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Exhibition text: Unpacked

Unpacked: A solo exhibition by Melati Suryodarmo

7 January to 12 March 2023

with an introduction by Kimberly Shen

Opening 7 January 2023, 4pm

Performance lectures on 7 January 2023, 3pm and 13 January 2023, 5pm

ShangART Gallery Singapore is pleased to present, Unpacked, a solo exhibition by internationally-renowned performance artist Melati Suryodarmo. Unfolding through two performance lectures in a series of poetic actions and provocations, the artist unpacks from a suitcase dispatched from her home in Germany, the objects, relics and fragments of her past performances. The gallery space evolves through the performance lectures and is embodied by these objects, in a reconciliation of love, delusion, tragedy and the human condition.

The performance lectures revisit a selection of Suryodarmo’s performances from the past two decades and unfold firstly, in an ode to love, and secondly, a political lament. As tools to examine and scrutinise aspects of our existence, “objects are witnesses to the people who live with them”, says Suryodarmo. As the artist performs and responds to these objects in a different time and context, they become displaced from their original meaning and intention, alluding to the ways we arrive and depart, move and shift through this transitory world.

Love, notes Suryodarmo, uncovers the most existential conditions of being human. In the first performance lecture, the artist employs the cliches and kitsch qualities of love, in a narration of love in all its joy and radiance, compounded by its inexplicable despair, alienation, self-effacement and denial. She sings the iconic melody, Love Me Tender (2001), as she slowly pumps black balloons, luring the audience into the surmounting tension and anticipation of the balloon’s eventual explosion. Similarly, her earlier collaborations with Oliver Blomeier are sequences about love, hate and fate. Inspired by the life and love story of Austrian artist Egon Schiele, Suryodarmo and Blomeier move in slow motion against a stark red backdrop and on a shelf created by mentor Marina Abramovic, as they explore the subtle physical gestures based on a relationship between man and woman in The Komodo Files (2005). These contradictions of love are further documented in their collaborative performances, Deformed Ethic of a Relationship 1.0 and Deformed Ethic of a Relationship 2.0 (2005), in a gradual unravelling and progressive disintegration of a relationship. This introspection between self and others is conveyed through Visible Undone Behaviour (2005) as Suryodarmo observes her audience through a pair of binoculars, and writes her personal and immediate impressions. The act of voyeurism hints at a society that is disengaged and superficial; that we revel in being watched and unwatched.

Suryodarmo has consistently engaged with her cultural environment, drawing from the symbolic gestures and affective actions grounded by traditional Javanese rituals, to Japanese Butoh. Known for a practice that traverses the East and West, Suryodarmo’s second performance lecture reveals the fissures and disenchantment within personal and cultural politics. The durational performance of Cruise Control (2007) sees the artist running and jumping into a wall of earth in Solo, Indonesia, in a study of human behaviour, repetition and routine. The Seed (2008), performed in Western Europe, observes the artist wearing light-coloured pantyhose filled with black sesame seeds commonly found in Asia. The black seeds form grotesque island-like patterns of dark grey along her legs, recalling a body that is culturally and socially-displaced – in agony and in need of salvation.

The performative-objects represent poetic actions – spontaneous and abstract – as Suryodarmo intimates, much like the vibrant forms of a Wassily Kandinsky painting. In weaving her past performances, these objects function as personal anecdotes, inhabiting and punctuating the gallery space as the lectures unfold, prompting profound and visceral encounters to Suryodarmo’s artistic oeuvre and somatic practice.

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