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Future Tao: The Great Shift
未來道:乾坤大挪移
November 16th, 2021Type: Residency
Author: lololol (林亭君, 張欣), 黃亮融 (Trans) Editor: Rikey Tenn
Note: Future Tao: The Great Shift is a new virtual martial arts narrative that responds to the changing relationship of “the Great Shift” between the body, power and new technology during the period of the COVID-19 pandemic. It continues the project Future Tao launched by art collective lololol in 2017 and re-imagines the Taoist mind and body techniques through contemporary context. For the “Twinning Archipelago: 2021 “Nusantara Archive” Virtual A-I-R Program” (referred as “Twinning Archipelago” below), lololol deconstructs the narrative about the cycle of energy in the martial arts from the Malay Archipelago.
lololol,〈未來道:乾坤大挪移〉網路場景之一,2021

In martial arts novels, “the Great Shift” is described as a unique skill that converges powerful inner work; at the same time, it also symbolizes a conversion and shift of technical energy. In this “local” field research project, the art collective uses Indonesian director D. Djajakusuma’s film of 1958 as a creative starting point to explore the metaphorical meaning characterizing the artifacts/users/traditional rituals of local wisdom in the archipelagic culture, creating a multi-perspective pathway stemming from martial arts narratives as well as 360-degree duel scenes in reality/ imagination.

Since 2020, the entire globe has undergone unprecedented impact brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic Specifically regarding mobility, in many industries, ranging from finance, marketing to production, there have been different forms of ongoing digital reform, presenting maximum uncertainty and forcing different groups to adapt to a new lifestyle of multiple interfaces during the pandemic. As social systems have paused and the physical forces of gathering/quarantine alternate and imbricate, people have begun considerably shifting towards and relying on the virtual world and the technology of “on air” exchange it offers. Amidst the internet’s fluctuating terrain of pixel bubbles, lololol in this project aims to develop an alternative imagination and travel route to seek attunement and balance in the ecology of coexistence via the internet.

In Future Tao: The Great Shift, lololol explores the cyberspace as a creative experience of “locality” and landing online, employing the research and study of Taiwanese and Indonesian filmic art and martial arts as historical archives for reflecting the imagination of the Indonesian society while connecting distinctive technological developments and related changing histories in the archipelago.

 

Tjambuk Api by D. Djajakusuma

《火鞭》中鞭子的多樣型態:a.社會權力的武器;b.牧牛工具;c.遊戲玩具;d.能點燃茅草,劈開石頭 (影片截圖)

Director D. Djajakusuma (1918-1987) was a pioneering Indonesian filmmaker and advocator of Indonesian traditional arts. During Japan’s colonization in 1943, he worked as a translator, scriptwriter and actor at the “pusat kebudayaan” (cultural center). After the surrender of Imperial Japan in 1945, WWII ended; and after Indonesia’s leader Soekarno proclaimed Indonesia’s independence, the Dutch colonial government returned. In the subsequent four revolutionary years, Djajakusuma and his friend Usmar Ismail helped many artists to coordinate their actions. In the early 1950s, Usmar returned to Jakarta and founded Indonesia’s first film production house, PERFINI, and the two friends co-launched the new era of Indonesian modern cinema.

In his work, Djajakusuma often extensively employed Indonesian traditional culture and customs, such as music, dance, wayang (shadow puppet theater) and the Southeast Asian martial arts, “pencak silat.” In 1958, he directed the film Tjambuk Api (Whip of Fire), which features a narrative style similar to “wuxia” (武俠; martial heroes). The form and meaning of “technical object” in the film is multifold: “Whip” is a weapon and a symbol of social power. It is used by farmers to control water buffaloes, but it can also be for child’s play. Sometimes one can only hear the whiplashing sounds without seeing the whip. It is a cautionary sound as well as a signal used by villagers to communicate with each other. In the film, whiplashing sounds were inserted periodically. Another important technical object in the film is the aterwheel, which serves as an innovative technology developed to cope with prolonged drought. When a maker-minded farmer first had the idea of building the wheel , collective power was gathered within the village through technical collaboration to ease the problem of livelihood through irrigation.

In Tjambuk Api, the whip is not something magical and precious. Unlike the “Heaven Sword” or “Infinity Stones,” highly sought for weapons featured in Jin Yong’s martial arts novels, It is an everyday tool used by every villager, young and old, men and women alike. While “Tjambuk Api” literally translates as “whips of fire,” there is however no actual portrayal of burning fire shown throughout the film. Instead, fire plays out as a metaphor for suggesting a range of emotions—for instance, the fire beckoning the romantic love between the hero and the heroine that was hindered by complex reality; the fire signaling the oppressed villagers’ repressed anger; the fire indicating a doting father’s control over his daughter; or the fire in the eyes of the hero, who gazed towards the camera as he stood in a river and experimented a water-scooping tool.

