Vertigo, The Indonesian Ugliness

Vertigo, The Indonesian Ugliness

Vertigo, The Indonesian Ugliness

Many people in Indonesia believe that art must offer joy or beauty. It seems apparent that these people are averse to all forms of art that do not meet the aforementioned cri- teria, as they are unaware that not all motives of creating art are based on the aesthetic experiences of the artist. is means that an artist may not always offer beauty in his or her art. We will always nd art creation that is inspired by bad experiences, which may result in works that are not easy on the eye.

e dichotomy between ugliness and beauty is one that is age-old. If a work of art is not conventionally beautiful or does not ful ll aesthetic values, is it then not art? If art only conveys beauty, then does ugliness not ful ll preconditions of art? How is the ambiguous connection between both explicable if the beauty of art often fails to compete with real beauty, and unsightliness is not worse than reality? Can a work of art contain a combina- tion of both the beautiful and the grotesque?

roughout history, it has become orthodox to only accept works of great beauty as art, while “ugly” or disconcerting pieces have always been marginalised. As such, the ugly and the beautiful have traditionally been deeply intertwined in the history of art.

In essence, people de ne ‘ugly’ as follows: “offensive to the eyes; con icting with beauty; unpleasant or revolting; not enjoyable to look at; defective”. is “ugly” word also relates to all that is unpleasant; de ciencies in beauty; horror.

It is evident that no art movement in Indonesia clearly rejects beauty, nor can we nd any traces of a discernable anti-aesthetics movement. Almost all of art creation in Indo- nesia was driven by sensitivities toward beauty, and almost all creations are pretenses of morality and spirituality.

Despite this, we can easily nd manifestations of artists or groups of artists – re ected in their work – that reject art as beauty; offer ugliness; darkness; horror; terror; and terrifying, invalid shapes.

It could be because of this situation that our aesthetic sensitivities also suffer distur- bances, and it is this traumatic disturbance from aesthetic experiences we call “ugliness”. is ugliness is the provocation and projection of unconscious fantasies that reshape
the meaning of an aesthetic experience, to the point where the formal quality of the experience – shape, texture, and color – become what we perceive as the source of our most disturbing and revolting feelings.

e relevance of psychoanalytical studies in approaching this problem can be applied so long as the subject sees ugliness as a confrontation towards reality that brings disqui- eting and traumatic fantasies to the surface. e fantasy may involve the perception of fear, brutality, a disturbance of formal dimensions, or bad aesthetics.

Depiction of the “rotten” human in works by Affandi, Hendra Gunawan, Soedibio, Harjadi S., dan Basuki Resobowo in the late 1940s or Tisna Sanjaya, Moelyono, Dadang Christan- to, Agung Kurniawan, Heri Dono in the 1990s, was followed by Ugo Untoro, Isa Perkasa, Nandang Gawe, Rahmat Jabaril; not to mention Ade Darmawan, Reza A sina, Bambang “Toko” Witjaksono, Gusmen Heriadi, Wedhar Riyadi, Deden H. Durahman, and Arie

iyanto. e ugliness in their work represented things that were tough to swallow, and which were shunned – even rejected – by the masses. eir work involved all our emotions, and attempted to tell us what art should not do.

In the context of “ugliness”, the public not only rejects the idea
of being represented by “the reality of art”, but also responds in protest. is situation is interesting, considering that the post- war situation (like the art created by Indonesian artists during the Revolution era) caused not just social, moral, political and economic problems like poverty, but also destroyed the wholeness of the ordinary man’s spirit. Post-war conditions often give way to psychological trauma.

In recent times, there has been a gradual but marked shift to- wards the acceptance of ugly art. Although in certain periods, re- actions toward such art are a political reaction not to be ignored. e New Order, for instance, was a regime that enacted a formal system of aesthetic standards to categorise between “beauty” and “ugly”: it decreed which types of artwork were socially and culturally desirable, and which ones were not. Under President Soeharto’s rule, this regime tended to undermine artistic express and reduce the art scene to a state-approved sham. Outside of these constraints, all art expression was silenced.

