15 December 2020
Curatorial: Planes | Spheres
Planes | Spheres
Bunga Yuridespita & Nunung W.S.
Bunga Yuridespita (1989) and Nunung WS (1948) are probably two of the few contemporary Indonesian painters whose body of works appears utopian. If I were to briefly describe their practice, Bunga and Nunung have a distinctive way of representing the three-dimensional sensation. Not only are their abstract paintings an effort to break away from the dichotomy of representation and non-representation, but it also offers us a spatial experience.
Contemporary abstract painting is recognized as a completely different entity from modern abstract painting. Modern abstract painting exists to be genuinely autonomous in this world. It is almost as if it appears without having to recognize or understand its origin, especially when it comes through the painter’s experience or cognitive situation, which indirectly makes the painting exist. Modern abstract painting is present and lived only through its formal quality, namely through overlapping lines, gradations of color present due to the mix of paint on canvas, etc. The painter’s intention could be seen as “limited”. There is no sense of urgency other than the fact that they need to create a composition using various shapes, gestures, colors, etc., on a two-dimensional canvas.
On the contrary, contemporary abstract painting is a whole different case. Since modern art’s universal values are no longer valid, the context of an artwork is needed to understand its origin. Therefore, the aspect of purpose–outside of formal matters–is inherent within the creation process. However, interpretation is still within the authority of the audience.
Bunga’s paintings are in the form of blocks of color, reminiscent of the blocks used to indicate houses, fields, and other legends on Google Maps. Her body of work results from her perception of the spatiotemporal experience of the spaces around her. She is like an amateur cartographer trying to translate the spaces she experienced through the visual form of abstract painting. Bunga’s paintings represent the aspirations of humans living in the era of advanced information and technology to prove how spatial experiences are personal and physical.
As a contemporary artist, Bunga felt that present-day human spatial experiences had changed significantly compared to spatial experiences in the past. The perception of space has become so limited as the human consciousness is being consciously or unconsciously shaped by artificial experiences. Or even a person’s experience with physical space may not be as impactful because it is then combined with perceptions of the virtual world that they get from a physical space. Simply put, we continuously need the guidance of virtual experiences to make sure of our daily physical experiences. The spatial experience encountered by contemporary human beings has been curated and fabricated.
From another perspective, we will begin to consider the virtual world as slowly becoming an extension of innate human senses. There’s been a creed in the world of communication that mass media has become an extension of the human senses. And thus far, humans have adapted and depended on the media so that it is considered the sixth sense. Therefore, Bunga sees a world that is configured in a way that facilitates human needs. Humans rely heavily on road directions or paths provided by ever-advancing, intelligent digital communication services.
As an artist who studied Architecture, Bunga understands how urban and regional spaces are designed in such a way. Human movement has become one of the primary considerations for urban designers to support efficiency and order through their designs.
If urban planners plan to orchestrate human movement, Bunga, as an artist, does the utopian act by upturning the urban planner’s work. Setting aside the efficiency that has been manipulated by the urban planner, she experienced the city and particular street corners firsthand to document the events she encountered there. She took notes and occasionally crossed out and marked the routes she had traveled. Bunga then transferred the sketches into a canvas and created rigid, defined planes that distinguished the roads, blocks, and plane-like buildings reminiscent of a geometric-analytic abstract painting. The color fields are also solid and flat, suggesting a map.
After becoming a cartographer, in her previous series of works, Bunga has started to open up and show her acceptance of utilizing electronic devices within her creative process. She takes advantage of it as a medium that can present a variety of fascinating visual exploration of space. And by doing so, she can experience space differently, compared to when she has to pass through different spaces every day. These days, Bunga relies more on drones to experience space from above through a bird’s eye view and obtaining valuable data for her sketch. She discovered the shadows coming from buildings, which accentuates and brings depth to the building as it is seen as a flat plane from above. To get this concept of accentuation even further, Bunga explicitly uses a canvas with the coarsest fibers, giving her texture to her paintings. Therefore, whether it be illusory and concrete, we will feel the presence of depth in Bunga’s works.
