Mon, 11 Jun 2001

Rachmadi's works the stuff that dreams are made of

By Peter Kerr

JAKARTA (JP): Dream-inspired and dreamlike, the simple landscapes of Rachmadi Fiedorowicz appear like beautiful, mystical scenes glanced from a moving train.

It may be their transcendental quality, their sensitivity, and perhaps a familiarity (like memories of a shared dream) that have moved people during the current exhibition for JakArt 2001.

It may also have to do with the paintings' fragile honesty, an openness shared elegantly by "World Citizen" Rachmadi at a media conference last week to launch his Journey to Alheim exhibition at the Atlet Century Park Hotel.

Rachmadi is described as a "visual artist from Australia", but his life journey has covered several countries. Born in 1950 in England of Polish and English parents, he is an Australian citizen but currently lives in Austria.

His personal and spiritual journey, which among other things led him to adopt Islam and the name Rachmadi, is interwoven with his artistic one.

He left school at 16 and worked in a shipyard in northern England for two or three years, then left "this bleak, gray future" and began drifting.

"I made a lot of mistakes, I got into a lot of trouble, got heavily into drugs, 10 years on heroin," he said.

"But I always had a sense of confidence -- I was confident I would find my own way.

"When I did stop with drugs I just stopped dead, completely.

"I realized that I wasn't addicted to the drugs, I was addicted to the friends, the sentiments, the culture, all of those things that collectively kept me a drug addict."

The sickness that comes with drugs withdrawal was not the hardest part, he said. It was "to walk away from a whole life and say goodbye to everybody and (say) I don't care if I never see them again".

"The way I could cope with that was a spontaneous expression of poetry, sculpture, music, songwriting, some collage.

"I did a little painting, but I was always afraid when I began painting, always.

"I was looking for the truth but it was too close to the bone, that what came out was me, and it was not the 'me' that I thought was going to survive very well in this society, in this world. It was a bit too sensitive and I didn't want to see it."

Realizing that "my childhood had a lot to do with the addiction", Rachmadi began working with children in care.

He started a social work course but soon had an argument with the tutor, who, responding to Rachmadi's charge that the welfare system needed more creative solutions, suggested he do an arts course.

"He said it rather sarcastically and I walked straight out the door across to another department and enrolled in an arts course."

So Rachmadi came to art late, and his fear of exposing himself to the world kept him away from painting later still, working rather in theater set design, performance art and dance theater.

He now describes this as "unimaginable neglected freedom".

"I worked in the arts for most of my life and only recently I realized that I was doing it because I wanted to paint, and I was afraid to tackle the one thing that I really wanted," he said.

"I was on the periphery of it all the time, and when I grasped it, it took off very successfully, I realized I actually had the freedom to do this all my life. And not only painting, I had the freedom to do anything with my life ..."

The series of paintings titled Journey to Alheim was produced during travels between Austria and Indonesia over the past year.

The name (and the paintings), Rachmadi said, came from a dream in which he was traveling on a train and was approached by a conductor asking to check his ticket.

Instead of London, his original destination, the ticket was to somewhere called Alheim, a place neither he nor the conductor had heard of.

A friend from Austria later said there was no place called Alheim, but it could translate to "The One Home".

"I feel we are all on the train and we just have to enjoy it," Rachmadi said.

During JakArt, Rachmadi is also exhibiting an earlier performance work titled The Glass, or "improvised action painting on glass enhanced by background lighting".

Three more performances remain: June 24 at Monas, June 29 at Kafe Taman Semanggi and July 1 at the JakArt closing ceremony at Senayan.