When bamboo meets politics: 4 Indonesian artists at the Frankfurter Kunstverein

The Frankfurter Kunstverein spotlights 3 artists and a collective from Indonesia’s Post-Reformation generation.

“Roots. Indonesian Contemporary Art” showcases commissioned and site-specific works that unite political discourse, religious beliefs and popular culture. 

Joko Avianto, 'Big Trees (Pohon Besar)', 2015, installation view at Frankfurter Kunstverein 2015. Photo by Andang Iskandar / Humanika Artspace. Image courtesy the artist and Frankfurter Kunstverein.

Joko Avianto, ‘Big Trees (Pohon Besar)’, 2015, installation view at Frankfurter Kunstverein 2015. Photo: Andang Iskandar / Humanika Artspace. Image courtesy the artist and Frankfurter Kunstverein.

“Roots. Indonesian Contemporary Art” runs at the Frankfurter Kunstverein until 10 January 2016. The invited artists belong to a ‘Post-Reformation‘ generation in Indonesia that emerged in 1998, roughly 30 years after Suharto’s autocracy. Characterised by a newfound freedom of expression and experimental liberties, contemporary art from this era is rooted in an “awareness of Indonesian culture and range[s] between the poles of tradition and participation in modern life”, according to the exhibition press release (PDF download).

Co-curated by Curator at the National Gallery of Indonesia Asikin Hasan, Director of the Frankfurter Kunstverein Franziska Nori and Rizki A. Zaelani, also from the National Gallery of Indonesia, “Roots” coincides with Indonesia’s appearance as Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2015. For the exhibition, three young artists and one collective created brand-new and mostly site-specific works that shed light on tradition, history, politics and contemporary culture. The press release reads:

The four artists unite political discourse, religious beliefs and traditional craftsmanship with popular culture, street-art and comic illustration.

Joko Avianto, 'Big Trees (Pohon Besar)', 2015, installation view at Frankfurter Kunstverein 2015. Photo by Andang Iskandar / Humanika Artspace. Image courtesy the artist and Frankfurter Kunstverein.

Joko Avianto, ‘Big Trees (Pohon Besar)’, 2015, installation view at Frankfurter Kunstverein 2015. Photo: Andang Iskandar / Humanika Artspace. Image courtesy the artist and Frankfurter Kunstverein.

1. Joko Avianto

Immediately visible at the entrance of the Kunstverein is Big Trees (Pohon Besar), a stunning site-specific bamboo installation by Joko Avianto (b. 1976, Bandung). Simultaneously uncanny and evocative, the mesmerising structure transforms the façade of the Kunstverein and intervenes powerfully with the mundane order of Frankfurt’s public urban space.

Joko Avianto, 'Big Trees (Pohon Besar)', 2015, installation view at Frankfurter Kunstverein 2015. Photo by Andang Iskandar / Humanika Artspace. Image courtesy the artist and Frankfurter Kunstverein.

Joko Avianto, ‘Big Trees (Pohon Besar)’, 2015, installation view at Frankfurter Kunstverein 2015. Photo: Andang Iskandar / Humanika Artspace. Image courtesy the artist and Frankfurter Kunstverein.

The work incorporates 1,500 six-metre-long interlaced bamboo sticks set up over the course of three weeks. Repeated experimentations with bamboo over the years have enabled Avianto to mould extremely rigid bamboo material into flexible, fluid and nostalgically expressive forms.

For the artist, bamboo as a renewable resource represents not just a unique aesthetic but also a critical commentary on modernisation and environmental concerns. His devotion to bamboo, a traditional staple overtaken by modern building materials, constitutes a defiant statement on Indonesia’s relentless industrial development.

Eko Nugroho, installation view at Frankfurter Kunstverein with the works 'NICHT POLITIK, SONDERN SCHICKSAL', 2015, and 'TRAVELLER', 2015. Photo by N. Miguletz. Image courtesy the artist and Frankfurter Kunstverein.

Eko Nugroho, installation view at Frankfurter Kunstverein with the works ‘Nicht Politik, Sondern Schicksal’, 2015, and ‘Traveller’, 2015. Photo: N. Miguletz. Image courtesy the artist and Frankfurter Kunstverein.

2. Eko Nugroho 

Like Avianto, Eko Nugroho (b. 1977, Yogyakarta) creates art that finds its home in public spaces. While the works themselves are two-dimensional, featuring drawings, embroidery, emblems and comic book art, Nugroho’s dynamic designs are inextricably intertwined with his studied explorations of three-dimensional space. The press release writes:

In the exhibition, Nugroho uses the floor, wall and ceiling to juxtapose symbols, visual ideas, patterns and forms that go beyond the boundaries of art or design and reach into political and socio-critical realms.

