A Day In The Life Of An Artist
Boedi Widjaja and his work, Black-Hut
Dreams, childhood and rooms literally collide in 41-year-old artist Boedi Widjaja’s latest work, Black-Hut. The installation piece, presented with the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), is an affiliate project of this year’s Singapore Biennale, themed “An Atlas of Mirrors”. Responding with a theme of their own – “matter matters” – ICA selected the Indonesian-born, Singapore-based artist to present his work solo at the Earl Lu Gallery in LASALLE College of the Arts.
Widjaja is an apt choice - he’s fascinated with materiality and the question of what is.
Formally trained as an architect, Widjaja’s decision to dedicate himself to art began out of his design practice, Plastic Soldier Factory.
“My wife told me that I ran [Plastic Soldier Factory] like an art practice. If I were given a project, for instance designing a piece of brochure, the first question on my mind would be - what is a brochure?” said Widjaja.
He added: “Looking back, it was funny for me, but even funnier for my clients. I would spend three hours telling the client what a brochure is, or should be, or can be. At the end of the three hours the client would say, I get your concerns, but you know what, this is a brochure.”
Widjaja’s approach to life may be playful, but his art-making is all-business. He elaborated: “Being a professional artist is not too different from being an entrepreneur. Because you run everything yourself. You want to control everything, like how a business person runs his or her business.”
Widjaja’s days are usually spent at his studio – an apartment along Depot Road – but for this installation in LaSalle, the school’s overall architecture played a part in his creative process. Speaking of Black-Hut’s principal ideas, Widjaja pointed to how uncommon LASALLE’s architecture is in Singapore’s context.
LASALLE College of The Arts, wikimedia commons
“Most buildings [in Singapore] are fairly straight, in a rectilinear fashion, unlike the LaSalle building. Looking at the school’s unusual geometry gave me the seed of thought of how I could respond. Before I came to Singapore, I had never seen so many straight, boxy, concrete buildings in my life,” he quipped.
Widjaja came to Singapore from Solo City at the age of nine due to ethnic tensions in Indonesia. He explained that the change in environment – from rural to urban – meant that urban materials such as concrete were “psychologically complex” for him.
“We lived with Singaporean families and our parents were not with us. I had moved 13 times. The first place was Tampines New Town, Street 23. I forgot the block number,” he said with a laugh. “So concrete meant something very personal to me from childhood. If you look at modernist architecture, HDB, all these social housing projects, concrete is a material that was described to be a modern material that enabled the production of apartments very very quickly.”
Celebrating modernity, however, is not the aim of Black-Hut. Far from it, Widjaja described his approach to concrete in this piece as “organic” and “fleshly”, an attempt to expose the material as elemental, “from the ground” and not devoid of nature.
At the time of this interview, his contractors were installing three interior walls and one exterior wall at the gallery, preparing the interiors with a pigmented, custom-formulated concrete, salt and mica mix that will crack and change colour over time.
“Salt,” he explained, “happens in urban concrete already. There is this natural process called efflorescence where you see salt deposits forming on the surface of concrete due to the movement of moisture. Once it reaches the surface, the water dissipates, leaving the solids. So what I’m doing is amplifying this.”
Boedi Widjaja: Black—Hut, installation view, Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore, LASALLE College of the Arts, 2016.
Photo credit: Weizhong Deng
Black-Hut’s room-within-a-room concept is complemented with a sound art piece that will play from ultra focus speakers in the centre of the space. The sound art, Widjaja explained, was derived from a Solo gamelan, played in the Netherlands.
“How I encountered this library [of gamelan sounds] is very much like how I connect to my childhood house in Solo City. Because I left when I was 9, a lot about the house exists like a virtual, immaterial image. Not an experience born out of tangible contact. A lot of my feelings are made in my own mind. Imagined. So similarly this library of gamelan sounds functions like that too. It’s a virtual representation of my hometown and so it felt appropriate and authentic to have this in my installation.”
Black-Hut is on display from 28th October 2016 to 1st February 2017 at the Earl Lu Gallery.