Illuminations in Indonesian Contemporary Art

Illuminations in Indonesian Contemporary Art


Story by Carla Bianpoen | Photos by Various Sources

A lot is happening in the art world. Technology is expanding to widen the creative horizon of artists who capture the spirit of our time. Scientific developments merge with technological prowess which lead to new thoughts on what contemporary art might entail. Artists engage in intellectual forward thinking at the same time as taking insights from ancient and ancestral wisdoms. Carla Bianpoen profiles five contemporary Indonesian artists whose practices merge history with meditations on the future of our world.

The Ultimate Breath by Indah Arsyad

1. Indah Arsyad

Born in 1965 Indah Arsyad creates unique immersive video installations, incorporating digital animation and sound, that deal with issues such as climate change, the essential need of oxygen (particularly during the turbulent Covid19 pandemic), and the declining equilibrium between human and the universe. An alumnus of the Trisakti University of the Faculty of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Technology, Indah incorporates her research interests into her art practice.

The Breath and The Ultimate Breath are highly technical installations that also draw upon symbolisms of Javanese myths and legends. It has been revealed that scientific knowledge was already part of life in ancient times. Illuminated by such authentic spirit, these digital installations radiate strong technical skill, subtle beauty, and an exceptional kind of sublime innovation.

Other works examine cyberspace’s intangible imprints on the real world. Using Internet of Things (IOT) technology, the artist measured the pollution and oxygen levels in Jakarta’s Kali Angke river where generations have been living in fear of the buaya buntung (amputee crocodile). This creature is said to devour inhabitants out of vengeance for environmental damage. Indah’s research project showed how environmental damage could lead to people’s superstition. Using audio frequency: the more the audio frequency occurs, the higher is the pollution level in the water, people could be on high alert for when danger may strike.

Faith, investigated another river, the Cigondewah in West Java. Indah found points of Islamic references such as mosques or old buildings important to Muslim histories. The work included the Qu’ran teachings about cleanliness and caring for the universe as part of faith. Here the levels of pollution and oxygen are indicated by changing colours (a high PH level during the day would indicate a low level of pollution, visible in blue, whereas a low level of pollution shows in red which would infuse a high-pitched sound of zikir (Islamic meditation).

Re-imagining Tribhuwana by Farhanaz Rupaidha

2. Farhanaz Rupaidha

An alumnus of the Faculty of Art Education of the Jakarta based Universitas Nasional Farhanaz Rupaidha, born in 1990, works in video installation and algorithmic/generative art through channel amalgamation to express her concerns about the future of human existence. In her work Ground exhibited at Instrumenta #2 at the National Gallery, the artist examined the traditional association of ground as the earth’s surface. Human existence as a rooting subject on earth is not always physically present, instead advanced digital technology has shifted it to become the site of digital data – the earth’s surface reduced to digital cables transferring data.

In another work, Farhanaz refers to the history of the Majapahit era which usually mentions King Hayam Wuruk. Re-imagining Tribhuwana features the king’s lesser-known mother Queen Tribhuwana Tunggadewi, who was just as powerful conquering vast regions from Aceh to Bali. Through three interactive panels, she illustrates the queen’s daring expeditions, the figure representing the queen sliding like a phantom across maps of the archipelago.

In Babel, Farhanaz captures the messy state of our world likening the brouhaha surrounding disasters, political tensions, social media, and hoaxes to the proverbial story of Babel. She visualises this idea with a work that makes use of an android system. The viewer must download the program before they can see a series of exquisite images.

Pest to Power by Natasha Gabriela Tontey

3. Natasha Gabriela Tontey

Taking a different approach is Natasha Gabriela Tontey, born in 1989, a graduate from the University Pelita Harapan, majoring in design, and visual communication. Natasha engages in speculative thinking, consulting other species and spirits to explore the idea of eco-centric futurism. This notion suggests the human being is no longer the centre of the ecosystem. Leaning towards the manifesto of Xenofeminism, that proclaims the future as including non-humans, the artist presents a quasi-fictional quest through a video titled Pest to Power. The work proposes

A future in which the cockroach is the only single species to survive the many occurrences of extinction. This idea suggests epochal transformation might be the key to a sustainable future. Resonating with the cosmology of the artist’s ancestors (the Minahassan in North Sulawesi) who relate to geo entities like stones, she began researching the co-existence of sustainable multi-species interaction in equal solidarity.

