Krísis Conversations: Tuan Mami and Boedi Widjaja 28 November 2016

As part of Krísis, Tuan Mami and Boedi Widjaja reflect on the state of ‘crisis’ in relation to movement in liminal spaces via their new performances and artworks.


Something Human: Both of you are visual artists and performers whose work utilise a form of ritual or “processual” approach that invites the audience to engage with the works. What does this process mean to your practice, and why do you seek to engage audiences with it?

Boedi Widjaja: Process means to me, first of all, a way to get into a dialectical state of mind. It is about finding unusual connections, thoughts and ideas out of conflicts, contradictions and contrasts. A good process tends to suggest new paths for navigating opposing histories and contexts. Process may be described as a series of methods that generate connective material, enabling forms, ideas or expressions to be made out of newly found relations between subjects. Process is also a space that the audience can enter, to experience the dialectical tensions that make up an artwork.

Tuan Mami: Actually, in my old works, I have used a sort of ritual setup or ritual approach but in something more like a normal daily activity. For example, I invited audience members to sit with me one by one in a private space and collaborate in sort of celebration for our shared moment, or I invited 100 old ladies to visit an art opening to create a shared moment of exploration. But recently I am working more with ritual as part of mythology, to present the relationship between environment/object which is closely intertwined with the relationship between human and nature in the world, where one could perceive on a physical level as well as that which exists in the imagination. For me, ritual is a sort of special moment or environment when I could focus on the meaning of my art, it is also the oldest form for our art. I get a lot of feeling in experiencing through the ritual form, me-my work-the audience we are all in the same level/same journey of experiencing the subject/object.


SH: You both hail from Vietnam and Singapore respectively, and Boedi, you also have a personal and professional relationship to Indonesia. These countries have witnessed different periods and outbursts of internal political conflict and debate within its borders, and are situated within same region that has recently seen an escalation of political tension. How do you think your practices address the recent socio-political issues?

BW: Southeast Asia is a diverse and politically complex region. The twentieth century saw countries in the region gaining independence hence nationalistic politics is de facto. The region continues to ring with echoes from the Cold War, as seen in the tension at ASEAN’s meeting with China over the South China Sea, America’s drive for Trans-Pacific Partnership, the U.S lifting its ban on weapon sales to Vietnam and Philippines’ rhetorical leaning towards China.

A series of works that I am currently developing is Imaginary Homeland—one that looks at Indonesian political history since the nation’s independence in 1945. The series explores nationalism, identity and memory, through mass media imagery. It inevitably looks at Indonesian military history, and how the Cold War has impacted the personal narratives of so many. 

TM: My works are based on research, which takes place on a certain topic or in an area between human and its reactions, between daily life and imagination, so I look at socio-political matters as a central point in my exploration. But I get into the issues in indirect way. I often adapt the ephemeral senses to create a moment, which presents an ambiguous reality, the one you could experience by yourself by traveling between the past-present-and the future. I see socio-political matters as basic human matters, looking at it as a researcher to review or reveal in a poetic dialogue.

SH: For this exhibition you have been invited to reflect on the notion of ‘crisis’. Could you please tell us more about how your artworks and performances reflect on this condition?

BW: I am presenting 2 works in Krisis: (Post) Path.7, New Ground—a documentation of Path.7, New Ground, a live art work that I performed in London in 2015—and Imaginary Homeland: 谢谢你的爱,  a new live art work.

Path.7, New Ground indirectly addressed the migrant crisis in Europe, as I contemplated my own diasporic experience. I walked from east London to the Barbican, lugging a 30kg bag of lump chalk with a 1.5m helium balloon tethered to me, culminating in a performance by the Barbican lake. The work was visceral—the weight of the chalk and the balloon’s movement resisting my forward trajectory, speaking of the weight of motherland and the disorienting force of nostalgia. (Post) Path.7, New Ground looks at the abstraction effect that media has when representing a live event. I wanted to draw out the camera—the primary device that tracked my durational walk and through which we comprehend all forms of crisis today. I did this by arranging individual frames from the documentation videos, cropped tightly around the balloon’s movement, in a regular grid.

Imaginary Homeland: 谢谢你的爱 is a new work from a series that looks at the impact of mass media images on memories and personal narratives. The work is about the dialectics between image and corporeality—bodily movement complicating the image surface even as the latter choreographs the former.   

TM: I’ve been invited to make a second chapter of my last research-based project which I had been working on in the area between the Cambodian and Vietnamese border. I had researched about the long controversial history of the relationship between the two countries and also the conflicts that exist nowadays. For the ‘Krisis’ exhibition, I’m going to create an ambiguous notion of the “Border”. On one hand, it is a construct based on human forces that create man-made borders for protection, which in turn, becomes a threat. On the other hand, it is about human instinct and its memory. Since border issues are getting more intense in the world recently, my work is an ironic voice to twist the matters into a playful game or a ritual moment where everyone could join in to de-construct the material issue into an ephemeral moment of peace and respect for all kinds of people and nature. I want to create an experience for people go through time, space and sharing together of the imagination of freedom geographically and spiritually.

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Images credits: Boedi Widjaja and Tuan Mami

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