This is to all our Indonesian readers. My book about life in Indonesia (hilarious, as one fan mail said) is now available across the country and almost in every bookshop. So don’t hesitate to buy and read it. Waiting for your feedback!
Just as there are its own spritis and ghosts in Tartu, Paris or London, we could aslo find some of incredible souls in the deepest corners of Yogyakarta, Java. Our local friend, performance artist Iwan Wijono invited me and Kiwa along for a visit to these legends – born artists, who have totally abandoned the norms of the conformist society.
Through thick rain shower and rivers of water floating under my motorbike wheels we zigzag ourselves along the narrow streets until we find the house of P’trus. Coming from the gray of the outside we suddenly find ourselves in the midst of the striking psychedelia – the walls are covered with colorful dragon paintings, various masks are hanging on the door. There’s a little baby riding a weird machine on the floor, singing merrily a tune, that somehow reminds me of Pink Floyd‘s early psychedelic chords.
P’trus is a legendary street artist, who supposedly used to ride a huge high bicycle around the town, blowing trompet, which sound was known all around Yogyakarta. With this trompet, he sometimes intervened some concerts, no-body minded, it was rather seen as a bliss. Or he was organizing performances on a daily basis, making people happy to be together and share the passion of making art out of life. For him esthetics and ethics are the same. Experiment and spontaneity are his keywords for life. Life is art. Art is life. Smile with tears, as he sais.
Three years ago he found himself a young women, who cleaned his house and made the eyes of this old hippie shining even brighter.
P’trus blowing his magical trompet
When the rain was finally over, we took a ride to a man, who’s living even more radially underground. Iwan told us: “This man, 40 years no go out.”
In the house of Puthut al the things are left as they are. Here’s no electricity, no water. He cooks his meal outside on a tiny gas lamp. The man with dark pony tail smokes his thick roll of tobacco happily and seeks for some pieces of wood under our butts. What first seems to be a pile of trash now rather takes a form of some of his creatures – there are tiny sculptures made of cigarette packages, some retro-spirit works of collage and many other things that Puthut has created along his daily blows of inspiration.
So you never leave the house?
Why don’t I?! As soon as I run out of tobacco I have to go outside to get some more.
He gets the tobacco from just around the corner – 40m walking. He smokes from the moment he wakes up until his eyes fall close again. And he doesn’t fall into bed when it happens, he sleeps gently where he happens to be at the very moment of falling asleep – in a chair, on the floor or on the pile of these unidentified objects, usually in lotus position.
If he doesn’t find a canvas, he can use any other piece of paper, seems to be his artist statement. As we wander around his dark house, I come to realize that probably he approaches any piece of paper or furniture with equal creativity and good-hearted apathy. His monthly costs are around 100 000 rp (10 euros).
The most important … (he first laughs loud at my question)… is to be happy in this life.
What makes a person happy?
There’s nothing particular. It gotta be flow. There’s no certain thing – you can sit in your house and be happy, or travel from Estonia to Indonesia just like you, and be happy.
Just the feeling! sings P’trus happily and Puthus plays some blues.
Exactly one year later I was back in Yogyakarta. I visited Puthus again, and you know what – nothing had changed! Still no bed in his house, no electricity, some wonderful miniature sculptures had appeared in his garden that wasn’t there before, he’s shown some creativity, and… his eyes have the same happy shine, just as a year ago.
Seems like nobody cares if these guys live or die, but I do. Sometimes it’s hard for me to believe myself how much I care for people like Phutus and P’trus, whose existence seems to amplify the colors and richness of life on this planet. Personally even more – when looking back at these sweet encounters now, me and Kiwa consider these two gentelmen giving us the first direct input that led us to the path of the hippie-underground of Soviet Estonia.
Puthus in in his house 2012 – nothing much had changed since one year
News from the meanwhile – had my very first curating experience, welcome for a visit in Estonian National Museum in Tartu!
It’s long time since I’ve posted a story to share. Not that we would have buried the blog and lost the passion for writing, but just the past winter has been incredibly busy. In fact I have been busy with another kind of avant-tourism, this time it’s about travel in time – to the period of time that has been haunting me my entire life, that I almost feel nostalgic about although I’ve never directly experienced it. This period of time has inspired me in the music I make, the life me and Berit have led on our vagabondage travels, the values I care for, the smile I shine, the dress I wear, the spirit that burns me inside.
