How might the shelter of a garment be used as a means of responding to globally pertinent socio‐political themes? This paper addresses this question by examining four installation works by Mella Jaarsma, a contemporary internationally exhibited, female artist who is based in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.1
In Refugee Only (2003), The Warrior, both I and II (2003, 2005), and Asal (2005) (see figs. 1.1, 2, 3.1 and 4.1) Jaarsma displaces, creates and reconfigures life‐size garments into full‐body covering shelters. Jaarsma draws upon, and exaggerates the connotations of the garment as a form of shelter, protection and as a means of communicating the beliefs of its wearer. In doing so, she deftly manipulates the inextricable links the garment has with the human body, which helps to implicate the audience in the concerns her works raise.2
All four works provoke us to contemplate the impact on human relationships of an increasing international emphasis on security, surveillance and defence against an intangible sense of fear in a post 11 September 2001 world. Refugee Only features garments that are protective, yet isolating, one‐person shelters. The work alludes to isolation as a mode of self protection, the tightening of national borders, authoritarian surveillance and the need to assist the vast and growing number of people seeking refuge internationally. Asal and The Warrior (I and II) present garments fashioned from pre‐worn Indonesian military camouflage uniforms. These works draw on the nuances of the pre‐worn and the military violence, power and authority than can be associated with camouflage uniforms. [End page 55]
These works raise concerns about the increasing military violence, the globalisation of militarism and the political motivations underpinning military interventions such as Aceh. Primary research, in the form of written correspondence with Jaarsma, has been significant to the production of this paper. This correspondence has helped to clarify the limited written material available about Jaarsma and specific details about her works and her intentions. In addition, this paper includes secondary research into the broader socio‐political context in which Jaarsma is working. This includes aspects of the socio‐political climate in Indonesia during the 1990s and early 2000s, and impacts of globalization, such as the ʹwar on terrorʹ. Consideration has also been given to the peculiar and problematic manner in which the international art scene represents artists who are working within nations considered ‘peripheral’ to Europe and the United States, and artists who are long‐term expatriates. This contextual research provides an introduction to Jaarsmaʹs motivations for developing wearable shelters in her practice and the themes that underpin these garment‐based works.
I. Mella Jaarsma: Dutch, Indonesian and International
Mella Jaarsma was born in 1960, not in Indonesia, but in the town of Emmeloord in the Netherlands. Her early visual art training was undertaken in the Netherlands from 1978‐1984 at the Minerva Academy in Groningen. Jaarsma originally majored in textile arts but then transferred her studies to the ‘Experimental and Monumental Art’ department. 3 In 1984 Jaarsma sought to further her studies and sharpen the focus of her practice by travelling to Indonesia, a move that generated curiosity and query from co‐ students and tutors in the Netherlands.4 In the capital Jakarta, Jaarsma undertook a semester at the Jakarta Arts Institute (IKJ), one of Indonesia’s four major fine arts institutes. She then moved to Yogyakarta where she studied for a year at the Indonesian [End page 56] Institute of Arts (ISI). At ISI, Jaarsma found the artistic atmosphere more serious and experimental than at IKJ.5Twenty‐three years later Jaarsma still lives in Yogyakarta, having become actively involved in the arts community, both as an artist and arts worker. In 1988, Jaarsma co‐founded Cemeti Gallery (renamed Cemeti Art House in 1999) with fellow artist and partner Nindityo Adipurnomo. Initially the artist‐run gallery was a locally oriented initiative that sought out and exhibited the work of artists experimenting with conceptual practices such as installation assemblage, intervention or performance.6 That is, those who were working in alternative ways to the norms of the Indonesian modernist fine arts discourses, particularly painting, which dominated the arts market. In the absence of a governmental infrastructure for supporting contemporary art in Indonesia, Cemeti has continued to develop by combining gallery sales with financial assistance for projects from external international organisations, such as The Prince Claus Foundation.7
As the global map of the international art scene was redrawn in the 1990s 8 , Cemeti became an intermediary between international curators seeking contemporary Indonesian art, and Indonesian artists who sought to enter the international circuit. 9 Jaarsma claims that her role at Cemeti initially made it difficult to promote her own work to international curators. 10 Jaarsma also believes that there existed some prejudice from many curators against selecting her work, as they sought out ‘authentic’ Indonesian representatives. 11 Then, in 1998‐99, with the assistance of international curators such as Julie Ewington and Apinan Poshyananda, Jaarsma began to be selected for the exhibitions in the international circuit. In the Third Asia Pacific Triennial: Crossing Boundaries (1999), at the Queensland Art Gallery, Jaarsma was categorised as an ‘Indonesian representativeʹ. 12 However, Jaarsma’s origins are often hyphenated by authors and curators, emphasising that she is not entirely, or ʹauthenticallyʹ Indonesian.13 Jaarsma’s awareness of her difference and the emphasis placed [End page 57] on labelling cultural identity in the International art scene underpins many of her works. This is particularly evident in her motivation to explore materials and themes that are not endemic to either Indonesia or the Netherlands. 14
