Sun, 07 Mar 1999

Installation art has not yet found its real definition

By Chandra Johan

JAKARTA (JP): In 1987, Arahmaiani brought into a gallery a papaya intertwined with cables, a pile of stones and wire, a wooden washboard and an old rack for drying clothes swathed in bandages.

The display aroused feelings of curiosity, but we could understand her attitude. The clothes rack, intertwined with bandaged and mercurochrome, made us think of an animal, say a bird, by associating the left and right portions of the frame to resemble wings.

She also attached the title I am Wounded; Arahmaiani saw herself as a bird with a broken wing. We could call it the behavior of "imagining with objects", more commonly known as "installation art".

Everyday objects, as viewed by Arahmaiani and other artists, are not only functional items. They are also bound up with the world of feeling and imagination, with vision, as every child can testify. Adults have suppressed their visionary dimension for everyday items, for good or bad reasons. But artists make explorations and yield us greater understanding about people, the environment and objects.

An exhibition of 19 installation artists, Media Dalam Media, (Media in the Media) at the National Gallery since Feb. 25 and will last until March. 25, opens our imagination about objects which have become a medium of expression.

However, most important in their works is reflection. But are the works capable of instilling reflection of phenomena or are they mere "showing off" in the guise of expression? We need to be careful in our observations to avoid prejudices.

Heri Dono's Glass Vehicles creates no sensation in its placing of traditional crackers on an iron support. But pay attention to a Javanese palace symbol, a kind of brooch, and a wooden doll measuring about 10 cm inside it. The doll represents a couple from inside the Javanese palace. The male, stiff like a robot, wears a palace hat and is in front.

A reflection of our feudalistic culture? Javanese feudal society is restrained in the social reconstruction system depicted by Heri Dono. The female, always situated behind, merely trails the male like a robot in a glass structure.

Rini Chairin Hayati presents The Tree of Life, showing bamboo splits forming several trees, with leaves made from paper.

There is also a painting about man "inside" the tree. However, more important is the text and plastic bags hanging on each twig of The Tree of Life. All the lines start with the word "buy": buy a meaning, buy love, buy peace, buy rank, buy a degree, buy a chance.

It is, in effect, all that money can buy. You are freed from guessing or interpreting what Rini is thinking. Decadence, consumerism or a cultural infection? Isn't it true that nowadays everything can be bought?

Krisnamurti appears with his installation work Belajar Antri dengan Semut (Learn to Queue with Ants). It's an old piece of work. He puts in a row several lion statues (for Ogoh-ogoh in Bali?), made of bamboo and other natural materials. In front of each lion is shown video recording the life of the ant "culture". A lion is a metaphor of power, and an ant is a metaphor of a debased creature yet, in fact, "we" need to learn how to be "civilized" from the ant.

Agus Suwage presents a black box like a canoe, complete with six oars, moving constantly, with a number of statues of the human head which load the water vehicle. A 200 cm x 400 cm charcoal painting represents "departure", or the installation is a representation of "departure". The meaning of "media in media" as a semantic problem is presented here.

The process of indigenous materials like dry leaves, twigs, the remains of rice plants and woods is presented in Siklus Alam (Natural Cycle), a work of Mukhsin MD. The organic part and the time machine, the clock, not only symbolizes the cycle of nature, but it also embodies principles of dialectics. Because of those natural materials, he, too, made a painting. Ephemerality and perishability stand as antitheses to the supposed immortality of artworks.

Several installation artists in this exhibition show their sensitivity in using and processing space. There is Last Call (Astari Rasjid), Jerat Tikus-tikus (Mousetrap) by Koniherawati, Dialog dengan Ronggowarsito (Dialog with classic writer Ronggowarsito) by Hendrawan Riyanto, Para Leluhur Kertas (Paper's Ancestors) by Setiawan Sabana, Tak Kutuk Dadi Watu (Curse You to Stone) by S. Teddy, Preserve vs Exploit (Anusapati) and Kehidupan (Life) by Marida Nasution.

Except for Astari and Marida, the installations tend to unite craftsmanship aspects and technical capability in the installation. Installation becomes a sort of extension from a two-dimensional space into a three-dimensional one

Feminist aspects are involved in Beauty Myth (Bunga Jeruk), Untitled (Tita R. Puspitasari) and also Last Call. A sensible take on this is Beauty Myth as women are smothered in a row of cosmetics packed in a pillow.

Imagining with objects is presented by Hadi Haryanto through Supper, a meticulous, multiinterpretative work. We have to be accurate with a table, an iron and wood chair an everyday objects laying on top. We find several associations in Pagan Soldiers (Hartanto), with animal figures made from natural materials, with the "animals" seemingly the "pagan soldiers".

Nindityo Adipurnomo, as usual, questions the women's lot in Java, burdened cultural ornaments like wigs (konde) through Series of Art + Earth = Heart. Yusra Martinus' Ketidak Pastian No. 6 (The Uncertainty No. 6) uses to effect wood materials as media.

Ultimately, installation art must be seen in the context of developing a media in the development of contemporary art. Unfortunately, the curators, Jim Supangkat and Asmujo Irianto, do not cover each work in depth in the catalog. They busy themselves with theoretical problems in searching for a definition of the installation, a debate which should have actually ended with Bienalle Jakarta IX 1993.