Art Histories Research Travel Reports

As fellows of the research program Art Histories and Aesthetic Practices at the Forum Transregionale Studien in Berlin, Wulandani Dirgantoro, Marton Orosz, and Sarada Natarajan conducted research in Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, the United States, and the United Kingdom. The following contribution contains their travel reports and shows some fotos of their research trips.
 

Singapore and Indonesia

by Wulandani Dirgantoro

The travel to Indonesia and Singapore was conducted as part of research for the current project on “Memory and the Avant Garde: Affect and Aesthetics in Early New Order Indonesia, 1970-1980”. The Indonesian leg of the travel (9-15 January) was mostly spent in Yogyakarta and Solo where I was hosted by the Indonesian Visual Arts Archive (IVAA). The research primarily focused on their latest acquisition, the FX Harsono archive. The collection comprised of over 300 photographic materials that covered the crucial period of early 1970s to early 1990s. For Indonesian art history and art archive, this was the period that marked the experimental art scene (1970s) as well as the beginning of internalisation of Indonesian contemporary art (1990s) which was documented by one of its key figures.

Fig.1. Interview with BM Ardhie (photo: private)

In addition to archival research, I worked together with IVAA staff in initiating the recording oral histories from key figures during the experimental art scene in the 1970s. For example, we travelled together to the town of Solo to interview BM Ardhie at his house and studio (Fig. 1). The interview was video recorded and the content would be transcribed by the IVAA to which they will also keep a copy for other researchers to gain access in the future.

Fig.2. Snapshot of National Gallery of Singapores Resource Centre (photo: private)

The second leg of the research trip was conducted in Singapore (5-7 February 2017). The National Heritage Board of Singapore held the biggest collection of Indonesian experimental art from the 1970s where I was able to study the physical works more closely. Furthermore, the NGRC (National Gallery Resource Centre) also held new Indonesian material from the 1970s, mostly from art academies in Jakarta and Bandung (Fig. 2). The visit to NGRC coincided nicely with another Art Histories fellow’s visit to Singapore, Marton Orosz who was doing his research on Kepesz’s connection to Southeast Asia (Fig. 3).

While the research trip was initially planned to examine the existing archives in Yogyakarta and Singapore, the newly acquired archival collections both at IVAA and NGRC showed a wealth of new information that have never been examined before. Furthermore, the trip also helped to shape a new direction in my research project which I have already presented at a joint seminar with Dr Amanda Rath on 16th May at the Department of Southeast Asian Studies at Goethe University, Frankfurt. Dr Rath and I are currently working together to identify and process the new material which we hope could bring new understanding to the experimental art scene in Indonesia as well as Southeast Asia.

Fig.3. With Marton Orosz (Fellow Art Histories 2016/17), Seng Yu Jin (Senior Curator), and Joleen Loh (Assistant Curator). (photo: private)

Wulan Dirgantoro is a researcher on Indonesian modern and contemporary art. Her research interests are transnational feminisms, and trauma and memory in Indonesian modern and contemporary art. Her PhD dissertation on feminisms and the writing of art history in Indonesia was published by Amsterdam University Press under the title of “Feminisms and Indonesian Contemporary Art: Defining Experiences” in Spring 2017. She has contributed to various art publications in Asia, Australia and UK on Indonesian modern and contemporary art. Wulan recently participated in “Ambitious Alignments: New Histories of Southeast Asian Art”, a research project within the Connecting Art Histories initiative by the Getty Foundation with a project on affect and modern paintings in Indonesia during the 1970s.

 

Research Trips during the fellowship year: United States of America, United Kingdom, Singapore and Malaysia

by Marton Orosz

January 17 – January 22: United States (Cambridge, Massachusetts and New Haven, Connecticut)

The aim of my research visit was to verify some of the unpublished materials focusing on Gyorgy Kepes’s period at MIT concerning his relationship with fellow-scientists who were invited by him to participate in the knowledge-production manifested in the book series “Vision + Value” edited by Kepes between 1965 and 1972. Also, I conducted several interviews with Kepes’s former associates as well as architects who studied with him in the 1960s and infused his ideas to their own practical and theoretical work.

