Reflections of The Soul – May 2008
Exploring Life’s Vicissitudes: M. Lugas Syllabus by Wang Zineng
Comprising 16 paintings in two series – Neo Adaptation and Shadow, the exhibition traces the ironies and dualities of modern society and contemporary living through the sensibility of a young artist who distils the essential character of life’s various complexities._Lugas Syllabus’ paintings are poignant visual allegories and fantastically vivid metaphors of life’s vicissitudes.
An overwhelming sense of loneliness prevails in 21-year old Sumatra-born artist, M Lugas Syllabus’ painting titled Sun, Give Me a Sign. Set within a desolate landscape, a young man stands gazing up at the sky. Like ancient men who seek the counsel of the gods by observing the changing positions of the sun, Lugas’ figure in the painting stands, forlorn and accompanied only by his shadowy presence. Four shadows spread out before him, like the four cardinal directions found on a compass.
Lugas’ painted figure stands at the crossroads of life, apprehending before him life’s choices, decisions, contradictions and ironies.
Many questions can be asked when we look at Sun, Give Me a Sign. It is a painting that transcends language barriers to reach out and speak to people at a personally meaningful level. It is a work that engages the spirit of youth and initiation into the real world. What does it mean to grow up and step forth to taste life and its realities? This exhibition, Neo-Adaptasi!, bears witness to the creative epiphanies of 21-year old Sumatra-born artist, M Lugas Syllabus. In Yogyakarta where Lugas stays, the strength of his visual metaphors and allegories is notable for their universal appeal.
In the work Help, life is compressed within a narrative and elevated to drama. A man is painted forced down on his knees, valiantly pulling on a rope upon which a poor creature is clung on at the other end. The face of the latter is grimaced, his eyes stare heavenwards, as if praying for the divine impossible. On the other end of the rope, a desperate creature, already over the edge, clutches on for dear life, his helplessness total and tragic. We are witnessing a moment of grave tension – a moment where life, quite literally, hangs in fragile balance. As if this in itself was not sufficiently poignant, a looming shadow is clearly evident. It is the shadow cast by the helping man. It is a shadow gone awry, a shadow that seems to bear a life and mind of its own. The shadow is holding an axe on one hand, frightfully near to the creature falling over the edge, poised to terminate the last of his grasping efforts. Such a scene, thankfully, could never happen in real life.
The dramatic effect of the narrative in Help has been raised to an impossible high – this is life distilled over in the arts – where life’s vicissitudes is illuminated in a single moment, encapsulated within a single frame and momentarily revelatory. This is life that appears in theatre, in painting and in the world of the graphic arts like comics. The notions of time and space are compressed in these realms. The experience of life in is much heightened; instead of successive episodes of life unfolding itself over time, a painter sees the world within an oyster shell, where all different forms of narrative patterns, cultural references and visual imageries can be assimilated with one another in infinitely possible ways.
Lugas Syllabus wants to remind us that “there is something that finds itself in the wrong place … there is an angel in hell … there is love in war … there is a devil in your holy heart”. The works that he presents in this exhibition, Neo-Adaptasi!, are variations on a theme – the ironies and contradictions of contemporary society and the dualities that exist in the psychological realm of ordinary individuals are distilled and re-articulated in a pulsating and refreshing visual language. The pictorial world in Lugas’ paintings may seem all illusion but they can be recognised by discriminating viewers as allegory. As allegories, they are vessels of deeper truths.
The Neo-Adaptation series present strikingly memorable pictures, each one a vivid visual metaphor for the ability to adapt and to respond to new environments. In each of the painting, we catch a glimpse of one caught in a unfamiliar context – an eskimo and his sled dog in a desert; an ostrich in the thick of winter snow; or a train of penguins moving through in a scorching hot desert. The message is captivatingly straightforward in its universality – the imperative of adaptation. The picture, simple as it may be, emerges from an honest understanding of the essential character of life itself. From a lofty abstract idea of adaptation, Lugas Syllabus has devised a number of interesting and intrepid pictorial elements. His references derive from a distillation of the characters of people and places, bringing forth their essences. The observable world becomes Lugas’ inspiration – every living organism or environment can possibly be excavated as visual metaphor or allegory.
The Shadow series explores the dualities of human existence and highlights the common human predicament of being caught in two minds. As a series of works, it marks out and continually teases the boundaries of dichotomies such as good/evil, faith/knowledge, desire/restrain. Shadows are enlivened here. In a work such as How Can I Not Allow You, Lugas highlights restrain as a value in life’s conduct through the visual metaphor of a shadowy form tugging and pulling back at a man whose outstretched arms reach in a opposite direction. Freedom and restraint gains their essential character seen alongside each other. In Give Me A Light and Into The Dark Side, Man is simultaneously angel and devil, good and evil. Instead of a simplisitc understanding of right/wrong or goodness/evil, Man is cast as an inherently complex beings whose moral senses can never be wholly and unconditionally pure.
Such is the dual nature of Lugas Syllabus’ works. They express the vicissitudes of life, especially relevant to contemporary life. They have universal appeal, transcending cultural and language barriers to speak evocatively to us all. Each painting is a striking portrayal of life, thoroughly and acutely.
a Singaporean writer on art based in Yogyakarta, Indonesia