Friday, April 24, 2009

Finding humanity in scrap metal

Matheos Viktor Messakh , The Jakarta Post , JAKARTA | Thu, 04/23/2009 1:14 PM | Arts & Design

Teguh Ostenrik will never forget his professor’s definitive assertion: “Creativity is when you make gold out of pig’s excrement.”

He received this pearl of wisdom in the late 1970s when he was doing a master’s degree in fine art at Berlin’s Hochschule der Kunste. Perhaps it influenced his artwork, as his usual materials of choice are scrap metal and waste.

In the spirit of recycling, he even designed a pyramid using bricks made from plastic bags in Munduk, in the north of Bali, in 1994.

The painter–sculptor’s latest works will be gathered together at Jakarta’s National Archive Building on April 26 and 27, under the theme “deFACEment”.

The Way I Approach, iron (Courtesy of Teguh Ostenrik)The Way I Approach, iron (Courtesy of Teguh Ostenrik)

What makes these works unique is that all the materials involved are scrap metal.

Teguh claims he does not believe in mood in art but in technique and management.

Nevertheless, perhaps an acute awareness of his origins and mortality has contributed to his consciousness of the importance of preserving the environment through recycling.

“I asked myself, what have we given back to Mother Earth? Don’t forget that all hazardous waste is human-made. I didn’t need prodding [to do this]; it came from myself as an artist,” said Teguh, whose sculptures and paintings have been exhibited at galleries and museums across Europe and Asia.

The artist spent the past six months in a metal factory in Tangerang, Banten, preparing his works for the exhibition, with the help of two assistants. They used metal obtained from old keys, knives, wire and other items no longer of use, all provided by the factory.

Fresh from the oven (metal): Recently finished art works of Teguh Ostenrik line up on the yard of a metal factory, where the artist has been working at, in Tangerang, Banten. (JP/ Matheos Viktor Messakh)Fresh from the oven (metal): Recently finished art works of Teguh Ostenrik line up on the yard of a metal factory, where the artist has been working at, in Tangerang, Banten. (JP/ Matheos Viktor Messakh)

“It’s a metal factory and they always have metal waste from production or from broken machinery,” he said.

“I’m lucky that the owner of the factory allowed me to use this metal waste.”

Teguh prefers metal to wood because although metal plays such a big part in our lives, it is not biodegradable.

“I once used wood when I was in Germany but it was used wood,” he said.

Other works that form the “deFACEment” exhibition were made in Penang, Malaysia, where Teguh was selected for the Artist in Residence program organized by ABN-AMRO Bank and the Wawasan Open University in 2008.

Teguh aims not only to use scrap metal but also to save energy during production.

“We usually attach pieces of metal together to create artwork with welding,” he said.

“I try to respect the initial form but sometimes we have to cut them using a cutter or plasma cutter.”

To produce the corrosion effect, new scrapmetal creations are sprayed with a chlorite substance to render them rusty, to reflect the character of Mother Earth.

Humanity has always been at the heart of Teguh’s art. Indeed, he said it was because of his interest in humanity that he left his medical studies in Jakarta in 1972 to study art in Germany.

Since his work was first displayed at Berlin’s Galerie Am Parkhaus in 1977, it has presented interpretations of various themes in human life, thought and existence through the employment of universal human figures.

And so, while God created mankind from dust, the artist creates his work from scrap metal.
Thus, we find a human figure with hair made of wavy wires titled Belon Disasak (Not Teased Yet), a figure made from tubing and wires that seems to embrace itself titled Self Indulgence and a multi-faced figure accordingly titled Dasamuka.

“The closest object to us is the human figure,” Teguh said, explaining the concept behind his human-centered works.

“We even have one and interact with them all the time.”

This collection reflects a further exploration of his early works from 1976, themed Homosapiens, but Teguh, who likens creativity to naughtiness, tends to continue deconstructing the academic structure he learned.

“Creativity is going beyond your own limits,” he said.

Urban planner Jo Santoso said Teguh’s works are very relevant as a reflection of the decomposition of human life in modernism.

“All of his works have human spirit. It challenges us to admit we are part of nature, the earth,” Santoso said, during the discussion of Teguh’s works in Jakarta on Saturday.

“He is a genius who uses modern art to express his criticism of modernism, but at the same time, he invites us to look at ourselves as part of nature.”

Santoso said something traditional is usually regarded as an opposition to modernism but Teguh refused that kind of modernism.

“He [Teguh] wants the kind of modernism that is friendly to tradition, earth, and humankind,” he said.

Communications expert Kafi Kurnia, who first met the artist more than 20 years ago, found Teguh’s works had changed.

“Back then, he was a very angry man and his works were also raw and full of anger. Now, they are sweeter and reflect maturity,” Kafi said.

Some of the works at this month’s exhibition were displayed last year during the artist’s solo exhibition at Alpha Utara Gallery in Penang, Malaysia, at a group exhibition titled “Self-Portraits of Famous Living Artists of Indonesia” at Jogja Gallery in Yogyakarta, and in a group exhibition themed “Dari Penjara ke Pigura” (From Jail to Picture-frame) at Jakarta’s Gallery Salihara.

Some of the items currently at the National Archive Building have already been sold, at prices starting from Rp 10 million (US$881). Dasamuka sold for Rp 100 million.

Teguh finds an interesting correlation between the way he makes a living — manipulating metals into human form — and the way others do.

“I have a routine that is not about manipulating people, as politicians usually do, but manipulating waste materials.”

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