Lucid Memories

A representation of Hans Christoffel past stories and his ghostly memories
(2017)
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“Lucid Memories” is a series of Pepper’s Ghost Projection installations that built as part of the Lifepatch projects that exhibited in two different cities on Belgium. The first project is a Lifepatch solo exhibition titled “IN SITU: Lifepatch – The Tale Of Tiger And Lion” in Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst Antwerpen (M HKA) at 16 September 2017 until 7 January 2018, curated by Nav Haq and Alia Swastika. The second project is an exhibition titled “Tano Toba Saga” under the grand exhibition of “Europalia Art Festival Indonesia – 2017” with the main title called “Power and other things: Indonesia & Art (1835-now)” curated by Charles Esche and Riksa Afiaty in Palais des Beaux-Arts (BOZAR) Brussels at 18 October 2017 until 21 January 2018.

Both projects focused on presenting the two key figures and their relations within a small fragment of the North Sumatra long histories during the colonial era, which are Sisingamangaraja XII as the last king of Toba People and the Swiss-Dutch soldier Hans Christoffel who represents the Dutch empire with their colonization policies. It begins with an opportunity for Lifepatch to make brief research through various well-preserved Indonesian historical artefacts, narrations, and documents that well-preserved in the Museum Aan De Stroom at Antwerp and Bronbeek Museum at Arnhem, likewise the exploration through various places on North Sumatra that local histories mostly delivered orally and culturally as storytelling, theatre, song or even dance. Driven by the tendencies that history often articulated into several versions motivated by the perspective of ideology, politics, and even personal identity, instead of intending to summarize the long history of colonialism in North Sumatra and comparing each version to find the most proper version, through both projects, Lifepatch tried to present all the scattered historical fragments and its contrast attributes to emphasize its complexity through incorporating historical artwork and archival material, together with a major narration linking all the installations.

Those ideas brought me as part of Lifepatch have an interest in presenting a historical narration focused on Hans Christoffel’s figure whose existence is basically become an inseparable part of North Sumatra’s history during the colonial era. The tendencies of history that are strongly influenced by certain perspectives and identities brought the story of Hans Christoffel to have several slightly different version, not just the facts that he was a “Koninklijk Nederlands Indisch Leger” (KNIL) officer who succeeded in leading many military operations during the pacification of East Indische as the Dutch colony territory, including the obliteration of  Toba people guerrilla resistance in the Tapanoeli war by capturing their leader the Si Singamangaraja XII who eventually died on a battlefront. For some people, he would be defined as an evil person based on his bloodstained reputation who prefers to assault his prey and finish the kill without mercy. On the other side, some people would prefer to acknowledge him as a great soldier or a hero because of his achievements. Meanwhile, as we explore the archives during the research as part of a residency program fully supported by Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst Antwerpen (M HKA), AIR Antwerpen, each well-preserved artefacts and documents such as military log-book, pictures, telegrams, letters, postcards, newspaper clippings within the museum archives seems to hide a particular story with a specific context, time periods and space that can be interpreted as scattered fragments of a bigger story. Eventually, the linkage of each material weaves a fairly long story that can be divided into four main chapters, which were the chapter about Christoffel’s military career during his services as an officer in Royal Dutch East Indische Army, the chapter about his iconic military missions in North Sumatra when obliterating the Toba People resistance and captures their leader Si Singamangaraja XII, the chapter about his military achievement during the pacification of Dutch East Indische that brought him became one of the highly decorated soldiers, and ended with his daily life after retired story as the final chapter.

However, while compiling Christoffel’s story, I met with a strange situation that sparked my curiosity. Although he was a person with a great military achievement, received a knight title and awarded the Eresabel sabre as one of the highest military awards for bravery in the Netherlands Kingdom, there are only a few artefacts or documents could represent his story. Even in the Bronbeek Museum that prided itself as the central archive for preserving the Royal Dutch East Indische Army histories during the colonial era, its collection only presents Christoffel’s figure through several official military documents, old pictures, and his Eresabel.

Through the opportunities to have great discussions with Willy Durinx -Co-Curator “Collectie Christoffel” of Museum Aan De Stroom- who also allowed me to see some of his research, I learn many other interesting facts about Hans Christoffel based on information that preserved in a digital scan of several newspaper articles, few of Christoffel personal portrait picture, and several building in around Antwerp and Kalmthout, Belgium.

The most interesting facts about Christoffel within his retirement days are well-preserved in an interview article within a newspaper called De Telegraaf that was published on 21 April 1940. It shows that he seems to try very hard changing his persona completely.

“I have done my duty in Indië, but nothing else. And it’s all so terribly long ago…”
…………
“Thirty years ago, I dropped a curtain about everything that had happened. I shook off all my time in the jungle, started a new life, thought about the past as little as possible, searched for and found peace.