Eko Nugroho, 'NICHT POLITIK, SONDERN SCHICKSAL (Non political, but destiny)', 2015. Photo by N. Miguletz. Image courtesy the artist and Frankfurter Kunstverein.

Eko Nugroho, ‘Nicht Politik, Sondern Schicksal (Non political, but destiny)’, 2015. Photo: N. Miguletz. Image courtesy the artist and Frankfurter Kunstverein.

Since his beginning days as an art student, Nugroho’s works have migrated from the humble streets of Yogyakarta into various indoor and outdoor public spaces. His diverse influences include traditional Javanese cultural heritage, Western pop culture, Indonesia’s economic and sociopolitical crises as well as the position of Islam in contemporary Indonesian society.

Jompet Kuswidananto, 'POWER UNIT' (detail), 2015, installation view at Frankfurter Kunstverein 2015. Photo by N. Miguletz. Image courtesy the artist and Frankfurter Kunstverein.

Jompet Kuswidananto, ‘Power Unit’ (detail), 2015, installation view at Frankfurter Kunstverein 2015. Photo: N. Miguletz. Image courtesy the artist and Frankfurter Kunstverein.

3. Jompet Kuswidananto

A sound and installation artist, Jompet Kuswidananto (b. 1976, Yogyakarta) explores the kinetic transformations of sound and translates them into visually tangible forms, which include sound pieces, performances and large-scale installations. Conceptualising not just the physics of sound but also socio-political issues, Kuswidananto’s work in the first decade of the 21st century interrogated topics surrounding the Javanese Kingdom’s army; the series of works were entitled Java AmplifiedJava Machine, and War of Java, Do You Remember, among others.

Jompet Kuswidananto, 'POWER UNIT' (detail), 2015, installation view at Frankfurter Kunstverein 2015. Photo by N. Miguletz. Image courtesy the artist and Frankfurter Kunstverein.

Jompet Kuswidananto, ‘Power Unit’ (detail), 2015, installation view at Frankfurter Kunstverein 2015. Photo: N. Miguletz. Image courtesy the artist and Frankfurter Kunstverein.

In “Roots”, Kuswidananto’s Power Unit installation combines kinetic and visual elements of sound, featuring hooded human heads, motorcycle parts and other objects floating loosely in space and animated by artificial sounds and movements. However, as the press release writes,

[…] their artificial animation […] cannot hide the fact that they are only empty shells, resembling hatched cocoons. Jompet Kuswidananto thus explores human traces and marks the paradoxes of presence and absence, impermanence and permanence in post-colonial reality.

Tromarama, 'BREAK A LEG' 2015, installation view at Frankfurter Kunstverein 2015. Photo by N. Miguletz. Image courtesy the artists and Frankfurter Kunstverein.

Tromarama, ‘BREAK A LEG’ 2015, installation view at Frankfurter Kunstverein 2015. Photo by N. Miguletz. Image courtesy the artists and Frankfurter Kunstverein.

4. Tromarama (Collective)

The artists’ collective Tromarama was founded in 2006 by Febie Babyrose (b. 1985, Jakarta), Herbert Hans (b. 1984, Jakarta) and Ruddy Alexander Hatumena (b. 1984, Bahrain). Their installation Break A Leg, featuring 230 embroidered clothes hung on clothes lines like drying laundry, fills the entire exhibition space. The textiles are complemented by a stop-motion animation film; the press release describes the work thus:

A man wearing western office-apparel is running towards the viewer, while his silhouette is overlain by a digital time display. The words “Good Morning”, embroidered on the margins, reference the name of a popular Indonesian towel brand.

Ruddy Alexander Hatumena from Tromarama during the installation of 'Roots. Indonesian Contemporary Art' at Frankfurter Kunstverein 2015. Photo by Andang Iskander / Humanika Artspace. Image courtesy Frankfurter Kunstverein.

Ruddy Alexander Hatumena from Tromarama during the installation of “Roots. Indonesian Contemporary Art” at Frankfurter Kunstverein 2015. Photo: Andang Iskander / Humanika Artspace. Image courtesy Frankfurter Kunstverein.

The installation comments on the rapid acceleration of life in a post-industrial nation where everything is measured by efficiency and economy. The stop-motion animation and embroidery motifs emphasise the slowness of production techniques, which is contrasted against society’s demand for ever-increasing productivity. The press release concludes:

Within the context of the installation, the phrase “Good Morning” takes on a double meaning. While implying the hope and optimism associated with welcoming a new day, the installation’s structure reveals underlying ironies of urban life, which is defined by technological and digital utopias. […] With this work, Tromarama succeeds in making a subtle reference to the Indonesian balancing act between social reality and the roots of culture and tradition.

 Michele Chan

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Related Topics: Indonesian artists, installation, sculpture, sound art, street art, painting, textiles, film, video, animation, emerging artistsevents in Germany

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