So we continue our travels on a high, through New Zealand, feeling the temperature rise and swapping walking boots for sun block and mosi repellant, we finally reach Bali for some well deserved R&R. This is hard work, honestly! We spend a little time on the beach but then, needing our art fix we head with anticipation to Ubud where we hope to be spoilt for choice in finding galleries to peruse in the famous art village.
Ubud and Bali in general is a beautiful, creative and inspiring place. Even the menus handed to you in restaurants are individually and exquisitely decorated and as a visitor you constantly absorb the vibrancy, colours and texture of the endless shops, stalls and ‘galleries’ selling amazingly executed arts and crafts. I mention galleries in this way, as the use of the word in Bali is very versatile, to say the least. You can enter a ‘gallery’ to find it sells only trousers, fans and key rings and this became a little tiring on our quest to find some amazing contemporary art.
We did enjoy viewing some of the more commercial crafts on offer particularly the beautiful abstracted designs of many of the Batiks made at Sari Amerta.
We also enjoyed visiting the Museum Puri Lukisan (www.museumpurilukisan.com) for an interesting over view of the heritage and history of Balinese art. I took great interest in the Ogoh- Ogoh, amazingly impactful effigies built by the young males of a village from simple materials such a papier-mâché and bamboo, to be burned on the Balinese New Year, in an effort to appease evil spirits.
I came across a great blog, Healing Pilgrim when seeking further information about the wonderfully grotesque Ogoh –Ogoh, take a look to see some awesome photos. www.healingpilgrim.com/2012/03/22/balis-monster-mash
We loved the offerings, beautiful objects that just fascinated us from a creative perspective. I found this great blog ‘a little adrift’ that says a little more about the offerings and has some great photos! Take a look if you have a greater interest. http://alittleadrift.com/2010/10/ritual-balinese-beliefs-offerings
On our travels around Ubud and the surrounding towns we visited an endless array of weaving, stone carving, bronze casting, basket weaving, jewelry making and furniture making workshops. All of the highest quality and reasonably priced and we strongly recommend it’s the place to head to if this is your thing. We were on the look out for something different however and after several visits to studios where artists worked at easels in lines, clearly churning out imagery to most appeal to the art buying tourist, we finally stumbled across the slightly ramshackle Wina Gallery. I was instantly intrigued by this space as it conveyed a sense that it may contain something genuine and subversive. Unlike many of the galleries we had already visited this space was unpolished and to be fair, falling apart a little yet for me felt it had it priorities just right.
It held a solo show of works by the artist Antonius Kho (www.saatchiart.com/Antoniuskho) and we found ourselves double taking at some of the pieces finding them a challenge to digest in some ways within the context of Balinese art. It may be an internal rebellion I began to feel on my travels, toward western sensibilities and the glorification of the white cube in the western curating style, but I loved the way the space seemed to live and breath, responding to its surroundings and in turn the work responding to it.
There is something incredibly visceral in the reception of Antonius’s work. An intertwining of conflicting aesthetics and bazar narratives feel to dominate the experience of looking and it left me feeling a little giddy. Maybe it was the heat! The multi layering of ‘Let’s Go To Play’ achieved by utilizing painted upon acrylic sheets intensifies a sense of imperceptible depth and for me increased an interesting unease in viewing.
Antonius emerged from the back of the gallery to greet us as we viewed his work and invited us to join him in his studio, to see what he was currently working on. We were thrilled to be invited into what felt like such a special and intimate space, half under cover from the hot Bali sun and half lit with dappled sunlight. Again it may be a response informed by our very different cultural perspectives but I felt so inspired by the space and this artist. A real sense was conveyed of balance and perspective being achieved and understood by this artist in the way he chooses to practice.
We were sad to leave Bali, so sad in fact that after a trip to Borneo we decided to head back! Eventually though we move on to Cambodia, first stop, the hustle and bustle of the Phnom Penh! So exciting! We had a few meetings arranged so first we headed out on a search for the Romeet Gallery (www.romeet.com). The city can be a little tricky to navigate with most tuk tuk drivers struggling to find a contemporary art space but we eventually make it and meet with the lovely Sao Sreymao.
She shows us around the space and introduces us to the work currently on show by artist Bo Rithy. These sculptural pieces own the space in a powerful and emotive way. Sao explains that this is the second solo exhibition held at Romeet by this artist who only in his twenties has now decided that as well as pursuing an art career will study law, driven by a desire to respond to his countries ongoing political and economic difficulties. This patriotic concern is explored in his works ‘Longvaek’s Bamboo’, the pieces being about the fall of Longvaek, which has been described by historians as catastrophic for the Khmer kingdom, which remained answerable to the then Siamese and Vietnamese, until the country became a French protectorate in the mid-19th century. For Bo this represents a time in which the Khmer people began to encounter more and more crisis.
We had experienced visiting the Killing Fields just outside of the city only the day before and the sense of a nation in dignified yet endless recovery from such horrors still resonated with us. In fact this sense had resonated with me for over ten years, since my last visit to Cambodia.
Now at the gallery I could not help but see the representation of bones and a spine in ‘Longvaek’s Bamboo’ and considered that which may become almost archetypal for a nation with such a history. However, it also feels that the artist is keen to communicate strength and connectivity through the work, in relation to the Khmer people and this is a cultural quality that even as mere visitors we can still clearly bare witness to.
Later in the day we feel an Angkor beer or two calling us so head to Meta House (www.meta-house.com) where we have heard the arty parties are the place to be. When we arrive we get our beer on while catching one of the films shown as part of the ongoing events program. ‘Rated X- Journey Through Porn’ is directed by Dag Yngvesson anda seemingly accidentally insightful documentary about the porn industry. Meta house was founded in 2007 by German filmmaker Nico Mesterharm and he along with his Cambodian team opened Cambodia’s first art/communication/media centre.
We have a long chat with Richard in the bar and he fills us in on some of the history of Meta House, its focus on film as a medium and how it provides a space for artists and creatives to engage in a process of practice development and critical thinking.
We are really excited by the ethos and the space and over more beers Richard goes on to mention an interesting visit to Mata House from David Puttnam, the producer of the film the Killing Fields released in 1984. He describes how valuable an experience the exchange had been for young artist attending the viewing of the film and following Q&A and we leave feeling inspired and wishing we could stay longer……
…….but as is always the case we must move on, the beach awaits and so does Vietnam!