Something important happened in late 1960s. Not only in America, not only in France or London. But you can also find the traces of this – what i’d like to call as psychedelic revolution – in countries with radically different social background such as Soviet Union or Indonesia.
When me and Kiwa were living in Indonesia couple of years ago, we visited some local crazy hippie-artists. They made their turning years of youth in early seventies, they became legendary street artists in 1980s in Yogyakarta and now leading their weird lives in their personal private kingdoms of their little lebenswelt, totally abandoning the norms of the common Indonesian society. One of them hasn’t left his house for 40 years, sleeping wherever happens, there’s no bed, no electricity, but bunch of creatures that have become part of his life, his art, which for him are all the same. Happiness? Happiness is just the flow.
“Just the feelin’” as P’trus sings some blues on the guitar that has lost around 3 strings.
P’trus, happy in his house, 40 years no go out
When already back in Estonia, couple of months later visited Tallinn a legendary hippie a writer and researcher Vladimir Wiedemann, the author of the juicy novel “School of Magicians”, which is the first thorough investigation of the hippie-underground of the Soviet Estonia published in Estonian. As a big fan and curious to draw the connection between the souls of psychedelic revolution between the continents, me and Kiwa settled a 3-days date with him in Tallinn.
We were wandering around places where Soviet hippies used to gather and… got stuck in it… for another couple of years, or perhaps a life-time. Well, time is just another construction, so no matter much of that, but what I’m trying to say is that these interactions with Indonesian old hippies and these days with Wiedemann planted a seed into a project that has now laid out its first eggs – all those in Estonia this summer, welcome to visit the multi-disciplinary exhibition at Estonian National Museum in Tartu: Soviet hippies: The Psychedelic Underground of Soviet Estonia. Yes, the one I had joy to curate together with Estonian artist Kiwa, the one that kept me away from blogging, the one that burns my soul.
Aare with his girlfriend visiting Estonian philosopher Mihkel Ram Tamm who became a source of spiritual inspiration for many Soviet hippies. Photo: from the collection of Vladimir Wiedemann
Soviet Hippies: The Psychedelic Underground of 1970s Estonia
The hippie movement, which converted hundreds of thousands of young people in the West to the cult of “peace, love and freedom” during the 1960s and 1970s and shook the entire world, also had an impact on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Coveting Western freedoms and spiritually inspired by the cultures of the East, a counterculture of flower children developed in the Soviet Union, which was disengaged from the official ideology and expressed itself through rock music, the cult of love, pacifism, actual and cosmic travel, and a physical appearance that was considered unacceptable for Soviet citizens.
The Khrushchev Thaw (1956‒1964) that followed Stalin’s repressions brought a breath of fresh air to some places in the Soviet Union. In Estonia, foreign radio broadcasts kept people updated on the happenings elsewhere in the world. Young minds were enthralled by iconic hippie-era albums from the West that were illicitly distributed and the knowledge that their contemporaries in the “free world” were rocking in the spirit of the slogan “Make love not war.” The stagnation that accompanied Brezhnev’s rule did not leave much room for hope or personal freedom. Thus, against the background of contemporary politics, the generation that grew up in the late 1960s could not do anything but accept the fact that the world was one big lie and it was better just to deal with your own things.
The hippie movement in Soviet Estonia was not a clearly defined phenomenon, but rather the distinctive flow of the era, an explosive youth culture with a perception of life that could unite vagabonds and academicians. However, the mere trend toward hippie fashions, long hair and great rock concerts was enough to make the Soviet authorities see a political threat that could subvert the regime. But the more absurd the reality, the more fanatical the Soviet flower power became. They created their own world in the shadow of harsh rules and repressions, and opposed the ruling system through symbolic expression.
This multi-disciplinary exhibition documents and analyzes the unofficial youth culture and presents an alternative trajectory in Estonian cultural memory by focusing on the manifestations of the hippie movement in Soviet Estonia. In our approach we have also included individuals from Estonia’s music, art, and literature worlds who ignored or opposed the official socialist code of behavior.
