Artwork ›› Shadow Puppet Project
Title: The Wonder of Diamond
Year: 2009

Eko Nugroho in collaboration with Ki Catur Kuncoro (master puppeteer), Toro (master puppeteer), Dr Matthew Isaac Cohen (master puppeteer),Ign. Sugiarto a.k.a Pak Clink (light design), Yenu Ariendra (music) and Andy Seno Aji (stage) made a Puppets Performance "Hidden violence" at Cemeti Art House on Thursday, 5 March 2009


This exhibition is an interpretation of Javanese Wayang (Javanese Shadow Puppets). The name wayang itself means shadow’, hence, in the Javanese, as well as Balinese tradition, the main essence of a wayang performance is the representation of the shadows. In the tradition of wayang performance in Java, which is usually performed in throughout the night to dawn by one dalang (a master puppeteer) and accompanied by a gamelan (traditional orchestra), the wayang puppets, as real objects are fully enjoyed only by the dalang. We, as the audience, face only the shadows of the wayang.* The dalang captures the audience with his skillful revealing of the story and his  expertise in manipulating the wayang against the lighted screen.  

The wayang puppets here are transformations of Eko Nugroho’s comical figures that have long been adopted as the  main aesthetic base of his work. Peculiar figures, such as stone-headed man, diamond-hearted man, and pincer-handed man, are common in his paintings, drawings, and embroideries. Combining fantasies and daily life is his way to represent a world view about ambiguity and contradiction. In wayang purwo, classical wayang depicting stories derived from the epics Mahabarata and Ramayana, contradiction is constantly underlined. The difference is, whereas the figures in classical wayang have fixed characteristics, Eko Nugroho’s wayang figures were designed to be free of any specific characteristics. This flexibility was intended to make these puppets available to be used by any one with any story.

In some museums that keep wayang collections –  in spite of the fact that these collections remain dusty and have not been well taken care of – we can see the long history of how wayang has functioned as a medium to depict stories and  life visions of a society in a certain period. Even though wayang purwo has been the mainstream in Java, new forms of wayang always emerge, attempting to bring the art form closer to what is currently happening, or, to replicate something of ‘daily life’. Hence, there are new developments, including wayang agresi (wayang about the agression), wayang revolusi (wayang about the revolution), wayang kancil (wayang about the mouse-deer ), wayang kampung sebelah (neighboring village’s wayang), wayang suket (wayang made of dry grass), and many other forms that are trying to cross boundaries and offer alternatives. The wayang in this exhibition represent one of these attempts to bring contemporary sensibility into a performance practice that has been categorized as traditional art. Surely, to excavate wayang as visual inspiration is not something new at all in Indonesian art history. Heri Dono has done this since the 1980s and has exposed the story throughout the world. Fusing visual images into painting and performance art, Heri Dono was refreshingly avant-garde at that time. Now, Eko Nugroho does the opposite by moving visual images from his paintings into forms of contemporary wayang. Perhaps there is nothing special about this in relation to the history of innovation in wayang itself, however, the value is in the effort to excavate aesthetic possibilities from other disciplines, even those from other periods of time, and to represent them in visual images that are fresh, though still anchored in the memories of many people.   


All of the wayang puppets in this exhibition were made out of leather, and measure 90 – 100 cm long. Whereas wayang purwo have remarkable details in ornamentation, the ornamental forms in Eko Nugroho’s wayangs were executed with the ordinary inlay technique,  but rather the inlays became the ornaments. For coloring, Eko Nugroho used acrylic paint on leather to produce a brighter colors. The wayangs were only painted on only one side to maintain the transparency in order to enhance the colors of the shadows. Even though these are not new ideas, in the end, these wayangs created by Eko Nugroho represent a unique form and fresh visualization.  

