The Poetic Effect

Group Exhibition
Nadi Gallery
Jl. Kembang Indah III No.4-5
Jakarta Barat 11610
Phone (021) 5805677
21/05/2024 - 17/06/2024


On June 8, 1949, forty-one days after Chairil Anwar passed away, the Internasional published the Wild Animal’s essay titled “Membuat Sajak Melihat Lukisan” (Making Rhymes Looking at Paintings). In the essay was the following statement:

"Those who are touched when they see a painting or a sculpture, will not consider the quality of the paint and canvas or marble stone as something important, nor essential. It is not the material that are important, what matters are the achieved result.

'Results' are in general divided into form and content. However, it is hard to describe a visible and clear “division” between form and content, because in art, form and content are not only closely interrelated, both covers one another. It is solely the feelings of the artist that shapes with special expressions, that are unique and able to make the viewers, readers, or audiences feeling touched, uplifted, or shocked."

We can regain it in Chairil Anwar, Pulanglah Dia Si Anak Hilang: Kumpulan Terjemahan dan Esai (Granit, 2003, pp. 127-128).

By that statement, this essay based it’s “wisdom” to perceive—to understand and enjoy—the fourteen artworks by Agus Suwage, Eko Nugroho, Handiwirman, and J. Ariadhitya Pramuhendra in The Poetic Effect exhibition in Nadi Gallery. Moreover, each of the four artist has their own “special expressions, that are unique and able to make the viewers”—in this case, at the very least, me—"feeling touched, uplifted, or shocked”.

Therefore, I would like to begin the response from Handiwirman, by presenting a snippet of my conversation with the Kelompok Jendela exponent, a while back at his home in Godean Street, Yogyakarta.

“I wouldn’t want to be an artist for any reason other than aesthetic reasons,” Handiwirman said. “If it is for other reasons, I would just pick a different profession. If I want to be someone good in politics, I’ll just join a political party. Truly, I (seriously) said this. But, if it to become an artist, I choose aesthetics.”

With “aesthetical reasons” he admitted to have no pretense in making his artworks—especially the objects, installation objects, and paintings—into “intellectual objects” for reflection, analysis, or political comparisons.

“Truly”, Handiwirman said, “because I’ve always been dealing with arts—with the aesthetics. So, I do the tinkering within that scope. For example, on graphic prints, with a question, I wish to learn the technique first: what is it? Same with painting: what is painting? What is it for?”

From there on, the artist who was born in 1975 in Bukittinggi, West Sumatera, added an explanation:

“What I learn from the painting (Handiwirman was showing me a series of paintings he was working on — author) is that to gain a result (painting), I must learn the technique (of painting). Now, what I use the most in painting is how people, people’s way (of perceiving) that each plane, a stretch frame with canvas, whatever (principle of form) is on it, people (would still) call it a painting. Everyone acknowledges it as a painting. That (people’s perspective) is what I use. Stories other than that, I don’t use them, let it tells the story by itself, people will go along with it. Now, that’s what I utilize. I can put rubber or trash on it—people will still perceive it as a painting. People’s knowledge on painting is what made me ... why I transferred it (the object on canvas) ... So, to really-really transfer it.”

“Really-really transfer it?” I asked.

“Yes, not because I am skillful in painting ... that’s what I painted ... no ... I just imitate the photo of this object (Handiwirman showed one of his object artworks — author). So, my concern is not about best skills. My concern is I have to learn that (the painting technique), do that (painting), to gain the results as such (the painting works). That is the necessity, see, because I utilize, what do you call that, people’s perception, the way people think about a painting. (I) utilize that. And I also have to go inside, yes, into the way people perceive (paintings). So, I have to learn hard (laughs) to be able to “steal” a painting. Painting is deadly (awesome) ... Whoever formulate paintings is a genius (laughs). Convincing people (by beauty). (But) for me it is still objects that are (more) beautiful.”