KIWA & Terje Toomistu
Peace and love! More background stories follow soon…
Some first nation people in North America talk about 7-year life circles. Each of them carry some specific function for personality, each of them opens up some new layers in life. Since I was child, I somehow never imagined my life lasting longer than the age of 27. I just didn’t see it coming afterwards, except perhaps an image of driving a motorbike when already retired. But apart from that I didn’t really relate to any imaginations that would go towards the period of life which would start the fifth life circle.
Exactly one year ago I was raising some glasses with my friends in Yogyakarta, joking, that I sure will have a great last year of my life. And I felt I didn’t want any party, but at the night of my 27th birthday I wanted to pray. Pray for some absolute energy, ultimate vibration, null-energy, tone of the universe. And Shiva, yes. Hindu temples could possibly raise this connection. So I told my friends that I’ll be taking a motorbike an hour drive away from the city to a small hindu temple at night, feel free to join me. Instead of couple of friends (I didn’t expect anyone care to drive out in the middle of the night), we were altogether seven people – Berit, Marie, Monica, Jali, Ethel among them.
What happened though, was that our crowd turned out to be joyful people, full of life and… bigger plans. So on the way we managed to set up another plan for a much bigger Hindu temple. The one which was so heavily calling.
What followed, was the most exciting, beautiful, breathtaking birthday one could ever imagine. And then what followed, was the most absurd, ridiculous, embarrassing and terrifying birthday one could imagine. Which eventually still ended without any real problems, but the threat was real – to be fined for 10 000 rp!! And we only wanted to pray… Luckily, we were left with just the bittersweet memory of an adventure of layered meanings, absurdities, guilt, joy and a fortunately, a sweet follow-up.
Although I probably knew a year ago that setting my age of 27 as the last one to remember must be a joke, I was still curious enough – am I gonna make it or not. The year blessed me with moments, when I almost didn’t care for further. But even then it also striked my mind that the exhibition I was curating was supposed to open when I would be already 28. That kind of meant that I should become 28. How otherwise?!
Anyway, I still love, therefore I am. Now 28, silently entering my fifth life circle. It will be a blessing. How otherwise.
Interview with the founder of Neoism, Hungarian born video and performance artist Istvan Kantor. He’s amazing.
In the city of Yogyakarta in Java, in the cultural capital of Indonesia and the Mecca for artists and academics – flames arise in front of hundreds of deep brown eyes. I see ten hot women dancing in monotonous electronoise. They dance as none of us is used to see the women in the beginning of 2011 in moslem-dominated Indonesia. Istvan Kantor, the agitator and founder of the neoist artists network, rises up on his arms and walks on his hands towards the light – and this fire is in red flames. As a dextrous 62-year-old somersault he falls into the fire, that swallows the sign: “I SWEAR TO GOD I’LL NEVER MAKE ANY BORING ART”. He sticks the spike into his vein and sucks out some red capsules of blood (he also has papers in medicine).
Blood. That’s what Kantor loves.
Then he turns his ass towards the audience, reveals his buns and sticks the blood capsule to the anus. The secret police hiding in the audience observes it with frustration and calls his boss. Ten dancers in the style of femme-fatale turn into girls whose dignity has somehow suddenly been violated. Here in the moslem mainstream the body has completely different meaning. And also one of my dearest friend Kiwa, a recognized Estonian artist and curator, possibly a neoist himself, is right here. For the first time he flirts with the idea of inviting Kantor over to Estonia.
Kantor is damn good in it – to bring some scandal in the art world. He has been playing tricks in the museums around the world, splashing crosses of blood on the ‘holy’ white walls of galleries, but possibly also on some drops spilled on the works by Picasso. But definitely it’s not only scandals that have caused him some haunting fame. By using various mediums his works deals with downspirals of the technological society, body corporeality, he criticizes mainstream thought (or the lack of it), and seeks for rebellion against authority.
He signs all his works as Monty Cantsin and warmly welcomes all of us to use the name already since 1970s, when the open pop star Monty Cantsin came to life. All different kinds of Monty Cantsins are drawn together by the principle of anti-authority.
