Floating nationality: an examination of Tromarama in the document

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Tromarama, “Beta”, Installation view at DOCUMENT, 2021.

For its first solo exhibition in the United States, Bandung-based artist collective Tromarama anchors Document’s exhibition space with a sophisticated installation, “Beta” (2019), reconfiguring the gallery of white cubes into an artificial banyan tree. , with melodicas and digital prints hanging from the ceiling like aerial roots.

As I open the street-level door that leads to the upstairs gallery complex, I hear jarring sounds, as if a group of elementary school students are getting ready for their music class, doing music. sounds casually on instruments. These sounds come from a dozen suspended melodicas and a few soprano recorders on microphone stands. A tiny fan is connected to a transparent tube which feeds the mouthpiece of each instrument; when turned on, the fan blows air towards the instrument to produce an acoustic sound. These fans are then plugged into a computer that tells them when to turn on or off.

The metaphors behind the work are as complex as the installation itself, and the riddle begins with its homographic title. “Beta” has different meanings in different languages. In English, it indicates the final testing phase of an equipment or computer software. In Malay, it is a mostly obsolete form of addressing “I” or “myself”. The algorithmic “I” residing in this artificial organism, the “thinking work” that decides when to pump air to melodicas and recorders, is a program that captures every tweet tagged with “nationality”. The program translates the text into binary codes; the codes send commands to the fans. The whole process is completed without delving into the actual content of the tweets. It treats the word ‘nationality’ as a floating signifier and takes full advantage of the fact that it is a buzzword on Twitter. This artistic decision nevertheless faithfully reflects the discursive discussions on social networks that are carried by hashtags. We tweet our ads, ideas, or sarcastic comments, and tag it liberally and excessively, without fully investing in the meaning and significance of those labels. “Beta” recycles these pieces of language and ignores them. In the end, the texts are so transformed that we only hear a series of intermittent atonal chords, a little downcast, almost nonchalant. The performers are bored and I can’t really decide if their laissez-faire attitude under the guise of cute musical instruments and toys makes me laugh or sigh.

Tromarama, “Beta”, Installation view at DOCUMENT, 2021.

“Playful” and “humorous” are common descriptors of Tromarama’s work. Founded by Febie Babyrose, Herbert Hans and Ruddy Hatumena in 2006, the collective began making stop motion videos, including music videos for Indonesian bands, such as electronic pop group Rock N Roll Mafia and heavy metal quartet. Syringai. Since 2015, Tromarama has turned to a more multimedia and program-based mode of artistic creation, producing elaborate installations that frequently involve calculations, real-time technologies, videos and everyday objects. What connects these different phases is their love for animation, which, by its broad definition, means evoking a feeling of liveliness from still images or stationary objects. Tromarama’s work is full of this vivacity, whatever the medium. Their previous stop-motion animation, “Ting *” (2014), choreographed identical white crockery, engages in a dance of unity and harmony. “Soliloquy” (2018) – animation reincarnated as an installation – inhabits the exhibition space with flocks of table lamps that turn on and off at an idiosyncratic rhythm, choiring a silent song of light. But the appeal of Tromarama’s work lies in his ability to endow mundane things with an array of personalities: lovable, mischievous, eccentric and shameless. These are things that accompany us, participate in our lives, and over time they take on some of our identities and become emblems of our stories. Melodicas and recorders, for example, are popular instruments for teaching early music, especially in Asia. And for a while, they were required as part of the elementary school curriculum in Indonesia; the students were commissioned to learn to play several Indonesian national songs in order to graduate. To an elementary school student, the concept of “national identity” is probably as intangible and ambiguous as the clouds. The melodica ensemble of “Beta”, animated but abstaining from expressing any liveliness, is a delicate metonymy of this confusion which is doubled by an innocent submission. We can come out of ourselves, but this confusion remains. We are always in constant search of ever-changing identities, personal or national, and we willingly (or unwittingly) submit our true selves to the image of how we present ourselves. The “I” is still in beta. (Nicky Ni)

Tromarama’s “Beta” is on view at Document, 1709 West Chicago, until August 8.


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