Jaarsma’s works have since been exhibited in many significant international shows and arts festivals, including, for example: the 2005 Yokohama Triennial, at Yokohama pier, in Japan; Taboo and Transgression in Indonesian Art (2005), at the Herbert F Johnson Museum of Art, New York; Urban Culture: CP Open Biennale (2005), Yogyakarta, Indonesia; Interpellation: CP Open Biennale (2003), Yogyakarta, Indonesia; Gwangju Biennale (2002), in Gwangju, South Korea. Jaarsma has also held a number of solo shows outside Indonesia, including an exhibition at Gallery Etmad in Tehran (2005), and a retrospective of her works produced from 1999‐2006, which was presented at Artoteek Den Haag, in the Netherlands (2006). In addition, Jaarsma has been awarded residencies in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, and her works have been acquired for the collections of internationally located cultural foundations, galleries, banks and an embassy.
Christine Clark has suggested that the “Other”, the exotic, and “Indonesian‐ness” have retained a high currency in the selections by international curators.15 Clark suggests that these selections perpetuate an expectation that art from Indonesia will exhibit an identifiable “look” and respond to local themes.16 In this regard, Clark has taken issue with the apparent restrictive representation of Indonesian artists whose works deal with specifically Indonesian socio‐political themes, to the exclusion of other Indonesian artists.17
The preferences for selecting Indonesian art addressing these themes did have the benefit of providing exhibition opportunities for many artists critiquing the oppressive authority of the New Order regime of Suharto during the mid to late 1990s, as well as just after Suharto’s resignation. However, Jaarsma makes the point that ‘…the days of a common enemy [End page 58] have passed’, and argues that many artistic practices that comment on local socio‐political circumstances have grown to include an international perspective, reflecting the influences on Indonesia of the global market and the neo‐liberal policies of development.18 Therefore, when considering the mushrooming contemporary Indonesian art scene the influences of internationalisation can not be ignored.19
II. Jaarsma’s Wearable Forms
Since 1999 Jaarsma’s responses to globally pertinent socio‐political themes have been characterised by the exploration of wearable garments/objects and their relationship to the form of the human body. Lisa Byrne has referred to Jaarsma’s works as “elaborate costume installations”.20 This description seems to capture the theatrics the works often present. However, this paper shall continue to use the term ‘garment’ in analysing Jaarsma’s works. This is based on a broad definition that suggests it constitutes an ‘outer covering’ of the body.21 This terminology is not only for reasons of continuity, but is also due to the problematic associations the word ‘costume’ can have with the anthropological processes of documenting and classifying cultural differences.
The garments Jaarsma creates are worn by silent and, almost always, motionless models at her exhibition openings. They generally cover the model’s entire body, except eyes, feet and sometimes hands. The garments are created by recycling, reconfiguring, displacing and/or juxtaposing readymade materials or imagery. These have included batik motifs, dried animal skins, herbal medicines, Indonesian military uniforms and embroidered badges from social groups. The materials and imagery are sourced from her local environment, and they often evoke meanings specific to the Indonesian (or more specifically Javanese) context. However, Jaarsma is also interested in the global movement and translation of signs and symbols. This includes their recognition and different inflections for diverse [End page 59] peoples and the possibility of using such differences to open up dialogues about issues not unique to Indonesia.22
Jaarsmaʹs garment forms were initially based on a full‐length veil, somewhat resembling the jilbab. 23 The jilbab generally refers to the scarf covering the hair and neck worn by many Indonesian Muslim women. It sometimes includes a long‐sleeved, full‐length, loose dress, but is perhaps more often seen as a fashionable addition to an outfit of jeans, or skirts and shirts.24 Since the terrorist attacks in the United States in 2001, Jaarsma’s use of these forms has led to a very narrow or one dimensional reading of her works. 25 These readings deny that the veil can be interpreted as a multifaceted symbol, which has been worn throughout history in a variety of different cultures and by both genders.26 In doing so, such interpretations do not reflect Jaarsma’s attempts to disrupt notions of the veil as a symbol of Islamic fundamentalism; a view that can foster intolerance and societal divisions.27 Narrow interpretations of the kind outlined above overlook Jaarsma’s reinvention and restyling of the coverall garment used in her works, and her continual exploration of a vast array of materials and differing structural forms around the body. In this regard, Jaarsma’s works are exploring broader communicative possibilities of the concealed, protected or exposed human form.
