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8th Asia Pacific Triennial Q&A: Melati Suryodarmo

Interviewer: NICHOLAS FORREST 2015-12-24

The Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT) is Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art’s (QAGOMA) flagship international contemporary art event, and the only major exhibition series in the world to focus exclusively on the contemporary art of Asia, the Pacific, and Australia.

The 8th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT8), which opened on 21 November and continues until 10 April 2016, showcases the work of more than 80 established and emerging artists and groups from more than 30 countries across the two gallery spaces of the QAGOMA complex.

This edition of APT emphasizes the role of performance in recent art and explores the use of the human form to express cultural, social, and political ideas as well as what QAGOMA describes as “the role of artists in articulating experiences specific to their localities.”

Throughout the duration of APT8, BLOUIN ARTINFO will feature a series of interviews with participating artists. In the interview below, Germany-based Indonesian performance artist Melati Suryodarmo discusses her performance work “I’m a Ghost in My Own House.” (more info here).

Could you describe the work that you will be presenting at the 8th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT8) and the motivation and inspiration behind its creation?

It is a performance artwork, “I’m a Ghost in My Own House,” which I performed for the first time in 2012 in Lawangwangi Art Space Bandung, Indonesia. It’s a 12-hour durational performance where I will be crushing and grinding wooden charcoal into dust.

This work is inspired by the process of creating charcoal from wood harvested from trees, and then rendering this to dust, which can be paralleled to a person undergoing a psychological metamorphosis in which thoughts and excesses are purged, pulverized and incinerated, to the extent that their appearance and very structure are transformed from what they were before.

Prevalent as a source of fuel in Southeast Asian countries, it is made by cooking wood in a low-oxygen environment to evaporate off all water and harden it. As a material, charcoal is life-sustaining because it provides heat and fire; yet it also has the capacity to burn and destroy.

How does the work you are presenting at APT8 connect with your ongoing practice and the interests and preoccupations that form the basis of your work?

In doing a performance artwork, I find myself becoming a united object as well as subject. It is not only about the presence of the body, but also how the action and the ideas or thoughts behind the work are put in a direct encounter with the uncontrolled perceptions of the public or the viewers.

It took me several years to understand and learn how to use a language which is not my mother tongue, and how to make people understand what I wanted to say by using their language. There were many misunderstandings and it took time for me to find a way to express my thoughts the way I wanted to.

One day, after so long, I arrived at a point where I felt I had found a language that didn’t need any words or belong to any defined culture. I found myself in a shelter, which constantly moved together with the constant changing of my body. This shelter was not a house, nor a home, but rather it moved with me from one journey to another journey. I had begun to believe that my body was a shelter, and at the same time, a container for memories I didn’t need to write down in my diary.

As a shelter, my body keeps all the hidden paths of history, all the genetics as well as cultural baggage. It is also resource of emotional energy, synchronizing the happenings of day to day life. This is why I love to do performance art, which does not need acting, but a true action, which puts mind and the body into one entity with time and space, and where text is fluid within.

This eighth edition of APT8 focuses on exploring the use of the human form to express cultural, social and political ideas, and the central role of artists in articulating experiences specific to their localities. In what ways have you engaged with this focus in the work you are presenting?

To grow and to develop within the cultural environment, which is not of my own, has forced me to learn the meaning of identity, distance, displacement, communication and relations. Learning about one own identity, as a person, I cannot avoid the facts that I am included in the term of cultural and national borders. In some environment or situations I am identified by my passport which deals with nationality borders and culture.

I grew up in my country during a time when everybody should be a cultural representative and ambassador of our highly respected culture. As in the arts, we should always include the common values as well as attributes of our culture in our presentation of our art practices outside our country of origin. I started to disagree with the idea of seeing Indonesian culture as an exotic object, and thus, I am also seen as an embodied exotic representation in my performance.

Because exotic is a way of thinking that came along in our west-east perspective during the time of colonialism, I had a high need to repositioning and re-defining my identity which appears as a person who lives in the post-colonial time through the recent socio political environment through my art works. In many cases as an artist, I see the importance to be clear about identity beyond the representative of the nationality, culture, gender, or religion and rather to build an actual understanding of one’s own identity as part of the universal related humankind.

How would you define and describe the position and status of your practice within the context of the wider Asia Pacific art scene?

Performance art is one of the genres in the art which has the quality of its fluidness between the performing arts and the visual arts. It also includes the idea of using or involving different mediums and collected under the conceptual frame and structures, of actions and interactions. There have been much written on the history of performance art in the west, but there are only very few writings about the development of the performance art in the Asia and Pacific regions.

What do you want to convey and/or express with the work you are presenting at APT8?

As an artist who chooses to use the body as the main medium I am mostly confronted, not by the physicality of the body itself, but rather by the world beyond the existence of the body as a subject.  I see myself as part of our collective on going change, and therefore, art to me is an important way where I can constantly put my effort to participate in this change, and hopefully for the better world.

Article courtesy of Blouin Artinfo:

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