A Diasporic Mythology 2021 is a kinetic and sound installation commissioned for ‘The 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (APT10) and developed from Bagus Pandega’s interest in the historical narratives and circulation of instruments.
The artist became fascinated with a particular koto instrument, named a Taishogoto, dating to the Taisho period (1912–26), that he stumbled across in Japan. This particular historical version of the stringed instrument (also known as the Nagoya harp) was developed by a musician in Nagoya and varied greatly in design from the classical koto by incorporating automation, through typewriter-like keys, influenced by Western music structures. Its popularity was fleeting, although it had a considerable influence on instruments outside of Japan at the time, and the instrument is seldom used today.
Pandega has also been scouring Indonesia for instruments that directly resemble the Taishogoto but are considered native to their locations and are commonly used in ritual ceremonies. The installation A Diasporic Mythology brings together different examples of these Indonesian instruments — including a Mandaliong, Balinese Penting, Kecapi Sijobang and Lombok Penting — in an arrangement together with a single Japanese Taishogoto.
Tea plants are connected to sensors that follow musical notations on a paper roll derived from interviews Pandega conducted with musicians. These then trigger solenoid drivers with a rotating motor attached to each key of the instruments, allowing the score to be played. The tea plants become the centre of the installation and signify a further exploration of historical cultural influence between the two countries: the first tea plants were brought to Indonesia from Japan by the Dutch in the seventeenth century in an attempt to replicate the success of British tea cultivating in India, as part of a trade that would lead to the colonisation of Indonesia. On a tea branch in the centre of the installation a series of LED screens shows close-up footage of performers in Indonesia, which returns the performers to the sounds of the instruments and the local contexts and ritualised space they are associated with locally.
A Diasporic Mythology becomes a layering of sound, visuals and mechanics, carefully pieced together by Pandega through a sprawling system of custom-made devices. Yet through all the tangle of connecting apparatus, the artist draws out the fascinating history of these objects and the people, stories and ceremonies that have gradually evolved around them.
Watch our installation time-lapse
Koto performance alongside Bagus Pandega’s APT10 artwork
Bagus Pandega’s sculptures and installations are a cacophonous web of mechanical, sound, light and automated kinetic constructions. The artist builds objects and devices into modular systems that operate as live and active multi-sensory sculptures, and his works reveal a passion for applied technologies and developing narratives around social contexts. A graduate of the Institut Teknologi Bandung, Pandega is a prominent member of a generation of artists in Bandung who have become known for incorporating technologies and experimental practices in their works, in contrast to other Indonesian art centres that are commonly associated with paradigms of representational, political and collective practices.
Pandega offers new ways to navigate objects and their intended utility, creating layered sound and visual experiences activated by custom-made electronics. A sense of simplicity underlies the complex set-ups, however, with wiring and older, pre-digital technologies left deliberately exposed. Each work gives considered focus to particular devices — lights, screens, amplifiers, instruments — as Pandega refines the ways they operate around a nexus of systems. Cheap and everyday technologies, such as amassed motorcycle lights, beacons, megaphones, small rotating motors, circuit boards and basic LED matrix screens are combined with industrial and machine materials, toys, instruments and cymbal stands from drumkits. Recent works have also introduced natural materials, carefully selected not only to contribute to the narrative that underlies the works but also for their biological energy and mechanical triggering potential. Plants and flowers are incorporated in installations, connected through MIDI sprouts — which convert biodata from plants into music — to trigger instruments and mechanics.
Tarun Nagesh is Curatorial Manager, Asian and Pacific Art, QAGOMA
This is an edited extract from the QAGOMA publication The 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art available in-store and online from the QAGOMA Store.