The latest in a series of interviews with artists who make work that responds to network culture and digital technologies.
Herdimas Anggara: I first saw your work at the 2021 CTM Festival in Berlin which featured your collaborative video mixtape with electronic music act Gabber Modus Operandi and dancer Siko Setyanto entitled MBELEDOSSS!. What draws me into the video is your use of cultural signifiers that we normally see in Indonesia: crowded flea markets (which remind me of Pasar Senen), buskers with their huge boombox speakers, clothes draped on exposed drying racks. You mention the term “Third World Futurism” in this interview with Clara Peh; can you elaborate on that term in relation to MBELEDOSSS!?
Rimbawan Gerilya: I’ve been having second thoughts about the term “Third World Futurism” because the West coined the term third world to describe countries like Indonesia which face the daily reality of colonization. In my work, I try to showcase or highlight the struggles related to colonization, while also acknowledging the nuanced, resilient, and imperfect behavior of our own people.
In MBELEDOSSS! Gabber Modus Operandi is having a party on a boat similar to the type that transports discarded garments from countries like the U.S. to countries like Indonesia where this first world trash is considered a commodity. Sometimes these garments are intended for disaster relief use, but they never make it to their destination because some locals intercept the shipment and sell the clothes. This black market exists because new clothing is prohibitively expensive. So, that’s what I mean by criticizing ourselves and also showing our resilience as Indonesian working class people.
HA: I don’t know if you’re familiar with Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001); it’s the first CGI feature film that tries to emulate photorealism. I remember there was a lot of backlash from critics when it was first released due to how robotic and cold the characters looked. They also felt that its near perfect human simulation had an eerie presence to it. In contrast, your work embraces and exaggerates the imperfection of animation.
RG: It’s because I don’t want to conform to industry standards. When you see CGI in cinema from major studios, that type of production quality is unattainable for one person or small group from the third world. If we aspire to achieve that type of production we are often met with disappointment. I guess my philosophy is: do whatever is achievable.
Most of my works are made with simple animation. Even if there’s a dance movement, it’s just three or four looped keyframes, kind of like an 1980s anime or older cartoon where only the mouth is animated when the character is talking. So, I thought: if they can convey the same level of storytelling without sophisticated animations, then it’s possible for me too. But because I did it, it gets made, then at the very least, there’s something to talk about. The product exists even if it’s low quality.
HA: In your works Loud and Clear and Sacred Border (Batas Suci), you 3D render typical sights near urban mosques, and there’s this intentional tackiness and subtle culturally-specific (to Jakartans) humor related to the low production quality and your portrayal of the seemingly mundane phenomena for people who live in the region. Growing up in a Muslim household in Indonesia, all these depictions feel immediate: the abundance of mosques’ loudspeakers, people leaving their sandals in the batas suci.
RG: Exactly that. There’s some slight humor imbued in it, but for example, in MBELEDOSS!, the characters are not smiling because they are a class with limited options. The entertainment they experience is imposed by others with more power, represented in MBELEDOSS! by Siko the Angel and Ican the Prophet. I don't know if the people portrayed actually derive joy from dancing, they just do it to conform, as it might be their only source of safety.
Another local reference that recurs in my work is the bumper sticker proverb, encountered frequently in angkot (shared taxis/minibuses). For example, “Do'a Ibu” (Mother's Prayer) is very popular and most people don't really pay attention to it. I like to think it might reveal the unexpected vulnerability of the commonly tough minibus driver who might actually wish for his mother's blessings. I hope to elevate the status of this kitschy object alongside the people who put these stickers up.
I’ve titled a number of my works after these bumper sticker proverbs, which are personally meaningful. Mother's Prayer refers to the meaning I derive from losing my mother at the start of the pandemic; Sacred Border refers to how my atheism/agnosticism can empathize with the religious culture/beliefs of my loved ones; Fortune's Door refers to my struggle to find income with digital means after losing my job as a VJ during the pandemic.
HA: I can’t help but make connections between your works and the paintings of Indonesian artist, Zico Albaiquni. His use of fluorescent color stems from his observation of vibrant colors that are prevalent in urban slums as opposed to white, which is more associated with affluent or wealthy neighborhoods. In an interview, he stated that the reason he used neon palettes is so the viewers can decolonize our sense of taste. I was also recently reading about these anthropological findings from this place called Kampung Pelangi (Rainbow Village) in Malang, where local college students were trying to revitalize the area by painting the houses with bright colors (there’s a whole conversation about saviorism that we can have another time). Because vibrant colors are imbued with optimism, there’s this hopeful, speculative idea that one might escape poverty if they're surrounded by colors like shocking pink or gold.
