2012 - ongoing
Path. 8, Invisible Cities 。雲海遊 (2017)
Path. 7, New Ground (2015)
Path. 6, Unpacking my Library 。书城 (2014)
Path. 5, Silent conversation with a friend (2014)
Path. 4, Changi vs Changi (2013)
Path. 3, The Lode in my Heart (2013)
Path. 2, Travelling Body (2012)
Path. 1, The White City (2012)
Part of Map1: Waterways, a public live art programme curated by Something Human for the International Curators Forum's Diaspora Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale.
Supported by the Singapore International Foundation and Canon.
Read artist interview
2016. Live Art
2015. Live art, From East to the Barbican, London
How many cities have revealed themselves to me in the marches I undertook in the pursuit of books! - Walter Benjamin, Unpacking my Library
The first part of the exhibition title is drawn from Walter Benjamin’s essay of the same name. Benjamin wrote in praise of collectors’ adoration of books. Bookending the title is 书城, Chinese for “City of Books”, and also the nickname of Bras Basah Complex in Singapore.
The exhibition is a result of Widjaja’s reconsideration of his personal library through the gaze of Benjamin’s “collector”. Every book contains more than one story – that of the authored text written on its pages, and those embedded within the personal memories triggered by the book… memories of the whiff of freshly-printed books, the familiar grounds of a beloved bookstore, or, for the artist, the memory of childhood visits to the “City of Books” with his father.
From the age of nine, the artist lived apart from his parents, sent to another country to escape ethnic tensions in his hometown. Air travel was very expensive then, and the artist’s father visited his children in Singapore once or twice a year, staying for a week each time. As the artist’s father loved books, the family would spend their time together in bookstores.
The physical separation between child and father was bridged in the City of Books. Yet, towards the end of the week, the same place also became the family’s parting grounds. Thus, Widjaja’s memory of the City of Books is complicated and emotional. Like airports, the City of Books contains both reunions and separations. The place signals ARR/DEP. In reconsidering his personal library, the artist has realised that embedded in his books, regardless of genre and content, is this latent memory of the problematic City of Books.
In Path., Widjaja seeks to build a (hopeful) future through the recasting of the past. The exhibition starts with three books taken from libraries across three generations - the artist’s, his father’s and his daughter’s. The books, randomly selected, are studied. Comparing them, we see similar motifs and themes, such as steel, displacement, acceptance in a new place, emerge. Drawing out these connections is a way for Widjaja to transform these formerly isolated, personal libraries into shared ones, before bringing them into the community.
The exhibition presents the outcome of Widjaja’s investigation into his library in its material, aural, spatial and temporal dimensions. Through the process of making the works, and the “liveness” of the public events, the artist dismantles and reconstructs his memory of the City of Books, a memory deeply lodged in his library. The artist looks to a rebuilt library, containing books with the promise of new stories.
Read artist's journal
Commissioned by the Esplanade
2014 Path. 6, Unpacking my Library 。 书城, Jendela Visual Arts Space, Esplanade, Singapore (solo exhibition)
2015 Boedi Widjaja. "Paths of Memory, Identity, and Belonging" Singapore Insights from the Inside Vol II Ed. Richard Hartung. Singapore International Foundation, 2015.116-119. Print.
2014 Trent Davis. Chat: Boedi Widjaja. juice magazine. 28 Nov 2014. Web.
2014 Mark Leong. Retracing Paths. catalog magazine. 26 Nov 2014. Web.
2014 Think Big Case Study - Bridging Distance Bridging Generations. Canon. 24 Nov 2014. Web.
2014 Pooja Makhijani. Path. 6, Unpacking my Library . 书城 by Boedi Widjaja. notabilia. 7 Nov 2014. Web.
Artist Journal - One: Siapakah si Manusia Baja?
Siapakah si Manusia Baja? is Bahasa Indonesia for “Who is the Iron Man?”.
Ted Hughes didn’t directly ask that question. He didn’t seem to care where the iron giant came from. The titular character came out of nowhere and crashed, literally, into the story. It seemed like what really mattered to Hughes was how the broken giant picked up his pieces and where he was going from there.
