Riyadhus Shalihin & Gatari Surya Kusuma


Ancestors: Experiencing the Experience That Has Never Been Experienced

Riyadhus Shalihin and Gatari Surya Kusuma on the ideas behind the project

Gatari Surya Kusuma:

Riyadhus Shalihin is an artist, performer and dramaturg who is always curious about forms of archiving the past – he explores ways of materializing it and embodying immaterial memory through his performance practice. During the residency, he developed a work based on his grandfather’s archives. We are collaborating on this projects – I am a dramaturg with a background in research and curatorial work. I was also working to adapt the live performance into the logic of an online event – thinking in the perspective of screen spectators. ›Ancestors‹ is an open studio and open-ended project. The project is mainly concerned with ways of experiencing an archive and seeks to go further into studying photo archives, memory, technology in the colonial era, and how this is related to personal/family history.

Riyadhus started his work from the archive and story of his grandfather, who working for the Dutch, build the bridge in Sumatera (Indonesia). Riyadhus started collecting stories on his grandfather’s experience and began to research the stories behind the photos. A few photo archives aroused his curiousity. During the residency in Essen – far away from the location of these archives – we are developing the first step to deconstruct these archives and memories. Starting with the question: “How can one embody an experience that has never been experienced?”

To approach that question, Riyadhus began to draw bridges and portraits of his grandfather. The studio’s tables are full of sketches. In this way, Riyadhus tries to embody the story about the bridge and grandfather–figure. He has neither visited the bridge or nor has he had a strong emotional attachment to his grandfather.

›Ancestors‹ also includes other materials such as mirrors, a light projector, OHP, paper, and a still-life video performance. We are trying to reveal how memory works, how the process of memorizing reflects our life and personality and how memory brings us to the unknown part of our deep self, shadowed memories that are now being put into light. The presence of the still-life video, in the end, creates the link between the past and in habitual now.

This video performance is the first step before going deeper into the relationship of the Dutch colonial era and Indonesia, of technology and ritual, of an imperialist archive and personal history. ›Ancestors‹ is the beginning of a journey but strongly showing the deconstruction of memory into bodily experience. The body tself becomes a tool for gaining historial knowledge. We appreciated the fruitful talks with the PACT’s team after our showing and the technical team helped us adapt the idea to an online format – by setting up sound, light and the projector .



I want to add some thoughts to what was already said by Gatari. A thread Marcel Proust developin his literary work is the idea that memory is nothing that we are calling, but memory is calling us. There was this decisive moment when I suddenly opened my mother's cupboard, and that one album of my grandfather called to me.

To me this work is a dialogue between times: a moment of intertwining between a present time and things from the past that are unknown but somehow really connected. In the terms of Proust, these moments are an “involuntary time,”. In his novel “The Search of the Lost Time” one of the characters is being called by memory and wonders: “Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it? ... And suddenly the memory revealed itself”.

There is a continuous dialogue between my present time and the murkiness of the past, though it remains unclear; hazy and foggy. Though the cracks in-between light falls through, the shadow of the past is not yet gone, the image of now does not yet appear. Somehow the works of memory is layering, and I believe the memory of someone is also a record of the world. The world is remembering every person who is living in the world, and our body memory is physically present in this world – it leaves a mark. In Indonesian we believe, that after we have left one place, we need to cover our beds because another spirit has been sleeping there: in the form of energy or the mark of a memory. Many houses in Indonesia, after the owner has left it, are believed to be taken over by some haunted ghost: but for me, maybe they are only just our abandoned memories, that are stuck and cannot move into another place.

Sight, sound, and smells: it also takes as an essential trajectory to remembering a specific memory. Stefan Hilterhaus mentioned in the after-screening feedback how we are slowly building a complex situation: with the complexity of the scenery, the underlying associations, and the metaphor of light in the mirror and the windows, that connects objects in a dialogue. I am looking forward to contemplating on that more deeply. Thanks, Stefan, for those remarks.

Also, there is a dimension of reflections and layers: the window and mirror, maybe also the two things reflect the inner and the outer, the in-between what is inside, what is reflected, what is captured.

There is another dimension, I would like to explore: the way personal memory works seems similar to how colonialism works – in its many layers and its unfinished nature – because obviously colonialism is not a finished project to talk about, and it's full of overlays: local narratives intertwine with myth, historical traces and fiction. Maybe, while I continue researching the bridge of my grandfather, his memory is still leaving a mark, still posing questions, still traveling. Through time me and him are mirroring each other, while the colonial archive and the personal memory are also mirroring each other.

Riyadhus Shalihin: https://www.instagram.com/riyadhusshalihin/

Gatari Surya Kusuma: https://www.instagram.com/gatarisk/

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