THE SPACE THAT ART CREATES:
The Evolution of Darbotz’s Storytelling
Darbotz’s solo exhibition, The Boy Who Became a Monster, Vivi Yip Art Room, Jakarta, 4 December 2011 – 4 January 2012
What difference does it make, where a work of art is located? This question becomes important when the work of a street artist is exhibited in an art gallery. On a global level, for over four decades we have witnessed the birth of a new kind of art that are now colonizing cities worldwide. Beyond the hype attached to it, the steady progression of street art indicates its powerful role in testifying to a culture that defies mainstream understanding of what art is supposed to be. Street art is subversive – this is why it is a bold critique of the art world, as well as of the world of everyday urban life.
As a general rule, street artists feed off the creative buzz of cities. But each city is unique, and one would find it hard to compare Jakarta with any other cities in the world. When he started out, Darbotz literally used Jakarta as his canvas – its rundown, jam-packed, dilapidated streets and building walls, alleyways and bridges. In the Indonesian street art scene, Darbotz is hardly a new name, and his relentless, consistent attitude to work has earned him the respect of his peers. Working in Jakarta, and driven by the struggle that characterizes its everyday living conditions, Darbotz’s graffiti becomes his personal testament to the city.
In the spaces of Jakarta, Darbotz works provide a way for us to reconnect with our everyday spaces by bursting open their dull banality with his trademark monochromatic imageries. When we are stuck in traffic, for instance, the momentary pleasure of looking at Darbotz’s images – heads with oversized, sharp teeth, octopuses with tentacles that spread out the length of flyovers – revitalize our experience of the city. When his works are taken out of the context of the urban
surrounding to the gallery, the gallery does more than legitimize the status of his art – the status of Darbotz works have already been secured by the streets of Jakarta.
Rather than legitimizing Darbotz works, this exhibition provides an insight into how these artworks create a space different to that which he produces in the streets of Jakarta. In the flyovers and alleyways, his works create a space in which we escape – however temporarily – the dreariness and alienation of urban living. On canvases hung in the gallery, these works create a space for Darbotz’s storytelling, for the production of a narrative that is not possible in Jakarta’s streets. As the artist says, “What I have with gallery works that I didn’t with graffiti is more time for exploration – of ideas, of materials, of execution. This is one of the biggest difference for me”. More time to explore, more time for Darbotz to tell his story. These new works clearly display how Darbotz have taken full advantage of the luxury of having more and thus more opportunity to explore. Here, we can see how the artist has progressed beyond previous tried-and-tested techniques. Instead, we see the emergence of new characters and the introduction of a new colour scheme, in order to create a bold visual narrative that remains unmistakably his.
In Monster Inside of Us #1 and #2, for instance, Darbotz tells us the story of freakish creatures that exist within us. The figurative renditions of a human face show an artist exploring new visual directions without necessarily erasing the old path that led him there. In terms of form, the way the human face is depicted is new for Darbotz, but the characteristic image of the squid (Monster Inside Us # 2) remains apparent. With these paintings, Darbotz is claiming that it is Jakarta that turned him into a ‘monster’, though this is neither good nor bad, as the resin sculpture The Rest depicts. Rather than signifying repulsion to the city that makes him, this work conveys a critical acceptance of the conditions – no matter how rotten and corrupt they may be – that make Jakarta what it is. Conditions whose effect mercilessly twists and frays our nerves, as the entangled spirals of Body Mind Trick #2 – monochromatic save for the unexpected pink undulating curves – shows.
Darbotz’s works do more than simply portray negative sentiments attached to the ugly degradation of cities. For cities are potent concoctions of paradoxes, and this is an element that makes them enticing. Pollluted #1, #2 and #3 – as well as being interesting works in this collection for the vaporous cloud of smog executed in purple and pink acrylic – convey this clearly: the contaminated environment that surrounds us in the city are strangely the very thing that binds us to it. Cities are also alluring for the paradoxical co-existence between the old and the new. Looking at the Mess and Shadow speak of the layer upon layer of histories that mark our everyday spaces, where the most current is often built upon what was already there before it. Darbotz shows us that to create is not necessarily to create from a blank slate, but from pre-existing things and ideas. This is a discovery that the artist made through graffiti, which he is now translating into artworks made specifically for the gallery.
From the street to the gallery: are we simply echoing issues that others have questioned before? In the relatively recent development of street art, this has no doubt become a classic story to tell: the struggle an artist faces in translating truths found in the public space of the street to the private space of the gallery, and how they mold those experiences into new gallery-specific works. But, as is often the case, it is not the story as such but how that story is told, which leaves an impression on the audience and stirs their own imagination. This exhibition brings us Darbotz’s own way of telling the story of cities that ceaselessly inspire him, in their raw and gritty glory.