The opportunity to reside in a traditional pottery village Pagerjurang in Bayat fell into my hands from the sky. The organisers of Jakarta Contemporary Ceramics Biennale #3 (JCCB#3) found my work online and decided to invite me to exhibit at the biennale. They also invited me for an one month residency and so I ended up in a modest studio with Amornthep Mahamart (Top), an artist from Thailand. Together we were creating work in touch with soil, on the ground, with local materials and with clay produced by the villagers. With screaming of the children who excitedly came to observe us daily, the sun that was beating down day after day, Muslim prayers which reminded me that I am far away from Europe, and a daily dose of rice and chillies, I was facing a real cultural shock which was motivating me every day to ultimately create the installation “Invading the Space” working on a local potter’s wheel (the technique is 400 years old!).
When I landed in Yogyakarta I was met by a group of smiling strangers, Endang Lestari (Tari), an artist whose work was already exhibited in two previous biennales, I was also greeted by Sujud Dartan, the curator JCCB#2 and my co-resident Top. The first stop was a restaurant where I tasted the authentic Indonesian food for the first time (and found out that soybean sprouts burn in the mouth), and then we continued towards Pagerjuang. I haven’t even noticed when exactly we left Yogyakarta as the towns and villages continue without a break. The arrival at out final destination was announced by a high arch with two huge vases on the sides.
There were shops with local ceramics everywhere and knowing I will be able to create my work in this environment for a month filled me with adrenaline that didn’t let go until my return to Slovenia. We were shown around our studio which offered the basic facilities for our work. There was the traditional kicking wheel, wood burning and gas pottery kiln… and after a month of working without electricity I found myself wondering why we even need it for creating. We were sitting on low stools and we had to model our work in our laps as there were no tables. In the studio I also met Linda and Sidik, students of ceramics who were there to help us use the studio and communicate with the locals during our stay. This was followed by a tour of the village and the studios of the villagers. The view around every corner included heaps of clay on the street, wood leaning against the walls of the houses and vases tied to one another ready to be packed. The smoke from some of the houses announced that some villagers were already firing their ceramics. I envied the potters for the ease of their creating on their traditional wheel. Their hands just glide across the clay and they effortlessly run the wheel with their feet and create between 100 and 200 pieces per day.
They said: “Try to wheelthrow” and I tried. My first thought was: “How the hell do you centre?” All the rules I mastered on the electric wheel were useless. With my left foot I was clumsily pushing the bamboo stick so that the wheel was turning unevenly due to my clumsy tries. I was trying to catch balance with my hands in the air but I ended with a clump of wet clay and a torn product. Quietly I was already coming up with a plan B which wouldn’t include the need to use the wheel at all but the enthusiasm that initially pulled me into learning pottery now challenged me to take on their traditional techniques. Top “enjoyed” the noise of the wheel day by day. Our working day started at 7.30am and finished when a bat was flying above our heads. The creativity pulled us in and the pile of our work slowly grew. On the national holiday, the Independence Day, we visited some national sights together with Linda, Sidik and Tari. At the sunrise we saw the ruins of the Ratu Boko palace. I laid on one of the terraces of the palace taking in all the positive energy of the surroundings. We walked around the streets of Yogyakarta and continued the trip towards Borobodur, the largest Buddhist temple in the world. Touching of the carved reliefs of Buddha’s life was interrupted by strangers who wanted to take photos with me, which again reminded me that I am abroad, far away from the European culture. The view from the top of the temple was breath-taking and my heart stopped for a bit when we saw the volcano letting out thick smoke.
We spent the rest of the month in the studio. The installation “Invading the Space” was being created gradually under the influence of the cultural shock. I was initially using the local clay full of iron oxide which filled the form with warm red colour. It wasn’t the most suitable for forming my work. During the drying process it often cracked and hence needed a lot of corrections before and after firing. I decided to change the local clay for a different one available to me. I have already formed an idea of the installation before arriving to Indonesia but the forms themselves were being created spontaneously on the dusty floor of the studio. They were evolving and gaining character from day to day. The modest sketches I had drawn served me only as guidance. The biggest influence for the installation was the local traditional pottery wheel which took a lot of my energy and patience to get used to. Its tilting limited the size of the holes and it also took me a lot of time to succeed in designing the form I wanted to create. The sculptures from the installation are sectional because I was forced to work with smaller forms. I wanted to turn this disadvantage into a strong point so I tried to make my work more dynamic and explore how many possibilities there are for connecting the pieces among each other in different ways. I began adding outgrowths and at the same time I tried to stabilize the whole form with some strong vertical lines which later became the holders of the form.
We were creating without a break until we had enough pieces for firing. We tested the kiln which was built by Asmujo Jono Irianto who curated JCCB#3 alongside Rifky Effendy. I named the kiln Freya and on third firing she gave us wonderful effects. The kiln is fast and we reached 1250°C in mere 12 hours. Top wrapped his products in rice straw and so reached wonderful effects. Mine came out depressively black which was not initially planned but in the end proved to actually be the best colour given the dynamics of my form.
The residency concluded with a ride in a half-truck towards Yogyakata, more precisely to the home of Tari and Sujud where we lived for the next 10 days. We used these days for sightseeing; we saw Prambanan – city full of museums and galleries and coasts hidden from the eyes of the tourists.
Our time in Indonesia was running out so we hurried to Jakarta, to Galeri Nasional Indonesia where we connected with other exhibitors and began setting up our work. Installation “Invading the Space” is adaptable and can change depending on the room. This came in very handy when setting up in the gallery because the space is shared with other artist which directly or indirectly impact the look of your work.
Photo: Amornthep Mahamart
Photo: Amornthep Mahamart
My two months’ residency concluded in the capital of Indonesia, where I met all the amazing artists and curators and I also had the opportunity to sing karaoke with them. Any videos of that are fortunately not available :).
You can see more photos in the following albums: