This summer, Syagini Ratna Wulan had her solo exhibition held by ROH Projects in South Jakarta, Susurrus, curated by Agung Hujatnikajennong. The title of the exhibition is taken from Indonesian word which means rustles or whispers, a metaphor for indistinct, faint voice such as that of wind blowing through leaves or of brook running over gravels. In Susurrus, they are presented through artworks of image and words blended and disguised with colors and lights of the gallery. During an interview with ForbesLife Indonesia, Cagi – as how she is called by many – shares how her artwork has evolved over time. Instead of focusing work on one medium, the Bandung-born artist lets herself explore various mediums and objects to express herself. Many of her artworks are expressing cynicism, humors to question and reflect on human’s behavior.
“The mediums I use always change simply because I do not contemplate on one alone. Rather, I have questions in this life that I want to ask, to be reflected by proper mediums. Therefore, I make my artwork to bring me to find the answers to them,” explains Cagi.
One of her earliest and most famous projects is Bibliotea, which she displayed at Art HK in Hong Kong back in 2011. Bibliotea is a huge installation showing how knowledge from within the books are extracted replacing tea leaves to be brewed, symbolizing humans’ consumerism of wanting the best result through the most convenient, least-effort method. It was a breakthrough in her artistry career, especially since it made her the only Indonesian finalist at the Celeste Prize 2011 in New York, held by the Celeste Network – a web platform of artists globally sharing their enthusiasm of contemporary arts.
Next to Bibliotea was 100 Moving Numbers in Biennale Jogja XII in 2013, in which by following numbered postcards, audiences are led to walk through the exhibition of a hundred steel lockers with various objects inside each of them. Letting audiences to perform their own interpretation from one place to another, 100 Moving Numbers installations suggest juxtaposition between numbers and existentialist terms.
“The most significant evolution of my artwork however, is probably during the Spectral Fiction exhibition. It was the moment when I started to make peace with colors, to come to terms with paintings. I had been sensitive about painting, and that was the time I reconsidered my perception about them.”
Spectral Fiction was Cagi’s solo exhibition held by ROH Projects in 2016, in which by using canvas and resin as mediums for her artworks, she plays with lights and colors to remind people of their natural presentation, instead of the distorted and changing on digital forms that are constantly attached to people nowadays.
Interestingly, Cagi has always thought of painting as the most difficult thing to do in creating artwork, and therefore has been hesitant on doing. To her, painting limits herself in delivering message due to the limited size of canvas – unlike other mediums that can simply be modified accordingly to her needs – equivalent to how a short, deep poem can deliver strong impact into the audience’s heart.
“In Spectral Fiction, I also try to view things from a non-anthropocentric way, out of human’s interests. Colors, for example, are associated to certain interpretations or culture only because humans wish to define them as such, whereas in fact, colors are other creatures’ to define too. So, I try to ask if people have ever thought of doing something more ecological for other creatures, instead of exposing them to the impact of anthropocentric interests.”
Cagi then shares how Susurrus was also prepared based on similar perspective: how to see one thing through different perception. “There are many ways to interpret an artwork as it is fragile, not absolute. An artwork is made of many layers and component, thus being anything but one kind. Therefore, in this occasion I’m questioning how to interpret an abstract artwork with this amount of reality.”
Her philosophical way of thinking and perspective as she admits, are pretty much influenced from her Cultural Studies at University of London in the United Kingdom after completing her bachelor studies in Fine Art at Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB). Whereas studying as an artist at ITB felt as if she was expected to be a social hero due to the nation’s social-political situation at that time, London taught her that artist isn’t always entitled to change the world, but to find joy instead. “There are indeed artists who design and build bridges and cities, but to me being an artist is tertiary. It’s all about building sense and awareness of certain issues to the public.”
Albeit considering being an artist as tertiary, Cagi still faces challenges just like any others, other than the previously mentioned painting preference – such as time and strength constraint. “As an artist we must balance our thoughts, time, and law of physics. We need to consider how long each stage and process of our artworks will take, and even how much our helpers (craftsmen) can do in certain amount of time.” Being a rising artist with more exhibitions on the schedule doesn’t make her jobs get any easier because it means less time for her to prepare in between. For instance, prior to this August’s Susurrus, she had IRIS exhibition held in Manila back in February – a collaboration between Jakarta’s ROH Projects and the Philippines’ Silverlens, followed by ArtJog 2018 in Jogjakarta in early May. The tight gap gave her only 2-month time of preparation each, in comparison to her ideal of 6-month time. The results of her artworks nevertheless, are satisfying.
She also mentions that the amount of strength required in doing arts is probably one of the reasons why there are fewer female artists than male, although she is hoping to see more of the former to emerge in the industry. “Being an artist is an exhausting work because the process drains a lot of energy. I believe there are many creative female artists, but perhaps it is the technical skills and energy required that affects female artists’ performances. I myself won’t be able to complete this exhibition without the help of craftsmen.”
Following this exhibition, Cagi wants to keep her artwork more minimalistic and not too ‘loud’ in conveying the message or questions to people. She also plans to keep learning painting to improve herself, especially with natural pigment, opaque colors.