Welcome followers and visitors to my blog and the latest update in my photography diary. The aim of this particular task is to gain, through visiting an exhibition, an understanding of the use of symbolism within the context of an exhibition that will inform and support a personal project entitled The Object as Cipher – Interpretation, meaning and the Development of Narrative. Today’s topic is a discussion about an exhibition entitled Grey Area by Angkai Purbandano. I would like to thank Angkai for being so willing to speak so openly with me at the gallery.
The appeal of Angki Purbandono (Angki) images lie in the simplicity of the concept behind each work, the manner he re-questions general perceptions in the world of art photography, exploring technical possibilities, his innate curiosity and new ways of seeing that in Grey Area create such an interesting body work. AP’s ability to think out of the box contributed significantly to the whole ethos of the exhibition.
I particularly admire the fact that AP does not only deal with problems of art/photography but possesses an awareness of how art is inextricably linked with other branches of science such as history, anthropology and technology. It is this awareness that brings Angki to the discovery of scanography, in which he substitutes the camera with a scanner.
AP’s images reflect that art photography as a process does not stop at the camera which permits a new perspective about the genre allowing a greater creative space that enables further technical developments.
As I spoke with AP about his thought-provoking exhibition ‘Grey Area’ he informed me that the works were initiated during his time behind bars for a drug offence. The exhibition presents images of everyday objects wrought with meaning, reminders of life in a place where small things mean a lot – torn scraps of gaudy snack packages, pairs of slippers, multicoloured condoms glowing like improbable rainbows through back lighting.
When questioned about how the body of work presented at Bangkok University Gallery came to be, he revealed openly that he had served time for a drug offence and that this led to creating the collection of contemporary photographs titled “Grey Area” – a chronicle memories of his incarceration through the process of scanography,
The images capture the surreal moments of prison life within the confines of space, place and equipment. The resulting body of work presented a subverted reality and texture that heightened the perception of the viewers.
When I asked about how the idea of using scanography transpired AP stated,
“The idea came about because cameras are not allowed in prison. As a photographer, I knew that another way to create an image would be to use a scanner. I requested if I could take a scanner and a my Mac computer with me, and prison authorities agreed.”
During my discussions with AP he revealed that some parts of the installation were co-produced with the prison warden and other inmates and that they had helped in conceptualising and contributing in gathering objects that were on view in each photograph.
It is interesting how AP was able to turn a stifling, controlled environment into an opportunity to do the unexpected. Presumably this contributed to the exhibition containing a mix and match of things that also appear unanticipated. The outcome of this was that the Grey Area as an exhibition is made up of a tapestry of thought-provoking artwork, based on the close bonds people form in adversity.
Condom And Earth captured my attention immediately as I entered the gallery with its colourful condoms filled with earth and plants growing in them.
AP stated that;
“Despite the distance between them and their loved one, inmates stand firm in the belief that they will survive the wait to feel their warmth again …”
The image titled Material Ethic was made up of a collection of colourful wrappers, diagonally placed and scanned to offer depth and visual power.
“WITH THE HABIT OF LOOKING AT THINGS SURROUNDING ME, I ALWAYS BELIEVE THAT ICAN CHANGE AND DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT. WHEN I WAS IMPRISONED, I COLLECTED USELESS OBJECTS BUT TO ME THEY WERE IMPORTANT. THOSE SMALL USELESS OBJECTS MADE ME THINK OF TWO BIG PHILOSOPHIES; BEAUTY AND FLEXIBILITY.”
As we spoke in the gallery AP confided that;
“Wrappers are useless objects for most people. However, to me they were important. Those small useless objects made me think of two big philosophies: beauty and flexibility in life. It was a poignant reminder for me about life while I was behind bars. My cellmates helped brainstorm to get the idea off the ground.”
The images Out Of The Box, presented the viewer with a series of images of prison bars framing an inmates’ views of what was transpiring outside their cells. The energy of these images, a series of silhouettes capturing the inside out perspective as well as some of the inmates personal possessions, were further accentuated in the manner in which the works were displayed upon the gallery wall.
The intrigue and interest of the exhibit entitled Sandal United is the interpretation of the underlying narrative.
I asked AP what was the inspiration for the large series of images displayed on the rear wall of the gallery.
AP explained that after his third pair of sandals were stolen, he decided to go bare foot. To curb what was slowly becoming a practice, inmates began putting personal signs on their sandals to symbolise ownership.
As AP stated in conversation the situation had taught him two things;
“ …one that inmates, like anyone else, have a sense of pride when it comes to their personal items and two, they unite when it comes to collectively finding a plausible explanation to a pressing situation.”
It is this installation and in particular Sandal United that has inspired my thinking with regard to my own project The Object as Cipher – Interpretation, Meaning and Narrative.
When I questioned AP about the work Legalised Illegal he said that he had decide to take a slightly different approach in its presentation.
“Here we have a photo calendar of all the different types of activities my wife Diane did while I was in prison. It is a photo diary for Angki. She compiled this for me because she knew I was worried about her. For her, the click of the shutter was effortless, but for me, the photos meant a lot. I felt a sense of connection despite being away from her.”
On leaving the exhibition Grey Area and particularly on later reflection I felt I had gained a deeper understanding of the role of symbolism, its interpretation, meaning and the development of a narrative within images. That which AP demonstrated in the exhibition is how to use the power of contemporary photography as a vehicle to promote a particular narrative. It is then left to the viewers to question their own perceptions of it.
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