Indonesia Will Step Onto the Art World Stage at This Year’s Venice Biennale: Page 2 of 2
Indonesia Will Step Onto the Art World Stage at This Year’s Venice Biennale
Sri Astari (Rasjid) (b. 1959) has been intensely engaged with the re-reading of her Javanese cultural tradition. Her articulation of and critical commentary on traditional symbolism in contemporary life have been expressed in large, iconic, branded bags and motorcycles — symbols of contemporary fetishism and prevailing social insecurity. The traditional kebaya blouse-and-skirt ensemble, which had been a recurrent theme of repression in Astari’s oeuvre, has lately reappeared as a symbol of protection against global disturbances of the soul, as in her 2011 work “Armors for the Soul.” Re-reading Javanese culture in the spirit of sakti, Astari has found that it is in fact inherent in the culture but has been blurred by overwhelming global influences. Yet, she contends, it must be re-activated if we are to survive as a human species. In her 2012 installation “The Wild Woman and the Beast,” Astari further pondered the necessity to reconcile the self with nature and the universe. For the Indonesian pavilion, she presents a traditional Javanese house with its pendapa, where visitors usually come and go and influences enter, rub, and possibly clash — but where the spirit of sakti, characteristic of the South Sea Queen, will make itself felt in the continuous repositioning of the self and in just decision-making. The pendapa is like the soul, Astari says, placing within it nine Bedoyo dancers, symbolizing the strength and power of the South Sea Queen believed to be within everyone.
Entang Wiharso (b. 1967) is widely known for his juxtapositions of the archaic and the contemporary, in which inspiration from Javanese myths and legends intertwine with memories of history and personal stories. In his work for the Venice Biennale, Wiharso touches on issues of perception and reality, of what is seen that does not always conform to the actual situation. In his project, a 14-meter-wide bronze, aluminum, and graphite gate separates the visitor from a house and its owners. The gate is covered with reliefs depicting images both real and surreal, showing episodes of love and deceit while juxtaposing elements and icons from his own culture with those of other Asian and Western cultures. The gate, he says, excludes and welcomes the outsider at the same time. Standing outside the gate, one may have ideas of what is inside, based on perceptions gathered from that perspective. Inside the gate, though, another atmosphere prevails, one of sacred admiration mingled with a touch of chaos and an air of struggle. Figures meant to represent the nation’s founding fathers and personalities known for having fought for national freedom, democracy, and artistic independence are twisted or made unrecognizable, with only their aura making itself felt.
Titarubi (b. 1968) is the creator of large sculptures that testify to her artistic skill and contemporary thinking. Trained in the ceramic studio of the Bandung Institute of Technology, she soon expanded into mixed-media large installation works. Earlier, Titarubi had been interested in exploring a range of issues: gender, as in works such as “Bodyscape,” 2005, and “Surrounding David,” 2008; colonial repression, in such works as “Kisah Tanpa Narasi,” 2007; and education (“Bayang2 Maha Kecil,” 2004). For the Venice pavilion, she is interested in signifying knowledge, science, and education as the most important features of civilization. To that end, she is creating an installation of school benches, made of burnt wood to suggest the long duration of learning. (The benches evoke charcoal, in her childhood the only fuel for cooking, which takes a long time to produce.) Thick blank books will be laid on each bench, inviting viewers to fill them with their own stories. Words of wisdom in various languages will be projected on the books, reminding viewers of what is important in life. A 30-meter-wide charcoal drawing of a forest will surround the installation, referencing Indonesia’s rich forests, the many fires that periodically consume them, and the burnt wood of the benches.
Reviewing the concepts and half-finished works of the Indonesian artists this past November, it was clear that their works are a departure from what is usually presented in contemporary art biennales. This, then, must be the impact of “Sakti,” a conceptual frame that, come to think about it, shows a similarity in spirit to Massimiliano Gioni’s conceptual theme for the 55thVenice Biennale: the Palazzo Enciclopedico, or Encyclopedic Palace — epitomizing what Gioni has called “the dream of universal, all-embracing knowledge” and “the constant challenge of reconciling the self with the universe, the subjective with the collective, the specific with the general, the individual with the culture of her time. ”It will be interesting to see whether this could indeed signify a new departure for contemporary art.
This article was published in the January/February issue of Blouin Artinfo.com Asia Edition.