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Traversing the boundaries? Art and film in Indonesia with particular reference to Perbatasan/boundaries: Lucia Hartini, paintings from a life

Dudley, Jennifier Ann (2006) Traversing the boundaries? Art and film in Indonesia with particular reference to Perbatasan/boundaries: Lucia Hartini, paintings from a life. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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The repressive political conditions of the New Order state and the social dislocation caused by rapid industrial and technological development unquestionably affected the nature of artistic and cultural production in Indonesia. This thesis considers the dynamic of these conditions within a focused long-term study of the art and life of Indonesian "Surealis" painter, Lucia Hartini. My doctoral dissertation comprises this thesis and the forty-two minute documentary film Perbatasan / Boundaries: Lucia Hartini, Paintings from a Life (1999 – 2002) which I filmed in Indonesia and presents Lucia Hartini and her art in the context of her times from the historical standpoint of Reformasi and millennial change. Art historically, this thesis informs us of a wider journey, that of selected twentieth century Indonesian contemporary artists exploring concepts of simulacra, hyper-reality, the meta-real and the surreal through the stylistic use of photo-realism.

Lucia Hartini is known for her "Beautiful Surrealism". A founding member of the "Surealis Yogya", formed in 1985, she was the only woman from the original group to continue painting professionally from the late 1970s, throughout the New Order, and into the era of Reform. The consideration of Lucia Hartini's work in this thesis acknowledges the gradual shift in her concerns. Lucia's paintings respond to her natural and social environment, as well as to the challenges and dramatic changes in her life. This thesis charts the journey of her artistic maturation, so richly embodied in her third solo exhibition, "Irama Kehidupan / The Spirit of Life", in January 2002. Through a critical commentary on paintings selected from her oeuvre and the textual analysis of Perbatasan / Boundaries, I discuss Lucia Hartini’s subject matter, unique systems of image formation and use of detail, her particular contribution to the characteristic qualities of Indonesian "Surealisme". I regard the techniques, conceptual approaches and processes of filmmaking as intrinsic to this exploration, a methodological perspective arising from Hendro Wiyanto (2001) observation that Indonesia's "Surealis" artists present us with "reality bundled as a dream".

Lucia Hartini’s work raises questions of gender and personal transformation. This thesis argues that, for many years, the tensions created by the contrary forces of political repression and social transformation characterising much of New Order Indonesia, were reflected in her art. In a microcosmic-macrocosmic sense, Lucia and her art quietly contributed to attitudinal and social change in Indonesia. Works painted between 1986 and 1996 autobiographically chart a shift from personal distress to a growing sense of empowerment, followed by life-changing spiritual growth. I contextualize these paintings socially by studying the changing interstices between Lucia Hartini’s private life, her professional creative practice and the public persona she adopted in Indonesia’s emergent civilian society. My approach is informed by a conceptual framework based on difference, hybridity and its transformations, on the psychology of borderlands, negotiation and the transcendence of boundaries, witnessed through a study of the spiritual practice and quest for religious tolerance important to Lucia and evident in her art. This thesis reveals those boundaries which were transcended and those which remain negotiable.

Twice filming Lucia Hartini’s art, I was also affected by the dramatically different conditions of production prevailing in 1992 in New Order Indonesia and those possible between 1999 and 2001 during Reformasi. These differences are highlighted in the textual analysis of Perbatasan / Boundaries. Engaging comparisons between contemporary Indonesian art and Indonesian documentary and feature films, I discuss important attempts to solve the problems associated with restrictions on freedom of expression in paintings made prior to Reformasi. I consider the different uses of figurative realism to depict subjects deemed controversial by the state, and the creation of credible representations in art and convincing characterisations in filmmaking. The dramatically real yet poetic work of the Indonesian Neo-realist filmmakers of the 1950s exemplified one such solution. Their films and ideas prompted comparisons with the photo-realism, poetic intent and dramatic juxtapositional image making of the "Surealis Yogya". The relationship I perceive between Neo-realist cinematic practice and contemporary international documentary filmmaking encouraged me to make a documentary about Lucia rather than a purely creative or experimentally surreal work. Because of Reformasi and the changes wrought by Lucia’s personal development, Perbatasan / Boundaries: Lucia Hartini, Paintings from a Life (1999 – 2002) is the documentary which my first short experimental video, Pusaran / Vortex: From the Kitchen to Outer Space (1992 - 1993), made during the New Order, could not be.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Social Sciences and Humanities
Supervisor(s): Warren, Carol
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