The installations incorporating these garments have featured aspects of performance and intervention in public spaces, and after these events all that remains is the garments and documentation of the event.28 [End page 60 ]
III. Refugee Only: Prototypes for Protection
Refugee Only is a three‐part performative installation. It features two wearable garments that resemble one‐person shelters erected in the gallery space. Jaarsma states that one garment is designed for the elite (fig. 1.1) and the other for the commoners (fig. 1.2).30 When exhibited, each garment is tethered to a number of tent pegs that are secured into wooden floor pieces. The visual cue of the tent pegs is a reference to the shelter’s potential benefits of mobile security; or perhaps, conversely, the insecurity of mobility. The installation includes a life‐sized photographic document of the commoner’s garment in a rural setting, presented in three horizontal strips across the wall (fig. 1.3).
The commoner’s garment is constructed from khaki coloured canvas and zips, which Jaarsma describes as ‘textiles for the common people’.31 The ‘roof’ is spread wide by a tent pole structure from which hangs the boxy looseness of the body section, calling to mind an ethic of one‐size‐fits‐all. The inside of the garment is fitted out with the makings of a ‘survival kit’, including a torch, matches, sanitary napkins, soap, instant food, a knife, a toothbrush, as well as prayer beads (Catholic, Muslim and Buddhist).32 The entrance to the garment/shelter is located at the back, and it features an almost full‐length zippered doorway, like a tent. Above this doorway is a label with the word ‘entrance’ in English and Indonesian. Another label is located on the front of the shelter; it reads ‘ Refugee Only’. Across the front are four small rectangular holes: one near the apex of poles in the roof, a peep‐hole for the eyes, and two at hand level. There are also re‐enforced patches at the level of the chest, and an open‐able flap at the level of the genitals. The wearer’s feet protrude from the lower edge of the garment. The [End page 61] combination of all these features results in an image that resembles a peculiar fusion of garment, body, and self‐sufficient tent. In the gallery space the garment is presented unworn and, with entrance fastened open, it offers an invitation to the audience to ‘try it on for size’ (see fig. 1.4).
The elite garment is constructed out of fine quality, pale green leather. It is strapped into place around the human body with no fewer than twenty shiny buckles, leaving little possibility for movement in the upper body. At the exhibition opening events the garment is worn by Jaarsma’s characteristically silent and motionless model. The model’s head is fitted with a leather cap and a covering is buckled across the lower half of the face. The ensemble appears like an awkward combination of veil, tent and straitjacket. Yet, despite all its restrictive qualities, the garment still manages to present like a ‘designer shelter’. The discomfort and overt reference to lack of practicality appear to present the ultimate fashion statement of wealth and status.
The two contrasting shelters and their differing modes of presentation offer open and multifaceted metaphors. This is echoed by the varied interpretations the work has generated, yet each interpretation identifies the way in which the two garment shelters allude to the complex relationship between the public and the private, or the socio‐political and the personal. For example, critic Kuss Hendarto indicated in a catalogue essay that the khaki zippered shelter makes reference to military power, whilst the constrictive buckled green leather shelter is a response to the repression of women in Indonesia.33 Another catalogue entry for the same work suggests that it evokes the ‘hierarchies [that] evolve even within the ranks of the refugees: the better off among them can buckle up their refugee “costumes” with buckles from all the major designer houses, to then maybe even parade on the “avenues” of the camp…’34 [End page 62]
Figure 1.1. Mella Jaarsma. Refugee Only, 2003. Cow leather, metal buckles, metal pegs, model (in the background – photograph). Dimensions variable. Collection of the artist. Image: Jaarsma and Morel eds., Dee Interloper/The Follower: Mella Jaarsma, (Dennweg: Artoteek Den Haag, 2006), 65. This and all subsequent images have been reproduced with full permission. Photographer: Mella Jaarsma.
