Indonesian Women Artists: Surging in Art, Science and Technology

XXLab, SOYA C(O)U(L)TURE, 2015. Courtesy of XXLab mode.
Irene Agrivina, Entangled Beauty, A Perfect Marriage, 2019. Courtesy of Irene Agrivina.
Irene Agrivina, Tajin, 2019. Courtesy of Irene Agrivina.
Irene Agrivina and Caroline Rika Winata, Textile Architect, 2018. Courtesy of Irene Agrivina and Caroline Rika Winata.
Andrita Yuniza Orbandy, Menuju Titik Ba, 2018, mix media, 250x250x200 cm. Presentation at ARTJOG 2018. Courtesy of Andrita Yuniza Orbandi.
Elia Nurvista, Früchtlinge, 2019, video still. Courtesy of Elia Nurvista.
Etza Meisyara, Garam Di Laut Asam Di Gunung Bertemu Dalam Belanga, 2019. Courtesy of Etza Meisyara.
Farhanaz Rupaida, Ground, 2019. Courtesy of Farhanaz Rupaidha.
Monica Hapsari, Kechari, 2019. Courtesy of Monica Hapsari.
Rianti Gautama, Spacetime Architecture Experiment #01. Courtesy of Rianti Gautama.
Sanchia Tryphosa Hamidjaja, The Future is Abandoned, 2019. Courtesy of Sanchia Tryphosa Hamidjaja.
Syagini Ratna Wulan, 31.85 (6.21462,106.84513), 2019. Courtesy of Syagini Ratna Wulan.
Tara Astari Kasenda, Sous Les Cumulus Humilis, 2019, transdisciplinary new media, photography, coding, photoshop. Courtesy of Tara Astari Kasenda.
Natasha Tontey, From Pest to Power, 2019. Courtesy of Natasya Tontey.
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In Indonesia, a new generation of female artists aged 40 or under is on the rise and one of their main interests is in the role of science and technology in art. In just 2019 alone, five exhibitions investigating the topic have featured these artists who are carving a new path in contemporary art.

TEXT: Carla Bianpoen
IMAGES: Courtesy of the artists

 

2019 may be noted as a momentous year for Indonesian women artists. Long neglected in mainstream exhibitions and the general canon of Indonesian art history, Indonesian women artists now boast a new generation who feature prominently group exhibitions and festivals, including “Indonesian Women Artists: Into the Future,” and “Five Passages to the Future” at the National Gallery of Indonesia, the international new media art festival “Instrumenta #2 Machine/Magic,” co-hosted at the National Gallery of Indonesia, the cultural institute Bentara Budaya  and the GoetheHaus; and “Wave of Tomorrow” at The Tribrata, just to name a few.

While the previous generations of Indonesian women artists—including Kartika Affandi, Dolorosa Sinaga, Lucia Hartini, Iriantine Karnaya, Nunung WS, Titarubi, and many more—were largely painters and sculptors, with the exception of performance artists Arahmaiani and Melati Suryodarmo and ceramist Hildawati Soemantri.

Unlike those generations, this new group of women artists under or around the age of 40 often work with unconventional mediums. While the previous generations tackled issues of a personal nature, the younger artists I will be describing are interested in exploring social issues through science and technology.

 

XXLab, SOYA C(O)U(L)TURE, 2015. Courtesy of XXLab mode.

 

Irene Agrivina
Lives and works in Yogyakarta
In 2013, Irene Agrivina, co-founder and director of Yogyakarta-based new media arts collective, House of Natural Fiber (HONF), together with Ratna Djuwita, Eka Jayani Ayuningtias, Asa Rahmana, and Atinna Rizqiana, co-established XXLab, an all-female collective focusing on art through science and free technology including open source software and biochemistry.

It took just two years to achieve international recognition. In 2015 the group won an international award at Prix Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria, for their project SOYA C(O)U(L)TURE, which made use of Acetobacter Xylinum, a type of bacteria which converts tofu waste glucose into cellulose fiber sheets called “Nata de soya” within 10 to 12 days. This edible cellulose works as a low-cost alternative to leather.

 

Irene Agrivina, Entangled Beauty, A Perfect Marriage, 2019. Courtesy of Irene Agrivina.

