SOME context would enrich Cryptic’s Discover Indonesia show, while Hayley Tompkins explores links between real and imagined worlds
Discover Indonesia: Jim Allen Abel and Jompet Kuswidananto
Glue Factory, Glasgow Rating: ***
Hardeep Pandhal: Plebeian Archive
David Dale Gallery, Glasgow Rating: ****
Modern Institute, Glasgow Rating: ****
In a scruffy warehouse in North Glasgow, a fleet of red mopeds has come to a momentarily halt. In the adjacent rooms a parade of headless but brightly costumed mannequins comes noisily to life, with the banging of motorised drums suspended from the ceiling. There are banners, loud hailers and clapping hands. Nearby, two rooms of photographs show men in uniform, from street sweepers to security men. Their faces are hidden: thanks to digital trickery, they are obscured behind sheaves of notes, or clouds of cotton wool.
Discover Indonesia is not, as might first appear from its rather dreary bureaucratic ring, a state-sponsored tourism initiative. Or at least it is not a straightforward one. This is the biggest showcase of Indonesian culture to be seen in the United Kingdom and it marks 70 years since the South East Asian archipelago proclaimed independence from the Netherlands in 1945.
Presented across Glasgow by Cryptic, the season includes the work of some 40 artists in music, dance, film and the visual arts. There is even a strand of Indonesian cooking. The Glue Factory, one of Glasgow’s more atmospheric but less salubrious venues, is home to a large presentation by artists Jompet Kuswidananto and Jim Allen Abel which displays both the benefits and perils of these international showcase presentations. The emphasis here is on spectacle – colour, costume and noise – but the lack of context provided can make it hard to get the measure of the work at times.
Centuries of migration and trade, and the inevitable cultural complexity of its archipelagic geography, mean that Indonesia is linguistically and culturally diverse. Among the religions that came to rest amongst traditional animistic societies are Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam. It has been the latter that has taken root: Indonesia is the most populous Muslim country in the world.
The neologism Indonesia itself was an English invention: coined and popularised by Victorian anthropologists. In the West, Indonesia has recently returned to wider consciousness through the external lens: in this case Joshua Oppenheimer’s remarkable documentary The Act of Killing, which examines the Indonesian genocide of 1965/6 and the Suharto regime armed by the British and Americans at the height of Cold War paranoia.
Jim Allen Abel’s work Uniform_Code owes something to a canonical work by the artist Simryn Gill. Her series of 40 photographs entitled A Small Town at the Turn of the Century (1999-2000) was a portrait of her home town of Port Dickson in Malaysia. Drawing on both conventional portraiture and anthropological photography Gill obscured the head of each of her subjects with a large bunch of tropical fruit.
In Jim Allen Abel’s hands this masking device is sinister. The elaborate formal dress that seems to be evidenced at every layer of contemporary Indonesian society, from the popular sport of Tae Kwon Do to the uniform of the teaching profession, speaks of militarisation, codification and the suppression of individual identity.
Jompet Kuswidananto is an artist and musician whose work comes out of collective activism in the music and theatre worlds. A regular on the globalised biennale circuit, his large-scale works examine the collision and transformation of ceremonial behaviour and group identities from religious parades to modern political campaigning. I wanted to know much more about the Indonesian art scene and about the elements of the four works on show in his installation Grand Parade, from the political banners that fluttered in the mechanical wind to the uniforms his mechanical soldiers wore. No one at the gallery could tell me much about any of these things or the origins of a little video showing shadow puppetry and traditional music in, what turned out, after pestering the gallery attendant, to be a sugar cane factory in Java. Sometimes harping on about spectacle and colour just isn’t enough.
Across town at the David Dale Gallery, questions of difference are deftly handled by Hardeep Pandhal. He grew up in Birmingham and studied art in Leeds. He now lives in Glasgow where he was one of the outstanding young artists of his cohort when he graduated from the Master of Fine Arts course at Glasgow School of Art in 2013.
Pandhal comes from a British Sikh family. His work sometimes deals with the complexities of intergenerational relationships. He has limited Punjabi, his mother limited English, so when he asked her to knit some themed sweaters for his degree show the work was about the shifts of register and the slippage of information as much as the fibres that bind.
His current exhibition, Plebeian Archive, is an unruly investigation into the figure of Bhagat Singh. An activist, bomber, anarchist and revolutionary of the Indian independence movement, he was hanged in 1931 at the age of 23 for the murder of a British policeman. Using drawings, video, satirical sculpture and graffiti, Pandhal combines the lofty language of post-colonial theory with the scurrilous hand of cartoonist Robert Crumb.
The work is focused on images of dismemberment and beheading and what they might mean in different religious and martial traditions. But Pandhal’s work is also about class, about the art machine and how it feels to position yourself in a world that as well as generating new knowledge feels the eternal need to classify and code it.
At the Modern Institute meanwhile, Hayley Tompkins has a marvellous show that elucidates her longstanding interest in the gentle, discomfiting boundary between the image world and the real world. There is much here that seems familiar: the elegant painted twigs that adorn the gallery walls, the plastic trays that are pooled with pigment. But a marvellous new series of works show images of machinery in galavanized metal trays splashed with fluid paint. Metal buckets sit on the floor stuffed with photographs that seem to have fallen unbidden from the sky. It is about the hand and the machine, the digital and the analogue, but not about choosing between them.
Discover Indonesia until 4 October; Hardeep Pandhal until 24 October; Hayley Tompkins until 7 November