As an artist with architecture as her background, Bunga’s works exude an understanding that feels distinct from artists with fine arts as their background, especially those who have been using abstraction as their visual language for a long time. For Bunga, her visual stimulation derives from physical experiences beyond the walls of her studio. Bunga sees the world and its realities as infinite experiences that should be seen and felt, whether directly through her body or mediated through electronic devices. In Bunga’s perspective, abstract forms she creates are none other than representations of what she witnesses and feels. Bunga’s abstraction is different from the pure abstract painting, which tends to have the goal of unleashing forms from worldly representations and standards for artistic autonomy. Bunga’s always emphasizes context within her abstract paintings, which emerged from the artist’s spatial and somatic experiences.
On the contrary, Nunung WS’s abstract painting practice is considered similar to that practiced by Bunga, but she has a different approach. Nunung’s painting practice is the fruit that derives from her deep fascination with nature. However, as a senior artist, Nunung’s concept was entirely different from Bunga’s. Nunung relies heavily on her sensitivities to feel nature’s universal energy. These energies can be present through the gust of wind, the mystical atmosphere in places of worship, or astounding mountain views. Nunung’s practice was underlined by the late Indonesian Art critic in the 1970s, Sanento Yuliman, as lyricism: figurative imagery and abstract forms act as filters of the artist’s mind perceiving nature and space.
For Nunung, her attempt to observe nature suggests a connection that leads to spiritual experience. Spiritual experiences lead her to a meditative state, which provides a spaciousness that inspires and thrills her. We get to understand it as human existence within transcendental spaces. However, it should be remembered that what Nunung achieved derives from her intensity indirectly perceiving nature.
Initially, Nunung did not paint abstractly; instead, she used to paint figuratively. However, she is comfortable with the practice of painting on the spot. She believes that by doing so, she can accumulate as many impulses as possible that can be felt by all her senses until she reaches a certain level of exhilaration. Nunung then attempted to establish this experience through her painting practice. Her paintings’ visualizations became more simplistic as she tried to achieve this experience (read: towards an abstract visual language). She realized that the simpler the form, the easier it is to deliver her message and attain the spiritual experience.
Nunung understands this spiritual experience through geometric shapes that illusively represent layers of space. Also, she found a way to present the impression of space in an illusory way through her paintings using oil or cassava paper (simple paper). Because of her choice of material, Nunung’s painting has the kind of depth that reveals the glow of light through the nooks and crannies.
Frankly, Nunung WS’s abstract painting practice is the epitome of Indonesian abstract painting in the 1970s. Her paintings offer a lyrical experience for the audience. We get to feel the warmth of her abstraction through luminous, translucent colors that reveal the layers of space that illusively goes beyond the two-dimensional plane of the canvas. Nunung wanted to present the inner spaces through her paintings through her countless experimentation on materials and colors. Quoting upon Nashar’s words–the famous Indonesian abstract painter who was once Nunung’s mentor–this kind of painting practice is none other than to “build a universe […] to construct an idea obtained from within oneself, from one’s soul, which originates from external influences, then ingrained by the soul “. In other words, Nunung’s paintings represent her lifelong effort to transcend and translate inner conflicts and situations for existential purposes.
We now understand that Nunung’s painting practice can be seen as a way for humans to understand and create their own spiritual space by developing an attitude that accepts nature. The two-dimensional plane ultimately led Nunung to the experience of physical space that she felt when encountering nature.
Bunga’s painting practice reflects an individual’s enthusiastic attitude when facing and adapting to space through fresh approaches. On the other hand, Nunung’s artistic practice shows the sublime experience of a human being who thoroughly meditates on space and relies on her own body’s sensitivity.
Chabib Duta Hapsoro