Contemporary Worlds: IndonesiaNational Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Australia21 June - 27 October 2019
ROH Contemporary Worlds: Indonesia

Faisal Habibi and Uji "Hahan" Handoko participated in the group exhibition Contemporary Worlds: Indonesia held at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. 

This exhibition looks at the creative practices of Indonesian artists working since the fall of President Suharto in 1998, an event that marked the end of three decades of the repressive, discriminatory New Order regime.

The years from the mid-1990s leading up to this transformative moment in Indonesian history are known as the Reformasi period when voices of dissent calling for reform became audible. From 1998, in the post-Reformasi era of transition from an authoritarian regime to a democracy, the sudden, unfamiliar opportunity for innumerable individual beliefs and opinions to be broadcast created a declamatory cacophony accompanied by tactical maneuvers as numerous social and political groups jostled for prominence.

The post-Reformasi era of artistic practice in Indonesia has witnessed widespread engagement with global issues and the adoption of new materials and approaches by younger generations of artists. This has been supported by the critical refocussing of art schools and universities, teachers, curators, collectors, and gallerists to determine and champion Indonesia's art history: from within Indonesia, on Indonesian terms.

Of major significance to the post-Reformasi era, is the confident resounding of work by a number of senior artists who have emerged from the Suharto years as inspirational leaders, globally recognized for their pivotal guidance of Indonesian art history throughout an era of repression.

The artists in Contemporary Worlds: Indonesia explores diverse concepts ranging from sexuality, gender roles, and family, to environmental concerns, the art market, new materials and forms, everyday objects, and how we might listen to and learn from the sounds of Indonesia. This exhibition is a snapshot of creative activities in Indonesia now, and provides witness to an incredibly dynamic group of artists who are engaged, connected, and responsive to a number of the most potent ideas and issues, globally.

The art world is a sophisticated network of systems of influence, creating a complex interdependent industry ruled by what Uji ‘Hahan’ Handoko Eko Saputro has termed ‘The Holy Trinity’—the collector, the gallery and the artist. Hahan’s raucously witty and bitingly honest practice is an investigation of these structures and how ‘The Holy Trinity’ are driven by the twin desires of both critical and commercial success.

Hahan was in art school in Yogyakarta when the international art market first began to take interest in contemporary Indonesian art. By the mid-2000s prices started to climb steeply, and curators, collectors and dealers began to descend on Yogyakarta looking for the next big thing. By the late 2000s Indonesian artists were on the front cover of Sotheby’s auction catalogues, presented in solo exhibitions in leading international art museums and represented by powerhouse commercial galleries. Hahan watched this phenomenon unfold and meticulously tracked it. This diligent research informs his practice where the machinations of the art world remain the core subject.

Silent Operation: Sign study based on the formula of contemporary (visual) art 2018–19 is Hahan’s most ambitious work to date. Working in collaboration with Adi ‘Uma Gumma’ Kusuma, the installation transforms an entire gallery into an immersive structural analysis of the art world. The installation itself embodies a sense of contemporaneity often found at art fairs and biennales, with neon lights in competing colours. It is overwhelming and slightly disconcerting. Anchoring the space is an interactive game application of a mind-map that seemingly tracks a route for success in the art world. Upon entering the viewer is invited to become a player in this game by participating in ‘network maintenance’ and pondering pricing as they seek to find the right formula for success as a contemporary artist. As the viewer navigates their movements they quickly discover that there is no clear pathway, no guarantee of success and endless relationships to maintain.

Hahan’s practice is characterised by inclusivity; his aesthetics are compelling for the first-time gallery viewer and his semiotic jokes amusing for even the most hardened art historian. By addressing his audiences through multiple registers his practice enables every viewer to feel empowered. This careful support allows him to make transparent the convoluted processes of the closed structure of the art world in a bid to democratise it. Make no mistake, while Hahan’s work may be heralded by art critics, it is the general public’s approval he chases most.

Mikala Tai

ROH Contemporary Worlds: Indonesia

Faisal Habibi first came to prominence as part of the ‘Bandung wave’ of the late 2000s. Bandung artists are typically characterised as academically and conceptually oriented, due in part to the abiding perception of the Bandung Institute of Technology as a ‘laboratory of the West’. As reductive as this perception may be, there is a philosophical sophistication to Habibi’s playful sculptural investigations of material culture.

