The ‘Kesedihan’ (‘Sadness’) contemporary art exhibition compiled by Cut and Rescue runs through Jan. 12 at the Ruang Rupa Gallery in South Jakarta. (JG Photos/Tunggul Wirajuda)

Sadness, Sentimentality Juxtaposed in Modern Art Exhibition at Ruangrupa

BY :TUNGGUL WIRAJUDA

JANUARY 09, 2015

The ‘Kesedihan’ (‘Sadness’) contemporary art exhibition compiled by Cut and Rescue runs through Jan. 12 at the Ruang Rupa Gallery in South Jakarta. (JG Photos/Tunggul Wirajuda)

Old TV sets are stacked on top of one another, aptly reflecting the medium's continued standing as the pre-eminent source of news and information in millions of Indonesian homes.

Newspaper clippings festoon the wall, screaming out sordid headlines of death, crime and sexual abuse. The effect not only desensitizes the viewer to other people's pain, misfortunes and tragedies, it also renders them more receptive to such content. Several toy guns are juxtaposed with the clippings, indicating violence despite their innocuous, plastic appearance.

The television sets and newspaper clippings are part of "Kesedihan" ("Sadness"), an exhibition at the Ruang Rupa Gallery in South Jakarta showing a series of untitled items put together by the Cut and Rescue collective of art students. At first glance, the collection looks like a pile of scrap items -- and they are exactly that. The materials used in the display are all unwanted items Aditya Fachrizal Hafiz, Angga Cipta, Mario Julius and other members of Cut and Rescue salvaged.

"['Kesedihan'] isn't really a set of contemporary sculptures or installation art. Rather, its a collage that's made of concrete items, not just [drawings] on paper," says Ruang Rupa head Indra Ameng.

"Like the construction of a building or traffic, the artists build up on precedents that their fellows already made. In this case, the precedents in question are scrap items that allude to pop culture — to be exact those that reflect the preoccupation with sadness, fatalism and sentimentality that mark Indonesian pop culture.

"The items used in [the exhibition] might be old and distinct from their contemporary counterparts. But they share their emphasis on 'sadness' as a commercial commodity to the urban public. These include sappy pop songs describing heartbreak, dangdut songs lamenting one's misfortune, ubiquitous TV shows on crime, celebrity gossip and fatalistic religious preaching," Indra adds.

"The juxtaposition between these elements and Jakarta's harsh realities are also highlighted in this exhibition."

(JG Photos/Tunggul Wirajuda)

But "Kesedihan" exhibition curator Iswahyudi Haryanto has a somewhat different take on the show's message. He points out that the inspiration behind the exhibition came from both foreign and local media, reflecting the Indonesian public's appetite for sentimental melodrama regardless of its origins.

"Some of the art work [in 'Kesedihan'] were inspired by melodramatic movies by Shaw Brothers [studio] starring Chin Han and Brigitte Lin, which were a hit in the 1980s, like 'Wild Goose and the Wings,' 'Badai Pasti Berlalu' ['The Storm Will Surely Pass'] starring Teguh Karya," Iswahyudi says in the catalogue.

"One particular movie that stood out truly epitomized the melodrama and sadness of this exhibition: 'Arie Hanggara,' an Indonesian film based on a real-life tragedy that caused a sensation at the time."

The exhibit reflects this premise and then some: on one wall, posters warn of dire consequences in the afterlife that await hoarders of precious metals. In another corner, similar posters give similar apocalyptic warnings aimed at vagrants and others perceived as too lazy to work. Their words might resonate with commuters bothered by the sight of beggars demanding money on the streets.

Cut and Rescue even salvaged the poster of an obscure film called "Rejeki Anak Nakal dan Uang Ghoib" ("The Luck of a Naughty Child and the Phantom Money"), which perhaps warns of vice, made in the same vein as the Indonesian horror franchise "Si Manis Dari Jembatan Ancol" ("The Sweetheart of Ancol Bridge") and the films on Indonesian ghouls kuntilanak, pocong and other staples of local horror movies. While the posters represent their subject matter in the same garish light, their retro look gives it an appeal all its own.

The shelves filled with books also bolster Indra and Iswahyudi's message. The volumes are pulp novels written by romance author Mira W., and their inability to edify their readers is perhaps reflected in the tilt of the table.

The overall effect is also emphasized by items in the living room that sharply poke fun at Indonesian middle-class gentility. The stuffed crocodiles crouching in front of the TV perhaps reflect the public's appetite for melodrama, and more perversely, their pleasure in seeing it happen to others. The symmetry beyond the chaos is palpable, showing the trademarks that make Cut and Rescue fixtures in Jakarta's contemporary art galleries.

For more information in the exhibition go to ruangrupa.org.

"Kesedihan" Exhibition Runs through Jan. 12 Ruang Rupa Gallery Jalan Tebet Timur Dalam Raya No. 6 Opening hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Twitter: @ruangrupa

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