 

An artist and educator in her own right, Agrivina won the Silver Award in Media Art at the IFVA Festival in Hong Kong in 2017 for her project that explored the symbiotic relationship between Azolla, an aquatic water fern, and Anabaena Azolae, a microscopic green cyano bacterium that have been inseparable for some 70 million years. This is the only species that can perform oxygen-generating photosynthesis and nitrogen fixation. In 2019, Agrivina extended the project by linking it to Dewi Sri, the mythical goddess of fertility. She created an intermolecular dipole system using photo synthesis and other vital reactions to generate a sustainable system of water purification, food and energy source. Artistically this was presented in a mixed media installation called Entangled Beauty, A Perfect Marriage (2019).

 

Irene Agrivina, Tajin, 2019. Courtesy of Irene Agrivina.

 

For her work Tajin (2019), Agrivina used a biological process with open source software and hardware to create underwear that protects the female body against harmful pollutants that are usually used in the modern fashion industry. She converted porridge (air tajin in Bahasa Indonesia) into cellulose, then added a number of bacteria such as acetobacter, xylinum as well as floral bacteria from the female genitalia to create the underwear.

 

Irene Agrivina and Caroline Rika Winata, Textile Architect, 2018. Courtesy of Irene Agrivina and Caroline Rika Winata.

 

A collaborative exploration in 2018 was done between Irene Agrivina and Caroline Rika, a textile artist, also from Yogyakarta. Presented in an experimental installation in making batik, the project was titled Textile Architect. Through the use of chemical processes between alum, natural dyes, and fabrics, Agrivina and Rika designed and built organic objects—creating alum crystals on textiles and appropriating laboratory visualisations in their installation. The utilisation of water molecules, low kinetic energy, saturation, and temperature to form alum crystals is a simple technique that utilises chemical reactions between molecules with human intervention. Bringing alternative technology closer to art practices that identify with women, the installation combined three materials that are very close to the practice of women’s art in traditional cloth making, namely; alum, a natural colour binding agent for making batik; woven threads and tie-dye fabric; and natural dyes.

 

Andrita Yuniza Orbandy, Menuju Titik Ba, 2018, mix media, 250x250x200 cm. Presentation at ARTJOG 2018. Courtesy of Andrita Yuniza Orbandi.

 

Andrita Yuniza Orbandy
Lives and works in Bandung

Drawn to Islamic spiritualism, Andrita Yuniza Orbandy discovered the Sufi theory on the point of ba, which refers to the dot under the letter ba in Arabic, and is the first letter used to open the verse “Bismillahirrahmanirrahim.” Orbandy said the dot in Arabic is perceived as representing the heart. Without the dot, the verse cannot be formed. And “without the light in the heart, there will be no tranquility in life because it will be dark,” she told me when we met. “In the darkness, we can’t see anything.”

The light as guidance and the path towards that point of ba is visualised in her work Menuju Titik Ba (Towards the Point of Ba) (2016). Combining the changing position of the sun, she imagined the point of ba as a guiding light. In a closed structure set in the open air, she built a short tunnel that gets higher and smaller as it approaches its end, leading to a room where the sun enters through a hole in the roof. Depending on the sun’s movement, the stream of light bursting through the hole on the roof emanates the most diverse and wondrous coloured shapes. Of her practice using acrylic to create geometrical colour filters, she notes, “I wanted to place emphasis on the hope or light is manifest not in one form only, but in many forms, and although light is immaterial, it consists of many colours that make visible the material, the shapes and form.”

 

Elia Nurvista, Früchtlinge, 2019, video still. Courtesy of Elia Nurvista.

 

Elia Nurvista
Lives and works in Yogyakarta.

Elia Nurvista has been passionate about food production and distribution and its social and historical implications. To support her social and artistic activities she established Bakudapan, a food study group. Her Hunger Inc project in 2015 addressed the issue of food and its relation to economics, politics and social class within the context or urban life in Indonesia. In her video installation titled Früchtlinge (2019), which she created during her residency in Berlin, Nurvista reflects on the hypocrisy she felt in Germany, when on the one hand migrants and refugees tend to be loathed, but on the other hand tropical and exotic fruits are considered cool.

