Sunday, June 12, 2011

An Afternoon With An Artist...

This weekend one of my friends and a rag-tag mob composed of folks from Singapore and Jakarta descended upon my temporary home here in Jogjakarta for a couple of days of culinary tourism, so I decided to tag along. A couple of the retinue desired to "buy some art", so we stopped by the studio/home of S Teddy D, a famous contemporary Indonesian artist. Teddy was one of the founding members of the Taring Padi group of artists, which formed in the late 1990s in Jogja. The Taring Padi artists are known for their politically-themed art and their commitment to use their art as a medium for social critique. The movement grew out of the social and political unrest that ultimately led to the downfall of longtime strongman president Suharto in 1998.

Teddy's new studio/house is called "Art Merdeka" (Freedom Art) and is located on the outskirts of Jogja. Next to the house is a workshop that Teddy has given to his friends as a refuge to work on art projects. His "Art Merdeka" company is a kind of coop that provides services to artists, including packing, metal casting, studio space, and assistance getting into local and international expositions. Teddy is a very welcoming person and is down-to-earth, friendly, and easy to talk to. His celebrity doesn't seem to have gone to his head, and he has an obvious commitment to take advantage of his success to assist his fellow artists. He seemed to be pretty proud of his new digs and jokingly told us "now I'm rich". After serving us some Acehnese coffee Teddy introduced us to his wife, Theresia Agustina, who is also an artist. He told his mission as an artist was to raise awareness about social issues, and while he started as a political artist his work over the past several years deals with environmental themes as well. Teddy also said that there's been a transformation in Indonesia since the fall of Suharto. Before the fall, people were afraid to talk about politics, and so there wasn't a great deal of political expression. "But now anyone can scream anything", he said. Thus Teddy is concerned with how people in smaller cities and towns can find a voice amidst the noise. One way is through "Forest Art Festivals", like the one held in Blora in 2005. Teddy and some fellow artists organized this 5-week multimedia exposition for local youth and invited performers from as far away as Australia, Italy, and the US. This festival was a kind of celebration of forest resources, which had suffered from neglect and exploitation over the past 30 years around Blora. The artists and other participants planted new trees to replace those that had been cut. Another art festival took place in Salatiga and celebrated the natural springs of the area. Teddy told us he was really interested in local stories about the springs because these contain a lot of knowledge about how to maintain and care for the springs as natural resources.

Teddy gave us all some books and showed us around the studio. The following excerpt, in typical artbook language, vaguely hints at something than might be, under certain specific circumstances, as something resembling a lucid description of the artist's work:

It is also important to underline Teddy's attitude when he does exploration in art. He does not want to be trapped within dichotomy between two-dimensional and three-dimensional works, or between fine art and applied art. According to him, in two-dimensional painting there are still many things and many imaginary spaces that can be explored; and in three-dimensional artwork there are also many technical challenges and opportunities that need to be responded. What is always important to be done, according to him, is never-ending experiment to keep questioning everything through his artworks, which often are absurd, weird, unreasonable, eccentric, fantastic, imaginative, and even very vulgar.

I've included some photographs to the right to give you an idea of some of his current projects. Teddy does painting, drawing, sculpture, and installations, and even has a musical group that does "sound performance". He's had solo expositions in Singapore, China and Hong Kong has participated in dozens of group shows throughout Indonesia and Southeast Asia.

We also got a chance to see some of his wife's work, which was more in line with my taste. Theresa (Tere for short) works with a range of media as well, including sculpture, drawing, and video art. Stylized figures are a major feature of Tere's art, but the themes vary. In 2010 she had a show in Jakarta called "Happyartland" with figures designed to illustrate various aspects of life in Blora. The current work around the studio takes Noah's Ark as its theme and definitely has an environmental message. Tere has made some very detailed etchings of plant seeds with the idea that these seeds will be transported on a new ark to save traces of this world. She also has a series of stylized figures representing the next generation. To the left you can see a picture of the wooden ark that Tere designed and had built. The piece is about 3 feet long and 2 feet high and has working parts, including the rudder and the vents. In addition it can be closed or opened to reveal or conceal the cross section. The submarine ark is really cool and I had an overwhelming desire to play with it.

All in all I had a pretty good time hanging out with Teddy. He graciously invited me back to stay at his place, and I think he meant it.

You can see some more of Teddy's work here, here, and here.

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