Cosmological Bound (Ancient Instinct): A Cover of Creative Collaboration between Paul Trinidad and Wayan Sujana “Suklu”
Wayan Seriyoga Parta, Curator
The encounter between two artists of different cultural backgrounds may give rise to unique collaboration as their experiences interact in the awareness to share ideas to each other. We can see it in the collaborative project between Paul Trinidad of Perth, Australia, with Wayan Sujana “Suklu” of Bali, Indonesia. They are artists as well as credible lecturers in their campuses. Paul is a lecturer of visual arts at ALVA University of Western Australia and Suklu is at Indonesian Institute of the Arts (Institut Seni Indonesia (ISI)) Denpasar. Their initial encounter was in 2010 when Paul along with the academic community of ALVA University of Western Australia visited ISI Denpasar for a drawing workshop with Suklu.
The intense communication had been taking place between them particularly since 2012 following the similarity of their studio names; Ancient Rock (Batu Purba) Studio (ARS) of Paul’s in Perth and Batu Belah (Broken Rock) Art Space (BBAS) of Suklu’s in Klungkung. In 2012, Suklu took an Artist in Residence program to Perth and worked at Paul’s ARS to explore hundreds of papers with “automatic drawings”, evoking back the memory of solid relation between Australia and especially Bali in reference to Kuta Boom Tragedy in 2002. According to Paul, he was keeping a specific strong memory on human incidents, violence, and deaths that was close to male perspective. Subsequently, Paul did the same residency at Suklu’s BBAS for a project leading to this Matrix Tw(O)rigins show.
The similarity in names originating from the rocks seems not simply a coincidence. Possibly, there is a cosmological bound affecting their creative works. Paul told me that before working on visual arts, he previously studied on geology and read varied books on this subject. He was deeply impressed with “The Day the World Exploded Krakatoa”, a book written by Simon Wichesters’, an English geologist. In 1883, Mount Krakatoa from Sunda Straits erupted and spewed volcanic ash up to six miles away covering almost a half of the Earth and affected the global climate. As stated by Paul, the story of ancient rock that inspired him when he met Suklu had brought a connection with Batu Belah (broken rock). It interacted with the volcanic rock from the story of Karakatau he was reading. It was such an unexpected connection but it was very strong as he acclaimed, “My heart and spirit are bound by the stories of rocks”.
Paul’s stories had drawn my imagination into wandering over the past time, recalling the geological references of pre-history time. It was told that in sixty thousand years ago (Pleistocene), the sea water level was shallower around a hundred meter from the recent condition. By that time, the Australia Continent was still united with the Papua Islands and called as Sahul Land. We can trace it back from the similarity of plants and endemic species in Papua and Australia until today. In the western parts, there were Java, Kalimantan, and Sumatra Islands to some Asian areas called as Sunda Land. Among them, there was an ancient island of Sulawesi of which its name was taken from its founder, A.R. Wallacea. Moving down from it, there were a group of Timor Islands spreading over the west to Bali. This group of islands seemed to link up these two big lands. From this group of islands, the earlier Australo Melanesia population, the black-skinned food hunters―who probably are the ancestors of the Aboriginal tribes―took their short sailing from Sunda Land to Sahul Land.
In a simple way, basing on gatoklogi (the traditional science of linking things up), the rocks that are the inner layers of Earth may have provoked such unconscious ancient instinct of the two artists until they meet today. Bali, geologically, is the linking bound of those two big continents and may entail cosmological values within. These two artists get together in the epicentrum vortex of Balinese cosmos to build creative interaction. From their works in this project, a network of complex Matrix is developed from the domain of their own alter egos upon virtue and creative strength. Those works are supposed to be the records toward the encounter of values of two personal strengths, cultural backgrounds, and cosmology of subjectivities.
It is also possible that this ancient instinct has led them to a decision to persist an exploration relying on the theme of trees in this project. Perhaps, it also relates to the early life development on Earth that began with the species of plants. In my consideration, Suklu has been long enough taking in the elements of plants into his explorative works. Women as well as the blossoms of leaves, flowers, seeds, and fruits are the central elements of metaphoric series in his works. Furthermore, these elements are also displayed in his recent works in 2012 like one entitled Sunyi Setangkai Sedap Malam (Silence of A Tuberose Spray). It shows an animal-like figure that is in fact a piece of ashtray standing with a spray of tuberoses hanging on a red rope. The series of two elements in this simple work is presented with profound appreciation in the form of unspeakable visual expression but may be internalized with the feeling.
Suklu’s work is in line with Paul’s conceptual exploration in his project “Leonora Cemetery” of Public Art Project in 2012 that he dedicated to the victim-workers of “Sons of Gwalia Gold Mine”. The mine was established and managed by Herbert Hoover, a historic mine in Western Australia that was one of the three biggest mines in Australia. Paul designed a monument of thin steel in a triangle shape with pointed ends that curved over 4.2 meters high. The concept originated from Mulga (Acacia Aneura); a shrub or small tree that grew in the dry land of Australia. Although the size is relatively small but it can live to hundreds of years long. Mulga, as cited by Paul, played a significant role in the ecosystem and culture of Leonora. He strengthened it by saying, “It seems to be a unifying symbol of strength and resilience”. The miniature of Leonora Cemetery has become a part of this collaborative project. To add up, I think Suklu and Balinese people in general were familiar enough with this Acacia species growing massively as shrubs in the yards or village streets.
