Friday, April 24, 2009

Teguh Ostenrik: You need to be naughty to be creative

Matheos Viktor Messakh , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Thu, 04/23/2009 2:00 PM | Lifestyle

Artist Teguh Ostenrik does not believe in talent. For him creativity is about skill and hard work.

"Experience is a collection of mistakes. Make millions of mistakes but don't repeat the same ones," Teguh said, when emphasizing his philosophy on nurturing creativity.

Teguh is one of the few Indonesian artists who has exhibited his sculptures and paintings at prestigious galleries and museums around the world, from Galerie Lichtstudio and Der Oper in Berlin, Germany, to Fukuoka Art Museum in Japan.

Even when he was still a student at Berlin's Hochschule der Kunste, or the Berlin University of the Arts, he held his first solo exhibition at Galerie Am Parkhaus in 1977, followed by 39 solo exhibitions, 50 group exhibitions and 27 performances around the world over the next 32 years.

His commissioned work is also displayed at 29 museums, public landmarks and corporate buildings worldwide, including sculptures at the ultramodern Church of St Mary of the Angel at Bukit Batok in Singapore, terracotta art at Klinik Am Ring in Cologne and a gigantic 10-panel mixed media installation at the ASEAN Secretariat building in Jakarta.

Born in Jakarta in 1950, the sixth child - in a family of nine - did not have a place he could call home for years. Teguh's and his family spent many years following their father Ostenrik Tjitrosunarjo - a policeman - around the country from Makassar in South Sulawesi to Semarang in Central Java.

He inherited the unusual name of Ostenrik from his grandfather, Surakarta palace's official artist who once painted a portrait of a goodwill ambassador from Austria. The ambassador was so pleased he bestowed upon the painter the name Oostenrijk.

Later on, due to growing anti-western sentiment during former president Sukarno's era, the name's spelling was changed to Ostenrik.

After the alleged September 1965 coup or G30S, his father moved to Jakarta while Teguh was still in Semarang, spending three more of his senior high school years in Surakarta. Everything seemed fine with Teguh until he joined the School of Medicine at Jakarta's Trisakti University to prepare for a successful career as a doctor.

But Teguh's heart was elsewhere.

"Within the first two years, I realized I didn't want to become a doctor.Medicine sees humans as merely organs, everything is memorized," said Teguh, who spent the first two years at the university mostly drawing anatomy, cells and organs.

After corresponding for a year with his high school friend Robert Gunawan who studied in Aachen, Teguh left for Germany in 1972 with the money he had saved while driving a night taxi and 1,000 marks his late mother Marsini gave him - the only person who supported his decision to leave Indonesia. The dream was to study drawing at Hochschule der Kunste.

He spent three weeks learning German in Munich before moving to West Berlin to continue studying the language while working at a Balinese restaurant as a dishwasher.

He was only accepted at Hochschule de Kunste's department of fine arts after his fourth attempt in 1974 and finished his Meistersch*ler degree in fine arts in 1980.

His first terracotta pieces were already on display in Jakarta by 1980 at Mitra Budaya gallery, which was when his father started to understand his decision to become an artist, he said.

Teguh traveled to New York in 1981 for about three months, contributing 1,600 sketches to Ann Wilson's Faust Project while also taking part in dance performances.

In the same year, he moved to Amsterdam where he shared a studio with artist Sebastian Holhuber from Vienna.

A year later, he moved to Cologne in Germany and married Donata Dengler, who gave him two children, Lovis and Celine. He spent six years in Cologne, where he was involved in Robert Salomon and Mathias Von Welck's dance performances and taught slow motion movement at a model agency.

Teguh might be a famous painter and sculptor but not many know he took part in 27 performing art collaborations, stage and lighting designs around the world since 1978. These experiences inspired him to direct a dance composition titled Biarkan Mereka Menjamah Langit (Let Them Touch the Sky) at the Jakarta Archive Building in 2000.

But the year 1988 was perhaps a turning point for him, as he was forced to take the most difficult decision of his life and return to Indonesia for good.

"At that time, I was 38 and thought I would be too lazy to move back there at 40," said the man, who owns Bilik 3Dharma studio in Cilandak, South Jakarta.

Teguh never considered himself merely a painter or a sculptor. He thrives on exploring different media and materials, ranging from the conventional pencils, pastels, oils, acrylics to the more experimental ones.

His adventurous spirit took him back to Berlin in 1989 to witness the fall of the Berlin wall, of which he bought four sections for an installation in Jakarta.

After the May 1998 riots, he became intrigued with video and made a number of video art pieces.

Teguh, whose life art historian Barbara Asboth penned in 2000 in a book titled Transcending Time, believes art is like religion.

"If you are creative, you create your own dogma. If you are not, you need a dogma from other people," he said.

The creativity of many people, he said, was killed as early as their childhood. "Our parents forbid us to make any mistakes and if we do, they usually blaming someone else rather than teach us not to make the same mistake," he said.

He believes creativity does not differ much from naughtiness.

"Only those who are naughty enough can go beyond their limits," he said. "If I hadn't been this naughty, I wouldn't be where I am today."

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