BETWEEN THE LINES
The ‘portraits’ of Guntur Triyadi are not ordinary, and from them we can recognize several historical figures: Che Guevara, R. A. Kartini, Karl Marx, Chairil Anwar, Mao Zedong, or Lauw Ping Nio (Nyonya Meneer). In this case, they are not drawn in the usual style of portraiture; they have been given special gestures or posed in a meaningful way. They all represent bodies that tell ‘stories’, or bodies that are trying to communicate something or anything to the audience. Furthermore, their bearing seems to encourage viewers to shift their perceptions of these historical figures away from common understandings provided by general historical narratives. Guntur Triyadi is always drawn to historical narratives. He enjoys scrutinizing human narratives in history through the figures of heroes, beloved icons, or other prominent people. To him, the notion of history is not limited to knowledge or science, but that it is also about how values and perceptions are formed; thus, history will always embody a mystery. Historical narratives will always take sides, or be partial to one thing over another. However, Guntur is not interested in which side history is on, instead, his interest lies in the reality that human knowledge is actually always open to perceptual shifts in history. Everyone has a (lived) reality, as well as various knowledge about such a reality—supplied by, among others, history. I feel that Guntur’s expressions are oriented more toward reality (as a continuously evolving series of lived experience) rather than toward historical bias.
Guntur Triyadi’s works can be characterized as illustration, even illustrative, and I see them as his unique way of releasing a picture’s communicative strength (a visual communication). The issue of art expression is truly not about the clarity of an image or lack thereof, neither is it about the expressiveness or inexpressiveness of the creative methods being shown. Rather, it is about an art expression’s desire to enter into a deeper and more sublime understanding of reality. An art researcher, Mary Ann Staniszewski, explained:
“The most powerful and obvious “truths” within culture are often the things that are not said and not directly acknowledged. In the modern era, this has been the case of Art. Everything that we know about ourselves and our world is shaped by our histories. Nothing is “natural” in the sense that it can be outside of its particular time and place. When we see, feel, touch, think, remember, invent, create, and dream, we must use our cultural symbols and languages. Among these “languages,” Art holds a particular visible and privilaged place. By looking at Art, we can begin to understand the way our representations acquire meaning and power.” (1.
Guntur’s paintings tend to emphasize upon the strength of drawing (as a technique), although we will also see other techniques being employed, often in the same works, such as oil painting and embroidery. The combination of techniques is, according to him, a way to demonstrate a contrasting situation where images with strong lines have important roles to play. Guntur Triyadi is a lecturer (at FSRD ITB) and widely recognized as an experienced illustrator, so it is not at all odd to feel like his works are instantly communicative, openly inviting one’s gaze into a dialog about current social-cultural issues. Although they may come across like narratives, I think that his works do not have set-in-stone meanings. In an attractive way, Guntur attracts responses from the viewers (a familiarization and formation of knowledge), so they can also discover an array of meanings that may arise from these works. It is as if he is welcoming everyone to discover and enjoy their own conclusions. I think he is trying to communicate a sort of understanding, conclusion, or acquisition of present-day issues that are not so easily explained or conveyed. As an artist, Guntur Triyadi tries to explore the important function of art expression as a framework of social and cultural consciousness, one that necessitates collective attention. He might not be using any ordinary language of art expression, because he is trying to transcend normal living experiences.
“Art,” said Herbert Marcuse, “breaks open a dimension inaccessible to other experience, a dimension in which human beings, nature, and things no longer stand under the law of the established reality principle. Subjects and objects encounter the appearance of that autonomy which is denied them in their society. The encounter with the truth of art happens in the estranging language and images which make perceptible, visible, and audible that which is no longer, or not yet, perceived, said, and heard in everyday life.”(2
As a lecturer and an illustrator, Guntur is used to the act of researching ideas or issues that are going to be the subject matters of his paintings. However, unlike other painters, he tends to avoid emotional cues that are overly-conspicuous. He restrains himself from overly-caricaturizing his works. Guntur Triyadi’s realistic paintings contain critical messages, which act as entry points for him to delve into a historical dimension that invites socio-political interpretations that require an intensive desire and ability to understand an issue. Although his works contain social commentary, Guntur is not entirely interested in asserting his political views. He is more interested in connecting his social contemplations to a framework of cultural understanding, especially one that is connected to the strength of popular culture and daily experiences. The subject matter that stands out in Guntur’s paintings is not always about artistic achievement as a unique and personal expression, but rather as an effort to discover different ways of seeing different issues. Staniszewski further explained; “(t)he most important artists of our time are visionary in that they continue to challenge us to see the world differently. They represent our culture in enlightened and, at times, beautiful ways. Artists prepare the mind and the spirit for new ideas –new ways of seeing.”(3 Here, the ‘ways of seeing’ is also a way to discover and understand an issue behind our visual examination.
