By Kristi Maya Dewi Monfries
Plant life in Indonesia and especially on the island of Java has been well documented though the colonial exploits of European explorers. These explorer ships would often have an artist on board to document and provide botanical archives for various uses. The artists were highly skilled and the drawings often contained important information in its detail in order to present to a European audience and also to the scientific community an accurate representation of what was seen to them as a strange new world. Indonesia having been colonised by the Dutch for over 300 years, mainly for the spice trade, plays a role, conscious or not in the minds of many people including the artists and continues to influence the artistic psyche and practical applications of their work, through what would be available historically and also conceptually.
The subject of Angki Purbandono’s new series OVALOVA presents botanicals found in new millennium Java and from within the walls of the ancient Kraton palace where he lives. These plants found in the surrounding area of Purbandono’s home were a variety of different botanical life ranging from medicinal herbs, flowers and vegetables to succulents. Even though it may not have been the main intention or conscious focus of Purbandono’s new series, aspects of these images provides information of what botanical life now exists in the area and by doing so act as a kind of archive of this old city. These found botanicals in Purbandono’s well known improvised scanographic style have been collaged together with various in-organic objects to create new surrealistic visual compositions presented in great detail through the framework or the ‘stage’ of the light boxes— the light boxes which has become synonymous with Purbandono’s long body of work.
This long body of work has over the course of many years finessed Purbandono’s working method, artistic process and compositional eye. Using improvisation as the key tool to the creation of these compositions, he has amassed a collection of found objects in his studio which he often choses from when scanning his photographs, these impulsive choices create images within a matter of minutes—he himself admitting that the arrangement of these found objects are often solely about aesthetics and beauty, with the concept being of secondary concern. But however conceptually light this work may seem it does not diminish the idea that over time these neon-box images will freeze and suspend the information of this era—not only the plant life but also the various objects—toys, crab claws, porcelain figurines will potentially cease being produced and cease existing in reality.
Purbandono consistent use of light boxes as the basic structure of presenting his sconographies allows for the focus to shift to the more finer details of the ‘drama’ that occurs inside the frame and also the frame shape itself. For this series he has changed the frame shape using a nostalgic oval shape, which changes the compositional dimensions and makes an indirect reference to Indonesia’s colonial past. Oval frames were used in the early days of European photography, usually in portraiture and were imitating the framing shapes of traditional painting at the time when photography was still heavily influenced by the painting tradition. It was also reflecting the shape of the mirrors; the mirror reflecting back mankind with these oval frame shapes used mainly for depicting people rarely places.
Purbandono’s past work the archival series Anonymous—a collection of old photos depicting Indonesia and Indonesian life as early as 1920 has also influenced this particular work as many of the found photos, which include Dutch colonial Indonesia, used the oval frame shapes—having collected these images over a period of years, Purbandono was exposed to various types of early photography and wanted to experiment with this shape. The final presentation of the oval framed lightboxes will also include oval tables that will be used to present two of the neon box images—adding another dimension to the look of the show.
The oval shape lends a softer and more feminine feeling to the little narratives and dramas that are occurring in the framework of light boxes creating very compact and interesting visual compositional landscapes, compositional landscapes that respect the shape of the frame. The ‘drama’ within the frame of light boxes is the coupling of organic with in-organic objects, man-made vs. nature, a re-occurring theme in Purbandono’s work. The relationship of the objects becoming the central focus and the surrealistic nature of the images enforced by the abyss-like black backdrop with the objects left floating in dark space. One of the many consequences of using the scanner directly as a photographic negative, the images are also rich with subtle yet sumptuous colours and detail. These details depict dolls hands with delicate leafy ferns, an Egyptian Tutankhamun floating in lily pads, a pair of dolls legs with an orchid flower for a head, two ceramic rabbits propping up vase, jasmine flowers suspending a deer in motion—collages of found object recycled into new objects.
This series OVALOVA cannot be viewed as a work on its own but must be seen within the context of this artist’s entire oeuvre to be fully understood. Through many years of using light boxes the artistic issues have now come down to minute details of frame shapes, the information that is offered within the frame and the method or process of creating the work. Although the artists says that these images are purely about ‘what looks good’ in the moment, it can on closer inspection have a slightly deeper message about the era of art that we live in—an honest statement about what one aspect of visual practice itself may have developed into for the 21st Century or perhaps that some art must also include and reflect the tastes of an audience that appreciate and accept that art can sometimes be purely about beauty and aesthetics.
Published: January 16, 2013