RG: I think I get what Zico meant by decolonizing our sense of taste. But I don’t know, in Indonesian tradition, it’s always like red or gold or mixed, and I don’t think these colors are unique to us. I think the reason why I’m drawn to these bold colors is simply because I used to be a Visual Jockey (VJ). When I first started VJing in 2008, we only had low brightness projectors. Muted colors wouldn’t translate well on the projection surface, so bold colors were the only option, maximum RGB. I feel like that represents what I do with the technical limitations that I am challenged with. There are some indirect correlations with what Zico meant, but we approach it differently. It converges somewhere, but I can’t really pinpoint it.
Also, If you pay attention to suburban well-off areas, most of the colors are muted, but if you go to the lower income area, Pantura, the residents tend to choose more vibrant, pronounced colors. I think it’s because of frugality. Why choose muted colors when you can buy something vibrant for the same price?
One of the mosques that’s near my house, maybe they got some funding or something, decided to paint the paving blocks with yellow, green, blue, and red. The minaret (the place where they put the loudspeaker) now even has disco lights on it for some reason. It’s so antithetical to the idea of a mosque itself. If you see it at night, it glows in different colors. The mosque is no longer sacred because of these affinities. It’s so weird, but that’s the uniqueness of the third world.
HA: Can you talk about your 3D production process? In my own artistic practice, I’ve always been afraid to do 3D production due to how long the files take to render, especially when I was still using my seven-year-old Windows laptop. What sort of workarounds do you use?
RG: I choose real-time rendering because I don’t have to wait for the result for too long and therefore have more time to polish the ideas. I also take advantage of the widespread modding culture in Southeast Asia. Indonesia has a flourishing Grand Theft Auto (GTA) free modding community and we also have a Euro Trucks Simulator community. GTA is the more prominent one because it can be played on mobile and there’s this idea of trying to recreate our reality/our world into the game. So, sometimes you can see the main character is doing salat (the ritual prayer of Muslims) in the musalla (praying space) near the Pertamina gas station.
So one way that I streamline my workflow is trying not to create from scratch. If I need a bicycle, I find it somewhere that has plenty of free 3D assets on the web and use it as the base. There’s a white limousine in MBELEDOSS! that I created by stretching a sedan model I found, which produced a much funnier result than if I had tried to create a new car, and refers to the regional modding aesthetic.
HA: Last question, where does the stage name “Rimbawan Gerilya” come from?
RG: Rimbawan Gerilya is a rough Indonesian translation of "Guerilla Junglist." Junglist is a term for people who are into Jungle Drum and Bass music. I started showcasing my personal work to the public through VJing for underground Drum and Bass gigs without pay. The guerilla part comes from that experience: underground, idealistic, and no pay. I like the fast, syncopated beats of Jungle Drum and Bass because it's a multi-cultural product that fits the working class urban life.
Age: I’m pretty old, 41.
Location: Jakarta. I live in Kayu Putih, Pulo Gadung. When people hear Kayu Putih, they think it’s the well-off area, but my home is in between the well-off and the poorer areas. People often refer to the area as Kampung Ambon, because there used to be a lot of Ambonese people here, but it’s no longer called that (since the Ambonese population has been moved to Cengkareng). So, yeah, I live in the eastern part of Jakarta, but not too far east.
How/when did you begin working creatively with technology?
I started VJing in 2008. I think I was part of the people who adopted VJing early. My friend, Mehdi, introduced me to this book “VJ: Audio-Visual Art and VJ Culture” by D-Fuse. I started VJing in Drum and Bass gigs because the promoters were friends with us. They sometimes allowed us to VJ (without pay), but they provided the venue, the hardware, and the projectors for us, so we could experiment there.
What did you study at school or elsewhere?
Visual communication design at Trisakti University.
What do you do for a living or what occupations have you held previously?
I was a professional VJ. I did major events, like the Jakarta Warehouse Projects and plenty of international gigs. But mostly not under my name—I was part of a team led by Isha Hening.
What does your desktop or workspace look like?