Disturbed by its disgraceful use in present day Balinese rituals, I Made Djirna is using Chinese coins in his current show –an exhibition that, unfortunately, fails to bring out his usual elan.
Hundreds of old Chinese coins –round penny with a square hole in its center– have found their way onto I Made Djirna’s 20 paintings and installations, on show at the Sangkring Art Space in Yogyakarta from 5 to 12 July.
Some were arranged in the shape of a red-skinned sow as in the painting Celengan (Piggy Bank); others form a smiling face resembling Djirna’s own visage. Then, there are those in Biasa di Rumah (Feels at Home), which depicts colorful graphic motifs; those illustrating Celah Kehidupan (Cracks in Life); those in the potted flowers of Sekar Jagat (Flower Universe); as well as those found in Kekuatan Ingatan (the Power of Memories #4), an installation of a robe that resembles a warrior’s chain-link with its dozens of interconnected coins.
The exhibition the Logic of Ritual is I Made Djirna’s demonstrations against various ritual practices in the island of Bali, whose meaning, according to the artist, is now driven by modern and commercial practices. The winner of Sanggar Dewata Indonesia’s 1982 Lempad Prize dedicates his exhibition to the destitute of Bali who had been suffering in silence, paying for various offerings and rituals that demand perfection both in the materials they use as well as in the way they are presented.
The art curator Wayan Kun Adnyana wrote in his introduction how Djirna’s present work came out of the artist’s “social spiritual enlightenment”, driven by his critical questionings and reflections about Balinese ritual practices that affected by commercialism. This includes the labeling of a certain production of incense as having been purified by powerful incantations, the organization of fashion shows in temples, as well as the production of imitation antique coins.
“This is Djirna’s spiritual journey: to question one’s most personal beliefs; to questions those rituals performed for show,” Kun explains.
For him, the various rituals performed by Hindu-Balinese today are simply means to gain social recognition –far removed from its original function as a medium of communion between a worshipper and his god(s). People are competing to provide the most lavish offerings rather than humbly sharing with their gods their daily blessings. “Rituals have become nothing more than worldly ceremonies,” says Djirna to Sarasvati.
He cites the example of a villager who sold a chicken in order to buy fake Chinese coins that would fulfill all the requisites of his rituals. It would not have mattered if the man had been wealthy. The man, however, was dirt poor. “The Balinese feels guilty for not providing Chinese silvers in his offering more than actually having to spend a large amount of money to buy those fake coins.”
That realization has led Djirna to collect the imitation coins that had been left scattered on the ground by worshipers at the end of their rituals. The artist was overwhelmed by the amount he had managed to amass until he decided to transform them into art work. There is nothing new in using Chinese coins; Balinese craftsmen have been creating sculptures clothed in coins or else utilizing coins to make typical souvenirs from the island. Nonetheless, Kun is convinced that Djirna’s copper coins are separate from those made by craftsmen. “His coin robe was created through a process involving the formulation of critical questions, discourse, and artistic concept,” he explains.
Unfortunately, this time Djirna seems to have neglected the one element which has made him unique as an artist: his expressionistic style. He did incorporate human figures in his work but these no longer tug our emotions. In his previous works such as Menatap (Gazing, 2012), Has Been Born (2012) and Noah’s Ark (2012), Djirna’s human figures are displayed prominently, expressive in their bold colors.
His incorporation of Chinese coins on the other hand seems merely decorative, lacking any meanings. Djirna has failed to resuscitate the “aesthetic energy” of Panca Dhatu or the five elements of silver, steel, gold, copper, and tin found in the authentic Chinese coins. Instead, Djirna’s coins overwhelm the senses and fail to become the focus in any of his work –in contrast to those used by the artists Umi Dachlan, which were transformed from mere physical materials into something that speak to the viewers. The sole work that would satisfy the art lover’s engagement with Djirna’s current work is his installation of a robe made out of coins, – Kekuatan Ingatan #4.
Yogyakarta also seems to be the wrong place to have the exhibition if the artist’s intention is to engage those who use Chinese coins as part of their culture, i.e. the Balinese. As a discourse, however, the use of coins as materials for art work is interesting although unoriginal.
Those who had been following Djirna’s artistic development since his graduation from the Indonesian Art Institute Yogyakarta in 1981 will discover something different in this exhibition. Djirna has been considered the “heir” of master painter H. Widayat –exquisitely transforming Widayat’s typical “Javanese” touch into his own “Balinese” style. It is unfortunate that, this time around, Djirna’s magic seems to have lost its magnetic pull.