Lullaby for the Ancestors
About the performance
In early 2000 I started to focus on the traditional culture influences in the contemporary cultural environment. My research was based on the traditional ritual art forms from Java. I had the presumption, especially to the symbolic actions presented in the traditional ritual arts, that it was also meant to be political. Nowadays, the rituals which was performed in the early years, with all the changes throughout the centuries, are shifted into different context, from the rituality, spirituality into entertainment. I assume that tradition is forced to be kept, while human beings are constantly influenced by their environmental changes, included technology and science.
And then I begun to research a specific traditional ritual performance in relationship with a contemporary performance art form and practices. I have chosen to observe the practice of Reog and Jaran Kepang. Both are using the animal symbol and originally appeared in the 16th century. The ritual performance was done by the shamans who at that time are also the artist. It involves trance, body endurance, extreme action that deals with pain and symbolic objects. They uses simple gamelan orchestra and perform in public space in the villages. They moved from one village to the other. The Jarang Kepang especially involved actions such putting the head in the bucket of water, one is whipping the other, while a dancer dances in trance on a bamboo puppet horse. When the horse dancer gets trance, or people would say that he is being exorcised, he starts to eat glass pieces, cutting his lips without bleeding, etc. At the end of the performance another shaman comes to clear the mystical influence, and pour flower water to the trance bodies.
The performance was actually created as a protest against the becoming powerless king. It was the time when the king who was Buddhist married a princes from China who was Moslem. And the king has gradually lost his influence to the people, while the wife became more powerful. The whole kingdom was not in a good condition and civil wars happened during that time. The object and action were meant to be symbolic action representing the pressure situation and the critics towards the king. The horse which symbolizing the power, was changed into a bamboo horse, to express the lost power.
I had been watching this kind of performances since I was a little child. The images and impressions about this traditional ritual performance remain in my memory. Until the time I become curious to know what was the history and the intension behind this performance.
Lullaby for the ancestors was an effort to bring the performance as far I remember and observed into different context of environment, time and space. It synthesizes element of physical and psychological aspects of the ancient rituals and my own personal vision, which seeks to use the act as a mean of entering a trance, of attaining a state that is free of cultural and genetic connections.
I enter the space hold the horse and walk in a big circle. I give the horse to the horse guard. I go to the place where the bucket is. I put ma head inside the water and hold the breath. As soon as get up I pick the whip and move to the centre of the space. I start to whip cracking several times, according to my feeling. I go back to the bucket and repeat again the action several times. Parallel to this action, the guard keep the horse running while I am whip cracking, and keep the horse stay while I put my head into the water. After the last whip cracking, I leave the whip in the middle of the space and return to the horse. I leave the space together with the horse.
Duration of the performance: ca. 20 minutes
Objects: western whip, bucket, water and a horse
Performed outdoor at Parang Kusumo Beach, Jogjakarta Indonesia, 2008
Performed at the LOT Theatre Braunschweig, 2001 Photo: video Stills
Performed at PAC Milano, Italy, 2003 Photo: Alessia Bulgari
Performed at PAC Milano, Italy, 2003 Photo: Oliver Blomeier
performed at Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA), Dublin, Ireland, 2001 Photo: Oliver Blomeier