The visualization concept for this exhibition derived from the idea of night fair. On one hand, for most of Indonesians, especially those who live in kampongs or small villages, night fairs are occasions of collective joy, moments for life celebrations. On the other hand, the night fairs also present an interesting picture of how this society absorbs many other cultural traditions and art practices, and assimilate them into their own social contexts. The modern and the contemporary encounter the past artifacts. Something new and shimmering is presented side-by-side with something old and moldy. The night fair is a noisy arena where  differences are appeased and where plurality is exhibited. All of these hard to define qualities of the night fair are also found in Eko Nugroho’s art works — figures that were born from wild fantasies, crazy ideas, and even familiar images from the streets or in densely populated villages. Some international curators often to call them ‘genial’ and ‘original’.

In addition to the idea about the night fair, the spirit of shadow and light in the wayang performance also inspired Eko Nugroho and his collaboration team to bring the visual images of the exhibition to life for performance interests. All opposites that originate from the shadows, i.e., the object and the shadow, the light and the dark, the real and the unreal, the hidden and the exposed, are defined by a piece of cloth used as a screen. There is only a thin sheet of gauze in between them. The screen, or in Javanese language, kelir,  represents the universe, the stage for mankind.

Light is the main element that creates the shadows. In the traditional performance, the primary source of light comes from a single oil lamp, blencong, which is hung above the head of the dalang. The light from the blencong illuminates the area around the dalang. On the other side of the screen, the audience is left in darkness. In current wayang performances,  innovations to create new visual possibilities employ a variety of light sources. Installations in this exhibition mainly use electric energy, providing a variety of lighting possibilities.

I find unique results in the involvement of  Ignatius Sugiarto, a.k.a Pak Clink, a lighting artist who has experience primarily with stage performances, in collaboration with Eko Nugroho in bringing life to these wayangs. Pak Clink has been exploring many possibilities of light sources and, therefore, his capability and craftsmanship in knowing how shadows are formed by different light sources has enhanced this performance. Like Eko Nugroho, on stage Pak Clink painted his images with the use of lights. 

The results of their collaboration are manifested primarily in the installation works using colorful electric lamps and in the interactive installation displays of Eko Nugroho’s typically comical forms. The main installation in this exhibition, a merry-go-round with wayang figures, is immediately associated with the night fair atmosphere we find on the streets. These wayang figures present a parade of absurd cultural anomalies, bearing a weapon in each hand, exposing a hidden desire of violence.       

The other pieces transform painting into three-dimensional objects presented on the wall. The wayang figures were hung, framed with colors created by the lights. These forms represent an alternative expression, unlike from shadows that can be seen as silhouettes on the wayang screen, or kelir pewayangan, the shadows created in the frames are overlaid with the object itself, becoming supplemental colors and ornaments.

In our art references, light usually serves as a cosmetic element in an art work, primarily a part of the space where an art piece is displayed, rather than as an integral part of the art piece. Eko Nugroho’s and Clink Sugiarto’s collaboration presents light as an essential element in art. Like children playing with new toys, the two artists enjoyed playing with the lights, exploring all possible images created by the shadows. They excavated the wayang meaning from its roots, i.e., shadows, to present it as a piece of art, inviting the audience to excavate memories of the joys of their childhood play.     


Perhaps every thing began from nostalgia and a desire to dip into childhood memories once again. Most of us grew up in the in-between/transitional space, when traditional rituals were still part of our daily lives, while pop culture, through developing communication technology, such as television and radio, stole our attention. Therefore, when Rodney ‘Glick’ spoke about seeing the ‘dead’ wayang puppets covered with dust  at Sanabudaya Museum in Yogyakarta, we became interested in how to remove this dust. We started this collaboration in June 2008.

I saw this project as a new mark in Eko Nugroho’s personal artistic process, not only because he found a way to explore more intensely the traditions, but moreso because of the interdisciplinary collaboration involved with this project. Over the last five years, his individual activities in the international art field – even when he was involved in collaborative works in several residency programs – have enriched him with different cultural life experiences. Perhaps these encounters with other artists brought him to the realization, or, to be precise, personalization, of the latest theories in cultural studies, i.e., that identity grows and changes. The ‘identity’ that had been previously attached to him, a young man who grew up in Javanese society in the 1990s, has been challenged to surpass his original form and collide with modern and sophisticated global imageries. He has found the space to revisit his memories and experiences with Javanese traditions, and to review  his references about cultural differences from a new perspective.

