Campbell writes about Heri Dono:
Heri Dono: installation, technology, presence and absence.
Dono’s art is a multi faceted inquiry into the essence of the artist
as ever-present creative force. His practice transcends the different
disciplines as defined by western academic approaches. His subversive,
innovative, and transformative zeal is unified in a single approach that
is centred on cultural engagement. As an artist, he can combine self-expression
and a collaborative spirit that fuses performative aspects of his work
with gallery installations. One way to explore the issues of artistic
and collective identity as engendered by Dono’s work is to examine
his use of installation as a creative medium.
Installation can be defined as a presentation conceived for a specific
interior that seeks to physically dominate the space. The intent of the
artist is to allow the viewer to actively engage with the space and its
contents, at times more strongly influenced than others (particularly
in the use of sound and moving images). The aesthetic of the installation
is often presented self consciously as a temporary occurrence. This points
to the intimate connection between installation and performance art.
Key figures in the growth of installation in the postwar period strove
to integrate other mediums in a total artwork. Joseph Beuys was notable
for his avocation of an ideal social sculpture that contained political
action as well as performance and sculpture. His notion worked against
the idea of permanence to destroy the power of the modernist art object.
He was opposed to art based on autonomous gestures and believed any person
could be creatively active. His vision was to would allow for an art that
could totally permeate life.
Asian contemporary artists in the 70’s began to adopt these ideas.
Asian contemporary art is uniquely conscious of these concepts. The universal
cultural acceptance of art in cultures like that on Bali enables a closer
approximation of these values to come to fruition. The culture of art
has a major role in the culture, which renders it continuous with society.
Art (particularly performance) makes the temples function and everyone
can have a personal engagement with the artist’s role.
Historical mediums like wayang kulit (shadow puppetry) reinforce the notion
of the value of multimedia presentation. This power to transform reality
is also key in installation art. Often, the artist’s role is to
determine the mood of the viewer by manipulating the gallery space. Also,
there is a loose distinction between living folk arts and contemporary
arts, partly because of the paternalistic perception of Asian artists
as primitive held by the west.
In Asia, there is a constant need to keep
growth and decay in balance. This flux is accentuated in much installation
work where transience is built into the aesthetic.
Heri Dono is a multimedia artist. His childhood interests in drawing and
painting lead him to the very specific desire to be an artist. After studying
at the Indonesian Institute of Arts and exhibited paintings as well as
participating in earth works installation. After his education he studied
wayang kulit. Much of his influence comes from a will to engage with cultural
matters in a humourous way that borders on the illogical. His imagery
is based both on cartoons from the west and on traditional puppet designs.
His interest in animation lead him at an early age to see cartoons as
"’[an] animistic world where everything has soul, spirit and
feelings. In this kind of world, communication has no barriers.’"
He believes the value of cartoons lies in the "…opportunity
to explore the illogical world of the mind." These sentiments are
expressed continuously in his installation art in terms of their iconography
In order to communicate this vision of the illogical, Dono must constantly
challenge his own inventiveness. Western writers describe him as a "low-tech
magician". This description combines both of the sentiments that
make his works so attractive: they are humble technically and mysterious
in their "exotic" toylike charm. They are imbued with an adhoc,
provisional appearance that undermines the threatening potential of technology.
Dono perpetuates the prevailing mode of artists working with technology
(Jean Tinguely among others) to make the works vulnerable and therefore
palatable as art objects.
The piece entitled Gamelon Goro-Goro (fig 1) allows the viewer to become
a witness to a series of interrelated processes. These multiple systems
are made transparent to the viewer by the long sections of trailing wires
and the tubs of water draining into each other. A connection is made between
water and electricity reinforcing Dono’s urge to show "the
spiritual energy of electricity". The animism of traditional rural
cultures is brought into the world of science and technology.
While his paintings share a particularly visceral content that can be
seen as political, the installation pieces are somewhat more spiritual.
One particularly successful deviation from this is Fermentation of Mind
(fig 2). In this work, a series of Fiberglas heads bob on mechanical cranks
accompanied by tape-recorded chanting. "Fermentation of Mind signifies
the importance of obedience in Indonesian culture… one reason for
Indonesian governments since independence growing into totalitarian regimes."
These concerns extend the systems he is investigating in his work to the
political realm. This is present in other works like Political Clowns
(fig 4) where the disembodied heads rest on skeletal superstructures that
reference the body. These analogs for people critique the use of naturalistic
sculpture historically as reminder of important people. In contemporary
art, like the Fermentation of Mind, art is more likely to be used to elevate
a personal vision of humanity, perhaps even referring to the unamed and
Dono says of installation, "…I think the meaning is not only
in the exhibition, but also in the process, because they employ people
to participate in making the piece. This process would allow the artist
and the non-artist to communicate and bond socially." Much of his
installation work is made with the assistance of a grass roots collection
of people working in appliance repair shops. The unique economic environment
of Indonesia ensures that there is a constant demand for repairing devices
like TV’s and radios that people in the west would normally just
throw out. The meaning that accompanies the resurrection cast off technology
is important to understanding the social implications of these works.
