Reprinted with minor modifications from C-Arts Magazine, May 2009.
The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.
Leave it to Made Wianta to name a show Love. And then do the theme justice.
Wianta’s latest, at the newest addition to Bali’s small but vibrant repertoire of contemporary galleries, Kendra Gallery in Seminyak, takes time to unfold. The exhibition has so many strands, layers and styles that at first it feels like a hodgepodge, a gallimaufry tied together by little other than color. Almost like a retrospective that manages to be simultaneously jarring and at peace.
The importance of Wianta to art in Bali can hardly be overstated — he is, in a sense, Bali’s Picasso — and Love’s curatorial text by Jean Couteau implicitly acknowledges the quasi-retrospective feel of the show. It provides the clearest overview of Made’s history as an artist that I’ve yet read. “Bali found in Made Wianta its true abstract language, a very successful one at that,” Couteau writes, then goes on to describe how Wianta went beyond this language that he’d created. Because if there is one consistent theme through all of Made’s work it is this sense of constant going beyond. And in Love, he transcended even this patter of hyper-energized movement forward: Love looks backwards as well as forwards, requiring the full context of memory.
This is not simply because the individual pieces range from an aesthetic directly inspired by his early Karangasem series (grey leaf and white leaf) to fireflies evoking memories of his famous Dreamland exhibition at Gaya Art Space that took him to the 50th Venice Biennale, to subtly softened versions of his last exhibition, Sharp, at the same gallery. The references to past work and past shows are not there for their own sake, the show is not really a retrospective. The title piece, love, might include a mirror and nails, but it’s not only about history or ego — not Made’s and not the viewers. Rather, the historical mining feels like a gathering, almost a hearkening, of the elements necessary to convey an understanding of love that incorporates memory, immortality, and irreconcilable tension, going far beyond the simplified Hollywood romances that tend to shape our view of love today.
Wianta’s work nearly always has a touch of inspired madness, of neurotic transcendence. In Love, he has applied that touch to the most inherently mad, neurotic and transcendent aspect of being human. Rose Franken once said that “Anyone can be passionate, but it takes real lovers to be silly.” And while Wianta’s take on love is too dark to be silly — it somehow manages to be both playful and melancholic — it has the complexity, subversiveness and care of silliness.
Love feels like a visual version of George Santayana’s statement that “In endowing us with memory, nature has revealed to us a truth utterly unimaginable to the unreflective creation, the truth of immortality….The most ideal human passion is love, which is also the most absolute and animal and one of the most ephemeral.”
It is hard to avoid juxtaposing Love against Sharp, which was held only last year. But whereas Sharp was highly focused — the demiurge turned demoniac and the viewer was pierced with phalluses that were themselves pierced by pins — the works of Love are simultaneously sharp and calmed, and the overall sense is that of an encounter between intensity and complication. The animal has blended with the ephemeral.
My favourite pieces in the show, symphony 1 and symphony 2, use thousands of small individual nails, points out at the viewer — but the net effect is one of softness and, true to its name, of a symphony. The sum of all the nails looks almost like a page of text, illegible, blurred by distance and perspective but clearly with some passages that are more important than others —“the call of the unknown,” in Couteau’s words, “like a feeling of floating airlessness” — that you want to pay attention to. And it’s the distribution of these passages, how they are laid out on the page, that matters, as it does in life. Similarly, the distribution of the two actual sandals and one hyper-realistically painted sandal on the canvas of sandals is far more important than whether they’re real or fictive — beyond Wianta’s half-joking critique that “I wanted to show that I too can be hyper-realist. I too know how to use a projector.”
This is the way Wianta works. An individual painting may be a jab at realism and art trends, but it’s also fundamentally open, aesthetically sophisticated, and adds a complicating strand to the show as a whole with an explosion of symbolic possibilities. A nailed down flip-flop carries weight as foundation, as a hint of prison, as an acknowledgement of the ambiguity between truth and lie that comes with love, and as a reminder that it includes not just the lofty but the most banal, dirtiest, smelliest parts. In three flip-flops, love becomes both our ground and our fantasy.
Love is confusing, contradictory, and takes time to move from groping to complexity. Wianta captured this in the show — not just in the work, but in the ritual of the opening itself, in the hour of darkness that he forced on the audience. We mingled, or tried to, but didn’t recognize friends until we were face to face, little moments of discovery. It was irritating: are you who I’m looking for? If not, I still had to talk to you because we were face to face, a lifetime of blind dates condensed into one hour. I kept finding Jean Couteau — either because his white clothes stood out in the darkness, or perhaps because he’s Mr. Right.
After an hour of this, there was a dance. The dance was sexy, the dancer physically spectacular, and there was no point to it, no connection to the show except for the fact that love is exactly like that, at least before the show opens. Her legs were perfect, so much so that I didn’t care about conceptual connections. And if we’re honest, as Wianta forces us to be, how many deep and true love affairs started simply because of the immortality and ephemerality of great legs?
In the end, Wianta does something impressive. A show that starts off feeling like a crazy collection of barely connected bits, flashes of leg blended with moments, memories and arguments unfolds to reveal an intricate concinnity between the pieces and the complex ungraspable whole that is Love.