Power of change in Live Painting performance

Indonesian artist Sardono W. Kusumo's Live Painting performance (above).
Indonesian artist Sardono W. Kusumo's Live Painting performance (above).PHOTO: KEVIN LEE

Artist Sardono W. Kusumo's arresting live painting performance is testament to the concept of cause and effect



Singapore International Festival of Arts

Malay Heritage Centre/Sunday

The retrospective of prolific Indonesian artist Sardono W. Kusumo was conveniently categorised under dance. However, it quickly became apparent during Sunday's presentation, which comprised an Expanded Cinema exhibition and a two-hour Live Painting performance, that his practice is strongly rooted in formal physical expression, but manifested across various disciplines, from film to visual arts.

Viewing the Expanded Cinema exhibition before his Live Painting performance prepared the viewer by introducing the scale and breadth of his artistic career.

This exhibition features archival footage of him dancing as well as dance films made by him.

Exiting the exhibition for the beginning of the performance, one was met with the warm glow of the setting sun and a charming yellow bungalow fronted by a meticulously kept lawn with a circular fountain in the centre.

This symmetrical setting allowed for the visual focusing of the energies of a choreography that relied very much on basic shapes and lines in space.

Sardono's visually charged performance, coupled with the historical and cultural richness of the site, made for numerous thematic connections, parallels and relations.

A communal spirit among the spectators and performers was palpable.

The pensive pace of the work was integral in displaying ideas of incremental change and transformation. Throughout, male and female bodies paced within the fountain, the white fabric of their costumes gradually melding with their skin as they got drenched.

Long dance sequences with white cloth, as well as huge square frames of stretched white canvas hoisted by the dancers, played out unhurriedly in front of people gathered around the fountain. The pace provided the perfect build-up for what was to come.

It was predictable yet visually arresting - one of the female dancers started drizzling her long hair with black paint and approached the white canvas. She then flung her hair against the canvas, sending an expressive streak of black across the white.

As the canvases floated within the circular fountain, the jets of water quickly washed away the black ink. Watching the performers trying to leave traces of their actions, only to have the natural element of water erase them, highlighted the relationship between man and his environment, the cyclical nature of life and existential futility.

Gradually, as more ink-stained water began to be recycled by the fountain's pump system, the jets of water spouting out glistened an ominous black against the evening sun, as if reminding viewers some changes are difficult to reverse.

The entry of Sardono himself at the end provided for the final build-up for this performance. As he walked into the fountain and subsequently sat on top of a tall ramp with a pristine white scroll rolled out, he carried the air of the master painter archetype, addressing his sensuously moving muses and the canvases around him.

Then, as if offering blessings, he flicked coloured paint onto the scroll and already marked canvases. Admittedly, this image was at times uncomfortable because his entry really tipped the power relationship present in the performance space. But to be fair, this discomfort is personal and stems from a particular mode of artistic inquiry present only in certain artistic circles.

Hailing from a culture that still places importance on the transmission of art and craft through a clear master-disciple relationship, Sardono's performance visually realised philosophical concepts that stem from the ideas of man's relationship to the larger cosmic universe, as well as cause and effect.

•For more Sifa 2016 stories, go to http://str.sg/ZtWh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 23, 2016, with the headline 'Stark look at the power of change'. Print Edition | Subscribe