The "Phantoms" video series is an artistic endeavor that comprises two complementary moving-image works, Reversal and Terra Incognita. Both of these works share the same Indonesian title, "Luka dan Bisa Kubawa Berlari." The videos are the outcome of Timoteus Anggawan Kusno winning the Han Nefkens Foundation - Loop Barcelona Video Art Production Grant 2021, in collaboration with Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona; Inside-Out Art Museum, Beijing; MoCA Taipei; ILHAM Gallery, Kuala Lumpur; Centre d'Art Contemporain, Genève and Art Hub Copenhagen. Additionally, the series features a third part, After Colossus, an ongoing research project by the artist scheduled to conclude in 2024.
Kusno created this series, in collaboration with the jathilan trance dancer community, to explore the circular perception of time and the organic cultural resistance to the idea of high culture primarily centered around the Javanese elite feudal circle. The trance state that the dancers' experience allows them to express and release the repressed experiences without the constraints of language and order. At the same time, jathilan serves as a space where the past and future briefly intersect. In this state of trance, the vision of the future can temporarily meet the ancestral spirit in a dancer's body.
Through this project, Kusno aims to emphasize the significance of alternative cultural practices in resisting dominant cultural norms. The collaboration with the jathilan trance dancer community facilitates a more profound exploration of the complexities of cultural identity and resistance. The ongoing research project promises to expand on these themes and provide new insights into the relationship between culture, time, and resistance.
Single channel, 3840x2160 (4K), Color, Sound (Stereo), 22mins
The story is about a young man on a quest to find the source of his unusual dance. During his sleep, he delves into his subconscious and explores the murky landscape of his memories. As he follows the course of his unknown recollections and dreams, he becomes more immersed in the wounds and venom reflected in his movements.
The film "Reversal" ("Luka dan Bisa Kubawa Berlari") delves into the intricate layers of Indonesia's colonial past and the lingering ghosts that haunt it through the prism of the colonial sugar industry. The movie employs the metaphor of trance to frame its narrative, and its scenes are set in various locations linked by the idea of ghosts. These include a sugar cane plantation, an abandoned train station, an abandoned sugar factory, and a former villa owned by Dutch elites who ran sugar industries in Central Java. In Indonesia's colonial era, sugar represented rapid modernization, social transformation, and administration through massive industrialization and mobilization. However, the forced plantation system brought wealth to the Netherlands at the cost of Javanese farmers, who faced famines and epidemics. The sugarcane monoculture, railway system, factories, and machinery were accompanied by the people's spiritual and cosmological beliefs, where rituals were performed to prevent accidents and ensure machinery operated smoothly. In the post-colonial context, the New Order regime revived and modernized the sugar industry and monoculture based on the colonial sugar infrastructure, coercing farmers to join the state's sugar plan. Through abstraction and dream-like sequences, the film explores the echoes of the colonial experience and its specters, embodied through the moments of trance, where the mixture of past and future is internalized in the present. This confluence of history, memory, and fantasy continues to shape our lives today. The Indonesian title "Luka dan Bisa Kubawa Berlari" (Wounds and Venom I Carry as I am Running) derives from the poem "Semangat" (Spirit) by Indonesian poet Chairil Anwar. The artist deliberately employed the same title for his installation art exhibited in the Rijksmuseum in 2022, reflecting his ongoing project questioning and dismantling colonial nostalgia and heritage.
Single channel, 1980x1080 (FHD), Color, Sound (Stereo), 22mins
The director's intervention in reenacting memories of mass mobilization during Indonesia's regime succession is accompanied by a narrator reciting an anachronistic poem. The production of this fictional work reveals the overlapping and obscuring of memories, resulting in a cacophony of voices.
"Terra Incognita" is an abstracted index reflected in "Reversal." In Terra Incognita, Kusno re-imagined the colonial matrix of power that incarnates in the Indonesian (post) dictatorship experience, especially in the mass violence leaving many wounds and trauma still unheard of, neglected, and subtly haunting in Indonesian contemporary life. Using the anachronic structure, he twisted the poetry and images developed from the archive of the (fictional institution) Centre for Tanah Runcuk Studies with a re-enacted interview session with the fictional anonymous persecutor. The interview recounted various testimonies to establish an abstraction of experience related to the complex blind spots on the "ghostly" operated mass violence, which incorporate identity politics and the fluid idea of "people" and "justice."
By juxtaposing the footage of the Dutch colonial and Japanese propaganda in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), Kusno traces the totalitarianism and mass mobilization visual archetypes, which strongly echoed during Suharto's dictatorship and are still relevant in certain circumstances of Indonesia today. He cultivates the rhetoric of "rust en orde" during the colonial period, in parallel with "harmony and stability," as well as "security and order" during the dictatorship and after. He emphasizes the metafictional approach to simulate mythmaking in the authoritarian socio-political landscape.
Parts of this video were captured on the railway that connects Jakarta, West Java, and Central Java in the southern part of Java Island. These tracks were constructed during the Dutch Colonial period for economic and military defense and are still operational today. The landscape of Java from the train resonates with the colonial gaze, which manifests the idea of beauty attributed to the colonial landscape, known as "mooi indie." It eyed mostly the agricultural Java, viewing it as "paradise." The concept was highly promoted by the colonial regime and is reproduced in the post-colonial context of Indonesia, especially during the New Order regime, ruling out social realism from the discourses.
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