NEW MEDIUM, NEW LANGUAGE BY ENIN SUPRIYANTO
The end of 1993 saw an important momentum shift with regards to Indonesian Contemporary Art during the realisation of the Jakarta Biennale XI held at Taman Ismail Marzuki, Jakarta. I was reminded of this particular exhibition due to two works that were composed of organic materials as their primary medium. The first work was one made by Krisna Murti, Objects from Kampung Nagrak (1993), which took the form of an installation and video. The main component of this installation was an arrangement of rice grains spread upon the exhibition floor and placed in a wooden lumping (a wooden container where rice may be processed). In a couple days, these grains began to grow and develop leaves, change form and colour, as well as undergo a visual change of the installation as a whole. The second work, Retakan (Cracks, 1993), was made by Andar Manik. A vital component of this work—aside from the ceramic sculptures hung to appear like floating rocks—was the clay mud splashed on the wall. As time progressed, the mud began to dry, crack, break, and descend onto the ground.
In the past decade, the relationship between Indonesian artists with natural materials, as well as its contained organic features and properties, has continued to progress further. The House of Natural Fiber (HONF) has formed and taken advantage of bacteria as well as fermentation processes in their installation work Intelligent Bacteria – Saccharomyces Cerevisiae, which received the Transmediale Award in 2011. Another group, Lifepatch (also based in Jogjakarta), recently displayed an installation, Moist Sense (2013), that utilised plants, as well as basic electronic gadgets which could transmit an assortment of sounds when certain degrees of humidity were reached in the plant containers.
What can be concluded from the above is that Syaiful A. Garibaldi (also known as Tepu) and the practice he has developed over these past years remains a continuation of his predecessors. In the same breath, however, he has also widened and opened new avenues of ideas and process in comparison to the past. This was evident in Tepu’s last solo exhibition, Regnum Fungi, in Padi Artground, Bandung, 2012. In this exhibition, Tepu utilised fungi as material. His works highlighted various visual characteristics related to fungi, as well as expressed a new language similar to Esperanto he created himself called “Terhah”.
These two principal components, fungi and Terhah, both express the organic disposition of his works in terms of its potential to undergo processes of development and transformation. With these two materials, Tepu enforces the notion that as a material, fungi—or more importantly: new media artistic expressions—are directly related to the need for new languages. At the same time, this language also requires a means of visual expression, a form of new alphabetical typography, which in turn is also related to the various visual cues that have been observed by Tepu through the lens of a microscope, microorganisms in a Petri dish. From these two materials, Tepu is aware that at each part of the process that determine his work’s beginning and end—which later on may also break and disappear—is a process open to many possibilities of changes, and are contingent, which means that the changes that may occur may not always follow the will or control of the artist.
This reality causes Tepu’s works to shift or, even to a certain extent, erase his position as an artist. Until now, there has always been a possibility where artworks and artists cannot avoid the reality that they become interlinked referentially through those things that are personal or cultural in nature. In many cases, contemporary artworks instead choose and utilise formal aspects and materials from a variety of sources to enforce the notion that such references exist. In this way, complexities of interpretation and meaning become widened and enriched. Tepu’s works instead go on an opposite trajectory. By applying fungi and Terhah, Tepu’s works exist completely as the mediums of the works present. The fungi and languages he introduces also enforce the formal aspects and materiality contained within. It would be very difficult to find, if one exists, distinct personal or cultural references in these works by Tepu.
In doing so, Tepu proposes a reality where aesthetic quality, as well as artistic experience, is not only based upon the requirement of meaning in artworks. Similar to the bacteria and fungi samples present in the works in this exhibition, the aesthetic experiences in this exhibition are meant to be spatial and temporal in nature. This is similar to how Tepu himself realised a part of his works in the exhibition space itself, and not in a studio. To take this idea further, the works provide impetus to observe the world around us with more attention and detail. This is only possible if the works are released from the burden of having to express a particular message or meaning. These works invite us to observe everything carefully, akin to observing microorganisms through a microscope. Through such observatory processes, we may perhaps take an imaginary retreat to a magical world containing a plethora of fungi without having to taste the peculiar mushrooms Alice had in Wonderland.