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22 July 2014

A Cicada in the Hand

Indonesian rice goddesses, bio art and centipedes as long as your arm - it's all in a day's work for artist and scientist Dr Brian Degger.

(c) Brian Degger

Dr Brian Degger visited Yogyakarta, Indonesia for HackteriaLab14 (HLab14), an open source biological art lab hosted by Lifepatch (Indonesia) and facilitated by Hackteria. One of the challenges to HLab14's participants was to redefine and try out how an artistic practice can support social innovation, cultural shifts, change and at the same time able to be positioned in its own discipline. For the ecological research node (the name for the different sections of the lab) he visited the Wonosadi Forest.  Here he talks about his experience.

 Wonosadi is one of the last natural forests in Java. This forest is protected by the local villagers in close collaboration with Green Tech Community, a local citizen initiative that works with the village and out of Universitas Gadjah Mada.

 We arrived in two local mini buses, the standard travel for small groups, and a few brave souls travelled on scooter, it's only 45 km from Yogyakarta, but the roads are very twisty. Upon arrival at the village we were given a talk about the importance of the forest, a traditional meal and a demonstration of “Gejlog Lesung”.

Gejog Lesung is a form of thanksgiving to the Goddess Sri (Goddess of Rice) for the abundance of the harvest. The distinctive tools are the pestle and lesungnya (a boat-like hollowed out log) used in threshing rice, which doubles as an instrument to accompany the singers.

Then, as dusk was falling, we left the village on foot to climb up a steep muddy slope to camp on the Ngenuman plateau - the heart of the forest. The stand-out feature was the 500 year old giant munggur tree (tamarind). What followed was a night of catching strange insects, like those strange strident noise makers cicada (pictured), and centipedes that weren't much shorter than my forearm. 

In the lead up to the trip I had read a lot about Wonosadi, how it is a key example of how a "commons" is maintained for a community, to act as a repository of folklore, herbal medicine, fresh water and a site of community activity. The Yogyarkarta region experiences drought each year, but because of this small forest (25 Hectares), the local village has spring water all year round. The Green Tech Community helps by surveying the forest and building the cultivation food in the forest outskirts.

 I am so thankful to them for introducing us to the forest, for ferrying all those tents up to the Ngenuman plateau and for keeping us fed and happy. Wonosadi, is a place I would love to spend more time in with the Green Tech Community.

Briefly: Things I learnt: the challenge of glass working from recycled glass/the awe of Ivan (a glass artist) who makes it look easy, bookbinding using envelopes, silk-screening t-shirts. Things I liked: citizen sensing with a GPS enabled coconut, meeting a live fish-food catcher.  Things I exhibited: a shaking apparatus made from a dead cd-drive, a series of artificial pools with river code aquatic inhabitants in conjunction with the BIOSC project. Future collaborations? Yes! Plan to get back to Yogyarkarta for the Critical Making Symposium late 2015

Brian's participation in HackteriaLab14 was funded by the Artists' International Development Fund (AIDF) which is jointly supported by Arts Council England and the British Council.  

Twitter: @drbrian




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HLab14's participants are challenged to redefine and try out how an artistic practice can support social innovation, cultural shifts, change and at the same time able to be positioned in its own discipline.