Eddi Prabandono: Inspired By Transportation and Change

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Eddi Prabandono with “After Party #3: Living the High Life” (Photo courtesy of Tunggul Wirajuda)

The sight of a Vespa motor scooter towering overhead seems improbable, even when witnessed firsthand. The bike’s running board, elongated into a series of loops running from the handlebar and front wheel to the scooter’s trademark rear-based engine and seat, are a surrealist flight of fancy worthy of Salvador Dali and the melted clocks of the Surrealist great’s masterpiece “The Persistence of Memory.”

Titled “After Party #3: Living the High Life,” the installation piece is the brainchild of Indonesian artist Eddi Prabandono, one of the country’s leading practitioners of this art genre.

“‘Living the High Life’ is inspired by motion and the sense of drive behind it. While this goes specifically to the scooter as a vehicle, it also particularly describes the perennial sense of movement that comes with life,” Eddi said of the piece, which is currently on display at the South East Asia Plus (SEA+) Triennale exhibition at Jakarta’s National Gallery.

“When we live life, we constantly have to be on the move, as things can change day by day, hour after hour, and even every second. If we just stop and stay still, life will overrun us.”

The work’s dynamism is best suggested by its wide interpretation.

“Some viewers have come up to me and suggested that the loops indicate the ups and downs of youthful love, while others pointed out that the swirls of ‘Living In the High Life’ allude to the fluctuations of the European economy today,” said the 49-year-old, referring to Vespa’s homeland of Italy, and the effect the European Union’s economic doldrums have had on the country.

“Perhaps the twisting, seemingly never-ending loops could also symbolize Jakarta’s traffic and the way vehicles weave around it, as well as the increasing dependence that many people here have on it. Maybe it’s some or all of those things simultaneously.”

Using art to let the self go

“After Party #3: Living the High Life” and its whimsical, twisting lines reflect the simple, yet unique philosophy behind Eddi’s work.

“I want my art to be a spectacle for the viewer. It should be funny, entertaining and even stupid to those who see it. Those elements are much more effective in today’s day and age,” he said.

“Like every other artist during the Suharto era, my art then was highlighted by elements of terror, violence and militarism. But we lived under those pressures and circumstances for over 30 years, so it’s time to leave all that in the past and start afresh on a positive note.”

Eddi practiced what he preached to start off his artistic career, a path that saw him make a name for himself in Indonesia, Japan and other countries.

“I enrolled at the Indonesian Arts Institute in Yogyakarta with a major in print-making in 1992. It’s not too much to say that I was determined to follow a career in the arts,” said Eddi, who graduated from the 17 August 1945 University in his hometown of Semarang with a degree in architecture.

“I took a chance to start all over again instead of going into the family business of architecture. My family does have a creative tradition, but none of us ever went into the arts, so it was a kind of like a shot in the dark,” he added.

Since then, he has specialized in installation art, a quirky medium that proved to be versatile artistically and logistically.

“After Party #3: Living the High Life” is made of plates that were adjusted to the Vespa’s contours and dimensions.

“It took about a month to assemble and is well put together, despite some parts that needed extra adjustments,” Eddi said of the 6.4-by-3.4-meter piece.

“Most importantly, it can be disassembled and put together like a good piece of installation art should. It is these elements that made it possible for me to show it at the Art Stage in Singapore last January.”

While Eddi’s Vespa special might seem to be the highlight of his craft, it is by no means the only thing up his sleeve. His art often highlights extremes and contradictions, two elements that he brought up in such works as “Revolocean.” The work, which was displayed at a previous exhibition in Jakarta in 2011, featured an upside-down Volkswagen Beetle with the outboard motor from a speedboat.

“[Revolocean] highlights Indonesia’s slowness in developing its merchant marine or naval fleets. Other nations, like Japan and the Netherlands, have bigger fleets than Indonesia’s,” he said.

“So I figured, since we’re not going to go into the sea, might as well wait for the sea to come to us. Who knows, maybe [Revolocean] will come in handy once the floods come and inundate Jakarta again during the rainy season at the end of the year,” he added with a laugh.

Vehicles, which are so integral to Eddi’s notion of movement in art, are also used to address ecological issues. Eddi took on this theme with “Green, Green, Green, GoAhead, Tree,” an installation featuring a bonsai tree on a construction cart. The structure takes a naive and playful swipe at the marketing claims of so-called eco-friendly cars.

Finding inspiration

While Eddi has often shown his knack for reconciling extremes and contradictions, the heart and soul of his art is very much human, in contrast to the mechanical contraptions and vehicles that form much of his work.

“My family remains my biggest artistic inspiration. They always encouraged me to excel in my work and kept me going through their motivation and wisdom,” Eddi said of his Japanese-born wife Nana Miyagi Prabandono and daughter Luz.

“This is particularly hard, as we have to spend much of our time apart. They have to remain at our home in Okinawa while I had to make my art and go on the exhibition circuit in Indonesia and other countries. ”

Eight-year-old Luz is his particular muse, immortalized in a sequence of sculptures called “Luz Series” 1 through 6, designed to be displayed outdoors. Made in a variety of materials ranging from clay to aluminum, the sculptures comprise giant four-by-four-meter studies of her head as a sleeping baby.

“The ‘Luz Series’ is particularly dear to me, as they portray her when she was a baby. Sometimes when I see the sculptures they make me sad in a sentimental way, as I realize she isn’t a baby any more,” Eddi said of the works, which made an immediate impact when first displayed at the 2011 Jog Art exhibition in Yogyakarta. “The effect is enhanced by the statues’ weather-beaten look, which symbolizes how experienced we get as we get older. The heads are also laid on the ground to symbolize the old proverb of ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

Eddi said that the “Luz Series” also symbolizes the burdens that we leave to succeeding generations, such as conflict, global warming and other disasters of the man-made kind.

Currently, Eddi is out to dazzle art buffs around the world, with displays of his work in New York, Milan and other cities beginning March 2014. Art lovers in Jakarta also have much to look forward to, as he’s set to hold a solo exhibition at the capital’s Rachel Gallery at an undetermined time next year. Regardless of where you opt to see Eddi’s work, you are guaranteed to be in for a thrilling ride.

Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on December 9, 2013
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