We met when Erika was doing her master’s degree at the Faculty of Art and Design, Bandung Institute of Technology, in early 2009. At the time, I was in a frenzy of preparing my solo exhibition. Like me, Erika was born in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia. She was born in 1986; I, in 1981.
Our similarities and interests in the issue of identity provided the starting point for our relationship. Erika has been much interested in the identity and body language—“the body as the most honest of all languages”. It is the opposite of the focus of my research on identity—the face—that I have been doing for the last five years. This situation precisely succeeds in making our relationship more profound and intimate as we function as a couple, influencing each other in our respective creative travail.
As a couple, we try to articulate what “desire” is, starting from when we first became attracted to each other until we feel comfortable in the give-and-take process of coupledom. The idea of the pilot project of “On Desire” began when we had to deal with the desirous relationship involving space, distance, and time. This is because today I have to live, work, and study in Germany, while Erika still has to live, work, and teach in Indonesia. In the intimacy of coupledom, desires give rise to expectations, dreams, and, at the same time, fear. There are unceasing communications and commitment to deal with conflicts and reach the point of harmony. Our relationship becomes a mutualistic process as we try to minimize our fear and frustration due to the temporal and spatial distances. In other words, negotiations become significant in our relationship of desire.
Erika’s creative process consists of explorations of new concepts through prints and performance pieces that she arranges to capture her personal experiences in different layers. She also tries to find and present new artistic vocabularies for her work. She takes a shrewd look at spectators, posing questions of eroticism about the female body—which is often becomes the subject of the spectator’s gaze while the actual messages being conveyed is often missed. She uses her body and one of her close friend as she tries to construct the work in the effort to control her feelings about her experiences. Her ennui gives rise to the decision to “destroy” the body in the resulting work, constituting her effort to demolish the entity that has been formed in a chaos and return to the starting point as a pure subject, stripped of all pretentions and contents.
Meanwhile, in this project I reconsidered the concept of identity and the subject in different spatial and temporal spaces. Here I projected my experiences of living in New York four months ago. I inserted the second and third subjects in my work, representing the negotiations of identity between two ideas that merge into one desire. This is also evident in the video work as Erika and I could only meet each other and communicate through the virtual space provided by Skype. My stay in Germany for more than a year provided us with a similar experience. The work that I present here is one that involves two parties in a time-based relationship, and with it I try to convey my angst, anxiety, and desires.
One can detect some similarities in our works; in Erika’s mirrors today and the stainless steel works that I have made several years ago. Our similar approaches to the artistic concepts we are working on lead us to explore different media that would enable reflections. We experimented with prints on mirror and reflective stainless steel in order to capture the spectator’s reflection, symbolizing the identities that are external to us, or the public identity. The reflected images on the mirror and mirror-like surfaces would overlap with the subjects that we have engraved on the work.
As a “new-born” artist that has just emerged from the academic circle of art, Erika tries to contribute to the development of conceptual art. She started it with the mirror works that she has created since 2007. The process continues to this day as she adds to her oeuvre prints, performance pieces, and paintings. Meanwhile, my researches since 2005 have been dealing with the issues of space, time, and memories, presented in paintings, embroidery, video works, and photography.
The concept of “I and you” fell apart as we define ourselves as one new body. This is evident, for example, in Erika’s work titled aku (literally, “I”). The concept of us is defined through the agreements that we have constructed together, and it affects our perception on reality.
Since the Renaissance, there have been stories about coupledom, relationships based on desire, and the visual artists. Many art discourses have acknowledged that these things give rise to certain aesthetic developments. The intimacy and creativity of artist-couple are proven to have helped trigger creativity. The modern art has seen cases of artist-couples who managed to go far, beyond the things they had been afraid of. There was the case, for example, of Christo and Jean Claude who first worked together in the temporary outdoor work of Dockside Packages, Cologne Harbor. The relationship helped advance Christo’s conceptual art ad infinitum. “Nobody discusses the painting before it is painted,” Christo said. “Imagine an artist whose work is argued, articulated, and discussed by so many people before it exists. It’s an incredible pleasure to see art creates so much energy, thinking.” Meanwhile, Andrew Ginzel and Kristin Jones have worked together since 1985 in many public and commissioned works. One of the most famous works is titled Metronome, at the Union Square in New York. Then there were other important artist-couples such as Gilbert and George, Pablo Picasso and Dora Maar, Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock.
When an artist-couple experience desires, that experience has the potentials to be perceived in relation to their artistic travails, either for the works created individually or those resulting from collaboration between the couple. Often, in the case of deeply romantic couples, the overlapping ideas might greatly affect the styles and forms of the works. Today, however, the majority of great artists in Asia, Europe, and the United States are mostly solitary artists, affirming the theory about the dominance of individualism.
To Erika and me, this initial project serves as an opportunity to be open to more possibilities, to have unlimited imaginations, to talk in more honest ways, and to gain trust as individuals and human beings. This involves our emotions and we thus need to make up our mind so that we can continuously explore new ideas and possibilities for today and the future.
Published: September 21, 2010