Maryanto’s Sense of Dread

Maryanto, Selfie Spot Ijen, 2020, charcoal on paper, 54 × 80 cm. Courtesy the artist

In Fractured Paradise at Tabula Rasa, London, the artist draws grim scenes of humanity’s exploitative presence in the natural world

The selection of Maryanto’s recent works – consisting of ten drawings and a seven-minute single-channel video of clips from the Indonesian artist’s ascent to the peaks of two sacred stratovolcanoes – on show at Tabula Rasa’s single-room space are arranged to encourage navigating the room clockwise. The exhibition starts with two monumental stretched canvases, titled Iereng Gede biosphere (The Biosphere of Mount Gede, 2023) and Iereng Pangrango biosphere (The Biosphere of Mount Pangrango, 2023) – each representing one of the sacred peaks. In both, the artist has covered the canvas in black acrylic paint then scratched away at its surface to create detailed scenes of West Javanese forest floors. Their scale envelops the viewer, immersing them in an environment of moss-covered branches, fallen trunks and a plethora of plants that seem undisturbed by human intervention, imparting a sense of quiet serenity. Maryanto’s techniques in creating such works seem also to reflect a moral position on the landscapes he depicts. In these two works his process is ‘negative’, in the sense that he is scraping away paint, which might in turn be read as reflecting the fact that a lack of human intervention is what makes these scenes beautiful. In the remaining works he uses the ‘positive’ technique of applying charcoal to paper and canvas to illustrate what might be described as the negative effect of humanity’s interventions in nature.

These six works on paper and two on canvas see Maryanto drawing grim scenes of humanity’s exploitative presence in the natural world. Selfie Spot Ijen (2020), for example, is set in what seems to be a forest but in which the view is obscured by a large manmade backdrop of a majestic mountainscape seen from a peak. Three men sit idly by, perhaps waiting for customers who might pay to pose in front of the manufactured scene rather than climb the actual mountain on which the forest grows. In Sunrise Antusias (Sunrise Enthusiast, 2020) an overwhelming crowd of people (masked but clearly not socially distanced) obstruct the view of the mountains they are attempting to photograph. While these scenes do not depict flagrant environmental destruction, they nonetheless impart a sense of dread of tourist gawking that sets out to celebrate nature but inevitably results in its ruin.

Meru / Fractured Paradise ends with two large unstretched canvases suspended from the ceiling, one of which is titled Sapa Seneng Ngrusak Ketentremane Alam Ian Liyan Bakal Dibendhu deneng Panger an Ian Dielehke dening Tumindhake Dhewe #1 (For Those Who Disturb Nature and Supernatural Beings Will Be Punished by God, and Get Karma for Their Own Actions #1, 2021) and shows an open-top truck at an excavation site that appears to have narrowly avoided being hit by a giant boulder. While the drawing is obviously recording the extraction of the region’s mineral-rich volcanic soil, the title also hints at a spiritual dimension to the work and the presence of sacred sites on Indonesia’s mountain areas. The artist’s drawings illustrate that over-exploitation (in various ways) of land has left his homeland environmentally devastated.

Fractured Paradise at Tabula Rasa, London, 15 September – 5 October

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