[Curatorial] Enigma


Curatorial Introduction

Jim Supangkat


In Hanafi’s two exhibitions entitled “id”—one nearing the end of 2006 and another in the beginning of 2007—I have tried to explicate his works by using psychoanalytic. In those treatments, I describe how expressions in his works show an outpouring of positive energy that reflects an élan vital or a creative life force.

As I developed my explanations, I read Hanafi’s paintings as a text, believing that perceptions in his works can actually be read thus. These perceptions reflect Hanafi’s mind set and attitude in facing life. I dig out such perceptions from his life history—beginning from his sentiments, his recollections about how he tried to overcome his problems, and the romanticism that takes place along his journey.

In such a textual reading, I relied on some images that appear in his paintings— needles, a neon lamp, a tree trunk, and a spool of yarn. Such images appeared spontaneously during his creative process; they were not planned beforehand. Such symptom proves that images in Hanafi’s paintings are not meant to convey certain meanings or messages. These images are sketches or traces that betray Hanafi’s efforts in recognizing his own perceptions. Hanafi thus begins to tell the story of his life precisely from these images; and I recognize this story as a personal history.

Albeit containing images, Hanafi’s paintings are understood as abstract paintings. Like other abstract paintings, Hanafi’s paintings are almost invariably connected with the discourse of the abstract art.

The textual reading I conducted in presenting the two exhibitions entitled “id” revealed that I did not relate Hanafi’s paintings to a certain discourse, including the discourse of the abstract art. Therefore, the use of psychoanalysis in my reading differed from the application of psychoanalytic in the discourse of abstract art, which is known as an important sign of the modern art in the twentieth century in Europe and United States.

My reading of Hanafi’s works resembles the belief among the deconstructionists. In such a belief, a text is not a discourse; it is not even a link between language and reality. A text is a distinct milieu that is related with an open reading, which can easily change due to the shifts in the signs around the field of reading. Here, a text does not have any fixed meaning.

I deliberately chose not to explicitly state that I have used the philosophy of the deconstructionists as I present those two exhibitions. My considerations at the time were that the deconstructionist discourse has not been fully understood within the art world in our country—as betrayed in the confusion in the efforts to understand the contemporary art.

Albeit conducting a textual reading, therefore, my approach at the time was that of a comparative nature. I weighed the developments within the abstract art in Indonesia against those found within the abstract art in Europe and United States. In such analysis, I put the emphasis on the differences between the two courses of developments—the translations accompanied by transformations—and used these differences to explain Hanafi’s works.

As I am preparing this solo exhibition entitled “Enigma”, however, I encounter new symptoms in Hanafi’s works. Surprisingly, the images in his works now no longer appear spontaneously. Instead, Hanafi consciously brings these images to his canvasses, revealing a surprising reflection.

As you can see in the works displayed today, Hanafi presents objects with legs— tables, chairs, benches, and couches. As if observing these objects closely, Hanafi explores these objects, employing various points-of-view that one does not often take. Some of these works immediately grab my attention as they strongly reveal paradoxes and force me to reconsider the approach I have taken when presenting his two previous exhibitions.

His painting Kupinjam Kakimu (Borrowing Your Legs, 2007) presents the image of a table in an upside-down position. The table’s four legs are presented using brush strokes and each with a different pictorial approach and orientation; thus provoking a question of whether a table can stand with four different legs. It also brings us to a realization that there is one similarity that enables a table to stand sturdily: the similarity of size.

Although it seems as if the legs of the table are the main issue presented in the painting—at least if we consider the painting’s title—they do not actually take the center stage in the painting. The element of the table that becomes the center of attention on the canvass is the table-leaf. The visual arrangement on the canvass makes the table-leaf resemble a horizontal wall, placed at eye-height and cuts across our view. In such a position, the table-leaf thus appears dominant and gives a strong impression of hiding/ protecting/storing something behind it.

His other work, Yang Berjalan di Kolong Meja (The One Walking Underneath, 2007), does not even show any table. What appears in this painting is a thick piece of wood. If the block of wood is meant to represent the table-leaf, it lacks the legs that are supposed to prop it. The visual arrangement, however—minimal as it is— gives an impression of a space beneath the wooden block. On the wooden block, placed in a central position, is a paper-like object.

In our discussions, Hanafi admits of questioning the truth of agreed meanings. He says, “We can’t rely on agreements as we can’t be sure about the consensus that doesn’t appear as agreements.” And about three of his paintings that feature tables, Hanafi explains, “Agreements always take place on the table, at the top— but we can’t know about the consensus taking place behind the table, can we?” He further says that such agreement suggests that all meanings are supported by just that one consent, while he actually believes that meanings are related to the consensus that remains hidden.

The new symptoms appearing in Hanafi’s works, as well as his reflections, immediately remind me of the discourse of the deconstructionists. Such new symptom brings about the realization that this time I cannot avoid that discourse and must explicitly link his works with the deconstructionist discourse. Although we cannot say that Hanafi is an artist who deliberately applies the deconstructionist approach—or that he is a deconstructionist artist who is aware of the deconstructionist discourse—there are signs in his works that strongly reveal the deconstructionist symptoms.