Kantor is a legend and a somewhat syperstar – but the one whose fame has not been so easily convertible into money. He condemns the expensive Toronto, although he has risen up three kids over there. But how the hell could a man, who’s guiding line is “REVOLUTION OUT OF CONTROL” accumulate anything else than ideas, fresh and bloody ideas?!
Visiting borobudur temple in java with kiwa and istvan, february 2011
One and half years after our meeting in Indonesia (we three with Kiwa and Istvan even visited the holy Borobudur temple together, see the pics above), Kiwa indeed brought Kantor to Estonia. Rebellious technorobotism, machine-like sexuality and The book of Neoism, which includes all the information in the world conquered Estonian contemporary arts museum (EKKM) with the exhibition “Rebellious neoist” (17.06-18.07), but there were also some neoist action happening around Tallinn, Riga and Pori. Bitter flavor of burnt blood was floating in the air during the opening night. We had bodies turned into zombies, that were exposing signs such as 24H BRAINWASH or BURN BABY BURN, calling up to rebel against sexualized corporeality, lighting up some irons in flames.
We all turned into Monty Cantsins. It was always six o’clock.
Istvan Kantor, EKKM, Tallinn 2012
In the booklet IRVE (see here) that was produced for your exhibition in Tallinn, among other things there was also published your writing about how Monty Cantsin came to be. There was a passionate description about sexual activity, topped with a question – does it change the activity when you change how you name it or you change the context?
In the book of Neoism I use lots of porn texts, which get plundered and changed into Neoist theoretical writings. Sex and Neoism go hand in hand. The work of Wilhelm Reich was always very important for me, as an inspiration. He was the one who made the statement, that sex is the driving force of the society. I added that sex and technology are the driving forces of the society. When he said that sex is the driving force of society it was a very radical statement to be made in the 1930s. He was a student of Freud, a psychoanalyst, who went deep into research of sexuality. His work has been an inspiration for me to create some performances with “Machine Sex Action Group” which explore technology and sex.
You can plunder things from other people, you learn something and you change it into your own theoretical ideas and rename it, which is almost same thing, but it generates more interest, because all ideas with old names become boring. For example, when you take a work of a painter, like Picasso, you are already bored to look at Picasso! But when you add something to Picasso or you take the image and vandalize it, it becomes very interesting. It renews the work and puts it into different perspective and changes people’s perception.
If you do something under the name of Monty Cantsin, what will happen with the substance?
We just let people to use the name of Monty Cantsin. But you have to be conscious about this. All those who use Monty Cantsin can be part of the endless game that can always bring out new ideas, because each Monty Cantsin is different. They are just using the same name. When you use the same name for different people, then control is impossible and total freedom rules.
Just to provoke some thoughts – if you say that name yourself Monty Cantsin and do everything in the name of Neoism – does not that itself sound a bit authoritarian?
No, it is not authoritarian. I’m not demanding that you do that. If you want to call yourself Monty Cantsin, call yourself Monty Cantsin. In the context of Neoism there is no rules. If you don’t want to use the name Monty Cantsin, you don’t have to. If you don’t want to do everything in the name of Neoism, you don’t have to. It’s just that if you want to be part of the game, that’s the way it goes, because otherwise there’s no background for it. Basically there are two names that determine the situation, but it’s not anything forceful.
When a baby is born, then the baby doesn’t have a name but we give a baby a name to be defined. But this name doesn’t mean anything until this baby grows up and through history creates content for that name. That’s the same with Monty Cantsin. It becomes more important when it’s in use. Without the use it doesn’t mean anything.
You strive towards revolution out of control – this is one of the principal guiding forces in Neoism. If I were to name myself Monty Cantsin, then I would do it, because chaos is also part of me. And revolution out of control – isn’t it the most chaotic thing?
Definitely revolutions are very controlled, and basically that is what destroys every revolution at the end, because when the revolution is very victorious, then the system changes the revolution into different system that wants to present this force to the people and will basically subject them to that authority. That’s why I always say that only the failed revolutions are real revolutions, because they never loose revolutionary ambitions because they never get corrupted. It’s because every revolution gets corrupted after the victory. Hungarian revolution was a failed revolution, so it never got corrupted. But for example, the Cuban revolution degraded into system that today is not serving at all what it was supposed to. It’s only serving the dictator that keeps the system going and people are not really happy with the situation.
