Sound Route: Three Notes on Geography

(Author: Wu Chi Yu,Shen Sum Sum, and Musquiqui Chihying; translated by Zoey Wu / Original link

Leaping North from the seaside wetland on Java, Indonesia

Crossing the Sea

Contemporary art as an interdisciplinary subject is never the accumulation of a certain knowledge. Tossing on the sea of social science research, art creation unfolds a piece of tiny and irregular multidi-mensional space for the diverse currents to encounter and merge, so that human can take the opportuni-ty to think back over the modernity. Upon a research item of Taiwanese old song, the story of a girl who was inclined to tragic character caught our attention. In comparison to other Taiwanese Hokkien love song, the depiction of this girl’s hybrid appearance in the lyrics clearly offers more traces on early trade history under globalization rather than just shows the scene of self-pity loves.How did the lyricist Chen Dar Ru find the background of Ms. Kim? And who exactly did Ms. Kim long for – the employee from Dutch East India Company or the doctor from British caravan on ship? We do not have the confi-dence to answer all these subtle historical questions, but coincidentally we found the spirits of Ms. Kim in many difference references. These spirits not only embody Ms. Kim’s self consciousness but also – to be more precisely speaking – they appear like Ms. Kim’s reincarnation.

The reincarnation first began in Nagasaki[1], Japan. She was named Jagatara Oharu at that time and was taking the ship southward. Standing on the deck and facing the shore, Jagatara Oharu missed the family love and nostalgia that had been long gone. As for love, She was perhaps too young to understand what it could possibly be. It was not until she was reincarnated into Saartje Specx, the unlawful daughter of the governor from Dutch East India Company, that she had tasted the sweet of love. Under the scorching hot weather of Batavia[2], Saartje was forced to take part in the “good wife developmental course” that managed by the company in order to avoid becoming a "Otembaar" – untamable woman– as the Dutch said. Although the man that Sarrtje fell in love with at the beginning was not the same as those unfaithful sailors from the company in the past. The man did not seek for pleasure by the harbors one after another, but this love affair eventually came to an end brutally upon blood and punishment be-cause it was against her father’s will. Saartje had to take a departing ship once again to another island for healing the loss of love. Up until then, this unpeaceful soul has been torn into pieces and felt frustrated, yet she still chose to stay in the world guarding tight her only dignity. Later on, after becoming the widow Cornelia van Nijenroode, there was a greedy man began to covet the wealth of her name and wanted to take over it by the law of marriage. This property battle had lasted over a decade , and was still unresolved at her death. Regardless of which side of the balance scale the company and the church chose to stand on, at least Cornelia struggled tenaciously to prove that a woman with firm determination had no reason to be tamed, and the female right of discourse would eventually be liberated.

The  map of East Asia, excerpted from Bitter Bonds in 2002,
the renown research work of historian Leonard Blusse
on the topic of Dutch East India Company

Taking the recent creation as the mean, we tried to summon the spirit with singing voice. She no longer represents any female role in particular, instead, she was more like a continuation of many other lives through hundreds of years. We invited a foreign worker who came a long way from Indonesia to Tai-wan to join the performance project. If we say, standing there on the stage, she embodied those female spirits will be absolutely imprecise. We tried to experience the inner symphony of different roles (in-cluding ourselves) we took, and hoped to offer the spirits a broader definition and stretched the axis of trade history under globalization a little bit more. Therefore, we are able to sit back and rethink about female roles, ocean and history.

Being close to the river

In 1940, Java, Indonesia, Gesang Martohartono, aged 23, wandered around the events in Solo (a.k.a Surakarta, where Gesang’s song was launched to the world) and played the song he composed– "Bengawan Solo" – with a bamboo flute. Kroncong style, which has been familiar to the locals at that time, was developed in the16th century from the music and the instruments brought by Portuguese along with the goods. The tiny Kroncong guitar played in the performance was told to come from the same origin as Hawaiian Ukelele.

