I got another chance to write a short essay for an exhibition of a newcomer artist. I'm trying to practice writing in English nowadays, yet it still felt suck. The exhibition already been opened at January 24th, at MFA Gallery, Kemang, Jakarta.
“Friendship is a single soul dwelling in two bodies” –Aristotle-
Adaptability is one of human beings’ primal traits. We adapt accordingly to the condition of our surroundings: to answer the challenges of the environment and to merely survive and preserve our wellbeing. In the end we develop physiological adjustment and alteration so we can became a creature the way we are today: superior, with keen perception and cognition, superseding other species and organisms. Of course these assumptions are the general notion of human condition known as adaptation and evolution, in which we made a gradual physical advancement due to the abundant threats from our surroundings. But then one question rise: if we should answered to the stimulus induced with threat, how should human respond to the incitement with no promise of danger at all?
The precipitous question arises after observing the oeuvre of Christina Phan. Her ardent observation about how couples/soul mates could have a physical resemblance to one and other pop ups the idea of physical alteration of an individual after he/she interrelates intensively with other individuals. The above epigraph: “Friendship is a single soul dwelling in two bodies,” could be an accurate passage to illustrate the idea. Friendships are among the most familiar kind of human relationships.We might find it even in another variety of human connection; in motherhood, romantic bonds, siblinghood, etc. When the bond of friendships is interwoven between two people,they would somewhat act fittingly to one and another and end up sharing the same habit and preferences.
In this exhibition, Christina seems enthralled by the myth of physical resemblance amongst many couple(or in her own term labeled as soul mates) she encountered. This fact had long become a common lore embraced by many people in many culture. Many Indonesian even believed that couples were all supposed to be look alike, and they tend to use this assumption as a method to find mates.Barring the idea and myth of people with physical semblance should be couple, if we refer to a few scientific notion, human is indeed adapting physically due to a certain reasons. It is said that human beings develop four primary types of adaptation: genetic, physiological, cultural, and psychological adaptation. With this notion, we can relate that the physical semblance happening between two unrelated adults could be the result of cultural and psychological adaptation.
There’s a famous adage: “monkey see monkey do.” This basic principle of mimicry happens not only among simple animal, but also amongst people. When we spend some times with a certain person, subconsciously we collect the information about the said person’s custom and habit at the back of our mind. The memories of how they move and act will somehow emerged and become part of our habit. Gradually it will changes of our preferences of clothing, our taste on hair cut, and many little details concerning our daily life. This of course would consequence to how we present our own self in reality.
Furthermore according to some research, it appears that we tend to choose mate based on the physical likeness. Though it seems like a strange idea, but there are connection between appearance and personality. The more someone resemble the other, the more likely they are to have a similar personality, thus the more likely for them to be a compatible couple. There’s even a biological reason behind this phenomenon. A study claimed that partners who are genetically similar to each other tend to have a happier marriage. When couple with a strong basis of relationship bond in marriage it is guaranteed that they will influenced each other. That is why couple who married for a long period of time are mostly have a physical resemblance from one and another.
Apart from the basic concept derived from the assumption of physical semblance between mates and couples, should we scrutinize Christina’s artworks, we may find that there are more interwoven element in her oeuvre. Her decision in using photography as a medium to conveys idea has it’s own significant effect.
Should we categorize her inclination on producing an art piece, then Christina’s art seems to be classify into the trajectory of portraiture. Upon further inspection to the praxis of contemporary photography, we may find that there are an abundant route’s variation of this genre. Because contrary to the general assumption, a portrait could give a limitless possibility of ideas and interpretation. As Charles Baudelaire once said: “A Portrait! What could be more simple and more complex, more obvious and more profound?”[i]
It has been generally accepted that photography could not present a truthful data anymore. One can fabricate an image easily by using a graphic software nowadays, and this practice has change the feature of photography. As a medium, photography has become more and more malleable, just like a painter strokes her brush stylistically on to the canvas, so does a photographer could further edit and fabricate the image as she desired. Christina had also modify her image’s snapshot in order to build an effective language to present her ideas. Furthermore, William E. Ewing, the author of “Face: The New Photographic Portrait”, had use the term “transplant” to describe photography’s tendency in “making” and “faking” images. This has become a new function of today photography: that is to serve artists’ needs on presenting new realities, making a desirable narration, to fabricates fiction, etc. The so-called logic of “transplant” can also be obtained in Christina’s artworks.
Of course outside of the “image world” we are all familiar with the domain of face transplant. This alone has bring us into a brave new world full of transformative excitement. Everyday people encounters thousands of possibilities to transform themselves into new person, new identity. In her own art conception, Christina bring about the idea of transformative identity between people when they are interacting with their own spouse or partner. Visually Christina’s “transplant’s” trajectory combine images of two different person to become an image with new identity. In this case, Christina’s transformation could operate when she ascribe her own thesis about the physical semblance between couples.
Observing the exhibition of “Exposition: One”, the audience may relate to Christina’s oeuvre quite easily, because the premise itself is a very familiar conception amongst us. The idea of soul mates itself is a very recognizable notion. We can find it, from the traditional script of Torah and Kaballah to the product of popular culture such as movies and novels. Aside from the familiarity of Christina’s idea, this exhibition could also operate as a critical tools for us to examine how the image producing in contemporary world could behave as a generator for new identities and meanings.
D. Tresnadewi Nf.