Gusmen Heriadi was born in 1974 in Pariaman, West Sumatra, Indonesia. Having graduated from the Indonesian Institute of the Arts (ISI) in 2005, he now works as an illustrator at Tabloid Altternatif Pualiggoubat Mentawai in his hometown.
Gusmen has been actively exhibiting his work over the past two decades in Indonesia, Singapore, Korea, China and Hong Kong. He has also been a finalist of both the Philip Morris and Indofood Art Awards (2000 and 2002), and has been honoured with a Special Appreciation for the Jakarta Art Award in 2006.
The objects featured in his paintings are often metaphors of his feelings and inner debates about the issues of culture and tradition in a modern society. Most of his works are products of his dreams, his responses to life, and his philosophical views. These philosophical and critical thoughts are the result of cultural forging and family habit, as well as influences from the breadth of his artistic life and pursuit.
A Matter of Gusmen's Guests
Aminudin TH Siregar
Bandung, 17th November 2010
Gusmen has been titling his works “Tamu” (“Guest”) for a long time. However, he never determined this “series of guests paintings” as a unified whole which then would be established into a solo exhibition. All this time, the works titled “Guest” has been included in other exhibitions he participated in. Out of the numerous works he has created, the “guests series” seems to have a certain appeal of its own that would be able to elucidate the main points of Gusmen’s artistic concept.
Therefore, in this year’s solo exhibition, Gusmen Heriadi presents the title Guests. It is a simple word that corresponds with “traveler”, “newcomer” or “visitor”. Gusmen and I do not use any of those three words because “guest” induces enigma or imposes a certain mystery, and it has an emotive meaning – which associates with emotions, compared to the other corresponding words that are more “generic”. Hence, in addition to being symbolic, the word “guest” also carries a plurality of meaning as well as conveying the overlapping issues. It is an umbrella for various things he use as the materials to expand the discussion. For Gusmen, Guests is also a matter of “arrival” and “departure”. It is about someone who “comes” and “goes”, invited or otherwise.
Gusmen presents many human figures as the main subject of all his works. The figures depicted in different poses are as though falling from the sky; or rolling from behind the trees. In Guest #8 (2008), the naked figures look as if they just arrived (or could be about to go) from or into an alley formed by the wide gap between the trees. The trees are brownish black, as if burned dry. The alley curves into a dark turn. Two white lines at the end of the turn are apparently enough to build a “shape of a door” illusion. A “small blue pond” does not just accentuate the painting, but also strengthens the impression of mystery. All of these elements successfully stimulate a layered process of meaning. Guest #8 adopts a naturalist style of painting. Even so, it is not the feeling of beauty or admiration being perceived, but rather an allure to enter the gloomy atmosphere that would negate our emotions towards nature.
In this series, Gusmen also utilizes a background that gives a panoramic impression – a vast desert which shows a faint horizon line. In Guest #2 (2007), is a door on the horizon line that runs diagonally. This door creates a very strong direction about the origin of the “arrival” as well as the “departure” gate for these figures – like a last exit that gives a final chance for man to choose. In some cases, such atmosphere is reminiscent of the waiting room in the “terminal” or “airport”: a worrisome place, because you never know if we will reach the destination that we are headed. We, in that situation, can just surrender. In Gusmen’s painting, either “terminal” or “airport” is replaced with “dense forest”, “vast savanna”, “corner of a room” and “beach”.
As we see in Guest #9, the figures are suggested to be “floating” above the beach that divides the land and the ocean. Not only that, he adds a “second background” with three lines that build the appearance of a corner of a room and its door. This layered background gives the illusion of the “world within” and the “outside world” – or by following the example of the late critic, Sudarmadji: “intrinsic” and “extrinsic”. These two factors could be used as indicators to comprehend the artist in assessing the “world” around him. We will postpone the in-depth analysis on these “two factors”. However, with that provision, we generally can evaluate that the use of background in Gusmen’s paintings invite a layered meaning. This also means that Gusmen pays attention to the background as something important to be studied.
