Art meets Nature

Titles of art exhibitions often say nothing, are misleading, or have little to do with the content.
But in the case of “NextNature”, currently at the National Gallery Jakarta, some important works do relate to the title, taking Nature beyond its conventional visual representation.

One example of this among the 18 Indonesian and seven Chinese art works included in the exhibition is Microcosm by Miao Xiaochun (b. 1964), the Beijing-based Chinese artist who reaped international recognition with his spectacular reworking of Michelangelo’s masterpiece with Last Judgement in Cyberspace in 3D. In contrast to the hierarchical concept of the God‑human relationship, Miao Xiaochun took his own vision of equality as a basis, showing nudes in his baldheaded likeness fighting each other in the air as they struggled to find a way to salvation.

In the current exhibition, Miao Xiaochun again takes his inspiration from a European master, the 15th century Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch who painted The Garden of Earthly Delights featuring heaven, Earth and hell. Although inspired by the old masterpiece, however, Miao Xiaochun ventures beyond it, in his 3D oeuvre titled Microcosm.

Baldheaded nudes moving like robots, fire disasters with skyscrapers collapsing and art works falling down the walls, spaceships coming to the rescue in the fashion of Noah’s ark, speeding tanks and flying mosquitoes, dancing skeletons and humans riding birds of paradise: All these are dazzling images that are intended to reveal the artist’s vision of life and death, of human desire and weakness.

But even if nothing of this intent comes through to the less observant viewer, the images of Microcosm hovering between myth and futurism and matched by the magic spells of Wagner’s Tannhäuser Ouveture, can engender imaginings of Nature in its most expanded understanding. Some of the episodes are also shown in C-Print.

Closer to home is the video work by Nindityo Adipurnomo (b. 1961), the Yogyakarta-based Indonesian artist whose metaphorical hair buns have been executed in the most varied materials possible. In this exhibition, he surprisingly leaves his longtime metaphors to engage with the issue of perceived nature or, shall we say, the layered skin of nature.

His video images show him walking and cows moving in Lembuyung, amidst the most beautiful environs outside Yogyakarta. Such beauty, however, is grossly hampered by the waste disposed there from the city of Yogyakarta. Cows owned by pemulung (trash pickers) are bred and fed with waste of intolerable stench and dangerous toxins.

Nindityo says the stench is horrible and swarms of flies emerge from the surface at the slightest movement. But he was intent to explore the level of his tolerance and examine to what extent human nature can adjust in the way animals can.

After a few days he was able to make a barbecue in the midst of the stinking waste, even eating a slice of barbecued beef. Perhaps no one having dinner in a posh restaurant in Yogyakarta, or Jakarta for that matter, would have even the least notion that what is served in the luxury of an air conditioned room and fine dinner set might have come from the filth of this waste disposal in Lembuyung near Yogyakarta.

Perceived, culturally constructed and natural identities are the issues tackled by Dutch-born, Yogyakarta resident of 25 years, Mella Jaarsma (b. 1960), whose iconic burqa has been a metaphor for issues of protection, discrimination, tents for fugitives and other issues of a social and political nature.

Annoyed by the diminishing attention to the natural, and the trend of pushing it into a corner, she says, “Everything natural is either primitive or needs to be covered with a jacket that fits the urban fashion.” In a cynical twist, she mimics what fashion designers often do, namely taking their examples from the village and remaking them for the urbanistas. Based on photographs taken from Papuans, a people she considers to be closest to nature, she has designed “dresses” fitting a modern Jungle Fashion, and made silk screens of them for the installation Shirts that Fit Us All.

If many of today’s photographic landscapes are the result of digital cameras, the fantastic photograph of the Himalayas in this exhibition has followed a different approach. Beijing-based Chinese artist Shi Guorui (b. 1964) uses the age-old tool of the pinhole technique. This technique mentioned as early as the 5th century BC by Chinese philosopher Mo-Ti, was called the camera obscura by German astronomer Johannes Keppler. Unlike a digital camera, the camera obscura required the artist to spend long hours in a makeshift tent (dark room) with just a beam of light.

Also interesting is Yuli Prayitno’s (b. 1974) Landscape No. 1. Many will remember Yuli Prayitno’s incredible work of glass featuring a hot pepper at the Yogya Biennale in 2006. Here he offers a view from the plane, featuring a landscape made of colored pencils. Budi Kustarto (b. 1972) who has enjoyed incredible attention from collectors, seems to be feeling like a bird caught in a cage, cut off from his natural freedom. Other works include those by Ade Darmawan, Anusapati, Deden Hendan Durahman, Handiwirman Saputra, I Nyoman Erawan, Iswanto Hartono, Iwan Sagita, Manuputra, Nurdin Ichsan, Putu Sutawijaya, S. Teddy D, Tisna Sanjaya, Ugo Untoro, Bai Yiluo, Han Yajuan,He Yunchang, Shi Jianmin, Shi Jing.

Organized by Vanessa Art Link, and curated by Ritzki Zaelani, the works are well displayed with ample space for visitors to move around.


A joint exhibition of Chinese and
Indonesian artists
Until Sept. 16
National Gallery Jakarta
Sept. 16­­–30
Vanessa Art Link
Jl. Darmawangsa X no. 76
South Jakarta


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