Inside Out : ruangperruang . . . . . in my home

by Michelle Chin

I'm not sure why, but the theme of Ruang per Ruang (Space by Space) Project #2 reminds me of a pop song. I can't remember who sang it all those many years ago, but the words went something like:

Inside out, boy you turn me, upside down and . . . . . round and round


Maybe it's because I've just had the experience of 11 male artists working at my house over a period of 2 months. What was it like? Inside-out, upside-down, topsy-turvy and all over the place? No, it wasn't really (always) like that. In fact, it was a very interesting experience, and I have no regrets at all.

Having been told that the concept of the Ruang per Ruang project was to create an artistic response to a given space without destroying or damaging any part of the house while allowing daily activities to carry on unhampered, I spontaneously agreed to allow the second project to take place in my home. The artists worked at the house during the months September to November 2004.

More than anyone, it was probably the artists who felt that they were being turned "inside-out" - what with having to respond to a space that is a traditional Javanese joglo and already quite full of artworks, having to "compromise" their creativity by creating artworks that would not clash with the prevailing mood of the home, allowing the space to remain "livable" with the tables functioning as tables, chairs functioning as chairs and doors functioning as doors. Some of the artists wanted to rearrange pot plants and stone sculptures but they had to keep in mind that a path to water the plants and the line for hanging out the washing should still be accessible. They wanted to respond to the area around the well in the kitchen but they had to leave enough space to wash clothes, wash dishes and actually be able to draw water up from the well in a bucket. Some of the artists had to revise or adjust their original plans in order to fit in with the space of the house and the needs of its resident.

Creating artworks in and for a living, breathing home (someone else's home) is a lot more challenging than working in one's own studio (or home). It is also a lot more challenging than preparing art works for an exhibition which will be displayed in a (empty) gallery space, or public space (most often the public spaces which are selected for artworks are also relatively "empty" beforehand).

On top of that, these artists opted to work as a group where they would have to cope with the barbed criticisms of their fellow artists. With 11 artists working in one space there is bound to be plenty of opportunity for tempers to flare up in a flash. For some of the participants, friendships can be strained to the point that they no longer want to talk to each other. It is a learning experience for artists to work together in this way - they have to be flexible, open-minded, cooperative, and willing to share materials, tools and space. Perhaps at the end of the project, it will be a welcome retreat back to their own studios where they can bask in the solitary luxury of the artist's rich inner world.

During the initial meeting held at my house, it was interesting to note the democratic way in which the 11 artists decided on who would do what where. One by one they were asked where they wanted to create their art work in the house, and if someone else had chosen the location in the house that another had set his heart on, they would then negotiate as to who would get that spot. When they started discussing the actual work they had planned to create, it became apparent that two artists (Aji and Lampung) had very similar ideas, so one of them (Lampung) agreed to start afresh and think of a new idea. Aji had almost completed his art work by the time that Lampung eventually came up with his new idea of a 3-metre tall figure constructed from wire and covered in string which seems to emerge from the well in my kitchen.

Gusde had three attempts at his artwork, although the location (three tables in the house) remained the same. Arya's location changed totally - from his initial decision to create something on the inside wall of the front courtyard, he ended up distributing 7 laser-printed images of himself throughout the house. (Wahyudin's comment: "How narcissistic!") Bambang Toko's idea of creating something in response to the numerous doors in the house later turned into a row of water-filled light-bulbs hanging from the ends of the rafters of the front pavilion.

Apart from the fact that the artists' heads and habits were turned "inside-out" during this project, the theme "Inside-Out" forces us to contemplate the concepts of inside/outside, indoor/outdoor, insider/outsider, the externalising of internal/emotional responses, and finally, the ins and outs of creating an artwork.

inside/outside

Bambang Toko's installation entitled Transparan reflects on the theme of inside/outside in that a transparent wrapping allows us to see from the outside to the inside. He wonders whether the wrapping is there to conceal or clarify. Or is it there to cover up just a little bit of what is beneath? Or, is it creating a distance between the outer and inner layers? Bambang commented that materials of a transparent nature provide a "transit area" or neutral space. His work reflects on the themes of me and you, us and them, subject and object as well as opposites such as true/false, good/bad, friend/foe. It is also the most humorous of all the works created during this project. Printed stickers float in water inside clear light bulbs, and the "words of wisdom" on these stickers are quite hilarious.