[End page 63]
Clockwise from top left:
Figure 1.2. Mella Jaarsma. Refugee Only, 2003 (documentary image of public intervention). Cloth, plastic zips, metal, toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, torch knife, sanitary napkins, instant food, cup, plate, prayer beads (Catholic, Muslim and Buddhist), model, metal pegs. Dimensions variable. Collection of the artist. Image: Jaarsma and Morel, 67.
Figure 1.3. Mella Jaarsma. Refugee Only, 2003. Cloth, plastic zips, metal, toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, torch knife, sanitary napkins, instant food, cup, plate, prayer beads (Catholic, Muslim and Buddhist), metal pegs; photograph. Both dimensions variable. Collection of the artist. Image: Jaarsma and Morel, 68.
Figure 1.4. Mella Jaarsma. Refugee Only, 2003 (detail). Cloth, plastic zips, metal, toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, torch knife, sanitary napkins, instant food, cup, plate, prayer beads (Catholic, Muslim and Buddhist), metal pegs. Collection of the artist. Image: Jaarsma and Morel, 69. [End page 64]
In another interpretation of the work, Adeline Ooi likens the garments in Refugee Only to the wearable structures in the later Shelter Me (2005) series. She states that Jaarsma’s explorations of the garment shelters in both works can be located within the context of the threats posed by ‘mysterious’ transnational diseases, like SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in 2003, and the ubiquitous fear of terrorism. 35 For Indonesia, 21st century terrorism was brought to the fore by the bomb explosions of 24 December 2000 targeting Christian churches in many locations in the archipelago. Then, in the wake of the proclamation of the ‘war on terror’, the bombing of the Sari nightclub in Bali in 2002 heightened in the consciousness of the international community the emerging threat of terrorism in Indonesia.36 Drawing on the instability propagated by such events, Ooi’s interpretations of Refugee Only seem to be more in keeping with Jaarsma’s statement that these ‘shelters refer to the current global reality of migration in which everybody has to be ready to become a refugee’.37
In this regard, Jaarsma appears to propose these garment/shelters as prototypes for reproducible survival kits for the assistance of those seeking refuge, or for those who seek security from the real or imagined threats that surround them. This concept of prototypes for protective outer garments‐ cum‐shelters recalls the work of artist Lucy Orta and her Refuge Wear series constructed in 1992 in response to the Gulf War. 38 Orta’s prototype garments are typically multifunctional shelters and are worn over the top of clothing, as an extra layer between the individual and the external world. They are intended to provide temporary refuges for the individual, physically and psychologically, ‘…as well as protecting and increasing one’s chances of survival in adverse environmental, political and social conditions.’39 Jaarsma expresses similar sentiments regarding the relationship between her shelters and the body. She identifies that ‘[t]he shelter… is an extension of our own body, our clothes, and our personal space…’, and further, that it can be defined by both physical and psychological territories.40 [End page 65]
This leads one to question how the differing presentations of the Jaarsma’s ‘prototype’ garment/shelters (i.e. as a performance, and as an installation) influence interpretations of the relationships between the audience, the wearer, the garment, and the term ‘refugee’.
In Refugee Only, Jaarsma’s invitation for the audience to enter into the commoner’s garment, along with the use of recognisable or everyday objects/materials, disrupts the physical distance between the ‘art object’ and the viewer. This is similar to the intention behind the ‘practical’ objectives of Orta’s works, as well as her modes of documenting their applications or interventions in public spaces, rather than the associations of the object in the ‘high‐art’ gallery space.
In this regard, both artists’ documentations of their interventions provoke considerations of ‘real life’ problematic situations, including homelessness in Orta’s work, and displacement in Jaarsma’s. Yet, Jaarsma’s life‐sized documentary photograph of the commoner’s garment in fact generates an unnerving sensation of distance with the knowledge that the represented individual, however piercing his/her outward gaze may seem, cannot see the viewer. Jaarsma’s photograph seems to over‐emphasise the anonymity that characterises the media’s ‘current events’ imagery, particularly imagery of the millions of displaced peoples worldwide. This anonymity and distance is achieved by combination of the fragmentation of the photograph into three strips, the coverall, identity concealing shelter, and the lack of specification regarding the individual’s context.
Another kind of distance is generated by the emphatic exclusionary tone that the term ‘only’ brings to the title Refugee Only. This title phrase is again accentuated by its presence on the label adhered to the commoner’s garment, which raises the question of whether there are certain criteria one must fit to gain legitimate entry to this garment. The words echo of the kinds of labels used to classify, detach from, and de‐legitimise people who travel internationally to seek refuge.41 That is, exclusionary labels such as ‘asylum [End page 66] seekers’, ‘spontaneous arrivals’ or ‘unlawful non‐citizens’, which have allowed a move away from describing people as refugees and to defer granting refugee status. 42 Since the late 1990s, such terms have assisted countries in deporting and/or maltreating those seeking refuge.43
In this regard, cultural theorist B. S. Chimni draws attention to the trend of addressing refugee issues as part of the international security fora of the United Nations (UN) Security Council and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).44 That is, the shift towards locating refugees in the context of a threat to national security. For example, as seen in Australia since the early 2000s, refugee issues have become a means with which to create an illegal ‘Other’ – upon which the intangible fear in society can be projected.45
The next question to be asked is whether the elite leather garment is also presented as a prototype shelter. It does not present the functional qualities of Jaarsma’s commoner’s garments. Yet arguably, it presents a prototype for assuaging the psychological need for protection provoked by the external context of fear and instability. One might then consider whether this shelter is a means of fostering the ‘primordial instinct’ of the desire to hide, to turn inwards when presented with the latent and intangible fears that Ooi articulates.46
The elite shelter creates an image of closure. It inhibits both communication with and access to the wearer. In the light of the connotations of the term ʹrefugeeʹ noted above, the exclusionary nature of the garment has the potential to evoke the suspicion, fear and threat to security that certain countries (like Australia) now attribute to the term refugee. 47 Perhaps the elite shelter offers a kind of protection from the requests, by those seeking refuge, for space and compassion, and an indication that in the current socio‐political climate there is an increasing reluctance to share.48 [End page 67]
There is another layer to this sense of closure that is added by the relationship the elite garment encourages between the live model and the viewer. Unlike the empty commoner’s garment, which questions the identity of its owner, while being potentially observed and related to as an object, the elite garment contains a body. That is, a living statuesque individual, constrained and yet protected, with whom commonly understood means of communication have been made impossible. The artwork/audience relationship is further affected by this presence of a live model. The comfort or anonymity experienced when looking at an artwork is disrupted by the possibility of a returned human gaze.49
In contrast to the photographic representation, the returned look of the model is not frozen in time. He or she is present and observing the actions of the viewer as much as the viewer is of the garment and the model.50 Byrne has made a similar observation when considering Jaarsma’s work SARA‐ swati I and II (2000), and its combination of the live model with silicon fingers that protrude from his/her garment.51 In this context, Byrne explored the idea that any movement the audience makes holds the possibility of becoming a spectacle.52 Whilst this implication is not as strong in Refugee Only, there is the allusion to the notion of audience surveillance. Ooi notes that the exchange or return of the ‘gaze’ in Jaarsma’s works influences how the viewer behaves in response to the living artwork. She suggests that many become highly self‐consciousness about viewing the work, feeling it rude to stare. Others, however, are more inquisitive, and, as though the model were inanimate, they prod and explore the unusual forms.53
It is apparent from the above that the presentation of garments resembling mobile, self‐sufficient or closed‐off tents can evoke considerations of security, borders and authoritarian power relationships in both society and the art space. Such themes also arise in Jaarsma’s combinations of the coverall garment form and pre‐worn military uniforms in Asal and The Warrior I and II, which are to be considered next.[End page 68]
Figure 2. Mella Jaarsma. Asal, 2005. Batik, canvas, used Indonesian military uniforms and emblems, models. 170 x 160 x 40cm. Collection of the artist. Image: Jaarsma and Morel, 83. [End page 69]
IV. Disguise and Deception: Military Camouflage Uniforms in Asal and The Warrior
Asal (see fig. 2) was made for Jaarsma’s solo exhibition in Tehran. In this work she explores ‘globally floating patterns/symbols’ as a means of sheltering or disguising two persons within one boxy shaped garment. 54 In Indonesia the term ‘asal’ is commonly used in the phrase ‘asal dari mana’ to open up conversation, but also to question a person’s origin and/or destination.55 In Jaarsma’s garment, the batik mega mendung pattern (which literally translates as ‘storm cloud’) covers the front.56 This is a pattern that is identified as belonging to the city of Cirebon in Indonesia, but has also been identified in historic Persian and Chinese decorative pattering, rendering its actual origins unclear.57 Juxtaposed with this batik panel is a patchwork of deconstructed camouflage print military uniforms, which forms the top and sides of the Asal garment. The two patterns are uncannily similar in appearance, yet, in combination with the title Asal, their combination seems to impose an authoritative and threatening aura on the cloud motif’s uncertain origins, and its movement as a ‘traditional’ pattern around the globe. 58 This combination speaks with a threatening tone about contemporary global movement and relations that involve militarism, violence, fear and security through the connotations of the camouflage military uniform.
