May 20, 2022

Gruss aus Wien

Looking together at the Little Red Riding Hood, photo by Klaus Rink

Giving my talk at the Weltmuseum, photo by Klaus Rink

On the 3th of May I was welcomed in Vienna in Austria to give a talk on my research project 'Re-telling the history of the (Indo-)European on Batik' and to see the Batik collection kept at the Weltmuseum. It is such an honour to be invited, especially by textile friends as Klaus Rink and Jani Kuhnt.
Since I am preparing my next visit for a talk, I wanted to make first a post on my adventures in Vienna. As always I left with more then I came. I was so inspired, surprised and felt really spoiled. It was my first time traveling abroad since the pandemic. The train ride through the changing landscape from flatland, to hills with yellow field, to snow covered mountains in the distance was wonderful to experience.
I was lucky I had Klaus Rink to guide me around and picking me up at the station. The next morning we met at the Weltmuseum. My talk was in the evening, but first we got to dive into the collection.

Julia Zeindl, Reinhard Blumauer, Klaus Rink and Barbara Pönighaus-Matuella

I made a selection before I went. Everyone at the museum was really busy preparing for a new exhibition that would be build up te next day, still there was time made for me to see the Batiks I requested. Most Batiks they have, they told me, would be on display. In 2015 curator Jani Kuhnt made a selection from the collection to create a huge display in the museum. The display has been up since 2017. Still there were many beauties for me to look at.
I was welcomed together with Klaus at the textile conservation department by Reinhard Blumauer, Barbara Pönighaus-Matuella and Julia Zeindl. Conservator Barbara had suggested I grouped the Batiks in a favourite, group A, and less favourite, group B, and we would just see how far we got.

Being in a depot outside of the Netherlands, it was interesting to see how the Batiks were handled, or not just handled, also kept. In the Netherlands the Batiks are kept preferable on roles, multiple batiks, diveded with acid free paper. If they cannot be kept on roles, because it takes a lot of space, they are kept in boxes, again acid free, folded with acid free paper between each batik. 
In the Weltmuseum most Batiks are kept in boxes too, but they do not fold, not exactly, the batiks are kept loosely, roled in a way, so no new creases are made. This methode is time-consuming, to get the batiks out almost all items need to get out of the box. But a big plus is that the batiks are nice and flat. Another trick I saw, is that in the box, covering all the Batiks, is a big cloth of unbleached cotton. Barbara explained it is to keep the Batiks from shifting in the box, but it is also a good way of spotting any unwelcome guests. Bugs (or mold, help!) can be easily spotted on the white cotton.

As mentioned before I made a selection, based on limited info and small parcel pictures. The result did not disappointed at all. I am just sharing some photos me & Klaus took. I hope I can address some of pieces I saw in later writings, so for now just some eye-candy.
I was very happy to see a Little Red Riding Hood batik up-close again. This one is signed 'N(on)y(a) Oiy King Liem, Kedoeng Woeni 5'. The piece was donated by the same collector as who donated 3 beautiful and fascinating batiks signed 'Oei Khing Liem'. While the name/batikworkshop Oei Khing Liem is well-known, I wander if the Little Red Riding Hood is signed wrongly, on purpose, to pass for being one by Oei Khing Liem. 
Whatever the explanation wil turn out to be for the signature, the piece itself is stunning, odd, yet great. It is a Kain Panjang, so has no Kepala. The edges are decorated with a bright, probably synthetic red that seemed to be added at the very end. Little Red Riding Hood is recognisable from her predecessor on Batik with a decorated skirt/apron in dark blue and licht blue and a red cap. Her face is added by pen it seems, with sometimes missing pupils. The wolf is transformed into a guard lion, something you see this in later versions. The more the makers got removed from the original illustration, the more the wolf got replaced by something local, something the pembatiks would know, in this case a Chinese style guard lion. The empty tree is decorated with flowers, because an empty tree is just wrong in the tropics {except Teak who can loose its leaves in draught}.
The fusion between East & West is made even more clear by the filling motif, the isen-isen. It is made in a delicate, precise Sogan. The blue was dyed first on this Batik, and was overdyed in brown, creating a dark blue in the process. Not a typical colour for the Northcoast, and not a usual first step. The isen-isen itself is 'Tikar', or bamboo mat, the ones used often in houses for the wall. This is a very classic Javanese motif. Commonly Little Red Riding Hood is placed on a blanc background. 
So a great piece of which over time I hope to learn more.

