by Zarina Muhammad
What do we remember when we thumb through the archives of our personal stories? Which days have left marks? Persons who have left imprints? How have varying points of bliss and trauma served as markers in charting the map of a life? What would we honour or desire to make invisible? Why would it matter?
Speaking in precise terms about memory and how we use it to interpret personal narratives and histories is difficult. Very often our memory of past things- childhood, the experiences of our younger selves or the spaces we have lived in - often serves to inform, manipulate, construct and lend meaning to present-day identities and realities. As a starting point, it helps perhaps to speak of and begin with anecdotes. However, the amorphousness of memory creates a new retelling each time, requiring time and place to anchor it and aid in locating and orientating what has since passed. As Stephan S. Hall writes “To orientate is to hop back and forth between landscape and time, geography and emotion, knowledge and behavior. Like memory, geography is associative. We all carry a personal atlas in our brain”.
Boedi Widjaja’s Path.1 addresses this notion of the “personal atlas” and approaches the act of map-making as a deeply personal endeavour. Through examining and questioning personal ideas of home and the seeming intangibility of memory, rootedness, foreignness, displacement and alienation, the work, as described by the artist, is essentially about the “artist drawing a map of the city as he moves through it”. Maps, by definition, have boundaries. Widjaja’s interpretation of the word is much more fluid; tracing the map of the city as he remembers and imagines the shifting lines, paths and parameters of the metropolis, moving between the memory of his itinerant childhood and his own unstable perception of home.
How many synonyms can we find for the word ‘home’? How would we diagram our perception of home? How can such a site that is so personal and intangible be described and represented? More than simply a physical shelter, home can be read and circumscribed as a space of safety, familiarity and rootedness. It could serve as an anchor, as the centre of ones universe, a demarcated territory, a well protected enclosure, or it could well be perceived as the very opposite. Especially so, if the geographical and emotional home do not exist in the same site. At the same time, our identification of home may be segregated by the shiing phases of our life – existing in memory and always telling stories of the self. Path.1 examines and engages with the ways in which the concept of home may mark, punctuate or puncture our autobiographies. The work seeks to remember, revisit and redraw the signposts of the artist’s personal memory and highlight the extent in which external conditions lend specific meanings to personal history.
Having previously lived in 3 different cities and moved 13 times in the past 30 years, the artist sees the work as an abstract construction of the city as home and a representation of his personal memory map. Nevertheless, Path.1’s mapping of the overlapping geographies of home is more than simply being a sentimental document. Arriving at each new city and having to rename and re-identify home, the artist perceives the city as a place that contains competing and conflicting layers of narratives and identities. Through trans-mapping and projecting each of these lived spaces onto the other, the notion of the city as home is simultaneously interrogated, understood and perceived as a site that is amorphous, imagined, invented and malleable. A site that may be perceived as an entity, construct, invention and fantasy all at once.
The city is a backdrop for many lives across many continents. As more people occupy, crowd and move through the city, cities oen start to resemble one another and people, places may sometimes appear familiar yet indistinguishable and incomprehensible at the same time. To borrow a line from John Berger’s ‘and our faces, my heart, brief as photos’, a text comprised of pieces of writing meditating on place, distance, absence, memory and the nomadic life: “Never before our time have so many people been uprooted. Emigration, forced or chosen, across national frontiers or from village to metropolis, is the quintessential experience of our time.”
No doubt, Path addresses this very idea and examines it as a contemporary condition faced by many, in spite of disparities in wealth, cultural capital and class difference. Path. 1 also allows for a reflection on the imprints we have left on a place or the place on us. Path visually begins as an empty slate, a blank space and an open-ended site. As a work that includes a performative element and requires the participation of randomly selected spectators, the passing days will see a gradual accumulation of marks and gestures that form the artist’s map of the urban space as he knows, experiences, observes and recognizes it. Although the starting and driving point of the work is the artist’s own itinerant childhood and unsettled relationship with concepts such as home, displacement, alienation and rootedness, one of the key themes of Path is essentially about the many unresolved complexities in inhabiting and moving through the space known as the city and finding ways to re-connect with it, in spite of its rapidly changing socio-cultural/ visual landscape.