The title, Between the Line, is not just idiomatic, as ‘something implied’, as though we are invited ‘to see what is not seen’ in Guntur’s paintings. More importantly, Guntur’s paintings can become an experience of enjoying order, harmony, and the skill of intensively layering lines to create ‘the explicitly expressed’ in those works. Visual expression has a different strength of delivery compared to textual languages; visual expressions tend to be iconic, in the form of realistic images that can convey meaning not only much quicker, but also in a way that is more open to interpretation.
To me, the commentaries arising from Guntur’s contemplation of social issues are invitations for us to open our ways of understanding, because each painting or picture offers more than just one verbatim conclusion. Guntur’s presented images do not stop at an answer that ‘someone has found through knowing and understanding the matter at hand’, because the explicit expression found in each work actually draws people to know and experience the implicit. Inside this space of open meaning, I feel that we can experience a sort of ‘harmony’ in the way we discover and understand an issue—that there are still possibilities for both objective and subjective conclusions. At this point, I feel that any comprehension can no longer be regarded as mere “understanding”, but rather, it has become interstanding. Researchers Mark C. Taylor and Esa Saarinen explained, “… that interstanding is more crucial than understanding… In interstanding, knowledge and truth always exist “in-between” the various realities that surround them. The interactive element of truth is the emphasis here.”
Comprehension as interstanding, according to Taylor & Saarinen, is not limited to idiomatic problems that are separate from comprehension in general (as understanding), but rather to include the role of imagination that can motivate someone to become more open with how they form their conclusions. Imagination helps to form the connections between one thing and another, perhaps even in previously-unimaginable ways. With our ability to imagine and our potential for imagination, we can transcend boundaries of imagined possibilities. According to Taylor and Saarinen, a complete and harmonic comprehension can only occur when a person is able to transcend logical boundaries; understanding has become impossible because nothing stands under. Interstanding has become unavoidable because everything stands between” (5. The strength of images in Guntur’s paintings, therefore, is not an attempt to make definite conclusions, neither is it trying to suggest particular answers about the socio-political-cultural issues being discussed and used as inspiration for his works.
Guntur’s works are also not about how well he can illustrate a situation that we currently see or experience, be it in connection to nationalism, consumerism, or issues of social prosperity. In addition to his enjoyment of ‘putting together’ unique visual communication models, Guntur still tries to place the potential of art expression within the context of a person’s understanding and of the strength of images. It is as though he is imbuing his works with a sense of potential, of which art expressions may contribute to the development of human knowledge—including through the discipline of history. The following explanation by cultural theorist/researcher Terry Eagleton can perhaps be used to position Guntur’s practice within a theoretical framework. Eagleton explained, “[a]rt could now model the good life not by representing it but simply by being itself, by what it showed rather than what it said, offering the scandal of its own pointless self-delighting existence as a silent critique of exchange-value and instrumental rationality” (6.
Observing Guntur Triyadi’s works, we might perhaps be drawn inside a humoristic, sometimes satirical, communication model. The 19th century American humorist Henry Wheeler Shaw (also known by his pen name Josh Billings) once made a statement that is perhaps apt for us to use here. He said, “Silence is one of the hardest arguments to refute”. Although some of Guntur’s works contain alphabets (or alphabet-like shapes), his works as a whole are not intended to serve as written pronouncements to explain certain phenomena or things—his works can still be seen as something other than textual expositions. In short, Guntur Triyadi tries to allow his pictures narrate a thousand things without boundaries or specific information. It may be that these pictures or images will never convey arguments as precisely as any scientific analyses in the field of social science, politics, or culture. Yet, his unique method of delivery allows an image to invite the viewers to arrive at a depth of meaning and comprehension—an interstanding, rather than mere understanding.
- Mary Anne Staniszewski, BELIEVING IS SEEING: Creating the Culture of Art (London: Penguin Books, 1995), h. 1.
- Herbert Marcuse quoted by Beardsley, lht. Monroe Beardsley, “Aesthetic Experience”, in The Aesthetic Point of View, ed.Michael Wreen and Donald Callen (Cornell: Cornell University Press, 1982) h.288-89
- Staniszewski. op.cit.h.289.
- Mark C Taylor & Esa Saarinen, Imagologies —Media Philosophy (London: Routledge, 1994), h. 2. Quoted by H. Tedjoworo, Imaji dan Imajinasi: Suatu telaah filsafat Postmodern (Yogjakarta: Penerbit Kanisius, 2001), h.19, dan 108-109
- Terry Eagleton, “The Version of Culture”, in The Idea of Culture (Maiden Mass: Blackwell Publisher Inc, 2000), h.16.
PROGRAM: Triyadi Guntur Wiratmo’s Solo Exhibition
DATE: 10.04.17 – 23.04.17
VENUE: National Gallery of Indonesia
ADDRESS: Jl. Medan Merdeka Timur. No.14. Gambir, Jakarta Pusat 10110