The group Tromarama, consisting of artists Febie Babyrose (Baby), Herbert Hans (Ebet), and Ruddy Hatumena (Ruddy), is probably one of the Indonesian art groups receiving considerable attention from the art public, nationally in Indonesia as well as regionally. Their works have been well received because they show novel approaches, revealing the spirit of explorations in terms of their media, and of moving across disciplines. Their subjects are closely related with the cultural lives of the youth, presented through the play of signs or symbols that are invariably enchanting and entertaining. Almost all the works by this Bandung-based group use the technique of stop-motion animation, combined with a series of installations using elements from their stop-motion works, which make a considerable use of manual skills.
Consider, for example, the work titled Ting* (2008), consisting of stop-motion animations using tableware: porcelain mugs, cups, and plates that come alive, moving humorously. In the exhibition, the group presented such tableware overflowing from a cupboard. Previously, the work Serigala Militia (2006), a video-clip from the eponymous Trash-metal band, uses stop-motion animations with hundreds of woodcut images. The group then presented the series of woodcut panels as a work of installation. Tromarama is quite a young group, but their works have been presented in a range of international events and institutions, such as the 2nd Singapore Biennale in 2008. In 2010, they were invited to hold a solo exhibition at Mori Art Museum, Tokyo.
As a group, Tromarama naturally does not give emphasis to the solitary work of individuals, as would be expected for a single artist. The three artists work collectively in collaborations, involving knowledge-sharing, learning from one another, and creating consensus. Collectively, they form one entity motivated by a general concern or sharing a specific interest, or collaborating in certain projects. Baby explains that each individual artist in the group can actually propose ideas and with the consent of other members, the ideas would then be discussed and eventually put into action, giving rise to a work of art, with the individual artists having a distinct share of the collective effort. Armed with their experience of working together, they agree to present one special work for Asia One, Hong Kong International Art Fair 2011.
The work that they are going to present at Asia One is in the form of an installation of three crosses, with layers of radiographic or X-ray images of human bodies. The X-ray images are arranged over a plexiglass surface lit from below using a fluorescent lamp, making the X-ray images of the seemingly crucified body appear clearly. Between the three crosses there are texts saying “More – We – Less – Me”, which they also use as the title for the work. The white light on an all-black wall makes the work appear dramatic. This time, however, they do not present animated works.
The cross is a symbol taken from Christianity, referring to sacrifice. In the context of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the sacrifice is intended for the salvation of the human race. With the three crosses, however, the Tromarama members have no intention to talk about religious values. Rather, the crosses are viewed as sacrifice in the context of the individuality of the modern human. It is especially true for art practices, in which an individual value is venerated and becomes the center of the universe (in the classic Cartesian concept).
Crucifixion, in this case, is present as an allegory for us to talk about the issue of the “sacrifice” of the artists in regard to their individuality and identity, as well as to their experience of working collaboratively or collectively in a group. The text under the crosses seems to confirm that “We” would be better than “Me”. The text seems to serve as a statement from each individual artist in the group, saying that becoming “Me” would not be stronger than becoming “us”. It is a strong statement about collective and collaborative work.
There is a link between the statement of “We” and the X-ray images. X-ray images reveal the different densities and compositions of the photographed materials. The projection of X-ray images on the transparent film layer over the crosses give rise to a distinct sense of alienation upon seeing the shape of the human body. The densest parts of the body such as the skull and the bones seem whiter, while the softer parts such as the flesh would appear more translucent. These are actually X-ray images of the Tromarama members, or you can say that they are a kind of “self-portraits” of Baby, Ebet, and Ruddy. To them, these X-ray images are a means to reveal their respective self identity. By capturing their body using the X-ray technology, they create a certain ambiguity about their self identity, even alienating them.
Today identity is a constantly-changing construction, unrelated to the conventional concept. The self is no longer related with a certain truth about identity. In the contemporary society, identity has become a complex and layered issue. The poet Goenawan Mohamad once wrote in his column: “The self or I was always born slightly out of match, or even splintered. The self is defined by names, and language is a construction of symbols created by the society. Identity appears as differences, and differences appear due to comparison. The comparison is always like an unbroken chain, between X and others in the world.” The self and identity, therefore, become fragile; they are areas that one can re-engineered or re-arranged, reconstructed, as depicted in the action movie Bourne Identity, or like the result of a face-changing operation, or even the more radical sex-reassignment surgery.
The X-ray images of the bodies of Tromarama members become the others, or the alienated self portraits, because they are no longer recognized as representing known people. X-ray images are unlike mirror images that present reflections of the real. Rather, they provide scanned images of the body, projecting arrangements and visual compositions with different intensities. Foreign objects that might exist within the body, such as metallic objects, would be captured by the X-ray. Can we actually recognize ourselves through the X-ray images? How far would we recognize the reality of our body? Perhaps we would still vaguely recognize our internal structure to a certain extent: the shape of the bones or other physical marks that we carry.
The X-ray images reflect an irony of the era, as they are the antithesis for human representation. Goenawan Mohamad once wrote about it, too: of humans who are “in group, or in solitary, waiting for information. Not in Eleusis, but through the rays from the television, films, computer screen anywhere. I see, therefore I am” (Catatan Pinggir by Goenawan Mohamad, April 11, 2011). Today images of the self, identity and the apparent external look, are always celebrated, commoditized, circulated, unceasingly and without limits, uncontrollable. Over the crosses, the body is crucified, marked with images of bones, with white light, and in several parts we see compositions of translucent images of objects. The bodies are present seemingly as the representation of the dark, empty selves, all bitterness and emptiness. The body returns to the nadir, and skin and flesh would come to nothing. Human is not special.
Is this the reality: the negative of the body, or the formless self?
What Tromarama presents through the work is different from what they have made so far, since they began their artistic career in 2006. This is the first time for them to create a highly personal work, presenting a statement of who and what they are, with their “identity” over the crosses. It presents the image of the self, full of sarcastic and ironic signs and symbols. The statement of “More We Less Me” might serve as an antithesis or negation of the existence of modern humanity that we have celebrated so far, or it can also present a play of signs or talking of the meaning of the portrait today, when the body has become a commodity.
Rifky Effendy, curator