Reality, according to the decon- structionists, always carries paradoxes within it. The artist Francis Bacon said that, unlike the consensus that invariably reveals concords, the reality in his works presents the discords existing within the concords.

Two of Hanafi’s works in this exhibition— Laci Kosong (Empty Drawer, 2007), Musik Meja (Table Music, 2007)—betray the deconstructionist credo which Bacon mentioned. In Laci Kosong, Hanafi presents a whole wooden block on the table. In Musik Meja, he depicts a grand piano with a piece of wood hovering over it. These two paintings reveal “discords within the concords”. The objects in both paintings show peculiarity due to some contextual differences—the wood and the piano, the wooden block and the table— which one might interpret as discord. If we consider the materials presented there, however, there is harmony—as all the objects depicted in the two paintings are made of wood.

There is then the question of where Hanafi’s path intersects with that of the deconstructionists, if he is not a deconstructionist who is fully aware of the deconstructionist discourse. This begs observations from various points of view. I tend to begin by analyzing the reality presented in Hanafi’s works.

Reality in Hanafi’s works presents a life within the modern system. In a systematized world, one’s understanding of reality is affected by the myriad insights that came about due to thoughts, theories, and views. Amid such a condition, it is impossible to construct an understanding that is free from the influences of other understandings.

Hanafi’s reflections as revealed in his views show that he considers the influencing thoughts, theories, and views on reality as agreements which do not necessarily reveal their realities. The scopes of such agreements are invariably restricted and their truth, therefore, is also limited.

Hanafi—and we, too—believe that all thoughts, theories, and views on reality reveal plurality. I think most of us—like the deconstructionists—do not believe that all the thoughts, theories, and views betray the true reality and represent an absolute truth. When such opinion first emerged in the 1970s, however, the deconstructionists were not as unrestricted as we are now in concluding that the myriad of thoughts actually reflected diversity, because at the time they had to face structuralism.

Structuralism is a philosophy that seeks to find universal laws of nature. Such grand search is thus conducted by combining the texts of all streams of philosophy in the long history of (Western) thinking. The combination takes place through accumulations, equations, appropriations of discourse, and hybridizations. The goal: to cut through the differences and take apart the cultural codes in order to arrive at some essential experiences that reveal sameness.

According to the philosophies of Lévi- Strauss and Heidegger, the collection of essential experiences can bring us to the discovery of structured universal laws of nature. If such structured laws can be found, they will always be applicable and can therefore be used to determine our strategy for the future. This search amounts to a grand plan to “conquer the world”.

It was precisely such an ambitious goal that the deconstructionist philosophy brought down. This philosophy, first made popular by Jacques Derrida, was often considered as the beginning of the postmodernist philosophy—along with the thoughts of Michel Foucault and François Lyotard— and spread quickly during the 1980s to all sectors of life, including art.

The abolition of the philosophy of structuralism entailed some intricate debates which directly questioned whether or not such universal law of nature existed. The effort to abolish that philosophy began with attacks on its methods. Jacques Derrida started this criticism by revealing the relative nature of truth, expounding on verbal and written truth. Derrida showed the linguistic weaknesses that existed within languages used to delineate truth. He proceeded to show that the understanding of ‘difference’ among the thinkers of structuralism— serving as the key to find the ‘essential experience’ as it had been—was actually also relative. Derrida proposed thus a concept of ‘différance’ which had the connotation of mutable ‘différance’ or ‘deferment’.

Through such criticism, the deconstructionists embarked on a new search in the realm of philosophy, by employing the methods of self- deconstruction. This was a project to take apart all understanding gained (or, in the beginning, taken for granted) from the gathering of the many streams of thought in structuralism. The efforts involved complex methods that are difficult to grasp. Some examples of this are: the efforts to equate objectivity and subjectivity; the matter of self-presence; and the nature of languages that could not be free from the effect of différance.

As I see it, the philosophical debates rooted in those intricate methods— especially reflected in Derrida’s critique on Heidegger’s thoughts—could not possibly be understood outside the West. Such deconstructionist thoughts can only emerge in a society with a long history of philosophical texts. Therefore, such deconstructionist views born out of these debates are not necessarily applicable to thoughts Therefore, it is not such deconstructionist philosophy that forms the base of Hanafi’s works, which at a glance seem to be closely related to that philosophy. A question then emerges: Is there another kind of deconstructionist philosophy outside the one proposed by Derrida?

Derrida started his criticism in the realm of linguistic thoughts, and because of this, the dominant interpretation tends to see the deconstructionist philosophy as pertaining to matters of language only. In art criticism, such interpretation is often seen as the beginning of the shift in the effort to understand reality, from the mimesis tendency (the effort to match up thoughts on reality with the reality) to the semiotic tendency (the analyses on theories and texts). This, however, is a distorted interpretation, as the shift from the mimesis approach to that of semiotic has occurred within the developments of structuralism itself. Within the developments of the modern art in the twentieth century, this change is reflected in the shift in the art expressions, from the matters of representations (observing reality), to the matters of forms, which are known as formalism and signified by the emergence of the abstract art.

