Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Jakarta Biennale XIII: A visionary breakthrough

The Jakarta Post - Carla Bianpoen , Contributor , Jakarta | Thu, 02/12/2009 3:55 PM | Lifestyle
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The Jakarta Biennale's 13th edition is a breakthrough, a true fresh of breath air for the regional art scene.

Its refreshing feel allows new visions to emerge with energizing art works by regional artists in their thirties.

The official opening at the National Gallery on Feb. 7 marked a new phase in the Jakarta Biennale - and in the region - which has never before seen such youthful creativity showcasing Indonesian and regional art at its best. Curator Agung Hujatnikajennong, along with the Jakarta Arts Council, has succeeded in making the Jakarta Biennale into a show of far-reaching vision, presenting a unity of art works that stretches beyond national borders.

The exhibition's appeal is that it appears to be of works that share notions of the contemporary, rather than the differences of national identities, although memories specific to some countries are an enduring source of inspiration for some of the greatest works in the exhibition. One such work is Java: The War of Ghosts, an installation by Kuswidananto alias Jompet - an artist who earlier delighted the public at the 3rd Yokohama Triennale with a similar installation. The installation consists of drums beating mechanically with the bodiless figures of keraton (palace) guards constructed using Javanese (Europe-inspired) jackets in place of the body, shorts and European boots in place of the feet and legs, and European rifles held by imaginary hands. Using multimedia - video, recycled electronic devices, drums, resin and video projections - Jompet adopts Java's royal soldiers as a symbol of the particularly Javanese impulse of syncretism to merge divergent beliefs and cultures. His experience in broadcasting inspired him to combine the use of visual and audio techniques and materials for his fascinating art works.

Simpler and less technical, but clearly issuing from a depth of thought, experience and imagination, is the installation of 132 handmade passports by Bali-born Tintin Wulia, who is trained in architecture and musicology, and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in visual arts in Melbourne. Titled (Re)collection of Togetherness - stage 4, the installation is a moving testimony of her exploration of identity as someone from the Chinese minority , who has endured an ongoing state of discrimination and insecurity. Passports are artificial constructions that can never give enough information about one's real identity - hence her desire to be free as a citizen of the world.

There is also Ming Wong from Singapore, variously an artist, performer and playwright, who explores the performative veneers of language and identity. Inspired by the Malay Muslim author P. Ramlee, whose writings are now forbidden in Malaysia because of some frank depictions of social and sexual mores of the local community at the time, Ming Wong re-enacts precisely such depictions, in Malay, a language that he has not mastered. The result, Four Malay Stories, is a four-channel video installation with audio.

The artist's attempts to adopt a foreign language and cultural traits, which he says are deliberately nostalgic and poetic, appear to hint at an underlying critique of the laws denying P. Ramlee's literary works.

The walls in the main hall of the National Gallery are covered with colorful paintings. One wall features a series of acrylic paintings titled The Bleeding Heart Club by Australian David Griggs. Another wall that stretches into another space became the pink "platform" for Vincent Leong, to stencil-print tiny icons and symbols in green, tightly packed together on paper.

The work, titled Tropical Paradise, addresses the promotions of tourism boards that all tend to be the same and utterly boring, said Leong. Leong wants to invoke these feelings of boredom through the repetitive images. Utterly telling is an installation of tiny white toy soldiers, titled A Day in the Life of the Other, by Lyra Garcellano, which is set beside Cul de Sac, another work by the same artist that features dozens of digital prints of sorrowful or weeping women. Another piece is the Malay-born Nadiah Bamadhaj's stirring charcoal painting Lewat Gapura in which she depicts herself as Medusa, a foreigner among foreigners in Yogyakarta.

The somber installation of five single-channel video installations including a table with dozens of photographs of dolls, titled The Meeting, by the Singapore-born Donna Ong in the lower level of Grand Indonesia's shopping mall creates the feel of an eerie, dark room of anxiety, but in fact refers to a doll project meant as an act of friendship between Japan and the United States in the 20th century.

There are also Eko Nugroho's fascinating installations of elephants in combination with a humorous mural, Phil Collins' video installation of karaoke sessions with local people singing "Dunia Tak Akan Mendengar" (The World Won't Listen), a song by the Manchester music group.

There are many more that deserve to be noted: Rudy Mantofani and Handiwirman's finely finished works, the works by Yason Banal, Poklong Anading and Tawatchai Puntusawasdi, Wiyoga Muhardanto's unique sculptures, Sylvain Sailly's animation and a dozen others.

Typical of its new vision, 28.5 percent of the participants in the Jakarta Biennale 2009 are women, which is one of the highest rates among Asian biennales.

This is the third part of this year's Jakarta Biennale, presented as "Fluid Zone: Traffic and Mapping". The fourth part will follow some time in March, according to Marco Kusumawijaya, the director of the Jakarta Arts Council. Its theme is "Invisible Cities".

The Jakarta Biennale:
Fluid Zone
Until Feb. 27, 2009
At the National Gallery Jakarta
and Grand Indonesia Shopping Mall, East Side.

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