Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Leonard Theosabrata: Simply the best

Matheos Viktor Messakh , THE JAKARTA POST , JAKARTA | Mon, 03/23/2009 1:08 PM | People

JP/Matheos Viktor MessakhJP/Matheos Viktor Messakh

If anyone has proved George Earle Buckle’s assertion that “to simplify complications is the first essential of success”, it is Leonard Theosabrata, whose philosophy of simplicity in his furniture designs has brought him international acclaim.

The 31-year-old is now recognized as one of Asia’s top product and interior designers, the only Indonesian to be included in the hefty 2006 German publication Young Asian Designers.
His designs have won him several prestigious international awards, including Germany’s red dot design award in 2003 and Italy’s Well Tech Award in 2006, and his work went on display at the Science and Technology Museum during the 2006 Milan Fair.

For his achievements in design, he was chosen as one of five young Asians to be the face of Deutsche Welle’s new channel, DW-TV Asia+, launched in Jakarta last Wednesday.

Leonard’s path to the international stage was not immediately obvious. After he graduated from high school in 1997, his parents sent him to the United States to study graphic design at the Art Institute of Houston in Texas.

“Ever since I was in high school I was always interested in art. Not necessarily design but art,” Leonard says. “It sounds very typical but it’s true. Because it develops into an interest in design.”

But after two years of studying and working in Houston, he found he did not enjoy graphic design as much as he had expected.

“I started to think about changing my major but I still didn’t know what was best for me. Whatever, I wanted it to be in the best school in the US.”

His father encouraged him to move into product design and “I thought ‘Why not’.”

A search turned up the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, but without a product design portfolio, he could not enroll into a product design major.

“I only had a graphic design portfolio at that time, so I enrolled in night school for six months preparing my product portfolio.” The night school was provided by the college. “Apparently there are a lot of people like me who have an interest but not necessarily have a portfolio to show.”

After finishing the three projects necessary to meet the entrance requirements, Leonard was accepted in 1999.

He studied product design for three and a half years, during which time he won several competitions at the school including a team project doing the interior design for an Airbus 383, sponsored by Singapore Airlines. He also had the opportunity to do an internship at Japanese toy manufacturer Bandai in Tokyo.

“At that time it was difficult to get a job and also very competitive,” he says. “I didn’t even bother to look for work.”

He was close to getting an offer from Apple but, being an “entrepreneur type” and unwilling to work for other people, “I thought that going back and starting on my own would be much more valuable.”

With personal reasons helping the decision – “My sister was getting married at the same time” – he returned to Indonesia in 2002.

Soon afterward, he started his own brand of furniture, Accupunto, making chairs – lounges, dining chairs, benches and stackable chairs – based on the principles of acupuncture. The pieces are characterized by a simple form that can fit any room. For Leonard, it was an idea already tried and tested: “I used it for my final project at university.”

Leonard says his designs are greatly influenced by the Bauhaus movement in Germany from the 1920s to early 1930s, one of the most important design movements of the 20th century which influenced subsequent developments in art, architecture and design.

“One of the principles of the Bauhaus movement is that ‘form follows function’,” he says. “It simplified radical forms, emphasized rationality and functionality, and initiated the idea of mass production.”

The experience of creating his own brand took him to Europe, which he calls the center of interior design and product design.

“Even though I studied design in the US, I always wanted to go to Europe. Finally, I was able to live my dream of taking part in European shows and being alongside the brands that I admired.”

During Accupunto’s second year, Leonard took part in one of Europe’s biggest design shows, the International Meuble Messe in Cologne. There, his design won the red dot award, whose recipients regularly include established brands such as Nikon, Sony, Ferrari, BMW and Porsche.

Leonard became the second Asian, and only Indonesian, to win the award, defeating nearly 1,500 entrants from 28 countries. Winning was, he said, “a huge honor” because the award is “becoming a symbol of excellence in design everywhere”.

The Accupunto Arm Chair won several other awards such as the Interior Innovation Award 2004 from the German Design Council, G-mark from Japan and the 2003 Indonesia Good Design Award.

Leonard has since expanded into interior design and counts international companies among his clients. He and some colleagues have also set up D5, an interior and architecture design consultancy.

“As a designer, I like a design to be functional, simple but with added value,” Leonard says.
Influenced as he is by the Bauhaus movement, aesthetics are not his top priority.
“A good product should prove itself. If it sells, it means the design works.”

Swara Maharddhika is back with a new face

Matheos Viktor Messakh , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Sat, 03/21/2009 2:22 PM | Entertainment

After a break of more than 20 years, Swara Maharddhika is back - but with a new face and without their maestro and founder Guruh Soekarnoputra.

