The Jakarta Post, 16 April 2007

Ugo unveils blood-stained revelations

Carla Bianpoen, Contributor, Jakarta

The invitation to Ugo Untoro's solo exhibition at the National Gallery could have stirred the recipient with horror or disgust, but could also have provoked a sense of curiosity.

What would this Poem of Blood exhibition look like, presented by an artist whose emaciated figures and horses have filled many canvases?

The daily news shows enough blood spilling through the world today, so would people willingly go to a presentation of more blood?

Entering the exhibit, one is struck by the same sensation that arose upon receiving the invitation.

The entrance is flanked by dead horses or horses crawling in pain, lying in the sand. Though these were only stuffed horse hide, they looked real, and the vacant, gaping holes that once held eyes made it even worse. It is certainly not something to look at for pleasure.

Inside the gallery, paintings and three-dimensional works of horses, horse hide displayed in various forms and everything horse-like is arranged in a display that in some strange manner recalls scenes from Mexico, perhaps from long-forgotten films.

Hung in an installation are filled horse hide that look like eerie bundles, imprinted with text such as "blood", "tears", "fire" and "poem". Vaguely, the artwork resembles a butcher's stall at a traditional market.

Ugo Untoro (b. 1970) is in his own way glorifying the horse, which he considers the mistreated bearers of and silent witnesses to civilization, the vehicle that carried heroes to their victories. But alas, civilization and modern vehicles have sidelined the horse, now considered just an animal, that once they have grown old, sick or useless, are mistreated, killed and slaughtered.

A video showing the slaughter of a horse and its pain was so realistic, some could not stand to watch it to the end.

For Ugo then, the horse here embodies the history of mankind.

Various installations testify to this: Drowning History for instance, shows a small piece of horse hide appearing to sink into a large block of cement; Menggantung Sejarah (Hanging history) presents a horse-like figure hanging from an iron bar; horse hide hung out to dry, like laundry, carries the title Menjemur Sejarah (Drying history); while folded horse hide becomes a metaphor for folding or putting history away in Sejarah Dilipatlipat.

But not everything looks horrifying in this exhibition.

An installation titled I'm Still Not Yours features a black fabric measuring 2.4 meters by 1.5 meters, on which Ugo has drawn the outline of a horse using cigarette burns. The horror here is not of a type to make one shrink back -- rather, it stirs the finer strings of the soul into contemplation.

The artist personifies the horse, curators write in the catalog, as sublimation of the pain he felt when he lost his favorite racehorse because of an accident.

A fervent horse lover, for Ugo it was like losing his dearest friend.

"The artist's expressions reflect the betrayal of human beings to the dedication of horses," writes Jim Supangkat.

Suwarno Wisetrotomo calls it "a visual bibliography of pain and the way to enlightenment", and Enin Supriyanto sees the works as a personification of victims of violence in our time who will eventually be declared heroes. Meanwhile, Jayakumara interprets it as "a sublimation of historical terrors by confronting, thinking and reflecting in a wider spectrum, the life of a nation".

But some who attended the exhibition's opening wondered whether violence should be presented in such a raw manner, commenting that it was similar to replicating and repeating violence.

Couldn't sublimation be more of an effect that elevates the spirit at the same time? Was it perhaps a sensationalist move by someone who puts his horse in races, and another form of violence?

Whatever the truth behind them, the works reveal a new way of creating art in Indonesia, the results of which the public may love or abhor.

Poem of Blood
Solo exhibition by Ugo Untoro
Galeri Nasional
April 11-26, 2007