(Christoffel, De Telegraaf, 21 April 1940)

 

“With the history where everybody else would be happy to boast about, Christoffel has completely broken with it. He has burned all things from his Indischen time, reports, letters, pictures….”

(Article Writer, De Telegraaf, 21 April 1940)

It appears that to cover his deeply rooted and emotionally related memories, he needs more effort than just alienating his past life by changing his daily activities with a totally different way of life. He also implants new thought that what he had done in the past was merely carrying out his duties as a soldier, no less and no more. Even though has to complete the assignments using methods that considered to be vile and without mercy, he admits that “It was a messy job, but it has to be done”. Finally, to prevent his past life from being remembered, he burned all his personal notebooks, photographs and various documents that could work as a  powerful stimulus to reenact the feelings and experiences of the past.

Compare to what Lifepatch learned from the Toba people in North Sumatra, they believe that memories of the past are very important things and must be always preserved as part of efforts to maintain their personal and community identities. Even though they no longer possess their own rightful heirloom and historical artefact because thousands of weapons, jewellery, textiles, and many other cultural objects had been taken from the battlefield, “donated under pressure” or just bought during the colonial era, the Toba people have their own way to preserve their history and delivering it to the next generations orally and culturally through storytelling, theatre, song or even dance.

Both of them appear to emphasize the fact that memory is an absolute necessity for the existence of history. At the same time, their memories manifested as a story that provides additional value to particular objects and makes them could be considered to be a treasure or a historical artefact. Even though memory constantly requires objects or maybe particular keywords to recalling it back in our mind, the past can still exist in people’s heads and nowhere else. Just like what I learn from Christoffel’s answers during the interview with De Telegraaf. His efforts to cover up the past and made it no longer able be remembered might be considered successful. Can’t be denied, his action not only affecting him personally, but it also made his past very difficult to reunited and retold accurately by anyone else. At the same time, how the way he refused to answer the questions by changing the conversation subject into his current life story seems to have a tendency that actually Christoffel’s subconscious mind still stored some traces of his past even though it can’t be easy to remember. Those memories keep waiting as a non-figurative entity, haunting him with the possibility that it could reappear clearly in his mind when encounters certain things or a particular object. It will be revealed in our mind as several major pieces of information in a form of illusory images, which are assembled sequentially by our thoughts into a story with its own reality as if a transparent ghostly figure.

The phantasmagoria values of memories brought me to have an interest in the idea of presenting Christoffel’s past story narrations in the form of a non-figurative entity instead of presenting various historical artefacts in their original physical form. All of the artefacts were scanned and processed digitally to generate a series of imaginary objects as materials to produce animated videos. Through those videos, I tried to anthropomorphize them as if they were alive and kept trying to tell Christoffel’s memories that still preserved until now.

The Hans Christoffel’s Historical Narration Videos on The Lucid Memories Installation
courtesy of Wisnu Wisdantio youtube.com channel

In the end, those animated videos will be presented with illusion techniques that were discovered around the 16th century and popularized by John Pepper around 1862 in the Phantasmagoria performances so-called “Pepper’s Ghost“ technique. It’s a version of visual effects using glass and light to produce a reflection of a person or an object to appear on-stage similar to a ghost or a hollow entity.

Besides bringing back Christoffel’s past in a form of memory as non-figurative entities, the installation of Lucid Memories is also used as a medium to raise several questions about the existence of historic artefacts that are usually taken from its original place and then will be valued, preserved, even presented as physical evidence to verify the truth of certain historical or cultural narratives within museums or other facilities. It’s closely related to the existence of various heritages and historical artefacts belong to the Toba people. Instead of being stored, cared for, and culturally became part of its rightful owner’s daily lives, many of these artefacts are stored and well-preserved in various museums abroad. Ironically, it becomes part of exhibitions to tell or represent historical narratives, which are actually just a small fragment of a bigger story.

Risen up by those questions, although many technological advances have been made in the field of visual technology, the Lucid Memories was built as a prototype of simple technology to convert a video became three-dimensional illusory images of particular artefacts to present historical or cultural narrations that can be shown in various places. Meanwhile, the artefacts in its physical form will always be protected and preserved in their original places.

 

Produced as part of “Power And Other Things: Indonesia & Art (1835 – Now)” Europalia Art Festival Indonesia 2017. Exhibited at the Palais des Beaux-Arts (BOZAR) in Brussels and Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst Antwerpen (M HKA) in Antwerp, Belgium.

Reference Site:
* Details of “Power And Other Things: Indonesia & Art (1835 – Now)” Europalia Art Festival Indonesia on Europalia Art Festival official website.
* Details of IN SITU: Lifepatch – The Tale Of Tiger And Lion Exhibition on M HKA (Antwerp) official website.
* Details of Tano Toba Saga Exhibition on Metropolism Magazine Online Feature official website.