Brilliant Ideas Episode #23: Heri Dono
Fantasy Storyteller Talking About Reality
At the border between something new and the familiar past
New and fresh things always catch our eyes; meanwhile, old and familiar things give us comfort. The works of Heri Dono, an artist from Indonesia, are qualified far and wide to satisfy the two desires of human. Based on traditional Indonesian tales and plays, his artworks gave a new shock to the art scene centered around the Western countries with the unique ways of interpretation that were quite different from the tradition, while allowing the Indonesian people to also have a new experience by inferring from their tradition.
His new attempts also contributed greatly to widen the view of the world on Asia, which had only been limited to the Eastern Asian countries such as China, Japan and Korea to Western Asia where Indonesia lies. Thanks to his works, Dono has risen to international fame, becoming one of the most desired artists in the world. What do you think raised the artist based in Indonesia, straight to the ranks of international artists? The answer is in the Brilliant Ideas Episode #23 featuring various sides of Heri Dono, presented by Bloomberg and Hyundai Motor.
Imagination ahead of the reality
The works of Heri Dono show bold colors and strong characters that cannot be easily forgotten. Also featuring many familiar characters such as angels, monsters in myths, and the Trojan Horse, his works seem like illustrations in a children’s book. The source of such fantasy-like factors is in his school years.
Saying that life without imagination is fairly dry, the artist used to watch a lot of fantasy movies when he was young and realized that human imagination was faster than the science and technologies in the real world. One of the movies he saw, “Flash Gordon”, has a scene where a human reach Mars, depicting a time earlier than that of Neil Armstrong, who left his footprints on the Moon for the first time in history. Realizing that imagination was more advanced than actual technologies, and finding a common feature between animism and animation that both of them were based on a thought that everything had a soul, the artist started to trust on imagination more and more. Then, one day, he encountered “Wayang.”
Wayang, a traditional Indonesian shadow puppet show, is one of the traditional Indonesian elements that Dono has borrowed in his works, in addition to glass painting and textile techniques. In the past, there was only one television channel in Indonesia, though the country consists of multiple islands with various cultures. Therefore, to the artist, the television became a symbol of a one-way medium that only transmitted limited information. On the contrary, in Wayang, responses of information receivers could be seen immediately, and messages of information senders could be directly and efficiently transmitted. Attracted by such features, Dono actively used the puppet show to demonstrate pluralism, the most basic idea of contemporary art, by putting efforts such as spending a year on mastering the show.
To Dono, full-of-imagination Wayang enables communication more factual than in a television, which sends objective news, and rich-in-fantasy movies can introduce the sides more developed than the reality to the public; his imagination, however, is not always used in picturing beautiful fantasies. Looked at closely, his works somehow give an eerie and grotesque feeling. By producing beautiful yet strange images, the artist reveals fear for the reality, while also suggesting his own critical and satirical comments on the contemporary society and political situations, highlighting on morality as one of the roles of an artist.
Artist who casts light on moral responsibility
One of the stages that an artist who represents one country is to pass through is participating in the national pavilion of the “Venice Biennale”. Dono also had the honor of taking part in the Indonesian pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale. He depicted all the roles of an artist that he has dreamt of on this international stage.
Saying that artists have a moral responsibility to inspire people with awareness of what is going on in their environment and in the world at large, the artist has been eager, since he first started creating artworks, to straighten what he thought was wrong. To the artist, art is not just about showing pretty sides, but also about showing the things that are not easily seen on the other side.
Under the theme “Voyage,” Dono presented <Trokomod>(2015), a large installation in which the Trojan Horse and the Indonesian Komodo dragon were combined. He also decorated the exhibition space that used to be a weapons warehouse in Venice with Indonesian Batik fabrics on which the Javanese characters were illustrated in geometric patterns, and religious symbols, to send the message that the old and antique culture brings on the future, and to show an attempt of mixing Eastern and Western cultures through the amphibious hybrid animal and space.
The important part of this work is that it visualizes certain people as images. <Trokomod> sails the sea between the history, the local culture, and political and social situations in the world, making a humorous disclosure of the Western hegemony. Unlike traditional museums seen from the Western viewpoint as displays of exotic cultures, Dono made the Western symbols to be seen from non-Western perspectives, making a role transition by exchanging the major and minor views. This candidly shows the belief of the artist in the moral responsibility of an artist mentioned above, of enlightening people about the balances of global conversations and facts of what is going on in the world. ■ with ARTINPOST
<Dua Pandora (Two Pandoras)> 2012
Acrylic on canvas 158.8×198.8cm
<Dua Tukang Sulap Menari (Two Magicians Dancing)> 2008
Acrylic on canvas 68.6×88.9cm
<Ceremony of the Soul> 1995
Stones, plastic, radios, tape players, fans, wood, and fire 500×500×100cm
<Fermentation of the Mind> 1992-1993
Wooden school desks, books, tape players, electronics, fiberglass, and metal 600×600×100cm
<The Skeleton Angel> 2008
Acrylic on canvas 200×150cm
<The Monkey Astronaut> 2013
Acrylic on canvas 198×149cm
<Operation Mind Control> 1999
Fiberglass, metal plate, wood, barbed wire, adaptor, drinking glass, wire plate, cable, automatic timer 56×56×10cm (11 pieces)
<Raja yang menyuapi Anaknya (The King Has Given Food to His Son)> 2013
Acrylic on paper 66×79cm
<Shooting Nose> 2014
Acrylic on canvas 83.2×137.8cm
<The Bearer of B-29> 2011
Acrylic on canvas 199×149cm
Heri Dono is the world-famous and active Indonesian artist, who started to show himself in the art scene from the late 1980s. One of his major works, installation, is based on Indonesia’s traditional shadow play “Wayang”. As a result, he is known as the artist who gives the best example of reinterpretation of traditional art. Dono’s work is filled with fantastic characters and funny stories and he tries to communicate with the viewer. Through his works, he shares his own critical remarks on socio-political issues of Indonesia and abroad.
Born in 1960, in Jakarta, Heri Dono now lives and works in Yogyakarta but, spends most of his time in residencies or attending seminars around the world. He studied at Indonesian Institute of Arts (ISI) Yogyakarta, but he dropped out just before graduation. Because, he wanted to show that he could succeed as an artist without the diploma. Dono’s bold decision was a great success. Now, he has participated over 270 exhibitions and 27 international biennales, including Gwangju Biennale 2006, Venice Biennale 2003, Asia Pacific Triennial 2002, and Sydney Biennale 1996.