JOURNAL | ESSAYS

GALIH REZA, Perayaan Kemanusiaan Tanpa M

Abenk Alter
I Wanna Be in Your Dream | 2021
acrylic on canvas | 180 x 180 cm

Art Expression and Interpersonal Moments

Words by

Angga Wijaya

Continuing the Line, Forming the Image


“To communicate our ideas and sentiments, we use many kinds of languages. The visual arts constitute one of those languages.” Art as Image and Idea, Edmund Burke Fieldman.


Continuing the Line! That is Abenk Alter's process in forming a drawing.(1) Abenk starts a drawing by creating a line from one point to the next until it forms a surface, space, and shape. Abenk did it with the fastline method, by simply following the movement and control of his hand, continuing what was in the drawing.


Since childhood, Abenk loves to draw. His mother often gives him paper, tools such as pencils, pens, markers, and crayons for drawing. He draws something almost every day. This hobby that has been cultivated since childhood makes him familiar with lines and drawings. While he was still making music and often known as a singer/songwriter, Abenk never left his drawings.


When Abenk was working on his university final project in the Visual Communication Design course, Abenk made a book containing lots of drawings. His lecturer at that time encouraged Abenk to pursue his talents in drawing. Then in 2014, Abenk decided to focus on being a visual artist. For the first time, Abenk showed off some of the drawings and illustrations he made at Treehouse Kemang, shortly after he left his band.


That's the story of Abenk's journey with lines and drawings. Until now, the habit of drawing is also carried out with his children. Abenk is very happy to see the honesty that little children have when drawing because it can display the imagination of the child as it is. Like Picasso said that “All children are artists”. Spontaneity is what drives Abenk in the process of exploring his visual characters.


There is no intentional element in finding naive visual characters in Abenk's drawings. His visual character automatically appears when he is continuing his line. The visual characters in his work take patterns from objective reality such as everyday objects, humans, animals, and plants. Abenk deforms the shape of the object with the intensity of a firm line, then breaks it down into geometric shapes.


Geometric shapes will continue to exist throughout the course of human civilization and always try to reappear in the history of art. We can witness the reappearance of these geometric shapes in the art of Saracens, the style developed by the mathematically minded Arabs. Geometric shapes also appear in manifestations in the Byzantine and Romanesque art eras. It is present in Peruvian and Mexican art, also in Javanese and Japanese arts. Until it appears in modern cubism.(2)


Abenk configures these geometric shapes into dynamic compositions so that the overall look is figurative and narrative. The characteristics of the narrative structure can be identified through the presence of elements of events, characterizations, plot, setting, and point of view. All of these elements are interrelated to form a unified narrative. Through pictures, Abenk records and expresses moments from his daily life experiences.


Almost all areas in the picture present fragments of everyday life that have a familiar nuance. Like the scene of a family eating together, or a couple of people talking, some dancing together, and so on. Abenk feels that each of his works is an attempt to understand himself and what is happening around him.


Several objects are present in the composition as the symbolization of the meaning of life. For example, the symbol of a flying bird which is interpreted as balance, or the symbol of a tiger which is interpreted as courage, the symbol of a flower which is interpreted as a growth process, and so on. One of these symbolizations was influenced when Abenk took a master's degree majoring in Eastern Philosophy.


Abenk is indeed interested in Islamic Mysticism, about the unique concepts in it, such as the concept of relations and the concept of duality in life; morning-night, good-bad, black-and-white. The philosophy of art and aesthetics of the Sufi Hazrat Inayat Khan is quite influential in his work, especially in the selection of primary colors used in his works.


Red is based on distorting sound, which materially can be found in the fire. Yellow is based on a percussive sound, materially can be found in the ground. Blue from the sound of the wind blowing. Green can be found in water ripples (calming). In the context of spirituality, Abenk's works talk about human values, balance in nature, empathy, tolerance, and goodness in religion.

Abenk Alter
Afirmasi | 2021
acrylic on canvas | 180 x 180 cm
Tirtodipuran Link (3 - 6 Aug, 2021)

Tirtodipuran Link (3 - 6 Aug, 2021)

Abenk Alter
Afirmasi | 2021
acrylic on canvas | 180 x 180 cm

The characteristics of Abenk's works have revived the cubism style popularized by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque in 1907. In much the same way as the French artist Alain Beraud, who called his works Neo-Cubism by injecting modernism, abstractionism, abstract expressionism, and postmodernism.