The Weltmuseum collection doesn't only hold great full size cloths, it also has smaller pieces, parts of sarongs and very damaged ones. It is great to see these pieces are kept with as much care as the more perfect ones. It was also refreshing to hear displaying damaged pieces is not seen as something impossible. Where Batiks in the Netherlands are hardly on display and only perfect conditioned ones make it to the public eyes, Barbara said she sees it as her job as a conservator to make every display possible. 
The Batiks are labelled with a small cord with a number. If older labels or stickers are on the textiles, they are kept on the textile too. In the museum the labels return too. Where in the Netherlands any sign of a label, whether it is by the museum or from previous owners or of historical interest, they are hidden from the public view. In Weltmuseum the labels are as much on display as the objects. I think it is great that they show this side of the objects too, their history being part of an collection.

Label on textile in the Weltmuseum

Another signed pieces that left an impression was this one signed with simply 'Marjam'. Since I posted this Batik in my insta stories too, another 'Marjam' in the same colours and with the same elongated beaked bird came on my path. Maybe more 'Marjam' Batiks are out there, who knows, will be looking out for them. This one is made in Cap and Tulis, so a 'Kombinasi'. The purple and blue colours get really fashionable in Batik around 1920-1930's. It is actually one of my favourite colourcombinations and I have many new Batiks from Lasem like this.

Batik signed 'Marjam'

The last piece I share here came actually from the Netherlands. It was in the former Museum Nusantara collection. It wasn't on the list I got from the Weltmuseum, but I knew from the Nusantara collection site it ended up here. This fragile, very damaged beauty is a great piece of more modern Batik history. Signed by 'Gan Tji­oe Liam' from Pekalongan, of the Gan Family, of whom I was recently with a descendent in a talk, Ibu Indrawati Gondowinoto. 

After many Batiks and a really great shared lunchbreak, we also headed together to the batik filled room in the Weltmuseum. In 2015 Jani Kuhnt did an deep dive into the batikcollection of the Weltmuseum and invited my batikmentor, batikexpert Pak William Kwam & Museum Tekstil Jakarta textile conservator Mas Benny Gratha to examine all the batiks. The selection and info are on display in a big collage since 2017. 
The room is really dark, which it ahs to be to preserve the batiks and they are layered over eachother, so  it is not the best way to view them. I got to see them with a flashlight, which was fun and also very helpful. I added here below two photos of the same Batik. This Sogan coloured sarong is the oldest in the collection, as in the oldest to enter the collection. It was apparently bought during an expedition to Indonesia and bought back from Java in 1860. The original label is attached. With the flashlight I got to see beautiful dark blue tumpals and a fine, crackle brown coloured pattern. But vistors see what you see on the first photo. The display is far from perfect, but it is currently one of the bigger displays of Batiks in any European museum as far as I know. 

In the room with the Batiks was also a huge painting by Raden Saleh. Impressive to see, although a littel dark to see well. The painting from around 1870 is explained to be showing colonial rule, the museum says perhaps the British and the Dutch as the tigers, attacking the Javanese man and each other.
I also got to see the exhibition 'Silk Roads' that had it last day that day. Filled with batiks, I had little room to see more, but I hope I can return in the not so far away future to explore the Weltmuseum further.