  

Etza Meisyara, Garam Di Laut Asam Di Gunung Bertemu Dalam Belanga, 2019. Courtesy of Etza Meisyara.

 

Etza Meisyara
Lives and works in Bandung

Etza Meisyara, an artist with great sensitivity towards music, always questions the impact of technological development on the human condition while seeking new possibilities in new media art. Her works have so far been guided by a passion with sound and music, compassion with the human condition, and human dialogue. Fusing and melding one with the other has been her challenge in creating her works. Creating an art work is like working on a musical composition, she once said, it follows the rhythm of emotion. IQRA (2012) was the result of her collaboration with blind women; she transformed Braille into musical notes, as she did with her conversations with refugees during her residency in Germany in 2016.

Recently she has been fascinated by the connections between myth and science in Java, where salt is believed to repel negative energy. People here scatter salt around the house to keep away danger and evil. For her installation at ARTJOG 2019, titled Garam Di Laut Asam Di Gunung Bertemu Dalam Belanga, she combined chemicals with kitchen ingredients and used a machine to invoke sound that she obtained from some recording processes at places considered such as forests or at the foot of the mountain. When we sat down to talk, she explained her process, “I sprinkled salt on a copper plate that is vibrated by sounds propagated by a loudspeaker to create a pattern. The oxidation process locks the frequency pattern into a random geometric visual pattern.”

Meisyara’s latest performance work, The Rhythm of Tragedy, took place at the GoetheHaus in Jakarta, when it was included in “Instrumenta #2 Machine/Magic.” Taking as the departure point her belief that sound is an important element in the creation of the universe—instigated by the scientific theory of the Big Bang—she imagined the explosion actually served as the beginning of the fusing process which then transformed into space and time. She further stipulates that wave manipulation was the key to creation. If sound is understood as a wave that propagates through particles, and we humans consist of particles, then we are all catalysts for the creation that is present in her performance.

 

Farhanaz Rupaida, Ground, 2019. Courtesy of Farhanaz Rupaidha.

 

Farhanaz Rupaida
Lives and works in Jakarta

In her work Ground (2019), Farhanaz Rupaida works with video installation and algorithmic art. Rupaida is concerned with the notion of digital advancement through which the accumulation of data on the Internet causes shifting human existence, stored in electronic devices. Environmental concerns such as global warming, forest fires and mounting trash would only be news features, while dystopia and utopia would only matter to scientists and fiction writers. Earth’s surface would be reduced to digital cables that transfers data. Her latest work Re-Imagining Tribhuwana traces the expansive travels of Queen Tribhuwana Tunggadewi from the Majapahit Kingdom, in three interactive panels combining image, movement and sound.

 

Monica Hapsari, Kechari, 2019. Courtesy of Monica Hapsari.

 

Monica Hapsari
Lives and works in Jakarta

Monica Hapsari studied Textile Craft at the Bandung Institute of Technology. Her works talk about the search for her true self, the cosmos, the earth and her journey that leads her back “Home.” Her sound installation and performance, Kechari (2019), highlights the phenomenon of waves and frequency that is able to influence a person’s mental state. It is inspired by Kimatika, which is sometimes known as scientific sorcery; a study of wave phenomena and frequencies that is thought to have an mental and spiritual effects. In Kechari, Hapsari delivers the recording of audio generated by the uvula and vocal cords. The ever-changing visual pattern of “mantras” reveals to us the secret of sound frequencies.

 

Rianti Gautama, Spacetime Architecture Experiment #01. Courtesy of Rianti Gautama.

 

Rianti Gautama
Lives and works in Jakarta

As an artist with an architectural background, space and time is the main focus of Rianti Gautama’s work. Generally, a construction stands motionless meanwhile people walk through and time passes. On the other hand, humans always fantasize how to manipulate time just like the other dimensions, whether that be time travelling through a portal, a machine, or a wormhole, for example. Through Spacetime Architecture Experiment #01, Gautama wants to convey that time is not only an experience by humans, but also by space. By means of this experiment, Gautama attempts to introduce time as a construction, therefore, making it able to dynamically move.

 

Sanchia Tryphosa Hamidjaja, The Future is Abandoned, 2019. Courtesy of Sanchia Tryphosa Hamidjaja.