Therefore, it is not the deconstructionist philosophy that has introduced the method of semiotic—or the method of analyzing texts in the history of philosophy. The deconstructionist philosophy is the continuation of the semiotic approach, which has given rise to a different philosophical method.

Controversies occurred because the deconstructionist method radically overthrew the previous methods.

It is certain that Hanafi’s works do not reveal the approach of mimesis; rather, it betrays the approach of semiotic. His works are expressions which employ the visual language in questioning reality. Such visual language, however, cannot be immediately identified with the language according to the deconstructionist concept of Derrida. In many of his essays on art and paintings, Derrida has not been fully successful to equate the visual language with the common understanding of language.

Hanafi is not aware of structuralism discourse. He does not, therefore, look for the “essence” of the visual language, which would be expected if he were a modernist. Hanafi has never changed the matters of reality in his expressions and turns it to the matter of visual language (or the matter of form). This is exactly what differentiates his abstract paintings with other abstract paintings in the discourse of abstract art.

It is this linkage with the matters of reality that makes images keep on appearing in Hanafi’s paintings. These images, however, are not depictions of reality. They are simply one element of the visual language he employs in order to develop his expressions. Although these images can be read as metaphors, their underlying function is to become an “anchor” for his visual expression as a whole.

Hanafi’s long experience of conversing with the visual world makes the reflections in his works to be in an equal position with the processing of visual elements as an expressive language. For Hanafi, the visual language is not a means to explain his reflections, and neither are reflections in his works supplementary to his expressions.

In the curatorial introduction for his “id” exhibition, I explain that such an equal position is like a solitary game of chess in Hanafi’s creative process. In painting, he continuously faces problems. In such process, he almost always reaches an impasse. But it is precisely at such an impasse that his reflections and processing of the visual language seem to join forces.

Hanafi explains, “When I’m forced to take actions to overcome the problems I encounter on the canvass, I’m often reminded of the conflicts I’ve faced in life. The problems within my painting can often be tackled as I remember my experiences in handling the conflicts in my life.” By employing the theory of psychoanalytic, I see that such encounter is possible due to the interaction between the id and the ego. In such interaction—of which he is not fully aware—the energy from his subconscious emerges as positive energy.

The symptom that reveals changes in his present works can be seen today in this exhibition entitled “Enigma”. In these works, as I have mentioned earlier, Hanafi consciously creates the images on his canvasses. This development brings me to an insight that in the emotional condition where all his actions are spontaneous, there lays a thinking process in which consciousness is involved. It is such symptom that makes Hanafi’s reflections inseparable from his artistic process of work.

This is perhaps a coincidence. The effort to put thoughts (reflections) on the same level as the process of artistic work (the processing of the visual language) has been the approach taken by the deconstructionist artists. Such efforts make their semiotic method differ from that of the modernist/structuralist artists.

This similarity—which perhaps is indeed a coincidence—makes me realize that the deconstruction method might very well loom behind all the actions taken during Hanafi’s creative process. During the preparation of his exhibition entitled “id”, he explains, “I always want to find new solutions on my canvasses; that’s why I often feel that my paintings are failing if I think that the solutions are conventional and just so-so.”

Although in the beginning it was made popular by Derrida and thought of as a matter of language, deconstructionist philosophy actually pertains to the process of meaning ascription toward all things related to meanings and languages. On the one side, meanings and idioms are always influenced by the history of their significations. On the other side, meanings and language always change, following spatial and temporal changes. Deconstruction, therefore, basically takes place automatically in all the processes of meaning ascriptions in which inspirations and creativity are involved, and show innovations reflected mainly in the shifts of linguistic signs (in 500 BCE, Plato predicted this and that was the beginning of the semiotic approach).

Viewing it in the frame of the developments of the contemporary art, it is not the world of signs (which the deconstructionist method explores) but the visual language that is flexible in giving rise to such shifts. The understanding of ‘the contemporary art’ reflects such philosophy. The connotations of ‘being in the same era’ and the ‘present-day’ that the word ‘contemporary’ contains reflect a belief in the space and time.

The deconstructionist belief in the continual shifts of meaning is the opposite of the structuralism belief in an absolute meaning as the latter continually searches for ‘the real presence of Being’. Such arrogant understanding of reality reflects the Western perception on reality. This perception relies on the concept of ‘the real’, in which the material presence exists in a central position in the effort to understand reality. The defiance against absolutism serves as the basis of the juxtaposition between the deconstructionist philosophy which reflects the seething debates in the streams of philosophy in the West, and such streams of philosophy as pluralism and multiculturalism which are open to developments in non-Western thoughts. Such condition creates the awareness about the need to develop a stream of philosophy that is aware of the approaches of interculturalism.

Considering the deconstructionist approach, it is not too difficult to see the closeness between Hanafi’s works and reflections and the deconstructionist discourse. Hanafi has an acute sensitivity toward space and time, although such sensitivity does not give rise to some explicit awareness. Hanafi, therefore, feels as if his reflections and artistic developments are facing some endless enigma and uncertainties.

/ Ulasan


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