Monday, April 21, 2008

A Soul ever in Motion

Tommy Tanggara's work, Aesthetic, 130X140 CM, 2006. Tulisan singkat di bawah ini dimuat dalam katalog untuk mengiringi pameran tunggal Tommy "Tatto" Tanggara di sebuah galeri di Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, awal Mei 2008. Pameran ini bertajuk Rapture in the Soul)

By Kuss Indarto

A sort of adage tells us that viewing a work of art may mean perceiving two integrated worlds of basics, namely the world of forms and that of ideas. The first deals more with visual and technical phenomena that are superficial and elementary, including, among others, color, line, field, and composition. Here we may meet with hat we categorize as scribbling, the iconic, the symbolic, the realistic and the abstract. They are the expressions, and could be reflections as well, of artists regarding realities or, quite the reverse, realized imaginations. They are things immediately visible when we appreciate works of art.

The second, namely the ideational world, concerns with the aspect of “substances” that provide backgrounds for the visual “texts”. Such substances include impression, narration, tendency or propensity, and morality as well as “ideology”. One may say that this world of ideational substances provides the soul or spirit of a given work, which reflects an artist’s extent of comprehension and intelligence in dealing with objects. To “read” this second world one needs some further and perhaps more complex insight and knowledge based on various issues including artists’ backgrounds, the particular context of time in which works were made, the particular social relationships relevant to them, the historical notes of their creation processes, and the like. So an image or depiction is a vehicle of substance/narration and, reversely, narration is values translated into images.

Yet, this extreme division is not always applicable to read all cases of works of art. We may even often sense that such rigid division is somewhat unfair, discriminating. Because there are cases when paintings of the abstract propensity made by artists like Joan Miro, Jackson Pollock, Paul Klee, and their Indonesian counterparts such as Nashar, Fadjar Sidik, Handrio, Lian Sahar, and I Gusti Alit, take the visualizing aspect as the main basis in observing the surrounding ideational world. This means that a considerable quantity of abstract painting bases its signification entirely on the sophisticated handling of the phenomena of composed colors and forms as well as other visual aspects. The formal world (the world of forms) is integral to the ideational world (the world of ideas).

It is true, however, that apart from it there are a great deal of contemporary works in which the construction and system of signification moves far beyond their visual appearances. Take for instance works of conceptual art launched in mid-1960s in the West by Sol LeWitt, Dennis Oppenheim, Tom Marioni, Les Levine, Joseph Kosuth, Hans Haacke, Joseph Beuys and an additional line of significant artists. A lot of artists have maintained it until currently.

Those Free Lines

I think Tommy Tanggara’s works now presented intend to fully deal with the exploration of the formal or visual world that the artist has been pursuing these many years. His consistency in working on formal aspects seems to be rooted in his esthetic intuition.

When he was a student at the Senior High School for Art (SMSR) in Yogyakarta, he already paid a lot of attention to such aspects that were parts of the academic subjects at that school. On a weekly basis, Tommy Tanggara used to do school assignments that involved sketching, drawing, and painting. The activities helped develop his visual sensibility.

During his years as a student at the Senior High School for Art, this Jakarta-born artist decided to live in a boarding house in the area of Tamansari in the neighborhood of the Sultan’s Palace in Yogyakarta known as Kraton. Until presently, the area has been known as a batik production center. Through centuries, from one generation to the next in a family, has a considerable part of the local people been maintaining batik making. The batik cloth they produce includes classical designs such as parangrusak, sidomukti and so on, and through latest motifs the visual contents of which moved along modernity. His two years’ living in such neighborhood had its effects on his creative process. This is observable in some of the works on exhibition here. Perhaps the effects are not very obvious, but one can still sense their spirit.

In works that visualize the images of the tree, the human figure, animals, birds, and so on, which take up the pictorial space, I have the sense as if Tommy Tanggara gave ‘fillers’ – known as isen-isen in batik making – but on his canvas. The term isen-isen in batik making refers to the insertion of visual ‘fillers’ among standardized patterns like, for instance, tumpal. In assigning these fillers, batik makers will pour a lot of their visual imagination. It is in such spirit does Tommy Tanggara’s creativity proceed. His imagination seems ‘arbitrary’ and ‘heedless’ to his hand and canvas.

In careful observation, we may notice how outlines in Tommy Tanggara’s works look powerful and free to move to any direction. Tommy only controls them when those lines eventually form certain images of particular objects. With the addition of other lines accidentally formed by the meetings of two (or more) colors, his works become rich with visual signs to offer new imaginations to those viewing them.

Consider, for examples, his Aesthetic; Around the Sun; Happy Soul; Life With Star; Life Style and Other Side. Those works mentioned seem to demonstrate the movements of the artist’s emotions and visual imaginations that are “heedless yet remains controlled”. When he wants, say, to represent a flower, he will let his imagination run wild so as to enable him to paint a flower from the depth of his inner experience that is not very familiar to people in general.

Significance in Signs

Among his works that are mostly filled up with signs, this artist with tattoos all over his body also leaps to another realm by offering works seemingly almost “quiet”. In there, he seems to be meditative or, at least, trying to invite viewers into some “slight” contemplation. I say “slight” because actually he doesn’t want it very much to be regarded as an artist full of spiritual, let alone religious, value in both his personal life and works.

His works that belong to this particular kind include The Balance; Victim; Spend Your Wing; Rain; Shadow; Make a Wish; Contemplation; and Do Re Mi, among others. Visually, such works can be said sign-minimal but they can be assumed as being just full of meaning. In this kind of works he makes, the canvas is filled with a block of a single color, added with a bit of small-sized visual image. The size is even very small in proportion to the whole extent of canvas. At least, this sign seems to form a significant attempt at pursuing the signification of the visual symbol offered.

Take his work The Balance, for example. Amid the block of purplish brown, we notice a slight horizontal white line on the upper part of the canvas. On there is a yellow dot and below it a red vertical line. This image may remind us of a tightrope walker in a circus show performing at a certain height. The white line running horizontally seems suggestive of a balancing plank while someone is walking the tightrope.

Tommy Tanggara seems to be persuading viewers to see the importance of balance in a profound sense regarding our deep awareness of life. Certainly, the artist is not referring explicitly to the Chinese notion of Yin and Yang in Chinese but the point of orientation is clear enough: balanced life. Another philosophical allusion is found in the work called Make a Wish. Amid the sea of murky brown, are a handful of little stars and the reflection of their motion. It feels like the artist giving wings to the word “stars” in the daily notion, namely that becoming “a star” is a great wish. But it can also mean a warning to get prepared for a fall into the forgotten.

I believe this exhibition provides a fragment of a retrospective view on Tommy Tanggara’s creative stance over the last ten years. Perhaps this is not comprehensive but is highly representative.

Kuss Indarto, an art curator

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