Curated by I Wayan Seriyoga Parta
The sculptures of Dolorosa Sinaga demonstrate the power of shape in representing ideas about the language of the body and facial expression; they take the figures of women as their specific subject matter. The figures in Dolorosa’s works do not appear in a realistic form, but are extracted, so they are figurative, without abandon the character of the human body—no doubt due to the artist’s in-depth understanding of anatomy.
In this solo exhibition at Kendra Gallery in Seminyak, Kuta, Bali, Dolorosa presents a number of sculptures that return to the exploration of motion. Figures of female dancers are juxtaposed with other works dating back to 2000 and forward to her most recent exploration of plastic as a new medium in her artistic process. This exhibition is deliberately not focused on the presentation of any one special exploration—motion, for example—the intention is to show the journey of creative exploration of the person, Dolorosa Sinaga. All of the sculptures in the exhibition are crafted using bronze.
The explorations of the motion of dancers in this exhibition in fact relates to the search for form that engaged Dolorosa in the 1990s, upon returning from advanced sculpture studies at St. Martin’s School of Art in London. At St. Martin’s, she gained an experience utterly different from the art-making processes she had known back in Indonesia, when she studied sculpture at LPKJ (the Jakarta Art Education Institute, now known as IKJ – the Jakarta Art Institute), the same institute where she has worked as a teacher (dosen) up to now. In her course, she addressed herself to a prolonged period of study, dissecting the structure and anatomy of the human body using paper, corrugated paper, and cardboard. Dolorosa describes her experience as follows:
With paper we grappled with the pose of the figure, investigating and analyzing every detail of movement, from the outside in, from the inside out. We had to know how the positions of the muscles of certain parts of the body change when they make a certain motion. This method of working emphasized four keys to the basic order of work. First, investigation, then analysis, after that, interpretation, and finally, discovering a form of representation through the medium of paper.
It was an uncommon material as a medium for creating sculpture, one that she had to use in the process of some two long years of study. Understandably, this led Dolorosa to a heightened sensitivity to the anatomy of the body, the language of the body, and to the creation of a unique expressive language for her figures.
At this writer’s first meeting with Dolorosa to talk about the exhibition at her studio, she asked: “What do you think would be best for us to present in this exhibition?” I did not answer right away; we continued our discussion, talking about everything from sculpture to socio-political issues. Then the thought occurred to me that, up to now, Doloroso has been very strong in presenting issues of gender in her works. So, I thought, what about inviting her to explore sculptures that do not directly touch on issues of gender. Upon entering the studio, I was perturbed by a small, slender sculpture of a female dancer in motion. At last we got around to talking about this piece. The idea of returning to the exploration in this work came up, and Dolorosa welcomed it enthusiastically.
When she is at work, Dolorosa looks as if she is operating on a body, detaching it from its (realistic) bodily physical structure, using plates of wax that she rips, shakes and pushes into dance moves, so giving birth to dancing figures, such as the sculptures entitled, Balinese Dancer 2005, Balinese Dancer I – IV (all made in 2009), and Let’s Dance 2009 in this show. Although these works do not have realistic forms, we can see figures of dancing women in them.
In Balinese Dancer III we can see a woman dancing with a fan, with lithe and energetic movements, like the dances of Bali. Dolorosa manages to capture an expression of the motion of the dance in the sculpture, and when it appears it is not a retinal impression that moves us, but something far deeper, which penetrates the spaces of memory and awareness that make up our experience of Balinese dancers/dances. It is inside of this awareness of ours that the form takes concrete shape, emerging out of memories—already recorded, already saved, now revived.
Dolorosa is highly aware of this; and it is the reason why she chooses not to present her works in a realistic form. Because the form already exists in the memories/thoughts of all of us, there is no need to show it again as it is. Through her artworks, Dolorosa attempts to call these memories back to the fore, to have us re-enter the deepest niches of our consciousness, much like reopening the pages of the photo album we keep at home. For me, it is in this process of re-imagining that the power of Dolorosa’s sculptures lies, because we do not just see them with our eyes, but with the feelings and memories stored in our minds. She give us a space for resurrecting our experience.
Space is an important aspect of the art of sculpture; in my opinion Dolorosa is able to unfold a space that is no longer merely physical, but imaginary. We can observe this matter of space in the series of Balinese Dancer sculptures; they are not massive, in the sense of having volume (length, width, height) or what is called “monolithic” in the conventional categories of the art of sculpture. The space in this series of works sculpted from sheets of wax has moved beyond such conventions, but even so we can still experience them as sculptures.
This space, both beyond and within time simultaneously, enters the perceptions and images of the audience. If installation artists develop spatial propositions into concrete experiences (meaning spaces that the audience can directly experience), then Dolorosa opens entry halls to the inner experience of the audience. The experiences are private, but usually contain within them some generally accepted conventions, as shown in the Balinese Dancer work. While it is not realistic in form and has none of the attributes of Balinese dance costumes—with the exception of the fan—the visual signs are there, including the gesture, the movement of the body. These signs are enough to lead us to that domain of conventions. Guided by a bit of a clue from the title of the work, we are drawn to the conclusion that it is a Balinese dancer. It is a kind of deep appreciation of space by Dolorosa Sinaga.
This series of sculptures, formally speaking, could be seen as abstract works, since the point of Dolorosa’s performance is to find the essence, yet she is no formalist. She never stops simply at the exploration of form; the form for her is a medium, in this context, for an expressive language. The figures are not realistic but representative, because when we witness them in and of themselves, they can speak to us about themselves, and we accept in our perceptions that they are dancers. The sculpture is present as a metaphor, a metaphor that is, in this context, not explicit, but more implicit.
