Critics’ Picks

  • Melati Suryodarmo, Transaction of hollows, 2016, single-channel video, color, sound, 14 minutes 45 seconds.

    “Contemporary Worlds: Indonesia”

    National Gallery of Australia
    Parkes Place
    June 21–October 27, 2019

    This exhibition, a sweeping survey of contemporary Indonesian art, begins with Art as Purifying Dialogue, 2019, by Tisna Sanjaya, a key figure in the country’s art scene. A kora-kora (swing boat) is fixed above a custom platform flanked by two flags, which the artist describes as symbolizing the two competing ideologies of khilafah (caliphate) and pancasila (the state’s founding principles). Three stairs to the work, labeled etik, pedogigik, and estetik (ethics, pedagogy, and aesthetics), invite guests onto the platform to deliver speeches on selected topics. During the opening night, artist James Tylor shared an indigenous perspective of colonialism’s impact on the Australian environment as Sanjaya took notes directly on the platform using white paint.

    Throughout the four-hour Transaction of hollows, 2016, Melati Suryodarmo picks up a series of arrows in a small room. Her audience moves behind her or to the side as she aims her bow and releases the arrow toward the bare walls, filling the white cube with echoing smacks. The fourteen-minute video loop, shot during the performance’s first iteration in Sweden, plays in the gallery, ensuring that the work reverberates continuously. Although Suryodarmo trained in European and Japanese disciplines of live arts, this exhibition teases out the performance’s Javanese elements. Its inherent danger and risk—both to the artist and audience—speak to the rather tense dance of diplomacy between Indonesia and Australia in recent years.

    Meanwhile, painter Zico Albaiquni layers bright backgrounds with images of towering palms and monumental art museums, reflecting a careful study of historical predecessors. For Evidently, the Fine Arts Do Not Thrive in the Indies, 2018, re-creates a nineteenth-century photograph of Papuans posing with a Dutch Catholic missionary—now in the National Gallery of Australia’s collection—and overlaps it with gambar pemandangan, an Indonesian landscape perspective teaching motif. In combining these disparate elements, Albaiquini fuses visual energy with a message about the legacy of colonial imagery. Connecting the traumatic past, dissonant present, and a hopeful future, the artists of “Contemporary Worlds: Indonesia” offer Australian audiences intense and sometimes uneasy avenues of engagement with their neighbors.