Yet, the New Order situation was not unfamiliar to Indonesian artists. During the fascist Japanese occupation of Indonesia (1942-1945), any expression featuring the poor rarely passed
the censors. is occurred with one of Affandi’s paintings: during a solo exhibition organized by Poetera (Pusat Tenaga Rakyat – Center of People’s Power), it was taken down by the Japanese military. e reason cited by the authorities was that the painting provoked public reaction to the wartime poverty and hardships caused by Japan. We realise this because the Japanese issued propaganda to win the war, including the idea that Japan was a good friend that would never put the Indonesian people in misery.

As such, the New Order was not so different from the occupying Japanese. e leaders of the regime thought that there were special, formalised criteria for “how art is supposed to be”. It was no wonder that the standard used for de ning the good and the bad was heavily connected to the politics of taste. e ruling class would always eschew and marginalise unauthorised forms of expression, and these attitudes would eventually trickle down to society and become naturalised.

Enforcement of these standards did not always go smoothly.

When the ruling class enforced censorship towards art they did not authorise, the consistency of censorship triggered suspicion and anxiety. For artists, the fear of discrimination in art circles also changed the expressions and symbolic representations of art.

Ugliness in art does not only depict the “decaying” man with feet full of pus, diseased skin; bums that we wouldn’t want in our liv- ing room. Ugliness is also art that seems out of place and furrows our brows. ese are the artworks that deviate from the norm; exploiting media that challenge the existing art paradigms. ese are artworks that are not comfortable to enjoy for a long period. Our senses are disrupted, and are offered absurdity.

is exhibition is titled Vertigo, with the hope that it can show not only the journey of Indonesian art during the past decade, but also demonstrate that during that journey, it experienced signi – cant shifts, especially regarding how the “ugly” is presented, and bringing us to a perception that the ugliness shown represents
a communal ugliness – a reality in society (corruption, bribery, nepotism, and so on).

is exhibition not only presents how an aesthetic experience of beauty is felt, but also how experiencing ugliness becomes a daily problem that cannot be ignored.

It would not be an exaggeration to call this exhibition a platform to explore and experiment with “ugliness”. By selecting a rep- resentation of artists and various tendencies in use of medium and historical periods, this exhibition is a step forward for the Indonesian art scene that is worthy of research, and showcases a hidden facet of Indonesian art history.

We have lately seen the tendency of contemporary Indonesian art towards animation – layers of subconscious, shapes and lines verging on the neurotic. I would like to assume that there is a reason for this new trend.

e artworks presented in Vertigo are those with a avor of subconscious, with more emphasis on imagined elements, fantasies, wildness, neuroticism, or de nition in shape or theme. We see these re ections in how the artists stroke their brush; how they create lines and shapes, build themes, taking advantage of material and space. e results are quite diverse. e selection and arrangement of artworks in this exhibition actually offers a metaphor, of things that seem absurd and uncertain, are re ec- tions of fear, anxiety, unconsciousness; a neurotic symptom felt in the artwork within an exhibition room. is metaphor demon-


strates how this ambiguity is somewhat organised, as if it were conceived collectively; a metaphor that relates to our questions about identity.

e basis of this exhibition cannot be seperated from history’s perspective (and justi ca- tion). When Indonesian painting just developed in the 1950s (and perhaps con- tinuing until today), we must take note that our country and nation is still in poverty. Other than that, many important elements in the art-social landscape are not functioning optimally For instance: art historians, scholars, critics and art lovers continue to be oppressed. In 1951, critic Trisno Sumardjo wrote: “Differing from the progress of art in the Netherlands during its Golden Era (17th century), differing from the Rococo period in France, the development of modern art of Indonesia did not occur in times of opulence, but in times of shortage, in struggle, disaster and suffering; when our nation has long felt poverty, the decline of morality and the low level of knowledge has as though places a dif cult job upon its shoulders and demanded tenacity. erefore, the resulting artworks are the products of suffering. “

Ugly art brings to attention the imperfections of life that have escaped consideration and scrutiny. Art, therefore, never had ambition to de ne perfection.

Aminudin TH Siregar



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