Dolorosa’s long and rigorous studies at St. Martin’s did not turn her into a formalist, because when she came back to Indonesia she became active in various social and cultural organizations, and witnessed the reality of her kind (women) in a society that still harbors so many issues. This made Doloroso unable to shut her eyes and ears, her consciousness was touched again, and she molded that into clay.
Using the clay, Dolorosa pressed, massaged, and squeezed to give birth to figures representing the body language, the gestures of women, which powerfully display the meaning of gender equality. Her work from this period shows the character of the clay, giving rise to shapes, using strokes and textures to represent cloth or skin.
The work entitled, You Tell Me 2008 features two figures, male and female, sitting on a pair of chairs that are separate from, but close to one another. The woman sits upright, hands folded in front of her chest, facing forward, with only her face looking to the side towards the man. Meanwhile the man sits, leaning against the chair, with his right leg crossed over his left thigh, his upturned head tilted back, his right hand holding the back of the woman’s chair.
We can instantly grasp what is happening with these two human figures: the man appears, grinning while “seductive,” and the woman, with gestures of self defense, and full of power. A similar situation can be seen in the work entitled, Sia-Sia 2006. Although this time they are seated on one couch, there is still a tangible gap between the two people (male and female) here. The man again appears inept, with head bowed, hand steadied by holding onto the chair. Meanwhile, the woman is holding a flower, her body tilted to the side. Both of these works send the message: woman is no frail creature; she has power, and she has attitude.
But this does not mean Dolorosa thinks that men should always be suspected or seen as “adversaries.” In her other works she displays the closeness of relations between these two beings, filled with love, affection, and compassion. In the work, Dhalailama 2001, Dolorosa shows her appreciation of a figure (leader), a bringer of peace, evoked with streaks of clay.
The work, Me and My Book 2008 consists of a long-legged figure sitting on the floor holding a book, whose facial expression shows she is communicating something, clearly related to the book she is reading. The work is displayed on the floor, so the audience will look at the figure below from a position that complements the gesture of the sculpture in the process of communicating.
In 2008, while she was preparing for her solo exhibition, Dolorosa got inspired by the plastic she uses to cover her clay models to maintain their moisture, to ensure the clay model in progress does not go dry too quickly. Her sensibility to materials moved her to make shapes with the plastic, which had the power of drapery, to produce sensations based on the texture of the plastic that were different in character from that of the clay.
The work, Tears for the Loved Ones 2008 shows the body of a woman wrapped in plastic, it tells a story of sadness about a person one has loved. Other works in the plastic series, Rites of The Nite 2008, and Catwalk I and II 2008, emphasize the drapery and texture formed out of layers of plastic on clay that Dolorosa has gradually shaped with the help of resin. Heidi Arbuckle reveals the import of this new medium for Dolorosa as follows:
Plastic made it possible for Dolorosa to experience the pleasure of a new esthetic: the gentle flow of the layers of plastic produced the most intimate and entrancing folds and textures she had ever produced. […] Unlike other materials Dolorosa had worked with, the plastic was not gendered, so it gave Dolorosa a new space for a vocabulary of the feminine that is unburdened by the past.
This analysis throws an interesting light on the movement of Dolorosa’s creative explorations, but in this writer’s opinion, Dolorosa will not be detained for long in showing the “feminist” in her. As stated earlier in this writing, Dolorosa’s work method involves the discovery of an expressive language, and she will not stop only at the language. As language is a tool for communication, through her expressive language, Dolorosa will continue communicating her ideas and thoughts to us. I am convinced that, not too long from now, she will encounter a spirit to give expression to her power to critique other social issues, this time through the intimacy of the medium of plastic.
At one point in our discussions, Dolorosa noted that the process of creation is not just to discover something “new.” The process can go forward as well as deeper inside. One can explore spaces one has traveled before, to re-encounter a “new” spirit with a still deeper articulation. What she is expressing is interesting for us to consider carefully, as we can see from it Dolorosa’s attitude and view of the process of creativity and artistry; I also think it is highly topical in the context of the issues and evolution of contemporary art.
If we look more carefully we see that in Dolorosa’s creative journey there is always correlation, or a “red thread.” In the sculpture entitled, Moment Tsunami 2006, done two years before entering her plastic period, Dolorosa had made a preliminary exploration using clay. That is, in Moment Tsunami Dolorosa had already begun crafting cloth-like drapery, and it was not inadvertent that two years later, she was impressed by the plastic covering her sculpture model. In fact, the memory of the drapery had registered before, and then the experience was brought to the surface by a stimulus later on.
In the visual form of her artworks, Dolorosa speaks through what I prefer to call shape rather than form. Because form is closer to the basic form of things, and close to formalism, whereas Dolorosa is more oriented towards the body, whose form has been simplified to the point that it does not look realistic, but neither is it abstract. I am inclined to call it shape because the exploration in Dolorosa’s works is more about the shape, of what the body is, and not its form.
The works by Dolorosa in this solo exhibition convey a deep appreciation of the power of shape. Although they are not realistic in form, we are able to sense the movement of bodies dancing—lively, rebellious, shouting, resisting—as well as showing love, compassion and peace. The sculptures of Dolorosa have the capacity to touch our memories and the threshold of our unconscious, to build perceptions and understandings through the power of her figurative shapes.
Bandung, September 2009