Sun, 11 May 2003

Nyoman Erawan's retrospective: Forebodings come true

Carla Bianpoen Contributor Jakarta

On the night of Friday, May 2, Balinese artist Nyoman Erawan introduced his prolific retrospective exhibition of 165 paintings and installations at the Bentara Budaya Jakarta, accompanied by a performance art piece, the theme of which is at the core of all his art: Destruction.

Bamboo installations, in the Balinese style used in traditional ceremonies, stand to the left and right of the main bamboo cage that holds an upside-down perahu, or boat, covered in a white cloth. This is the stage where Erawan, clad like a priest in white, sits on the floor to visualize his apprehension of a world in shambles.

To the metallic spatter of falling maize kernels, rice and marbles dropped on the gong in front, he smears a quid of white sirih, or betel, in brusque movements over his face and head until he is transformed into a masque with varying expressions of anxiety, while the beating of the gong sounds out the chaos.

The performance is an acknowledgement of our disintegrating world -- of age-old forebodings come true -- but is perhaps also a signal of hope for a new, better life. Within each bamboo structure is a spear pointing at the artist's face.

Erawan -- considered one of the foremost avant-garde artists who, in the 1980s, dared to break with the conventional -- never left the culture and tradition into which he was born, but he does not recreate the arts of old, either.

An allegorical description of how he works would be something like the following: While standing with his two feet planted firmly on the ground, he pulls down dilapidated buildings and erects new ones. Substantiating his obsession with destruction, any artwork he begins, starts with some type of wreckage. Tearing up the canvas, burning holes into it, or spattering paint on it are just a few examples. Then he starts his new creation.

Erawan's explorations in art stems from the Hindu cycle of life, which believes in reincarnation, says art observer Putu Wirata Dwikarya.

Erawan explains that one can start at any point in the cycle, of which birth is usually considered the beginning. For him, however, it is death and destruction from which he emerges toward new life and growth, a process that is called peleburan, or dissolution, as in the process of fusion. Destruction intrigues him greatly not only because of the awesomeness of it, which can be interpreted as beauty, but also because of the inherent warning that life is not eternal.

His explorations of life through death comes from the overwhelming curiosity Erawan feels about Ngaben, the Balinese cremation ceremony. Pomp and splendor is burned away in just a single day. His fascination with, and inspiration from, death and destruction is in actuality a pondering of life and its temporary nature, and of how one should live to be reborn as a better person in the next life.

Perhaps it is the crumbling state of the world, heading towards total destruction at the end of all time, that spurs Erawan on, who seems never to tire of visualizing doom.

A checkered black-and-white cloth, cosmic mountains, coins and the colors of the cardinal directions are used to convey the idea of eternal change, grounded in the Hindu concept of reincarnation that offers chances for improvement in another life.

Initially, his curiosity was aroused by the broken or burnt remains of Ngaben, which he integrated in his pieces such as in Puing-Puing Ngaben (mixed media, 60 x 50 cm, 1983). Continuing in his explorations, however, he proceeded to produce more abstract pieces integrating Balinese iconography as an accent, as in Pralaya Matra CIX (60 x 60 cm, 1998) or in Citra 40 (2000).

Erawan, according to art critic Mamanoor, has now moved on from visualizing the destruction of the material world to the resurrection of destruction into new forms, the Balinese process of reincarnation within the mind. Throughout this process, he continues to be intrigued by the beauty that destruction offers before transcending into new life.

Surprisingly, he now incorporates human figures in the series Nir Suara (2000) -- figures in upside-down positions, moaning or wailing silently.

Erawan was born in 1958 in Banjar Dlodtangluk, in the village of Sukawati, Gianyar, and studied at the Indonesian Arts Institute in Yogyakarta. Aside from being an artist, he is also a krama adat, a member of the Balinese village council responsible for tradition and custom, and participates in rituals and ceremonies, including the preparations for Ngaben.

Tension between the traditional and the modern in Bali appears to have influenced the way he transforms the traditional.

The holder of various art awards, Erawan has exhibited widely. He is regarded as one of Indonesia's foremost contemporary installation and performance artists, staging new forms of Balinese Hindu rituals with the central theme of creation out of destruction, linking the organic and inorganic.

The exhibition catalog is descriptive and includes comments from Mamanoor, Putu Wirata Dwikora and Arief B. Prasetyo on Erawan's work.

Pralaya: Proses kehancuran dan kebangkitan Retrospective Exhibition By Nyoman Erawan Bentara Budaya Jakarta May 2 to May 12