In the Age of Discovery, the merchant ships of transaction trade gathered around the estuary of Solo River. She flowed southward in ancient times, yet later turned northward due to the rising of Indo-Australian Plate. It seemed like the river had got ready for its own destiny, waiting for people far away in Europe to build the ships and come in turn. It is the longest river in Java, Indonesia, running from east Java to central Java.[3] People who lived by the water built the city, and leaned on the it for prosperity. Two hundred years later, Gesangs, the self-taught musician who embarked on his musical journey, had never thought of this love song written for Solo river would be constantly covered in various languages across the straits in the next few decades, and even changed its form in film. This traditional folk song was invited to a flourishing event of pop culture in the second half of the 20th century. Japanese, Dutch and Taiwanese lyricists all appreciated its graceful melodies and decided to adapt and cover it, so it almost became the most popular Southeast Asian song in the field of crossover.

The DVD Bengawan Solo released by New Toho Co., Ltd. in 2010
In the film Bengawan Solo directed by Kon Ichikawa in1951, it cleverly arranges the Sariya(サリヤ)’s brother to be killed in Japanese’s bombing attack. The setting rationalize the absence of local young lads and simultaneously rise the tension between Sariya and Japanese soldiers. Under the environment where life has no way out, people have been emotionally trapped by the vengeance from the call of motherland and family, and the eagerness of crossing through the boundary of culture. All the circumstances above made the forbidden love become a satisfying theme for the post-war film di-rectors. Apart from antiwar and romantic perspective, the love built up by the male colonist and the female colonized (commonly composed of such relationships in this genre of film) inevitably retained the colonial mentality that left by former colonists after the termination of political right.

All the Indonesians role in Bengawan Solo are played by Japanese actors. They use the color paint to tan their skin, speak fast Indonesian with strong Japanese accent, exaggerate the body language like being in a comedy as if they intend to separate themselves from the reserved manner of Japanese. Umi Sugiharti who is of Java origin could not help laughing when she saw this kind of performance. Umi is our cooperated performer in the chapter "Songs of SPECX" in Sound Route. “We Indonesian are not like that. They act like monkeys”, she said. On the screen, Sariya's sister, Karutini(カルティニ), is screaming, jumping up and down with excitement ,and the sarong she wears reveals her body shape. Japanese crew put skimpy sarongs on the two sisters. Umi said the outfit are totally different from the typical farm girl in Indonesia. Therefore, the female sexuality was displayed more freely in front of the camera, and the images of girls bending over to do farming and drawing the water in the film maximized the sexiness of the exotic. Japanese audience’s imagination toward the colonized women was therefore satisfied.

Japanese cover of “Bengawan Solo”, the music video produced to go with the film at that time

As a film depicting cross-cultural romance, Bengawan Solo weaves the Japanese covered song into the plot and unfold the prologue for the relationship. Attracting by Sariya’s melancholy singing, the Japanese solider Fukami gochō (深見伍長) traces the melody and meets Sariya in the night forest surrounded by insects’ chirping. Both of them let go of the enemy status and fall for each other. In the film, "Bengawan Solo" brings together the Indonesian girl and the Japanese solider. Furthermore, in the reality, the common memory toward this melody as well brings closer the people of two nations. That generation of Japanese know that there is a beautiful Solo river even though they had never been to the island of Indonesia. Afterwords, since the Taiwanese singer Bûn-hā(文夏) covered the song in Taiwanese version once again, the melody of "Bengawan Solo" continued its journey and floated across the sea to another island.

Filling the land

Taking the train to run through horizon without borders on this largest artificial land Flevopolder in Netherlands. Beside the vast inland sea, there is a Dutch sailing ship, reconstructed according to Batavia in 1628, parking in the Northern city Lelystad, and has now served as an attraction for visiting. The “creak, creak” sounds come from the ship from time to time. The worker standing outside the cabin is refurbishing the ship with a grinding machine.The visitors and the neat painting of the hull after recon-struction makes the atmosphere a little bit cartoonish. It is hard to imagine that a sailing ship like this had once travelled on sea from Netherlands to the remote East Indies by carrying sailors, employees from Dutch East India Company; and even women that reached the age of marriage to fulfill the need of the colonies.

