An Underwater Affair With Teguh Ostenrik

Teguh Ostenrik is using his art installation to restore coral reefs off Senggigi Beach in Lombok. (Photo courtesy of Teguh Ostenrik)

By : Carla Bianpoen | on 5:29 PM June 10, 2014
Category : Life & Style, Arts & Culture

Teguh Ostenrik, the Indonesian artist vagabond, has finally brought to life his underwater fascination to realize his environmental concern, with artworks planted deep in the waters around Senggigi, Lombok.

But instead of the delicate shapes and colors that often form his canvases, a maze-like structure seems to push its tentacles underneath the water mass. Soon corals will be covering the iron bars of scrap metal through whose pipes a light electric stream flows.

The project was launched on May 24, an uses the biorock artificial reef system, which turns dissolved minerals in seawater into biorock or “seament,” to accelerate coral growth six times faster than natural growth.

The initiative is a collaborative effort by the Lombok Hotel Association (LHA) and the Indonesian Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry, with support from the Gili Eco Trust.

Starting off in the middle of Senggigi Beach, it is planned to extend to the entire length of the beach.

Teguh’s installation, which he calls Domus Sepiae, or Squid House, appears like artists’ floating palettes dancing five meters below the surface of the water. The lightweight appearance is deceptive, as each of the 16 modules of six-millimeter-thick iron plates, measuring 130 by 140 centimeters, weights 200 kilograms. Each is set on a two-meter-high iron pole.

“I have made holes in the thick plates as a way of fortification against strong currents and to allow fish to play around or hide from predators,” Teguh says.

“The poles are linked to each other to ensure that they stand firm even against strong currents.”

Asked how working with scrap metal this time differed from the process for his scrap metal works in the Defacement series in 2008, the artist says that this time he had to heed the guidelines from Delphine Robbe to protect the budding corals from being crushed when the structure trembles.

How did he come to be so passionate about the coral reefs?

“I was shocked when I found that the underwater landscape near Senggigi was barren like the Sahara desert,” Teguh says, explaining his resolve to use his art to reclaim the coral reefs.

He had been diving there nearly 30 years ago, admiring the underwater paradise. His fascination led him to present his amazing installation “Alam Dibawah Air” in 1988 at the building that now is the National Gallery. The public was invited into a darkened room, and entering it as if coming into the realm of the underwater world, one was provided a mask to make the illusion more real when looking at his paintings featuring his artistic representations of this wondrous world.

But when he returned to Lombok in 2011 he was taken aback: instead of the coral reefs and the pristine paradise with schools of fish, lobster and squid that he vividly remembered, he found a lifeless underwater desert.

Apalled, the artist whose sublime series “Homo Sapiens,” with his ancient images morphing the past with the present,  then decided to do what he considers his mission as an artist living amid such grave environmental degradation.

Indonesia, which has the highest coral reef biodiversity in the world, has only 6 percent left in a pristine state. Overfishing, dynamite fishing, pollution and other factors have left the rest destroyed or damaged.

When invited for a residency at Qunci Villas in Lombok, Teguh proposed to research the possibility of revitalizing the coral reefs through his art works.

“Rather than only making works to decorate walls with, I wanted my art to help recover the reefs that are the habitats of fish and so many other  species and the livelihood of the people dependent on them,” he says.

He learned of biorock, the artificial reef system that has been applied in other places, and was fortunate to get to know Robbe, the passionate and inspiring director of Gili Eco Trust, a local nongovernmental organization with an active involvement in protecting coral reefs.

After a lot of effort collecting enough scrap metal from around Lombok, Teguh then created his underwater installation that he called Domus Sepiae.

While other foreign artists have previously been involved in such efforts, Teguh is the first to provide his own materials, according to Robbe. For the others, the Gili Eco Trust provided for their needs.

And on May 24, the ARTificial Reef Park that Teguh denoted as an underwater museum was launched, off the beach from de Quake restaurant, located approximately midway along Senggigi. It is planned to extend along the entire beach eventually.

“I hope other artists will be interested in collaborating,” the 64-year-old says.

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