Unbearable LightnessROH, Jakarta, Indonesia27 January - 25 February 2024
ROH Unbearable Lightness

ROH is pleased to share Unbearable Lightness, a group exhibition that concentrates on how artists have been applying paper as a medium to express their respective practices. The title refers to Milan Kundera’s eponymous, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, in which the title itself encapsulates the existential philosophies explored in the book, that the notionof human existence is inherently “light”, lacking inherent meaning or purpose. Kundera contrasts this view, alternatively, with the notion of “heaviness”, where existence contains significant consequences as well as burdens of responsibility. The exhibition considers the way in which the relative lightness or heaviness of paper has been manifested in the works of the artists in this show—both in terms of its fundamental materiality, as well as its conceptual or narrative underpinnings—through varied approaches pertaining to the medium. How do artists add weight to / through something inherently so light? 

ROH Unbearable Lightness

Inside the world of paper that is both light and brittle, there lies a whole reality full of possibilities, as composed by Solaia Suherman in a poem written as a response to the show.

Let me take you to the beginning / of the beginning. / Before paper was paper / was crisp as New Mexico, cutting / as canyon, / there brewed a warm well of some mother’s milk, / and out of it – a humble mound: / husk, fibre, pulp in the palm of some hand. / Before paper was paper, it was papyrus, / parchment, only then ‘paper’: the one we wrap, / unwrap, crumple, uncrumple, tear – grab a new one, please. / Funny how we can fold, and fold a piece of paper, / into, and into itself, only to have it at the seventh fold stop – for / suddenly, something paper-thin becomes stubborn: / but, still, not obstinate – for / it wills itself to unlearn the creases, / unfold itself back to its beginning. / It beckons us to write, unwrite, sketch, unsketch, / learn, unlearn with it – grab a beginning of a thought, / a notion, a revelation. / After all, paper has always been ‘paper’: / That thing we made with our hands, / to make with our hands. 

ROH Unbearable Lightness

Unbearable Lightness is produced in collaboration with The Back Room (Malaysia), Sullivan + Strumpf (Singapore/Australia), Silverlens (Philippines), Kiang Malingue (Hong Kong), Whistle (South Korea), and Crèvecœur (France).

Born 1968, Jember, Indonesia
Lives and works in Yogyakarta, Indonesia

Agung Kurniawan is a multidisciplinary artist working with drawings, installations, and in more recent years, performances, theater, and happening arts. He looks at the socio-political as well as historical aspects of trauma and tragedy situated in a place or a nation by unraveling the stories from first-hand sources and recounting them with his own imaginative narration. Kurniawan has been developing a new series of striking works on paper that interweave complex layers of history and narrative with fiction based off of his ongoing interest in the Indonesian reformation period of 1965.

Kurniawan studied Archeology at the University of Gadjah Mada, Yogyakarta, Indonesia in 1987 and later in the Fine Art Department with a concentration in printmaking at the Indonesian Art Institute, Yogyakarta, Indonesia in 1991. Kurniawan’s artistic practice spans more than twenty years with numerous solo exhibitions held in Indonesia and abroad. His recent solo presentation was The God of Small Things at S.E.A. Focus with ROH, Singapore (2023); solo exhibitions include Milik Nggendong Lali, Richard Koh Fine Art, Singapore (2013); Actus Contritionis, Umahseni, Jakarta, Indonesia (2012); and The Lines that Remind Me of You, Kendra Gallery, Bali, Indonesia (2011). Group exhibitions include Art Basel Hong Kong with ROH, Hong Kong (2023); Art Jakarta with ROH, Jakarta, Indonesia (2022); ArtJOG MMXXII: Expanding Awareness at Jogja National Museum, Yogyakarta, Indonesia (2022); ERRATA: Collecting Entanglements and Embodied History at MAIIAM Contemporary art Museum, Chiang Mai, Thailand (2021); Europalia Indonesia: Power and Other Things, BOZAR, Brussels, Belgium (2017); First Sight: August at Museum MACAN, Jakarta, Indonesia (2017); Jakarta Biennale 2015: Neither Back nor Forward: Acting in the Present at Gudang Sarinah Ekosistem, Jakarta, Indonesia (2015); Biennale Jogja XII: Equator #2 at Sarang Art Space, Yogyakarta, Indonesia (2013); Sip! Indonesian Art Today at ARNDT Berlin, Berlin, Germany and at ARNDT Singapore, Singapore (2013); 9th Gwangju Biennale: Roundtable, Gwangju, South Korea (2012); and Be(com)ing Dutch at Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, Netherlands (2008).

Kurniawan’s interwoven creative activism flourished into several collaborations with writers, poets, theater houses, musicians and more prominently the survivor groups of 1965. He has written and staged numerous plays, among them are Gejolak Makam Keramat performed at Koesnadi Hardjosoemantri Cultural Center, Yogyakarta, Indonesia (2017) and Hanya Kematian yang Setia Menunggu performed at Institut Français Indonesia, Yogyakarta, Indonesia (2015). His works are part of the public collection of Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and Van Abbemuseum in the Netherlands; MAIIAM Contemporary Art Museum, Thailand; National Gallery Singapore and Singapore Art Museum, Singapore; and Queensland Art Gallery (QAGOMA), Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

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Copyright belongs to The Artist

Courtesy of The Artist, Crèvecoeur, Experimenter, Kiang Malingue, Misako & Rosen, Silverlens Gallery, Sullivan+Strumpf, The Back Room, Whistle, and ROH