Within the last two decades, industries and tourism resorts rapidly changed the landscapes of Bandung, the city where I was raised and currently live. Bandung was once known as "the Paris of Java" due to its beauty, as well as the capital of West Java, the Dutch colonies' largest plantation site. Later, after the independence of Indonesia, this very site experienced the emergence of industries which replaced traditional social systems and social relationships between local communities within their living spaces. Farmers who used to work on their lands to grow rice must now work in landfills collecting plastic waste which are waste byproducts of the garment or furniture factories that are operating nearby. These factories produce colours for fabrics and everyday furniture made from plastic, such as casing for phones, laptops, and plastic buckets. The river, which was once a source of irrigation for the rice fields in the area, is now polluted by the waste from these factories. The environmental degradation has led to several catastrophes, such as deluges and birth defects in the surrounding neighbourhood. It has also contributed to the loss of traditional arts, along with local wisdom that has been centred on nature. As I witnessed and lived through such conditions, it naturally became an entrance for me to investigate and speak about environmental issues in my works.

Since I began studying fine art at Bandung Institute of Technology in 2006, my approach towards understanding art has been evolving. As an artist with a background in painting, my practice has expanded into the medium of performance as a need to engage with the urgencies of the everyday and to work with and speak to a broader community. Questions of identity and environment, tradition and modernity have been at the core of my work. In my early works, I used an ethnographic approach as a method to observe how industrialization brings up issues of urbanization and gentrification, and its effects on a specific community: the land-use conflict, trash and waste, resources, and contestation of spaces. The notion of ‘landscape’ has always played an important role in my practice, and I engaged with it differently. In several performances, I explored our close bodily connection with the landscape, how we can blend in or stand out, how we become part of the environment or an extension of it.

I have also been looking into ‘landscape’ as my immediate environment is defined by urgencies and concerns. This has been the driving force behind the long-term project, Titik Balik, which continues at present. In 2014, I started to work with a community of fishermen in Ciburuy, a small village located 22km away from my hometown Bandung. In the past years, Situ Ciburuy, the lake around which the villager's settlements were established and which constituted a source of the local economy, was heavily polluted. This degradation process is partially connected to the activity of a factory where more than 50% of the Ciburuy inhabitants are currently working. The fishing activity has been replaced by the work in the factory, leaving the lake in a state of neglect, forgetfulness and lack of purpose. As a self-initiated project, I decided to spend time and engage with the local fishermen's activities. My work unfolded in several stages, a critical moment being the recuperation of an old boat. This boat belongs to one of the fishermen but has been left derelict and buried under the water due to lack of use. With his consent, I pulled the boat from the water and together with other fishermen and artists, we dragged the boat from Ciburuy to Bandung on the dry surface of the asphalt. We walked on the highway built by the Dutch during colonial times, part of a major modernization plan driven by economic interests that have radically shaped Bandung and how its locals relate to their environment until now. I also developed this work into an installation and a series of landscape paintings to mediate and translate my performative actions into the still realm of the image. I see this project as an ongoing and wider reflection on the relationship between tradition and modernity, the relation between man and landscape and how they shape and subject each other.

In some of my latest works, I have been interested in exploring the dimension of history when investigating a conflicted site, collecting the people's personal and collective memories about their space, sense of belonging, home and roots. This curiosity has led me to work on a current project about Barus, a small village on the western coast of North Sumatra, where my parents come from. The village was named after the camphor tree, as it was a precious commodity in the past. However, none of my extended family ever saw this tree, and only kept a resin from it as a memento and a family heirloom. I have made several art projects about Barus in various forms: performances, video works, drawings, and board games from 2016 until now. The research about Barus has required me to unpack the history of modernity in Indonesia and my own heritage in relation to Dutch colonialism.

AliansyahCaniago © 2023