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24,901 Miles: around the world in performance art


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It was a butter dance that first brought Indonesian performance artist Melati Suryodarmo to international attention.

Performed to the soundtrack of beating drums, the work saw Suryodarmo enter a performance space and proceed to dance – wearing red high heels and a short black dress – on 20 slabs of butter.

Although Exergie – Butter Dance (video below) was created when the artist was a student and first presented in 2000, she says it remains one of her most important works: “It still has a very close relationship with my present life.”

Since then, Suryodarmo has cemented her reputation as something of a maverick performance artist, and for this month’s OzAsia Festival in Adelaide she will present the world premiere of a new live durational work commissioned by the festival.

Here, Suryodarmo talks to InDaily about her art and what audiences can expect from 24,901 Miles, which will be presented across five hours this Friday and Saturday in the Banquet Room of the Adelaide Festival Centre.  

What ideas and themes are explored in 24,901 Miles?

Melati-Suryodarmo-224,901 Miles draws on my exploration of distance, displacement, migration and the strangeness between strangers.

The title of the work refers to the distance around the Earth at the equator. Looking at the idea of the equator as a symbolic circle, I am inspired by the many cultures around the world that use this symbol to explain the concept of there being no beginning or end; that there are no divisions.

The circle is therefore the perfect symbol of completeness, eternity and the soul.  However, a circle is also a boundary, an enclosure, a symbol of completion and returning cycles. By investigating the idea of the equator as a beautiful, symbolic reality, I address the idea of the cyclical journey.

My most recent research has focused on the basic human need to find a home, to build a shelter wherever and whenever we arrive somewhere.

Through my own experiences of migration, living between Indonesia and Germany, this shelter for me came in the form of my own body. My body became a container – one which continues to provide me with shelter, and which stores my memories, my emotional energy and genetics.

What can audiences expect from the live durational performance?

The public can enter the performance space and witness the performance as long as they want, and they may come in and leave, and maybe come back again to watch at a different time.

They will experience this work according to their own perceptions. It is like when you see an exhibition.

The performance will go for five hours, from 11am to 4pm.

In addition to live performance, what other elements will 24,901 Miles include?

Like my other works, 24,901 Miles will be a room/space installation which uses materials such as earth and other props.

You were born in Indonesia and later migrated to Germany – how did this affect the development of your art practice?

First, the quality of education in Germany was very important to me. It gave me training to be independent artist, and an artist who can be responsible for the work created.

Living in a country not of your origin also fulfills a need to experience a different kind of way of life, no matter how positive or negative it may be. Germany has given me so many ideas and pushed me to learn more about diversity of human life, history, culture and other related things.

The distance from my own culture has encouraged me to try to understand it better – I think there is always a phase of seeking one’s own cultural identity if you were abroad.

Where do you find the inspiration and ideas for your new works?

It can come from anything and anywhere.

I am mostly interested in life events and experiences, starting from my own personal life and surroundings. I like to observe cultural as well as socio-political behavior and historical backgrounds.

For me, to create a work is to learn about life itself. The process of creating comes first; the final decision about whether it will be performance art, a video or photography will come to the very end phase of the process.

Melati Suryodarmo “Exergie – Butter Dance” from Kunstbanken Hedmark Kunstsenter on Vimeo.

Melati Suryodarmo will present 24,901 Miles in the Adelaide Festival Centre Banquet Room from 11am until 4pm this Friday and Saturday, September 25-26. OzAsia Festival is also presenting a collection of Suryodarmo’s documented live performance works and video artworks at the Contemporary Art Centre of SA (CACSA) and Artspace Gallery.

The OzAsia Festival opens this Thursday and continues until October 4.

More OzAsia Festival stories:

OzAsia goes to the cutting edge (program launch)

OzAsia show sheds light on dark history (Mwathirika )

A slice of modern Indonesian street life (The Streets)

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