Artitute.com had the pleasure of speaking with local artist Boedi Widjaja, who was recently showing at The Substation, and is currently showing at the Yellow River Arts Centre Singapore base at the newly opened Gillman Barracks. This is the first of a two-part conversation where we chat about the artist’s ideas, influences, and practice.
Yen Phang for Artitute.com: There are many entry points to talking about your art, but I find two predominant themes moving through your works: one is place, and the other is the body. Would you like to talk a little bit about how your experiences have influenced the evolution of your ideas?
Boedi Widjaja: Maybe I should start by saying that these two themes came quite naturally to me, because of my childhood memories of being displaced from home.
I came to Singapore when I was 9, and I lived with Singaporean families with my elder sister. Even just in the first 5 years alone I had to move 4 times between families. What I experienced then was as a child I began to project images of my home onto the physical environment around me, so in my mind I simply refused to be at another place.
That kind of disjunction between physical body and the physical environment because I was mentally in a different place gave me the idea that place is really a construct of the person in any given location, that it is highly malleable and it has to do with his or her place of origin, or the predominant place of origin at that moment. It is also highly aesthetic. That, to me, is quite interesting as an artistic process, and I adopted it in Insitu Asia, where we literally used locations to make places and to deconstruct accepted or contentional definitions of places.
Artitute.com: Speaking of place, congratulations on being selected as part of the Substation’s 2012 open call. Do you find that the gallery space and the Substation as an incubator for ideas influenced the direction or the execution of Path 1?
Widjaja: Yes, very directly. The physical space of the gallery is something that I react to during the entire period of the exhibition. I will be going to the Substation everday to make visual marks on paper that has been lined up all the walls, using squash balls as mark-making projectiles.
It is a kind of intense awareness of the physical environment that I’m looking for which is a total counterpoint of my childhood experience. Path 1 is a project that is about me trying to resolve my relationship with the city that has to do with me having lived here for so many decades, and yet the moment I received my Singaporean identity card, I got a shock because nothing happened.
I realized that just having a change in your official nationality doesn’t do anything to my sense of foreignness that I have acquired as a child. It was so deep inside that I wasn’t even aware of it, and it took that process of being accepted as a Singaporean to realize that I had something that was akin to a void in me, and so I began to be very interested in this void that is very abstract, empty, yet powerful, something that keeps on pushing against me in a certain way. My way of dealing with this void is to fill it up with marks.
Artitute.com: Do you find that this is might be an attempt to search for a presence with, to find the immediacy with your relationship with your surroundings?
Widjaja: Yes, I think so. Drawing is a way of naming something, of knowing something. Drawing is very intimate act between the artist and canvas, and the subject of course. In Path 1 as I make these repeated visual marks to fill up the gallery space, it’s my way of making a mental connection with the city.
A big component of Path 1 is that I will invite members of the audience to join me in the mark-making process for me to start doing automatic line drawings of their bodies. That again brings us back to the discussion of why place and the body is very much linked to the way I think about identity.
The body, especially in its kinetic state when it moves, is very abstract. It makes it hard for me to read it. I can see only moments of postures… the dynamic quality of a kinetic body starts to complicate my reading of the person’s identity, or the formation of the other, and because the discussion of the other is part of my childhood experience, because I came due to ethnic tensions in Asia.
Look out for the next part of Artitute’s conversation with the artist. For more information on the artist, visit http://www.boediwidjaja.com/.
For more information on Path 1 at the Substation, visit http://www.substation.org/path1/.
Widjaja’s work is also currently on view at the Yellow River Arts Centre Singapore base, Gillman Barracks Blk 7, until 31 Oct 12.
Photos are by courtesy of The Substation.
Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted on 14 Sep 12. Stills taken from video provided by the artist.