Stories: Betty Susiarjo
Betty Susiarjo (typing…):
Euginia can we start the interview now?
I mean through Whatsapp?
I have been stuck in this taxi since an hour ago
Euginia Tan (typing…):
Haha. I rather talk to you though.
Are you in a rush?
Betty Susiarjo (typing…):
No, but I m just a bit frustrated.
And I think it will be interesting to write my interview this way.
It was around the age of 8, when I realised I wanted to be an artist. Or at least, I wanted to create something beautiful. I lived in a shop house in the southern part of Sumatra. The fourth floor of our home was overlooking the town and the sea at the back of it.
I remember one evening, it’s just after sunset and the sky turned slowly dark, I saw how people’s house lights started to light up. And when I saw that, I felt a certain immense feeling of looking at something alive and beautiful, then I knew I wanted to be an artist
I have always been drawn to something romantic and beautiful. I see life in a romantic way. That’s why, stuck for an hour in traffic jam is really opposite of what I like to be at !!
I long for nature and the countryside. But I live in a city and it makes my longing for nature even more
Betty is now 6.9 kilometres away from me. She is meticulous in letting me know the distance between us, it’s probably why I warmed up to her so effortlessly when she was my lecturer some years back. She seeks to bridge the gap between. In this hyperbolic urbanscape where her studio is situated, I wonder what she sees in this part of town, the Betty that looks at nature as a pastel palette. I have time for a drink where I wait, and I see people who have just finished slogging passing by, they walk placidly à la Desiderata, satisfied grey swallows returning to roost. There are damaged tiles on the floor of the canteen, someone is putting them back with cement and mortar in a small pail near him. These are people who like building with their hands.
Betty grew up in an industrial area, and while she had a fawn-like sensitivity incognizant to the hard knock warehousing, I think she is still highly sentimental in her being a worker of/in the city. She has never appeared delicate or willowy to me, though she is iridescent, like a cultivated pearl, her voice is lilting, there are dried lavender buds on her table strung together in wisps, she hands me sea salt dark chocolate to apologize for having kept me waiting. I remember her as a director of daily phenomena she never orchestrates, only doing her best to be a part of in the most charming manner. Just as a bee exhausts in giving to a garden, Betty has been stuck in a jam of an art career that paved a busy route for her to nurture others before she realized she needed to pollinate her own plot of land.
In a city, colours are almost uniform and opaque.
But in nature there is something about the colours that reacts to my emotions in a subtle way
I think also the expansiveness of being in an open space
Gives a sense of solitude
A lot has changed since we last spoke, Betty still speaks with that familiar marshmallow on charcoal twang in her accent, distinct, melty and warm, but I see her clearly creating now as someone who is moved by things around her rather than the teacher who taught me how to seize my scenes over campfire lessons. From fluid beauty, she is now looking at light as a thesis to her practice. It is difficult to work on subjects that are so veneered in character, especially when using something as ephemeral as plants in one’s work, but somehow she has pinched radiance by its lashes, a feature vital in preservation, yet often construed into excess or diminishing into barren absence. I ask her if that is why she continued doing work in the city, where everything is mechanized to a fault, because she had that attachment.
Yeah! How ironic.
Singapore is one of the most expensive place to live!
Industrial areas are cheaper to rent
There is something I like about living in a city.
It’s actually quite intimate
People do not know you so you can move about freely
In the Great Gatsby, the main character said something similar, “I like big parties, it’s so intimate”
She gazes for a minute at the ceiling lights, gently agreeing with me. I feel like a dandelion being airborne. My questions are dissolving into the fluorescent specks underneath a light source, I can see them in their clusters and I see Betty going from girlhood to the present, a tender crocus whirring beside cogs and conveyers. Her words are very caressing, a verbal hug, taut and comforting. I can tell she is proud of me, as I am of her, and that affirmation from one artist to another, regardless of platform and practice, is something I will always hold dear, to the last word I write.
Betty Susiarjo is a mixed-media artist based in Singapore, whose work engages concepts of temporality, materiality and beauty. She received her MA (Fine Arts) with Distinction from Winchester School of Art, England and her BA (Fine Arts) from Surrey Institute of Arts and Design, England. Inspired by observations and experiences of the everyday, her works seek for an awareness of a moment presented in a particular time and space, thus providing a poetic realm for contemplation. Major Projects for 2015 include Dance of the Luminaries, SARANG Art Space, Yogyakarta, Indonesia; Singapore- Mexico Cross Cultural Exchange: A Post Residency Exhibition, Sebastian Foundation in Mexico City; as well as Umbra at Objectifs Centre for Film and Photography, Singapore.
Umbra features on-going projects by artists Adeline Kueh and Betty Susiarjo. Coming from two different narratives, yet sharing similar sensibilities and poetic voice in their works, both artists bring together recent installation, video, sound and photography works to contemplate the notions of Umbra. Umbra exists as a shadow, the subtler fragment of the perceptible. It often goes unnoticed as real, yet its presence denotes that somewhere nearby is an actual occluding body. Umbra is also about the darkest part of ourselves, the part that signals the longing for the absences and things lost. Illusion, dusk and the spectral are intimated by the two artists, attesting to the nuances of language and that which complements the visible.
Euginia Tan is VADA’s 2015-2016 Curator. She has published three collections of poetry and is completing her first play. She is interested in the notion of stories (within stories, within stories) and how much of these are lost, or can be resuscitated, when converted into various other multi-disciplinary platforms. Euginia also graduated from Curating Lab 2014.