Jodi's installation Birunya Awan created from sculpted, painted wire also reflects on transparency. He wanted to create something that is both there and not there at the same time. Jodi's artwork responds to and merges with the house by allowing us to still see the house and its contents through a new filter. The seated figure is so transparent that we can see straight through the "skin" of the figure to the plants behind him. The wiry clouds he has hung inside and outside the house are too flimsy to contain any rain. Jodi's clouds float calmly through the house, creating an illusion of the much longed-for rain and cooler weather that had not yet become a reality when he created his artwork in September/October.

indoor/outdoor

The art works created during this project are best described as "indoor-outdoor art" - mixed media sculptures and installations, a wall mural, a traditional Javanese children's game, and video art. The pleasing contrast between the traditional architecture of this Javanese joglo and the contemporary art works that the artists created is particularly striking. It seems that because of the architecture of the house, many of the artists created work that hangs from the high roof beams and ceilings. Hanging sculptures or installations were created by Aji, Jodi, Lampung, Bambang Toko, Arya and Alam.

Of course, the main reason that the artists were unable to create works that are affixed to the walls is because almost all of the walls in my house already had paintings hanging on them. One exception was the area around the well in the kitchen. Yudi had told us that he planned to create something around the well in the kitchen and he had mentioned flowers or plants, so we imagined that he was going to create something along the lines of an installation comprising sculpted flowers and plants. While he did create free-standing flowers in pots, he also painted a mural measuring 3 metres by 9 metres on the three walls around the well. Yudi wanted to bring the outdoors indoors, the outside to the inside (inside-out, upside-down, huh, just like having all the furniture out in the garden and all the plants in the house . . . . . words from another pop song I can barely remember). Yudi says that he wanted to create a feeling of green fields and blue skies inside the kitchen, so that's exactly what he painted.

Many of the artists mentioned that they felt challenged by the existing art works - paintings, sculptures, puppets and stone carvings - on display at the house. Rather than removing all of the artworks, they decided to create something in response to these artworks. Some of them incorporated these art works into their own creations, and in a sense they had to "go inside" those artworks to create something on the outside.

Dalbo incorporated one of his own paintings entitled 'Dimana Sisi Aku Menepi into his installation which begins in the kitchen where it seems to pierce through Yudi's wall mural. We can then imagine that it travels through one of the bedrooms and a store-room for paintings before it emerges through a third wall and the painting 'Dimana Sisi Aku Menepi in one of the front rooms. Finally it seems to want to break through a window of that room which leads into the front courtyard. Dalbo's installation physically (and symbolically) covers the space of four rooms in the house, responding to the space as it travels through all of these spaces. His work moves from inside to outside with ease, "breaking through" thick walls and passing through furnished rooms on its journey through to the outside world.

To some extent, Aji and Gusde responded to a painting by Wayan Danu entitled Pesta Perjamuan which is 3 metres high by 6 metres wide. It dominates the front pavilion by the very nature of its size and its rather grisly subject matter: figures with wolves' heads are seated at a feast of skewered infants, penises and testicles floating in jars of liquid, beheaded women, and various limbs which have been chopped off the bloodied bodies lying on the table.

Two of Gusde's tables in this area lie in a direct line with Wayan Danu's painting. The rather gothic feel of the painting is carried through to the way Gusde has covered the two tables with cloth that has been burned at the edges. The hands that he has painted in red and black symbolise ambition, greed, cruelty, envy and hypocrisy: these are also the major themes of Danu's painting.

Aji's installation entitled Apa yang Dicari? focusses on the themes of obsession, ambition and desire. It reacts strongly to Danu's painting by "slicing" through its centre and thereby somewhat diminishing its overwhelming dominance of this space. If in the past our eyes travelled the 3 metre width of Wayan Danu's painting, studying the various facial expressions of the 17 wolf-headed figures seated at their gruesome dinner party, our eyes are now drawn upwards along the 3 metre height of Aji's striking red installation with its numerous wire figures clambering upwards towards the light. Various smaller-sized pieces are scattered throughout the front part of the house, and one blue figure (who has attained what he/she was searching for) calmly watches the multitude of figures still desperately clambering upwards - in search of something, in search of what?

insider/outsider

Arya Pandjalu responded to the art works in my house by placing 7 life-sized figures of himself in front of a sculpture by Supar Madiyanto and paintings by Edo Pop, Made Aswino Aji and Wayan Danu. Two of Arya's figures have been placed in front of Wayan Danu's painting entitled Pesta Perjamuan, viewing it up close. The painting is so large that it requires two Arya's rather than just one looking at it! Another of Arya's figures is engrossed with viewing Aji's installation. Arya does not only respond to the artworks that were in house prior to the project (including a painting by Made Aswino Aji who is participating in this project), he also interacts and responds with the new artworks that have been created specifically for this Ruang per Ruang project.

