At home, not that many people know who she really is. The few who know, don’t really know much. But outside of Bali, nationally and even internationally, especially in the context of contemporary art, she’s a well-respected figure. Just read closely, be amazed, and thank me later.
You spend more time overseas, and are rarely in Bali. What’s the situation?
Well, if you visualize Bali as the centre of the galaxy—some kind of a giant sun—I could be one of its planets, its "wandering stars" (this is the literal translation of "planets", by the way hehe… Not that I’m not a star hehe…). No matter how I want to deny it, the fact is that I do orbit around Bali, and always try to stop over whenever I can. There was even this one occasion, when my late father was still alive, where I had only one hour of stopover in between flights at Ngurah Rai airport, and I used this opportunity to go for a quick priceless catch-up with my family in a café at the airport.
Looking back, I realized that I practically started doing this orbiting when I finished high school (SMAN 1 Denpasar, 1991). In between my studies in Bandung (Architecture, Universitas Katolik Parahyangan) and Boston (Film Scoring, Berklee College of Music), I always tried to spend some time home, in Bali. But then the idea of ‘home’ for me changed a bit when I was 29 in 2001—the aspiration to be able to live somewhere else, to not be confined in Indonesia, was so strong… So I surveyed how I could live elsewhere legally, and to make the long story short, decided to apply for a permanent residency visa in Australia.
When my Australian permanent residency visa was approved in 2003, however, my trajectory of projects was still mainly around Asia and Europe… No real reason to reside in Australia! It took me several years, and a lot of motivation, to finally made a move to live in Australia. To tell you briefly, after working for some time I felt the need to be able to reflect back on what I do more critically, and so I started thinking of doing a postgraduate study. It was obvious that this could be done somewhere in Australia to solve my residency problem as well hehe…, so in 2006 after some short surveys I decided to apply for a project-based research postgrad at the School of Art, RMIT University in Melbourne. In 2007 I was admitted with full support and stipend, and it was then that I could start to move my base to Melbourne… Although surprisingly I find myself still in the process now, 5 years later! Ah! Trust me, there is such thing as too much traveling. I wasn’t really aware of this the past years, but now that I am, I’m taking a small step at a time to really get settled in Melbourne.
Will you come back and use Bali as your home base? Or choose somewhere else in order to pursue an (even) better career in art?
Choosing somewhere else for an even better career in art? Well, so far I don’t really think my geographical base has anything to do with career advancement. I work internationally with people who work internationally as well. My current representing gallery is a Hong Kong-based gallery, whose director I’ve only met in person years after my first one-off project with them. And before that, I worked with a gallery in Europe. So far it doesn’t seem that my geographical location factor into my career too much—except of course that it can contribute to longer-haul flights. But so far, I also don’t always have to fly. When I can’t install my work in person, for example, it’s generally possible to send detailed instructions. This is not ideal of course, but solvable—and basically what I’m saying is, in choosing where to be based in, career is not really in my list of criteria.
I like to keep active physically, I like to be able to walk and bike around safely, I like fresh air, good and healthy food, I like to feel free, I like to feel safe, I like being surrounded by positive people, I dislike being judged superficially, I hate bureaucracy and legalized discrimination (who doesn’t?), I like to feel that I’m independent, that I can say what I need to say, wear what I want to wear, and decide on my own life—these are my criteria. If it is possible for me to live like this in Bali one day, why not?
The last time you held an exhibition in Indonesia was in October 2011, in Jakarta. Any plan for this year, here and/or overseas?
Since the last OK.Video in Jakarta, October 2011, I’ve participated in quite a few group exhibitions in Indonesia.
In April I participated in 3 shows: "Here and There, Now and Then" at the Langgeng Art Foundation in Jogja where I showed my first etching made with dead mosquitoes in a project curated by Tony Godfrey in collaboration with Grafis Minggiran, then an archive exhibitions in the National Gallery in Jakarta that showed Dr Melani’s friendships with artists and her support for the arts in Indonesia. In this exhibition I showed a single-channel version of "The Most International Artist in the Universe" (multiple-channel video installation, 2011). Then there was another exhibition also in the National Gallery, "Manifesto #3: Orde dan Konflik" that was curated with ruangrupa where they showed some of my older video works from early 2000s.
