December 31, 2015

Batik: Pattern vs. Technique

As the title of this post already points out their is a 'pattern vs. technique' debate going on. Or at least when I talk about Batik I noticed that there is a lot of confusion on what is Batik. Is it the technique or the pattern that defines it? And why is there a difference between the two?
When you share your fascination, people will share their interpretation of that fascination with you. It can be educational, confronting and even laughable and it will show you what needs to improve, in your way of sharing or in what you share to make your fascination come across.
The number of times people ask me if I make Mandala's when explaining my work, is equal to the response "Do you make Batik?" to my "I study Batik". When I then reply "No, I don't make Batik, I study the philosophy of Batik", people don't understand why. In their eyes it's a simple technique they practiced themselves when they were younger. The strange and funny thing is, all Dutch people that lived through the Seventies are Batik makers! No really! At least you almost start believing that when sharing your fascination for Batik. But dear people, what you were making in the Seventies was not Batik, yes the technique was similar, applying hot wax to a cloth to make different layers of colour, but it is not Batik! 
But what is Batik then? Well, that's why I'm starting with this post, in which I surely can not explain the complex duality between technique and patterns in Batik, but I will make a start. 
Last week an almost-cry-for-help came from Indonesia with the title 'Indonesia tries to hang onto traditional art of batik'. After being selected as UNESCO heritage in 2009, Batik started as what seemed as a flourishing uprise. But now only 6 years later Batik is still under pressure. New Batik makers are hard to find, the wages are to little to make a decent living, printed cloths flood the market and tourist & locals all keep buying the fake Batiks, because they can't tell the difference. The same problems that made Batik an almost disappeared tradition when I visited Java in 2009. My book 'Batik, a forgotten industry' about this journey is unfortunately still very up to date. Of course, just like the ones I describe in my book, some Batik makers keep on going and try to work with natural dye and re-inventing traditional patterns, but it is not enough. 
Okay, we know the problems, but how to fix them? The government of Indonesia already made a smart choice by getting Batik on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of UNESCO. But what is protected and how can you protect it? 
I get angry at people who don't know what real Batik is, or businesses that sell printed Batik while marketing they want to protect and preserve Batik. Well, by not selling or buying Batik Tulis, you will not protect or preserve it! But I hadn't read the actual document either and when Renske Heringa pointed out to me: how do they know what to protect if they haven't even informed themselves? I knew there is still a lot of work to be done.
So let's start, what is the heritage everyone celebrates since 2 October 2009:
The techniques, symbolism and culture surrounding hand-dyed cotton and silk garments known as Indonesian Batik permeate the lives of Indonesians from beginning to end(....)Batik is dyed by proud craftspeople who draw designs on fabric using dots and lines of hot wax, which resists vegetable and other dyes and therefore allows the artisan to colour selectively by soaking the cloth in one colour, removing the wax with boiling water and repeating if multiple colours are desired(....)The wide diversity of patterns reflects a variety of influences, ranging from Arabic calligraphy, European bouquets and Chinese phoenixes to Japanese cherry blossoms and Indian or Persian peacocks. Often handed down within families for generations, the craft of batik is intertwined with the cultural identity of the Indonesian people and, through the symbolic meanings of its colours and designs, expresses their creativity and spirituality.(...)
Okay, and an even shorter version, it is a technique that allows you to make patterns on textiles which can be worn during special occasions. 
But when you don't know what the technique is, how it works, what it looks like, what the patterns or colours look like and when, how or what for it can be worn, you will not know what Batik is.
Okay, but do we all have to study Batik to know Batik? Well, I don't know. I've been writing, sharing, talking Batik for 6 years now, but when I got a fake printed Batik this year as a gift, my heart broke a little. This Batik was bought on Bali in a batik workshop. The tourists get a tour of the factory with real people making real Batik Tulis and then they sell them printed Batiks as Batik Tulis. How can this be possible? Maybe all our wooden shoes are machine made as well nowadays, so I'm in no position to write about this, but... Why go through the effort of making something a heritage if you are still going to lose it?

Next year will be all about Batik for me! Starting with a visit to Galerie Smend in Köln (Germany) and hopefully making a great project on Java by end of the year. So hope to see you on my journey to Batik in 2016 and wish you a happy New Year!

Do you see the difference? Front and back of Batik Tulis (my own design from Jeruk), Batik Cap (this brand is for sale at Dierenpark Taman Indonesia), handstamped cloth from Staphorst (NL), Wax print from Vlisco, Wax print from Julius Holland Wax, Java Print from Vlisco, two Batiks motive printed cloths

No this is not Batik! Books & tools from the Seventies to make 'Batik' on Batiks motive printed cloths

Canting pens on Batik Tulis, with these kind of tools a very well trained Batik maker can make a traditional Batik Tulis, like the Batik Tulis (my own design from Jeruk) in the photo

Natural Dye on a chemical dyed Batik Cap, starting at the top moving clockwise: Lerak, Jelawe, Tegeran (yellow) and Tinggi (brown)

Read more on:
- the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of UNESCO: Batik
- Previous post on how to buy real batik 'The real deal'

