Friday, October 15, 2010

How to Turn Trauma into Video Art: A Brief Story of Tromarama

How many people are willing and able to transform a traumatic experience into creative energy? Not many, presumably. Among the few are three art students from Bandung Institute of Technology, Indonesia—Febie Babyrose (a.k.a. Baby), Herbert Hans (a.k.a. Ebet), and Ruddy Hatumena—who have successfully come through a traumatic experience and made it into the start of a career in video art.

The story of this trauma began in 2006 during their last few semesters of university. Their days had become boring, perhaps because everything they did, all the assignments, had become routine. One day, a group of alumni and artists in Bandung (who formed the video production collective Cerahati Artwork) hold a series of workshops. They invited the participants—mostly university students—to appreciate and learn about the technical aspects of (music) video making.

Baby, Ebet, and Ruddy took part in these workshops as something new to do that moved them away from their university routines—at the time they knew one another but had not formed a group. Both Ebet and Ruddy were enrolled in the Visual Communication Department. Ebet specialized in advertising, Ruddy in graphic design. Therefore, both were comfortable working in the fields of animation, video, and film. However, Baby was far removed from these fields as her major was in printmaking: “They (Ebet and Ruddy) were the ones who introduced me to the works by the artist/film director Michel Gondry,” she later said.

The workshop gave the three of them new skills in the processes of video as a medium and an opportunity to make new work together, but also became an experience that the Tromarama members dubbed “a traumatic experience,” and which spawned the artistic name of the group.

The ‘trauma’ was experienced while completing the their first video project together, which involved producing over 400 woodcut panels to be used as the basic visual material for a highly-unique music video clip for the trash-metal group Seringai, titled Serigala Militia (2006). The woodcut images were transformed into moving images using stop motion animation.

They felt that the visual style of video clips by other participants in the workshop were largely homogenous: using a video camera, with similar visualization and presentation/staging. They wanted to produce a clip that maximized all the possibilities presented by the medium, while using ‘simple’ materials. Therefore, the trauma of creating hundreds of woodcut panels was actually their own doing, a result of their own choices.

For one full month, in the midst of completing a range of other university assignments, they worked towards finishing the video clip. Their collective name was based on this experience—the word ‘trauma’ was turned into the rhythmical sounding name: Tromarama.

Their hard work was not in vain however as Serigala Militia is indeed a unique and intriguing video clip. The combination of handmade images with rough lines, contrasting colors of the brownish yellow plywood panels and the black background form scenes of broken movement. All of this works in harmony with the pounding beats of Seringai’s music. This clip launched Tromarama’s careers as important members of the latest generation of video artists in Indonesia; whose work feels fresh, different, and captivating.


Video art, among a range of new media art, has long been recognized in the Indonesian contemporary art landscape. Bandung—the city where Tromarama live, work and studied—has a special role in relation to the development of video art in Indonesia, especially at the end of the 90s and in the early 2000s.

Krisna Murti is one Indonesian artist who has been a forerunner of video art and has untiringly worked to introduce video and new media art to Indonesia. He also lives and works in Bandung.

In 2002, Krisna Murti initiated and organized the first international new media art event in Indonesia; theBandung Film, Video, and New Media Arts Festival (BAVF-NAF). This event captured the spirit of a new generation of artists in Bandung who held a great interest in video, film, and other technology-based new media, whether analogue or digital.

In the early 2000s, there was a proliferation of groups of young artists with similar interests in video/film/new media art, collaborating with one another within a network. Some of them only existed for a while before merging into other groups; some remain active today.

Some of these groups deserve to be given greater attention. The Bandung Center for New Media Art was established by a number of young artists in 2001. They hold discussions and video screening events and link artists with other communities from a variety of backgrounds, enabling them to collaborate in interdisciplinary projects involving three main disciplines: art, science, and technology. There is also the VideoLab group, who hold monthly video screenings in public spaces on the streets of Bandung. These events go by the name of CinematicLab. Another noteworthy group is VideoBabes, who share a more-or-less similar pattern of activities and the same focus, video art.

In short, in the early-to-mid 2000s, there were exhibitions, video screenings, and events in this area (Bandung Music Video Festival,” for example) almost every year. In 2006, this development of video art and new media in Bandung was documented in a video compilation titled Bandung Timeline 2001 – 2006.

Another important event during this time was Beyond Panopticon: Art and Global Media Project, which took place in 2004, consisting of a number of video screening events with an international scope. This was organized by the young artists from the VideoLab group (Herra Pahlasari, Andri Mochamad, Prilla Tania, and Jordan Raspatie). What was rather special about this event was the venue. The event was not held in an art gallery, or any other venues that usually host arts and cultural events, as at the time there were almost no art galleries that were bold enough to present video works exclusively and routinely. It was therefore natural for the young artists working with new media to seek out or create their own spaces to start interacting with a wider audience. Therefore Beyond Panopticon was held in a mall selling electronics and computers, the Bandung Electronic City mall.

