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Material Formations and Body Movements| Laura Mudge

Ardi Gunawan‘s latest exhibition Material Formations and Body Movements explores the possibilities of action and energy when applied to material form. To throw, rearrange, move, lift, break, pile and push — this collection of verbs indicate Gunawan‘s basic instructions to be acted out by the committee members of Boxcopy using materials sourced onsite including doors, light bulbs and discarded furniture. While Gunawan establishes a rudimentary framework for the project he encourages chance and entropy to take hold at every opportunity by relinquishing absolute artistic control.

Gunawan‘s previous work has typically involved the use of found objects that are not materially changed but rather reconfigured. The absence of methods used to bind or connect these objects through force or manipulation, necessitates the finding of a point of equilibrium whereby the materials self-support. This balancing act is aided by the use of slender pieces of wood to stabilise the precarious arrangements. Like stop-motion film Gunawan‘s previous work appears to capture a moment in time, as though the act of gravity has been paused indefinitely.

For Material Formations and Body Movements action is not paused but rather put into motion, with Gunawan‘s intention to make his processes of art as transparent as possible. Traditionally the finished product takes precedence; with sketches, preparations and previous experiments rarely exhibited. Rather than presenting a final product, the raw materials or ‗stuff‘ as termed by Gunawan, are not altered in any way by the artist. These objects are arranged by Gunawan before the opening of the exhibition and are then subject to reconfiguration by the committee members. The viewer can witness this process as the actions invoked by Gunawan‘s instructions are performed randomly over the course of the exhibition during opening hours. Successive visits would be required to grasp the changing nature of the material formations and to perhaps catch a glimpse of the action in play.

Gunawan‘s performative installation is influenced by Allan Kaprow and his seminal Happenings of the 1960s. These site-specific impermanent works were the forerunner to installation and performance art. Kaprow acknowledged that his work would be reinvented, as has been the case with his Environment Yard first produced in 1961. This work involving a mass of black rubber tires and tarpaper wrapped forms was recreated by Kaprow on several occasions and reinvented by numerous artists, most recently in 2009 for the opening of Hauser and Wirth in New York at the site of the original installation.

Rather than a reinvention, Gunawan considers his installation to be a reusing of Kaprow‘s ideas to explore the matrix created by experimentation with form and matter as it encounters movements of the body and factors of energy, chance and entropy. Starting with Kaprow‘s instructions ―rearrange the tires‖ for Yard, Gunawan created a list of related verbs and allowed chance to narrow it down to seven instructions. These verbs are non-determinate, as they do not specify the where, why or how. The resulting configuration of raw materials is therefore an unknown factor as the prescribed actions in no way dictate the outcome. This approach challenges the understanding of the immutable art object, as a continual evolution of material form is propelled by the provisional gestures of the body.

Unlike Kaprow‘s installation of Yard, where visitors were able to walk over and sit amongst the tyres, Gunawan does not invite viewers to have any physical contact with the materials. The role of the viewer as spectator is clearly demarcated from that of the artist/actors. While this is a mechanism of control, Gunawan‘s structure does provide flexibility for those entrusted with performing his instructions.

The committee members are afforded the freedom to decide which instructions they will act out, the day and time they will take place and the objects to be used. Gunawan relishes this process of collaborating as he considers ‗ideas are formed collectively and thus it takes the production of art into the social sphere.‘ His instructions further encourage the agency of his actors as they provide the capacity for multiple interpretations and possibilities. Gunawan even accepts that anarchy may take hold, whereby his instructions are discarded in favour of improvisation. This collaborative approach defies the notion of the artist as the sole creator, and brings chance once again into play, as Gunawan ultimately relinquishes control over compositional and aesthetic factors. Engaging others to manipulate the objects demonstrates Gunawan‘s focus is on the process itself rather than the success or failure of the resultant formations.

The foregrounding of process apparent in Material Formations and Body Movements both facilitates the work and is the work. This approach ties Gunawan‘s practice to the sculptural and installationbased practices of Process art in the late 1960s and 70s. For artists such as Robert Smithson and Richard Serra, the process was of greater prominence to the completed work with improvisation and the use of ephemeral materials common. Gunawan‘s focus on process is reflected by the unpredictable and transitory nature of the assemblages. Like Kaprow‘s impermanent works which defied commoditization, value is not invested in the final product of Gunawan‘s project, as the materials will be dismantled at the end of the exhibition and returned to their status as discarded junk.

It is therefore not so much an art object that Gunawan is interested in generating through the processes of Material Formations and Body Movements, as the installation both creates and is formed by an experience. Kaprow‘s work was seminal in challenging the traditional understanding of art as representational, by presenting experience as art. Gunawan‘s project for Boxcopy continues this objective, as it brings real time and space to the fore, both in the collision between material form and body movement, but also in the viewer‘s immediacy to this process. This exhibition highlights the complex relationship between the temporal, spatial and social aspects of Gunawan‘s mode of production; and the potentiality of experimentation and chance in achieving sculptural form.

by Laura Mudge

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