Heri Dono, Palace Guards, 2006

Art Blog // Heri Dono

The western world is used to its own ideas of apocalyptic decay and future salvation. Endless movies, novels, and even Fox news stories seem obsessed with what the coming world's end may look like, or more specifically, what we may look like. An evil military usually plays a role, and there are cyborg-like developments in our everyday appearance. Also typical is a quasi-religious savior that springs from the very masses that it must save. Think, Neo from the Matrix series, or the tattooed child from Water World.

When forced to think about these same inevitabilities from an eastern perspective, however, and one may fall back on some common stereotypes: group think, mask-like facial exaggerations, a mechanical military, maybe a dragon or two. But when Heri Dono envisions these spectacular times, he proves that not only are our basic expectations of an Asian end-of-the-world-rule correct, but they are more correct than we could have ever imagined, to an utterly creepy degree.

Dono employs electronics repairmen in Indonesia to build his lo-tech armies of flying monkey-like creatures, cricket-hissing heads, and twittering fossils. His world is built from a mock past. Fiberglass structures appearing as stone are engineered with flashing lights and small, exposed speakers.

The sculptures from Born and Freedom are treated like ancient, unearthed artifacts from a darker age. Their garish faces, large toothless smiles, and tethered dogs of the same ilk, are both carnival, and deadly ritual.

Palace Guards, a free-standing set of three sculptures, likewise presents a dual image of puppetry and domination. The torsos of three military figures of considerable rank sit atop bike tires, creating wheelchairs surgically attached to their underbellies. From behind, thick, heavy lizard tails extend to the floor, implying a delicate, if not parasitic existence of another fiend. The guards posture as though in a parade, feigning interest in the non-existence crowd with a lazy wave of the hand.

Along side these gruesome images, are angelic structures. One group, Flying Angels, hang from the ceiling in a chaotic formation, their wings slowly grinding back and forth with a toy-like noise. Their tiny genitalia hang like silly ornaments, a useless, unthreatening remnant of their evolutionary past. And two other apparatuses, Flying in a Cocoon, depict more serene visitors, encased in a kind of paper zepplin. While such other-worldly creatures would, in Western tradition, be seen as saviors, they are here presented as divine failures deformed and damaged by the world they were meant to save. Their childlike innocence fades, giving way to the vulnerability of their armless bodies. Their cocoons serve as permanent incubators against the outside world.

The apocalyptic world of Heri Dono is not one that gets saved. The power of good and evil is consumed by the more powerful need for survival. Darkness and light continue to exist in order to illuminate each other, but neither side claims victory, or even consistency. They tear apart and rearrange each other into conglomerate beings, delighting, it seems, in their own devilish vigor.

Heri Dono: Civilization Oddness
Walsh Gallery, Chicago
July 21—Oct 7, 2006



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