December 11, 2015

New stuff, cheap stuff, mass production stuff & thrown away stuff

Trying for some days now to write a post about the sudden trend in showing colonial goods. In a row, first last years 'Asian Art and Dutch Taste' at Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, now in Rijksmuseum 'Asia>Amsterdam', at V&A 'Fabric of India', at Volkenkunde Museum an exhibition about the Peranakan culture in Indonesia and the 'Levez l'encre !' exhibition at the Museum Royal De Mariemont were they show the cargo of a sunken trading ship found in 2004 of the coast of Java (from before our colonial presence in Indonesia, but about trading routes) and the upcoming 'Catwalk' in Rijks about Dutch fashion from 1625 till 1960.
I'm exited by this trend, but I can't figure out if it is good (making more people aware of our colonial past is good, but when it is focussed on stuff..) or bad (only stuff, not the suffering). So I can't write about it yet, I do try to visit as many of the exhibitions mentioned above and I advices you to do the same. And if you did, let me know what you think (comment below please)!
Why I also can't write about it now is because of my daily worry about our planet. It feels a bit silly to make statements about our past if we should really focus on our future right now.
So before I will write about our stuff filled Colonial past, with in mind that Museums show us now that our past was filled with beautifully crafted masterpieces from abroad, but leave out the costs. Not only the costs on people, but also the cost on nature. If we don't want to talk about our crimes against humanity, can we then maybe share what we did (and are doing) to nature? How our greed changed landscapes, whole islands in order to get the spices, textiles and wooden furniture we longed for in Europe. And that this trend hasn't stopped since?

So instead of dealing with old stuff: How to deal with our stuff in the present and the nearby future? How to deal with our need for new stuff, cheap stuff, mass production stuff and thrown away stuff.
In my previous post about the Dutch Design Week I already wrote about stuff, a lot, and about the question when designers (and artists) stop doing projects based on Save-the-world-stuff and start making it a daily ritual.

In this post some nice examples of dealing with stuff in a "There is a future"- kind of way.
First: Handcrafted, traditional crafted merchandise as opposed to massmassmassproduced merchandise. Populo Batik*, a Jakarta based Batik shop, made a series of products for the Star Wars fans while mixing in traditional Indonesian cultural handicrafts. In their theme-store you can buy black & white hand-stamped (Batik Cap) patterns of Yoda, stars and 'May the force be with you' on shirts, hoodies and kimonos. On Instagram they shared also Darth Vader & Stormtrooper Javanese hand-painted wooden masks.** Brilliant!
It makes me happy to see that entrepreneurs are looking for ways to honour traditions while indulging in popular culture and try to do this in an earth-friendly way. And I'm pleasantly surprised that it is Batik they do this with!! Inspiring stuff Populo Batik! Wish I could pop in the shop!! If you are near Jakarta, make sure to check it out!

Opening of Populo Batik Star wars Store, photo from Facebook

From Instagram

Opening of Populo Batik Star wars Store, Photo from Facebook

From Instagram

Second: Educating Fashion victims about the true nature of their addiction. In the Temporary Fashion Museum you walk through a maze of nicely selected vintage, experimental garments and a killerheel selfiebooth. Fashion is the name, and it is shown in all its colours. In all its colours, you may wonder...Well yes, there is even room, a whole floor, about our wasteful lifestyle and it is so nicely brought that while admiring the colourful carpets being knitted, your conscience can nicely creep up on you. For the installation 'Fashion Machine' countless fleece sweaters were cut up and the polyethylene yarn put on spools again.*** In the video below you see a short impression of that process. But what they don't mention on the website of Het Nieuwe Instituut is the video shown next to this one. In the video you see piles and piles of clothing, our thrown away clothes, getting shipped to India were they get a similar treatment like the sweaters in the 'Fashion Machine'. The women in the video share their theories about western women based on our waste. One of my favorite ones was that water must be very expensive in Europe, because most clothing is still new and hasn't been washed once. Next to these thoughts on "western civilization" you see beautiful women dressed in sari's cutting, ripping, pilling up & stripping our clothing. After 4 or 5 steps in which in different places the clothing gets transformed into this grayish dust-like mass, they spin yarn from it. From this yarn blankets are made, the grey blankets you can buy at hardware-stores, and shipped back to where the clothing first came from, us...
This whole process is a very scary & crazy process and I'm happy that Het Nieuwe Instituut shows with the Temporary Fashion Museum not only the glitter & glamour, but the Art, the Craft and the Waste!

Threads made from sweaters, 
part of the 'Fashion Machine' at  the Temporary Fashion Museum

Knitting with the sweater-yarn, 
part of the 'Fashion Machine' at  the Temporary Fashion Museum

And the last & third: Using waste to address waste. Contemplating our future and how we could ever achieve a way of living without producing waste, trash & garbage, this temporary carpet by Leo Fitzmaurice brightened my week.**** The work from already 10 years ago address our wasteful behavior in a very nice way. Don't know if it was the plan behind this work, but it works very well.*****

'I Knew You All Along', made from leftover flyers, 
2005, by Leo Fitzmaurice

Wished I made this...few weeks back I made a 'partypack' with garlands, confetti and toothpicks with flags in honor of 25 year celebration of IDFX from their old, leftover flyers. It's on display from 17 December till 9 January at IDFX in Breda (NL). Hope I inspired you with this post to think about your stuff. Not only the stuff you own,  but also the stuff you are going to throw away, want-to-buy or get with Christmas!

'IDFX Partypack', made from leftover flyers of their events
2015, by me

* Website of Populo Batik
** Instagram page of Populo Batik
***
**** Saw it on 
***** More about Leo Fitzmaurice work on