This choice of venue correlates with the social, economic, and cultural issues that were characteristic of activities of the youth and artists in Bandung at the time; similar situations could also be seen in other big Indonesian cities.

After the economic crisis hit Indonesia in 1997-98, bringing down the authoritarian New Order regime of Suharto, Indonesia entered a period of prolonged social, economic, and political crises. The economic crisis put pressure on middle-class urban Indonesians. The middle class youth dealt with the economic crisis by seeking out and taking part in a range of creative activities which then formed the basis for a ‘creative industry’ relying on social networks to distribute its various products. In Bandung, the range of activities was truly extensive. Some of these youngsters created and produced different functional objects based on simple product designs and computer software, as well as films, music, and videos. In Bandung, Yogyakarta, and Jakarta, many of these small enterprises are still going strong.

Technically, all the creative-productive activities were made possible thanks to the easy and cheap availability of computers and all kinds of pirated software and films in Indonesia—notwithstanding controversies regarding copyright. This provided the hardware and software to make graphic and multimedia work as well as access to thousands of films, from the past and present.

Meanwhile, the demise of the authoritarian New Order regime brought Indonesia into a process of democratization. The Indonesian middle-class gladly welcomed political freedom. Today, everyone can express their social, cultural, and political interests and needs. The production, distribution, and consumption of information has become accessible and open to anyone.

All of those factors led to the emergence of a highly independent new generation of artists working across disciplines and depending on their own vast social networks—globally and locally­—with a good grasp of IT and new technologies. At the same time as this was happening in Bandung, similar communities were also emerging in Yogyakarta and Jakarta. This new creative network has been widely exposed to the Indonesian art public through OK Video, a biennial international festival which began in 2003, held by ruangrupa—a community of young artists based in Jakarta.

Since Krisna Murti held BAVF-NAF in Bandung in 2002, video art in Indonesia has grown to be quite extensive in terms of its players and audience. The members of Tromarama have grown out of this political and cultural environment in Indonesia.


The video clip for Serigala Militia first caught the public’s eye when it was presented in a group exhibition, Bandung New Emergence #1, in 2006 (Selasar Sunaryo Art Space, Bandung). From then on, Tromarama were given opportunities to create other video works, such as Zsa Zsa Zsu (2007) and Balonku (My Balloon, 2007).

All three music videos—Serigala Militia, Zsa Zsa Zsu, and Balonku—were created using ’unusual’ materials. Serigala Militia was made of a series of hundreds woodcut panels; Zsa Zsa Zsu, of arrangements of thousands of types of buttons with a myriad of colors; and Balonku, of a series of collage images using colorful bits of paper. These three music videos were the group’s visual interpretations of existing songs by others. And it is only in their work Ting* (2008) that they started to think of the narrative, visualization, and audio/music aspects as a whole.

Ting* was also made using stop-motion, affirming Tromarama’s confidence in creating video works using this technique, and at the same time showing their courage to keep on trying new things. The cheerful video depicts a range of white chinaware taking a walk in the city, before eventually returning to their ‘dormitory’, the kitchen cupboard. The work’s strong presence was enhanced by being screened within an installation of hundreds of real chinaware pieces.

These first four video works made Tromarama’s name and gave them access to a variety of video screening events and subsequently to art exhibitions in many galleries in Indonesia. However, they were not immediately convinced that the production of video art could have a bright future in Indonesian art.

After graduation, Ebet and Ruddy left Bandung for a while to work in Jakarta, while Baby stayed in Bandung. The future of the group became unclear, so much so that the 402 woodcut panels used to make Serigala Militia were almost destroyed. The hundreds of woodcut panels were a burden for Baby, who had to take care and store them while she was living in a small, cramped rented house in Bandung. Thankfully, the panels survived and the work was exhibited at the 2nd Singapore Biennale in 2008. After this, invitations to present their works in a variety of exhibitions came one after another, from inside the country and abroad.

Prior to its exhibition here at the Mori Art Museum, Serigala Militia grabbed attention in the Philagrafika exhibition in Philadelphia, U.S., leading to a number of local and regional collectors expressing their interest in collecting Tromarama’s video works. All of these factors have convinced Tromarama to keep on working.

Currently Tromarama is still creating increasingly intriguing video works, as well as a number of installations. During an interview with me, the three of them agreed that the choice of media and form, whether video or installation, is made—often after long and fiery discussions and debates—because the media are considered to be the ones that can most aptly convey certain messages.

It is clear, however, that in the context of recent developments in contemporary art in Indonesia—which is still dominated by paintings and sculptures—Tromarama, with their video works, seem to represent a new generation increasingly open to, and familiar with, a myriad of new media to express their ideas and experience.

Enin Supriyanto (independent curator and writer, focusing on Indonesian contemporary art)

** This essay is published in MAM Project 012: TROMARAMA" catalogue. Published by Mori Art Museum. Date of Publication: August 1, 2010

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