Friday, April 24, 2009

Finding humanity in scrap metal

Matheos Viktor Messakh , The Jakarta Post , JAKARTA | Thu, 04/23/2009 1:14 PM | Arts & Design

Teguh Ostenrik will never forget his professor’s definitive assertion: “Creativity is when you make gold out of pig’s excrement.”

He received this pearl of wisdom in the late 1970s when he was doing a master’s degree in fine art at Berlin’s Hochschule der Kunste. Perhaps it influenced his artwork, as his usual materials of choice are scrap metal and waste.

In the spirit of recycling, he even designed a pyramid using bricks made from plastic bags in Munduk, in the north of Bali, in 1994.

The painter–sculptor’s latest works will be gathered together at Jakarta’s National Archive Building on April 26 and 27, under the theme “deFACEment”.

The Way I Approach, iron (Courtesy of Teguh Ostenrik)The Way I Approach, iron (Courtesy of Teguh Ostenrik)

What makes these works unique is that all the materials involved are scrap metal.

Teguh claims he does not believe in mood in art but in technique and management.

Nevertheless, perhaps an acute awareness of his origins and mortality has contributed to his consciousness of the importance of preserving the environment through recycling.

“I asked myself, what have we given back to Mother Earth? Don’t forget that all hazardous waste is human-made. I didn’t need prodding [to do this]; it came from myself as an artist,” said Teguh, whose sculptures and paintings have been exhibited at galleries and museums across Europe and Asia.

The artist spent the past six months in a metal factory in Tangerang, Banten, preparing his works for the exhibition, with the help of two assistants. They used metal obtained from old keys, knives, wire and other items no longer of use, all provided by the factory.

Fresh from the oven (metal): Recently finished art works of Teguh Ostenrik line up on the yard of a metal factory, where the artist has been working at, in Tangerang, Banten. (JP/ Matheos Viktor Messakh)Fresh from the oven (metal): Recently finished art works of Teguh Ostenrik line up on the yard of a metal factory, where the artist has been working at, in Tangerang, Banten. (JP/ Matheos Viktor Messakh)

“It’s a metal factory and they always have metal waste from production or from broken machinery,” he said.

“I’m lucky that the owner of the factory allowed me to use this metal waste.”

Teguh prefers metal to wood because although metal plays such a big part in our lives, it is not biodegradable.

“I once used wood when I was in Germany but it was used wood,” he said.

Other works that form the “deFACEment” exhibition were made in Penang, Malaysia, where Teguh was selected for the Artist in Residence program organized by ABN-AMRO Bank and the Wawasan Open University in 2008.

Teguh aims not only to use scrap metal but also to save energy during production.

“We usually attach pieces of metal together to create artwork with welding,” he said.

“I try to respect the initial form but sometimes we have to cut them using a cutter or plasma cutter.”

To produce the corrosion effect, new scrapmetal creations are sprayed with a chlorite substance to render them rusty, to reflect the character of Mother Earth.

Humanity has always been at the heart of Teguh’s art. Indeed, he said it was because of his interest in humanity that he left his medical studies in Jakarta in 1972 to study art in Germany.

Since his work was first displayed at Berlin’s Galerie Am Parkhaus in 1977, it has presented interpretations of various themes in human life, thought and existence through the employment of universal human figures.

And so, while God created mankind from dust, the artist creates his work from scrap metal.
Thus, we find a human figure with hair made of wavy wires titled Belon Disasak (Not Teased Yet), a figure made from tubing and wires that seems to embrace itself titled Self Indulgence and a multi-faced figure accordingly titled Dasamuka.

“The closest object to us is the human figure,” Teguh said, explaining the concept behind his human-centered works.

“We even have one and interact with them all the time.”

This collection reflects a further exploration of his early works from 1976, themed Homosapiens, but Teguh, who likens creativity to naughtiness, tends to continue deconstructing the academic structure he learned.

“Creativity is going beyond your own limits,” he said.

Urban planner Jo Santoso said Teguh’s works are very relevant as a reflection of the decomposition of human life in modernism.

“All of his works have human spirit. It challenges us to admit we are part of nature, the earth,” Santoso said, during the discussion of Teguh’s works in Jakarta on Saturday.

“He is a genius who uses modern art to express his criticism of modernism, but at the same time, he invites us to look at ourselves as part of nature.”

Santoso said something traditional is usually regarded as an opposition to modernism but Teguh refused that kind of modernism.

“He [Teguh] wants the kind of modernism that is friendly to tradition, earth, and humankind,” he said.

Communications expert Kafi Kurnia, who first met the artist more than 20 years ago, found Teguh’s works had changed.

“Back then, he was a very angry man and his works were also raw and full of anger. Now, they are sweeter and reflect maturity,” Kafi said.

