How do the Indonesian young artists respond to the invasion of the current pop culture? Most of them, surprisingly, do not mind the idea that the pop culture has become a representative of global culture and capitalism. They even follow the tendency towards current consumerism. However, they modify the trend in a certain way.

Some of the recent exhibitions held in Jakarta–“Jakarta Biennale 2009” at the National Gallery, Jakarta (February 2009), “C-Arts Show: Exhibitions on Contemporary Art” at Grand Indonesia Shopping Town , Jakarta (April 2009), or the exhibition “Hybridization” at The North Art Space in Ancol Beach , North Jakarta (April-May 2009)–describe that phenomenon.

In the exhibitions, some artists translate the contemporary spirit by using new media and by absorbing some icons of new pop culture . They use digital technology, styles of comic, street art, and some objects of commodities, in their works. Technology, digital photography, and computers appear to be relevant to record the life and the dynamic of urban community, who seem to have lost their identity.

The blurred figures in digitalized style represent a paradox of the loneliness of the people in the big cities. The satirical style of comics depict well some characters of those who departed far from environment. Similarly, video has shown its audio-visual advantages. In this regard, art objects are consisted of everyday objects.

It seems clear that these young artists accomodate the current trend of pop culture in their work with the spirit of playing. They pick up the products of mass culture, but they modified them as provocative art works. They are successful in forcing us find certain meanings behind the ‘ordinary’ object.

Take an example of the installation by Kuswidananto aka Jompet (an artis from Yogyakarta ), entitled “Java, Ghost of War”, in the Jakarta Biennale 2009. Uniquely, only a machine play six drums. Behind each drum, there are shoes, hats, and long barrel gun belonging to soldiers of Javanese Kingdom. These military attributes represent a cultural blending: whereas shoes and gun are European products, clothes are Javanese ones. Still, hats are symbols of Buddhism.

Jompet explains as follows: “After the war is over, Javanese kingdom wages another war of symbols and cultures. This is a war to defend our culture from the invasion of foreign cultures.”

The work by Wiyoga Muhardanto (an artist from Bandung ) is also interesting. He created a toy of car but as big as a real car. The toy has two automatic doors. It seems that car–an important vehicle in the city and a symbol of wealth for rich poeple–is nothing but a funny toy.

Similar spirit is also shown by another artists. Rudi Mantofani, an artist from Yogyakarta, for example, also shows the same spirit. His work shows a two meters tall guitar. Faisal Habibie, an artist from Bandung, makes a chair with a good design. However, he plays the object. Maulana M Pasha, an artist from Jakarta, presents a video art which records a journey in the midst of Jakarta. He shows us that the journey has no the ending.

Joyful passion

This kind of artistic works does not present a certain form of art, but maintain the passion of joy and laugh. The artists want to make fun of certain icons of the daily life. They intentionally hijack these icons for their own interest.

We may relate this to a German philosopher, Hans-Georg Gadamer. According to him, a contemporary art is a fusion of the subject-object. It is an interplay between the two. Here, a new meaning is always invented. This play also stimulates many questions of ‘ordinary meanings’ embraced by people.

It seems that these young Indonesian artists are more interested in making a small narrative rather than a grand narrative. They criticize various contradictions in the contemporary society.

In the middle of the cultural globalization, these young artists deviate from the mainstream. Instead, they play with various images and icons, which they put in their works. To consult Dick Hebdige in his “Subculture: The Meaning of Style” (Routledge, London, 1991), these artists are trying to translate the reality of the contemporary world into the image that the current values of capitalism offer.

That joyful spirit provides these young Indonesian artists more freedom to respond to the changes in society. At the same time, they still consider the social context in their works. Rather than drowning themselves in the wild game of globalization, these artists seek their authentic identity in their works.

By Ilham Khoiri

(2009)