Conversely, Bras Basah Complex was in my memories all about who and where I came from. At age nine, my parents sent me to Singapore due to ethnic tensions in my hometown. Until today, I live apart from them, we continue to reside in different countries. When I was a child, air travel was very expensive. My father visited my siblings and I once or twice a year, staying for a week or less each time. As he loved books, and perhaps due to political suppression of Chinese culture in Indonesia, we would spend our time together in bookstores, in Bras Basah Complex.
My memory of Bras Basah Complex, also known as the City of Books, is complicated and emotional. The place was both reunion and separation, happening within a very short period of time. This memory of the problematic City of Books has lodged into every book I collect, regardless of genre or content. It is an immaterial yet petrified past that I am now facing. Memories that resist any interlocution with the present because they are hardened and without form. Narratives become truncated, and the present loses its agency.
I want to reconsider this problematic memory in my books, to materialise and to extend it; to recall while seeking rootedness in the present.
While looking for material at Bras Basah Complex, I saw many used airport novels in the second-hand bookstores. The novels are not so much known for their literary quality, but more so for their transitory function. Characterised by their fast pace, portable dimensions, embossed covers and pulpy thickness, airport novels are targeted at travellers – page-turners that last the length of a journey. The novels themselves are transitory objects as they are meant to be disposed after reading. Both transition and rootlessness are embodied in these novels; they materialise the ARR/DEP space of the traveller - the space that my family had once occupied at Bras Basah Complex. For this reason, I decided to use them in this work.
Filling in a void requires me to first materialize it. In Path. 1, The White City (2012), I achieved this by covering every inch of the gallery walls with unmarked paper. In Siapakah si Manusia Baja? (2014), the process involved wrapping nearly 350 books with hand-torn blank canvas. The act of mark-making and drawing grounds me in the present hence I proceeded to make marks and drawings on the canvas-wrapped books, employing a variety of techniques.
One batch was covered with modified, circular immigration stamps, similar to those in my childhood passport. Their circular shapes remind me of the exploding planet of Krypton - home to the Superman. The immigration chop was always loud. It abruptly switched my identity. A foreigner resident. A foreign-based citizen. And back and forth. I drew slow, circular lines next to the stamps to counteract their abruptness.
Another batch had outlines of stones from Fort Canning Hill. I first experimented with this technique in 2012, in an artist’s research project of Singapore’s most historical hill. I saw in the stones memories of people in the city, compressed personal stories that got fossilised over time. On another set of books, I exerted physical force to make carbon transfer tracings, using visuals drawn from the three books. In the same process, I was able to produce a second outcome - embossed tracings on paper. The weft-waft pattern of the canvas was captured on the paper; it is a record of physical exertion. 18 of these were selected for the exhibition.
I googled ‘who is the Iron Man’, in the languages of the three books - English, Chinese and Bahasa. The results were images of celebrities, famous fictitious characters and faces that I did not recognise. The world's most powerful search engine did not offer a singular answer to the question of identity. Ted Hughes (rightly) disregarded the Iron Man’s origin, the richness of his character was not limited by its origin.
The books are presented in rows and columns on tables, a reference to the bargain book bins that were a common sight in the City of Books. The display tables were repurposed from a steel racking system that I have been using as bookshelves; introducing into the work my lived experiences is another way to pull into the present.
Repetition and variation, the making process of Siapakah si Manusia Baja? was meditative, reflective and transformative. The transition of identity is ongoing. The work will always remain incomplete, in progress.
The setting for one of the most celebrated chapters in “How the Steel was Tempered” is the building of railway tracks from Kiev to Boyarka. Pavel and his comrades endured the hard winter, laying down steel tracks and fighting off attacks. Pavel’s emotional state was even more tumultuous, there were painful sacrifices he determined to make for his cause.
While studying in Singapore, I would return home to Surakarta, Indonesia twice a year, during the school holidays. Traveling usually involved an overnight train ride. My father would receive us at Cengkareng (Soekarno-Hatta International Airport) before we headed for the train station. We sat upright throughout the journey, close to but never sleeping. I remember the train to move slowly and steadily, its hisses and clangs a rhythmic joy. The steel tracks appeared rough but their lines across Java’s countryside felt familiar. Conversely, the highly polished steel in Singapore city was without texture, I could not quite get a hold of it.
