Myths, legends, folk tales are all part of our heritage, marking the way we understand the world. In this constantly changing world, artists make efforts to break new ground in the fertile soil of mythology, to make sense of these age-old concepts in our modern time.
One observes such impulses when an artist like Eddy Susanto creates a work around the theme of an eclipse, a theme which new media artist Eldwin Pradipta also responds to, albeit via another context. Both artists’ works were shown in the 2019 exhibition Eclipse, held at Galeri Salihara, Jakarta and curated by Asmudjo Jono Irianto.
Susanto creates Madyapada by overlapping the Javanese myth of the eclipse with a historical depiction of Christopher Columbus’ encounter with the natives of America. The work takes the form of a wooden round shaped door, which according to Javanese philosophy is the place in which supernatural elements reside before birth and after death.
Susanto appropriates parts of Belgian engraver Theodor de Bry’s engraving, Christopher Columbus Arrives in America (1594), and inscribes it on the wooden door using minuscule Javanese script. This engraving depicts how Columbus frightened the locals into helping him when he found himself stranded on the shores of Jamaica. Knowing that an eclipse was due to occur, he passed off his scientific knowledge as a prediction of the gods’ anger, and in doing so, falsely secured the locals’ trust.
When the door opens in the exhibition, the room darkens, as though mimicking an eclipse. The door leads to a room featuring images that depict the Javanese myth about the giant Batara Kala, who seeks eternal youth through Tirta Amerta, the Fountain of Youth.
According to the myth, Batara Kala’s actions prompt the ire of Batara Surya, the god of the sun, and Batara Chandra, the god of the moon, and Batara Kala’s intent is reported to Batara Wisnu, the god of truth. Outraged, Batara Wisnu speeds to the Fountain of Youth, and catches Batara Kala in the act of drinking from it. Batara Wisnu slashes Batara Kala’s head off in a fit of anger, but while the rest of his body perishes, the head which had sipped the wonder water remains intact. In Batara Kala’s grudge towards the two gods who had reported on him, he leaves no stone unturned in his vengeful quest to devour both the sun and the moon. This is the story of the eclipse, which dates back to an ancient Javanese text from 998 AD.
In an interesting modern twist, Pradipta responds to the Javanese myth differently by presenting his interpretation of myths if they were to happen in the art world. In Pradipta’s version, dealer-collectors are positioned as mythological beings in the pantheon of contemporary art.
When a dealer-collector obtains several works of a particular artist, such works disappear from circulation for a specific period of time, resulting in an ‘eclipse’ for that artist. Inspired by the red dot that commonly denotes an artwork being sold, Pradipta’s work includes a mini projector that casts a red dot to the screen across it. This dot enlarges into a sphere, and a human shadow obstructs it thereafter.
Myths of old and myths today share how truth can reside between imagination and reality, as they demarcate how societies construct fictions to make sense of the phenomena that affect their realities.