In Bali, some plants or trees are believed to hold religious utility values and they put them in the holy book of Taru Pramana meaning plants of benefits for the universe. Every six months, the Balinese people celebrate the day of Tumpek Uduh to recognize the plants which have given a large contribution in the people’s lives on Earth. One of them is the story about Beringin (Banyan) tree that is believed to be the connecting bridge for the human soul (Atman) from the natures of Sekale (the real world) to Niskale (the world hereafter). Moreover, two Banyan trees become the essential elements during the procession of Ngaben (cremation ceremony) being applied as pengawak or the symbolical body for the dead human soul to the purification of the soul to be Pitara/Pitra (Betara Leluhur or deified ancestors). In this project, Suklu explores the narrative of leaves for his installation that I think is inspired by his memory of religious life as a Balinese man covered with profound cosmological values infiltrating into his conscience. It is automatically following his creative life as a contemporary artist who possesses strong importance to cosmological values in Balinese culture tradition.
The similarity is strengthened by their interests for being active in exploring all possibilities from varied technical and visual experiences they have ever had. Similarly, they incline to process the visual concept not merely as an artificial representation of reality but offer the interpretative simbolical representation which intensify from their subjective appreaciation upon reality. This performance has made the work representation that is unclearly developed can be perceived of reflecting reality on the theme they raise.
Suklu underlines that working on artworks is an activity to “build relationships of objects among the things in the mind, the things in the unconscious, and the real things”. His statement reminds me of a documentary film that we watched together when we joined in a lecture at Bandung Institute of Technology (Institut Teknologi Bandung (ITB)) four years ago. The film, How Art Made the World, directed by Dr. Nigel Spinev and produced by BBC was an inspiring film that made me amazed. One of the segments in the film reviewed about the drawings in the prehistoric caves of the world that were considered by some experts representing the prehistoric lives in the time of food-hunting for consumption. However, basing on the evidences found, not many experts supported this thesis. The new thesis proposed was that the prehistoric people drew their imaginations covering their minds when their senses were under unconsciousness especially in trances.
Those drawings related to the spiritual condition they felt. In other words, they did not imitate the reality in nature but “produced visions that were created from the imaginary reality in their minds”. This fact implies that from the very beginning, the artworks (drawings) were presented because human beings were making attempts to represent their imaginary reality and the imagination continued growing, representing varied objects along with the increase of human’s unconsciousness in perceiving and recording reality. It seems that Suklu has brought his creative flow back to the strength I call as the “ancient instinct”. It may be a certainty considering that it has been long enough for him to intensively exploring his unconscious potential as well as driving his artictic potential in a series of “meditative-repetitive projects” to “automatic drawings” in a medium of book particularly novel.
I think the same feature has driven Paul’s creativity as he perceives the automatic drawings from his favorite book on Karakatau. In those book pages, Paul engraves his unconscious memories in the form of full-expression faces. These faces seem to represent his complex feeling about “the man who made the judgement” from different personal experiences like one when the Balinese people made a decision for their governor in Bali Election (Pilkada) last month. Judgement is close to the spheres of law and politics. Paul is really aware on this fact. Therefore, he selects the colors of Indonesian national flag; the red and white, for his artwork background. Red and white are not simply colors but they go beyond as the symbols of physical and diplomatic struggles.
Additionally, the narrative of human judgement with Karmapala in a series of Kamasan-style puppet paintings on the wall ceilings of Kerta Gosa in Klungkung has sturdily impressed Paul. In my observation and perception, the judgement is also close to the patriarchy culture as the representation of his artworks and it tends to represent the male perspective. Leonora Cemetery, the steel monument project he worked on last year can be seen as a symbolic form of Lingga (a symbol of masculinity). Likewise, Paul is keeping his unconscious memory of violent incidents that can be seen in his exploration of the mine-site killing in his area. The memory is produced in the representation of skulls onto his works and in the series of mini mixed-media works in hundreds of numbers.
In this context, I perceive a dissimilar condition in Suklu’s creativity flow that inclines to approach the female perspective. This thesis stems from my observation toward his exploration from the beginning that is enclosed by the searching for the figure of a mother. Formerly, on my writing about Suklu, I wrote in brief that “losing the figure of a mother he experienced in his childhood has drawn the consciousness of a Suklu in female figures”. This personal history has made his works adjacent to the representation of feminine angles. We can see one example of such influence in his metaphoric poetic work Sunyi Setangkai Sedap Malam (Silence of A Tuberose Spray) I have described before.
The brief inspiring review for this collaborative project has shown me that the collaboration between Paul and Suklu is not only about their creative encounters. Generally, it is the meeting of two cosmologically-essential perspectives that relate to the element of life developent on Earth with the strengths of Purusa (masculine) and Predana (feminine). These two elements are bringing a life just like the bursting and welcoming strengths of their creativity in this project. Moreover, it is also of a meeting in the epicentrum of Balinese cosmos, a group of two Ancient Lands that is crossed by the Huxley Line in the deep ocean trench. It is a Catuspatha (Great intersection) of a cosmological perspective. Looking at their enthusiasm, I am so sure that this project is a good start and it may result in larger reverberation in the future.
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