Gamelan instruments are arranged on a bed of white sand. Simple mechanical devices play the instruments. A monitor displays minimal images like a shadow play. Primitive but vigorous sounds of the instruments harmonize with sampled voices, musics and with the images, to create a coherence within the diversity.
The word “Nommunication” is play on the Japanese words for “drink” and “communication.”
This is a GATEWAY of communication. There is a voice within the Gamelan, the sound “ning.” This sound also carries a philosophical meaning, that of purity, clarity of thought, and emotion. Ever since the Bronze Age, Gamelan instruments have played an important role and can be found throughout the world—of course with a different name in each place. With the development of bronze technology, artists were presented with the challenge of creating music within a new medium. New technologies today pose a similar kind of challenge to contemporary artists. The growth of the Gamelan from its simple origins in which it constituted a few instruments, such as a collection of gongs, to its present orchestral form, which boasts bronze instruments such as the bonang, saron, and kempul and many other non-bronze instruments, such as the suling (bamboo flute), rebab (traditional Javanese violin), kendang (drums), gambang (wooden xylophone), among others, is testimony to the Gamelan’s open and accommodating nature. Nowadays, in a Wayang Kulit performance one can find such things as trumpets, saxophones, cymbals, lightening machines, dry ice, and drum kits being employed. Perhaps the Gamelan can be seen as a direct product of the Javanese philosophy “Bhineka Tunggal Ika” (unity in diversity).
Because of the Gamelan’s open nature to outside influences such as mentioned above, one could easily term the Gamelan a form of installation art. In its general form, the Gamelan is seen as a traditional art form. Until this very day the Gamelan is still being used according to its traditional modes of expression. Almost every form of traditional Javanese art is interrelated. In the Wayang Kulit performance the Gamelan has a special relationship with the action of shadow puppets, as it also does with traditional dance, architecture, batik, the Javanese kris (dagger), and ritual ceremonies. The common denominator these art forms all possess is the embodiment of the same basic philosophy. This inter-relatedness is not unlike the philosophy behind contemporary art, which abides by the concept of pluralism, in which each element is related to or interconnected with another. This is in direct contrast to modern art, which tends to separate and categorize individual elements. Modern art also has the tendency to employ a methodology of centralization. This has the effect of rendering the value of that which is created as absolute.
The Gamelan is a form of language. Almost everyone from Indonesia’s many islands uses and relates to the Gamelan in the same way. In other words, the Gamelan is a language of communication that can be used by anybody, regardless of whether they are the original owners of this medium. For example, if I am to communicate with a Japanese person, given that I do not speak Japanese very well and that he/she does not speak Indonesian, we must then choose a language that we both understand to a certain degree to allow us to communicate. In this instance, it s the English language. Basically, we are only borrowing the English language in order to communicate.
In Japan there is the so-called culture of “nomu,” which is similar to man other communal drinking cultures throughout the world. “Nomu” is also a GATEWAY of communication between cultures. The “GAMELAN OF NOMMUNICATION” represents a marriage between two cultural phenomena and the union of “high technology” with the exquisite technology present in the Gamelan.
On the Artist’s Works
The various machines created by Heri Dono present appearances and movements far removed from the Western concept of the machine.
Unlike the stiff, mechanical image of their Western counterparts, Heri Dono’s machines are soft and familiar, flowing like music. His machines generate rhythms and interstitial spaces through his command of low, rather than high, technology. To Heri Dono, the machine is not a static, rigid form, but rather a free and ever-changing form generated only by its own movement. Freed from the Western perspective that sees the machine as the embodiment of “might,” Heri Dono seeks to capture the machine as mystery, play, magic, and metaphor.
Heri Dono converts what he has gained from the study of traditional Indonesian performance arts such as Gamelan music, dance, and Wayang Kulit (shadow pictures) into new forms in his automatic works of art.
He has also produced machines and installations based on the phenomena and ritual practices seen in the primitive religions of Java and Bali. These works consistently display a form of animism and reflections on vitality. Heri Dono brings life to all that he touches. Or rather, we should say that everything in the world has a soul, and even electrical currents possess life. That life passes through machines and technology to appear before us in reality. For Heri Dono, this kind of animistic view is surely an important factor toward establishing links between East and West, high-tech and low-tech, the self and the world.
Cutting edge technology has already built up the fastest, highest and most advanced systems of communication and information, and these systems are now diversifying. However, people on the periphery have almost no awareness of this, so such systems have no meaning for them. Truth and falsehood are both reduced to the level of rumors and relative meaning. Electric currents, sounds, steel plates, electronic circuitry, the atmosphere of the internal and external worlds and the like all form the constellation that binds human existence to the world of the supernatural.
Heri Dono was born in Jakarta, Indonesia in 1960. He studied at the Indonesian Institute of the Arts in Yogyakarta from 1980 to 1987, after which he received intensive training in the traditional Indonesian arts of Wayang Kulit, Gamelan, and dance. It was in the 1990s that he began to create automatic machine art. He has participated in exhibitions in the Netherlands, Germany, Australia and has held exhibitions and workshops in Japan. He is also very active as a performance artist. Aspiring to create an original Asian machine art, Heri Dono is an artist to keep our eyes on in the future.