Bagus Pandega: Using Technology Not to Obtain Answers, but QuestionsArt & Culture
Working in the sculpture studio of Bandung’s Institute of Technology (ITB), Bagus Pandega always enjoyed the process of creating his pieces, but when it came to the end product, he felt that somehow his works tended to be constant, static and cold.
He felt that they needed something more, but he could not yet figure out exactly what it was. He searched for it, but at the time that he was studying at ITB from 2003 to 2008, the Internet (including Google) was just starting to gain popularity. Reading Artnow vol. 1, he found that the solution seemed to be in the use of technology. During those years the use of technology seemed to be dominated by video art, while Pandega felt that he did not have a sound understanding either conceptually or technically regarding video. He was more interested in works that involved installation, which occupied space and used technology.
He started experimenting with technology, but he did not feel that he was ready to take academic responsibility of creating works using technology at that point. So for his final year project he decided to present his conventional sculpture piece entitled Facticity. Based on Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialist theory, he presented a sculpture of his own body, questioning his presence as a subject. He had to cast his own body part by part using silicon. Each cast then needed to be assembled and fastened to one another by stitching them using a special surgical stitching thread. “In sculpture, all considerations material as well as the execution of form are very important. I use silicon for the outer part of the body, while I left the inside empty, signifying Sartre’s theory that when a man has reached his peak, he will return to ‘zero’ again,” Pandega explained.
After completing Facticity and graduating from ITB, he felt very uncomfortable with the heavy use of chemicals in his conventional sculpture pieces. “Finally, I decided to develop works using sounds and motion, but still used my academic knowledge as the base, so you can see that my works tend to appear sculptural,” he said. His piece Singer: Magical Mystery Tour (2009) is composed of an old sewing machine and a turntable. He intended to make a pun and make the Singer sewing machine really be able to sing. Moving the sewing machine’s pedal would cause the turntable to spin and generate sounds. What was even more fascinating for Pandega was the interaction of the audience with the work, which showed a generational gap. It was interesting to see that many members of the audience knew that the lower part of the artwork was a sewing machine, but had difficulty in operating it. “The Singer sewing machine was part of their visual memory, but the way it was used was alien to them, because nowadays everything is all electronic,” the artist observed. The piece was in the Contemporary Archaeology exhibition at the SIGIarts gallery on Jl. Mahakam I, in South Jakarta in 2009, the first group show in which he participated.
It seems that Pandega’s works often become the connector of generations, as can be seen in his Pandora series and other works he created between 2009 and 2015. However, sometimes he was simply interested in the process of working on his artpieces. Rotation (2012), for example, was a work created especially for an exhibition that was based on songs from The Fountain of Lamneth section of Rush’s Caress of Steel album, held at Gajah Gallery in Singapore. In the work, based on the song In the Valley, he managed to synchronize sound, movement and light.
In 2015, Bagus Pandega presented Clandestine, his special project in cooperation with ROH Projects for Art Basel Hong Kong’s Discoveries. The series of pieces were created using an approach that was quite different from his other works. “Whereas my works usually originate from objects, this time I started from the subjects,” he explained. He approached five individuals of different professions, some he knew already but others complete strangers, and asked them to tell him their darkest secrets. In the artworks, he used objects and various things that were in one way or another related to the secrets. In one of the pieces he presented photographs of the mouth of the person, arranged radially at the periphery of a LP record in such a way that it created animated effect. It appeared as though the person was trying to convey his or her secret, and the audience might be able to decipher what was being uttered, although no sounds came out of the turntable. This project turned out to be quite heavy for Pandega, as he had the burden of forever keeping the secrets of the five persons.
In contrast to his interest in the past and his use of old objects, “nowadays I am more concerned with the future,” Pandega said. His most recent work, Be The Change (2017) at the Amsterdam Light Festival is a light installation measuring two and a half meters tall and twenty meters wide using rotary lights that are usually used on heavy road construction signs. Displaying a quotation from Mahatma Gandhi, “be the change that you wish to see in the world,” the artwork becomes a kind of sign cautioning and persuading people to start from their own selves.
In an interview article published in The Paris Review 32 of Summer-Fall 1964, William Fifield wrote that Picasso, speaking about the enormous new mechanical brains or calculating machines, said: “But they are useless. They can only give you answers.” Bagus Pandega started using technology in his art to free himself from having to deal with highly toxic conventional methods of making sculptures. Interestingly, the use of technology allowed him to actually explore various facets of humanity, whether it was through the philosophical notions that he used as part of his artistic concepts, his own personal discoveries while working on his pieces, as well as the interactions of his audience with the artworks.. Fortunately, although he was looking for a solution for his artworks by exploring the use of technology, he was not interested in knowing the answers as the end product, but was much more interested in the questions he faced as he journeyed through the creative process.