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Write the words “animation” and “animism” next to each other and you might think that one was a misspelling. Common etymological roots enhance the impression: while animation means “to give life to,” animism makes life inherent, describing the attribution of inanimate objects and nature with a spiritual essence or soul. In Bandung, where Indonesian art collective Tromarama are based, the two notions feel closely related, with traditional animist practices and beliefs continuing to thrive within an increasingly modernized and digitized infrastructure.

In Tromarama’s videos and installations, animated objects and images become animism’s contemporary expression and equivalent, symbolizing and enacting the latter’s arcane premise. In their animations, pawless maneki-neko, flowers, handbags and tableware adopt actions and roles that reflect the “life” and fetishes they are associated with by Indonesia’s young and older generations. In Unbelievable Beliefs (2012), a video on view at the collective’s solo exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum from June to September, a floating piece of green fabric represents local beliefs in mystical phenomena that persist despite their inability to be empirically proven.

Society and culture in Indonesia and Bandung have a strong influence on Tromarama and their works’ subjects. For the upcoming group exhibition “Root: Indonesian Contemporary Art” at the Frankfurter Kunstverein, they are creating a video and installation looking at Morning Glory, a popular towel brand that has nostalgic value for many Indonesians. A hub for global fashion brands and textile production, Bandung also epitomizes the increasing tension between traditional craft and mechanized technology in the country. Serigala Militia (2006), for example, can be seen as direct reference to this tension, the work’s animation of a performance by the Indonesian metal band Seringai displayed alongside the 450 hand-cut plywood boards from which it was made.

Endless loops reflect the paradoxical nature of desire and progress.

This situation perhaps also explains the collective’s physical approach to their video animations, which require each frame be made, drawn and positioned by hand. The process can take up to several months, a length that seems absurd given the relatively short duration of most of their videos (the longest, Jalang (Bitch) (2014), lasts just over seven minutes). But it is precisely this labor, and the fractured structure of their animations that give them meaning as reflections of the original nature of the medium as a series of moving still images.

Yet despite the videos’ handcrafted nature, their subjects feel strangely automated. Figures and objects rarely follow their own trajectories, moving in lines with a Fordian logic reminiscent of an assembly line. Lines soon become circles, each video looped to create endless cycles of the same action. These cycles—expressed in titles such as In the Pursuit of Possibilities (2014) and Burn Out (2013)—somewhat mirror habits of contemporary consumers, and their incessant search for new inspiration and innovative products. They also reflect the paradoxical nature of desire and progress, whose meaning and existence rely on never being fulfilled or fully achieved. It will be interesting to see how visitors to the collective’s solo exhibition at Edouard Malingue Gallery in Hong Kong respond to these ironies in their work, especially given the hyper-capitalist ethics of the city and its continuous struggle for political reform. The distance between projected desires and their scale and sense in reality is something that finds apt expression in Tromarama’s works, the incongruity between their physical means and digital modes only enhancing their enigma.

Tromarama is an artist collective formed in 2004 by Febie Babyrose, Ruddy Hatumena and Herbert Hans in Bandung, Indonesia. They are represented by Edouard Malingue Gallery, Hong Kong, and Arndt, Berlin/Singapore. The National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne is currently hosting the exhibition “Open House: Tromarama for Kids” through October 18. A forthcoming solo show will open at Edouard Malingue Gallery, Hong Kong, in November.

Melanie Pocock is Editor-at-large of Kaleidoscope Asia. She is Assistant Curator at the Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore.

Image: Tromarama, The Lost One, 2013, Courtesy of the artists and Edouard Malingue Gallery, Hong Kong