As seen in the patterning of many animalsʹ skin and shells, camouflage can be defined in terms of deceiving, concealing or disguising someone from something, from an external source of threat. 59 Indeed, backed up against the gallery wall, the two people within the Asal garment appear to be attempting to camouflage themselves within the batik pattern and the military uniform’s print. The military camouflage, as the splatter print or the earthy/bushy colours – particularly when removed from the context of the bush or desert – seems more evocative, or perhaps provocative, of the [End page 70] perception of the military as a powerful, ‘protective’ and aggressive authority.
Military camouflage uniforms have their origins in the 20th century developments of tactics for the World Wars, and the new types of warfare brought about by technological developments. 60 Military historian Tim Newark suggests that in many nations the camouflage uniform is considered a symbol of independence and national identity.61 Its presence incrementally increased with the collapse of the Soviet Bloc, and there are now over 350 types of military camouflage pattern, each print and colour combination differing from nation to nation.62 Each pattern is designed for a new or differing combat terrain. For example, in the Gulf, the United States and their allies required new, more appropriate patterns for desert combat.
Further, theorist Jennifer Craik suggests that uniforms, informal or formal, are generally perceived as a means of communicating the behaviours socially expected of those wearing them, as well as of those who engage with the wearer.63 The military uniform demands behaviours of discipline, order, rigidity, conformity, and protection, and in some socio‐political circumstances it represents intimidation, violence, corruption, or other such abuses of power. 64 However, Craik also concedes the ambiguities in identifying the symbolism of military uniforms due to their prevalence, subversive uses and displacement in fashion, film, activism and art. For example, the displaced uniform became an anti‐Vietnam war symbol in the 1970s; it has often been eroticised and used in cross dressing and has become mainstreamed in (‘western’) fashion trends, particularly since the 1990s.65 Some theorists and other writers are critical of its use in the context of fashion, indicating that it reveals insensitivity to the connotations of the uniform and camouflage. For instance, critic Mark Dery expressed outrage and confusion at the prevalence of camouflage in fashion trends during 2005‐6, stating that there is a morbid irony underpinning the mass marketing of camouflage in light of the contemporary horrors of military [End page 71] violence and the war in Iraq.66 (See fig. 4.1, noting the background presence of an audience member’s ‘fashionable’ camouflage attire).
Another recent example of the displacement of camouflage, one in which the connotations of war and anti‐war sentiments are most astutely recognised, can be found in the Camouflage series (2002) by painter Gordon Bennett. Bennett’s use of the camouflage pattern was in response to the beginnings of the Iraq war.67 Art theorist Ian Mclean has suggested that Bennett’s paintings are a metaphor for this war as camouflage itself, for ‘secrets which may never be told…’68
The interpretation of Jaarsma’s displacement and reconfiguration of camouflage uniforms must necessarily be influenced by the multifaceted connotations such uniforms evoke, including those discussed above. Jaarsma’s displacement of camouflage not only utilises the decorative effect of the garment’s print, but also its reference to concealment and disguise. In addition, she draws on the potential for it to become an activist response to contemporary military violence.