'Two tigers fight over a dead Javanese' by Raden Saleh

Relief tiles, Kashan, c. 1308 at 'Silk Roads'

Ikats from Uzbekistan  at 'Silk Roads'

New ikats from Uzbekistan  at 'Silk Roads', design by Dilyara Kaipova

Teapots at 'Silk Roads'

Day 2 in Wien

I only been to Vienna once before. It was there when I was 15 or 16 years old on our way for our exchange in Budapest in Hungary. We were there for maybe an hour, took a photo in front of the palace and drove through the city. I remember seeing this golden roof, it got imprinted in my mind. I had no wishes or pre-made plans what I wanted to see thsi time, but I knew I had to see this building again. Before I went I looked it up and turned out the building I saw is the Wienner Secession

- The Vienna Secession (German: Wiener Secession; also known as the Union of Austrian Artists, or Vereinigung Bildender Künstler Österreichs) is an art movement, closely related to Art Nouveau, that was formed in 1897 by a group of Austrian painters, graphic artists, sculptors and architects, including Josef Hoffman, Koloman Moser, Otto Wagner and Gustav Klimt. They resigned from the Association of Austrian Artists in protest against its support for more traditional artistic styles. Their most influential architectural work was the Secession Building designed by Joseph Maria Olbrich as a venue for expositions of the group. Their official magazine was called Ver Sacrum (Sacred Spring, in Latin), which published highly stylised and influential works of graphic art. In 1905 the group itself split, when some of the most prominent members, including Klimt, Wagner, and Hoffmann, resigned in a dispute over priorities, but it continued to function, and still functions today,[when?] from its headquarters in the Secession Building. In its current[when?] form, the Secession exhibition gallery is independently led and managed by artists.
    - Wikipedia

When I was young(er), I was pretty obsessed with Klimt's work, the movbement he was part of and it sparked my wish to study Art. At the Art Academy Klimt was not done, the whole of Art Nouveau actually nor any other thing I liked for that matter. I couldn't understand why Klimt was seen as bad, or I think they preferred calling it "decorative Art", so kept my appreciation for his Art and that of his peers to myself mostly.
That so many years later I am back at this building, a place where today Art is still celebrated, after seeing & sharing about Batiks, doing my own thing, finally, felt like a full circle kind of moment. 

Klaus was my guide for the day, thank you so much, and he had a surprise for me in store. He told me that about puppets with batiks on at the Theatermuseum I could see. When we arrived, the museum was closed that day, but we were welcomed by Angela Sixt, Curator and restorator at the Theatermuseum. The building itself is already stunning and following Klaus and Angela I had no idea what we were going to look at until we entered the room dedicated to puppeteer Richard Teschner:

Richard Teschner, (born March 22, 1879, Carlsbad, Bohemia, Austria-Hungary—died July 4, 1948, Vienna, Austria), puppeteer who developed the artistic potentialities of the Javanese rod puppet for western puppet theatre.
Teschner studied art in Prague and was already an accomplished puppeteer and stage designer when, in 1906, he established his own marionette company in Prague. Five years later, while travelling in the Netherlands, he became interested in the rod-puppet figures brought by Dutch explorers from Java. Returning to Vienna, he opened a small rod-puppet theatre called Figuren Spiegel (Figure Mirror). Teschner variations on the Javanese figure resulted in such figures as the woman whose chalk-white face changes into a skull and the gorilla whose lower and upper lips retract to bare fangs. The puppets were controlled by a central rod and had a network of internal strings to manipulate hand and leg movements, bending to the front or back, and sensitive facial expressions.

Starring at the puppets Teschner made, I was just amazed. He made the puppets based on the Wayang Golek. We had two in our staircase growing-up so I know them very well up-close. But Teschner not just based it on, he altered them to fit his needs. He added legs, which Wayang Golek never have. Made the head movable and added decorations that were local, like a headdress based on (Russian?) pianted eggs and the batik was replaced by a textile by Wiener Werkstätte.

I got better why I was here. We moved to a display, a small golden stage showing two figures insight. Angela said, "this is the story of Mata Hari". On which I replied "You mean My, our Dutch Mata Hari?"