By being part of a human system of labour he establishes the presence
of both the artist and the technologist. Their work is less likely to
be subsumed by the monolithic and authoritative power of commodified electronics.
This helps to illustrate the simplicity that diffuses any threatening
power in the use of these materials. Dono’s work retains the handmade
quality of the handicraft while presenting a vision that is more complicated
than a mere tourist item. In the viewers mind a disconnect forms between
preconceived notions of the traditional and the contemporary.
Dono seeks to remind people in the industrialized world of old technology
and to accept differing levels of technology just as he accepts different
levels of society. In reference to his piece Animal Journey (figure 3)
he says, "Everyday in Yogya, I use a bicycle, and I go everywhere
with it. This makes me think of people, especially the people in Harima
[Japan], because Harima is a ‘technopolis,’ a new city. I
wanted to remind them that the bicycle is still important." This
illustrates how his found materials derive from personal engagement with
his local experience. The symbols of the bicycle or the Gamelon are less
fetishistic gestures of an exotic culture than an attempt at exporting
a common experience to another culture and seeing how people respond.
The implications of Dono’s work as it is perceived in different
cultures shows how technology can be demystified by other cultures that
are perceived as older, and less intent on using it for evil purposes.
This shows the contemporary artist’s constant need to undermine
the sinister implications of technology, replacing them with ones that
are vulnerable and even mocking. Similarly, Dono’s art is invested
with the prescribed meanings of the "primitive" because of his
style of presentation. Dono’s initial invitations to exhibit his
work abroad came from museums of ethnology where he performed his shadow
puppetry. The shift to make art from technological materials may in part
come from the need to be taken seriously as a contemporary artist.
Dono’s main motif in the use of technology in his art seems to be
philosophical as well as practical. Installation brings to the fore the
collision of performance with the gallery venue as it is still appreciated
in the western model (and still permeates the presentation of contemporary
art). This division lies between presence and absence.
assumed to be the result of a process, the encapsulation of a time based
project in a physical space. The persistent use of machines is tied to
Dono’s evocation of a cartoon landscape. The implication of automated
pieces like Gamelon Goro-Goro or Fermentation of the Minds is that this
landscape could travel without him.
Generally this is uncharacteristic of a performer who jealously guards
his talents and his image as his only product. Dono’s multi-media
proclivities enable a sense of freedom that allows the use of technology
without it’s anti-humanist allusions. This presence is felt, regardless
of his location. By infusing the works with the animistic it simultaneously
severs it from the autonomous gesture of performance and forces an independence
from the artist.
It is important that Dono responds to his culture both locally and globally.
He can take the otherworldly illogic of cartoons and fuse it with the
medium of gallery bound installation and machine art. This truly postmodern
approach to creating comes from a sincere fascination with invention,
with telling stories and performing that is intrinsic to traditional arts
like puppetry. His identity is not in flux, but his mediums of expression
are, providing him with a large pool of toys from which to amuse himself
and make others think. One gets the feeling Dono is constantly creating,
making sure his form of innovation replicates itself across mediums and
across borders. It doesn’t matter which medium he chooses, the result
will be highlighted by cultural engagement. This is his job.
Gamelan Goro-Goro, 2001, Sound
installation: water vats, gongs, hubcaps, and electric equipment. AWAS!
Recent Art from Indonesia (webcatalog).
Fermentation of Mind, 1994. Installation, mixed media. XXIII Bienal Internacional
de São Paulo (web catalog),
Animal Journey, 1997, Flash Art, Volume 33, Summer 2000, p 95.
Political Clowns, Flash Art, Volume 33, Summer 2000, p 96.
Wright, Astri, "Heri Dono, Indonesia: A Rebel’sPlayground,"
12 Asean Artists, 2000, pp. 86-95.
Lutfy, Carol, "Low Tech Magician," Artnews, October 1997,
Supangkat, Jim, "Breaking Through Twisted Logic," Arts Asia
Pacific, Issue 32, Oct-Dec 2001,
Obrist , Hans Ulrich, "Heri Dono: the Ever Increasing Colonization
of Time", Flash Art, Volume 33, Summer 2000
Obrist , Hans Ulrich, "Hans Ulrich Obrist interviews Heri Dono, 1999",
Polansky, Larry, "Interview with Heri Dono", ©1997