Almost all the figures in his paintings are seen as a clustered mess. But in one or two paintings they seem to form a pattern ora specific configuration. In the painting Guest #9 (2008), for example, the configuration formed as “prayer beads”. While on another work we find only one figure.
Up to this point, the significance of “fragmentary figures” and “patterned figures” could deviate the discourse of “disorder” and “order”. Meanwhile, when the figures are examined one by one, we find that each figure is given a “cushion” or a “platform”, and some of them form a comfortable couch. This causes each figure to not be “stepping on the earth”. All figures in there develop an idea in our minds about the arrival and departure of the “guests”.
If Gusmen represents the figure of a post-colonial artist, then perhaps his works are built upon local interest and used to deal with the questions of identity, history and globalization. Nevertheless, as of several painters in his generation, Gusmen does not urge his art to be a “political statement”, nor does he assign art as an instrument for social change which arises drastically in the late 1990s. Political arts and social criticism have a strong influence on young artists’ practice of art. Gusmen does not appear to be in this category. His style is rather sublime than provocative.
Gusmen in the Midst of Indonesia’s Art Practice
Behind the discourse of “Indonesian contemporary art” is an uncertainty and the constant emergence of the homogeneity of views. In Indonesia, this fact makes the evaluation and explanation of the “contemporary art” become increasingly bleak and blurry.
Amid such gloom and obscurity, until mid-2000, the debate about contemporary art left two remaining views which validity of arguments have not yet proven. First, is the assumption that the Indonesian contemporary art is identical to the arts that have a critical dimension, criticisms that are directed against the political world and also the power of the state. Art in this term is also identical with the artists’ defense against social reality. Works of art by artists are used not only to narrate the matters if social pathology but also with a certain awareness tend to be applied to defend and define the agenda of change for society. Thus, “Indonesian contemporary art”, recognized by a handful of art observers, in itself carries the “morality”.
Second, there is a view which agrees that Indonesian contemporary art is identical with the “market”. Artists are confronted by the fact that their artworks are nothing more than commodities of the market. This reality actually manages to restrict artists’ artistic space. Despite that, paradoxically, this fact is discreetly celebrated. For those who favor the market, the first argument is viewed to be against the reality. They question the fundamentals of assessment of the relationship between the art practice and morality. Such criticism is then developed by raising a new question: is the morality in this context actually the “market morality”, which aligned with the ethics and market demand?
Gusmen, who graduated from ISI Yogyakarta in 2005, began his career in the middle of this situation. He was aware that the position of an artist is not as secure as he imagined. He instead realized that the reality he faced was uncertain. He did not exactly favor the “critical arts camp”. On the other hand, he did not necessarily support the “commodity arts camp”. He tried to escape this tension. He eventually chose to concentrate on aesthetic explorations. He tend to explore the potential plane (canvas), and then arranged the strength of his painting’s character while staying receptive to “influences” that he deemed as worthy to be developed and adapted to his artistic instincts.
Similar to his friends at the Sakato Arts Community and Genta, Gusmen is an artist who chose a different part out of the two choices. These artists (they are traveling artists from West Sumatera) areas though re-establishing the “universality of art” but with a belief that is not ultimate nor absolute – just like the Western modernist credos.
Gusmen believes that it is not his responsibility as an individual to think that art can save the world, though art can actually sustain humanity. In turn, art will reveal identity, reflect culture and form a civilization. That is why he and dozens of other artists in that community welcome any effort that aims to promote artistic discoveries for the development of Indonesian art. To some extent, this attitude managed to minimize the uncertainties of their social status in the field of art. It also frees the artists from a number of determinations set by the world around them.
As interpreted by other young artists, in the midst of such apprehension, the term contemporary art is not something that is certain therefore should be relied upon. Gusmen does not trap himself in that kind of “battle of discourse”. He does not compose a strategy let alone formulate a method to be accepted in the “field of Indonesian contemporary arts”. For him, such “consciousness” will only make the artists to be confined within that unnecessary terminology. There are other more important tasks young artists should carry out. Instead, Gusmen actively participates in various art exhibitions and continuously promote different artistic creations. That is the only way an artist can better understand and deepen his works.
