LONG WAY, GUGGENHEIM
Consumerism, international borders, humour and political violence are themes six Indonesian artists explore at the seventh Asia-Pacific Triennial, writes Bridget Cormack
HAHAN’S early artistic endeavours included drawing on walls and copying cartoons from television. In the small Indonesian town where he grew up, there was no public art museum, he says, and certainly nothing like Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art, where we have met. This month children will come to the gallery to participate in art activities he has designed for the seventh Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, the 20th anniversary of the Triennial series. Hahan will ignite their fertile imaginations with a new book about his life, the life of an artist.
Today he has arrived wearing a T-shirt with the design of a cartoon duck snoozing in a sphere of stars. ‘‘ It’s a dreaming duck,’’ he says, pointing to the dollar signs on the duck’s cap. ‘‘ He’s a dreamer like me.’’
Hahan’s design says a lot about his views of Indonesia. Hahan (real name is Uji Handoko Eko Saputro) grew up in a small town outside Yogyakarta, one of Java’s three main artistic centres. After graduating from art school he was swept along by the Asian art boom that saw the Yogyakarta art scene explode in 2008. Now 29, he has exhibited in South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and Cuba.
He is one of six young artists and art collectives from the burgeoning art scene in the Indonesian cities of Jakarta, Yogyakarta and Bandung exhibiting in APT7. Often drawing on pop culture such as comics, zines, graffiti and music in their work, they deal with punchy themes such as consumerism, globalisation and migration.
The APT has always featured Indonesian artists. But according to GoMA curator Russell Storer, the six exhibiting at this Triennial are ‘‘ quite different to an earlier generation of Indonesian artists who emerged in the 1980s and early 90s in the Suharto era, who worked in a more conceptual and more obviously political way’’. And, he adds, they are more accessible to a broader audience.
But that’s not to say these artists aren’t political. Wedhar Riyadi’s graphic cartoon imagery painted on to historical photographs alludes to political violence, while Tintin Wulia taps into conversations about borders.
Their work also makes use of cross-cultural themes. Jakarta artist collective Ruangrupa, for example, has created a fictional band inspired by Indonesia’s 70s rock music scene and the parallel period in Brisbane under premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen. An installation will feature the band’s fictional memorabilia, including posters, T-shirts and album covers. Brisbane musicians personifying the band will perform at the APT opening weekend.
As well as his work in the children’s gallery, Hahan will show two works that challenge the structure of the art world. His sculpture The New Prophet questions the way curators do business in Indonesia and features the faces of two curators: one of them is biting an art journal and the other is eating money. He says: ‘‘ Some businessmen think if we hire a big curator to do art, many hot artists will be interested in the famous curator. But because they’re doing lots of exhibitions, some of the curators are not making good exhibitions.’’
Dealing with galleries is just one of the challenges on the swampy journey to artistic greatness in Hahan’s The Journey.
This comic-inspired painting, depicting the art world as a jungle, features a small sign saying ‘‘ Long way journey to Guggenheim’’, suggesting young Indonesian artists have international aspirations. ‘‘ I talk about the condition and the experience from my life,’’ Hahan says. ‘‘ You must work hard to make the dream come true.’’
Part of the challenge for artists in Bandung, the most laid-back of the three art centres in Indonesia, is a lack of exhibition space.
The eloquent Febie Babyrose, 27, is onethird of artist trio Tromarama, which she formed with friends Herbert Hans Maruli and Ruddy Hatumena at art school. She says Bandung has a good art school but only six commercial galleries and no public art museum, meaning there are limited opportunities for showing new work.
‘‘ In Yogyakarta you can go to an exhibition every week,’’ she says. ‘‘ In Bandung there is maybe one exhibition in three months . . . Our [art] community tries to make an alternative space and an art discussion.’’
When curators come to town scoping out artists for international shows, Babyrose and her friends get together to make presentations of their work. Tromarama was included in the Singapore Biennale in 2008 and the Asian Art Biennial in Taiwan last year, but the three artists still have day jobs.
The grassroots art scene from which they have sprouted is embodied in the DIY aesthetic of their work. They use stop-motion animation to make videos with everyday objects such as tableware, appliances and shoes. Starting out making pop-music videos, they have broadened their practice to comment on social issues.
Happy Hour, showing at the APT, is inspired by the 2009 Indonesian banking scandal and features singing banknotes. Everyone is Everybody is about consumerism and brings to life material possessions such as high-end handbags belonging to a successful career person.
‘‘ It’s about how people identify or construct their identity through objects,’’ Babyrose says. ‘‘ In Indonesia everybody likes to wear branded stuff. They want to build their identity to a new social class.’’
Bali-born Tintin Wulia, 40, is also pondering identity in her new work at the APT about immigration and borders. The Melbournebased artist, who lived for a period in Jakarta, says her work is influenced by her memories of growing up in the Suharto era and guarding a family secret.
‘‘ My father told me stories about my grandfather,’’ Wulia says. ‘‘ All of the stories always ended with, ‘ he was missing in 1965, but you can’t tell this to anyone outside of this family’.’’
Wulia — who is of the view that art in Indonesia ‘‘ is always somehow political’’ — says it’s as if there was a war in Indonesia in 1965. ‘‘ When thinking about wars, there is usually some kind of a border or destination that people want to change and that’s why they go to war,’’ she says. ‘‘ Politically, they want to change a destination.’’
In her work Flow, she has set up four skill-tester machines filled with passports that visitors can try to claw. Wulia has included replica passports from 10 countries with the highest gross domestic product and 10 with the lowest GDP, according to the International Monetary Fund. The work questions the arbitrary nature of citizenship, which was driven home for Wulia when she started to consider leaving Indonesia.
‘‘ I started to get really interested in how I was discriminated [against], based on my passport when I was travelling,’’ she says. ‘‘ I wanted to not be limited by such a thing.’’
The Triennial will feature 75 artists and artist groups from 27 countries across the Asia Pacific region.
Main picture, Indonesian artist Hahan; above, an image from the video Everybody is
Everybody, by Tromarama, which comments on high-end consumerism