Some of the works at this month’s exhibition were displayed last year during the artist’s solo exhibition at Alpha Utara Gallery in Penang, Malaysia, at a group exhibition titled “Self-Portraits of Famous Living Artists of Indonesia” at Jogja Gallery in Yogyakarta, and in a group exhibition themed “Dari Penjara ke Pigura” (From Jail to Picture-frame) at Jakarta’s Gallery Salihara.

Some of the items currently at the National Archive Building have already been sold, at prices starting from Rp 10 million (US$881). Dasamuka sold for Rp 100 million.

Teguh finds an interesting correlation between the way he makes a living — manipulating metals into human form — and the way others do.

“I have a routine that is not about manipulating people, as politicians usually do, but manipulating waste materials.”

Teguh Ostenrik: You need to be naughty to be creative

Matheos Viktor Messakh , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Thu, 04/23/2009 2:00 PM | Lifestyle

Artist Teguh Ostenrik does not believe in talent. For him creativity is about skill and hard work.

"Experience is a collection of mistakes. Make millions of mistakes but don't repeat the same ones," Teguh said, when emphasizing his philosophy on nurturing creativity.

Teguh is one of the few Indonesian artists who has exhibited his sculptures and paintings at prestigious galleries and museums around the world, from Galerie Lichtstudio and Der Oper in Berlin, Germany, to Fukuoka Art Museum in Japan.

Even when he was still a student at Berlin's Hochschule der Kunste, or the Berlin University of the Arts, he held his first solo exhibition at Galerie Am Parkhaus in 1977, followed by 39 solo exhibitions, 50 group exhibitions and 27 performances around the world over the next 32 years.

His commissioned work is also displayed at 29 museums, public landmarks and corporate buildings worldwide, including sculptures at the ultramodern Church of St Mary of the Angel at Bukit Batok in Singapore, terracotta art at Klinik Am Ring in Cologne and a gigantic 10-panel mixed media installation at the ASEAN Secretariat building in Jakarta.

Born in Jakarta in 1950, the sixth child - in a family of nine - did not have a place he could call home for years. Teguh's and his family spent many years following their father Ostenrik Tjitrosunarjo - a policeman - around the country from Makassar in South Sulawesi to Semarang in Central Java.

He inherited the unusual name of Ostenrik from his grandfather, Surakarta palace's official artist who once painted a portrait of a goodwill ambassador from Austria. The ambassador was so pleased he bestowed upon the painter the name Oostenrijk.

Later on, due to growing anti-western sentiment during former president Sukarno's era, the name's spelling was changed to Ostenrik.

After the alleged September 1965 coup or G30S, his father moved to Jakarta while Teguh was still in Semarang, spending three more of his senior high school years in Surakarta. Everything seemed fine with Teguh until he joined the School of Medicine at Jakarta's Trisakti University to prepare for a successful career as a doctor.

But Teguh's heart was elsewhere.

"Within the first two years, I realized I didn't want to become a doctor.Medicine sees humans as merely organs, everything is memorized," said Teguh, who spent the first two years at the university mostly drawing anatomy, cells and organs.

After corresponding for a year with his high school friend Robert Gunawan who studied in Aachen, Teguh left for Germany in 1972 with the money he had saved while driving a night taxi and 1,000 marks his late mother Marsini gave him - the only person who supported his decision to leave Indonesia. The dream was to study drawing at Hochschule der Kunste.

He spent three weeks learning German in Munich before moving to West Berlin to continue studying the language while working at a Balinese restaurant as a dishwasher.

He was only accepted at Hochschule de Kunste's department of fine arts after his fourth attempt in 1974 and finished his Meistersch*ler degree in fine arts in 1980.

His first terracotta pieces were already on display in Jakarta by 1980 at Mitra Budaya gallery, which was when his father started to understand his decision to become an artist, he said.

Teguh traveled to New York in 1981 for about three months, contributing 1,600 sketches to Ann Wilson's Faust Project while also taking part in dance performances.

In the same year, he moved to Amsterdam where he shared a studio with artist Sebastian Holhuber from Vienna.

A year later, he moved to Cologne in Germany and married Donata Dengler, who gave him two children, Lovis and Celine. He spent six years in Cologne, where he was involved in Robert Salomon and Mathias Von Welck's dance performances and taught slow motion movement at a model agency.

Teguh might be a famous painter and sculptor but not many know he took part in 27 performing art collaborations, stage and lighting designs around the world since 1978. These experiences inspired him to direct a dance composition titled Biarkan Mereka Menjamah Langit (Let Them Touch the Sky) at the Jakarta Archive Building in 2000.

But the year 1988 was perhaps a turning point for him, as he was forced to take the most difficult decision of his life and return to Indonesia for good.

"At that time, I was 38 and thought I would be too lazy to move back there at 40," said the man, who owns Bilik 3Dharma studio in Cilandak, South Jakarta.

Teguh never considered himself merely a painter or a sculptor. He thrives on exploring different media and materials, ranging from the conventional pencils, pastels, oils, acrylics to the more experimental ones.

