Friday, May 1, 2009

Performance art in Indonesia: Paisarn Plienbangchang, "On a Burden of Delight, (2)" from Siam Rath Weekly, Yr.51, Vol. 2, 4 - 10 June, 2004.

This is the second of a series of article on a performance festival in Bandung Indonesia which Paisarn joined in 2004.

Paisarn Plienbangchang. “On a Burden of Delight.(2)” in Siam Rath Weekly News Magazine, Yr.51, Vol. 2. 4 -10 June, 2004.

1/ The city of Bandung where we were visiting is situated in the highlands, but the city itself is located in a sort of valley. The summer weather is not as hot as we expected, and there was a breeze cooling us, too. It is like Chiengmai, one of the northern Thai cities. Besides, it rains a lot (which we didn’t expect) like in the south of Thailand.

2/ We knew that this city was planned from the time of the Dutch colonizers in Indonesia – as if they made the city into a center of some sort. The old residential buildings are still in evidence, but mostly there are government buildings along the roads with great large trees, very old, so many of them. I was very happy for them. They are not crazy about felling all their beautiful old trees, as we are in Thailand. There were avocados and many clove trees.

3/ Cloves are what the Indonesians put into their cigarettes so they have a distinctive fragrance and taste, quite unique. Speaking of cigarettes, Indonesians smoke a lot. Wherever people congregate, there’s smoke. Even when they are working with two hands, you see a cigarette in their mouth, gripped between their lips.

4/ Bandung is a big city, second to Jakarta. The people are really packed together here. The streets are full of cars. Certainly, in the morning and after work, all the roads are jammed, so the smell of smoke is everywhere. The traffic police seem to be unable to do anything to resolve the situation. We saw young kids helping to direct traffic in some places. When they were of service to someone trying to get into the stream of traffic, the driver would give the kid a 1000 rupees (5 baht) tip. It’s one way for a kid to earn a living.

5/ The roads are short downtown. Some have interesting histories. When there was a general uprising of the people against the Suharto government there was rioting almost everywhere. There was on particular road where all the people came together to demonstrate for their sovereign rights against the dictatorial government.

6/ When they succeeded, they used the street for performance activities. On Saturday when the sun goes down, the street is closed to traffic. People come from all over the city, mostly youths. The street is a meeting place, a place to perform music and dance in so many varied forms. They come together as if to recall that is the place they used in calling for the freedom they desired.

7/ And in that struggle and in those demands of 1996, young artists, both men and women, had a big role in that event. They used pictures, posters, plays and performance art to stimulate and communicate the fight for the people. People accept that some works of performance art were born on that stage.

8/ There are many performance artists in Bandung, more than 100. Many people have been doing performance art regularly since then. The place is used for regular meetings. The new generation of artists are creating works for the International Performance Art Festival organized by Romah Nusantara. We stayed our first night with local artists, mostly artists who live in Bandung. The work of each person has content which varies – social criticism – about dreams of freedom.

9/ Looks like the terrible riots were still in the minds and memories of artists and of many people. The young male artists, Anggawedhaswara, in a gorgeous outfit, sits. A video projector shows the event in which soldiers fired on protestors, killing people. Houses are burning. He changes into a white suit, stuffs white paper in his mouth and yells, “I wanna be an angel!” again and again as he tries to swallow as much paper as he can. He seems to recall, again and again, what happened in the past.

10/ Similarly, Isa Perkasa is an artist who participated in ASIATOPIA in Thailand many years back. Isa uses water to wash her face and hands, as if she were going to do the daily prayers of Islam. Instead, she sits down and takes out a large Indonesian flag and stuffs it all in her mouth until she chokes and tears come out of her eyes and water oozes from her ears. She says that everything is returning - corruption, dirty politics, dictatorial government. The question is, “Are we going back to zero again?”

11/ If this kind of art reflects something happening in society – and each society has a myriad of things going on in it – it is because that is the culture of the place. But if society is swallowed up by something even bigger, we will see a reflection and a story that is the same in many places. Roni Supriatna and the work “Junkfood” – He takes the paper wrapping from junk food and sews it all over his clothing. It looks like a new fashion. Then he climbs on a bicycle which is decorated with similar packaging and tries to pedal it in midair. In front of his is a TV, turned on. Whatever the program, he pedals angrily on. The paper flies off with his exertions till he runs out of energy, as does the audience.

12/ About women and the status of sex object: Ferial, age 22, and “In the Name of Love.” It happens on a white bed. A girl in a nightgown blows up a big condom till it becomes a balloon. Then she jumps all over the bed and finally writes upon it in red lipstick: ‘in the name of love.’ Finally, she removes her red underwear, lays them on the bed, and walks away, leaving the audience to think what they will.
13/ That was pretty provocative.

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