In May, my work "Nous ne notons pas les fleurs, Jakarta" (video octaptych, 2010) was shown together with other works from Wiyu Wahono’s collection at the opening of Bataviasche Kunstkring in Jakarta.
Coming up in July, I’m participating in Art Jog 12 with "Fallen" (single-channel video projection, 2011), in August with Emmitan Gallery in Surabaya, and there are a few other projects, including one with the Langgeng Art Foundation in Jogja, that I will have to move to next year for Indonesia.
Outside of Indonesia, after showing "Lure" (interactive installation, 2009) at the Moscow Biennale curated by Peter Weibel, and a residency at ZKM Karlsruhe as part of "The Global Contemporary" where I worked closely with curator Jacob Birken which finished end of October last year, fellow artist Sarah Vanhee managed to sell my ideas (including my Peter Pan biography that I put in my blog) in her "The Great Public Sale of Unrealized but Brilliant Ideas" auction at the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven. Working with curator Katerina Valdivia Bruch during my ZKM residency, I gave a talk that I titled "Playground Tales" as part of the talk series "Originalfassung" at General Public, an artist-run space in Berlin. I then continued the ZKM residency with Osage Art Foundation in Hong Kong in November. The project from that residency, "The Butterfly Generator" (interactive installation, 2012) was launched in January this year.
In February, I was practically just exhausted, and that was when I moved back to Melbourne for however many times.
In March I participated in a group exhibition "What a Wonderful World" curated by Naoko Sumi at the Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Arts, where I showed "Lure" again.
In April I showed "The Most International Artist in the Universe" in "Survival Techniques" exhibition curated by Davide Quadrio and Natasha Egan at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago.
In May I showed "Lure" at Art Hong Kong and "The Most International Artist in the Universe" at "Market Forces" curated by Jonathan Thompson at Osage Kwun Tong, both with Osage Gallery.
In June and July, while I’ll participate in shows in Indonesia, I will be focusing on writing my exegesis for my PhD. These would be the only months I have more time to really focus on it, so please wish me luck!
In August, the "Survival Techniques" exhibition curated by Davide Quadrio will travel to the Rockbund Museum, Shanghai, while I will have to start my residency at the Gwangju Biennale in South Korea, working closely with curator Alia Swastika. Gwangju is one of my two major shows this year.
After launching my new work at the Gwangju Biennale in September, another new work "(Re)Collection of Togetherness - stage 7″ (installation with video, 2012) will be installed as part of another show, "Encounter: Royal Academy in Asia", curated by Charles Merewether and Josef Ng at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Singapore, in September as well.
Then to close the year is another major show this year, at the Asia Pacific Triennale in the Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, opening in December. I will also be showing a new work there, working closely with curator Reuben Keehan. There… Now will you let me get back to work?
As far as I know, you’ve never held an exhibition in Bali. How come?
I’m not too good at pursuing people, so I tend to work with people who actively pursue me. I also tend to choose to work with public institutions as they’re usually funded and that just takes a lot of headache out of the equation. When I have more active offers than the passively interested parties, I guess it’s just natural that I would choose to go with something that’s moving and progressing instead of the passive ones. The way I see it, my energy should really be more focused on doing my art, not on pursuing passive parties. I don’t know whether this is the right approach, it’s just what is possible and sensible for me to do at the moment.
It seems like nothing much is happening in video art in Indonesia. What’s really going on?
You are not seeing the elephant in front of your eyes, Dethu—where have you been? Haha. A lot is happening in terms of video art in Indonesia, and I don’t think the world is oblivious to it! For example, ruangrupa, the Jakarta-based artist initiative, has a video biennial (OK.Video Festival) since 2003, and each time they’ve been showing very interesting works by prominent international artists, including artists from Indonesia.
