✦ An exchange between Aki and Rifqi ✦

This follows a conversation between Aki and Rifqi that they had via a Google document. After three months of meetings, conversations and research, they decided to have a conversation, summarising their thoughts around digitalisation and its effects on studio-based, sculptural installation practices.


Rifqi: Hi Aki! Hahaha, omg >_< I like how we’re conversing via a Google document. It is a live chat, alright.

Aki: Hi Rifqi! Yah, I love it too. We can take our time on here, no rush. It has been really nice working on this project with you (´,,•ω•,,)♡ I felt that this conversation between us was urgent, as we have recently launched the first iteration of Falling into its Thingness. It would be nice to encapsulate our exchanges around the rush into digitalisation and its effects on our art practices. Maybe we can start this conversation by laying our initial thoughts out?

Rifqi: Yeah, it has been so fruitful! I’m just glad to find someone who can relate to this matter! Especially during and after the circuit breaker when art practices were at a halt. Despite the efforts to make art digitally accessible for all during this trying period, the pandemic has made us realize that there are many limitations too.

Rifqi: How has your practice been affected, by the way?

Aki: I initially found it really difficult to move forward artistically. When covid-19 was declared a global pandemic, I felt stuck as I was primarily focused on creating sculptural and physical installation work. My initial response was to attempt making digital sculptures, but I quickly learnt that like any other skill set, such as welding or plaster casting, it takes years to hone. It is not a skill you can take up overnight.

Aki: Did you feel the pressure to redirect your practice digitally too?

Rifqi: Yes. During the circuit breaker, we were not only confined to our homes. We were unable to access our art studios due to the strict social distancing measures. I found myself in limbo most of the time because my work is foundationally studio-based. Although there were projects I had participated in that demanded me to create digital art, it is still not the same. I do not doubt my ability and inclination to use technology or software creatively, but I felt that the pandemic has forced us to redirect our focus and adapt accordingly, just so we are able to sustain our art practices. There is something quite uncomfortable about this, but on a brighter note, perhaps it makes us more versatile in terms of the media we work with?

Aki: I agree, I feel that the pandemic has definitely accelerated our creative processes. We have arrived at a point where the consideration of creating digital content is at the forefront. It is now a big part of our practices and our thoughts around sculptural existence have to consider this new layer of the digital. I felt that we were motivated by our concerns over the way physical artworks were being recorded and presented virtually. We were also intrigued by the speculative aspect of a digital object. I remember us asking ourselves, like, how do we even create a digital object, especially when our understanding of object-making has been anchored by real material, real gravity and real space? We were cracking our brains because the foundations of our studio-based sculptural practices were provoked and challenged.

Rifqi: Yes! At the start of this collaboration, I recall us spending a lot of time differentiating the experience of viewing an artwork in-person versus viewing a documentation of it online. Today, sculptural-installation works are so heavily documented (at every angle/ detail) in hopes to make them “digitally accessible”. Despite thorough attempts to document an exhibited artwork, it is impossible to replicate the viewing experience. With this acknowledgement, we chose to move away from the heavy reliance on photographic documentation of a sculpture’s physicality, textures, details and such. Instead, we spent more time speculating what digital materiality could do for us.

Aki: For sure! We took a long time to realise just how impossible it is to directly translate real materiality into digital materiality. They require completely different sensitivities. Digitalisation requires a new strand of thought and approach altogether.

Rifqi: Yeah, I agree. At some point, we agreed that the digital capacity is limitless and expansive. In a digital nature, there are allowances for “non-sculptures” to exist sculpturally too, in the way that it takes up space and responds to one another formally. All the drawings, textual graphics, GIFS and 3D scan fragments accumulatively allude to a sculptural form. All in all, I believe that this speculative thought does not overlap or undermine physical sculptural work. Instead, it can pave other ways of experiencing sculpture.

Aki: For sure. The infinite capacity of the digital space gave us too much room for speculation. I felt that our reliance on those other ways of making came from a place of discomfort and intimidation by the digital. When we were trying to situate our formal knowledge of sculpture in the context of the digital, we realised that the most basic conceptions made no sense! I felt like we had to butcher and rethink our foundations. I mean, how does a sculptural object fall in digital space? How does it stand? How do we record this? In questioning our core understanding of sculpture and object-making, we felt that it was important that we began dissecting our understanding of gravity. Gravity has always been a distinct factor of a sculptural practice, so you can imagine how the absence of gravity in digital space triggered us.

Rifqi: Yeah, it was important that we returned to our root understanding of sculpture and elements like gravity. I think, as sculptors, we are always constantly battling with gravity and not making our sculptures fall. In digital space, gravity is no longer an immediate grounding factor. Instead, sculptures float about.

Aki: Oh my god, yes ^_^ I love that! I have always imagined my work to be floating in digital space. You?

Rifqi: I imagine my sculptural objects to exist in fragments and floating too - never a full thing.

Aki: I want to return to your point on the importance of making a stable sculpture that will not fall. To me, this is the most important consideration. A big part of creating sculptural work is to prioritise the safety of the viewers too. So, digitalisation has definitely taken a big part of my artistic process away from me. I remember when we first started this process, we were really stressed out because we did not know where to start. We could not really imagine what digital gravity looks like and we had to push ourselves to find new vocabularies, both worded and visually. Along the way, we definitely learnt to stop relying on our understanding of physical space to think about digital space. I also like that we stopped thinking about recording and presenting a sculptural object. It is nice to reimagine an object as an accumulation of pixels and layers.

Rifqi: uhuh! Initially, we thought that it was important to make something physically. We tried out this material called ‘jumping clay’. It seemed very new to us, and we were amazed by how it records itself, especially in the way it hardens and holds the textural grains. I remembered us being amazed by how it was the closest resemblance to pixels. However, we tried to document them and it really did not do justice to what we see with our own eyes. We, then, attempted to 3D scan what we had made. The scans made glitches, but somehow these glitches worked in our favour, as it captured the presence and absence of gravity. Towards the end of the project, we also talked about how failure was vital for this project.

Aki: Yes! We should allow ourselves to fail! That’s definitely a key point. We need to come to terms with the fact that digital materiality is very new to us, and that failure is expected of us. The translation between physical and digital is so awkward, but this collaboration has definitely allowed me to appreciate the awkwardness of glitches and mistranslation a lot more.

Aki: I really appreciate this, Rifqi ʕっ• ᴥ • ʔっ We have spent multiple months together on this first iteration and I believe that what we have presented will spark important conversations in the future. I believe that the outcome of this collaboration sits comfortably in between a culmination of our primary research and a prompt for others to begin thinking about how they understand the digital space. This is truly our starting point in recognising the gap between physical and digital, and how neither can replace the other. I am looking forward to the next iterations!

Rifqi: Yasss, definitely! We learnt a lot about this process of making, but also a lot more about each other’s practices. Here’s to hoping that this will also open up newfound conversations amongst other sculptural artists, or rather, all artists. I am truly looking forward to the other umbrella of thought we can discuss in the near future. So glad to be doing this with you, Aki ♡