October 2015: Leonard Suryajaya

2:50 pm, November 15, 2015 in Blog, Photography, Reviews by Ken Aschliman

Leonard Suryajaya, Installation view of Bathe Me When I Die

Ambivalence. This word comes to mind when viewing Leonard Suryajaya’s exhibition Bathe Me When I Die. Surayjaya’s work is a clashing of cultures, cleanliness and comfort. Navigating the complicated relationships among his photographs and videos is made easier by learning about the equally complicated relationship the artist has with himself. Growing up with Buddhist parents, attending a Christian school, spending much of his youth with a Muslim “other mother,” Suryajaya’s video and photography share an ongoing grappling with his sense of self and belonging.

 

Leonard Suryajaya, Still from Chocolate Beard, 2014, video

In his online bio, Suryajaya pulls in another piece of the puzzle that is identity. He writes that as he came to understand his homosexuality, his feelings of alienation deepened further. The pieces on display at ROY accomplish something unexpected. For viewers entering the exhibit, the first thing they see is an unsettling video, titled Chocolate Beard. In this piece, a seemingly unaffected, expressionless bearded man lies nude on what looks like an operating table in the center of a set-up for a photo shoot. The artist enters, wearing a trucker hat reading “BOY.” What happens next is not exactly an interaction between the two men as much as it is one man manipulating the other. The artist does this by smearing and licking the chocolate that has been coated on the beard of the subject. Another video, titled Rupa, features the same two men in similar roles. The unaffected bearded subject sits nearly motionless in the center of a kiddie pool. The artist returns and proceeds to alternate shaving, worshipping, and bathing his partner in a mixture of milk and confetti, as though he were decorating a birthday cake. Suryajaya clarifies that the milk bath is actually used to cleanse in traditional Indonesian therapy. He says, “The gesture of bathing the figure is also used in some Buddhist [ceremonies] where the devout comes to bathe the figure as a gesture of self inner cleansing. The confetti is a celebration. It is considering how festive, performative, and staged rituals can be.”

 

Leonard Suryajaya, (With Sister, Aunts, Uncles and Cousin) Mom as Bodhisattva, 2015, archival pigment print

As provocative and literally messy as the video pieces are, the accompanying photographs are equally provocative but contrasting in their clean, posed content. One photograph features the artist’s mother, sister, aunts, an uncle, and a cousin as a Hindu goddess. In her many arms she holds various modern objects, such as a television remote and Ibuprofen. The objects are symmetrical on each side of her body. The goddess in the portrait is a being who has reached enlightenment. This piece is especially personal for Suryajaya. He says, “In a place where she [his mother] will always be lower than my dad and men, I try to say otherwise.”

 

Suryajaya is successful in his exhibition’s ability to stir within viewers the ambivalence he feels himself. He says, “In making work and in thinking about my relationship with the viewer, I strive to create visual experiences for the viewer to respond to. I find that the most effective use of art (especially in dealing with hard themes of oppression, violence and injustice) is when I can invite the viewer to reconsider their placement in these questionings. Therefore it is my ambition to extend the experience of [disorientation] to the viewer.” The videos arouse discomfort and inspire a curiosity for clear answers, both of which are reflected in the artist’s experiences growing up in a culture that clashed with his identity. The photographs juxtapose varying religions and races as well as food imagery and tools. “Food is a signifier of abundance and transverse; however, it is also very specific and carries loaded meanings in its visual placement,” Suryajaya says. He uses the example of beef in one of the photos, as it is not consumed in some religions. As a whole, Bathe Me When I Die works as a collage, piecing together the divergent elements of Suryajaya’s history. The exhibit is reminiscent of designs featured in high fashion magazines; the ensembles we may not see ourselves wearing to dinner, but nevertheless admire the savviness and creativity of the designer. A similar sentiment can be felt for Bathe Me When I Die. Not all viewers will be open to the ideas and questions Suryajaya is exploring and the art he has created to present them; however, the boldness and ingenuity of his work is undeniable.

 

By Ashley Gonzalez

October 2015: Jessika Edgar

2:50 pm, in Blog, Photography, Reviews by Ken Aschliman

Jessika Edgar, Installation view of Hypothetical Self-Contained Separate Reality

Jessika Edgar’s exhibition Hypothetical Self-Contained Separate Reality is made up of colorful curiosities. Her sculptures are arranged about the room at varying heights and means of support. Each piece is appealing to the eye, stimulating in shape, and compelling texturally. These are pieces that make viewers want to reach out and interact with the art. In her statement, Edgar credits her inspiration to George Bataille’s concept of “l’informe.” This concept challenges the visual artist to create a form that in theory doesn’t have one. Some forms of “formlessness” have included tangle, fluff, foam, and fat. Through her sculpture, Edgar experiments with formless objects, or objects that “evade classification and meaning,” which makes her pieces difficult to categorize or label.

 

Jessika Edgar, Lumpy, 2015, ceramic, sprayed rubber, expandable foam, aluminum leaf, stool and spray paint

One sculpture, titled Lumpy, does just that. A pearl, marshmallow-like mass crawling out from a silver encasing, the sculpture manages to somehow look appetizing as much as it does an alien life form. Specifically, the lack of construction implied by the idea of formlessness has been turned on its head here. Edgar explores the impact of socially constructed identity and value, while referencing contemporary popular culture and mass media influences. In her statement, she specifies that her sculptures and installations “illustrate media imagery, especially related to gender, beauty, and material desire.” Combining pleasing forms with darker implications, Edgar evokes “cognitive dissonance.” She wants to draw attention to this idea by “creating a psychological space that is simultaneously critical and indulgent.” 

 

Jessika Edgar, Legs that go on for days, 2015, ceramic and vinyl

Aesthetically, Edgar’s sculptures are beautiful and well crafted. Her thoughts regarding cognitive dissonance and social constructs; however, lurk in the same space that at first felt whimsical. Her piece Legs that go on for days is an image ostensibly tied to gender and beauty. The “legs,” which rest upside down and criss-crossed, cast a shadow on the wall. The sculpture itself is highly textured and colored in hues of green, but none of that is reflected in the ominous shadow. Only looking at the shadow, the soft legs are uncrossed, becoming looming, sharp, and scissor-like. This piece is suggestive of Edgar’s ideas on popular culture and mass media distorting our sense of reality, just as the shadow of Legs disfigures the truth of the sculpture. She says, “I am someone who consumes a lot of media. I will binge watch TV shows and movies while I work in the studio, so much so that it has become a necessary part of my studio practice. Also, I love glossy shiny advertisements in magazines. I like the images, the colors, and the sexiness. While I often draw directly from colors and the sheen of magazines advertisements, I am also interested in the way that the female body is cropped and dissected in these images.”

 

It is also worth noting that this sculpture is placed at the south wall of the room, along with another sculpture titled Used and Abused. This pink mass of rolls stacked upon rolls spills over the delicate stool it sits on. This piece suggests conflicting messages concerning body image and beauty. In contrast, the sculpture in the forefront of the exhibit, Curly Q, sits neatly on a box resembling a gift box, coated in dazzling wrapping paper. The form of Curly shifts in both color and shape. Much like a vase, the bottom is wide and bulbous but goes on to form a smooth neck just before, as the name suggests, there is a curl at the top, altering the direction of the piece. The presentation of Curly as a gift and the mutation of form reflects Edgar’s aim to highlight material desire and how our ideas about what we value aesthetically, whether it be in how we look or the things we buy, can be easily changed. The arrangement of the sculptures feels significant because the tug of war between the criticism and indulgence heightens in intensity as the viewer moves through the room.

 

By Ashley Gonzalez

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