Interstitial Organisms by Syaiful Aulia Garibaldi

4. SyaiFul Aulia Garibaldi

Working with installations, paintings, videos, and printmaking, Syaiful Aulia Garibaldi, born in 1985, morphs science with art through experiments with micro-organisms. After studying printmaking at the Bandung Institute of Technology, and working in agronomy at the Faculty of Agriculture, at UNPAD, Bandung, he became fascinated with the networked and interconnected nature of ecologies relating to death, decay and life.

He first explored the world of micro-organisms, focusing on bacteria and fungi that seem to be invisible yet wield such important influence on human beings, Syaiful, also known as Tepu says that fungi enables us to live but also helps our bodies to decompose when we die.

Abiogenesis Terhah Landscape was one of his first works that featured imaginative forms derived from micro-organisms he watched through a microscope. He created an alternative alphabet from micro-organism shapes and added his artistic imagination. Terhah is another work following this idea. Interstitial: Terhah constitutes typographical signs derived from organisms which are arranged and painted with a super fine brush on paper.

Other works explored human perspiration using a video to capture the skin of a friend with a heart condition. The result is Sudor, the still images infused his paintings in abstraction.

His latest work Tumbuh, saw him unravel the process of grass roots whose expansion could kill or halt the growth of other roots, just as in real life, he said, reminiscing the growth of the COVID-19 virus that compelled humans to social distancing.

David and Goliath by Eddy Susanto

5. Eddy Susanto

Born in 1975, and a graduate of the department of Graphic Design at Institut Seni Indonesia Eddy designed hundreds local and international book covers before he drew the attention of the contemporary art world when his work Java of Duerer accorded him a prize from the prestigious Bandung Contemporary Art Awards (BaCAA) in 2011.

Eddy positions Java as the centre of the world through extensive research into histories across place and time, correlating different histories together into one artwork. For example, Java of Duerer draws together the beginning of the Renaissance in the West with the same spirit of liberation that marked the arrival of Islam in the northern ports of Java. The painting appropriates the

15th century Renaissance artist Albrecht Durer’s woodcut print The Men’s Bath. The difference is Eddy’s image was shaped using ancient Javanese script, recounting the way a liberated spirit of enlightenment had come along with the arrival of Islam in the northern ports of Java.

Another series exhibited in Italy titled The Allegory: Java of Dante compared representations of hell on the reliefs of the Borobudur Temple with the illustrations of Dante Alighieri’s Inferno in the 14th century epic poem Divine Comedy. The artworks feature the Borobudur reliefs, onto which the artist wrote the story of Dante’s Inferno in Latin script. Other images take engravings by Gustav Dore and Giuseppe Bossi representing Dante’s Inferno which are adorned with Javanese script recounting the Karmic Law in the book of Karmawibhangga. These works brought heaven, hell and karma onto one plane in some kind of telepathic feat.

A recent series correlated the biblical story of David and Goliath with the Mahabharata story of Arjuna killing the Giant with a keris. Instead of using his iconic Javanese script however, the revelation happens when a UV light is switched on. The image transforms from the chopping of Goliath’s head into the scene where Arjuna kills the giant.

About the Writer, Carla Bianpoen

Carla Bianpoen is a freelance senior journalist and critical observer of contemporary art in Indonesia and beyond. She studied in social studies from Wilhems University in Muenster, Germany. She has been a juror for Bandung Contemporary Art Awards since 2009. Carla was the artistic director and co-curator of the Indonesian Pavilion at the 55th and 56th Venice Biennale in 2013 and 2014 respectively.

She also authored the book Indonesian Women Artists ‘Into the Future’s, 2019 and co-authored the books Indonesian Women Artists: ‘The Curtain Opens’, 2007 and ‘Infusions into Contemporary Art’, 2019.

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