Homegrown & Well Known: TINTIN WULIA
At home, not that many people know who she really is. The few who do, don’t really know much. But outside of Bali, nationally and even internationally, especially in the context of contemporary installation art, she’s a well-respected figure. Just read closely, be amazed, and thank me later.
You spend more time overseas, and are rarely in Bali. What’s the situation?
Well, if you visualize Bali as the centre of the galaxy, some kind of a giant sun, I could be one of its planets, its “wandering star” (this is the literal translation of planets by the way hehe… Not that I’m not a star hehe…). No matter how I want to deny it, the fact is that I do orbit around Bali, and always try to stop over whenever I can. There was even this one occasion, when my late father was still alive, where I had only a one-hour stopover in between flights at Ngurah Rai airport, and I used this opportunity to go for a quick priceless catch-up with my family in a café at the airport.
Looking back, I realized that I practically started doing this orbiting when I finished high school (SMAN 1 Denpasar, 1991). In between my studies in Bandung (Architecture, Universitas Katolik Parahyangan) and Boston (Film Scoring, Berklee College of Music), I always tried to spend some time home, in Bali. But then the idea of ‘home’ for me changed a bit when I was 29 in 2001—the aspiration to be able to live somewhere else, to not be confined in Indonesia, was so strong… So I surveyed how I could live elsewhere legally, and to make a long story short, decided to apply for a permanent residency visa in Australia.
When my Australian permanent residency visa was approved in 2003, however, my trajectory of projects was still mainly around Asia and Europe… No real reason to reside in Australia! It took me several years, and a lot of motivation, to finally make a move to live in Australia. To tell you briefly, after working for some time I felt the need to be able to reflect back on what I do more critically, and so I started thinking of doing a postgraduate study. It was obvious that this could be done somewhere in Australia to solve my residency problem as well hehe…, so in 2006 after some short surveys I decided to apply for a project-based research postgrad at the School of Art, RMIT University in Melbourne. In 2007 I was admitted with full support and stipend, and it was then that I could start to move my base to Melbourne… Although surprisingly I find myself still in the process now, five years later! Ah! Trust me, there is such a thing as too much traveling. I wasn’t really aware of this in the past years, but now that I am, I’m taking a small step at a time to really get settled in Melbourne.
Will you come back and use Bali as your home base? Or choose somewhere else in order to pursue an (even) better career in art?
Choosing somewhere else for an even better career in art? Well, so far I don’t really think my geographical base has anything to do with career advancement. I work internationally with people who work internationally as well. My current representing gallery is a Hong Kong-based gallery, whose director I’ve only met in person years after my first one-off project with them. And before that, I worked with a gallery in Europe. So far it doesn’t seem that my geographical location factors into my career too much—except of course that it can contribute to longer-haul flights. But so far, I also don’t always have to fly. When I can’t install my work in person, for example, it’s generally possible to send detailed instructions. This is not ideal of course, but solvable—and basically what I’m saying is, in choosing where to be based in, career is not really in my list of criteria.
I like to keep active physically, I like to be able to walk and bike around safely, I like fresh air, good and healthy food, I like to feel free, I like to feel safe, I like being surrounded by positive people, I dislike being judged superficially, I hate bureaucracy and legalized discrimination (who doesn’t?), I like to feel that I’m independent, that I can say what I need to say, wear what I want to wear, and decide on my own life—these are my criteria. If it is possible for me to live like this in Bali one day, why not?
As far as I know, you’ve never held an exhibition in Bali. How come?
I’m not too good at pursuing people, so I tend to work with people who actively pursue me. I also tend to choose to work with public institutions as they’re usually funded and that just takes a lot of headache out of the equation. When I have more active offers than the passively interested parties, I guess it’s just natural that I would choose to go with something that’s moving and progressing instead of the passive ones. The way I see it, my energy should really be more focused on doing my art, not on pursuing passive parties. I don’t know whether this is the right approach, it’s just what is possible and sensible for me to do at the moment.
What do you think is the biggest achievement of your career?
I think my biggest achievement so far is that I could find the possibilities to move on and keep progressing, and to keep learning in the process. And I couldn’t have achieved this without a lot of serendipity and support from the kindest people that I’ve met along the way.
Any last nagging words?
Two words: thank you, for the opportunity for reflection. Oh wait—that was more than two.
Interview by Rudolf Dethu