‘Pandora Paradise’: a milestone in Balinese contemporary art

Jasmine Okubo performs in response to ‘Pandora Paradise’ 2020, 26 December 2020

Balinese contemporary artist, Ketut Putrayasa’s passion for public art, has evolved dramatically in recent years. It has led to the ‘Kuta Sunrise Art Project 2020 – 2021’ and his installation ‘Pandora Paradise’. Sited on the promenade at Point Zero of the Bali Province, Badung Square, Denpasar, the eye-catching structure is the first in a series of nine to be exhibited in the capital cities of regencies throughout Bali this year.

Five transparent perspex boxes support synthetic bamboo poles made from PVC pipes and fibreglass are painted in red, white, yellow, green, orange and gold colours.  One end of the poles is sliced to form a point piercing the boxes. The contrasting-coloured poles create a dynamic sense of movement and visual tension. ‘Pandora Paradise’ is interactive; noises from the nearby environment, traffic and voices echo within the pipes creating distinctive sounds. The 26 December 2020 opening marked the start of the Kuta Sunrise Project Art. It was highlighted by poetry readings by members of Denpasar’s literary community and performance in response to ‘Pandora Paradise’ by leading Japanese Indonesian choreographer Jasmine Okubo.

Wayan Jengki Sunarta reading poetry alongside ‘Pandora Paradise’ 26 December 202

“The work’s inspiration comes from Greek mythology, and the legend of Pandora’s Box, which became the source of great disaster,” said Putrayasa, born in Tibubeneng, Canggu, Badung.  “Pandora Paradise’ is a metaphor for the social and cultural crisis now confronting humanity. It reflects upon the travesties of modernity. Society has opened the ‘box’ introducing diabolical circumstances. The work is a timely reminder – we must change our behaviour if we wish to survive.”

“Pandora’s box contains human ugliness, including disease. Four of the boxes are penetrated by the poles releasing the negative elements. One box, however, remains closed representing positive future possibilities.” “The work is Covid19 related,” Putrayasa explained. “I hope humanity responds positively during the post-pandemic era and evolves with a refreshed and renewed mindset.”  The Kuta Sunrise Art Project’s objectives are to allow the community to experience contemporary art in public and learn of the functional values of contemporary art in the modern age. This first of a kind project and a milestone in Balinese contemporary art represents Putrayasa’s ideas into broader social engagement through public art.  

Jasmine Okubo performs in response to ‘Pandora Paradise’

“It is rare for artists to create installation art in Bali, especially public installations. ‘Pandora Paradise’ is a surprise within the realm of art in Bali, especially amid the pandemic,” said the author of poetry, short stories, novels, articles and art reviews Wayan Jengki Sunarta.  “Public art installations are important within the context of introducing contemporary art to the wider community, especially to people who still have difficulty understanding contemporary art.  Reading poetry in addition to installation art is something exciting and has its challenges,” Jengki explained. “The poetry reader must interpret and respond to the installation by choosing a suitable poem to read according to the vision of the artwork.”

Indonesians are familiar with cultural art languages derived from the Wayang shadow puppet theatre. Before the introduction of television, the Wayang was one of the primary traditional story-telling modalities. The imagery is the basis of the sacred Balinese religious paintings displayed within the temples and public buildings throughout the island and plays and an essential narrative function within the culture. Balinese sculptural forms have similar origins along with ancient animistic and nature beliefs. Contemporary art is a ‘foreign’ visual language, especially in Bali.

Poetry reading by GM Sukawidana

“Since 26 December members of the Denpasar literary community have regularly gathered to read poetry alongside ‘Pandora Paradise’. Their presentations express emotions that typified the confusion and frustration experienced during the pandemic,” stated Putrayasa. “They appreciate the existence of three-dimensional works of art in public spaces. ‘Pandora Paradise’ inspires them, and some have immediately written poetry after seeing the work.”

Within Balinese culture, literary works and the fine arts are an inseparable unity. In practice, many works of art are born from literary works, and vice versa. Some of the well-known participating literary figures include Artanto, GM Sukawidana, Dr Ary Duarsa, Hendra Utay and Kardanis Mudawi Jaya. “The literary community has benefitted by being able to get closer to the fine arts,” stated Jengki Sunarta. “Artists and writers need cross-discipline interactions to gain greater insights, inspiration and develop broader relationships.”

Jasmine Okubo performing alongside ‘Pandora Paradise’

“The presentation of contemporary art in the public sphere is a new phenomenon in Bali. Works that trigger spontaneous responses from the public are rare in Indonesia,” said Tatang B.Sp one of the Kuta Sunrise Art Project’s curators, along with Wayan Yoga Parta, Rizki A Zaelani, Jean Couteau and Wayan Westa. “‘Pandora Paradise’ proves a public work art can unite and inspire the local literary community and functions positively to benefit our society.”

Since 2017 Ketut Putrayasa has made his presence known on the Bali art landscape organizing and sponsoring cultural events and participating in group exhibitions. His first large-scale public artwork, 20 meters high by 300 meters wide, an enormous Octopus installation, was erected on Berawa Beach, Canggu for the 2019 Berawa Beach Festival. Putrayasa partners in art projects with Bali’s first independent art research project the Gurat Institute, spear-headed by leading Balinese curator Wayan Yoga Parta.

Jasmine Okubo

Following ‘Pandora Paradise’ the next work will be installed in Gianyar. Then Klungkung, Karangasem, Bangli, Buleleng, Jembrana, Tabanan, culminating with the final installation, 15 August, at Discovery Shopping Mall, Tuban, Badung. The Kuta Sunrise Art Project 2020 – 2021 will be documented in a book and film by the Gurat Institute.

Words: Richard Horstman

Images: Richard Horstman & Kuta Sunrise Art Project 2020 – 2021.

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