Interview with Boedi Widjaja

Something Human: Since 2012 you have been investigating notions of place, origin and identity between Southeast Asia and Europe. For this new work, you have been invited to respond to the programme’s reflections on the Diaspora Pavilion and its context in Venice. How as this notion of diaspora been further explored in your Path series?

Boedi Widjaja: 1Path. series uses diasporic concerns as a departure point to make art, and is expressed through live art and exhibitions. Beginning in 2012, the series was first conceived as a personal/communal response towards my changed citizenship, amidst a vibrant national discussion about foreign talents in Singapore. Since then, Path. has grown more complex, with the works along the series engaging broader contexts such as global migrations and movements across borders. Artistic strategies also evolved, which at times involved the presence of an apparatus that functioned like an artificial body part to connect me deeper into my environment. Path. has been useful in helping me make meaningful intersections between personal memories and public history, culture and politics. Live art in particular, has enabled me to explore deep emotions that viscerally resonate with my personal migration experience.

Something Human: Why have you decided to fabricate and use the ‘sail carriage’, which references both the trolley, one of the most used means of transport for goods of the city, and the maritime past of Venice, for the Venice installment of your series, Path. 8, Invisible Cities 。云海游?

Boedi Widjaja: A ‘sail carriage’ is oxymoronic—maritime without being on water—and I was immediately drawn to its inherent contradiction. I made the ‘sail carriage’ to connect my embodied interiorities—memories, culture and politics of a Southeast Asian Chinese artist—to the multicultural context of the Diaspora Pavilion that is set within a broader international and Eurocentric contexts of the Venice Biennale. As I push the ‘sail carriage’ in Venice, the performative act aims to bring about a psychological conduit into the invisible dimensions of the city. The impulse for the ‘sail carriage’ came as I learnt of wind-powered land carriages with attached sails, as observed by 16th century European travellers in Ming Dynasty China—the dynasty that had sent a great naval expedition to Southeast Asia. Even as the ‘sail carriage’ addresses the overlap between Venice and Singapore within a maritime historical context, it also sets to resonate a Chinese ‘otherness’ that is present in my personal narrative and Venice. Growing up in post-Cold War Indonesia, my ethnic identity had been suppressed during Suharto’s New Order era. The Chinese ‘other’ similarly exists in Italy, with a high concentration of Chinese immigrants working in Italy’s textile capital of Prato. Incidentally, this Chinese ‘otherness’ is found in the geopolitical field today. China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR)—an infrastructural initiative that aims to resurrect the historical Silk Road on land, now added with a ‘Maritime Silk Road’, is poised to grow China’s global presence and yet it is not without international suspicion and reservations.

Something Human: In your performance you will map the textures of Venice’s alleys and buildings through the process of rubbing. What does this process mean for you in terms of relating to a place, crossing it and bringing with you its surfaces as shadow of memories?

Boedi Widjaja: I am always drawn to visual projections of places: maps, photographs, drawings or films. Jose Luis Borge’s full scale map which eventually replaced the city it cartographed is a fascinating notion of how the image representation ultimately subsumed its subject, to exist completely on its own. If suppose ‘place’ dwells in our personal and collective imaginations, then how I imagined ‘home’ in my childhood was through mass media imagery, due to displacement. Press photos and video were the primary sites I visited to imagine the land I came from. As I continued to do this over time, ‘home’ gradually became spectral and tactile—my mind’s eye transfixed on the image surface even as my body retained traces of sensual memories of my birthplace. To make a frottage is to experience the tactility of one’s environment yet what one is left is an abstract fragment of the experience, a visual document that with time, would subsume the entirety of the lived experience. The frottages map my lived experience as I pushed the ‘sail carriage’ around Venice. To map is to translate, its gesture internalises a place into one’s personal universe. This is my method to contemplate my identity as a Southeast Asian artist of Chinese ethnicity through the history, culture and politics of Venice.


More info about Boedi Widjaja here

More info on MAP1: Waterways performance programme here

Featured image credits: Image by Boedi Widjaja

9 June Venice – MAP1: Waterways

Date|Time: 9 June 2017, 6.30am-7.15pm
Performance Sites: Palazzo Pisani a Santa Marina, Venice, Italy & various outdoor locations.
Artists: Libita Clayton, Lynn Lu, Paul Maheke, Boedi Widjaja

Performance schedule:
6.30am – 8.30am : Libita Clayton, ( in and between place and home ) – outdoor performance 
10.00am – 2.00pm : Boedi Widjaja, Path. 8, Invisible Cities 。云海游 – outdoor performance
3.00pm – 5.00pm : Lynn Lu, Be afraid only of standing still  outdoor performance
6.45pm – 7.15pm : Paul Maheke, Mbu et les Autres – Diaspora Pavilion, Palazzo Pisani*

*Please note that places to attend Paul’s performance are limited and will be allocated on a first come first served basis – please arrive at 6:30pm for this performance as doors will close at 6:45pm. Please do note the work contains strobe lighting.

MAP1: WATERWAYS is a public live art programme conceived by curator Annie Jael Kwan in collaboration with Something Human that explores current notions of Diaspora connecting Singapore, UK and Italy. WATERWAYS is presented in collaboration with Beyond the Frame, a project led by International Curators Forum (ICF) and University of the Arts London(UAL) alongside the Diaspora Pavilion exhibition, curated by David A. Bailey and Jessica Taylor, that is currently installed at Palazzo Pisani Santa Marina in Venice from 13 May – 26 November 2017.

In response to the critical themes explored by the artists of the Tactical Interventions: Diaspora Pavilion exhibition, MAP1: WATERWAYS presents a day of indoor and outdoor performances activating sites alongside water. MAP1 utilises the critical metaphor of “water” as conceptual locus to investigate the relations with three cities – Venice, Singapore and London – that have historically been hubs and gateways of trade and cultural exchange between different regions since medieval times to the present. Transition and movement via water also underpin the lived experiences of the artists and find manifestation in their projects, and is the imaginary metaphor in which to pull together diverse stories, aesthetics and cultural contexts.

Into this context MAP1: WATERWAYS asks the question as to how memories and meanings were collected and preserved in transition, when departure, resettlement and assimilation across vast distances fragment any sense of continuity, or materials are lost or destroyed, therefore refocusing on the idea that the ‘archive’ can be fluid and transposed in the living persons, who bear witness and willfully reconstruct and pass on meaning in the historical present. MAP1: WATERWAYS brings 4 live performances that draw attention to the artist as personal archivist of transitory collective and personal meanings of the past, present and future.

More information on performances here.
Full schedule to follow.