Rob Pearce, Jakarta, and Paper


Exhibition note wrote by Heru Joni Putra

The exhibition It’s All About Story: Past, Present, and Future by Rob Pearce at Galerikertas Studiohanafi is now considered as the opener for the rest of the events that will be held at Galerikertas throughout 2019.

As an opener, this exhibition is a very special one. From the very beginning, Galerikertas has aimed to present paper-based work, be it with paper as the medium, material, or other forms of creation. Within the past year, namely the 2018 agenda, Galerikertas has demonstrated a piece of the diversity in the nation’s paper art scene. Admittedly, we are not yet at a point where the works displayed at Galerikertas are representative of the scene as a whole, however, we instead choose to focus on exploring further possibilities in this paper-based realm of artistic creation.

Therefore, this exhibition by Rob Pearce acts as an important signifier for our continued efforts to discover new and exciting paper-based creative methods and also as a reminder that what we have accomplished has not been for nothing. From this opening exhibition until the closer at the end of the year, Galerikertas will continue to explore the roads connecting the separate avenues of paper-based art so that this relatively unpopular corner of the arts will not fade into obscurity.

Rob Pearce has made Jakarta into his aesthetics teacher. Rob first visited Indonesia in the 1970s. He returned to Jakarta in the 1990s and have stayed until now. At the beginning, he was a photographer doing work in the bustling streets of Jakarta. And the visual experience he received during this time was not one that was clean-cut, but rather dirty and dilapidated. His photography didn’t celebrate the modernization taking place in Indonesia. Both the clean and the dirty could be colorful, but Rob chose to explore the latter, sceneries which might seem unpleasant to the eye.

Rob learned in Jakarta as the city was keen to grow. This growth introduced itself to Rob through posters scattered across various corners in the city; on the walls at the bus and train stations, poles, on the sides of buildings, etc. These posters are a far cry from their more commercialized counterparts with their meticulously-thought out designs that were meant to capture your attention and were portable. Instead, these posters could never be truly removed. They were spread and then left to be forgotten. Other posters were eventually plastered on top of them, and these new posters, too, were eventually replaced by other posters, and so on. Aside from advertising certain products, they functioned as an intervention to our consciousness and put into question our idea of what was growth, order, cleanliness, tidiness, effectiveness, etc. But, in the end, as mere materials, the posters’ remains exhibited the opposite: disorder, dilapidation, uncertainty, etc.

Rob initially responded to these industrial artefacts with photograpy. With time, they exerted a powerful influence on Rob which eventually drove him to pursue other forms of expression besides photography

He eventually chose the visual arts and continued to study under Jakarta about how industrialization had cleaned up and dirtied the city at the same time. On one side, numerous plans were being put into motion for the city, and on the other there was chaos. The city was accomodating changes after changes while also showing little sign of true progress. This same characteristic is “symptomatic” in Rob Pearce’s works in this exhibition. “Symptomatic” meaning Rob Pearce’s works not only reflect this Jakarta-owned trait, but also seek to expand it in such a way that not only do we see a reflection of social realities in the art, but also a new horizon for paper-based artistic creation.

The prime material of Rob Pearce’s work originates from the books he has read. Pages upon pages of those books are teared out and stacked on top of each other until the thickness of a canvas is achieved. Afterward, those pages are treated with variations or processed versions of Chinese prayer attributes which function as colored papers.

Rob then carved those papers using a box cutter. The most dominant motif resembles leaves. His inspiration for exploring this motif comes from the photographs he took of leaf silhouettes. In his work, these motifs often resemble a certain figure or are modified with certain images, while at other times they simply resemble regular leaves.

At a glance, Rob’s process seems to culminate in mere decorative work. The paper aspect doesn’t really stand out. It might even strike one as wasteful to repurpose pages of a book as a work of art.

Rob deliberately uses book pages in place of regular paper and he sees it as a realization rather than coincidence or wastefulness. Even though he uses them as material, the words contained in those pages are not to lose their function as messengers. It’s correct to assess that those words no longer form a narrative sense like they would in a book, but Rob assigns them a new function. This new function is a form of word game, playing with the open-ended possibility of finding or not finding words on the carved-out pieces. Every time Rob carves an area of the paper it is as if he’s hunting for words on it. Every time his box cutter outlines a pattern on the paper, he’s playing with repetition and luck, between repetition and disorder, and so on.

In such a context, the choice to make use of book pages becomes paramount. As a consequence of the alteration of functions and forms, from book to medium, the same words arrive to us with different meanings and from different pathways. At least to Rob, he expands his relations to those words. Reading a book, he receives those words in a passive way and in a way that the writer intended. Through his paper-based works, he actively seeks out the words, painstakingly, carefully, even as broken pieces of narration.

Thus you have begun to understand the basic technical aspects of Rob’s mode of creation. Rob’s works are a reflection of the characteristics of a subject that is borne out of Jakarta’s streets and they show us how to live in a complicated crossroads between repetition, circumstance, a seeking-out, uncertainty, disorder and order, discipline and defiance, beauty and dilapidation, among others. All of which are not in opposition with each other, but are complementary to each other, forming in us—or anyone with the experience of living in Jakarta—a kind of realization. In this manner, Rob’s works reflect that complexity.

(Heru Joni Putra)



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