In the Manuscript Collection Reading Room of the Houghton Library at the Harvard University (photo: Orosz)

Visited places and viewed archival materials during the site visit:

  • MIT, Institute Archives and Special Collections
  • MIT, Hayden Library
  • MIT, Rotch Library, Limited Access Collection
  • MIT, School of Architecture of Planning, Program for Art, Culture and Technology,
    CAVS Special Collection Archive
  • Harvard University, Loeb Library, GSD Archive
  • Boston University, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center
  • Harvard University, Houghton Library Archives
  • Boston, Tufts University, Digital Collections and Archives
  • Boston, WGBH Media Library and Archives

Interview with Lev Nussberg in New Haven (photo: private)

Interviews:

  • Prof. Nicolas Negroponte (founding director, MIT MediaLab)
  • Lev Nussberg (artist, member of the Divizinhe Group)
  • Weldon Preis (architect, former student of Kepes at MIT)

 

January 26 – January 27: Cambridge, United Kingdom

By visiting the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom my proposal was to investigate the sources in Joseph Needham Archive to get a definite answer to the question in which extent the ideas circulated among the members of the Theoretical Biology Club, such as in the making of the seminal “Growth in Form” exhibition in 1951 at the ICA in London. I tried to address the same question during my visit at the Howard Gotlieb Research Center at the Boston University when I was looking at Lancelot Law Whyte papers.

Visited places and viewed archival materials during the site visit:

  • Cambridge University Library, Department of Manuscripts and University Archives
  • Cambridge University, Betty and Gordon Moore Library

 

January 31 – February 7: Southeast Asia (Singapore and Malaysia)

While in Singapore my research was facilitated by the Center for Contemporary Art (CCA) at the Nayang Technological University. There, my aim was to find direct connections to those initiatives in the Southeast Asian art which were formulated according to Kepes’ “universalits” approach to modernism and have been emerging after the region’s independence in the 1960s. My project examined the trans-regional network of Kepes’ theories in Southeastern Asia and highlighted the comprehensivist values shared by those painters, designers and architects who were retaining direct contacts with Kepes and maintained a similar interest in the ecological consciousness and in art’s capacity to advocate social transformations. I had a special focus on the Southeast Asian Cultural Research Programme, and it’s two founding members, Dorothy Pelzer and Datuk Seri Lim Chong Keat. Having studied with Kepes both of them were engaged in anthropological research on traditional houses of the region, which draws an analogy to Kepes’ commitment to folk art as an indispensable source for the modernist discourse. To get a profound picture of these similarities, I am indebted to Yu Jin Seng, head of the “Suddenly Turning Visible” curatorial team, whom I met at the National Gallery of Singapore and had a meaningful discussion about the institutional system of the Singaporean Post-War art. Our stimulating conversation made me understand how the Bauhaus inspired initiatives were taken up in the early 70s in Southeast Asia and in which extent the local artists’ Western connections influenced the establishment of inde-pendent artist-run programs in the region.

At the Resource Center of the Singaporean National Gallery (photo: Orosz)

Visited places and viewed archival materials during the site visit:

  • Institute of Southeast Asian Studies Library: Southeast Asian Cultural Research Programme records Singapore
  • National Museum Library and Resource Center: catalogs and curatorial files pertaining to Choy Weng Yang National
  • Gallery of Singapore, Resource Center:
    • Alpha Gallery records – Tang Da Wu “Earthwork” (1979) exhibition documentation – papers related to Choy Weng Yang and Khoo Sui Hoe
    • Modern Art Society records – Equator Art Society records
  • Singapore National Library: articles on Alpha Gallery artists in The Straits Times and in The New Nation newspapers

Meeting with Datuk Seri Lim Chong Keat in Penang, Malaysia (photo: Orosz)

Interviews:

  • oral history interview in Singapore conducted with Choy Weng-Yang focusing on his fellowship at MIT under the surveillance of Gyorgy Kepes producing works for CAVS’ Charles River project
  • oral history interview with, and research in the personal archive of Datuk Seri Lim Chong Keat in Penang, Malaysia to trace his MIT thesis supervised by Kepes, and subsequently an interview with Khoo Sui Hoe

 

February 13 – February 15 Stanford, California, United States

My research at the Stanford University is primarily focusing on Kepes’s personal papers (mostly correspondence) hosted by the University’s Special Collection Archive as well as the archival material of one of his associates from his Chicago years, Samuel Ichiye Hayakawa, who critically engaged his understanding of visual culture with his own approach on semiotics, and also wrote the foreword to Kepes’s first book titled “Language of Vision.”

