The Absence of The Body in Abi Rama’s Performance

Prashasti Wilujeng Putri

This writing tries to explain the interpretation of Abi Rama’s performance art work in 69 Performance Club within this past one year since the platform is made in January 2016. A general view can be inferred about the works of Abi Rama is his frequent use of technology as an inseparable part from the issue of body. However, in some works, the use of technology is eliminated.

In Eye Contacting Myself (presented in Forum Lenteng, January 7th 2017), Abi made an eye contact with his representations appeared in the walls. He used two laptops operating Skype video call, where each laptop was linked to a projector projecting video on to two different walls. Through that structure, Abi in his performance sought for a slit of relation between two representations of his body. As Abi said, if we face a mirror, our representation will be represented immediately, the movement will be simultaneous with what happen in the real world (world outside the mirror). However, in online video technology (internet), delay might happen due to bad internet connection. That weakness of technology becomes the focus in his works. He looked for a moment or two to make eye contact with his representations projected in the screen, by glancing from laptop’s camera video to the screen, until in the end he could look at the eyes of “his representative body”. This artwork was again presented with more explorations in the 8th edition of 69 Performance Club in Gudang Sarinah Ekosistem, October 9th, 2016. The development of this work is titled Transmission.

Abi’s work entitled The Absence of Body Itself was only SMS (short message service) text sent to all the spectators in the 2nd edition of 69 Performance Club entitled Probing the Body, in Forum Lenteng, February 9th, 2016. That short message was contained with a thank you note to the spectator who had come to watch the performance, whereas he himself  was not at the venue. In this work, the bodies of spectator replaced the presence of Abi, and they functioned as a medium to speak out the message and the notion of his work. In the next work called The Trust Among Us, presented in the 3rd edition of 69 Performance Club “Transmitted Delusionin Forum Lenteng, March 6th, 2016, the body of spectators were still involved. He asked the spectators to close their eyes with a mask he gave. When the spectators closed their eyes, Abi did something that noone could see.  In this work, Abi invited the spectators to imagine the event happened at that blind moment while he made some noises and smells.

Abi’s work in the 4th edition in ruangrupa, April 9th, 2016, is called Laddering. In the edition entitled Framing Objects, he used several objects, like mirror, pipe, car tires, and bamboo ladder. With those objects, he explored the possibility of composition which can be formed in an area with a white-background, in order to build spectator’s imagination about imaginary creature.

His work in the 5th edition is called Priority. Responding to the curatorial entitled Pulsing Light, Abi played the candles and flash light from his handphone to conquer a big dark room. This work framed the phenomenon of social media, when people prioritize the image of dinner they have to be uploaded to social media instead of the quality of dinner itself. The notion of this work is also seen in the Portraits for Traits, presented in Forum Lenteng, May 6th, 2016. Portraits for Traits was inpired by the painting of Las Meninas by Diego Velazquez, 1656. The painting itself represents one condition of  domain on fine art’s production; it contains the artist, process of painting, object, and spectator. Responding to that painting from such view, Abi in his performance utilized the technology of panorama photography built in his smartphone. He sat in front of a mirror, stuck some coins on his face, took some photos of his face, then uploaded it to his Instagram account. With this performance, he framed a phenomenon of social media. He stated that, each person must curate the photos they want to upload before they put it to their social media, because things that appear in social media will be shown to the public. At the end of his performance, Abi asked the spectators to stand side by side next to the mirror. Then he took the photo of spectators along with the mirror reflecting his reflection, as presented in Las Meninas.

In the 7th edition called Notes on Drawing, presented in Gudang Sarinah Ekosistem, Agustus 6th ,2016, the artists were asked to present their drawing, in photograph or just the drawing itself. For Abi Rama, he presented his comic strips that he usually uploads to an Instagram account @komikpinter. Here, he presented his comic through his laptop projected to the big screen while he told a story about it. The presentation he presented as a performance art is titled Rambutan dan Tukang Ojek (Rambutan and Ojek Driver).

A frame on social media phenomena also appeared in his work entitled Facing A Fan, presented in the 9th edition of 69 Performance Club “Occurrence” (Gudang Sarinah Eksosistem, Desember 16th, 2016). In this art work, Abi tried to keep his body inside the frame of a camera hooked on a moving fan. He followed the movement of the fan to ensure that his body remains in the camera range. The camera shot a live video projected to the wall during the performance. Here, he wanted to show a complicated process of taking pictures, that is usually done by the users of social media, in order to get maximum result before finally being uploaded to the social media.

His last work called Take My Breath Away was one of his works that did not involve gadget in it, aside of Laddering. In this work, he played two lights while blowing a gym ball. And when the ball was fully blown, he deflated it again.

Most of his artworks – especially the ones involving technology – can be intepreted that image of representation presented by Abi in his performances by using photo or video camera relates to his original body (which presents presentation), like in Facing A Fan, Transmission, and Portraits for Traits.

There is a tendency that Abi aims to conquer his body representation by immaterializing or omitting his body (from its presentation nature) in the real world, immaterializing the event, to be presented again to the public in other forms, so that he can elaborate his body existed in the camera or in the video. Let’s take an example from Facing A Fan! He dismantled the process of presenting a body in social media. This is similar to The Absence of Body Itself, where the artist’s body representation was presented as text, not as image like in other Abi’s works.

Indeed in Laddering, Abi could not immaterialize either his body or the objects he used in the performance, although he tried to put on shoes to the ladder and cover the ladder with a big black fabric. Contrasting with his last work, Take My Breath Away, where he succesfully dissolved his body with the two objects he used: a cube and a gym ball. The material nature clung on to the objects disappeared through his performance. This also happened in his other works involving technology. With technology, Abi tried to involve the spectators, “omit” the spectator, or “omit” himself.

Abi Rama’s works can be compared to the works of other performance artist in 69 Performance Club, such as Ragil Dwi Putra. While Abi almost always uses photo or video camera, Ragil uses mirror. Just like video, mirror also produces representation, but essentially the representativeness of mirror and video are different. Representation of the mirror is more concrete compared to the technology used by Abi, because it works in the logic data (digital), not analog. Besides, mirror reflects the real world in reverse. Hence, the polemic of representation questioned by Ragil and Abi are different.

In dealing with technology and digital intervention in his works, Abi really understand the distortions which will happen in digital world and internet. Explaining this notion, Abi gave this example: the picture uploaded in Instagram is only a copy from the original one existing in the gadget’s harddisk. Or else, when someone is live-broadcasting through Instagram Live, the representation will be shown in other people’s gadget through Instagram application. The emersion of those images in people’s gadgets (as representation of reality) indicates the process of copying in the same logic like uploading still images to Instagram. This copying phenomenon produces distortions in the images, like a reduce in image resolution or 10 seconds delay in live video. Abi’s fluency and awareness on internet world and the fact that internet world happens in parallel with our real world, makes Abi can uniquely frame social media phenomenon in a very performative language. The challenge of Abi’s next works is how he can explore his performativity further without using technology.

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