The members of the group, known for its spectacular musical, dance and dramatic performances during the 1980s, will perform a musical drama based on the East Java fable Jaka Tarub at the Graha Bhakti Budaya, Taman Ismail Marzuki, on March 27.

Swara Maharddhika gained a reputation for glamorous Broadway-style shows, but this time, said artistic director Tanti Horii, the group would present "more traditional Indonesian art flavored with some contemporary touches".

"There are so many high-quality contemporary art performances, but traditional art is our strength," she said. "If we are too contemporary, probably many out there are far better than us, but nobody will go to see it, especially younger people, if we present an excessively traditional performance."

As many of the original members of the group are too old to take part in the musical performance, said Tanti, only 10 percent of them would perform. The other dancers were selected through auditions.

The theater company members were provoked into a comeback by the fact that many performances brought from abroad receive a great response here in Indonesia.

"We want to prove that what we have here is as good as anything brought from abroad or even better," Ai Syarif, one of the performance directors and a member of Swara Maharddhika, told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

The performance will use traditional dances from around the country such as the Balinese legong, pendet and lasem, the piring dance from Melayu, the giring-giring dance of Kalimantan and the pakarena dance of Makassar, but with a modern twist.

"Eighty percent of the dances in the performance will be traditional dances but we combine them with new choreography and also a new combination of costumes so they will appear as contemporary as possible," said Syarif.

The choreographers are Frank Rorimpandey, Kris Suwardjo and Ai Syarif.

Frank, from the group's XII cohort, works for Liga Tari Krida Budaya at the University of Indonesia and is a member of Sumber Cipta ballet group. He performed as one of the emerging young choreographers during the 2008 Indonesian Dance Festival.

Kris Suwardjo, also from the XII cohort, is a dance lecturer at the Jakarta Art Institute and the Jakarta National University (UNJ). He took part in Robert Wilson's adaptation of the Bugis epic I La Galigo.

Ai Syarif has worked for Namarina Dance Company since 2002 and has been a fashion stylist for 16 years.

The music will be performed live by musicians from the Jakarta Art Institute, some former members of Swara Maharddhika and several freelancers.

Costume design will be supported by noted designers Adjie Notonegoro, Anne Avantie, Samuel Wattimena, Barli Kusuma and company member Jazz Pasay.

Swara Maharddhika, which Guruh founded on March 27, 1977, had it last performance in July 1987 with a colossal show titled Gempita Swara Maharddhika at the Jakarta Convention Center, which was then known as Balai Sidang Senayan Jakarta.

The group later became a foundation, Swara Maharddhika Foundation. Since the group halted its activities in 1987, many of its members went off to make their own paths, although most of them remained in the dramatic world.

Guruh, for example, continued his work with dance and musical performances through his company founded in 1989, Gencar Semarak Perkasa (GSP). His colleague Denny Malik formed Pentasindo Dancers, and Ati Ganda established her Studio 26.

"Fortunately we had time so we prepared well, and we have decided to keep going after this," said Syarif, who said the group had received several invitations to perform for Indonesian embassies abroad.

Although Guruh will not be at the event, his songs will be used, but with new musical arrangements by music director Anusirwan, who was also music director for Robert Wilson's I La Galigo.

The play's protagonist, Jaka Tarub, said to be the ancestor of the kings of the Mataram kingdom of Mataram, appeared in Babad Tanah Jawi, the traditional text on the history of the kingdom. Jaka Tarub is a son of Ki Ageng Kembanglampir, who was raped by Jaka Kudus.

Kembanglampir dies after giving birth to her baby. After being abandoned a number of times, the baby boy is finally found by a woman called Nyai Tarub, who names him Jaka Tarub.

One day, young Jaka Tarub goes hunting in a jungle and comes across seven angels bathing in a pond. He steals the selendang (clothes) of one of the angels so she cannot fly back to khayangan (heaven).

Jaka Tarub marries that angel, Dewi Nawangwulan, and they have a daughter Retno Nawangsih.

Later on, Nawangwulan discovers that her husband was the one who stole her selendang. Angry, she decides to return to khayangan, but plans to return occasionally to breast-feed her child.

Although the original tale has a sad ending, the Swara Maharddhika performance, said Ai Syarif, would be modified so that it has a happy ending. "Jaka Tarub will have to accept the fact that every encounter has its end," he said.

"We don't want people to be sad," said Tanti Horii. "We called it *artainment', which is a combination of art and entertainment. We don't want people to be serious as if they were watching an opera, but we also don't want it to be too light as a mere entertainment."