Natural Born Worker • Lugas Syllabus

Feb 16 to Mar 9, 2017 • Tall Gallery

Tales from Nowhere

When you look at it, the painting feels like it belongs to a world that feeds on hypermedia, this ensemble of interactive forms of the digital, or even, the post-digital world. And yet, you sense something very familiar, or made familiar, by a range of stimuli, from personal memory to tourism to childhood urges. Otherworldly, you might say, but quite close to your impulses. After all, it is fantasy, and therefore intimate in all its misshapen details. It will seem to you that the fulsome painting does not only flirt with hypermediated images, it is, in fact, the fertile screen on which these images thrive. The intimacy with which the imager maker hews his images is so inextricable, and perhaps obsessive, that you tend to believe that you are immersed in a hypermedium itself and that, like the images swimming around your baffled vision, you verisimilarly breed in its ground.

Lugas Syllabus is a young painter from Jogjakarta, an important site of production in the always active art world of Indonesia. The atmosphere of the field is so hectic and the impetus for images is so breathtaking that an emerging practitioner will either have to sink in the temptation or to vainly resist it and consequently create his own imaginarium. It will take a truly discerning intelligence to think through the thicket and labyrinth of signs in this dense social life. It is at this point that you will probably surmise that the artist stakes out his own terrain of inventions and semblances. In other words, he makes his own archive that poaches on a multitude of references. The subject of a vernacular house in Palembang being transported to Europe, for instance, does not only become an occasion to describe the condition of a migrating house or an instance of social commentary on migration in the current global circuit. It becomes an opportunity for Syllabus to set up his own narrative, gather his own iconography, and spin his own fictive context of unexpected scenarios, characters, tensions, and relationships. In many ways, this context becomes very challenging for the viewer. You confront it with a mixture of strange feelings and disturbing sensations. You are confused. You lose coordinates. You do not know if it is humor or the macabre. You do not know if a fairy tale has taken a wrong turn or if it has found its true plot. You finally give in to the chance of traveling to another universe proposed by the artist and ask yourself if his pictorial sphere is still earth or it is just too worldly.

One of the ways to portray the world today is distraction. There are just too many demands on the sightseer or the onlooker or the attentive observer. You are inevitably distracted, unnerved, unhinged, regardless how you invest in the labor to pause and take in what is before you with the pace that is not in cadence with the whirl of the planet that drapes you. You are, in short, fixated. And to a great extent, Syllabus makes that possible through his visual practice that is quite daring, heedless, and seemingly liberated from the expectations of the Indonesian art world. That being said, the artist benefits from earlier forays into this sort of arena of highly mediated images. You might, of course, be reminded of the work of I Nyoman Masradi or Wedhar Riyadi and the various expressions lying between these spectrums – and without doubt, the Jogjakarta surrealism of the eighties and nineties. But the corpus of Syllabus is a bit brasher, less anxious about the requirements of either identity politics or the conceptualisms that supposedly define the contemporary.

What is obviously the vein of the artist’s art is his capacity for adventure, the kind that had sustained the comics tradition of an earlier era. Thus, the forms are robust, intrepid, quite fearless. You might say excessive and overly grisly. They are rendered in acrylic, the better to make their presence more urgent and immediate, unfiltered by too much art history and too much contemporary art, enhanced by the techniques of advertising, billboard painting, street art. In fact, you might mistake it for being in cyberspace or in a virtual platform, though the painting is nevertheless cogent, confidently built up, and competent in the simulation of plasticity, with very deep

perspectives and evocation of rigorous figuration. In his works for Manila, the object of focus is the countryside that is seemingly invaded by both antiquity and mass media. In a statement, Syllabus confides: “Doing arts has been an important part in my life. What I do in my life has a great influence in the creative process of my art, where both attractions and repulsions combined to form the influence.” It is by confronting “attractions and repulsions” that the artist is able to overcome the lure of typical iconographies and venture into bolder, more daring realms of picture making.

Like his mind’s eye, such a confusion is generative. It makes you think about the relationship between painting and what is called “second life” in cyberspace. You might interchange his subject or his subject matter with an avatar that wildly mutates and transforms with alacrity. Syllabus is without doubt a painter of his time, a time that he takes seriously and takes it to that limit at which painting dissolves into the sea of hypermedia, and yet floating still as some kind of ebullient survivor, complicating once more the Indonesian reflection on “reality” and the “real,” a wellspring of wonder and unease as timeworn as Sudjojono and as recent as Syllabus.

—Patrick D. Flores