TROMARAMA
TROMARAMA In conversation with Agung Hujatnikajennong*

 

Friday afternoon March 27th, 2015, rain was pouring hard in Bandung. I arrived at TROMARAMA’s studio in Dago at 2:10 p.m. while Herbert Hans, Febie Babyrose, and Ruddy Hatumena were busy setting up a photocopy machine.   

‘We just rented this machine to make a new artwork for our exhibition in Amsterdam’, said Ruddy.

A few moments later, a technician came to connect the machine to a computer, as Yacobus Ari Respati (my assistant) and I prepared a video camera and an audio recorder. Our interview was casual. Hans, Febie, Ruddy, and I sat around a big table in a corner of the room. Ruddy had to leave the table every now and then to check on the technician’s work.

Here is an edited excerpt of our conversation.

Agung Hujatnikajennong (AH):

Can you tell me how TROMARAMA got started? Why did you choose video as a medium?

Herbert Hans (HH):

We’ve been working together since we were students at the Faculty of Art and Design in ITB. It started when Ambon (Ruddy’s nickname) asked me and Baby (Febie’s nickname) to join in a workshop given by Cerahati (a Bandung-based multimedia group). This workshop was intended to give a technical foundation in making music videos under the tutelage of experienced practitioners. By ballot, we were chosen to make a video for a demo, Serigala Militia, by Seringai, which was an indie-hardcore band whose members happened to be alumni of our faculty. During that time, local pop music videos in Indonesia were still about model-illustrated narratives, and we wanted to break away from that tendency.

Initially, we wanted to make short animated clips like what we used to watch on MTV during our high school years, but we didn’t have the skills or knowledge of motion graphics software. One day, when we happened to be at the printmaking studio on campus where Baby worked, we got the idea of using a stop-motion technique on a woodcut medium. For Serigala Militia, we used about 400 plates to create a 4-minute animation. After the “traumatic” experience of woodcutting on so many plates, we decided to form TROMARAMA (TROMA: trauma).

AH:

I remember when I asked you to exhibit the music video in 2006 at Selasar Sunaryo Art Space, you were still thinking of working as music video directors.

Febie Babyrose (FB):

True. At that time, the indie music industry in Bandung was really good. But shortly after, in 2007, we realized that the impact of computer technology and the internet was killing it, especially since albums were already downloadable, and being shared freely or easily pirated. But in 2008, it also motivated us to start making videos with music that we composed and produced ourselves.

AH:

Other than exhibiting in galleries, museums and art fairs, do you still do commissioned work, like ads?

FB:

We do. We actually enjoy being full-time artists because that’s where our passion lies. We still do commissioned work because we need to financially support our art, to produce TROMARAMA’s artworks. Also, the market for video art in Indonesia is still unstable, so we don’t want to be fully dependent on it.

HH:

But, we never seriously seek out those commercial projects. They come to us. When we’re not making art, we usually take the offers.

RH:

When we do commercial projects, especially ads, we don’t work under the name of TROMARAMA. We don’t feel like we can take advantage of being TROMARAMA for profit outside the art world.

AH:

Which is more profitable, then, making ads or art?

HH, FB:

(Almost simultaneously) Obviously, ads…

Ruddy Hatumena (RH):

It’s clearly quicker…

HH:

Income from ads is definitely higher because the fee is fixed, whereas in the art market, you never really get the logic behind how it works.

FB:

We don’t want to be led by the art market and be burdened by the desire to continuously sell artistic work. That’s what enables us to remain mentally stable and comfortable. If we don’t sell, that’s fine … no need to be frustrated. The commissioned work allows us to have money in our piggy bank for the next artwork.

AH:

Almost every video you’ve produced uses stop-motion. Why are you so loyal to that animation technique after all these years?

HH:

Stop-motion animation lets people make moving images without special skills like those you need in free-hand drawing animation, for instance. Stop-motion also has a manual and instantaneous quality to it. With this technique, we can quickly check on the viewfinder of our digital camera to see whether a scene has been successful.

FB:

The three of us share an interest in the intricate, detailed manual process and craftsmanship. Many of our videos could have been done with other animation techniques. But being able to move things with our hands provides a certain sense of accomplishment. Stop-motion animation consists of still images that are ‘moved’ by connecting one another. After nine years of working together, we still feel that this technique is visually challenging, and it gives us infinite possibilities.

RH:

We actually do work with other animation techniques as well. The work On Progress (2013), for example, was made from footage that had been meticulously edited frame by frame. There were thousands of them to edit. We enjoy the obsessive process of working with digital images. I personally think that I’m addicted to working with cameras and computers.

AH:

What kind of approach do you most often use when making video art?

FB:

Visual and musical. Any particularly interesting object, music, rhythm, or sound can quickly inspire us. The visual and the musical are involved in a constant push-and-pull with each other.

AH:

Have you ever produced a work based on a concept or theory?

FB:

In fact, we always spend weeks, even months, discussing a lot of things. Sometimes it’s about what we’ve read in books or what we’ve gotten from appreciating other works of art. We’ve always wanted to relate our stories to certain discourses, even though we don’t directly make it our philosophical, conceptual, or theoretical basis. For example, we’re currently discussing the notion of ‘mass-produced apathy’, about how society has become apathetic towards all things nationalist. We’ve also spoken a lot about global trends set by the internet that have prompted us to question our ‘eastern’ views.

AH:

Do you believe that oriental values can be found on the internet? Or, let me rephrase, is there is a western-eastern dichotomy active in globalization?