I have been using steel racks, the same type used in When Steel Rings in my Sleep (2014), as bookshelves for the past decade. In this period, I have moved my workplace thrice, each time boxing and unpacking my books, dismantling and rebuilding the shelves. It is a boltless shelving system - upright poles punctured with keyhole shapes, support bars with protrusions that fit into the keyholes, and panels that rest on the bars. It is a ubiquitous system, my childhood home in Surakarta had them too - my parents used them to store fabric for our family business.
Bookshelves have one correct side of access, its front. I want to open mine into an ambiguous spatial entity, where one may access it from all directions. To complicate the image of the shelf, sixteen of it were configured into a block. Beside it are stacked panels. Once removed, they wait to be added.
Manual assembling of the structure took three days. As I put its members together, I searched, amidst the sounds of steel, for new orientations between us. The structure is built and unbuilt. It becomes a way to look through to the other side. It is a window, a bridge, a sanctuary, a city; the lines suggest patterns, sounds, drawings...
Artist Journal - Three: 《重见》
重见 is Chinese for “re-seeing” and also a Chinese homonym for “re-building”.
I invited my father and my daughter to join me in making 《重见》. My father read excerpts of “The Iron Man” to me at Bras Basah Complex. My daughter and I excavated three books from cement blocks at the same spot where the work is being shown.*
*The original plan was to have the three of us in the same space. That was to happen during gallery set-up, and the performance documented on video, to be projected in the same place that it was shot. The work was modified as my father was unable to be present in Singapore on the scheduled filming dates.
2014. Live Art by Boedi Widjaja, Dawn Fung and Naomi Huang. Performed at Path. 6, Unpacking my Library 。书城 Jendela Visual Arts Space, Esplanade Singapore on 1 Nov 2014.
The making of Path. 5, Silent conversation with a friend took place in more than 20 public spaces in Singapore, such as cafes, libraries and void decks. The artist used drawing as a method to connect and to (re)create, with 12 friends and to the 13 places in Singapore that he had at one time resided in. The work speaks of time spaces found in friendships and of their transformative potential.
Widjaja met with his friends separately – through Skype for those who are based overseas – and invited them to draw a 1cm line in 4’33’’. On his own, the artist travelled to the 13 neighbourhoods that he had once lived in and by walking/running in each, videographed time space in the city.
2014. Installation: mixed media on paper, short-throw projector, computer, algorithmic projection file and video, 110 x 180cm. Coding by Jacky Boen.
2014 Drawing Cage, The U Factory, Gillman Barracks, Singapore (solo exhibition)
During my childhood as a foreign student in Singapore, there were always 2 airports at Changi that were in binary opposition to each other. As described by travel - departure vs. arrival; place - home vs. city; space - far vs. near; and time - instant vs. prolonged. The binary vision of Changi could also be seen this way: approaching it in the darkness just before dawn meant homeward bound journey to Indonesia but viewing it at midday meant I was back in the city, far from family and home. Reinforcing the double vision, my passport is filled exclusively with stamps made at 2 locations – Changi and Cengkareng (International Airport in Jakarta).
Over the decades, the ping pong movement between the 2 airports became analogous to the uneasy, asynchronous duality of my cultural identity. Hence the work – in its installation and mode of relational interaction with the community - is an exercise to bring the 2 points closer, towards harmony.
The installation is made up of 2 vinyl-topped boards placed on stands. 4.8m in total length, the boards function as a surface where a game similar to table tennis may be played. The net line, a transparent acrylic panel, runs significantly nearer one end though, turning it into a volley game of unequal distances. Player positions are changed after each successive 5 volleys. Red sports bibs with drawings on them are provided for the players. At the end of the game, the players, wearing the bibs, are invited to be photographed standing side by side.
Read artist's journal.
