often begin by questioning how far our humanity is capable of liberating us from the rigidity and reductive standardisation of data, which is usually presented as a language of generalisation. This is what artist and founder of creative studio Proboscis, Giles Lane,[7] expresses.[8] According to Lane, the creation of the poetic from data is one way to bypass the limitations of information’s rigidity, especially information that is controlled. The Poetics of Data, the phrase that he uses, is an effort to trigger a shift in how people interact with data. He says:

“A shift away from the familiar and ordered modes through which we are used to experiencing it on screens, via spreadsheets, tables, graphs, counters, dials or the linear waveforms of measuring devices. Poetry and poetics are time-honoured ways in which people have communicated things that are beyond just measurement – emotions, feelings, beliefs. Things which are at the very limit of description. Things which defy rationality and even reason.”[9]

In Indonesia, for example, Ade Darmawan’s work in his solo exhibition titled Human Resource Development (2012),[10] applied this concept. Statistical data was given artistic treatment through the removal of all numbers, leaving behind only the shape of lines and colours as pure compositional form. In this way, the orientation of the work is shifted from an act of “reading” (cerebral) towards an act of “seeing” (experiential). Giles Lane’s projects are another example, especially in the way data that is essentially abstract information becomes poetic and tactile.[11]

Dyah’s treatment of data in ∆HRT =∆HOR+(∆HP-HR), as far as it was directed in the exhibition, realizes something alternative—if not moving towards—concepts like those proposed by Giles Lane. In its realisation, Dyah’s “artistic interventions” on data (if we want to describe them as such) are not based on formal visuals.  What Dyah actually does, in connection with ideas about relations between “action” and “duration”, is emphasis the natural occurrences of the research process in time.  The “Poetry from Data” that Dyah creates rests on the duration of the collection of data itself.  Among other things: empty forms were gradually filled throughout the experiments with the kiln. Slowly, the forms filled with data. What is poetic in this is the moment of collection rather than the visual data. In this continuous “data filling” section, Dyah’s “Poetry from Data” is based more on time than form; it is temporal rather than visual.

This character is also found in Dyah’s actions to process clay into bracelets of various sizes, to be used as test pieces for ceramic firing. Through this action, duration becomes the most important element. Dyah sat for hours making dozens of clay bracelets. In the making of each bracelet, various moments took place: natural occurrences in the environment influence bodily reactions, while the reactive body also determines the quality of the process of the clay material into bracelets. Over a long duration, and through intense activity, these bracelets eventually became “concrete data”, whereby information about size was no longer represented through numbers, but understood, felt, through an understanding of the weight of the material that represented the time the artist passed while making the clay bracelets.  As in Ade Darmawan’s numberless poetry, Dyah’s data-poetry demands something that is beyond description, challenges rationality, and believes in empathy rather than meaning, although what is presented is raw data without any artistic intervention on its formal aspects.  In other words, data-poetry seeks performative manifestations over mere contemplation.

The Poetic in Events

Rather than appearing with the characteristics of “performance”, the event of production/research in ∆HRT =∆HOR+(∆HP-HR) was shown in its most natural form; what was visible to exhibition visitors were the facts of the event which were largely unpredicted, even though Dyah had undertaken a number of actions according specific guidelines. However, those guidelines were in fact more like research steps that she needed to implement to achieve empirical proof of the efficacy of the kiln, rather than acts that were constructed as representative performances. This exhibition project consciously framed a series of natural occurrences in the research as events which were actually presented to the public as an artistic event: Dyah’s research laboratory for ceramics and kilns was redefined through an artistic perspective that paid attention to everyday aesthetics, where routine becomes the key to expressive style.

Throughout the exhibition, Dyah implemented experiments with kiln firing by firing a number of test pieces of cast clay. She did this twice a week. Apart from testing the kiln, Dyah also process the clay into test pieces in the shape of bracelets with varying thicknesses and diameters. These were also fired in the kiln as part of the testing process. All this was recorded on video—Dyah always gave a verbal explanation to the camera each time she tok a step in the series of testing actions.  Apart from this Dyah also noted all occurrences that were associated with the testing (including anything happening in the kiln itself), while also noting the results after the firing is complete.

In reality, these activities did not always go smoothly. However, these hiccups were also recorded and presented to exhibition visitors. Including what happened in the kiln. These actions were a form of research to test the kiln’s performance, and while scientific theories include Popper’s Falsification Principle,[12] errors that occurred in the kiln were not concealed in Dyah’s findings. The aim of this series of actions was not to prove the success and perfection of the kiln’s performance, the true goal was to assess the experience of the kiln during the experiment.

The ∆HRT =∆HOR+(∆HP-HR) exhibition project’s partiality to appropriate, factual and natural events, it seems, is aligned with (or aspires to a vison of) what Rosenberg defines as “de-aestheticisation”: an effort to purify art from “artifice” and make it a “fragment of what is real within what is real”.[13] De-aesthetisication, according to Rosenberg, is also an concept in opposition to the rhetoric of excessively formalistic purificaton.[14] This discourse is used as a protest against the narrowness of museum and gallery systems which serve up a handful of aesthetically empty banalities.[15]

In this, what we then understand as the poetic in events that emphasise everday expressive styles and the potential of routine, as was attempted in ∆HRT =∆HOR+(∆HP-HR), was the simplification rather than the artificialisation of events. The actions of this art project emphasised affirmative efforts towards the natural facts of events, and all these aspects in the moment are celebrated as part of a whole process, framed as the primary content, presented through an exhibition framework that refuses to spectacularise the occurrence of creation.  In this project, the fact of production of the fact of research no longer required artistic polish, because the rawness of the event itself is what should be understood as the poetic.


[1] Wilhelm Windelband, “Rectorial Address, Strasbourg, 1894”, in History and Theory, Vol. 19, No. 2 (February, 1980), pp. 169-185. p. 175.

[2] Wilhelm Windelbang and Guy Oakes, “History and Natural Science”, in History and Theory, Vol 19, No. 2 (Februari, 1980), pp. 165-168. p. 167.

[3] However, actually Windelband himself was said to be the first to propose this dichotomy, saying that the two methods are, in any case, general categories of all kinds of science.

[4] Robert Pincus-Witten, Postminimalism, New York: Out of London Press, 1977, p. 16.

[5]  Harold Rosenberg, De-definition of Art, New York: Collier Books, 1972, p. 29.

[6] Kim Grant, All About Process: The Theory and Discourse of Modern Artistic Labour, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2017, p. 191.

[7] Giles Lane, “A Poetics of Data”, 25 October 2019. https://gileslane.net/2019/10/25/a-poetics-of-data/,  paragraph 3.

[8] See http://proboscis.org.uk/about/.

[9] Giles Lane., op. cit., paragraph 3.

[10] See documentation Ade Darmawan’s solo exhibition, Human Resource Development, on https://indoartnow.com/exhibitions/a-solo-exhibition-of-ade-darmawan.

[11] This can bee seen in a number of his Poetics of Data projects. Such as Lifestream (2012) and Manifest Data Lab (2019-now), dua contoh yang paling mendekati gagasan ini.

[12] Popper’s principle demands that scientific experiments focus on proving hypothesis to be conceivable false, rather than potentially true.

[13] Harold Rosenberg, op. cit., p. 29.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid., hal. 30.

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Yang Puitik dari Proses, Data, dan Peristiwa | CEMETI

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