Pop Cubism and The Wave of Public Persona Artists


The low-brow art style or also known as pop-surrealism which has boomed in the last two decades in Indonesia, starting from generations of artists such as Eddie Hara, Eko Nugroho, Uji Handoko (Hahan), to generations of young artists such as Roby Dwi Antono and Muklay influenced by the pop art movement, subculture, Juxtapoz Magazine, Mark Ryden, as well as street art with icons Jean-Mitchel Basquiat and Keith Haring, to Neo-pop a la Takashi Murakami and Yoshitomo Nara which combines anime style. Abenk comes with a blend of pop art and cubism, a modern painting style that developed in the west in the 20th century.


The characteristics of Abenk's works have revived the cubism style popularized by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque in 1907. In much the same way as the French artist Alain Beraud, who called his works Neo-Cubism by injecting modernism, abstractionism, abstract expressionism, and postmodernism. But the difference is, Abenk hybridizes the style of cubism with pop culture and urban life in a contemporary context.


Style in art is an important aspect, Meyer Schapiro defines 'style' as a form, element, quality, and constant expression. Schapiro's definition in this case only highlights the surface or formal quality of the art object, without mentioning what the meaning is in the art object. Judith Genova argues that 'style' is created through the marriage between form and content of meaning. With that, Schapiro places meaning as something internal, while Genova is external, such as factors of social values, culture, myths, religion, and ideology.


Post-modernism works are more likely to have multiple meanings. Postmodernism opens the door wide for interaction and the jumble of styles from various artists, periods, cultures—even contradictory ones—to form syncretic, eclectic, or hybrid style contours. One of them is the Pastiche aesthetic, which takes the form and aesthetic language of historical fragments retracts it from the spirit of its era, and places it into the context of the spirit of the present era.(3) Postmodern art also cannot be separated from the concept of globalization which creates complex cross-cultures.


Meanwhile, in the era of modern Indonesian painting, several painters had a cubism style in their works, such as But. Mochtar in his work entitled "Odalan di Bali" (1959), Fajar Sidik in his work entitled "Dinamika Keruangan" (1973), Soedibio in his puppet-themed series entitled "Semar" (1912-1981) and "Punakawan and The Five Pandavas” (1973), and Abas Alibasyah in his work entitled “Garuda” (1969). The style of cubism in these works contains nuances of Indonesian tradition, which also intersects with the decorative abstract that developed at that time. One of the artists who caught attention is Widayat, whom Oei Hong Djien calls the Picasso of Indonesia. According to him, Widayat is very adept at making deformations in some of his Cubism paintings. As in his work entitled "Deformasi Figur" (1975) and "Macam-Macam Wajah" (1977).(4)


Picasso has indeed become an icon of cubism painting style, so that his figure and creed have also been an inspiration to the works of the next generation of Indonesian painters, such as the work of a female artist named Seruni Bodjawati with the working title "Membantai Picasso" (2011). The Cubism-style painting depicts the figure of a bull with the head of Picasso. The bull looks like it wants to be slaughtered by a female bullfighter in the middle of the arena. The figure of the matador who slaughtered Picasso is described as very feminine with flower decorations, butterflies, and statues of women on either side. If Seruni Bodjawati's work responds to the figure of Picasso who is known as a playboy and lover of the matador sport, Tisna Sanjaya's work with a similar title, namely "Menghajar Picasso" (1987-1988) responds to Picasso's artistic credo by reconfiguring the visual characters found in Picasso's work entitled “Guernica” (1937) with a different technical approach, namely print graphic art in drypoint.


Meanwhile, Abenk has no awareness of using cubism as a style, or Picasso as an artist's reference, because Abenk does not yet have a background in art history and has only started his artistic career in recent years. The style of cubism that appears in his works is simply based on the use of geometry as the basic form of art. The pop-art elements in Abenk's works are based on popular visuals in urban middle-class life that are present in the themes of his works, which of course also reflect Abenk's personality, hobbies, and daily life.

Abenk is part of a generation of artists who are in the wave of social media in today's digital era. A generation that is faced with various polarities and multidimensional value confrontations, between the real and virtual worlds. Abenk is one of those who use social media to display his image as a public person with an instagramable aesthetic as content. Abenk also uses Instagram as a gallery to showcase his works and artistic existence. Instagram, which relies on a visual approach, is very capable in the context of publishing works.


Today's young artists do have the skills and sensitivity to their self-image on social media as a digital native generation. For example, young artists such as Atreyu Moniaga, Muklay, Naufal Abshar, and Roby Dwi Antono are aware of managing their work on Instagram. They have fans and followers who are fairly large, so they can have a blue tick or a verified badge as a public persona or can be called a celebrity artist.


