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Hello, Dolly: A Quick Handshake With This Exhibition

© 2003 Nin

Preface for Boneka/Dolanan art exhibition
Tanah Liat Studio, Kersan, Yogyakarta, Indonesia
April 6, 2003
Curator: Ugo Untoro
Exhibiting artists: Agus Suwage, Sekar Jatiningrum, Bunga Jeruk, Ugo Untoro, S. Teddy
D., Samuel Indratma, Santo Banana, Asada Kanae, et. al.

If you pay nothing but a hurried glance at the title Ugo Untoro had crowned
the entire range of diversity in this exhibition with, there is nothing
mercilessly shocking, nothing undauntedly novel, nothing unflinchingly
abnormal - it's as bravely avant-garde as the toothpaste in your bathroom.
Or is it?

The message I got ("write this introduction or else -") simply said 'boneka'
- an Indonesian word whose meanings consist of virtually everything in the
area, from Barbie to Pinocchio. As almost an afterthought, it added,
'dolanan' - this Javanese word comprises of, among others, teddy bears,
hopscotch, The Muppets and Sony Playstation.

So it's not that simple.

'Boneka' means at least dolls and puppets regardless of what they were made
of and oblivious of what use they serve. 'Dolanan' is large enough to
encompass the whole range of 'boneka' ('toy') plus anything you could
lawfully play with ('game'), and as a verb its territory spreads so wide
that you'd still within the boundaries if you fly kites, be a Tamiya addict,
and wreck your wife's nerves by a Freudian-rooted stuff you do with the
water hose in the garden ('play').

Both 'boneka' and 'dolanan' might be as old as whichever human civilization
your receiver tends to tune into. Ancient Egyptian tombs showed people at
play. Grecian potteries immortalized the same thing in their own ways. Roman
historic litters bore such things, too. Not all bipedal mammals who played
back then were kids, as a sniff around any Playstation arcade these days
would instantly testify. This, some seemingly invincible theorists said,
sprung out of our intricate inner system that some way or another would
always manage to drag us back to the happy cluelessness of childhood, an
unavoidable fate because we are Homo ludens.

But what are dolls, toys and games to us might be other things to other
people, and vice versa. Folk toys are often nowhere around being playthings.
Myths, religious connotations, symbolism and the like which are deeply
embedded therein, force us to pause before blurting out the common words of
'boneka' and 'dolanan'.

The greatest feat 19th-century has come to, the discovery of a 'public'
within which lies the entity called a 'market', has repulsed a chunk of us
as soon as it was spoken of using the past-tense. The act of 'dolanan'
started as kids began to mimic their surrounding adults, and the first toys
were generated as miniatures of what kept grown-ups busy at the time. We are
now in the 2003rd year of recorded existence and the world doesn't look any
different in that matter, nevermind the invention of plastics and the
digital revolution. The basics of what makes us human survived every
catastrophe the planet has been tired of.

Visibly handmade, some bring forth the look of seemingly being created by a
blind toddler in the dead of the night, ancient 'toys' could immediately
give the sense of something sinister, something out of this world, something
surreal or supernatural; the Pokemon plush you snatched off the store
yesterday for your kid might be entirely devoid of anything but some loud
stench of capitalism and a sophisticated smell of mass-production. Yet, both
could (and who says they wouldn't?) serve the same purposes.

That's exactly the point; inanimate objects be whatever you want them to be.
You could bow to a wooden puppet on an altar or you could use it as a
doorstop or you could add it to the pyre. This applies to the plural 'you'
just as it does to the singular. Whether it is your community, culture,
ethnic, race, or just your very own self, dolls and games mean only what you
mean them to mean.

Dolls are dolls, period; no further complication. But if you choose to
craddle a wooden doll and for five minutes or so make-believe that you were
its parent, or you thunder military orders to it, or you simply kick it
around, then you have just baptised the doll as a toy. Even the act that
smacks of some psychopathology - kicking the doll around - makes it a toy,
on one condition: if you enjoy the act like a five year-old enjoys its
vanilla sundae, and that to you it serves as what a ball is born to be.
That's the clincher - nothing short of unexplainable joy, enjoyment and a
dash of self-satiating desire could make 'dolanan' ('toy'), any action other
than that would be nothing near ' dolanan' ('play'). If the doll does
nothing and is the object of nothing, all that it does is just sitting there
in an air-conditioned gallery, then it has absolutely no right to call
itself a toy.

Otherwise it might be a psychiatric case. Voodoo dolls could fit into the
description if we stretch it that way.

This exhibition, as far as I can tell, doesn't care a fig about the things
that I so far have wasted three pages for. That's not so smart, but there
might be something like the upside of disregard or ignorance of
categorizations - namely, freedom. You could make your own toy or a toy for
anybody. You could craft a doll that is not a toy or a toy that isn't a
doll. You could assemble whatever happens to be within your dust bin and
call it a toy or a doll, or none of the above but the activity itself is a
game. You could yield some childhood reenactment, you could put forth
something adult via the objects people usually dub childish, you could share
some joy, you could expose sad toys. It could be a solitary or communal
game. It could be airtightly personal or frontierlessly interactive. It
could be, in conclusion, anything at all.

It could be an argument of why this exhibition is dubbed 'art'. Art dolls
are never toys, art games isn't synonymous with play, but what the heck. As
long as you can get someone to verbally justify the shift, as far as Planet
Art is concerned, no problem.
 
Postscripts:
*
It is the common pro and con case that toys might have jumped into existence
in the Neolithic or Mesolithic age. Historical records and archeological
specimens around toys could help us to track the development back to the 1st
century, but sort of comprehensive pictures of the subject are only gained
since around the Medieval Ages.
*
Among the earliest evidence of toys came from China, around 5000-4000 B.C.
*
Examples of scholars and the like, who had shown some interest and actual
study of toys, include Jan Amos Komensky (17th century), Jean-Jacques
Rousseau (1712-1778), and Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852). The latter,
universally regarded as the one who founded the thing we call Kindergarten,
even systematically classified and invented toys and games. Of course the
three of them saw toys as kids' playthings, and their outlook was
educational.

Bibliographies:
*
Verbal: Barenholtz, B. dan I. McClintock, American Antique Toys 1830-1900,
New York, 1980; Caiger, D. Dolls in Display: Japan in Miniature, Tokyo,
1933; Fraser, A., A History of Toys, London, 1966; Kandert, J., The World of
Toys, London, 1992; Mookerjee, A., Indian Dolls and Toys, New Delhi, 1968;
Whitton. B. Toys: The Knopf Collector's Guide to American Antiques, New
York, 1984
*
Visual: Toy Story and Toy Story II, Disney; Small Soldiers, Disney; Winnie
the Pooh, Disney; and a great chunk of other movies featuring dolls and
toys. Including the horror genre that encompasses the likes of The Bride of
Chucky and The Puppet Master. Si Unyil (Indonesia), The Muppets (U.S.) and
Legend of the White Tiger (China) could also fit here. Up to some limits
clay animation such as in the computer game Neverhood and the films Wallace
and Gromit and Nightmare Before Christmas could be regarded as being crowded
with dolls.
*
Audio: Barbie Girl, Aqua