SANS☒ - Curatorial Notes

It is believed that the discourse of form in recent contemporary art practice is obsolete, and discussing it would therefore seemed irrelevant. Abstract art - that was once the apex of modern art - is even judged to achieve its terminal state, leaving no room for further improvement. This impression emerged following streams of criticisms toward modern art, questioning their nature to be exclusive and esoteric, detached and isolated, becoming a pseudo representation of the society. Reflecting to this criticism, contemporary art started to directly represent our life, by responding to broad issues ranging from trivial to crucial problems in our society. Various approach and methods employed by artist to do this, and above all, utilizing representation seemed to be their favored strategy. In its progression, discourse of representation started to be mainstream and intensively discussed in debates concerning contemporary art and humanity in general.

Even though it was deemed to come to an end, there are artists who still contemplate formalism, thriving to seek relevance in our contemporary discourse. Contrary to prior notion of their end, abstract art unexpectedly survive, some would even said it achieve its another golden age 1 today. Criticism toward modern at some point provides contemporary formalism its catalytic agent, releasing formal exploration from previous constraints inherent in modern art. This flexibility prompt contemporary formalism to, arguably, surpass innovation achieved by modernist formalism. For their proponents, the venture of formal exploration is yet to be done and modernism is still an incomplete project that holds opportunities for further enhancement.

Irfan Hendrian is, among others, an artist that seek this venture of contemporary formal exploration. He tried to be an opposition to proponent of art representation. For Hendrian, art representation could only serves as a mere social report, or a medium to convey social criticism at best. As for its potential to create an ideal society, he deemed this vision to be too heroic. Representation - no matter how versatile it is - anchors and narrows our perception. Hendrian proposes another perspective. By consistently ‘reducing’ images through performing abstraction to it, he releases our horizon of perception, intervening our quotidian life in which images and representations are in omnipresence. How he chose to entitle this exhibition, SANS followed by the symbol ☒, did also illustrate this spirit: an attempt to releases perception of art from the ‘hegemony’ or representation. The term SANS 2 translates to ‘without’ or ‘in absentia’. Meanwhile, the symbol ☒ appeared following an error when a system couldn’t find and specify a character. This ‘phrase’, SANS☒, would then illustrate his recent artistic oeuvre to avoid representation altogether, both visually and textually as a means to liberate perception and imagination.

The process of constant reduction on images, and ultimately representation, that Hendrian exercise has been central to his journey of finding the very essence of form. This is indeed reminiscing of modern spirit, yet he still offers relevances to our contemporary context. These would be demonstrated at several aspects. First would be at his tendency on exploring his medium, that shows some resonance to ‘the post-medium condition’3. Hendrian’s work surpasses the modern convention, in which pigment - be it in the form of oil or another media - is usually added onto canvas. He has been exercising more ‘radical approach’ to this. Prompted by his vision about essence and substance, Hendrian works only with paper as his singular medium, that serves both as pigment and his canvas. Another relevance would also be demonstrated by its potential to precipitate reflections about the everyday, eventhough it is not immediate enough to be discerned at the first glance. We would never know that particular aspects of his aesthetics visually inspired by the trivial things that is easy to be disregarded. This ‘humanitarian’ aspect would seemed to be selfcontradictory to his primary artistic vision, in the ultimate search of essence and substance on form which is cold and distant. To fully comprehend this particular contemporary characteristics, it is advisable to delve his personal history as an individual.

