by Zohra KhanOct 13, 2022
Named a Guggenheim fellow in 2019, Entang Wiharso’s work is deeply influenced by his diaspora culture. Having been born in Indonesia, and relocating to the US when he was around 30-years-old, Wiharso’s practice reflects the dichotomies between eastern and western culture while also delving deep into the nuances and layers created by social, political and economic forces. His research during the fellowship is reflected in his new work Camouflage, which he spoke to us about in an exclusive glimpse at this as yet not exhibited artwork.
His work ranges from painting and installation to video and performance. Since becoming the youngest artist ever to hold a solo exhibition at National Gallery of Indonesia in 1996, he has had over 45 solo displays at galleries like Mizuma, Marc Strauss and others. He has also participated in the 55th and 51st Venice Biennale, Kunming Biennale as well as those in Beijing and Jakarta.
1. Please talk about your general practice.
I examine the human condition and try to heighten our perception and understanding of love, hate, fanaticism, and ideology. I depict the condition of humans who are often divided by complex, multilayered political, ethnic, racial, and religious systems. I believe art is borderless. The wide variety of materials I use throughout my practice express the development of my vocabularies and help maintain autonomy in a system that is still trying to limit or define what is possible. Ideally, art is free from the burden of any system, whether religious, political, racial or educational. Figures in my work are connected by intuitive as well as intellectual linkages, including ornamental vegetation, tongues, intestines, animal skin patterns, fences and detailed landscapes. I use disturbing images to disrupt perception and psychology. My artworks exist in relation to the mythologies of a centuries-old animist past and the high-speed, hyper-connected lifestyle of the 21st century.
2. When and in what circumstances did you conceive this work?
For decades I have examined racism through my art in response to my experience as an immigrant in the US, for example in my performance Eating Identity (2008), the installation Crush Me (2012-2013) and Temple of Hope: Door to Nirvana (2018-19), and the painting Kaleidoscope (2018-19). I began creating a painting series with camouflage-like surfaces using glitter as the main medium in 2019 while I was conducting research for my Guggenheim Fellowship. This material emphasises the problem of perception and highlights my heart's turmoil in responding to prejudice and racism in the US. Its animated, changeable qualities became an important metaphor in my work.
3. What is the theme for the work?
I created a 20-meter glitter painting that will be displayed on the ground so people can walk around to see the effect of a different orientation. The figures are self-portraits, and the landscape captures the spectacular southern US geography I visited during my Guggenheim research, which is connected to the history of slavery and racism in the US. When I began using glitter, I was aware of the connotation with craft and bad taste. In the beginning, I was worried about this but I slowly developed a strong confidence with the capacity of the material to engage well with my ideas: how do we discern what is fake and real, true and false, perception and prejudice. The most interesting thing about the material is it allows something static to become alive. It reflects how our identity is always moving, and not static, and our eyes often don’t see the truth.
4. What process was used to make the work?
When I began using glitter, I mixed it with glue and acrylic and applied it with a brush. After further experimentation, I discovered a way to use acrylic and gel medium as a binder and distribute glitter on the surface. I created a wooden ‘bridge’ to span canvases laying on the ground, allowing me to work on the middle without disturbing the surface of the painting. Working with glitter is a playful and intimate process. It is exciting to work with the nature and strong demands of the material and let it speak and create surprises for me.
5. Why do you think it has not been shown yet?
I intend to display this work on the ground, not mounted on a wall. The challenge is to find a large, open floor space to accommodate a 20-meter-long and three-meter-wide work, which also has room for viewers to move around the work and see the effect of light on its surface. The global pandemic has also limited options, including my plan to do a test display at my former art school in Indonesia that now houses the Jogja National Museum. When I can travel again, I will begin making plans for the work’s presentation.
6. What would be the ideal (most desired) format to display the work if and when given a chance?
I would like to present this work in a bigger venue like a biennale or curated show because it would be very good to get a large, diverse audience to interact with the work. This work would best be displayed in a dedicated space as it requires specific lighting using sensors and dimers to create the sensation of a flickering field of light. This enhances the shadows from the audience in the space, creating a specific ambience and sense of mystery that changes viewer perception.
Curated by Rahul Kumar, STIR presents Unseen Art: an original series that features works that have never been shown publicly, created by a selection of multidisciplinary artists from across the globe.