Habibi has been described as an exponent of ‘object art’, a creator of three-dimensional forms that operate as sculpture, but which are distinct from its traditions. Like his Bandung contemporaries Tromarama and Wiyoga Muhardanto, he highlights the vast prevalence of mass-produced forms in daily life. Habibi incorporates into his work the aesthetics of industrial design and the idea of commodities as objects of desire, taking on a life of their own in the mind of the consumer. Questions of utility pervade his early works—articulated shovels, a self-nailing hammer, and impossibly overcomplicated brushes and handsaws exaggerate the function of simple tools. He has also produced a range of beautifully realised but hopelessly unusable deconstructions of furniture design that play on perception and expectation.

In the past few years, Habibi’s attention has shifted toward the more sensuous aspects of everyday objects, with a focus on materiality, colour and form. His recent works are still recognisably derived from commonplace products—plywood veneer panels, painted stainless steel tubing, rubber stoppers, blades of various shapes and applications—but they are altogether devoid of function. By focusing on their aesthetic elements, Habibi creates space for reflection, in keeping with his fascination with the relationship between subjects and objects, between human beings and the things around them.

The Mind the gap series 2015–17 is an installation of three works created from the metal bits and pieces left behind when a desired shape is cut from a sheet of steel. Its centrepiece is an arrangement of 100 offcuts on a wall, placed in a loose rectangular grid. Their dark rusty tone emphasises the contrasting colour of the wall, and thus the forms of the spaces between them. While Habibi’s configuration of the steel pieces creates the impression of negative space in the gallery, the industrial detritus are already negative space themselves. Mind the gap 2015, then, is effectively a double negative, a playful reordering of a traditional category of sculpture and design.

Reuben Keehan

Born 1984, Jakarta, Indonesia
Lives and works in Bandung, Indonesia

Since the start of his career, Faisal Habibi has been concerned with material culture; to interrogate its culture by playfully yet critically positing and creating alterations of familiar everyday objects, thus enticing the viewers to reignite conversation with the objects.

Habibi received his Bachelor’s Degree from Bandung Institute of Technology in 2008 with concentration in sculpture. He has exhibited his works in Bandung, Jakarta, Yogyakarta and also abroad in Singapore, Berlin, Germany and Australia. Habibi's first solo exhibition, This is not an apple… was held at ROH Projects in 2015. His most recent solo exhibitions include Stretch & Fold at Jarmuschek+Partner gallery, Berlin, Germany (2021), fillet at Sullivan+Strumpf, Singapore (2018) and nonsuch at Art Basel Hong Kong with ROH, Hong Kong (2018). His works have also been included in major group exhibitions, with the recent ones being at Art Cologne with Jarmuschek+Partner gallery (2022), Identität Nicht Nachgewiesen (Identity Not Proven) at Bundeskunsthalle, Bonn, Germany (2022); Contemporary Worlds: Indonesia at National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Australia (2019); as well as group shows both online and offline, including Art Jakarta with ROH, Jakarta, Indonesia (2022); Art Basel Hong Kong OVR with ROH (2021); AORA:III (2021); Art Basel Online Viewing Room with ROH (2020); Papers: Position at Brandshof Hamburg, Berlin, Germany (2021); Art Jakarta with ROH Projects, Jakarta, Indonesia (2019); ARTJOG 10: Changing Perspective at Jogja National Museum, Yogyakarta, Indonesia and Biennale Jogja XIV Equator #4 in Yogyakarta, Indonesia (2017). Faisal’s works have been featured in many art awards, including Kompetisi Karya Trimatra Salihara (first prize winner), Indonesia Art Award (juror’s choice), and Bandung Contemporary Art Awards (special mention). He was awarded a three-month residency program at the Zentrum für Kunst und Urbanistic (ZKU – Center for Art and Urbanism) in Berlin. Faisal's work is a part of the Contemporary Art Collection of the Federal Republic of Germany.

View Artist

Copyright belongs to The Artists

Texts by The National Gallery of Australia, Mikala Tai, and Reuben Keehan

Photography by The National Gallery of Australia

Courtesy of The Artists, The National Gallery of Australia, and ROH