During this wayang project he travelled with a traditional wayang master puppeteer, Ki Catur Kuncoro. He relearned the wayang stories and discussed with Ki Catur Kuncoro which wayang conventions could be used in the project. Another collaborator in the wayang performance, Andi Seno Aji, designed the visual staging. Eko and Andi set out with the idea to combine traditional and modern forms, fuse together the visual phenomena of daily life and the wildness of imagination. Yennu Ariendra proposed interesting ideas for the music in the dramatic development of the performance. Later, Toro, a traditional art practitioner, contributed to the discussion about interactivity.    

An ideal collaboration process always needs time for the subjects to understand their different backgrounds and working modi. Crossing different fields –  from traditional to contemporary, from pop to high art, from manual behavior to digital product, from performance stage to exhibition space – is a collective journey that took us to an imaginary place where we must find and mark the signs and directions by ourselves. Thus, you will probably find it difficult to name this performance or project, or even just to identify what it is about. Every time this project is presented to the public, new ideas emerge from our reviews of the audience’s responses. Ultimately, it is because we realize that, as a piece rooted in the traditional arts, interactivity with the audience is a significant part of this performance.   

For us, the attempts that are labeled as innovations of the traditional arts, a slogan that has been used in many NGOs’ arts and cultural program proposals over the last twenty years, which are focused primarily on restoring humankind’s love for the traditional arts and to reinstate the traditional arts as part of the daily life of contemporary society, is something very difficult to realize. This process is not part of a utopian ideal about ‘preserving’ the traditions, but rather, it is about using the traditions as source of inspiration to be transformed into forms that are more representative with what we believe today.

Engaging in the traditional arts, such as wayang, is part of our effort to rediscover the spirit of collectiveness, something that appears to be romantic and nostalgic in a time when technology and virtual collectiveness has put us to sleep. In fact, each time this project is presented to the public we really feel the life of the created space and collective event. This is a way to eternalize joy, to recollect neglected nostalgia and to fill whatever vessel that might be empty.

*This is more true of Balinese wayang performances, where the audience is limited to sit only on the shadow side of the screen. In the traditional Javanese setting, the invited guests are indeed placed on the shadow side of the screen (facing the inside of the house), whereas the dalang and the gamelan are on a stage that is open to the outside (public) audience, which is inevitably larger than the invited (private) one. In fact, it is common practice now in Java to have everyone, including invited guests, sit on the dalang side of the screen, while there is minimal space afforded to the shadow side of the screen.

Alia Swastika

Title: Veduta - Lyon Bienale X
Year: 2009

Veduta-Biennale de Lyon

Lyon Biennial-Veduta is organizing residencies that focus on territories currently going under urban renewal. The notion of “urban renewal” dates back to the  1990s, and refers to the different interventions implemented in difficult neighborhoods, interventions which have been trying to improve their working operations and favour their integration in the city. These interventions range from restructuring apartment buildings to improving bus services, creating new public services, setting up new companies, and social accompanying of the residents. Within this context, the curators of the Biennial (guest curator and artistic director) are setting up an artist residency in 3 main territories: Le Carrée de Soie, Le Grand Parc and Lyon-Vénissieux.

The purpose of the residency is the production of an in situ work, to be shown during the Lyon Biennial 2009 (14 September 2009 – 03 January 2010). The notion of in situ is to be understood in the broad sense of the term: it can be an artistic work part of the urban landscape or using the material or immaterial content of the occupied urban space for the production of an installation or any other kind of contemporary creation. The kind of intervention could be an exhibition, a performance, or even an urban sculpture…

On the occasion of the residencies meetings with the residents, local councillors … will be organized with the artist. These meetings will take the form of conferences, workshops, or any other form that will best suit the artist’s project.