Gamelan is not just an exploration of sounds. There are many aspects of gamelan to be explored: its form, mythology, and philosophy. This is what five visual artists want to express in the contemporary visual arts exhibition “Serupa Bunyi” (Sound-like Forms) at Taman Budaya Jawa Tengah (TBJT).

The five artists are Edwin Raharjo, Nindityo Adipurnomo, Hanafi, Heri Dono, and the late Hajar Satoto. The curator is Suwarno Wisetrotomo. Suwarno said that the five contemporary artists were chosen because of their consistency in making gamelan an inspiration for their work. The title “Serupa Bunyi” is meant to reflect the interpretation of gamelan as more than just sound. Gamelan as an object, a statement, a product of cultural expression, is something that can be interpreted without boundaries, as extensive as possible.

“What these five artists had done, in my opinion, is to give an unexpected perspective, enriching our view about gamelan as an artefact and expression of culture. They placed culture as a verb that is being continually reimagined,” Suwarno commented during the press tour session, Friday (10/8).

Five of the six exhibited works are installation art, and three are mechanical installations which reinterpreted the sound of gamelan. As you enter the exhibition room, your attention might be directed towards Nindityo Adipurnomo’s installation, “Gamelan Toa”.

The installation consist of batik clothes put in line, and gamelan made from granite, evolving into a loudspeaker (“toa”) whose aperture is shaped like a human face. Nindyo intended the installation as an exploration of myths about gamelan, by getting visitors to realize the noise in gamelan myths, which distracted us from the traditional orchestra’s real meaning. Nindityo invites people to put their faces into the loudspeaker aperture in order to reflect and reimagine the various sounds of gamelan.

After Nindityo’s “Gamelan Toa”, you will be surprised by the various sounds of kinetic gamelan, from two installations by Heri Dono and Edwin Raharjo. Although using the same kinetic installation medium, the two artists explore different aspects of gamelan.

Edwin uses his installation to recontextualize gamelan with contemporary culture in order to make it attractive again. He speaks of his anguish whenever he saw gamelan and other traditional music appear just as side acts. He consider it demeaning to the traditional arts, making them lose their mystic aspect.

“That is why I chose a more contemporary approach by combining sounds, movement, and lighting,” Edwin said. On the other hand, Heri Dono explored the philosophical side in his two exhibited installations. “Shock Therapy for Global Political Leaders” and “Gamelan Goro-goro” is Heri’s philosophical exploration of tolerance and empathy in gamelan. The late Hajar Satoto’s work is patterned (pamor) gamelan pieces. Exhibition curator Suwarno said that the work is a celebration of gamelan aesthetics. Its construction reminded us of the kris-making process, which demanded attention to detail throughout a long process, from choosing the right iron ore, processing the iron, to making patterns (pamor) on gamelan iron pieces.

Last but not least is eight painted panels by Hanafi, “Delapan Benih Bunyi”. In one panel, Hanafi displayed a powerful Javanese figure orchestrating sounds coming from seven other panels. Suwarno explained that it can be interpreted as a reflection of the “power of sound” from today’s leaders.

Suwarno said that the breadth of reinterpretation and the exploration of meaning of gamelan in this exhibition makes it a perfect follow-up destination after watching gamelan performances by the maestros. We can review our own understanding of gamelan: its shape, sound, and function. The “Serupa Bunyi” exhibition will be open for public on 11–15 August 2018.