 

Sanchia Tryphosa Hamidjaja
Lives and works in Jakarta

Sanchia Tryphosa Hamidjaja is an illustrator and a visual artist who has meandered from advertising to illustration and animation, while cartoon characters doodled in her spare time evolved into painting, graphic design, drawing murals and even graphic novels. Creating fantastical dystopian themed cities has been a long time fascination. In her work titled The Future is Abandoned (2019), a digital print on fabric is displayed in an LED lightbox, putting forth a rendered visual image full of colour—a bit like an idealistic cityscape—but close inspection reveals it is in fact an inhospitable habitat. Barren, with not a single human figure amidst an accumulation of rubbish, cars, motorbikes, unsold properties, abandoned structures, and more.

  

Syagini Ratna Wulan, 31.85 (6.21462,106.84513), 2019. Courtesy of Syagini Ratna Wulan.

 

Syagini Ratna Wulan
Lives and works in Bandung

Syagini Ratna Wulan is a passionate reader and observer of the human psyche. She is inspired by art, culture, psychology, scientific theories and the passing of time. Her modes of expression are variable, and true to her belief that nothing is permanent, only change is forever. In her 2016 solo exhibition “Spectral Fiction” (2016), she explored the interchanging light on a range of blue and light-blue panels, creating a sculptural impression, calculating the measurement and distances between the panels by applying the Fibonacci Sequence and denoting colour by its wave lengths. While in a recent work, a lacquer on Plexiglas painting titled 31.85 (6.21462,106.84513) (2019), the artist references the level of the rainbow’s slant and the longitude and latitude of Jakarta. “Even as I imagine the world without any human being, there will always be light,” she informed me.

 

Tara Astari Kasenda, Sous Les Cumulus Humilis, 2019, transdisciplinary new media, photography, coding, photoshop. Courtesy of Tara Astari Kasenda.

 

Tara Astari Kasenda
Lives and works in Paris

Initially rooted in conventional painting, Tara Astari Kasenda’s practice gradually tried to redefine the meaning of painting through unconventional mediums. Her passion with impressionism brought her to Paris where she studied Transdisciplinary New Media. Mimicking the idea of en plein air—the practice of outdoor painting pioneered by the Impressionists—Kasenda breathes fresh life to the idea, through using contemporary technology and new media to observe the changing light and how it affects the environment. Photographing the changing Parisian sky, no less than 400 times since August 2018, she condensed the colors to 9 RGB using Photoshop and coding, and presented the changing skies in a video projection titled Sous Les Cumulus Humilis (2019).

 

Natasha Tontey, From Pest to Power, 2019. Courtesy of Natasya Tontey.

 

Natasha Tontey
Lives and works in Yogyakarta

While artists are looking and working towards the future, Natasha Tontey actually goes beyond it. The future, as she imagines it with her project From Pest to Power (2019), is one where mankind is no longer the centre of attention. In a quasi-fictional quest, she explores the idea of an ecocentric future in which the cockroach—as the only single species able to survive the many extinction events and epochal transformation—might be the key to a sustainable future. In this she is inspired by Xenofeminism whose manifesto on a speculative future highlights the idea of ecocentrism in the future, which removes humans from being the centre of everything. In Tontey’s own speculative prediction, “the future is the cockroach.” Her artistic work adopts live performance and video installations with images in animation reminiscent of fables.

 

 


 

Carla Bianpoen has been a freelance journalist for culture and contemporary art since 1989. Her reviews have appeared in such publications as The Jakarta Post, The Indonesian Observer, Asian Art News, C-Arts Magazine, Visual Arts Magazine, Harpers Bazaar Art Magazine, Tempo, Jakarta Globe, Esquire Indonesia, and Art Republik.

She co-authored Indonesian Women Artists: The Curtain Opens, and has also written ‘Revealing Sakti’ to introduce Sri Astari Rasjid oeuvre. She was the Artistic Director and Co-curator for the Indonesia National Pavilion, Venice 2013 and 2015. She has been a juror for the Bandung Contemporary Art Awards since 2009. She is a recipient of the Visual Art Magazine’s Award (2011), and the Government of Indonesia’s Contemporary Art Award (2014).

 

 

 
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