The revolution that you express in your artworks rarely wants to exceed the world within art world.
Basically when I talk about revolution, it’s not always an organized kind of system that would have all the necessities what a revolution needs – that is a conspiracy to get rid of the old system. When I talk about revolutions I’m not necessarily talking about political revolution, but I’m dealing with smaller communities where everybody has some place, especially in culture, arts, in the creative parts of the society. I’m opening up questions and discussions and want to keep talking about revolution, which seems like in the society that is so much about control and authority, is obsolete.
But in today’s system it’s not obsolete, because there are newly organized somewhat victorious revolutions going on all around the world. It’s interesting to have this discussion to bring history in today’s situation and to deal with art system as a place where revolution is needed. It’s a smaller system that also has all the structure that the political system has. The artists are the slaves and museums and galleries are basically the government. They all relate to each other in a similar way that the political system works. I’m interested in the system, how artists can find themselves and keep themselves free from this kind of authority.
It’s also interesting that your struggle becomes most real within the institution that is the closest to you – that is the art world. Is it because this is the closest authority you have to face with? Or you feel that you have the authority to fuck it up, because you are an artist?
I don’t have any authority. The only authority I have is how I define Neoism or create my own works. But besides that we don’t have any authoritarian system or corporation, not even a registered group. Everybody shares the same space. We communicate with each other in a brotherhood type of way, that obviously uses certain iconic images and ideas of dictatorships and religious faces, all kind of conceptual ideas that makes it look like an organized system. But in fact it’s not – it’s a kind of fake science.
But based on the current exhibition and your previous activities we could see that this is the sphere where your revolution becomes most real – this fight with institution of museums and galleries.
I’m not fighting against them, but I’m fighting against their way of dealing with artists. I find museums are important places for communication and they should be like temples. But they are not, because they are taken over by banks and corporations, by all kind of rules that the board of directors would present, how things have to look like and be exhibited. They create their own esthetics that is very much like mainstream and similar to television and other communication systems that are serving mainstream culture.
One of these days I was visiting you in EKKM. You were making a mural and you said that you don’t want your work look too finished. I added that they should remain open.
I understand that artist have some sort of authority, that an art has to be finished in some ways and that it represents a certain authority and determine certain esthetics and makes a statement that would provide people with the way of thinking. But that’s the same with philosophy and science or anything else that concerns thinking and communication.
To leave the artwork open for interaction, for somebody else to continue the work – that’s what’s happens when you plagiarize or plunder. That’s what already Marcel Duchamp introduced first by taking any random object from the street and calling it artwork or vandalizing a postcard of Mona Lisa. Today when we talk about Neoism then that would open up the situation and we would like to see every artwork open. In the museums also, they artworks should have different access not like as today under total control as if the museums were prisons, as they are guarded by security and surveillance, absolutely alienated from people.
You have the concept of open time also – why it’s always 6 o’clock?
This is the basic concept of Neoism. We see the whole system of communication at different perception. It’s not linear anymore – we are not talking about the history that happens at certain year. So we are not going on the axis of X, but we take the Y, which is vertical. It’s basically a visual representation of this idea that everything accumulates and gets bigger and bigger. This is how I imagine this 6 o’clock time – that past, present and future are not separated, but they are happening at the same time.
When you cut a second in film into frames – you get 24 frames. Usually we watch the movie from the beginning to the end, so it follows the linear time. But if I cut the film into frames and throw them in the air (he takes some coins and throws them in the air), I can see the whole film at the same time.
For me, your works often communicate the very essence of creation, the really deep essence that is always about chaos and destruction. Am I reading you right?I don’t think it’s about chaos and destruction actually. I definitely have to recognize the fact when I was a child and the Hungarian revolution happened. I came out from the shelter and I saw all the destroyed streets, buildings, all the dead people and fire and blood all over the place. That had a big effect on me and ever since that’s the kind of esthetics I like. I like decay, I like ruins, death, all the destructive landscape. But this is not something unusual, because that exists in today’s technological society. It’s not that you would see dead bodies and ruins everywhere, it’s hidden, but when you enter the junkyards and you see all this trash and wasted material, you are shocked. But this is the landscape of our society – destruction. The whole idea of technological society is built on this destruction, because all the nature has to be destroyed in order to build cities and rebuild cities.
