Melati Suryodarmo strikes a pose in her exhibition at Museum Macan in Kebon Jeruk, West Jakarta, on Wednesday. (JG Photo/Tara Marchelin)

Why Let the Chicken Run? Melati Suryodarmo's First Solo Exhibition


FEBRUARY 27, 2020

A woman sat in silence on a chair affixed to a wall two and a half meters above the floor in the exhibition room of Museum MACAN. She holds a black rubber ball that she hugs or slowly moved from one hand to another.

This was "The Black Ball," one of the works from Indonesian performance artist Melati Suryodarmo performed by a specially-trained artist that will be showcased in her first solo exhibition titled "Why Let the Chicken Run?" at the contemporary art museum in West Jakarta.

"This is a special moment for me as I recollect my works from the beginning of my career. I was quite surprised when Museum MACAN asked me to hold an exhibition," Melati said in a press conference on Wednesday. 

Why Let The Chicken Run? is Melati's first solo exhibition in a museum and will open for the public from Feb. 28 to May 31.

Museum MACAN curator Asep Topan said the exhibition's title was taken from one of Melati's most important works, created as a response to "Death of The Chicken" (1972) by Cuban-American artist Ana Mendieta. 

"It also shows off Melati's view of history and her interaction with other artists. This work connects many aspects of her art practice. That's why we chose this as the title of the exhibition," he said. 

The Black Ball performed by a special-trained artist at Museum MACAN on Wednesday, Feb. 26. (JG Photo/ Tara Marchelin)
The Black Ball performed by a specially-trained artist at Museum MACAN on Wednesday. (JG Photo/Tara Marchelin)

A total of twelve works from Melati will be featured in the exhibition, including Why Let The Chicken Run? in which the artist will release a black rooster among the audience, then chase and catch it. This process of chase and release symbolizes relentless pursuits in life. 

An installation for
An installation for Melati's 'I'm A Ghost in My Own House.' (JG Photo/Tara Marchelin)

Another highlight of the exhibition is "I'm A Ghost in My Own House," a 12-hour performance of Melati grinding hundreds of kilograms of charcoal.

The Museum MACAN exhibition will also feature artifacts of Melati's past performances, photographs and video documentation.

Asep said not all works at the exhibition will be presented by Melati, some will involve artists selected and trained by the artist.

How to Understand Performance Art

The most important thing to do to understand performance art, Melati said, is to realize the experience and the event within the work performed by the artist.

"Performance art is radical. The highest point of performance art is when the work is performed. You have to come to enjoy it," she said. 

Seeing the work being performed, according to Melati, will allow you to see the organic process, the dynamic energy and the developing narrative painstakingly created by the artist.

Sporadically Growing

According to Melati, performance art in Indonesia has been growing sporadically, mainly thanks to independent art collectives in urban centers. 

"We have performance art collectives in Yogyakarta, Malang, Surabaya and Bandung. It will need time to grow bigger," she said. 

Melati said people often still mistake performance art for performing art when the two could not be more different.

According to the artist, performing art is more straightforward and easier to digest because it uses universal language and follows classic aesthetics. 

"Performance art is the opposite. It's based on uncommon things in daily life, because we believe they're part of life too," Melati said. 

Melati said from the economic perspective of the art industry, performance art is still often seen as a niche with no obvious selling point.

"That's something we need to dispel. Performance art does have many selling points. It depends on how we promote it. I hope all art genres are given an equal opportunity in the industry," Melati said.