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
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
„Aah! So you were studying the warias?” one fleshy security guard asked me, his eyes glittering. The word waria (or banci, as people often know them, although it bears some negative connotations) has a kind of magic power that makes Indonesians’ eyes glitter and smile on their face, of course unfortunately, this often a sign for ridicule. “This here is a waria! This is a waria!” he points at a guy who’s delved into the bed. The guy is probably the clumsiest and shiest, and thus is probably chaffed all the time.
|Granny manifests: Legalize! a few-hour stop-over on Serui island|
Already in the evening of my first day on the boat I had a feeling that this boat trip might be something I really need. I wandered on the deck, talked to people and had started going back to the cabin when I suddenly turned around. I noticed a interesting-looking girl, who apparently was a waria. Her name was Amanda. She’s from Bali, but for the past ten years she’s lived in Jayapura, where she’d escaped with her sweetheart from Solo. They had lived ten years in Jayapura like a man and a woman, but now they’ve finished their relationship. The man returned to Solo to marry a woman. I asked if her heart ached. And again, to my surprise, she too said it didn’t. “I’m happy we got to be together so long,” she tells.
Amanda went to Ambon and back. She’s travelling with three other people who sell coffee, snacks and cigarettes on the boat. Seems that many finance their trip that way. Standing there like that many gave me their hand to say hello and a few more words. One drunk Papuan man started babbling in English “oh, I’m talking to a waria, it’s a waria!” he mumbled as if he couldn’t understand what was going on. To illustrate what he’d just said he made some awkward dancing moves. Already then I was afraid something insulting might be on its way, because there’s nothing that could be more tactless than a drunk Papuan. But the man said: “Yes, these are warias, they have trouble within themselves, but they are here, they are just like you and me, they are part of the world in Papua!”
On the contrary for the worst that I had expected, it seemed the man was moved that I, a visitor from afar, had amongst the thousands on the boat chosen the only waria to talk to. This incident also illustrates something I realized during my three weeks here – Papuans take warias as something natural to the “modernized” (“indonized?”) world, they see waria as a colour, and what could they really have against beautiful, fun, sexy and well dancing warias? Since when have Papuans been those who dictate morale and order arising from it? This has always been the task of Indonesians or of Indonesian central power, who historically don’t really like the frizzy hair and the chaotic lifestyle of Papuans. If waria is a part of their “developed” world, so be it! A Papuan gets drunk and is delighted to have fun in the company of tall light-skinned Javanese warias. Why not?!
In Indonesia better don’t get sick or have an accident – this leads you down the hopeless world of money and corruption.
“I lost my toe, I lost my toe!” a dear Indonesian friend of mine screams on the other side when Marie picks up the phone. She is panicking and her speech doesn’t make much sense. All we know is the address of the hospital and we take off immediately.
Our friend is resting on a bed of a shared ward, her foot wrapped in bandage and her mood generally good. She would find out the next day if she can keep her toe or it will be cut off for good. But what shocked us even more than the horrific view on her bleeding toe was the story how she had been treated on her arrival.
In stead of proposing an immediate surgery, the doctor asked the amount of money she had with her. After finding a few hundred rupiahs from her wallet (20-30 euros) and promising to pay the rest after the treatment, the caretaker didn’t find it sufficient and took the girl with a toe loosely hanging on her foot to an ATM to withdraw more cash. On a motorbike!
That’s how our friend bought her toe back.
But the saga never ended. To claim the money back from insurance to cover the broken bike and the broken limb, one needs a police report. Still a few months after the accident, she is running between police offices to prove that she indeed had it. Though the proof had been collected long time ago.
The story ends as most of the bureaucratic stories in Indonesia end. She gets her paper to claim the losses at the insurance, but only if she pays a 1.5 million b r i b e (130 euros, which is probably more than the officers monthly pay).
Want to keep your toe? Have some cash for the doctor and some extra for the police saved in your pocket.
Here is the picture she managed to take and the information of the police officer who takes advantage of victims:
Polri DIY, Sleman, Sektor Depok Timur, Jln. Ring road Utara, Mancasan, Condong Jatur. Central Jawa, Indonesia.
Brigadir Riris Dianto
This corruptor asked 1.5 million rupiahs to write a document that says my friend indeed had a motorbike accident to get the money back from the health insurance.
Everyone who is against endless corruption in Indonesia, please share this story and let’s hope one day the corruptors will finally be punished.
In the world’s largest Muslim country, there is also the world’s largest Buddhist temple of Borobudur. Ten-storey stone building, whose structure is inspired by the human body and which forms a visual symbol of the Buddhist cosmology, is charged with blocks that have never been attached to each other by anything else than the power of history.
Only the conscious one can find meditating Buddhas under the bell-shaped domes, peeping out over the landscapes from behind heavy stone blocks. Between two giant mountains, one of which has poured the temple over with its ashes several times; between the earthquakes, while which the temple has still been standing stoically, the home of steadfast Borobuduri has lied over the last thousand years. The only scar the temple hasn’t healed from is the memory of malicious Muslim bombers, to which the stone Buddhas had to admin their mortality.
Every year on the fifth full moon day and night the pilgrims water the Borobudur energies with their deep honoring. The monks all over the world come here to wander from one holy building to another and celebrate Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and death. Affectionately we call it Buddha’s birthday here.
The monks had been meditating in silence on the foot of the temple for hours. Anxcious motion among the viewers gradually alternated with silence when the curious audience sank on the ground into bodiless state. So did we, the survivors of Vipassana, become nostalgic once listening to the recommendations of feeling the air passing into our noses. Eyes closed we enjoyed the breeze quietly touching our facial nerves.
Thus, when the monks began singing the full moon song, the dark sky strained from downpour cleared out and threw her moonshine on the meditating site. We took candles as the monks did and slowly span around the temple. As the monks ended their ritual by sending greetings to the moon, we just stayed to follow the lanterns flying to the enigmatic sky with our gazes of amaze.