Through social media, artists can connect directly with various audiences, along with the tendency of today's society to be more intimate with their gadgets. The public can interact directly with artists and respond quickly to posted artworks, such as giving likes or giving compliments in the comments section, so that the artist gained popularity quickly as well. As Andy Warhol predicted: “in the future, everybody will be world-famous for fifteen minutes”.


In the concept of modern art, understanding works of art requires an understanding of theory, this autonomy requires a device known as the field of art, consisting of historians, critics, and curators. Meanwhile, the establishment of artworks is carried out in exhibition rooms called museums and galleries. And to sell works of art, it is done at art fairs and auction halls. In the current era of the Gig Economy, artists not only have to go through the bubble of the established art infrastructure, but they are open to various opportunities, open to various markets and collaborations, from gallery to corporations.


Works with a tendency to use pop colors are currently very popular with the public in general because their appearance is eye-catching and provides freshness from a bright sympathetic atmosphere. These works ignite a creative climate in various industries, which opens up opportunities for artists to commission work with various brands, both commercially and non-commercially. The eclectic nature of art allows artists to apply the character of their work to various wear products such as shirts, sneakers, rugs, merchandise, etc.


In addition, these works are considered to be able to represent the problems and anxieties of young people and their contemporary context. Art is considered a creative practice that can express the spirit of young people. Today's young people can easily learn, imitate, and create their version of art from various visual phenomena that are present on social media. Not only that, but a wave of young consumers has also explored galleries by coming to art exhibitions, appreciating them by taking selfies, and uploading them on social media as an existence. The development of consumer society has influenced the way art is expressed. Consideration of new consumption models in the artistic process is very important because in consumer society there are fundamental changes related to the way art objects are consumed and how art forms and styles are produced.(5)


Being a public persona artist is also often faced with an expectation that demands them to always appear ideal and according to market tastes. The absurdity of the metropolitan trend in the current anxiety era that glorifies the generation of urban influencers can quickly make artists experience creative blocks and mental breakdowns, and have an impact on the development of works so that works become banal, boring, and easily forgotten. The commodification of art not only hinders individual aspirations and creativity but even worse, can erase human dreams of true freedom and happiness.


But Abenk has always challenged himself to compromise with many things, especially between idealism and commercialism. Abenk's openness and enthusiasm for art make him keen on continuing to learn and explore various art techniques, mediums, and materials. Like his first solo exhibition at Ruci Art Space in 2018. Unexpectedly, Abenk displays works of black and white nuance. Abenk does not want to be stuck with public and market perceptions. At the exhibition, Abenk wanted to talk about the concept of identity and validity, that what we are can be influenced by validation from the public, but public validation does not determine our identity.


After that solo exhibition titled “Interplay”, Abenk did a self-reflection, he began to analyze his mental condition which was easily stressed and experienced a mental breakdown. The journey of internal dialogue brought Abenk to a creation phase for his recent solo exhibition at Kohesi Initiatives this time. The work for this exhibition was created from 2020 through 2021 when the Covid-19 virus hit the world. When various areas were locked due to the pandemic, Abenk used his quarantine period as momentum to rethink his self-awareness, review his relationship to the reality outside of himself, look back at his interpersonal relationships with the people around him, and how the pandemic has affected them.

Abenk Alter
Ritual Merilis | 2021
acrylic on canvas | 200 x 400 cm

Abenk Alter
Ritual Merilis | 2021
acrylic on canvas | 200 x 400 cm

Tirtodipuran Link (Aug, 3 - 29, 2021)

Tirtodipuran Link (Aug, 3 - 29, 2021)

Painting, Ritual of Releasing


“All of life, Come to me with ease joy and glory”


That was the sound of the spell that Abenk cast to start his day. Then, Abenk writes down words in a daily journal to describe the complexity of his thoughts and worries. Before starting to paint, Abenk will clean up his studio and equipment first, this activity helps Abenk psychologically to unravel the contents of his head that he has accumulated. While painting, Abenk also listens to Alpha Wave music, which is usually used to meditate.


A number of these activities become rituals of releasing that are carried out by Abenk, showing that every human being always has personal needs that enrich the mind. Art can indeed reveal various layers of complicated life: physical, emotional, intellectual, intuition, to the deepest and most complicated inner layers. As stated by Mc Niff, an art therapist, that “making of art is healing and life-enhancing”.


