One embraces performance art, the other is cinematic. Side by side, ‘Why Let the Chicken Run’ by Surakarta-born artist Melati Suryodarmo and ‘Manifesto’ by Berlin-based artist Julian Rosefeldt, are two exhibitions that couldn’t be more different, but at the same time, embody forms of non-traditional art that are seldom seen in the traditional gallery setting, presenting a new experience and conversation about contemporary art to the Indonesian audience.
Unveiled at Museum MACAN (Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara) on Friday, February 28, the exhibitions are set out so visitors could enjoy them simultaneously for a full-rounded and elaborate experience.
Leading the way is Melati’s ‘Why Let the Chicken Run’, which marks the artist’s first solo exhibition in a museum, featuring significant works from over 20 years of art practice including 12 performances that range from 15 minutes to 12 hours.
Attire, like Melati’s red dress and long hair extensions, from The Promise (2002), is on full display, while the dark, charcoal-filled set from I’m a Ghost in My Own House (2012) sits in one corner, where the artist will be performing an extremely physical and taxing, 12-hour performance. The showcase stages a few other of Melati’s works, like Sweet Dreams Sweet (2013), where 30 female performers draped in white uniforms that obscure their faces move at a glacial pace for the performance.
Each performance shown at the museum encompassed Melati’s artistic practice that seems to test the artist’s whole being; it goes without saying that the challenge lies within Melati’s physicality, but it is also a test of her psychological endurance in pursuit of a deeper understanding of oneself.
Combining her inspirations from Butoh, a Japanese form of dance theatre, and her relationships with other artists to her education years in Germany, this solo exhibition is not a retrospective, but an exhibition that records each of the artist’s creations, steps and process over her 20-year-long career, as stated by Melati at the exhibition preview.
A starkly different kind of performance can be found in Julian Rosefeldt’s ‘Manifesto’, a multimedia video installation that engaged Oscar-winning actress Cate Blanchett assuming 13 distinct yet generic roles, ranging from a homeless man and choreographer, to a punk rocker and a teacher, while reciting artist manifestos of the 20th century.
In a pitch black room, the installation brings to life 54 manifestos in a form of a 13-channel film projected onto large screens. Front and center, the Australian actress serves as a mouthpiece for each scene as she acts and recites on the writings of Futurists, Dadaists, Fluxus, Suprematists, Situationists and other famous movements.
As intended by the artist, no subtitles were used to let the audience dive right into each scene and be drawn by the actress’ acting prowess instead. With ‘Manifesto’, Julian pays homage to the moving tradition and literary beauty of artists’ manifestos, which was a common feature in avant-garde art movements. In retrospect, the exhibition also calls on the wonderment if each manifestos can still resonate across cultures and time.
“Performance and video art are the backbone of contemporary art,” said Aaron Seeto, Director of Museum MACAN, at the exhibition preview. “We hope that developing and presenting ideas from globally-relevant artists will strengthen the dynamism of the Indonesian scene.”
As a growing industry, the local art scene is bound to be enthralled by new ideas and forms of art practices that may still be a rarity here, and the two exhibitions ‘Why Let the Chicken Run’ and ‘Manifesto’ might just be the perfect prelude to understanding contemporary art.
Why Let the Chicken Run: Melati Suryodarmo and Manifesto: Julian Rosefeldt will run from February 28 to May 31, at Museum MACAN (AKR Tower Level M – Jl. Panjang No.5, Kebon Jeruk). For more information on the exhibition and specific schedules, click here.