Visited places and viewed archival materials during the site visit:

  • The Hoover Institution Library & Archives, Stanford University:
    • Samuel I. Hayakawa Papers, 1926-1994
    • Edward M. Farmer Papers Stanford University, Special Collection Archives:
      • Gyorgy Kepes Papers
      • Buckminster Fuller Papers

Márton Orosz is Curator of the Collection of Photography and Media Arts at the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest where he is also the Acting Director of the Vasarely Museum affiliated to the same institution. There, he recently curated Time Landscape. Alan Sonfist and the Birth of Land Art; Nathan Lerner: Photo-Eye; Film Experiments Brought to Light and Hungarian Artists and the Computer. He earned his Ph.D. in Art History at the Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest. During his studies, he was Terra Fellow at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington D.C. and Gyorgy Kepes Fellow for Advanced Studies and Transdisciplinary Research at MIT. 

 

A Brief Report on the Research Trip to Ellora Caves: January 2017

by Sarada Natarajan

Ellora Caves I (photo: private)

The rock-cut caves of Ellora in Western India, excavated between the late 6th and 13th centuries, offer an inexhaustible field for art-historical research. I picked Cave 14, a compact sculpture-saturated Brahmanical temple, as my case study for a theoretically-oriented exploration of ‘making’. My objective was to derive a fine-tuned understanding of artistic agency and process directly from the material and visual phenomena encountered in this cave, using an experimental frame that deviates from the traditional chronologizing, stylistic and iconographical analyses. I spent twelve stimulating days at Ellora in January doing an intensive documentation and interpretation of the traces of facture that the artists have left behind, traces that allow us to reconstruct processes, sequences, techniques, problem-solving and creativity involved in the making of this incredibly complex production.

Ellora Caves II (photo: private)

My chosen site turned out to be far more complicated than I had expected, a few obvious erasures and one major change of plan suggesting two palimpsested phases of artistic activity rather than one undisturbed sequence of events. Explorations of unfinished caves in the vicinity yielded much vital information on the sequence of steps that went into the making of Cave 14. While some inferences must remain speculative, the overall picture that is emerging from this study is much richer in terms of material and processual dimensions than the ones I had studied as my preliminary reference material.

Ellora Caves III (photo: private)

Three novel inputs that I have tried to integrate into this study are 1) the variable material qualities of the basalt rock in each exposed surface of the cave (a kind of micro-geology), 2) chisel-marks, erasures and finish as indexes and 3) hydrology and original water-harvesting provisions. These inputs have proved extremely illuminating, despite my rudimentary level of expertise; they point towards a new kind of art-historical object, embedded in a more multi-faceted ecological context.

Sarada Natarajan taught art history and theory at the Fine Arts and Theatre Arts departments of the University of Hyderabad, India for 14 years. She is now Visiting Professor at Shiv Nadar University in Uttar Pradesh. Sarada received both her MA and Ph.D. degrees in art history from the Maharaja Sayajirao University in Baroda. Her areas of academic interest include ancient and medieval Indian sculpture and iconography, art historiography, phenomenology, material culture studies and art history pedagogy. Her paper on art history teaching titled “Art History for Artists: Experiments from an Indian University” was presented in absentia at the College Art Association Annual Conference, New York, 2015.

 

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Citation: Wulandani Dirgantoro, Marton Orosz and Sarada Natarajan, Art Histories Research Travel Reports, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research,  03.08.2017, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/7423

 


Forum Transregionale Studien

The Berlin-based Forum Transregionale Studien is a research organization that promotes the internationalization of research in the humanities and social sciences. The Forum provides scope for collaboration among researchers with different regional and disciplinary perspectives and appoints researchers from all over the world as Fellows. In cooperation with universities and research institutions in Berlin and the rest of Germany, it carries out research projects that examine other regions of the world and their relationship to Germany and Europe systematically and with new questions.

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