The reconstructed Dutch sailing ship Batavia in Lelystad

Whether the ship replica is capable of traveling half of the Earth and arriving in Dejima in Nagasaki, Japan (the artificial island built as a trading post for Dutch to manage direct trade and exchange with Japan) like it did three centuries ago after going under modern reconstruction? This artificial island was built outside the natural border of Japan by local merchants and was served as a territory for allowing exceptional demand. Dejima was linked to the mainland by a small wooden bridge— an exchanging portal for the past and privilege. In order to do business and live a life, the Dutch living on Dejima filed an appeal to Japanese local official hoping to recruit maidens for serving them tea and water on the island. Thereafter, girls who had the privilege to cross the bridge every night developed the cross-cultural relationship with the Dutch. However, due to the reason that the descendants could not be brought up independently on the island, they were sent along with the fleet to the company’s far-east trading headquarter Batavia, a colonial castle town called Queen of the Orient on Java island.

The entrance gate of Batavia Stad Fashion Outlet next to Batavia

Batavia Stad Fashion Outlet [4] which stands behind the replica of Batavia is designed as an antique reproduction city surrounded by brand new stone Wall and gate tower. Indulging in the seagull’s squawk and the whispering ocean breeze from north sea, the atmosphere is totally different from the colonial castle on Java island, and it doesn’t seem like the layout from the17th century we see in the museum which is filled with canals. Located in the suburb, the outlet offers a large variety of fashion brands that sells seasonal goods and clearance items. A business model that distinguishes from the re-tailers make the outlet become a hit for tourist to shop. A lot of bargain hunters flock here in early morning for seeking out discounted goods.

And now Jakarta Metropolitan Area is no longer developed in the previous style of Batavia city. The remaining colonial architecture can only be seen in the very north of Jakarta downtown.The city nowadays is like popcorn, expanding to all directions rapidly under the scorching hot weather. There is a large scale of land filling construction jointed by the Dutch under progress by the estuary in the north. In the aerial simulation, the symmetrical design of it looks like gulls flying above the city. This enor-mous construction also established seawall that stretches kilometers away to protect Jakarta city from climate change and seawater erosion.

The former harbor has become today's inland. The city hall of Dutch East India Company in Batavia has been completely preserved, and the square in front of it has also become a place for citizen to gather every night. In the early 20th century, Dejima, originally located in the bay of Nagasaki, was filled up and disappeared in the city due to the vanishment of its function and the improvement engineer of the bay. Old Taijiang Inner Sea, which used to be the mid stop for the trading fleets coming back and fourth between Nagasaki and Batavia, is now a shortcut for citizen in downtown Tainan to reach Anping just by riding the scooter along the canal. When the natural boundary is changing along with the environment and time, people continue to create a new territory in response to the demand of reality. In 1913, Severnaya Zemlya, the last archipelago on Earth to be explored, was assigned to the territory of the Soviet Union. Thereafter, everyone began the pursuit of artificial land and its existence of privilege for meeting the expectation of discovering virgin land on this planet. Perhaps the situation resembles those crew who intended to sail to the end of the world; After all, it is the final pursuit of free imagination.

The illustration of land fill construction and seventeen artificial islands under reclamation project in Jakarta bay, reblogged from Mongabay: http://news.mongabay.com

1. The pictures on Google Streetview. Location: Hashima Island off the coast of Nagasaki City, also known as "Battleship Island".
2. The pictures on Google Streetview. Location: Dutch War Cemetery Ancol on Jakarta beach.
3. The pictures on Google Streetview. Location: Mount Lawu, one of the origins of Bengawan Solo梭.
4. The pictures on Google Streetview. Location: The first factory outlet centre in Holland, Batavia Stad Amsterdam Outlet, named after the VOC's flagship Batavia in 1628.