During the making of the film, Indonesia, having undergone WWII and years of revolution, was suffering from poverty and famines brought by economic nationalism. Facing political uncertainties and a lack of infrastructure, the country was still in a difficult process of reconstruction. Before Tjambuk Api was released, it was censored by the government. However, in the same year, PERFINI produced and released another film called Asrama Dara (Girl’s Dormitory). Directed by Usmar, the cast of this film was the same as that of Tjambuk Api. The differences were that the whips in their hands were replaced by telephone speakers, and the setting was moved from rural villages and hills to a progressive, modern city. The story plot revolved around the enduring theme of a love triangle, and the actors and actresses were singing and dancing in the fashion of a musical.

 

《女孩宿舍》中主角熱線對話,影片對剪的片段 (影片截圖)

The Multifarious Manifestations of Tjambuk Api in the Archipelago

Regarding the cultural prototype in Djajakusuma’s film, the martial art of whip fighting varies multifariously on different islands in the archipelagic region. With martial arts and regional rituals as a starting point of the research, the project explores artistic connections embodied between these manifestations.

The “ojung” of the Tenggerese and Madurese from Mount Bromo in East Java, the “caci” of the Manggarai from the island of Flores in Nusa Tenggara Barat, and the “peresean” of the Sasak on the island of Lombok all carry similarities with the martial arts choreographies and costumes shown in Tjambuk Api and indicate how whip fighting has served as a communication ritual for praying for harvests and settling disputes in different ethnic cultures.  

The “caci” and “peresean” are both martial arts of combat used for training warriors who protect their homes. In the meantime, they are also means to manage disputes and solve confrontations between villages. The two male fighters engaging in the fight would bare their upper torsos while using rattan whips and shields made of cattlehide as their weapons. Throughout the ritual, it is believed that if the warriors bleed from whiplashes, good harvests would follow. Sometimes, dance performances are incorporated into the fight, often accompanied by the ensemble of drums, flutes and gongs playing the Gamelan music in a quick rhythm to boost the fighters’ morale and ease the pain caused by whiplashes.

芒加雷族的Caci / Photo by Fakhri Anindita (Wikimedia)

The “caci” duel of the Manggarai often takes place between different villages. The two male warriors engaging in the fight would put on face-covering helmets decorated with ox horns and wear songket. Their weaponry constitutes five- to six-foot-long whips made with palm stems and rattans as well as “toda” (shield) that symbolizes life and nature. As they move by leaping up, they would shake the bells tied onto their hips and ankles at the same time.

The “peresean” warriors of the Sasak are also called “pepadu,” meaning the brave ones. They would wear “saput” (headband) and “bedadong” (waistband) while fighting with “penjalin” (rattan whip) and “ende” (rectangular cattlehide shield). Before their duel, they would also chew “pinang” (betel nut) and strive to demonstrate their offensive ability in the combat.

薩薩克族的Peresean / photo by Ketut Mardita (Wikimedia)

“Ojung” originates from a legend about seeking water in a drought. According to the legend, the people found a water source but consequently began fighting for water resource. During the duel, it suddenly poured and resolved the conflict. The pantheistic “ojung” of the Madurese inhabiting East Java is a penitentiary ritual for exorcising evil spirits. The process of whipping each other signals atonements for the mistakes of humans.

The Tenggerese inhabiting Bromo Tengger Semeru is the descendent of the Majapahit empire. During the Karo celebration, they would hold “ojung” and sacrificial parades for worshipping the ancestral spirits. Also, an abundance of fruit, vegetable and livestock would be prepared for a sacrificial ritual on Mount Bromo to thank the cosmic grace and pray for safety.

 

騰格爾部落的Ojung儀式 / Photo by Hendy wicaksono (Wikimedia)

Whip of Fire, Volcano, Zero and 0, Electricity and the Internet

While we reflect upon the whip as a technical object for land/energy attunement in the archipelago, the world today is experiencing crisis of power shortage and rising electricity prices. With the impact of climate change, the troubled Nusantara lands that have long acted upon ancestral wisdom for prosperity now also face extreme weather conditions. On the other hand, the internet is rapidly accelerating with new virtual realities, and big tech companies are racing to the metaverse one after another.

Reflecting upon the cycle of energy in Tjambuk Api, activating its thunderous whiplash through six decades to the present day, we imaginatively climb unto the virtual crater together and pray for the fertile soil and infinite spiritual prosperity to be brought by reforming ideas. As splendid RGB light radiates 360 degrees and slits up the sky of day and night, when the fluid virtual air reaches your eardrums and retinas, would butterflies fly in our shared dream, renewing Zhuangzi’s question of extended consciousness and truth? What signals have you received?

騰格里火山口的印度教寺廟 / Photo by flydime (Wikimedia)

Reference

  • The pattern of Asia, 1958 link
  • Indonesia: the art of an island group, 1959 link
  • Tenggerese Ojung, 2017 link
  • Ojung and Pencak Silat, 2018 link (pdf)
  • Ojung Ritual, 2020 link
  • Global Volcanism Program – Semeru, live link
See Also
lololol.net
FUTURE TAO: THE GREAT SHIFT ,lololol