Oomleo's pixel artworks are currently on display at the Ruci Art Space in Senopati, Jakarta. (JG Photo/Nico Novito)

Oomleo Takes Jakarta Transportation on a Pixelated Spin in Solo Exhibition


SEPTEMBER 01, 2015

Jakarta. On the opening night of a new exhibition at Ruci Art Space in South Jakarta last Friday, an actual orange bajaj — a three-wheel motorized rickshaw unique to the city — was parked near the entrance. A tall cardboard structure depicting a pixelated rendering of the artist stood next to it, beckoning the visitors to take a selfie with his likeness.

Bajaj is one of many transportation vehicles that Narpati Awangga, who goes by his moniker Oomleo, considers as an influential part of his life. It is a view reflected in the pixel artist’s first solo exhibition, “Angkutan” (“Transportation”), that runs through Sept. 27.

Mainly known among music aficionados as a member of the electronic synth-pop group Goodnight Electric, Oomleo has worn countless hats. He used to be a graphic designer and a radio broadcaster, among other occupations. Currently, he is involved in Ruangrupa, an artist collective based in Jakarta, and acts as the director of RURUradio.

Despite his wide-ranging experiences, one thing that constantly occupies Oomleo’s mind is pixel art.

Pioneered by the likes of eBoy, a Berlin-based pixel art group, in the 1990s, this art movement was heavily influenced by the advent of graphics software. With these digital tools, a pixel artist can create and edit their images to the tiniest pixel detail — a throwback to the style of 8-bit video games of yore like “Mario Bros,” in which each character is shaped from colorful block pixels.

“I have been using this technique for more than ten years,” Oomleo explained in the exhibition catalog. “I would spend hours in front of my computer to arrange each pixel without ever feeling bored about this particular visual technique.”

For this solo exhibition, the artist curated all of his pieces himself. This confident act stems from his belief that he is the only person who can fully understand his approach toward pixel art.

“He doesn’t want to feel bogged down by the presence of other curators who might quote things like art theory in their process,” said Melin Merrill, art space director. “Pixel art is supposed to be light and fun.”

As such, a psychedelic array of Oomleo’s pixel art creations is exhibited on the second floor of the art space. Each pixelated object — a man, a taxi, an airplane — is drawn in an isometric angle to create a three-dimensional effect and digitally printed on acrylic.

These highly detailed pieces are individually installed on the wall in a pop-up style and grouped together in unique montages — each scene represents a story resonating with Oomleo’s own experience.

Oomleo dedicates this exhibition to “a variety of vehicles that have been well documented in my heart and memory,” he wrote in his curatorial writing.

His fascination toward vehicles dates back to his childhood, from his beloved bicycle that was stolen to a luxury sport car he saw on a highway.

An example of that recollection is expressed in “IDR 10k: Superindo to kantor near Simpangmaut.”

In this small-sized work, there is a scene depicting a mother and her son in front of a bajaj. The cap-wearing driver looks like a skeleton from the artist’s previous work.

Melin explained that this creation was inspired by Oomleo’s mother, who was picky when it comes to selecting a bajaj to ride in.

“His mother would take a look at the driver first and decide whether he could be trusted or not,” she said.

Another memory is reflected in “GT-PRO: My Brother Secret Weapon,” in which a young Oomleo tries to convince his older brother to lend his cool bicycle by giving him a cigarette.

The biggest montage in the exhibition is “2009 Delhi Transportation,” which is splayed out on a wide wall. Inspired by Oomleo’s trip to India, this series depicts all kinds of vehicles that can be found in New Delhi, from a school bus to a taxi, accompanied with captions in Hindi script.

Some of his other creations are teeming with pop culture references, displaying characters from 1980s television shows, such as “The A-Team” and “Knight Rider,” in an irreverent manner.

Apart from the acrylic structures, Oomleo also made several GIF animations that were showcased. The looping videos feature a colorful range of vehicles and characters on the street — more proof of the artist’s ingenious ability to blend everyday scenes with playful pixel imagery.

During the opening night, visitors were also welcome to place stickers shaped in Oomleo’s creations on a big wall, in the spirit of making a collaborative artwork. The experience was akin to playing “The Sims” simulation game, where players can create a city of their own imagining.

In his curatorial writing, Oomleo explained that the light aesthetic of pixel art often made its output appearance prevailing over the concept. As his visually entertaining work in the exhibition suggests, that might be the case.

But at the same time, his pixel art creations also transport us to a place where we can indulge in our own imagination of the vehicles we see on the street every day, be it a snazzy car we pine for or a speeding city bus we despise.

And in doing so, this time Oomleo successfully transforms the humdrum scenes of our daily life into a magical and colorful escape. “Angkutan” Runs through Sept. 27 Ruci Art Space, Jalan Suryo No. 49, Senopati, South Jakarta Tuesday–Sunday, 11 a.m.–7 p.m.