Art, love, life, death and the spirits in Bantul

by on 週六, 28 十一月 2009 評論
A slightly overdue medicine for spiritual renewal finally drifts over from the South Pacific seas and archipelagos ---- 2007 Perfurbance#3 Performance Art Festival, Yogyakarta Province, Indonesia

After spending the Septembers of 2005/2006 and the Aprils of 2007/8 on Java Island, I’m almost like a Java migratory bird. It can only be destiny; no other reason could explain why a Taiwanese has become so addicted to Indonesian Arts.

The island of Java is the stronghold of Indonesian arts. The three main Colleges of the Arts, located in the capital, Jakarta, Bandung and Yogyakarta, have their walls plastered in graffiti by the students; whilst their own bodies are often covered in tattoos, though in no way appear menacing. Smoking one kretek clove cigarette after another whilst listening to Bob Marley and heavy metal, painting anarchist slogans and drinking spirits made from the blood of crocodile penis! Many radical elements of western culture have transcended space and time to blossom anew in Indonesia and even if the deeper connotations are not always comprehended, rhythm is always far greater than meaning, and action more noble than thought. The artists have grown up absorbing this school atmosphere it has released an indiscernible, explosive quality about them. Furthermore, I am sure that this is more than an illusion of foreign exotique. In both life and the arts in Indonesia, the two poles of tradition and modernity coexist together, like plaintiff and defendant endlessly battling on, the richest and poorest landscapes appear on the same visual frame taunting, mocking; creating a aesthetic of conflict.

In recent years, the island of Java has had a number of arts festivals; perhaps this explosion in activity is due to the endless exhibitions, needed to allow artists to maintain material stability, and also because of the ease with which they can apply to government or foreign arts foundations for festival and event expenses (of which us foreign artists both doubtful and envious). The impressive Perfurbance #3 Art Festival (Performance Art Festival) with the theme of "Spiritual Renewal" was held in April 2006. The Director was Iwan Wijono, who was previously invited and came to perform in Taiwan in 2005. He comports himself like a revolutionary and was originally concerning himself with the problems that globalization and the expanding free market have been causing for daily Indonesian lives; while more recently due to the recurring local natural disasters, he has turned his attention to these more urgent matters.

The Perfurbance#3 festival lasted for five days, with worn-down from travel artists from a dozen or so different nationalities descending on Yogyakarta’s Gemblangan Village on April 25 2007, the province where the terrifying earthquake on the 27th May 2006 had been the deadliest, with more than 6000 villagers killed, and the village almost completely destroyed. Our art here didn’t quite seem like the truth, because the real truth was in front of us: the roof tiles from unfinished constructions, livestock wondering about aimlessly, as were the shy children; the old woman were beating the rice grain and the mother’s breastfeeding their babies. Meanwhile the performance artists accessed all areas of the village - the rice fields, the village homes, the river and even the cemetery.

Though it was blistering hot, it did not matter, for during the rainy season, the afternoon thunderstorms never fail to arrive on time, and when the rain desisted, the activities would restart. Meanwhile, to one side the young boys seemed to rather continue playing in the ditch. The traditional Javanese performances commenced on the temporary stages we had put up using steel frames. Some were serious, some kitsch, and some dances summoned and interrupted the spirits and the performances were all intertwined into the festival’s other activities. sometimes artists would go and draw with the kids or work alongside the women of the village - the women were responsible for the festival’s meals, skilfully crushing the flaming red peppers or serving sweet, hot tea.

In the countryside, especially here in the tropics, everything is slow and drawn out…

As the artists progressed with the timetable, the festival personnel acted as guides, leading the audience to the part of the village where the next act would be held. Since this was an arts festival, different forms of artistic expression came together and unfolded before our eyes; a man lying with candles lit over his whole body, another dragging a string behind him with which he collected and pulled rubbish, one smashed his own reflection in a mirror, everyone gathered and took pose in the graveyard; toy soldiers were stuck into the rice-paddies, smoke blew in all four directions and everyone was invited to gather and eat the local durian fruit...And this was only the so called ‘art’ - many surrounding events reminded us of what was real: on the third day a village grandma passed away and all the clamour of the performances had to be stopped temporarily while the artists in the village lined up with the villagers in the funeral procession. They marched up to their destination where the corpse, rather than going in with the coffin, was lifted out, wrapped in a piece of cloth was lowered into the hole in the ground, and covered very simply in soil...this was death.

On the last day of the festival, the wife of an Indonesian artist named Ronald Apriyan gave birth to a baby girl, with a head full of thick black hair she was wrapped in a pink blanket...a new life was beginning.

Compared to other festivals, the immediate situation in Bantul seemed too tragic and some of the acts also seemed too warm, however at the same time they were very...real, so real that a year later I still remember the events profoundly. I still ponder the differences between the art and real lives. Still now I am ashamed to use my own body to make performance art...The director, Iwan Wijono, said at the end "let us hold the next Perfurbance at the foot of the volcano Gunung Merapi". Surely he was joking, we thought, but he was deadly serious and the following Perfurbance "Global Warming, Global Warning" was indeed held there. Like all the Indonesians I met he was an explosive activist.

We certainly didn’t have our expenses nor even our plane tickets compensated for at this festival, but that’s ok because this kind of spiritual renewal should always be priceless.

Translation from Chinese by Nick Coulson

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Mickey Huang

About me : National Taiwan University of Arts,
Undergraduate: Department of Fine Arts, Chinese Painting. 
Masters: Graduate School of Plastic Arts, Western Painting.
Loves travel, the great outdoors and extreme adventure. Past works include various Performance Art pieces; currently focusing on woodcuts;
Thesis: "Resist Globalisation, Resist Government: Leftist Political Murals in Yogyakarta, Indonesia"






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