With that, the paintings (Tata Kepala and Tuturkarena—Dan Jangan Bersedih), object (Organik Oh Plastik—Menara), and installation object (Pemangkasan) made by this graduate of Institut Seni Indonesia (ISI) Yogyakarta Craft Department, came into realization for this exhibition. Apart from the use of quality materials (acrylic, resin, canvas, composite panel, mindi wood, LED light), careful scrutiny, and impeccable craftsmanship, the artworks make things, especially everyday objects such as cotton wool, candy wrappers, rubber, to appear as "objects of pleasure" that people would never get tired to look at, and would take more than just a passing glance.

Thus, as with Handiwirman’s other artworks, all paintings, objects, and installation objects are channeling what the philosopher and novelist Umberto Eco described as the “poetic effect”—the capacity displayed by an artwork that makes it continues to stimulate different understanding and enjoyment without ever being completely exhausted.

The painting Tata Kepala and Tuturkarena—Dan Jangan Bersedih, for instance, made of acrylic on canvas stretched on a composite panel, sized 120 x 80 centimeters, from circa 2017, is something that allows viewers to understand and enjoy it arbitrarily. Meanwhile, the object Organik Oh Plastik—Menara, made with fiber resin, silver gilding, and candy clear coating, sized 107 x 51 x 48 centimeters, and dated 2023, impresses an image that refers to something outside of itself (candy wrapped in silver foil) and at the same time, a visual object that refers to nothing but itself.

With the impression, arbitrariness, and obscurity, the “form and content” of the two artworks “are not only closely interrelated”, but also “both covers one another” in terms of understanding and enjoyment of the audience with certain colorful feelings.

Up to this point, I think it is necessary to state that different with Chairil Anwar, in the creation of Handiwirman’s visual artworks, including the ones in this exhibition, the quality of paint, canvas, and other materials are not something important, not a principal matter. For Handiwirman, the materials being used is as important as the results being achieved, instead of the achieved results heavily depended on the materials being used.


At the end of his interview with Aditya Lingga, February to June 2022, for the exhibition Agus Suwage: The Theater of Me in Museum MACAN, Jakarta, 4 June-16 October 2022, Agus Suwage said:

"I am now freer ... Perhaps there are political elements, religious elements, self-portrait, whatever it is, everything are freely expressed. There was a time I had to think of a theme, when is the right time to exhibit certain artworks to the public. Now I am more legowo (honest). I think everything goes in a natural way. Perhaps it goes with the age also, like maturing (laughs) ... If it is possible, I hope I will never stop creating artworks. I understand that one day I might not be able to work physically, but the mind will create forever, this is the imagination or dream that drive me at the moment. I want to create art for another thousand years."

As we recall, Agus Suwage and Davy Linggar were once trapped in fear and restrictions. Their joint installation artworks, the Pinkswing Park, was removed from the CP Biennale 2005 event in Jakarta because it was considered as not only violating the taboos, but also insulting certain religious understandings.

The removal, I think, is a clear evidence of anarchy being present everywhere, as well as an adequate fact regarding the struggle between the masses and individuals that creates a sense of anxiety and fear for the public, especially the fine arts public, specifically Agus Suwage who had been overshadowed by anxiety as a result of accusations from certain religious masses that the installation work insults religious teachings because it translated the story of Adam and Eve into vulgar visual language.

The fear also haunted the event organizer and curator, that they were forced to make a decision to stop and never hold another CP Biennale event. This is clearly detrimental to the art public in Indonesia, especially Jakarta. The quality event that appreciates the artistic achievements of local and international artists is now gone. Besides that, such a luck for other artists involved in the event because their works too had to be taken down, whether they like it or not.

I don’t know how and where the accusation first appeared. But I know for sure that the artwork was created to respond to the urban and cultural situations and conditions in the Homeland that were increasingly messy. One of the issues was nakedness in the social realm.

In my opinion, Agus Suwage and Davy Linggar attempted to go into the issue, by presenting the installation work—which manipulate photographically the nude bodies of two celebrities in a green and lush imaginary garden, where a pink swing made from old becak—as an example of the erosion of a healthy and clean-living environment in big cities.

