POST ETHNOLOGY MUSEUM Heri Dono
Dec 13th,2008 - Jan 13th,2009
A solo exhibition by Heri Dono
Curatorial text by Mikke Susanto
Some of the world?s ethnology museums display collections acquired during the period when their respective countries were major actors of Colonialism and Imperialism. These museum, to certain extent, justify the ?pastime? of their rulers from that period. They become an extension of that period?s spirit of conquest and annexation. Scores of the museum?s collections are spoils of wars in the past, a mobilized image of a nation and an expression of ?The Other? ---the conquered?projected into the cultural space of the nation of conquerors.
The practices of collecting cultural artifacts through this method of political and military conquest has been carried out since the 16th century, which is known as The Age of Discovery.
After visiting the Louvre, a friend of mine commented,? Wow, a lot of the exhibited stuffs are war?s loots, not all of the museum?s collections truly belonged to Paris.?
Ethnology museums? collections usually made up of artifacts from the third countries---presently viewed as the new countries, although their existences are not truly new---such as Africa and the Asia-Pacific. In a positive context, ethnology museums have a role of presenting the cultural richness of different nations or cultural groups to audiences, who hailed from another array of different cultural groups.
Ethnology is believed to be a branch of knowledge that study nation and culture. It comprehensively investigates the cultural building blocks and problems of a nation or an ethnic group. It aims at gaining an understanding on the history, evolution process and cultural distribution of human populations in the world. Ethnology gained popularity in the academic circles of Continental Europe (Scandinavia, the Netherlands, German and Austria).
However, in 1930 a schism occurred. Several new figures in ethnology, particularly those from the U.K., believed ethnology should not solely focus on the evolution process and cultural distribution of the examined cultures but should also investigate the world?s cultures in comparative ways to determine the common prevailing cultural problems and develop the social and cultural norms of human populations.
Thinkers, like Radcliffe-Brown, constructed the objectives of this new science on nations. Ethnology is the old science, the new science is social anthropology. The one that focuses on the historical perspective of culture is called etno-history. The contemporary definion of etno-history places it as a study on and about non-European ethnic groups.
This definition has been systemically developed since the 1940s when the U.S. anthropologists examined the Native Americans? cultures.
Naturally, ethnography is currently perceived as an archaic thing, something that stands for gullibility and a cultural construction that is both superstitious and irrational.
Postmodernism is an eye-opening paradigm for many people, including Heri Dono. Now, he wants ?to interrupt?. He wants to present a new opportunity, at least to his own self as a person who watches himself. It is not a stage where other people are watching us.
Heri Dono has visited major museums in various countries. This time he wants to re-interpret the roles of museum, the roles that have disturbed his mind for so long. Heri Dono wants to re-construct the roles of the museum, and, if possible, the very concept of ethnology. He offers a thinking space that treats ?museum as the subject matter, not as the medium.?
Heri Dono disclosed that the art works displayed in this exhibit represent diverse processes of creation based on pluralistic discourses that placed local values and philosophies at an equal, referential position with the concepts of modern arts, which have strong historical connection with the Renaissance in Europe.
It means Heri Dono wants to reconsider the way of interpreting the object and the cycle of thinking involved in comprehending a person?s experience. He wants to de-construct the established point of view concerning the East. This is the meaning behind the word ?Post? on the title of the exhibit.
There has been many contradictions in the effort to define the word Post. For instance, in the Postmodernims discourses, any effort to define it will give birth to problems. Similar thing will take place when an effort is made to define what Postmodernims is not. Dick Hebdige in his book Hiding in the Light calls this phenomenon a logical contradiction.
Terminology-wise, the prefix Post has many meanings, such as ?continuation?, ?response to?, ?critic at?, ?revolution against?, ?deconstruction of?, ?separation from?, ?disengage from? or ?interchange with? modernism.
To a large number of thinkers, the meaning will be very much determined by the philosophical perspective utilized in dissecting the term. Architect Charles Jencks defines Postmodernims as ?radical eccletism and adhosisme?, while French thinker Jean Francois Lyotard defines it as ?part of modern?, stating that Postmodernism rejects the charms of beautiful forms, and tends to look for new ways of presentation. The rejection and the search are not driven by the urge to consume the new forms but solely to evoke the sense of impossibility brought by the new forms.
From the metaphor utilized by Heri Dono, I could conclude that the ?objects?, such as the primate, Gandhi, the monkey, and the palace , are all precious stuffs.
These are the things that the Western pundits have often labeled as ?East? and ? local?.
Yet, in the mind of Heri Dono, those ?objects? are not just ?passive objects?, things that exist to be watched upon and being interpreted as ?the other?.
All these years, Heri Dono has also offered Wayang, and its colorful characters, as an alternative form of aesthetic expression to the world.
The aforementioned distinctive perspectives are the offsprings of Heri Dono?s unique way of thinking and habit. This artist has deliberately constructed visual elements into a meaningful repertoire.
Bambang Hendro Wiyanto, praised Dono?s utilization of shadows? manipulation, clearly inspired by the traditional shadow puppet Wayang, to convey his radical expression on contextual themes. Museum Ethnography (2001), Heri Dono?s work displayed here, could not be comprehended as merely a fine art?s creation.
The installation piece depicts a shadow puppet Wayang Kulit performance inside a can previously used to store kerupuk traditional crackers. Inside the can, several Wayang Kulit characters are placed alongside several objects. An insignia of the Yogyakarta Palace is attached to the outer side of the can.
From a cultural perspective, this work shoulders a heavy responsibility of transforming elements and materials commonly found in social space into an art object. It is very obvious that such transformation has became an important issue that carries a powerful appeal.
Julie Ewington identifies this kind of work as the signature breakthrough of fine arts in Asia. The incorporation of traditional symbols and social elements, Ewington said, are part of the ?indigenous art?, an example of the contemporary artists? success in gaining a recognized place in the global stage.
Museum Etnografi seems like trying to explore an issue that currently is considered as an archaic, outdated or classical in nature; Palace and Kingdom. The concept of ?Kingdom? has became a part of the Western?s ongoing discourse on the struggle of contemporary ideologies.
Heri Dono presents this issue as a finding, which convinces the public that ? kingdom is the space of ideological struggle in Indonesia?s past? and that past has influenced the local history; history of the colonialized land.
Land that had been partitioned by the western perspectives. Land that had been bordered with a thin wall made of a can. A can that used to store kerupuk, a fragile snack for a boring free time. Heri Dono deliberately re-creates this discourse as a thinking material. He articulates the ideology of the past and the colonialized land concept (Orientalism) as the materials of the present-day ethnography museum.
He offers contradictions and simultaneously reminds, reviews and, possibly, reconstructs that discourse into a perennial collective memory.
Purposefully, he mixes and combines, thus, creating a perspective, which, is not dissimilar with the traditional salad ?gado-gado?. Because that?s the very thing Heri Dono has always aimed at; creating an opportunity for alternative thinking. In this exhibit, he creates a new opportunity for the ethnography museum. He looks for new forms of presentations, not in order to enjoy them, but to evoke the sense of impossibility out of those new forms. This is Heri Dono?s new museum.