Sunday, November 25, 2012

TURNING JAVANESE? (First of two parts) (May 23, 2011)

Manila Contemporary flexes Female Power's muscle in its latest special Performance Residency Project.
And it does not begin and end with two of the best Manila-based woman artists --
Harvard's summa cum laude graduate Bea Camacho and Cultural Center of the Philippines' 13 Artists Awardee Racquel de Loyola -- when it started last 4 May.

It also highlights two of Indonesia's finest artists.

Mella Jaarsma, who was born in 1960 in Emmeloord, the Netherlands where she studied visual arts at Minerva Academy in Groningen in 1984. She moved to enrol at the IKJ (Art Institute of Jakarta) in 1984 and at ISI (Indonesia Institute of the Arts) from 1985 to 1986. She collaborated with her partner Nindityo Adipurnomoin 1988 to found the Cemeti Gallery in Yogyakarta, that became in 1999 -- the Cemeti Art House – which is responsible for organizing exhibitions, projects, and residencies. On the other hand, born in 1969 in Surakarta Indonesia, Melati Suryodarmo lives and works in Gross Gleidingen, Germany and Solo, Indonesia. After finishingInternational Relations and Political Sciences in Bandung, she studiedperformance art and sculpture at the Hochschule fuer Bildende Kuenste in Braunschweig, Germany. She completed her Meisterschule in Performance Art in 2002.
During the Artists Talk at The Living Room in Manila last Thursday, Mella dealt with How The Material Creates The Meaning as Melati discussed The Unspoken Language.

True to its commitment to operate as a laboratory or open studio for discussion and performance, Manila Contemporary will be the workshop venue on 26 and 27 May.

From 4 to 26 June, it will be the center of art gravity – with overflowing coffee and collaborations, dialogues, exchanges, and sharings – with Melati and Mella, or Mella and Melati, independently and interdependently!

Vim Nadera: Could you give us an idea as to how people treat artists in Indonesia?
Melati Suryodarmo: As long as the government still run culture and tourism ministry together, arts and culture are still considered as commodity.
Mella Jaarsma: I am born Dutch, but live since 1984 in Indonesia, when I came to study there and I stayed. I live in Yogyakarta, a city with the largest art institute in Indonesia and people from all over the islands come to Yogya to study. Then they mostly don’t go back, because there is no infrastructure in other islands and only a few cities have a contemporary artscene. The traditional art is though still very much alive through the whole archipelago. The contemporary art is in Java and Bali ( a bit at Sumatra) and mainly in the cities Jakarta, Yogyakarta, and Bandung. Because of the art boom and quite good coverage in the mass media, being an artist is now accepted as a respected profession.

VN: When and where did you establish your name as an artist?
MS: I think after my first solo performance in 1996.
MJ: I studied art since I was 17 and I did my first exhibiton since I was 20. Now I am 50, I am still very active. Art is my life and I participate in approximately eight exhibitions a year, in Indonesia as well internationally.

VN: When you were just starting, how was the art scene back then?
MS: Well, I started working as an artist in Germany. So I probably can understand more about the German art scene, until I go back and forth regularly to Indonesia. In performance art scene, it was quite difficult in Germany and it might still be.
There are two strong scenes, the festivals and the museums and galleries scene. The festival scene might have been more dominating the growth of performance arts, while the market has found it difficult to deal with it. I think in Indonesia, performance art is not so much appreciated. Hopefully there will a better knowledge and understanding about it.
MJ: When I studied and started to work in Indonesia, I met very interesting fellow students and artists, but there was little international interest in 1984 on Indonesian art. But that changed at the end of 80s, due to my own effort as well to get the Indonesian artists on the map.

VN: What made you decide to take up arts seriously?
MS: My heart and soul convince me to spend my life with art.
MJ: When I was young I already knew that I wanted to go into the visual art, so I decided at the end of my high school to apply. And I was selected in an art institute in the Netherlands. It was hard to get in, only 10% was accepted.

VN: What was the reaction of your family?
MS: My parents are artists themselves. So there was no more discussion about it. Although in the beginning, they were happy that I finished my study in international politics before I studied art.
MJ: Very supportive, but they always tell me that it was my own decision and that l can not rely on them financially, something that I never needed.

VN: Were you born in a very creative environment?
MS: My father is a performing artist, movement teacher, a dancer. My mother was a Javanese traditional dancer. I grew up within a very strong artists community in Solo.
MJ: No actually, no other family members are artists. My father was an aerodynamic engineer and my mother runs a beauty salon.

VN: Do you exert extra effort to explain your art to others? Why?
MS: No.
MJ: I consider it important to communicate, so yes it is important.

VN: In what medium are you most comfortable with?
MS: I choose and use my body in my performances.
MJ: I work most in installations, multimedia and mixed media. During the last 12 years, I have been working on anything between skin, clothing and housing, and the social space in between.

VN: Why do you still love performance art?
MS: It’s the most moving form, contextually, conceptually, it challenges me to face the subject of the work as well as it confronts other form of arts. It has to do with the live direct energy to be with the public.
MJ: It is a direct way of communicating and for some works most effective. I often do not perform myself. But work with models or with the public.

VN: What is your definition of performance art?
MS: For me performance art is a work that is based on the concept, using the actual time and space, the body is the subject and object at the same time. It contains the whole action, transports the idea through the action. It is not a theatre, the artist does not play a role, but him/herself. It is not a play, it has to have the quality of honesty in doing the action. It does not manipulate object, there is no trick. The most important thing that should happen in the performance art is the ability to open the door of the public’s own perceptions or interpretation.
MJ: I don’t have.

VN: How popular is performance art in your country?
MS: It becomes popular in Indonesia since the 80’s.
MJ: Not very popular, because there are more bad performers then good performers.

VN: Could you tell us stories about most memorable performances?
MS: For me, a performance of James Lee Byers performance, when he stood at the Documenta, and his action was spitting.
MJ: Please visit

VN: So far, how many works have you produced?
MS: Around 65 works, 32 performances and the rest are photography, installation and films.
MJ: Hundreds.

VN: What particular work stood out – either as your best or as your worst?
MS: My own favorite is the Exergie Butter Dance. It’s a life-long project and I am redoing it always, no matter how my body changes with my age.
MJ: Hi Inlander, in 1999. It gave my work a new direction and one of the first works together with the performance Pribumi-pribumi in 1998. They were the first works that I made in Indonesia commenting directly on social and political issues in Indonesia. I am sensitive to do such as a white person.

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