Therefore, the nudeness on display was not a foolish action to celebrate the taboo in public under the pretense of art, it is an analogy of the body dimension that is free from the oppression of attributes.

However, if it is true that the installation work narrated the story of Adam and Eve, certainly it does not refer to a specific religion’s Holy Scripture, but the history of art, especially the Renaissance era, when the prophetic and divine stories were often visualized in naked figures in public spaces, even in the ceilings or walls of prayer houses, for example the Sistine Chapel, in Italy.

And so, the story of Adam and Eve does not solely exist in the religious realms, thus it cannot be monopolized by a bunch of people or certain religious masses. Also, other religious groups and religious communities, that also believe in the story of Adam and Eve, did not find the installation work as something that harasses their beliefs.

Once again, in my opinion, it was only a matter of maturity in terms of having different opinions and the will to refrain from imposing interpretations and perceptions that have different references or backgrounds to other people.

With this in mind, I would like to perceive to three Agus Suwage paintings in this exhibition — Moksa II, Stigma, and Cakrawala Duniawi — in the term of Susan Sontag, as a model of a picture and model of a statement.

Model of a picture is the artwork as a picture of “something” that is empirical or imaginary. Whereas a model of a statement is the artwork as the statement of the visual artist on the reality in social, political, economy, etc.

Model of a picture can be perceived in Moksa II (2024, oil paint, acrylic and embroidery on canvas, 120 x 150 centimeter) and Cakrawala Duniawi (2016-2024), water color, ink, tobaco resin on paper, 47 pieces, dimension varied).

Moksa II is a short bald man, floating peacefully between the 67 rose stalks. The Indonesian Dictionary description on the meaning of “moksa” as “the level of life free from worldly ties and free from reincarnation”. By that, I want to understand, instead of interpreting, the roses as a symbol of “worldly attachment” and the peaceful floating scene as a symbol of “living detached” in Moksa II. This interpretation might be different to the interpretation of other audiences, and it might not be in line with the painter’s intentions. But, we can all believe that the different interpretations that are creating a poetic effect that makes Moksa II would always piqued interest and curiosity, and never be exhausted as a source of enjoyment.

On the other hand, Cakrawala Duniawi is a portrait, a landscape, a still life that still binds human and other living beings with the real and imaginary stories and events. In it we can see, among others, the portrait of the painter himself in various expression, Karl Marx, Joseph Beuys, unicorn headed man, Palestinian fighter, anonymous women in the Archipelago traditional outfits, a cat, a monkey, and a stork; the burning landscape of falling aeroplane or bomb explosion; and the still life such as palm, skull, statue, guitar, watery bowl, etc.

Created in a span of five years, this is my interpretation, Cakrawala Duniawi is a sort of the audience’s cabinet of curiosity on the principle of form and Agus Suwage’s main principle of visual artwork that is freely exchanging or recycling other forms, techniques or ideas, even different materials and sizes.

The artist, who was born in Purworejo, Central Java in 1959, had long realized, especially through the exhibition Daur (2012), as recorded in the other part of his interview with Aditya Lingga:

"The Daur exhibition was a starting point of my realization that my art practice is like “recycling”. For instance, when creating the skull series, there were times when I got tired of it and stopped. Yet, after a period of time, the skull was recreated in a different artwork ... It seems that subconsciously, the idea or visuals of the previous artorks often reappear."

With this awareness, Agus Suwage became freer and more honest in continuing, developing, repeating, or transferring his artwork into another artwork he created. We can see an element in the Cakrawala Duniawi painting that is artistically related to Moksa II. The element is the short bald men floating between tens of floating roses.

Rose as an artistic element and image that refers to something outside of itself is clearly presented in the painting Stigma (2024, oil paint, acrylic and embroidery on canvas, 150 x 120 centimeters). Stigma depicts a hald naked woman standing with her back to the audience gaze, and instead of facing the wall or obscure room wall that reflected the light of her body with blue color. There are eight stems of roses like arrows stuck on the body, from the waist to the back, spurting red and blue blood to the wall and other body parts of the woman. We are reminded to the saying ‘roses are pretty but it has thorns.” I think that was the “stigma” referred to in the painting by the artist, who graduated from the Bandung Institute of Technology Arts Department Graphic Design major: women are beautiful yet dangerous.