Around the time they started the festival, I remember reading an article by Krisna Murti, also an artist himself who consistently works with video since quite early on in Indonesia, saying that he saw a new generation of artists from Indonesia who was very well-conversed internationally. Not only that these young artists were exhibiting internationally, he wrote, they also were confident in the role of selecting and showing works by international artists in Indonesia. (If you’re interested to find out more, look for Krisna Murti’s article "New Media: from gadget to guerilla art", published as part of the book "Essays on Video Art and New Media: Indonesia and Beyond".) But this was in the early 2000s already! These young artists are now approaching their 40s!
A lot has happened since then. My early video works—which I made in the format of short films—were acquired for broadcasts by SBS TV Australia in the early 2000s. That was a good start; short films being acquired for TV broadcasts were absolutely unheard of in Indonesia back then. A few years later, another progress: in 2006, a Dutch museum (Van Abbemuseum) acquired one of my video works to be part of their public collection. This was a great development—collecting video was also almost unheard of back then in Indonesia!
Nowadays, though, I know so many younger collectors from Indonesia that are collecting video art as well. And since that acquisition by the Dutch museum, my video works are collected not only by public museums (also in Australia and Singapore), but also by private collectors in Indonesia, Taiwan and Hong Kong. So if you haven’t gotten into video art, it’s time to catch up!
To think only of video art, however, is also quite limiting. Contemporary artists from Indonesia are constantly making their marks internationally, and I’m not only talking about contemporary painters. I still work a lot with video whenever I see it suitable, but I also work with a lot of other mediums—for me the concepts come first and the medium would follow. I wouldn’t say I’m a video artist, for example—that’s a bit limiting for me, while being to big of a responsibility as well. Over the years I’ve also worked with installation and performance, exploring interactivity, and playing games with my audience.
To give you an example, in my solo exhibition with Ark Galerie in Jakarta (2010) I had an honour to work with the well-known Indonesian auctioneer Amir Sidharta for my work "Construction of a Hole - opus 1″ (game performance and installation with video, 2010). We auctioned off the chance—for the winning bidders—to smash a part of a wall to make a bigger hole. We started with auctioning small parts of the wall, on which I symbolically ‘attached’ stories about borders. Quite a few young collectors were involved in the process: bidding, winning and smashing the small part of the wall. All this was recorded with 3 video cameras, and the video recording was shown back at the end of the auction, projected through the bigger, gaping hole on the wall that has formed as a result of the gradual smashing. In a way, there was a reflection of time and space—the winning bidders saw a projection of themselves through the gaping hole, but then realized that it was something recorded in the past. These video recordings were later edited and shown as two-channel synchronized video work that was part of the installation, consisting of the untouched remains of the auction—including the hammers used to smash the wall, the rubble resulting from the smashing, the bidding forms, the chairs, everything.
It was wonderful to eventually be able to do something like this in Indonesia, in Jakarta in particular—and I think it was the most suitable place to do it. The work was not video art per se—it’s something else, still exploiting the potentials of video. You asked about video art in Indonesia—as someone who comes from Indonesia, like many other people, I don’t think I have the option not to affect what’s happening in Indonesia with whatever small acts I do, whether it’s video art or otherwise.
What do you think is the biggest achievement of your career?
I think my biggest achievement so far is that I could find the possibilities to move on and keep progressing, and to keep learning in the process. And I couldn’t have achieved this without a lot of serendipity and support from the kindest people that I’ve met along the way.
Oh, how about your music career, you received a fantastic acknowledgement from Berklee—magna cum laude!—which you don’t seem to really use? Lately you seem more interested in visual than music?
Well, hehe, the magna cum laude was a bit of a ‘cheat’, I guess, because I’ve practically done music since before I started to talk/walk. I basically grew up in my parents’ music school in Bali, performed my first piano piece when I was 3—wasn’t even aware of it at the time; my memory of it was formed through the photos that I’ve seen when I was older and through my parents’ stories. I started composing when I was 8, started teaching when I was 19, was just extremely lucky. I never really had to struggle for it—I don’t even remember learning how to play the piano, or how to imitate playing a piece of music by ear—I just knew how, somehow. It was only when I started teaching that I could start to analyze how learning music must’ve been like.