In constructing at least six works since 2003 Jaarsma has utilised ‘pre‐ worn’ uniforms of the Indonesian military, the Tentara Nasional Indonesia (TNI).69 Identified as Indonesian uniforms, they evoke the considerable and oppressive weight held by the military in 20th century Indonesian political history, and its internationally publicised abuses of human rights.70 They also reference the lingering presence of the TNI in contemporary Indonesian politics and civil society. Since the end of Suharto’s New Order regime there has been continued confusion regarding the appropriate role and authority of the TNI. On the one hand, there is much suspicion regarding the military’s alleged involvement in fuelling violent conflicts in order to justify their role and the practice of military intervention in maintaining national security.71 On the other, there is a fear that ‘horizontal’, (that is, civilian‐ based) forces are instigating the conflicts, justifying support for an increased military presence.72 [End page 72]
Figure 3.1. Mella Jaarsma. The Warrior, 2003 (DVD still). As exhibited in The Warriors – The Warrior, The Healer, The Feeder. Used Indonesian military uniforms, seaweed, miso soup, pan, gas burner, model, DVD. Dimensions variable. Collection of the artist. Image: Jaarsma and Morel, 31. [End page 73]
Figure 3.2. Mella Jaarsma. The Warrior, 2003 (detail). Used Indonesian military uniforms, seaweed, miso soup, pan, gas burner, model. Dimensions variable. Collection of the artist. Image: Jaarsma and Morel, 29. [End page 74]
Figure 4.1. Mella Jaarsma. The Warrior, 2005. Indonesian military uniforms, emblems, helmet, seaweed, miso soup, pan, electric burner, model. Dimensions variable. Collection of the artist. Image: Jaarsma and Morel, 81. [End page 75]
Figure 4.2. Mella Jaarsma. The Warrior, 2005 (details). Indonesian military uniforms, emblems, helmet, seaweed, miso soup, pan, electric burner, model (background: print and video by Tiong Ang). Collection of the artist. Image: Jaarsma and Morel, 82. [End page 76]
The wearable assemblages in the two installations of The Warrior are constructed through knitting, knotting, and/or patch‐working sixteen TNI camouflage uniforms and their embroidered badges. The first version of The Warrior presents a figure cloaked in a head to mid‐calf, matted covering of camouflage. It has a small opening at the face (detail fig. 3.2) and two belts around the body, securing the wearer’s arms in place. In The Warrior the name badges and camouflage are patch‐worked into a tight cloak structure covering all bar the eyes and the metal cap. As in Asal, the bodies of the motionless wearers in both versions of The Warrior appear, to be camouflaged within the layers of the cloth and its meanings. However, in the gallery space these silent, statuesque, uniformed figures are conspicuous and threateningly nuanced with power and authority. In addition, as in [End page 77] Refugee Only, the viewer becomes very aware of being viewed, like authoritarian surveillance.
At the feet of these sullen figures sits a burner and a pan of bubbling soup. The lower ends of the garment are elegantly draped over the edge, seasoning the soup. Members of the audience are encouraged to fill their bowls or cups from this pan and be nourished by the uniform broth. Whilst the lower ends give the impression of being strands of uniform, they are in fact strips of seaweed. Nonetheless, the imagination has taken hold. The possible interpretations of being offered and consuming a broth seasoned with the nuances of camouflage and the uniform are also bubbling away.
By consuming the soup, members of audience become implicated within the meanings and interpretations of The Warrior. One can imagine that the experience is not just that of observation or of the awareness of being observed by the living art object, but also the sensory experience of physical engagement; the taste and touch, the intrigue or perhaps embarrassment of involvement. In the photographic documentation of the exhibition opening events, members of the audience are as much part of the performance as the model (see again, for example, figs. 3.1 and 4.1).73 This encourages questions about how they perceive the model, each other, and what it is that they are consuming. Are they suspicious of the soup, nourished by it, complicit with its intentions or ignorant of the influence of militarism it evokes?
Amanda Rath proposes that the soup of The Warrior lends itself to the connotations of the nourishing, healing quality, ‘…thus displacing the role of The Warrior as merely military might…’. 74 However, a measure of cynicism arises in response to this observation in light of the images of the apparently heroic warriors of our time, which are continually flashed across the television screen interspersed with other images of bloodied civilians. We seem to be ‘force‐fed’ this very line in the context of the seemingly never ending ‘war on terror’. Arguably, members of the audience are metaphorically consuming the rhetoric of militarism, and particularly [End page 78] military intervention as a justifiable means of establishing peace, of negotiation, or humanitarian assistance. Jaarsma indicates that the juxtaposition of soup and uniforms are a response to the irony of humanitarian aid, where food and medical supplies are often tied to the presence of military assistance.75
The consumption of this broth by audience members may also allude to the internalisation of discipline and fear, to the development of an internal reasoning that allows society to legitimise extreme authoritarian measures for their ‘security’. 76 Alternatively, it may allude to other influences of contemporary, market driven, socio‐cultural, political and economic situations that advocate practices of self‐control and self‐censorship. Craik offers the observation that ‘[u]niforms are all about control not only of the social self but also of the inner self and its formation.’77
Historian Bernard S. Cohn’s views on the transference of power and authority between people via clothing, adds a haunting dimension to the offering of soup flavoured with pre‐worn uniforms. Cohn suggests that:
Clothes are not just body coverings and adornments, nor can they be understood only as metaphors of power and authority, nor as symbols; in many cases, clothes literally are authority…Authority is literally part of the body of those who possess it. It can be transferred from person to person through acts of incorporation, which not only create followers or subordinates, but a body of companions of the ruler who has shared some of his substance.78
Cohn’s observations illuminate that a garment has the potential to carry with it the essence of its previous wearer. It is impossible to divorce the 16 reconfigured camouflage uniforms from thoughts of the behaviours and actions of the persons who they previously clothed.