Thus, Stigma is also valid as a model of Agus Suwage’s statement on one-two humanity issues in the world and woe to men and anyone who still uses that stigma against women.


One balmy day in October 2001—someone asked Eko Nugroho what was the "meaning” of his playing around in his creative comic works, especially by establishing the Daging Tumbuh comic since 1997. He answered with a light funny verbal statement:

"To me, the ability to play around is a sort of blessings from God on the freedom of making comics that God has given me. I understood freedom here as a process of learning to become independent. At least here I learned not to depend on others, not to get carried away by the system that is increasingly dumbing people down, and I really enjoy it wholeheartedly ... Hmmmm ... enjoying all of these as a process that will lead to betterment or the contrary to destruction. Yes, just enjoy it, as we’re having fun making activities. As long as God gives us strength, creativity, and determination, why not? Yes, why don’t we play around with the world, as God created the world with happiness, enjoying it, why should we be hardfaced about it. Being tired! Being exhausted! Life is not for fighting. Fight with your weapon of creativity, make the world rectangular like comic panels! Not round like it is now. God is truly All Comical!"

This answer, which might fluster the agelaste or those without any sense of humor—in the word of Milan Kundera—in this country, emphasize what is believed as “drawing comic as a call instead of a career.” That is what I think the peculiarity in creative work, that will be difficult to digest for people who are so used to live with the notion or consideration of loss-profit, as well as an unfinished effort from the youth who dedicate themselves for comic—not for career, fame, and money, but for the comic itself.

As it happened, even by creating comics someone can have a good career, gaining fame, and receiving quite a sum of currencies, as it is with Eko Nugroho. To my understanding, comic is the base for aesthetic values, social values, and economic values of Eko Nugroho’s artworks thus far. The principle of form and the principles of Eko Nugroho’s comics and artworks can be said to “closely interrelated, they cover one another” with different forms, technique, media, and ideas—that includes paintings on canvas, wall murals, embroidery paintings, sculptures, objects-installations, and performance art.

With that, Eko Nugroho convinces us that there is a hidden side of history that can be transgressed and redeemed with comics or comical artworks—that is transgressing and redeeming the hilarity of socio-political realities that are dulled by the blandishments of politicians, rulers, and the wrath of the wicked in the guise of religion and culture.

In this matter, the comical artworks of Eko Nugroho, the three paintings in this exhibition are no exception, transformed into a model of statement that enables political reflection, analysis and comparison of a number of socio-political stories and events in this country.

The three paintings by Eko Nugroho are, 2020 for 20M Faith (2020, acrylic on canvas, 200 x 200 centimeter), Life for Life, Hoax for Hoax, Human for Human (2020, acrylic on canvas, 200 x 200 centimeter), and Self Strength (2020, acrylic on canvas, 200 x 200 centimeter), looking similar but not the same: portraits of four- and twelve-eyed faceless humans covered in various kinds of decorations, as if gazing or peering from behind a thick bush or vegetation.

The absence of faces in the three paintings by Eko Nugroho is the same as the absence of expression that does not allow the viewer to identify any mental turmoil, inner state, or psychological situation of the depicted figures. I assumed that upon realizing this, the artist, who was born in 1975 in Yogyakarta, “circumvented” it by inscribing texts on the bodies or clothes of the faceless humans as representations of their expressions—instead of putting the words as the title of the paintings.

On this circumvention, as with the other artworks, Eko Nugroho’s paintings in this exhibition shows the tension between “the spoken” (title and texts) and “the depicted” (principle of form) that often sways the audience, at least myself, in the midst of sharp currents of understanding and enjoyment.

However, as is the case with the works of Agus Suwage and Handiwirman in this exhibition, this tension is precisely what makes it exciting when perceiving the three paintings by the ISI Yogyakarta Painting Arts alumnus. All three are promising endless intellectual and emotional adventure.


