The Fellowship Of The Animators*

Indonesian artist Febie Babyrose (b.1985), Herbert Hans (b.1984) and Ruddy Hatumena (b. 1984), otherwise known as Tromarama, met at the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) where Babyrose was studying printmaking, and Hans and Hatumena Visual Communication Design. The trio produces colorful and endearing works inspired by their immediate surroundings, contemporary issues and spirituality, often touching upon solemn matters through a lighthearted or playful aesthetic. Hans and Hatumena speak to Cristina Sanchez Kozyreva about Tromarama’s early days, the cooperative process inherent to their art practice, and their practice development.

In 2006, the three friends teamed up for a workshop where they were commissioned to create a clip for the song, Serigala Militia by rock band, Seringai. They made a video animation with woodcuts, rather straightforwardly illustration the band playing, drawing their inspiration from the roughness emanating from the music and the lyrics. It took them a month and a half to realize 450 woodblocks for a little more than 4 minutes of stop motion animation video. The whole process was so labour-intensive, it inspired the trio’s name. “We were traumatized by the experience,” laughs Hans, “Then years later after choosing our name we came across the Greek meaning of the word ‘rama’ – ‘view’ – as in panorama, and thought that it was a good coincidence that our name meant traumatic view.”

There were positive post-traumatic consequences for the group, however. After this first collaboration, Tromarama was invited to do more video clips, such as for the band, Rock n Roll Mafia and their song, Zsa Zsa Zsu, as well as show works as a group for the exhibition, Bandung New Emergence (2006) in Selasar Sunaryo, Bandung. The Mori Art Museum in Tokyo started collecting their work. “Life is full of surprise,” smiles Hans. After a break, working in the advertising industry, the collective realized their first video with an original concept, Ting*, in 2008, and quit their day jobs to concentrate on their artistic practice.

For this video, the artists developed a narrative based around their own lives, at a point when they were trying to make space for pleasurable time away from the routine of the office. The porcelain tableware represents each of the artists. “The big one stands for Febie, the medium one is Herbert, and the small one is for Ruddy,” says Hans. Creating their own sound, they have endorsed the personality of the cups and their specific tones when played as instruments, hence the onomatopoeic title of the work.

With regard to the media, Hans explains that “when we were starting to develop our own ideas, our computer skill were very bad, and we didn’t have any proper cameras or any knowledge for using video cameras. We were trying to find other ways to make videos, such as stop motion animation. 80% of the process is outside of the computer. We call it our playground.” Hatumena adds, “We feel freer to do stuff by moving things away from the computer. The computer limited us because of our low skills’ level, but my moving things manually, it gave us the chance to play, and feel more intimate with the objects. Since our first video, with the woodcut and the buttons, sometimes it is like we are working, but sometimes it is like we are playing.”

It was not until their Jogja Contemporary solo show, Kidult, in January 2011 that the members of Tromarama embarked upon developing philosophical inquiries and more sophisticated concepts in their collaborative works. Typically, one of the members will make a proposal, the trio then discusses scopes of meaning and the appropriate conductors for it. They draw on daily life such as as in Wattt?! (2010) – a work inspired by a high electricity bill where they imagined their electrical appliances organizing parties at night – and current affairs, such as financial scandals in Happy Hour (2010). “Our work is about the relationship between humans and their environment; the relationship between humans and about the human itself,” says Hans.

Extraneous (2010), a rotoscoping animation made out of batiks, metaphorically explores the phenomenon of social networks. “You get this intimate feeling; you can feel that the person is really friendly and lovely. But in fact if you meet the person in real life, everything changes. You don’t recognize the person that had met in the virtual world once you see them in the real world,” explains Hans about conversation on social networks. As for the choice of the medium, Hatumena explains that Indonesia batiks were originally mostly brown in color, and then evolved into more colorful and intricate patterns, such as representations of birds, with the arrival of the Chinese to the North shores of Java. “When we look at the batik, we recognize that this is the time when the Dutch came to Indonesia; and this is the time when the Chinese sailors arrived. We can see a lot of history through the batik the batik clothes. We consider them as recording machines of history and try to use the batik as a media, like a recording media.” Tromarama relays the concept of social network by creating their own pattern, using binary code 1 and 0 in the shape of the human eyes, only recognizable from a certain distance. Symbolically it points at the absence of eye-contact connection when dialoguing virtually.

In Pilgrimage (2011), they question the role of religious institutions in Indonesia, as they find that the media tend to show religion as being often used as a weapon to judge and punish those who are different. Using everyday objects, they investigate the position of the Creator in human lives, hoping to shorten the distance between the Creator and the Creation. “To make this video, we just brought our camera to our friend’s houses. If we saw something interesting, we moved it and we shot it. There is no specific answer why we choose those objects. We wanted to use almost everything that we could find. The process is about the daily things around us,” says Hatumena. They visited more than ten houses. “At first we used our own things. We bought some stuff. We ran out of things, so we went to our friends and tried to see something else.” The cycling movement is a reference to religion and how it relates to the artits’ lives – and is part of every religion – for example, Sunday church or the salat. “Repetition is the mother of studying,” they note.

“A lot of people come to use and say that our work is fun, but most of the time we don’t feel it. When you inter your work to be fun then somehow it is going to be dry at the end if you try too hard,” says Hans. “We never discuss it […] it is an unconscious thing.”

They are also often asked why they remain as a group, to which Tromarama responds with an artwork More we Less Me (2011), an installation of X-rays of the three of them. “Because through X-rays you can only see the bones, you cannot see the outside, like our clothes, our skin. It’s in order to produce a new character called ‘Tromarama’. So the important thing is not individuals but the group. So becoming ‘we’ is more important than being ‘I’ […] We never use the same media, or the same objects for the videos. That is also our character. We like trying new things.”

Cristina Sanchez Kozyreva

*This writings was published in PIPELINE Magazine, Issue 30: The Fun Issue, 2012