Friends of Gaya
Gaya Ceramic

Reading Objects
I Wayan Sujana (Suklu)
July 26th-August 26th, 2008
A Solo Exhibition by I Wayan Sujana (Suklu)

-- by Alexander Boldizar

?His spirit moves in the rhythm of things. It is thus that art becomes akin to religion and ennobles mankind.? ? Okakura Kazue, The Book of Tea (1906)

If Suklu were a peanut, he would not be one of those peanuts that forgets its skin. ?I want to be a farmer,? he says. ?I want a farmer?s way of responding to materials and objects.?
Not a farmer from 2008, but rather one of the ancient ones, perhaps half-mythical, perhaps real. One of the farmers who made art in the everyday?sculptures in the form of scarecrows; landscaped rice terraces; sculpted ladles and plates and bowls and water scoops out of coconuts, tongs out of bamboo, or cheese graters from duri plants; complex installations out of wind-powered soundmakers; or performance art within Bali?s religious-animist ceremonies.

The dominant characteristics to Suklu?s work?a sense of purity and a rootedness of the work within Bali?make it awkward, artificial, to graft an exogenous analysis or philosophical framework onto it. A perfect review of his work might not include any names other than Suklu, Bali, and the farmer. But Suklu?s work is also such a rare living example of Heidegger?s concepts of authenticity and groundedness, not to mention his postwar agrarian nostalgia, that leaving out the comparison would be a disservice to both.

Not in the sense of Suklu referencing phenomenology, but rather Suklu as a Balinese H?lderlin, someone Heidegger would have written about, living and manifesting the intentionality of consciousness (the ?aboutness? of things), an ?openness to being,? a contrast between vulgar and authentic time, a focus on the earth as the almost ineffable foundation of the world, and even the presence of the gods.

In a day and age when too much artwork feels contrived?where most art lives on vulgar time?it?s refreshing to see work this clean. In our interview, Suklu never once used words like ?purity? or ?authenticity.? Instead, he talked about mixing his paints with glue and sawdust to make them thicker, heavier, older, to make red blood red, Barong red. He talked about kitchen utensils, plows, old intrinsically valuable objects in which the spirit is still strong. The purity in Suklu?s work is not a concept?it comes out of his understanding of forms, his resoluteness, out of his objects.

In what is perhaps his most famous piece, Dance of Cendrawasih, Suklu created visually gorgeous birds of paradise out of perforated ladles and rattan. In his solo show at Gaya Art Space, he takes peanuts out of the field and into the gallery, plays with ideas of going far, of thoughts that move, of the finished and unfinished, developed and undeveloped?using film negatives, rattan, sawdust, glue; arranging negatives with colour to reflect how the mind moves?using open connections to hint at memories of a creative past that extends beyond his own.

He starts with wild sketches, explorations of textures and forms, sometimes chaotic, sometimes realistic, that tie in to objects, textures, perhaps peanut skins, that tie into ideas without narrow specific symbolic meanings. Independently, without direct influence from continental philosophy, Suklu?s work is a living manifestation of the phenomenological slogan, ?to the things themselves.?

?Materials are important,? Suklu says, ?They have value, they have discussions with me, though not all materials can be turned into something. Sometimes I have to wait. Everything is tied together by my sketches, but it goes through the objects. My paintings are dependent on the objects. I make objects and then paintings; the relationship depends on the object, though it can start anywhere, from the material or from an idea. It?s the process that is most important.? His process is one that bides its time, like the farmer, to see whether the seed will come up and ripen.

He worries about the loss of Bali?s grounding, its agrarian past, in its deepest sense of the loss of connection between the people and the phenomena in their lives. In Heidegger?s philosophy all experience is grounded in ?care.? There is an ambiguous but important distinction between a farmer who makes his own ladle and one who buys a prefabricated ladle. In the language of The Book of Tea, prefabricated objects have no rhythm, they have no cracks for care to enter and fill up. It is a distinction that cuts deeper than just the loss of art and creativity in the farmer who no longer makes his own objects: an increased prefab efficiency leads to a general decrease in the level of care, a deracination not only from one?s world but also from one?s own life, and a vulgarization of existence.

This sort of distinction, like an explanation about standing beneath God?s thunderstorms, is not well suited for critical writing. As prose, it becomes labelled mysticism, gets chopped up by shallow coffee-table conversations. But as poetry, as art, it is powerful and important. My fear in reading Suklu?s objects is that H?lderlin?s mad poetry was already a lament for the gods who had been forced to flee in the face of the modern age. Seeing Suklu?s attempts to retrieve a destiny for Bali?s authentic being makes me wonder whether the gods are now fleeing Bali as well.

Nyoman Sura, a well known Balinese contemporary dancer, opened the exhibition by his dance performance
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