FB:

There is indeed a push and pull. Although I haven’t truly grasped what  ‘eastern culture’ is, I feel that we live in a different reality to what I usually see in the online news and to my own view of the ‘west’s’ idea of lifestyle or sex. I often wonder why I should consume that information? Will the ‘western’ view be the only one we see in the next few years?

HH:

There’s a paradox, you see, when, for example, the majority of Indonesian people rejected LGBT movements, a lot of stay-at-home moms around the country love some celebrity, host, or presenter that is transgendered or gay. How can the mass media, including popular social media, create a different perception of the reality? I’m personally interested in those paradoxes in the western-eastern dichotomy.

AH:

This discussion gets more interesting if we relate globalization to what is happening in the art world. Do you believe that globalization can create equality between art in Indonesia and in other countries, like those in Europe or the USA? What about projects that label themselves as ‘global’, like the one you’re about to participate in? Do you feel like you’ve become a global artist because you’ve exhibited in Europe?

FB:

I think that it’s impossible to fully refuse the fact that a ‘western-eastern’ opposition still exists in globalization. Even today, there’s still always someone who feels superior over another person. On the other hand, it doesn’t sit well with me, these generalizations of what ‘western’ and ‘eastern’ are, or even the ‘Indonesian artist’ label. All I know is that Indonesian artists are different from each other, even geographically. There’s a big contrast between Indonesian artists in Java and outside Java. We can even find differences on the island of Java, and between artists who live in the same city. The internet is still inaccessible for many Indonesian people, so there’s a gap of knowledge between artists.

HH:

I sometimes feel like I am a global artist when I exhibit abroad, but I become an Indonesian person again when I go home and have to kiss my mom’s hand.

RH:

I don’t think any artist wants to just become a globalization gimmick. Exhibitions with the ‘global’ label are trendy, but we try to stay true to ourselves. We don’t want to get carried away in the celebration, nor do we deny that we are a part of that. Our art says a lot more. Let the public develop its own opinions about us based on our artworks.

 AH:

I think in the end, the core of globalization is the simultaneous reproduction of equality and gap, which can diverge in many different directions: social, economic, cultural, and political. Nowadays, the globalization process is far more rapid than 20 or 30 years ago. Do you have any comments about what is happening in the contemporary art world and how these developments relate to globalization? In the last two decades, internationalization has brought new life to Indonesian art. But the local infrastructure is still fragile. What’s your take on this situation?

FB:

I agree with your statement about the fragility. There are still the classic issues: there is a lack of good museums and the infrastructure of art institutions is poor. On the other hand, we are aware of the fact that we exist thanks to the impact of the global and Asian art market boom in the 2000s, which was actually triggered though the sale of paintings. Once Indonesian collectors were fed up with paintings, and some art fairs in Asia started to show video works, they started collecting our video artworks too. In Indonesia, our works were sometimes shown as a mere ‘variation’ of a more ‘superior’ medium: painting. At that point, we became aware that we were part of globalization in the art world.

RH:

In an art scene that does not get any support from the government, I think what ruangrupa[1] is doing is becoming very interesting. Every year, their objectives are getting clearer; they want to hold their own events, like OK Video, and recently, the Jakarta Biennale. They wish to use these events to create their own audience from scratch, from a segment that previously fell outside the mainstream art world and elite, including its market. They started by building their own infrastructure, and then expanded their network by pulling in the mainstream public. They broke down walls between people and art, which used to be very exclusive. That awareness has been around for longer in Yogyakarta, where emerging artists started applying the strategy. Perhaps our artists have realized that hoping for support from the government by building good enough museums or other institutions is a utopian fantasy. Movements initiated by artists turn out to be more effective.

FB:

Another impact of globalization is that art has become a sort of ‘creative lifestyle’. A lot of young people are now aspiring to be artists or designers because of the ‘coolness’ effect. When I was studying art, nobody thought about it like that.

HH:

I prefer to look at the advantages of globalization, especially in the openness that can it can bring to Indonesian artists wanting to enter a global arena. We have to admit that the internet has given more opportunities to emerging artists, including us. However, in this situation, it is difficult for alternative art movements to develop. Something alternative easily becomes mainstream.

AH:

One last question, will you always be a collective movement, or will there come a time that you all go solo?

FB:

(Laughs out loud) That’s a sensitive question! Mind you, this is my personal answer, Ebet (Hans’ nickname) and Ambon should answer as well. I don’t really have any motivation to make art individually. I think that each of us should just focus on TROMARAMA. I would question the motive if one of us were to make something by ourselves and exhibit it. For me, TROMARAMA is a binding collective movement, not just a group. In a movement like this, division of work is a sensitive case. It needs to be equally divided because we don’t want one or two of us to end up doing more than the rest.

AH:

Perhaps, Ebet and Ambon would like to answer…

HH and RH:

It’s more or less the same… (grin)

AH:

Does this have anything to do with your commitment as professional artists?

FB:

There must be professional commitment, but TROMARAMA began from friendship. And, I think that it’s more binding than professionalism…

Our conversation took two hours and three minutes. I ended the interview by turning off the camera and audio recorder. Then, we went on to discuss topics that I couldn’t possibly bring up here…


[1] Note from the editors: ruangrupa is a collective of artists, curators, architects, writers and historians based in Jakarta.

 

*This interview was published in Tromarama solo exhibition publication. Published by Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. Date of Publication: June 11, 2015