2005 Arahmaiani’s Lecture on Painting, Part 1, accompanied by photography by Bernice Chauly

Taken from STAR MAG:

ARAHMAIANI – Gives a lecture on painting that’s causing a stir…

By Gina Fairley

When I think of a lecture, I remember the days of sitting at school dreaming of being elsewhere … a voice of authority droning on about what I should think. Yes, I did walk away from those hallowed halls learning something, but what do we walk away with from Indonesian artist Arahmaiani’s exhibition at Valentine Willie Fine Art, titled “Lecture on Painting, Part I”?

Arahmaiani explains, “… I have been trying to paint for years. I’m working on that subject that is so un-popular among painters at the moment – landscape!”

Arahmaiani has represented Indonesia at international exhibitions and biennales in Venice, Sao Paulo, Havana, Yokohama, and a swath of other highbrow venues. She is celebrated for her provocative artworks that use performance, installation and her own writings. She is among the more conceptual, avant-guard artists of the art world.

This is her first painting show.

I chatted with Arahmaiani leading up to this exhibition and asked her why these grey-green landscapes? Why choose a European landscape to couch her ideas to a Malaysian audience?

“… in Germany I started to appreciate this grey landscape … then I came back here to Malaysia and POW!, it is all green and colour … I started to think that I go between these two worlds of the grey and green … I am trying to capture this swinging experience…”

In a performance at the opening of the exhibition, Arahmaiani attempted to convey this ‘swinging’ by using a golf club as a prop to her ‘lecture’ on painting.

“My performance will be a very important part of this exhibition … The paintings, the photographs, and the performance link together to stimulate thought.”

But what did her ‘class’ absorb through her performance?

Text is a device that many artists have used over time to express ideas. Arahmaiani writes over her landscapes in a loose freehand. It’s expressions such as “Sudah lupah” (already forgotten) we see scrawled across her paintings. She says she is, “…interested in the meaning of words.” She presents them in a kind of ‘pop-scientific’ diagram, “ … a construction of geometry”, as she calls it.

Graphically, the paintings make for nice pictures. I am left with that feeling of being back in the classroom with heady physics equations scratched on the blackboard. Maybe the exhibition is a lecture after all?

There is something mysterious about these moody landscapes – they draw you in. This is confirmed in the striking black and white photographs by local artist, Bernice Chauly.

Chauly has photographed Arahmaiani bathed in light, immersed in water, or hugging a tree with text scrawled across her body – a signature of Arahmaiani’s performances. Chauly’s photographs are sensitive and telling.

Chauly explains she is using a “different disembarkation point … approaching photography for the first time as a shared artistic process, working with a performance artist”.

I asked Arahmaiani what she wanted to ‘say’ through her paintings.

“I want to turn the medium of painting into performance… I want to transform the individual ‘product’ of painting for the commercial art world into a complex question of authorship and marketability.”

Does that mean they are paintings, or are they props for a performance?

As props they’re very interesting. As paintings, you might compare them to other painting shows on at the same time, such as Jack Ting at XOAS Gallery – an accomplished painter, and “Causeway Cousins” at Taksu, a fabulous group exhibition including outstanding painters such as Olga Polunin, June Lee and Fauzul Yusri. Is it technical merit or ideas we are drawn to?

It’s an exhibition with a twist. Is it about landscape painting, performance art or communicating a message? You will have to work that out yourself!

Arahmaiani: Lecture on Painting, Part I, with photograph by Bernice Chauly, will be on show at Valentine Willie Fine Art, until 10th September. The gallery is located at 17 Jalan Telawi 3, Bangsar Baru and is open Monday through Friday 12 noon to 8pm, and 12 noon to 6pm on Saturdays. Visit www.artasia.com.my or www.kakiseni.com for a more lively commentary on the exhibition.

Additional links

Rimbun Dahan’s Arahmaiani.

Universes in Universe Arahmaiani Biography.