Inside Out, Ruang per Ruang / Space by Space… in my home

by Michelle Chin

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

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

Maybe it's because I've just had the experience of eleven male artists working at my house for two 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.

The group of artists explained to me that the concept of the ruangperruang 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 and so the artists worked at the house during the months September to November 2004. In order to raise funding for this project, the artists produced original paintings and limited editions of photographic prints which were offered to potential sponsors at a special price. Thus, the Ruang per Ruang Project #2 was a "self-funded project" in that the artists themselves donated their artworks to the project in order to raise money for the running costs of the entire project.

Actually, it was probably the artists who felt they were being turned ‘inside-out’— having to respond to a space that is a Javanese joglo (traditional-style house) 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 liveable 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 washing-line should still be accessible. They wanted to use the area around the well in the kitchen but they had to leave enough space to wash clothes and dishes, to 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 to the house and the needs of its resident. Creating artworks in, and for, someone else’s home is 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 to be displayed in a (empty) gallery space, or (relatively empty) public space.

The eleven artists opted to work as a group where they would have to cope with the barbed criticisms of their peers. For some of the participants, friendships were strained to the point that they no longer want to talk to each other. It is a learning experience to work together in this way; to be flexible, open-minded, cooperative and willing to share materials, tools and space.

During the initial meeting held at my house, the democratic way in which they decided on who would do what and where was interesting. One by one, they were asked where they wanted to create their art work in the house, and if someone else had already chosen that location, they would then negotiate as to who would get the 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 think of a new idea. Aji had almost completed his installation by the time Lampung came up with his new idea—a 3-metre tall figure constructed from wire and covered in string, which seems to emerge from the well.

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 seven 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 manifested as a row of water-filled light-bulbs hanging from the ends of the rafters of the front pavilion.

The theme of this Ruang Per Ruang project, ‘Inside-Out’, invites 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, Transparan, reflects on the theme of inside/outside—a transparent wrapping allows us to see from the outside to the inside. Is the wrapping there to conceal or clarify? Or is it 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 transparent materials provide a “transit area” or neutral space. It is the most humorous of all the works—printed stickers float in water inside clear light bulbs and the “words of wisdom” on these stickers are 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 see it through a new filter. The seated figure is so transparent that we can see straight through its ‘skin’ to the plants behind it. The wiry clouds he hung inside and outside the house are too flimsy to contain any rain. They float calmly through the house, creating an illusion of the much longed-for rain and cooler weather that had not yet arrived in September/October.

indoor/outdoor
The works created are best described as ‘indoor-outdoor art’. The contrast between the traditional architecture of this Javanese joglo and the contemporary works created within it is striking. The architecture of the house inspired many of the artists to create 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 wall-mounted works is because almost all of the walls in my house already have 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 and 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. He said 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. Dalbo incorporated one of his own paintings, Dimana Sisi Aku Menepi, into his installation, which begins in the kitchen where it seems to pierce through Yudi's wall mural. It ‘travels’ through one of the bedrooms and a store-room, before it emerges through a third wall and his painting, which is hung in one of the front rooms. The installation physically (and symbolically) traverses the space of four rooms in the house. His work moves from inside to outside with ease, ‘breaking through’ thick walls and passing through furnished rooms on its journey to the outside world.

To some extent, Aji and Gusde responded to a large painting by Wayan Danu entitled Pesta Perjamuan. It dominates the front pavilion because 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.

Two of Gusde's tables in this area lie directly in line with Wayan Danu's painting. The gothic feel of the painting is mirrored in the burned edges of the cloth covering the tables. The hands, painted in red and black, symbolize ambition, greed, cruelty, envy and hypocrisy: the major themes of Danu's painting.

Aji's installation, Apa yang Dicari?, also focuses on the themes of obsession, ambition and desire. It reacts strongly to Danu's painting by ‘slicing’ through its centre and diminishing its overwhelming dominance of the space. Before, our eyes were drawn to the various facial expressions of the 17 wolf-headed figures seated at their gruesome dinner party, but now, Aji’s striking red installation with its numerous wire figures clambering upwards towards the light catches our eyes. Various smaller-sized pieces are scattered throughout the front of the house and one blue figure (who has attained what he/she was searching for) calmly watches the others still desperately clambering upwards—in search of something, in search of what?

insider/outsider
Arya Pandjalu placed seven life-sized figures of himself in front of a sculpture by Supar Madiyanto and paintings by Edo Pop, Made Aswino Aji and Wayan Danu. Another of Arya’s figures is engrossed with viewing Aji’s installation. Arya created an artwork that could be placed in front of another work, thereby simultaneously becoming artist/creator and viewer. He is both an insider and outsider, ‘inside’ the ruangperruang project as artist/participant and ‘outside’ as viewer/audience of the artworks that make up the project. The lines between inside/outside and insider/outsider become blurred.

One section of Yudi's mural deals with the issues of long-distance relationships enacted via telephone and SMS. The male figure is trapped and unable to communicate with the outside world except via telephone. He longs to get out, but is hampered by something he cannot define: he feels that he needs help in order to break the chains (or telephone cords?) that bind him. He is ‘inside’, but he really wants to be outside.

externalising internal/emotional responses
Wimo Ambala Bayang created a video in which artworks in the house appear to move or spin. He told me that when he first arrived, he was struck by the fact that most things in the house did not move. Well, I thought, isn’t that true of the objects in most houses? Maybe he made this observation because is a film-maker; he likes things to move. Some of the objects that Wimo chose to animate are the Balinese stone sculptures in the front courtyard, a pair of stools entitled 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.

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 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 displayed in the front courtyard to recreate these two traditional Javanese children’s games.

The installations created by Jodi and Alam respond both to the space and to the weather conditions we experienced during the project. It was extremely hot and we were all wishing it would rain. Jodi’s ‘yellow man’ seated in the kitchen courtyard looks exactly as we all felt—lacking the energy to get up and work in the relentless heat bouncing off the cement walls. The sculpted figure has placed himself amidst the greenery of the open courtyard. Jodi added 22 blue clouds, which brought a sense of relief with their promise of rain. Alam had a similar response to the heat and created a feeling of refreshing greenery in the two bathrooms by creating an installation of water plants which hangs against the walls.

The ins and outs of creating an art work
A project such as this allows us to observe and document artists at work. The exhibition is only the end-point: the project started from the day the artists began their work. 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 or 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. As non-artist observers, we have the pleasure and privilege of witnessing the processes involved in this creation. 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.

Ruang Per Ruang (Space by Space) 13 December 2004 - 28 February 2005 @ Michelle Chin's house in Jurug, Jl. Parangtritis km 6.5, Sewon, Bantul, Yogyakarta (in the vicinity of the ISI/Indonesian Institute of the Arts campus). For directions to the house, please telephone Made Aswino Aji 0818276506 or Michelle Chin 0811388630 or email: michellechin@pacific.net.sg

Michelle Chin is a writer and art curator.
email: michellechin@pacific.net.sg
website: www.michellechin.net

[published in Latitudes magazine, Feb 2005]