All of Abenk's works for this exhibition are paintings on canvas, which on average are large in size, with the smallest size being 180x180 cm and the largest being 200x400 cm. There is a difference in technique between drawing and painting, where drawing usually uses solid writing tools to scratch graphite, while painting usually uses a brush to ‘brush’ the paint. Of course, the painting process has different intentions and becomes a challenge for Abenk.


The paintings emphasize the flatness aspect. Painting makes Abenk have a dialogue with himself in front of the canvas. In this dialogue, Abenk feels he has the freedom as well as the pressure to express his emotions on the painting as a medium. If previously Abenk often made sketches first as a guide before painting, this time Abenk started with experimentation.


Abenk tries to process his visuals by directly scratching acrylic paint colors onto the canvas surface to form lines, fields, colors, and textures so that they look abstract. Only then did Abenk respond to this field with visual characters that are usually present in his works based on the control of his hand, imagination, and intuition. After that, Abenk completed it with other intentions and approaches such as writing markers and chalk as a detailing process. Wet strokes that create texture and paint melt are left visible. So that it still shows Abenk's expressions and emotions in the painting process.


Painting is a catalyst for Abenk to express his feelings. With that, Abenk is depicting the depths of experience that are not seen, saying things that are not defined, sounding things that are not voiced, or showing inner experiences that cannot be expressed. So art can create a treasure trove of possibilities, creating a perception of existential truth (the truth of being) that is deeper than the reality we face every day.(6) Art is one of Abenk's ways of interpreting his life, experiences, and world.


In the work entitled “Afirmasi”, it appears that someone is spreading their arms and legs in the middle of the field. The figure indirectly represents the painter himself. The position of the figure is as if being dissected, like Leonardo Da Vinci's surgery on the ideal proportions of the human body in Vitruvian Man. However, Abenk does not want to only represent himself physically, but also psychologically, with that Abenk fills the symbols around the figure as a representation of his world.


There are four works with minimalist appearance; “Healer”, “Rekonsiliasi”, “Ruang Tengah” and “Pergulatan”. All of these works feature a figure in the middle of the painting that fills the canvas. The background of the painting only contains plain colors, not full of symbols like other works. For Abenk, large-sized paintings not only present complex ideas and visuals, but the large size of the field can also speak loudly to one particular emotion. With that, Abenk wants to prioritize intimacy in the figure he depicts.


The intimacy in these works consists of two types of relationships. In the work entitled “Pergulatan” and “Rekonsiliasi”, the relationship appears internally in humans. In these two works, Abenk wants to talk about the internal dialogue of his soul and mind. Meanwhile, in the work entitled “Healer” and “Ruang Tengah”, the relationship appears externally between two humans. There are two figures of a man and a woman who are huddled facing each other and hugging. In these two works, Abenk wants to talk about interpersonal relationships with the people around him.


Abenk doesn't just use color blocking that often appears in his works. This time Abenk tried to use the shading technique to create color gradations so that the depth of space in some parts of the painting can be seen. Such as in the chest of women in the work "Healer" which can be interpreted as a metaphor for the woman's heart, or in the left corner of the work "I Wanna be in Your Dream" which depicts the shape of a boat and a lighthouse, as a meaning of a journey to finds the light of hope.


The works entitled "Lights On", "Tanda Jeda", and "Peace Dream" became the turning point for Abenk to look back on the purpose of his interpersonal journey. It is about emotional overview, by trying to face the worst times in life. It is about overcoming, by trying to see the problem in a positive light. It is about expecting a moment to try to establish hope. Abenk celebrates his imagination and emotions by filling objects, figures, and symbols on the canvas.


Likewise with the work “Ritual Merilis”, Abenk simply expresses and opens his ideas on the journey of the creative process for this exhibition, by capturing various images that come from the emotional moments he feels. From the moments that occurred when he was there, the moments with his family, and the moment that is happening in the world.


Interpersonal Relationships for Caring for Life


The female figure appears to be dominant in several of Abenk's paintings, especially in the painting entitled "I Wanna be in Your Dream", which can be interpreted as the dynamics of his relationship with women that have been meaningful in his life so far, namely the figure of a mother, wife, daughter, and sister. The female figure gives Abenk the power to recognize who he is. The ritual of releasing that Abenk does in the process of creating this work is obtained from these female figures, such as the mantra to start the day from his mother, and the daily journal that Abenk does every day based on advice from his wife.


