Essay for Octo Cornelius’s solo exhibition “Unpredictable Scenes”

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While we are busy with plans
by Budi N.D. Dharmawan
Essay for Octo Cornelius’s solo show Unpredictable Scenes
Jogja Contemporary, 10–26 October 2017

Octo Cornelius came to me with the phrase “random life”. We then talked about it while sipping coffee under the not-so-bright light of the bookstore-side coffee shop. That phrase which he brought was so irksome that Octo felt that he needed to materialise it into artworks, into an exhibition. The idea was so obnoxious that Octo thought he needed to talk about it—with me. Since we had that conversation many months ago, I got intrigued myself, both by the idea of an exhibition as well as the idea of random life itself.

A series of short meetings with Octo since that evening had once become a phantom that haunted me. At first, I found it difficult to spare my time and thought to respond to Octo’s gargantuan energy. Why Octo came to me in the first place was to collect what I had promised him. I once asked him to do an exhibition together many years ago, but it never materialised. Events and incidents that took place around us since have enabled me to slowly absorb the narrative behind the idea of random life. The passing of time has also made Octo’s enormous energy to tone down—not vanished or extinguished, but like more regulated and not as bursting as it was before. His big idea has become sharpened and more focused as well.

The theme random life offered by Octo reminded me of a famous quote from Albert Einstein, “I do not believe God plays dice with the universe.” Einstein said so because he was unhappy with the randomness of the universe. This view was later known as hidden variable theory—because of this hidden variable we could not accurately calculate the exact position and velocity of a particle at a certain time, so it appeared random. It was firts thought to be in line with Werner Heisenberg’s Principles of Uncertainty, until few decades later John Bell’s experiment managed to prove otherwise. There ara no hidden variables. The universe is random.

What is left, then, according to the Principles of Uncertainty, are estimates. Being random and unpredictable does not eliminate structure and order. In fact, this state widens possibilities, that an event does not occur from a single cause and is not independent, but a part of a series of chain reaction that affects and affected by other things and events. From a given string of events, I can find a pattern and make estimates, but that is that: estimates. Approximates. Unpredictable. That is random life.

Incidents and affairs that I experienced lately have also contributed to my point of view in understanding Octo’s random life narrative, which in our initial exchange was like in a frenzy. Experiences, with all its sour and bitter taste, have equipped me with understanding. Many are not yet unraveled, but I will let those moments be remembered randomly without me needing to predict what the next will be. Meanwhile, I must face my phantom and come full circle with Octo through this exhibition.

Octo Cornelius in this exhibition presents a number of works that try to bring a conversation about those random and unpredictable moments. About the improper timing, about keeping the faith in the midst of doubt, about searching and waiting within limitations, about courage that sometimes come from ignorance.

These random moments in life come from Octo’s contemplation and reflection, which then embodies into his workmanship and materialises into his works. This exhibition, Unpredictable Scenes, offers to us a pause from our daily obligations and takes us for a short while to enjoy the randomness of life. Because life is what happens while we are busy with plans.

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Photo courtesy of Jogja Contemporary ∎

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By the River of Love at Fisipol Art Days 2017

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Photo by Budi N.D. Dharmawan

My photo series By the River of Love (2011–2012) is being exhibited again. I was invited to be a guest exhibitor for this year’s edition of Fisipol Art Days, held by my former campus Fisipol Universitas Gadjah Mada Yogyakarta, along with fellow Fisipol UGM alumni Akiq A.W., Jompet Kuswidananto, and T.A. Kusno. The exhibition, titled “Future Leaks: 5W+1H Are We Going?” is curated by Titah Asmaning Winedhar and is on view 26–30 September 2017 at Fisipol UGM’s new library building. ∎

Mentoring for photo exhibition with Publisia Photo Club UGM

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For the past three months (more or less) I have been mentoring a group of students from Publisia Photo Club (PPC) Universitas Gadjah Mada Yogyakarta as they are preparing their annual exhibition. The exhibition will take place this weekend at Kelas Pagi Yogyakarta gallery. For this mentoring, I do not set results as a goal, but rather emphasise on the process. As a mentor, I have to realise that they are students, not professionals, and perhaps do not wish to be professional photographers, too. So as much as I can, I try to contextualise what I wish to share with them by not only focusing on photography, and especially not only the technical side of it.

I tell them that it all starts and eventually ends with the story. So that’s what we should be focusing on, on how to find the story, how to approach the subject and dig deeper without losing focus, and finally how to present the story visually with a certain perspective. Last but not least, congratulations for the exhibition to all participants: Hanif Mufadlilah, Hestakhia Pranawati, I Gusti Ayu Viola, Yunica Murti Nastiti, Nirwana Pradana Maharani, Annisa Astri Hermantyo, Deana Fahira, Mutiara Puteri Amelia, Anisa Nur Aini, Lalitya Pradnya Pawestri, Muhammad Farhan Anwar, Anisa Meitasari; also those who helped: Anandhio Weiza Prashardika, Balya Galuh Jiehan Safitri, Chaisar Ahmad, Muh. Faruq Hakiki, Nadia Utama Siregar, Priscilla Asoka Kenasri, Putri Laksmi Nurul Suci, Afifah Nuranian, Muh. Alzaki Tristi, Diatami Muftiarini; and all members of Publisia Photo Club. ∎

Teaching photo story workshop with Pewarta Foto Indonesia Yogyakarta

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Photo by Hendra Nurdiyansyah

I am teaching a photo story workshop together with photojournalists Boy T. Harjanto and Gembong Nusantara, organised by Pewarta Foto Indonesia (Indonesia Photojournalists Association) Yogyakarta, in conjunction with our collective exhibition “Di Mana Garuda” at Bentara Budaya Yogyakarta, 5–13 September 2017.

There are eight participants in the workshop, three are in my class, another three with Gembong, the last two with Boy. The workshop begins on 8 September and will end on 13 September. Each participants are required to produce a photo story during the workshop that they will present at the final day, which is also the exhibition’s closing. ∎

Talk on “Sharing with Photography”

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I am invited to join as a speaker in this talk show on “Sharing with Photography”, organized by Galang Press foundation in conjunction with a photo exhibition commemorating the 10th anniversary of Merapi volcano’s 2006 eruption and the 6th anniversary of its 2010 eruption. The exhibition features works by photojournalists Boy T. Harjanto (at that time covering for The Jakarta Globe newspaper), Wawan H. Prabowo (Kompas daily), and Slamet Riyadi (stringer for The Associated Press news agency).

The talk show is inspired by Boy T. Harjanto’s practice of giving back to the communities around the slopes of Merapi volcano affected by the eruption. Boy collected his work into a photo book titled Merapi 120 FPS and gave few hundred copies of it to the people of Merapi for free. Those people sold the books to tourists and used the money to rebuild their lives, as they had lost almost everything (houses, cattles, farms, even their lands) during the 2010 eruption. In the talk, Boy will explain more of this practice, what the idea was behind it and how he did it, while I will try to broaden the discussion by presenting similar practices throuhout the history of photography.

The talk show will be held this Sunday, 30 October 2016 at 15.00.
It is open for public and free of charge. ∎