Installation and Live Art. Vinyl-topped MDF boards (4.8 x 1.2m x 12mm) on 6 stands; transparent acrylic panel (1.2 x 145mm x 10mm); table-tennis racquets and balls; and sports bibs with drawings
2013 Passports, Lorong 24A Geylang, Singapore (group exhibition)
Path. 3, The Lode in my Heart was created as an in situ installation for Closure, a group exhibition held in an apartment just before it was demolished to make way for a new estate. The artist removed a door and boarded up the room, containing it. The audience could peer into this room only through its immovable window grills, standing on a chair placed in the outside.
After the exhibition, the work will continue with Widjaja walking, with the door, around the neighbourhoods that he had previously resided. The artist had moved at least 13 times within Singapore.
Read essay by Ling Tiong
2013. Installation and Live Art
2013 Closure, Teban Gardens, Singapore (group exhibition)
2013 Ling Tiong. "Memories & Landfills: The Lode in my Heart." Free of Charge Artshow (FOCA). How do we deal with constant change?. 2013. Print.
2013 Cheryl Sim. Taking the gallery system out | Free of Charge Artshow. Singapore Architect Issue 274. Mar 2013: 36-37.
Path. 2, Travelling Body began with Widjaja visiting Hongdai Cun, Jiaomei, Xiamen, his paternal grandfather’s hometown, with his parents. Upon his return to Singapore, the artist felt he was still in motion, that he had not yet arrived home. The kinetic body continues in motion until it meets resistance. In an attempt to come to rest, Widjaja engaged in daily live portrait drawing of his father at the Yellow River Arts Centre Singapore base for a two-week period.
The portraiture sessions started with subject sitting across the table. As days passed, physical distance between artist and subject grew, an inversion to the length of days that father and son spent together for this work. In the last sessions, subject was sitting at the gallery's office almost 20 m away from artist; the latter looking to remembrance to draw his father's face.
Read artist's journal
2012. Installation and Live Art
2012 Path. 2, Travelling Body, Yellow River Arts Centre S-base, Gillman Barracks Singapore (solo exhibition)
Path. 1, The White City, opening episode of Path., uses the artist’s live presence; the act of drawing; the transformative potential of travelling; the corporeality of space; and the flow of time, to map and illuminate the artist’s journey.
The work was triggered by the artist’s change of citizenship during a time of charged national conversation on the rights of immigrants in Singapore, his newly adopted country. It took place in the form of live art sessions, as well as an ongoing exhibition of the live art’s corollary-in-progress. The audience was invited to draw together with the artist, throwing rubber balls coated with graphite powder at the paper-lined walls of the gallery. Meanwhile, dodging flying projectiles, the artist recorded his audience’s lines of motion. This communal act of drawing enabled conversation between artist and audience on rootedness, home, and identity.
An installation, a wall lined with graphite frottages on paper that the artist made of his childhood homes in Surakarta, Java, Indonesia and documentary photographs of the process, formed part of the exhibition.
2012. Installation and Live art
Commissioned by The Substation as part of their annual Visual Art Open Call.
2012 Path. 1, The White City, The Substation Gallery, Singapore (solo exhibition)
2014 Louis Ho. FutureGreats Asia 2014, ArtReview Asia Oct-Dec 2014: 85. Print.
2012 Yen Phang. The Present Body: A conversation with local artist Boedi Widjaja. Artitute. 16 Oct 2012. Web. 2012 Zhou Yian Ping. Yellow River Arts Centre Singapore base - Boedi Widjaja’s journey of new paths.Lianhe Zaobao, Oct 2012. Print.
2012 Zehra Jumabhoy. War and Peace artforum. 24 Sep 2012. Web.
2012 Goh KK. Review of Path. 1. Lianhe Zaobao. Sep 2012. Print.
2012 Michele Adriaens. Exhibition: Path. 1 by Boedi Widjaja. culture push. 14 Sep 2012. Web.
2012 Adeline Chia. Watch out for vacuum cleaners, squash balls. The Straits Times. 30 Aug 2012. Print.
Video: 2012. 4:00 min video documentation. Recorded on 22 Sep 2012 at The Substation Gallery, Singapore. Footage by Harry Chew, editing by David Gan.