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The Last Animist

a collaboration with Nindityo Adipurnomo


The procession
Project for ‘Grandeur', Sonsbeek, Arnhem in The Netherlands.
We interpreted the theme ‘Grandeur' as a series of opposites; the majestic as opposed to the ordinary. The act of lifting and carrying the artworks around, implies that there is a value attached to the objects. The objects become symbols, they can also become fetish objects. It raises the questions: What is the significance of this procession? What or whom is it held in honor of? What is important enough to be carried in a procession? And who should have the right to be the objects bearers?

The people that lift and carry the objects channel the strength of the objects. Not only do the objects become fetish objects but a certain importance or significance is attached to the carriers, and eventually to the creators of the objects. Working with the idea that a certain power is attached to objects, we decided to study Javanese and other Indonesian cultures, as there are around 300 diverse cultures in Indonesia. Very frequently meanings, values and forces are given to objects; this is called animism , the modal and source of cultural richness in Indonesia. Its origin can be traced back centuries before the arrival of religion to Indonesia. Animism is a belief system through which reality is perceived. This belief system assumes that the seen world is related to the unseen; an interaction exists between the divine and the human, the sacred and the profane, the holy and the secular. It is related to the worshiping of nature and ancestors; the animist presupposes that all forms of life is controlled by spiritual beings and forces, which have power over human affairs. Through time, these animistic values have been adopted by- and became part of all religions that have since become apart of Indonesia. Although we live in a modernized and globalized society of Yogyakarta, this belief is still very much a part of our daily reality.

We invited migrant families from different countries who have settled in Arnhem to become participants or ‘carriers' in the procession. They are newcomers as well as families that have lived in the Netherlands or Arnhem for many generations. They each had an important contribution to our work. Based on the idea that something valuable or treasured is carried in a procession, we asked the families to carry an object that is cherished and that is relates to their land of origin and/or personal history. Each family had their own story to tell; their diverse backgrounds and their object of choice possess a different story.

Through this process, we found that their cultural roots and family histories are glorified. This glorification of ‘authentic' cultures is what we see happening in migrant communities, all over the world. We often consider it sentimental, absurd, over-romanticized, and their view is often far from the temporary reality in the country of origin that has developed through time. Families used to keep their own (oral) stories alive and objects to strengthen their memories, myths and histories.

We designed nine buildings, with the idea of the container (building / construction) and the content (the objects). Some of the ‘buildings' were carried in the procession and were installed in the park after the procession together with the personal objects (copies).

The floor design of the installation in the park is based on the pattern of our nine human orifices: the eyes (2), the nose (2) the mouth, the ears (2) the genital (1), the anus (1), which is also the floor patterns for most palaces in Java.

We created open structures, like carcasses or skeletons of architecture. This was inspired by Javanese and Balinese architecture, with the roof on pillars acting as the basic structure. The constructions were made of different materials such as wood, aluminum, buffalo horn, bones, wire, electronics, cocoons, etc.