A number of contemporary artists have similarly identified the evocative and political potential of pre‐worn garments. In a series of installations titled Réserve (1988‐1990) French artist Christian Boltanski displaced large numbers of used garments either hanging like great walls of [End page 79] cloth, or piled on shelves, or strewn over the entirety of a room’s floor. Highlighting the absence of the human body on such a grand scale, these installations are a powerful response to the Holocaust. This use of worn garments was, for Boltanski a means with which to evoke the horrific consequences of discriminatory human relations.79
Another example is Dadang Christanto’s They Give Evidence (2002). This installation utilises the human essence carried in pre‐worn garments as a means of responding to the mass violence and genocide in Indonesia during the 1965 anti‐communist operation. In this work, empty and pre‐worn garments that are cast in resin are held in the outstretched arms of 16 life‐ sized clay human sculptures. The garments appear to be presented as evidence of the people who were ‘disappeared’. They are presented not only to the audience, but also perhaps to a jury, or to those who responsible for the absences.80
Conclusion: The Eloquent Garment
Mella Jaarsma has utilised the garment form to respond to contemporary socio‐political themes, drawing on the associations with the body that garments, even when unworn, can evoke. Jaarsma successfully traverses the complicated and fine line between notions of overt activism and institutionally acceptable conceptualism. She deftly manipulates the familiarity and expectations of the garment as an object and shelter. By displacing, reconfiguring or exaggerating aspects of its use in contemporary society, Jaarsma brings to the fore the poignant realties of the garment as an influential aspect in the way in which people relate to one another.
Jaarsma works in Indonesia as woman of Dutch origin, acutely aware of the peculiarities in the communicative space that the international art scene offers to artists based in ‘peripheral nations’. This includes the emphasis on origins and cultural classification, and the problematic undertones of the support for political themes. Yet, with a critical awareness that she is making [End page 80] for this international context, Jaarsma deftly disrupts a depoliticising of her activism and the smooth consumption of her art as a ‘cultural spectacle’.
Jaarsma’s wearable works exaggerate and complicate the idea of garments as semiotic tools. They provide multifaceted and intriguing means of responding to concerns about growing international militarism and the status of refugees. In combination with her use of performative interventions, live models and interactive presentations, the garment becomes a means of drawing the international audience into contemplating the connotations of the materials, forms, and the themes that Jaarsma’s works open up. With Refugee Only, Asal and The Warrior, Jaarsma creates and displaces garments that encourage consideration of human relations in the context of growing international emphasis on security and defence against intangible fears. In Refugee Only Jaarsma literally interprets the idea of the garment as a protective shelter, both as a form of individual assistance and constriction. The conceptualism of the work’s title and the use of readymade objects locate it within the context of current issues of global human movement and the needs of those seeking refuge. In Asal and the two versions of The Warrior military uniforms are displaced and reconfigured, combined with other patterns and the consumption of soup. The works use strong metaphors and the nuances of camouflage in response to concerns of ‘military globalisation’.
Jaarsmaʹs works combine forms of questioning conceptualism, with pointed references to current socio‐political themes, and the evocation of the human body. In doing so, these works illuminate the shelter of the garment as eloquent and effective material for responding to themes of globalisation.
About the author
Miriam Kelly completed her Honours degree in Visual Arts, majoring in Textiles and Art Theory at the Australian National University in 2007, where she was awarded the University Medal. This paper is based on a chapter of her Honours thesis. Her written and curatorial projects are inspired by artists who explore the aesthetics and politics latent in banal consumer waste and displaced garments.