His mother, who works as a Pre-Marital Consultant, Couple Relationship Therapist, and Perennial Psychology Enthusiast, gives Abenk a lot of influence in dealing with the people around him. One of them is the Experiential Learning method or Inside Out Approach which is an integrative learning method between meditation, imagination, visualization, and reflection. Quoting from his mother's experience while studying spiritual psychology in India, one of the activities that enlightened her was when she wrote a letter for something abstract, something that was invisible but could be felt through the body.


After writing, the mother felt something different in her heart, namely awareness. "Have I known myself? Is it possible for me to be able to build harmonious relationships with other humans if I don't know myself, let alone know God?” In the concept of a Conscious Relationship, the closest people are souls who are presented to be a mirror for us to understand ourselves better.(7) Abenk's creative process for this exhibition is influenced by spiritual psychology methods based on the mother's knowledge and experience. Art for Abenk has saved him because he can implement his reality by glorifying the creative process as a releasing ritual.


But art as an instrument of personal expression deals not only with revelation, personal emotions, and details of the artist's intimate life. Art also embodies a personal view of public events that is familiar to all of us. As a means to express the psychological dimension of life. Basic human situations such as love, death, celebration, and disease keep recurring as themes of art.(8)


The Covid-19 pandemic that has hit humanity around the world has instantly changed our daily habits and has also increased the anxiety of many people. Even some people can experience prolonged mental health problems, maybe even longer than the pandemic itself. In addition, we have experienced a lot of loss; from losing a loved one, losing a job, to losing the zest for life and hope.


But at the same time, there are many things that we can rediscover, such as our relationships with those closest to us through interpersonal communication. Interpersonal communication occurs between two or more people that occurs naturally. Interpersonal communication is very important for all aspects of human life because it can express ideas, feelings, hopes, and impressions to others, and vice versa to understand the ideas, feelings, and impressions of others. For Abenk interpersonal relationships can foster fundamental strength, hope, and happiness in this period of uncertainty.


Happiness can be achieved through gratitude for life itself. Learn from things around us, on the earth where we were born, and from the people in our social environment. This knowledge will be our foundation in cultivating curiosity to learn and know more about anything that interests us. That curiosity and interest will make us love what we love more and find a lot of happiness and wisdom hidden in it. By interacting with all aspects of life, we will develop into critical thinkers, clever, and able to provide an objective perspective that is useful for solving a problem.(9)


In his works, Abenk offers us to be in self-reflection, embracing anyone to create internal and external dialogue. Literally or not, for Abenk art can be a medium that can help us to restore awareness about ourselves. Makes us realize that we are strong enough to survive, rise from adversity and continue the journey to take care of life. In closing, the lyrics of the song "Selaras" sung by Kunto Aji and Nadin Amizah can accompany our next journey:


Aku tergerak mencari jawaban

(I'm moved to find answers)

Aku berjalan mencari alasan

(I walk looking for a reason)

Langit yang membiru

(Blue sky)

Hangat matahari

(Warm sun)

Berbisik padaku, tolong beri kami waktu

(Whisper to me, please give us time)

Ini tentang merawat kehidupan

(It's about taking care of life)

Kita bisa

(We can)

Selama masih ada

(As long as it lasts)

Rumah untuk pulang

(House to go home to)

Dan memulai segalanya

(And begin everything)


Angga Wijaya

Depok, Juni 2021


References:

(1). Mia Maria’s statement as curator of Abenk Alter’s solo exhibition “Interplay”, Ruci Art Space, Jakarta, 2018.

(2). “Seni arti dan problematikanya” Herbert Read; translated, Soedarso SP. – Yogyakarta, Duta Wacana University Press, 2000.

(3). “Hyperrealitas Kebudayaan” (p.98) Yasraf Amir Pilliang, LKiS, Yogyakarta, 1999.

(4). detik.com Interview of Oei Hong Djien at Museum Widayat, Magelang (26/04/2014).

(5). “Hyperrealitas Kebudayaan” (p.149), Yasraf Amir Pilliang, LKiS, Yogyakarta, 1999.

(6). “Untuk apa seni?” Bambang Sugiharto, Pustaka Matahari, Bandung, 2013.

(7). Rani Anggraeni Dewi’s statement (mother of Abenk).

(8). “Psikologi Seni” Irma Damajanti, Kiblat Buku Utama, Bandung, 2013.

(9). “Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment” Martin Seligman, Free Press, New York, 2004.

A number of these activities become rituals of releasing that are carried out by Abenk, showing that every human being always has personal needs that enrich the mind.