While in Berklee I was doing many other things concurrently—my architecture internship and working part time in a few other jobs while still enjoying the intense instrumental practice that I could do while I was there, and still managed to do tests to qualify skipping enough subjects to finish the whole 4-year Bachelor’s degree program in only 2 years. A few small things did result from my Berklee studies, I had a film score released by Warner Music Indonesia in the early 2000s, for example, which gave me a few years of tiny royalties haha… I also made music for commercials for a little while, teaching and doing other music jobs on the side. But yeah, things progressed naturally, and at one point during an extreme workload with little space for thinking, I realized I wasn’t happy—I wasn’t doing what I thought I was going to do. That’s when I promised never to kill myself over someone else’s project. That’s just not the kind of struggle that I wanted.
When I did my studies at Berklee, I also worked in multimedia, and that’s where I was introduced to video and new media. Having the rigorous film scoring training also made me an extremely anal film/video editor as well—my edit decisions are calculated down to the single frames. These lived on until now. My architecture training contributes to how I think about space when I’m doing installations now, and how I control and coordinate complex and multilayered concepts in my mind. These are then freed, punctured and let loose through my intimate contact with art. Nothing is lost. It’s all in me and in whatever I do.
Now, let’s get personal, name three of your all-time favourite records and why?
Good question! Back in the early 2000s I would’ve mentioned a few of my favourite musicians in place of three records. These might’ve been the likes of Miles Davis for his musicality, perhaps J. S. Bach for his architectonic compositions, maybe Steve Vai for his instrumental exploration, or Hermeto Pascoal and Frank Zappa for being so revolutionary… But definitely John Cage for his conceptual breakthrough.
Getting to know John Cage’s works was quite life-changing for me. I will never forget the evening when I sat in that small hall in Boston in 1996, listening to his prepared piano pieces, and his notorious 4’33″ being performed. I was turning 24, almost finished with my training and studies, and haven’t heard anything about Cage before that evening! Hehe…—such a late bloomer! I also heard rumors about his lectures—for example in one, as a friend told me back then, he printed out random text from a computer with a dot-matrix printer, and would just read the random text as it was being fed out through the printer, for the whole duration of the lecture. My friend told me how controversial it was and that a lot of people in the audience just walked out. I tried to imagine all the sounds and the rhythm it would’ve made… And the visuals of him getting the endless stream of dot-matrix paper roll out of the printer… And the people walking out in anger—all the unpredictability! I thought it must’ve been beautiful.
Back then, my idea of art was what I’ve learned in Art History as part of my music studies, which pulled me to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston… I would sit there for hours staring at old paintings, sketching them and musing on their thoughtful structure, brilliant colour compositions, perfect techniques… But I knew nothing about contemporary art. I was also really into Bach in that period because I felt Bach’s delicately structured music was something that could connect my architecture life with my music life. But Cage’s was something else. It felt really fresh and relevant, and really in tune with something more inherent in me—in a more fundamental level—that I’ve never realized before. It’s not about melody, harmony and structure anymore—and although I’ve been in contact with this kind of music before, Cage’s works were still different. I didn’t understand why back then, but much later I learned that he worked a lot with the concepts of Chance and Change—random occurrences.
Then much much later, years after I gradually shifted from music to film to art, I found out that Cage was influential in the whole Fluxus art movement (which Yoko Ono, for example, was part of), something else that I’ve found very similar to my art practice by nature. This is the kind of serendipity I talked about. I went to Boston to get my music qualification, but what I’ve gotten from there eventually mutated me as an artist. I feel lucky to have the chance to experience such transformation.
Any last nagging words?
Two words: thank you, for the opportunity for reflection. Oh wait—that was more than two.
✄ Series of Artworks ✍
*This interview was firstly published—the shorter version—on The Beat (Bali) #314, Jun 22-Jul 05, 2012