I was stunned by one feature in your art practice. What is a stripbot?
Stripbot is a stripper robot. These are very exotic creatures. If you go to strip bar you will see all these exotic dancers and in real life they are also extended by technology, they relate to music, especially when they are dancing. They relate to the beat.
I see them as robots, just as much I see fashion models as robots. Stripbots in my work represent the changes in this technological society where everybody is extended with technology and uses technology to change their body. Use silicon to create different body and all kind of little devices to make your heart work better or change bones, even your brain soon. So people are becoming more like androids. People are really changing in the relationship with technology.
I pretty much see people as technological units and machines. There’s nothing new in that, because I think in history people were more robot-like than they are today. I think that the brain got diminished and we have forgotten some ways of communication like telepathy that was used when people were more like machines.
Stripbot, EKKM, Tallinn
The book of Neoism, EKKM, Tallinn
And every time I enter a shop in Estonia I see how a father padding before me sighs. Once again he has to start the saga, he’s in the current of his own desires, clogged by the size of his wallet and yet dumbstruck by all of it.
The humming parade of countless motorcycle wheels emits a cloud of strong fume in the air of Sunday morning Yogyakarta. I try to keep my breath as I swing on my motorbike through they hideous traffic trying to make my way to the house of the parents or my lost friend. She only died this morning. It’s my last day in Indonesia before heading back to Europe, which now seems as far as a blurry dream. I’ve grown so much into this world here, this life, this reality, and just after the last night good-bye party – the terrible news.
“Is this the house where the funeral is being held?” I ask modestly.
A young woman trying to find some shelter from the heat of the sun asks: “Are you a friend of Mr. Eddy?”
Right, she had mentioned me the name though.
“I knew her as miss, Miss Sisi Renata.” In Java it’s always a customary to use gender-and age-specific titles.
My eyes travels to the open room, in the middle of which stands the coffin. In front of it there’s a black and white photograph portraying a young man dressed in black suit. His looks is very serious, even sad. Next to the photograph there are some candles and sad flowers. And again I hesitate – am I still at the right funeral?
Sympathetic and modest Sisi Renata grew up in a poor family in Yogyakarta Old Town. Her mother raised her and her siblings alone, which in Indonesian patriarchal context is anything but simple. She wiped away the tears as she told me about her mother for the first time. She did not want to disappoint her mom at all, but already since little she had felt differently. She often found herself playing with girls and in early puberty accidentally fell in love with her male teacher. Later, she kept her love life under strict secrecy, and every night before going to bed, she held a spiritual wrestling with God, to try to deal with guilt of her “abnormalities” and ask for forgiveness for the “sins” she had committed in her fantasy world.
Sisi had worked as tour guide. Once she got an affair with one Dutch visitor. Their remote relationship with regular meetings lasted for many years, they travelled through half of Indonesia. The man noticed his Javanese friend’s inner brilliance and sharp wit, and decided to give him – back then as Eddy – a respectable amount of money for education. Through her education and life experience she slowly began to move towards deeper self-reflection and harmony. And she realized that she had a soul of a woman, has always had it!
One day her Dutch boyfriend found an elegant lady in front of him when taking her out for a date. Sisi was employed for support organization for warias, where she was an outrage worker for waria sex workers and support person for HIV-positive warias living in the shelter.
Sometimes at weekends, she came up as a singer in clubs, dressed in fluffy bright green, singing tears touching ballads. To her mother, however, she never revealed her new life – she just did not want to create such a burden. Although it was obvious that the heart of a mother surely knows. Also, many guests at the funeral didn’t seem to have much idea of Eddy’s journey towards her better self known as Sisi Renata. Until she was suddenly knocked down by tuberculosis.
This time we have a guest photographer here – funeral photos by Monica Dominguez. I love her and her touch in photography, see for yourself!