His adventurous spirit took him back to Berlin in 1989 to witness the fall of the Berlin wall, of which he bought four sections for an installation in Jakarta.

After the May 1998 riots, he became intrigued with video and made a number of video art pieces.

Teguh, whose life art historian Barbara Asboth penned in 2000 in a book titled Transcending Time, believes art is like religion.

"If you are creative, you create your own dogma. If you are not, you need a dogma from other people," he said.

The creativity of many people, he said, was killed as early as their childhood. "Our parents forbid us to make any mistakes and if we do, they usually blaming someone else rather than teach us not to make the same mistake," he said.

He believes creativity does not differ much from naughtiness.

"Only those who are naughty enough can go beyond their limits," he said. "If I hadn't been this naughty, I wouldn't be where I am today."

Ani Widyani Soetjipto: Women in politics

Matheos Viktor Messakh , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Tue, 04/21/2009 2:16 PM | Lifestyle

For lecturer and activist Ani Widyani Soetjipto, the 2009 legislative elections were a big loss for the women's movement.

They were a real political loss, as female candidates who many were former activists failed to win the elections, she said.

"It turns out what we called the women movement is really fragile. Many activists have been working at the grass root level for decades, which is supposed to be the place to raise awareness among constituents and get votes," Ani explained.

"But the election results appeared to show there was no correlation between years of work at grass root level and actual voter support. It's very sad."

The woman who co-founded the University Network for Free and Fair Elections (Unfrel) in 1998 said women and civil society movements in general needed to reassess their strategies before deciding on any kind of policy intervention.

"What we don't have is the determination to stay in the course of the struggle and we don't have the people's mandate either. That's why the women's movement is easily shaken," she said.

Ani, who gained a master's degree in international studies from the Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington, Seattle, said a better problem-mapping and role sharing between the movement's stakeholders could create better coordination and synergy.

"But we know the women's movement has very diverse agendas and interests," said the 48-year-old woman. According to Ani, although many activists became involved in community economic development, their intervention was not successful at gathering votes for the elections.

"We are assuming when the people are economically independent, they are able to cast their vote independently. It doesn't seem so. I guess many people who have empowered themselves economically have not done so in a political context," she explained.

For a long time, Ani has been advocating the 30 percent legislative seat quota for women since she became the head of the women's division at the Centre for Electoral Reform (Cetro) in 2002.

One of the obstacles the women's movement faces - when pushing its political agenda - is opposition from activists fighting against the state, she added.

"There is always tension between those who want to disengage from politics and those who want to take part in shaping politics."

There are at least three solutions to such a problem, Ani said, adding that prior to deciding which course to take, the women's movement needed to reassess itself in a holistic way in order to prevent the movement from failing again in future elections.

The first option is to withdraw from politics for a while to rebuild political power from the grass root level.

The second option is to reconfigure how constituents engage with and support a number of select activists that play a role within a party or in the House of Representatives. Such support should be a full package from supplying them with conceptual ideas to financially supporting them.

"We have seen that without money, many activists struggle to manage their campaign and maintain their connection with their constituents.

"It *support* can't start only one or two years before the elections. It has to start now if we want to see changes in the 2014 elections. It has to be a long-term, systematic and localized support for selected activists that will be expected to become the agents of change," she said.

The third option is full intervention at the legislative, executive and judiciary levels, said Ani, adding any intervention at the national level always had a bigger impact.

"However, we have to be prepared for the risk of total failure at any level."

The women's movement has had little impact at the executive level since early political reforms in 1998.

"We have no control whatsoever at the executive level. Even if the House speaks as loud as it can, the executive won't listen."

The movement needs to ensure its candidates have integrity and are competent enough to be appointed at the executive level.

Participating in parties' internal reform is also another option, said Ani, because parties are at the upstream level of the political process.

The House will not improve until parties reform themselves, said Ani, who in 2008 successfully pushed for the adoption of affirmative policies for women in parties and election laws. Many activists have been preoccupied with their democratization work and failed to notice the state was still repeating some of its old antics, she said.

"What we see is the recycling of political elites. We see the same faces. The old enemy returns with a new face while we are not ready to face it." If the women's movement did not immediately come up with a common strategy to tackle the current political situation, the movement would fail once again and gain nothing from the political process, she said.

Although many women had already enjoyed greater opportunities to emancipate, said Ani, they still faced cultural and structural challenges. Therefore women should not be perceived as already equal with men.

"Cultural intervention is a long-term process because people's mindsets have to change. In order to accelerate it, we must intervene at the structural level by supporting passing laws and regulations ," said Ani.

"They could speed up the process."

For Ani, who has already had years of experience fighting for women's rights, celebrating Kartini's day is about remembering the essence of her struggle.

"The issues she fought for, like education for women, economic empowerment as well as political representation or the issues she fought against, such as polygamy, are still relevant. These issues are even more complicated now and we still have to do something about them."

Today in History