My beautiful neighbor Linda took me with her to central Jakarta this weekend, to pop around admiring dancing fountains and eat local foods and rub our fingers against local tropical flora. We met up with her friend Franny and her cousin, and after spending Saturday night on the 23rd floor of Linda’s central Jakarta apartment—me snuggled against a huge wall of windows getting to watch the sunrise over the hazy city—Franny, Linda and I went to the Jakarta Museum of Contemporary Art.
I should preface this by saying I don’t know a studious lick about the art of paintings. I don’t know the brush stroke mechanics, I don’t know the different types of colors and their significance. I don’t know the different schools of art or periods. But I am familiar with poetry and other expressions of the soul, so my heart takes solace within the painting and work of brilliant articulators.
We were on the third floor. The visiting artists’ floor. This one name in particular was very Indonesian and being the bule that I am, I immediately forgot it after reading it.
I stood at this painting and drank. And as I drank, I listened.
There is a tendency amongst us to, when we are gazing at a piece of art, suddenly reach out and take it by the neck, strangling it and forcing a confession out of it. What do you mean?! We scream at the colors and the splotches and shapes. What are you saying?! We cry for as long as we can bare to look at something so cryptic.
But the "point" of art is not to have one meaning. The point of a book is not to mean something, the point of a poem is not to mean something the point of life is not to mean something. Because to force it into a something takes away the everything that it could be.
I was looking at this particular painting by this particular Indonesian artist.
It had three triangle-like shapes which were mostly composed in a blood red, with splotches of green. Around these shapes was what appeared to me a flowing river of blood white, dancing and swishing. The top of the painting was flecked blue and white, and appeared like a sky overlooking a scene of blood-red mountains. There was no stillness within the painting. Everywhere was chaos, flecks of black and red and white and occasional streaks of green.
To me this was like traveling to a mountain and valley and in my efforts to be everywhere at once I was exploding everywhere I went. I would go to this part of the mountain, explode, and then run off to the next point of the mountain on which I would also explode. After I exploded on the mountains, I reached the river and there I exploded, too.
This was the mindless sort of touring I witness and cringe at. We go here and here and here and take a million pictures which don’t mean anything to us except for the number of views or likes or clicks we can rape from it.
And yet we think art is meaningless?
I stood at this painting and I drank, deep and long.
What is it about the void that makes us so insistent upon running away? What are we giving our blood for? To? Why must I, also, have an identity? Who is my identity even serving? Why do we always have to agree? Why does it always have to make sense? Why do I have to make sense? Who am I talking to? What am I talking about? WHY AM I TALKING AT ALL?
I don’t know the answers. I don’t even understand the questions. I don’t know much about anything because in my purposeful recklessness I am learning to cast aside anything.
I choose everything.
I want to untie the noose. I want to sit down at the feet of this painting and wait for it to speak. I want to exchange my waterfalls of talking for the sound of breathing, and I want to stay long enough and stay alert enough and stay curious enough to hear whatever the painting would like to say. Be that a wheeze, be that a cough, be that a poem, be that a speech.
I want to stop exploding.
I want to stop wasting.
I want to learn listening.