Naima Morelli

RALLY, Contemporary Indonesian Art at the National Gallery of Victoria

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Two ladies in their fifties were chatting amiably in the hall of the National Gallery of Victoria.
They dressed casually, both with sandals and baggy pants. They had decided to turn their usual boring Saturday afternoon into an entertaining on, why not, a cultural walk through one of the most interesting museums of Melbourne is not a crime.
With all the National Gallery has to offer, they have been lulled by the pastel shades of the paintings of the New Impressionists, in a new exhibition called “Radiance”. They have also visited the European Masters section and the Asian Art section at the second floor and they were quite content with what they saw.
Since the two ladies don’t feel conservative at all, they felt no disdain towards a visit to the contemporary art exhibition on the ground floor.

I was there chilling on the cushion at the entrance and I followed the cheery couple with my eye.
The summer heat wasn’t the only reason I was taking advantage of the air conditioning of the museum. What led me there was the exhibition “Rally” by two interesting artists from Indonesia, Jompet Kuswidananto and Eko Nugroho.
Actually the cushion I was lying on was designed by the artist Eko Nugroho himself.
I was in a space that supposed to be interactive, with paper and stuff to “draw your own comic image inspired by the exhibition”.
The two ladies proceeded absentmindedly to the room where “Rally” took place. As soon as they entered, their chatter stopped.
I guess that switch from the New Impressionists to Eko and Jompet could be pretty though.

Since Eko decided to cover the entire walls with his usual graphic patterns, the impression was like entering a kind of virtual space.
There were huge black and white patches that represented his half human robotis, alien shaped monsters, along with pacifist slogans like “Tolerance”.
The room entrance was monitored by two weird sitting sculptures with fancy helmets called “Generational Dilemma”. The electric blue of the two was holding a pair of cushions where two statements were embroidered: “Religion as weapon” and “Spitting all love”. The other statue, in fluorescent yellow, had his feet on a pile of books.
There were other statues in the middle of the room, squatting naked with helmets, and they were concealed behind banners with Eko’s cartoonish characters. They could be a metaphor for the artist concealing himself behind the creatures of his imagination, or they could be symbols for a society not prepared for modernity.
Actually, since Eko seems to be a very playful artist, they could be simply nonsense as well, as one of the two ladies in sandals argued whilst scratching her head.
Hints of a similar surrealism can be seen in “Flower Generation”, a dog entirely made of pink flowers.

The way Jompet made himself at home in the room was less intrusive but even stronger.
He built an entire caravan of invisible horses and riders in an installation called “The Cortege of the Third Realm n.2”. You could see just the bridles, saddles and burden, but not the actual bodies of the animals and horse riders.
The “Third Realm”, Jompet explains, is a dimension “in-between” and he refers in particular to the perpetual state of transition that Indonesia always experienced: “Third reality is a hybrid reality. A reality made from a blend of many things. Third reality is a post-colonial/third world/Indonesian reality composed from elements that are contradictory, unfinished, half-done, confusing and transitional or liminal.”

The invisible characters are Jompet’s trademark. In the other installations presented at NGV you could see flowing garments and objects that mark presences. A sort of ghost of Indonesia’s recent political history, like in “The Commoners”.
In this installation the presences wore boots, yelled Indonesian slogan through megaphones and played the drums in a slow rhythm.
They also had shirts with the logos of political parties wrapped around their invisible shoulders and heads.

The two ladies in sandals and baggy pants were bewildered. One of them asked the room attendant about the meaning of the artwork: “Well, I think it refers to a riot or something like that…”
The truth is that without a knowing of Indonesian history, it’s a little bit tricky to understand what Jompet is talking of.
But still, it’s like looking at a protest parading through the city. Maybe you can’t get the whole situation by the couple of slogans the protesters are screaming out, but at least it would raise curiosity and interest in the matter.
Moreover, Jompet was’t trying to be straightforward. He would write an article or an essay on the matter if he wanted do so.
The sensation is that he was working on a certain evocation. It’s like giving life again to found parties’ t-shirts and megaphones to remember how it was in that days of a political rally.

Jompet become a little more didactic in a series of video installations that presented different situations, such as a pick-up passing through the village narrow streets or a man in front of the sea lost in his thoughts.
A voice in the background slowly told their stories, whose could be considered a small part of the bigger fresco of Indonesian multiple reality.
Anyways, Rally’s subtitle “Indonesian Contemporary Art” seemed to be claiming something that maybe out of reach from a two man exhibition.
Can Jompet and Eko be considered ambassadors of the whole contemporary scene from Indonesia?
Jompet’s work is focused on the history of Java in particular and his complex installations are made of visual, sound and video.
He works with the theme of syncretism and memory and he does a lot of field research into a culture perpetually on the move.
Eko is closer to a street artist. He has a cartoonish style is very popular in Indonesia, nevertheless you can’t really tell that Eko is Indonesian.
He could be from Australia, from Berlin, from everywhere really. That is good, because at least one can’t blame on curators of the NGV to search for ethnicity.
Both artists live in Yogyakarta, which is the centre of contemporary art in Indonesia.
Talking with the Melbourne-based Indonesian artist Tintin Wulia, she complains that this exhibition that they called “Indonesian Contemporary Art” is just focused on art from Yogyakarta, neglecting artists from other parts of Indonesia.
Actually “Rally” is the first non-commercial exhibition in Melbourne dedicated to contemporary art in Indonesia and it’s interesting to see what Australia finds most interesting about this emerging art scene.
Supported by the Commonwealth through the Australia-Indonesia Institute of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the exhibition did not seem too keen to exoticize or sensationalize.
It looked more like a first step to create a common ground of discussion.

The immediate effects on the public are evident from the ladies coming out from the exhibition, looking thrilled as they left through the exhibition’s doors.
Maybe they would discuss about it later over a cup of tea, maybe they would find out more about contemporary art in Indonesia, or it could be remembered as that different Saturday afternoon at the NGV.
Like the two ladies, I like going to exhibition without knowing what’s on, so I will have no expectation and no prejudices, because in this case, if someone was expecting batik, he would be quite upset.

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