Macan meets Tempa
"Home" as a narrative — an essential element in the art practice of Tempa from Yogyakarta, Indonesia (@_tempa_). Putud Utama and Rara Kuastra see home as a material, mental and memorable building. Artistic stories start at home from an early age. Playing with wooden blocks as kids to sense and make sense of forms, colours and their meaning. Tempa explores the narrative of “home” through material cultures and otherworldly visions. How do interactions with objects inside a home change the perspective towards the outside world? What cultural memories do the familiar things in their paintings embody? Macan visited Tempa’s studio and their Artjog exhibition to find out.
Before entering the studio, we walked through Tempa’s floral front yard. Clusters of tropical plants guide us into their studio. Most plants feel familiar due to Tempa’s botanical illustrations. Putud and Rara explain that they carry the torch of their parents’ gardening tradition. It’s a common practice of the previous generation to fill up the front garden with popular Indonesian plants. Especially the “Kuping Gajah” (elephant ear) and “Janda Bolong” (monkey mask). We had a chat about Tempa’s practice based on the paintings in their studio. But first, let’s talk plants.
These plant species are quite common in Indonesia. You can even find them in nature. Though you still have a bunch of them as centrepieces in your studio, front yard and as drawings in your art. What makes these plants special to you?
We love to draw plants because it’s so close to our everyday life and the main theme of our work: the narrative of “home”. Home, not as an object but as a subject. Home can be a city. You can call someone your home. As the saying: If I’m with you I feel like I’m at home. We can question: who owns the home? Who are they? We can build a story there.
Mind-bending visuals merge with conventional objects in your paintings. The artworks feel like otherworldly visions but they remain grounded in reality through the familiar. How do you assemble the symbols and shapes in your work?
Our painting composition is like a room. There is a floor, a corner, a sun etc. The painting is somewhere on this planet. It is not too surrealist. It is still here.
And when it comes to the distinct colour usage in your work, do you both have the same aesthetic preferences or does it vary?
People say that Putud is more into psychedelic colours and patterns. Rara is more interested in vivid colours, such as the strong fluorescent pinks and yellows. We combine our interests.
There is a sentimental value around the objects you paint. Such as the soup bowls decorated with rooster symbols, gemstone jewellery and traditional enamel teapots. Are they personal objects that express a specific message or do they act as relatable placeholders of a collective memory?
The meaning of the objects can have different interpretations, but they are all about the subject we call home. Before we could save our precious things (like jewellery and paper) in the bank, we used to save them at home. For example, in cabinets, under the bed, under a mattress, places like that. Many people in Indonesia have their assets not as cash in the bank but as jewellery at home.
Cosmic Patterns, Tempa, 2022 (exhibition at Artjog 2022)
After the studio visit, we all went to Artjog 2022 to visit Tempa's installation “Cosmic Patterns”. The installation consisted of painted wooden panels that slit into each other to form symbolic assemblages. In the back of the space, miniature versions of the panels were scattered on a tufted carpet. Visitors were invited to mix-and-match these playful forms, patterns and symbols in three-dimensional ways. While the miniature version is meant for children aged 6-12 years, the work channelled the inner kid of many adult visitors. "Cosmic Patterns" reconfigures everyday Indonesian products and plants beyond their materiality. These wooden sculptures make us reimagine our surroundings and reminisce on memories. How much of this material culture lies in-between Indonesia and The Netherlands? And how do the concepts of “home” and "cosmic patterns" relate to the hidden Javan tiger?
Matur nuwun/thank you Putud and Rara for welcoming us into the home of Tempa!
Macan Meets ...
In the "Macan meets …”-series, Macan goes out in the wild to explore mythical perspectives through studio visits, dialogues, anecdotes and artworks. We ask likeminded artists to express their practice through the eyes of the tiger.
In this episode, Macan meets Tempa to explore the practice of Putud Utama and Rara Kuastra through the eyes of Macan. An interview with Tempa