Margaretha Geertruida Zelle-MacLeod (7 August 1876 – 15 October 1917), better known by the stage name Mata Hari, was a Dutch exotic dancer and courtesan who was convicted of being a spy for Germany during World War I. She was executed by firing squad in France. 
At 18, Margaretha answered an advertisement in a Dutch newspaper placed by Dutch Colonial Army Captain Rudolf MacLeod (1856–1928), who was living in what was then the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) and was looking for a wife. Zelle married MacLeod in Amsterdam on 11 July 1895. The marriage enabled Zelle to move into the Dutch upper class and placed her finances on a sound footing(...) In 1903, Zelle moved to Paris, where she performed as a circus horse rider using the name Lady MacLeod, much to the disapproval of the Dutch MacLeods. Struggling to earn a living, she also posed as an artist's model. By 1904, Mata Hari began to rise to prominence as an exotic dancer. She was a contemporary of dancers Isadora Duncan and Ruth St. Denis, leaders in the early modern dance movement, which around the turn of the 20th century looked to Asia and Egypt for artistic inspiration. Gabriel Astruc became her personal booking agent.

Turned out Teschner saw Mata Hari perform, later read the biography about her and made a piece about it. A very grown-up story and puppeteering was not for kids at all as Angela explained. In Vienna it was used as protest, as a way of mocking or addressing actions in politics. To discredit the puppeteers, it is thought people started saying it was for Kids. Now we think of puppeteering as a kid-focussed, kid-friendly entertainment, but it was actually a way of sharing criticism among adults.

Back to Mata Hari. We entered the room were the theater, his theater the Figuren Spiegel is. In display cabinets are his puppets next to the ones that started his fascination, the original Wayang Golek he bought in The Hague in The Netherlands. Both the old ones as his made ones are all so great. I loved all the Wiener Werkstätte fabrics and made a mental note I had to dive into this further, didn't they make Batik too...?

Angela noticed my enthusiasm and invited me to see one more thing. I think my head just about didn't exploded. "There is a second Mata Hari"she said. She removed a cloth and two puppets appeared. She took Mata Hari and moved her towards us. Angela Sixt brought Mata Hari to life right before our eyes. The hands moved across her body while her face tilted gently looking as if she was looking around the room. I filmed this encounter and have been sharing it with everyone who crosses my path, including strangers on the train back home.
The second figure is called 'The Prince'. In the story Mata Hari's lover. He reminded me of Raden Saleh in a way, also because of the name. Raden Saleh dressed so over the top while traveling in Europe, men gave him the nickname 'The Prince' while their wives flocked around him. He left many broken hearts apparently. Seeing Mata Hari and her prince make me think of this. Don't know if there is actually an connection, but certainly something I will explore further. 
It is hard to explain how inspiring all of this was, but it really was and I still am fascinated by it. I also wondered why I never heard of it before. 
So I want to thank Klaus again for this, the warm welcome, the tour through Vienna and this amazing visit to Angela's domain on Richard Teschner!

Angela Sixt with Mata Hari & The Prince

Additional comment/notes by curator Angela Sixt:

"Thank you dear Sabine for your wonderful story. I am very happy that you feel so inspired, it was a great pleasure for me to have you there and I also got some new input. 
Some details you mentioned are not yet proofed. It is proofed that Mata Hari was performing in Vienna at the Apollo Theatre in the early 20th century, but I still have to do some research if Teschner really saw her dancing. Teschner named his puppet "princess" or "naked princess" in his very detailed sketches but he never named the puppet "Mata Hari". What I found out is that the first princess (1913) of the play "princess and waterman" looks like the real "Mata Hari" and the second one (1936) looks like Greta Garbo dancing an indian/javanese "veil dance" in the style of "Mata Hari"  in the film "wild orchids" 1929. She is wearing a very similar costume. Greta Garbo was also playing "Mata Hari" just 2 years later at the so called movie. Teschner very often made portrait puppets of famous people especially from the cultural scene and let them perform on his stage in his fairy tales, which he wrote himself. But he never explained them.  And if someone is diving into his work, there is always something or someone to discover. It is a wonderful example how art can be inspired by another form of art, in this case dancers and actors are inspiring the puppetry. 
All the best for you and greetings from Vienna"

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