On the promise of Eko Nugroho’s paintings, I think time has come for me to name the existence of J. Ariadhitya Pramuhendra (born 1980) as an artist with insights of the future—that an artwork is not just an artistic object, it is an open vision for a visual artist to exist in the world—especially the world in their imagination—that enables the audience to enter and meet with new awareness to understand and internalize—if not transforming—well the world that they live in.

With this vision, based on the understanding of the philosopher Boris Groys in “Art, Technology, and Humanism” (2017), an artist transforms into an authorial figure who invests works of art with intentions and meanings that must be hermeneutically deciphered.

This is why—following Boris Groys in “The Truth in Art” (2016)—visual art can be understood as “a type of language that enables artist to convey a message. And the message is imagined to enter the soul of its receiver, changing their sensitivity, attitude, ethics.

This possibility, in my opinion, exist in Pramuhendra’s visual artwork. And that means, following Boris Groys in “The Truth in Art” (2016), “there is an idealistic understanding of art” in Pramuhendra’s creative process. The issue here is how much messages the four paintings of this alumnus of Graphic Arts, Bandung Institute of Technology; Peaceful Wound (Woman in Modern World) (2023, charcoal on canvas, 200 x 150 centimeters), The Majestic Power (2024, charcoal on canvas, 200 x 150 centimeters), Lost and Hope (2024, charcoal on canvas, 200 x 200 centimeters), and Three Voices (2024, charcoal on canvas, 200 x 300 centimeters) could convey among the interests of viewers who visit The Poetic Effect exhibition.

I think it depends on how the four Pramuhendra’s paintings are specifically managed in the exhibition room, as what Boris Groys in Art Power (2008) called the “narrative space” that enables the audience to visit the total appreciation or practice of contemplation (vita contemplativa) solemnly on a visual artwork like it’s a holy scripture—instead of liking it to see a bear, lion, or elephant that are caged in a zoo.

The thing is, this kind of audience is perhaps only just a few now—if not already extinct—in contemporary art world of today. This issue was emphasized in Boris Groys’s statement in the “Comrades of Time” (2009):

"Contemporary spectators are spectators on the move; primarily, they are travellers. Contemporary vita contemplativa coincides with permanent active circulation. The act of contemplation itself functions today as a repetitive gesture that cannot and does not lead to any result—to any conclusive and well-founded aesthetic judgment, for example."

Hence, Pramuhendra's implicit intention to designate his three artworks as non-objects of spectatorial pleasure—instead, they are objects of aesthetic contemplation—can be understood as what Marshal McLuhan stated as “hot media”.

Boris Groys (2009) further explained:

"According to McLuhan, hot media lead to social fragmentation: when reading a book, you are alone and in focused state of mind. And in a conventional exhibition, you wander alone from one object to the next, equally focused—separated from the outside reality, in inner isolation."

Thus, The Poetic Effect exhibition can be categorized as a conventional exhibition that requires the audience to be contemplative in the presence of Pramuhendra's four paintings with humane realization that art is an aesthetic mirror, enabling an adequate understanding of their humanity through a thorough contemplation in the exhibition space.

However, would the audience and this exhibition give enough time for this possibility to happen? I could not yet answer it.

At that point, I could not disagree with the following opinion of Boris Groys (2009):

"The individual artworks can of course in one way or another make reference to things that they are not, maybe to real-world objects or to certain political issues, but they are not thought to refer to art, because they themselves are art."

I will ignore the interesting question on objective meaning (the existential position of a work of art as a beginner, reformer, innovator, follower, or imitator in the art scene) of these artworks—as written at the end of Groy’s sentence—to affirm that the four paintings by Pramuhendra are models of statement (the work of art as the artist's statement of personal, social, and political reality) that show not only his awareness and human sensitivity, but also his ideological belief on the power of art as a commentary to the reality.

Inevitably, the painting incarnates the image as something that refers to the other—not to itself, not only to what the eye can see, but on reality that is never simple in its incomprehensible contradictions.

exhibition photo courtesy of Nadi Gallery