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2006 Melati SURYODARMO
by Emanuela Nobile Mino
Melati Suryodarmo’s work consists in creating very powerful
images, captured and reiterated in long time performances which
show the artist’s body engaged in redundant actions whose
strength and solemnity look closer to epical challenges than to
everyday behaviours or happenings translated and reinvented into
A sort of “poetic of overcoming” seems to be the intrinsic
timbre of her artistic research and aesthetic. Which is not to be
read as a bent to the “achievement at any costs”. The
aim that the artist persecutes is not connected with the idea of
“winning” and demonstrating it to somebody else but,
at the contrary, it is actually related to the concept of going
ahead, improving self potentialities by experiencing the effective
risk of climbing over the limits, in order to conquer a real confidence
with the body and a deeper consciousness of the mind aptitudes.
I am thinking about the “Exergie butter dance” piece,
in which the artist get into a sexual dance, or better, she tries
to maintain a very sinuous aplomb while dancing on a platform made
of butter bars. Or the “Second-long Dream” piece, a
kind of claustrophobic image which show the artist dressing up with
as many clothes as possible, until her body gets imprisoned in the
fabric layers and she’s transformed into a sort of living
In her actions, woman fragility seems destined to be redeemed and,
although she is seriously interested in defending and forwarding
her origins, she induces the immediate overlapping of any common
place connected with them, thanks to her capability of mixing in
her work the ancient and the new, the traditional pride and the
nowadays woman conditions, insisting on personifying universal weakness
and conventional prejudice which are part of everybody’s background
and each of us’ everyday life.
The icons that Suryodarmo is able to create seem properly conceived
to excavate the most intimate and ataxic origin of woman instincts,
to bring out of the dark her inedited ability (physical and mental)
and to reveal a completely new role and meaning of the “feminine”.
Maternity, for instance, which is the first subject coming up to
the mind looking at Suryodarmo performing “The Promise”:
the artist, wearing a wide red dress and eleven meters long black
hairs, sits on the floor embracing and fondling a raw cow’s
liver. This image, static at first sight, as time goes by it evolves
in a series of delicate expressions and unperceivable movements,
walking the audience into a path where different emotions and suggestions
overlap, conveying more than one iconographic meaning and contrasting
quotations played between sacred and profane, and supplying a totally
new key of interpretation of the “motherhood”.
On one side, the main reference is the classical image of the “Madonna
with Child”, iconography widely diffused in the Renaissance
period across Europe and that since the XV century became one of
the most popular subject of paintings and sculptures.
So immediately, Suryodarmo’s image refers both to a religious
and devotional imprint and to an intellectual content, consequentially
to the thousand and different interpretations several artists gave
of this precise moment, most of the times presenting it like a beautiful
woman wearing a sumptuous dress, sitting on a throne and in the
act of embracing an already “aware” child. But this
iconography is also known as “Madonna Eleusa” (word
that in ancient Greek language means “image of tenderness”)
or as “Icona dell’incarnazione” (icon of the incarnation),
to underline the mystery of the birth and to remind the human essence
of the Christ.
This new point of view helps to encourages even more keys of interpretation
of the image.
In fact, looking at Suryodarmo’s work, also a domestic memory
(a mother cradling her child in the intimacy of their own house)
spontaneously reaches spectator’s mind. The perception of
an intimate gesture and the deep and warm glance of the woman make
the attention shifting from the triumphant and transcendent apparition
to an immanent and profane setting, where a maternal female figure
sits on the floor and, all alone, takes care of her baby.
And, on the other hand, the strong vision that Suryodarmo creates
in this performance, is suddenly dragged into a shocking translation
and into myth and legend territory when the everyday action depicted
into the frame of a familiar environment and a private atmosphere
develops into a surrealistic apparition strictly connected to the
oriental fairy tale universe.
The awareness of what actually the woman is keeping over her breast
(not a child demanding cares but a heavy bleeding cow’s liver
that the artist tries patiently to contain with her arms), comes
up as a lucid flash back on the ancient traditions, costumes and
symbols belonging to the artist’s native country heritage.
Since history began, liver has ranked above all other offal as one
of the most prized culinary delights. Some cultures place such a
high value on liver, regarding it as a source of great strength
and as providing almost magical curative powers. In the roman galenical
medicine tradition the liver was considered the centre of the venous
blood (while the hart was the centre of the arterial blood), so
one of the most important life’s engine.
Liver is often quoted as a symbolic element in popular proverbs.
The Java idiom “eat the liver”, for example - from which
the performance takes inspiration -, is still currently used to
indicate an introverted person: eating your own liver then means
bringing your own life into death.
Whereas, the action of caressing and cuddling it could immediately
obtains the opposite result. The figurate message of the performance,
of course concerns the recovering of the real values of life and
it can be read as an invitation to take care of yourself, of your
own body and soul, as well as a mother protects her child, and the
Madonna watch over the Holy Baby and the whole humanity. It also
looks like a kind of encouraging action to communicate the importance
of preserving the soul from envy and from hate.
But, actually, Suryodarmo’s intents can be even more sophisticated.
Usually her images give the audience several ways of comprehension
and, in this specific work, the complexity of life is the deepened
thematic the work was aimed also to show. The work seems to display
the dualistic aspect of reality, together with the need of being
always aware of the fact that existence, just like a coin, has a
double side. The most of the times in her works Melati manages to
present to her viewers these two contrasting sides simultaneously.
So in this case, we can appreciate and enjoy the vision of the eternal
ideal of the beauty, but we are also horrified by the monstrous
and the grotesque of the rest, we perceive a sacred tone but at
the same time we catch a glimpse of the demonic.
Suryodarmo, in just one shoot, demonstrates us how inevitable is
to cohabit with all this.Rome, Born
in Rome,1971. Art historian, she works as a critic and independent
art curator in Italy and abroad.
She has curated several exhibitions in public and private spaces
with a particular attention to artists whose researches are based
on the investigation of the spatial environments and of the body
(like site-specific works and performance). In 2001 she published
the “Guide to the contemporary artists in Rome” (Ed.
Anterem) and frequently writes for art magazines and newspapers.
Since some years she collaborates with the space Volume! and curates
exhibitions for the galleries L’Union and Sisters (Rome).
Currently, she is working as executive curator of a group exhibition
that will take place in China presenting Italian artists and designers’s
works produced between the second half of the XX sec. and the present
Text from: "Loneliness in the Boundaries", Works Catalogue,
Melati Suryodarmo; 2006