Review: Future Ages Will Wonder, at FACT Liverpool

Installation view, Future Ages Will Wonder, Boedi Widjaja, Book of genealogy, 2021

Review: Future Ages Will Wonder, at FACT Liverpool

Words, Patrick Kirk-Smith

Future Ages Will Wonder is a headliner. Larry Achiampong, David Blandy, Trisha Baga, Yrali Allison, Miku Aoki, Breakwater & Boedi Widjaja all thrown into one epic AV thing. I left not entirely knowing what that thing was, but completely in love with the work of Boedi Widjaja.

Root Word is one of seven works by the artist at FACT for Future Ages Will Wonder, but it sums up this moment in the artists’ practice better than any. The images are printed directly onto lightbox surfaces and are easily missed in the noise of the rest of the exhibition – hidden half way up the stairs between the two spaces. It’s their subject rather than their final manifestation which is fascinating.

The images are texts, built from the genetic code of the artist (specifically the DNA code of his Y-chromosome, though I’ve not worked out yet how critical that detail is), telling three stories.

Nanyang is a telling of the artist’s paternal grandfather’s journal, from a time in his life when he was living with Widjaja and his family in Java, Indonesia. The second, Jawa, uses the text of a Sundanese poem which details a journey from West of East Java. The third, Root Word, is a poem by the artist himself – detailing his own life, but centred on his experience of childhood migration.

What strikes me most with these works isn’t the story, or stories, behind it. It’s the artists’ deep respect for the formation of language, presenting it adequately and nothing more. That presentation of language as an adequate communication form shows a truly deep understanding of how language are formed, and how they evolve.

The story of the language itself is told in more detail in two of his larger works on the ground floor – A Tree+++, and A tree talks, a tree walks. The assumption by the artist that his audience have already understood the root of the language by the time they see Root Word is honest. And I need to be honest in my presentation of it, so I don’t use adequate lightly. I use it as a sign of admiration for an artist striving to create a personal history out of the materials he has to hand – which in the case of Boedi Widjaja’s journey to connect with his ancestry and history, is to be found in his own DNA. The code used from his own gene sequences is combined with the DNA of a Chinese parasol tree.

The significance of the parasol tree to global history, not just to the artist, creates a sympathy with the reader of these texts. It was one of only a few species to survive the impact of the Hiroshima bombings, and has been used in herbal medicine for centuries for the treatment of inflammation.

I won’t present to have read or understood the texts. I don’t think I’m supposed to. But this was work by an artist whose desire to explore his own history went far beyond expectations, into the creation of entirely new forms of expressing the Self.

I’ve obviously focussed on Boedi Widjaja here, because his work resonated with my own interests, but I think that’s actually quite representative of this exhibition as whole. There are elements to all artists’ work in Future Ages Will Wonder that will connect to their audience.

Words & Images, Patrick Kirk-Smith
Future Ages Will Wonder is at FACT until 20th February 2022