Arya decided that he wanted to create artwork that could be placed in front of another artwork. He is therefore simultaneously artist/creator and viewer. He is both an insider and outsider, "inside" the Ruang per Ruang project as artist/participant and "outside" as viewer/audience of the artworks that make up this project. As viewers (or outsiders), we look at Arya's artwork which is in its turn looking at another artwork. We observe the observer, but we are also observing two art works simultaneously. The lines between inside/outside and insider/outsider become blurred and fuzzy at this point.

One section of Yudi's mural deals with the issues of long-distance relationships in which communication via telephone and sms rules the day. The male figure is trapped inside a room or space. He is unable to communicate with the outside world at all except via telephone. He longs to get out, but is hampered by something he cannot define. Locked in, he longs to get out, and he feels that he needs help from the outside world in order to break the chains (or telephone cords?) that bind him in his confined state. The male figure depicted in Yudi's mural is "inside", but he really wants to be outside.

externalising internal/emotional responses

Wimo Ambala Bayang created a video in which various artworks in the house appear to move or spin round in circles. He told me that when he first came to my house he was struck by the fact that most of the things in the house do not move. Well, I thought, isn't that true of the objects in most people's houses? Maybe it's because Wimo is a film-maker. Obviously he likes things to move. It reminded me of the fact that the best still-life paintings give us the impression that the objects are just about to start moving. The objects may be still, but they are full of life. Some of the objects that Wimo chose to animate are the Balinese stone sculptures in the front courtyard, a pair of stools titled Two Tails by Singaporean artist Lim Shing Ee and a painted wooden turtle from Vietnam. His video is both a response to the artworks displayed in the house and a "god-like" desire to give life to inanimate objects. To paraphrase Ugo Untoro's comments on puppetry, Wimo's video "is an attempt to 'bring to life' inanimate objects through dramatic movement. More than that [animation] is the manifestation of a desire to create and control. Designing and moving the [inanimate objects in an animation film] satisfies a desire to control a small world, to rule and own it." (in Tali Ikat: fiber connections, 2002, pp. 69-70)

My house reminded Roni Wibowo of his childhood. Having grown up in a village near Malang, he felt a familiarity with the spaciousness of the house compound and the large yard surrounding the house, the dirt roads, the trees and rice-fields, and the smell of smoke coming from the neighbours' wood-fire stoves. Recalling how he and his friends would play Dam-daman and Dam-daman Macan, he used many of the Balinese stone carvings that were displayed in the front courtyard to recreate these two traditional Javanese children's games. Roni's creation is an emotional response, a remembrance of things past brought into the present in the concrete form of my front courtyard.

There are two other works that could also be described as being "immediate emotional responses". The installations created by Jodi and Alam are responses to the space of my house as well as being responses to the weather conditions that we experienced during this project. It was extremely hot and we all were wilting in the heat, wishing it would rain. Jodi's "yellow man" seated in the kitchen courtyard looks exactly as we all felt - hot and lacking the energy to get up and work in the relentless heat, and we all wanted to avoid the intense heat bouncing off the cement walls of the front courtyard. The sculpted figure has sensibly placed himself amidst the plants and greenery of the open courtyard near the kitchen. Jodi added 22 blue clouds which brought a sense of relief to us all with their promise of rain. Alam also had a similar emotional response to the heat in that he wanted to create a feeling of refreshing greenery in the two bathrooms.

Additionally, several of the artists worked their personal problems into the works they created. Relationship problems, work-related problems and personal obsessions or ambitions found their way into their artworks. Emotional turmoil, puzzling questions and personal problems were externalised and then materialised into the forms they created.

the ins and outs of creating an artwork

The Ruang per Ruang project allows us the possibility of observing and documenting artists at work. The exhibition is only the end-point: the project starts from the day that the artists begin creating their artwork. As non-artist observers, we have the pleasure and privilege of witnessing the processes involved in creating an artwork.

It is fascinating to witness the transformation of raw materials into a work of art. A ball of string, a roll of wire, lengths of bamboo, a pile of newspaper, a spool of thread, cans of paint, a bundle of string, a box of light bulbs, planks of wood, pieces of cloth and various other materials might be fashioned, twisted, glued, torn, taped, tied, sculpted, cut, burnt at the edges, painted. Eventually these materials are transformed into something that will be free-standing or hung, painted on the wall, set up on the ground/floor/table, or photographed and processed into an animation video. We are able to observe and appreciate the imagination, ingenuity and skill of the artist to transform raw materials into a work of art that can give lasting pleasure to those who view it. When observing artists at work we see "the Eternal secret of all great art, yes, of every mortal achievement, made manifest: concentration, the collection of all forces, all senses, that ecstasis, that being-out-of-the-world of every artist." (Stefan Zweig, The World of Yesterday, p. 149)

All in all, the Ruang per Ruang project has been an experience which reinforces my idea that living with art is the best way to live.