Prior to his engagement to art practice, Hendrian tended to familiarized himself with concepts of visual communication design. It was due to his prior profession as designer and printmaker, following his formal study in related subjects 4. When he matriculated, he was forced to contend with designs characteristics 5 that, for him, was sensuous, bohemian, banal, annoyingly popular, and ‘anything goes’. Be concerned by this, Hendrian sought for some measurement, efficiency, and utility that coincide with prior conception of modern design. Reflecting to this, Hendrian started to focus his attention to dive deeper into the spirit of ‘remodernism’, resulting in his recent artistic practice. At his initial phase of exploration, Hendrian saw that the essence for visual communication design is the deliverance of information. Something that was decorative or inessential were subject to be subtracted. By consistently doing this, he realized the significance of essence and substance. As he began to shift his practice toward artmaking, he became more and more absorbed in his search for his ‘significant form’. In the context of visual art, Hendrian saw that aesthetic experiences - which is transmitted through formal composition - is the essence of art. Rather than opting the strategy of representation, Hendrian chose to limit himself at these very subject, to reconsider and reinvent the prominency of form in our contemporary context. 

His determination to work only with paper was indeed intertwined with his practice as a designer and printmaker. As a utilitarian, Hendrian felt the need to master technical aspects of industrial design, mainly in the context of printmaking and press. As he achieved his virtuosity in this technicality, he began to fully acknowledged the prominence of paper and to further unravel its intricacy. He realized that paper wasn’t a mere planar material that holds ink in its surface, but an entity of material that promises various artistic possibilities. Through constant and measured exploration, Hendrian began to unravel each possibilities that paper has to offer, even to maximize its potential to a degree that was - possibly - unprecedented. His recent exploration started to be more radical towards representation: to ‘pretend’ as a sculpture, to interweave with found objects, to resemble installation, and et cetera. His critical nature towards representation did also be influenced by his desire to seek essence. Resonating with premises of contemporary art that defy convention, he never want his artistic practice to be limited by any means. He denies the constraint of representation, and thrives to liberate our perception to its most essential state. As we encounter his works, we are be directed in an experiential space of otherworldliness: that not only feels warm, playful, and inviting, but at times could be distant and cold in its sublime expression. 

Another noteworthy aspects of his works is its potential as a gentle reminder to the importance of daily routines and the everyday, no matter how trivial and quotidian it is to us. Abundant values are inherent in it. Hendrian testifies to this, as he found how tiny and tedious events in his daily routine prompt his artistic impulses. As a part of his daily routines, Hendrian interacts with specks, slices, and piles of papers. Minuscule things like subtle gradation from stack op papers, particular texture from vertical slices of it, ‘automatic form’ produced by industrial press machinery, are some instances of events that inspire him. Perhaps it is how Hendrian serves ‘humanity’: to be the antenna of society, to evoke what was overlooked in our daily routines. 

This exhibition attempts to precipitate further discussion concerning the signification of form in contemporary art practice, as well as to reinvent the relevance of modern value in our contemporary life. These attempts are indeed be indebted to Hendrian’s determination to remain faithful to his vision, no matter how deviant and estranged it is from the mainstream. This exhibition also testifies that contemporary formalism is still an exciting subjects as a discourse. In conclusion, we might learn something from Hendrian: that perhaps in facing our fluid, exposed, interconnected, everchanging, and alienating reality that is constantly in flux, we need to reopen ourselves to the values the past.

Gumilar Ganjar

1     It was stated at in The Golden Age of Abstraction (April 24th, 2013) written by Pepe Karmel.

2   The word sans is derived from the Latin ‘sine’. This term is widely used in design graphic context to describe some specific character of typefaces. Typefaces belong to this ‘sans-serif’ family is literally characterize by its ‘absence of serifs’: a style of type without serifs.

3   The Post Medium Condition is a notable concept coined by Rosalind Krauss in A Voyage of the North Sea - Art in the Age of the Post-Medium Condition (2000). Krauss stated that in recent contemporary art practice, artists tend to works with medium based on philosophical and conceptual relevance rather than to follow convention.

4   Hendrian began his formal education as a designer by enrolling to LASALLE College of Arts, Singapore in the 2006 and then to Wanganui School of Design, New Zealand in the next year and obtaining his first degree there. 

5   This particular genre is called ‘grunge design’ which was popular in the early of 21st century.

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