Every young artist who started his career in the art world has one time or the other contemplates his true identity. In the process, he searches for the “differences” and “similarities” between himself and other artists. The result often comes to a dead end. However, many young artists managed to get out of this deep reflection and “find himself”. The discovery of identity is still a process.
What is typical about this process is there will always be a personification (embodiment) of himself through a number of forms in his works. In fact, it is not uncommon that an artwork is a personification of the artist. The matters of the “self”, “individual constructions” and “the search for identity” often reflect in the works. But not everything can be deciphered clearly and explicitly. This is what makes art interesting. He is saying something that cannot be said. He gives emotions over a matter that ishard to express.
Art is a hiding place from “the self”. Art presents an artist’s “private atmosphere” for others to view. Every artist has a lot of ways to present this “atmosphere”.
What stands out in Gusmen’s works is the very strong ability to deliver a vast, grim and quiet “atmosphere” which immediately persuades us to question the “fate” of man as a “guest” in the world. As mentioned, the “background” in Gusmen’s paintings holds the same “weight of meaning” as the human figures. Both are equally important because their meanings correlate with each other. This background is not a mere “background to decorate a painting”.
We can finally say that Gusmen’s series of Guests immediately triggers us to reevaluate why we “come”and “go”: why we must “visit” this world? From this point, we turn to the question of human Existence. This issue could lead to Gusmen, and his paintings are personifications. On the other hand, this subject is Gusmen’s offer for the audience to ponder on the issues of Existence.
The feeling of vastness on Gusmen’s canvas depicts the “sweeping freedom” of human Existence. But the horizons, the trees, the shoreline, the firmament and the presence of the door in the painting indicate that there is something determinant about freedom. Thus freedom is relative, which has its own limits and boundaries.
Such meditation, of course, still regards the particulars of existentialism in modern philosophy. A question then arises: how free is freedom? In turn, the limits of freedom of each individual will always correlate to the freedom of others. The crowds of figures that demonstrate of being “isolated in the base” reflect the fundamentals of this adage: when I require my freedom, I, too, require for the freedom of others. This situation creates irresolvable conflict, because “your freedom limits mine”.
As a contemplation, this simple adage – that comprises within Gusmen’s paintings – is in fact still applied and has a context in the midst of various social changes that are occurring in our society today.
|2010||Korea International Art Fair, Coex, Seoul, South Korea|
|Bakaba, with Sakato Group, Jogja National Museum, Yogyakarta, Indonesia|
|2009||Bazaar Art Fair, Ritz Carlton – Pacific Place, Jakarta, Indonesia|
|In Rainbow, Esa Sampoerna Art House, Surabaya, Indonesia|
|C-Art Show, Grand Indonesia, Jakarta, Indonesia|
|2008||Manifesto, Galeri National Indonesia, Jakarta, Indonesia, Indonesia|
|A New Force of South East Asia:Group Exhibitions of Indonesian Contemporary Artists, Asia Art Centre, Beijing, China|
|2007||Inspiring Indonesian Contemporary Art, Organized by Media Visual Art, Shanghai Art Fair, China|
|2006||Kisi-Kisi Jakarta, Jakarta Art Award, Jakarta, Indonesia|
|Bazart, Benteng Vredeburg Museum, Yogyakarta, Indonesia|
|2004||Menimbang Tradisi, Sanggar Sakato, National Gallery, Jakarta, Indonesia|
|2002||Indofood Art Award, Jakarta, Bali, Indonesia|
Special Appreciation of Jakarta Art Award , Indonesia 2002
Finalist of Indofood Art Award, Indonesia 2000
Finalist of Philip Morris Art Award, Indonesia 1998
Finalist of Philip Morris Art Award, Indonesia 1997
The Best Acrylic Painting, ISI Yogyakarta, Indonesia 1996
The Best Watercolor Painting, ISI Yogyakarta