Going With the Flow is Key to Unlocking Quirky Jakarta Exhibit

Each locker in Syagini Ratna Wulan’s new exhibition offers an interesting object, and instructions on which locker to head to next. At the end, participants are encouraged to weave a story. (Photo courtesy of Natalia Figge)

Each locker in Syagini Ratna Wulan’s new exhibition offers an interesting object, and instructions on which locker to head to next. At the end, participants are encouraged to weave a story. (Photo courtesy of Natalia Figge)

Art exhibitions can feel intimidating to those who don’t attend them. Afraid to be condemned as a philistine in a sophisticated gallery, they think it’s safer to keep walking than stepping into the world of the unknown.

Once in a while, however, an artist comes around showing that art with a playful approach can be highly entertaining and accessible to newcomers, without losing any of its significance and value.

A new exhibition at Ark Galerie in Senopati, South Jakarta, is proof to this theory. Until Dec. 20, the gallery is hosting an art project by Syagini Ratna Wulan called “100 Years of Tempest.”

The 33-year-old artist hails from Bandung where she studied fine arts at the Bandung Institute of Technology, before pursuing a master’s degree in cultural studies at Goldsmiths College at the University in London. She also was selected for an art residency program in Tokyo last year.

Over the years, Syagini has participated in many group exhibitions, but the current show at Ark Galerie marks her third solo exhibition.

She has created somewhat of an art playground where visitors are invited to do much more than just observe. She invites them to take an active role in the exhibition to become part of the project. To enter the gallery means to participate in the game.

“The beginning of this project dates back to 2010 when Syagini created a series of paintings and photographs that she called ‘Concealing Series,’ ” curator Agung Hujatnikajennong explained in the exhibition catalog. In that series, the artworks were hidden under white blankets and cloths or covered by veils, leaving the visitors to guess what would await them.

“Syagini has always been interested in covered and hidden objects because in her eyes, humans are creatures that are never satisfied with what they see,” Agung said. “Our perception works in a complicated way, up to a point where what we actually see doesn’t satisfy our knowledge — what you see is never what you get.”

With “100 Years of Tempest,” Syagini continues in the same spirit as in “Concealing Series,” but instead of working with veils and cloths, this time the artist has filled the exhibition space with 100 white lockers. On a thin sheet of paper, Syagini outlined the rules of how to walk through this exhibition — or better, to play the game.

Like a lucky draw, visitors move from locker to locker, depending on the numbers they have picked. Behind each locker door awaits something different: it may be an old typewriter, dried flowers, a piece of soap, an old tape or a pair of shoes. There are also short video clips, photographs and paintings, some of which are contributions from other artists.

A stash of postcards is attached to the back of the locker door, and visitors pick one, leading them to the next locker on their journey.

“The journey will be finished after 15 minutes or once you have reached the last locker,” the instructions read.

Since the numbers are picked randomly and individually, and it is impossible to take a peek into every locker given the time frame, each visitor comes out of the gallery with a unique experience.

When the 15 minutes are up, the collected postcards, each showing what could be found in the locker and serving as clues for the next stage, symbolize the different steps of the journey.

If one is to follow the instructions, the last task is to create a story based on the artifacts in the lockers.

“Generally speaking, with this project, Syagini tries to introduce [a new approach to art] that blurs the lines between the creator [of art] and the spectator,” Agung said. “Even though there is a narrative, the plot and ending will be a surprising one.”

The signs and clues in the lockers are not as random as they might seem. Rather, they’re all part of Syagini’s own journey, and by involving visitors and giving them room for interpretation, the artist is able not only to reveal a glimpse into her life and soul, but at the same time to encourage participants to share their own.

“Syagini has prepared this project for two years,” Agung explained. “The objects [in the lockers] represent important, personal moments of the artist during that time.

“At first, she wanted to create a story with those objects,” he continued. “But when she realized that her perception can’t possibly be the same as everyone else’s, she decided to leave the narration in the hands of the visitors — including myself.”

Some of the objects are fairly easy to relate to, like the melancholy lyrics to a song about turning 33: “Tomorrow’s just an excuse away, so I pull my collar up and face the cold, on my own. The earth laughs beneath my heavy feet at the blasphemy in my old jangly walk.”

Locker number 16 strikes up a similar, heavy-hearted notion. Here, the artist poses the question, written on a black sign: Are all tears the same? The locker contains small medicine bottles with stickers on them that suggest the different reasons for crying: happiness, loss, illness, involuntary.

Other lockers call for the need to stir up one’s imagination. Number 58 is home to a glass jar that contains cut-off fingernails, while locker 80 remains empty.

Behind other doors, Syagini asks the visitors to “go upstairs and see.” Take the couple of steps that lead to the upper floor of the gallery, and more installations wait to be explored — a bed with white sheets and a pillow case adorned with the word “Believe,” a chair that is seemingly glued to the wall by a pair of hands, ceramic figurines and some jewelry.

If visitors want to enjoy all the different facets that Syagini has so carefully assembled, they simply need to start a new 15-minute game.

As Syagini wrote below the instructions: “Just relax and enjoy. There are no losers or winners in this game.”

Of course, one might argue, a much more easier way would be to simply open one locker after the next, without following the guidelines.

But doing so would mean interference with the artist’s intent and vision. And, to put it more simply, where would be the fun in that?

100 Years of Tempest
Ark Galerie (Until Dec. 20)
Jl. Senopati Raya No. 92,
South Jakarta
Tel. 021 725 4934

View Ark Galerie in a larger map