Following a Trail, Creating Texture


A. Sujud Dartanto


I don’t think Ellen Rodenberg is just

playing with the dozens of objects she

collected during her residency in Jogja,

after I observed the way how she arranges

the various plastic toys, such as toy soldiers,

tanks, cars, motorcycles, trees, flags, etc.,

on her worktable. Her methods recall the

joys of a child in selecting whatever she

likes and placing them into positions. This,

collecting various objects that caught her

fancy, was the first thing Ellen did upon

arriving in Jogja.


It was interesting when Ellen, an artist

born in Amsterdam in 1955, shared her

worktable with her children. It is probable

that we, adults, would be annoyed with

sharing the space, because the objects

Ellen collected were similar to her children’s

toys. However, Ellen partitioned the table,

drawing a clear boundary between her

children’s playing area and her own art

space. This proves she was not just playing,

as she was busy arranging and rearranging,

repositioning the various objects, while

trying to identify them and understand

their symbols and meanings. Ellen is

currently conducting historical research on

these objects that she will present as



There is a deep conviction to follow the

history of these objects. For instance,

the swastika is a Nazi symbol associated

with the terrifying and oppressive Hitler

regime. However, this is not the symbol’s

meaning for which Ellen is searching;

rather, she is focusing on the other meanings

and relevancies that developed and are

used in other contexts. The swastika is also

a devotional symbol for the Hindus. These

contrasting and contradictory meanings


become the base for Ellen’s research. She

focuses her attention on the diverse

perspectives of a symbol. In essence, she

wants to prove that any one symbol does

not belong to any specific group, language,

or discourse, but rather a symbol can have

different meanings, uses and rites in

different contexts.


Ellen’s background in painting explains

how she views these objects in two and

three dimensions. At this point, I see

Ellen’s unique artistic language. I think her

experience in conducting this unusual

exploration provides a valuable opportunity

to witness the process behind a final

product. The stability of painting

conventions that represent two dimensions

on a canvas seem to be shattered by Ellen’s

exploration process. For her, process

represents the basic foundation of the

final product. She demonstrates how a

miniature landscape of flags must be seen

from two visual aspects, i.e., flat and



Ellen’s artworks are explorations of

thought and intuition, a balance

between mind and soul. Sometimes, she

intuitively seizes objects she finds

without needing any previous intense

contemplation. The final result of this

process is an installation in the Cemeti Art

House exhibition space. This is Ellen’s

painting. Not a two-dimensional painting,

but one with volume that fills the space.

Various compositions of objects are spread

out; some in miniature form, others that

have been magnified. Dragon Ball, as a

hero from a Japanese comic series, is

present in life-size form, in the four corners

of the simulation arena. The Dragon Ball



character and a number of other objects

were chosen because they are cartoon

figures and are associated with strength

or can be perceived as metaphors of



This Landing Soon #7 project has

enticed Ellen to become familiar with,

understand, or, to be more specific, play,

with the similarities and differences of

cultural symbols. Three months is too short

to understand the cultural milieu of

Yogyakarta, as the heart of the Mataram

kingdom, which has a long history in the

crossroads of Javanese traditions, diverse

religions and the formation of a modern

society. Of course, one of the unique

features is how the colonial Dutch presence

in the past remains in buildings, language

and various cultural practices. Ellen is

aware of this past from the Netherlands, a

European country that has complex

history. Differences, similarities and

various relationships in the past form a

kind of collective memory that can be

recalled, forgotten, or become a symbol

ready to be deconstructed. These symbols

may at one time have been sacred signs of

reverence and nobility, but now have

assumed totally opposite meanings.


Symbols are the most articulate signs of

a perspective or ideology. The use of

symbols in society represents a kind of

undivided bond. The presence of these

symbols is a way of identifying and marking

an existence. The need for the presence of

these symbols is as old as humanity, homo

symbolicum. During the period of her

residency in Jogja, Ellen became aware

that following the trails of symbols was

one way to get to know a new place, space


and culture – both universal symbols, such

as the popular Dragon Ball, who everyone

knows, regardless of territorial boundaries

and national ideologies, as well as symbols

used actively in local contexts in Yogyakarta.

This can be seen in the documentary

photos and videos Ellen recorded of various

monuments, landscapes, plants, animals,

and people that she felt were potentially

both similar and different. This recording

process took place not only in Yogyakarta,

but also when she visited and made

presentations in Solo and Semarang.


Symbols, in the context of Ellen’s search,

are like a spider’s web. The symbols

exist in a structure and are experienced

culturally. One symbol is like a footnote

for a supra-structure. I think Ellen stops

here. She guides us to the face of this

symbolic structure. Perhaps “symbolic

texture” is more accurate. As texture, it

becomes a composition. We can see this in

a number of two-dimensional painting

fields, where colors and lines form specific

symbolic contours.


What is Ellen searching for through

this long process that involves

interpretation and duplication of various

signs? I think Ellen is one who ponders.

Beneath her methods in learning about a

new place and culture, there is another

underlying process, as if she wants to

redefine herself as a “new symbol” in

various forms of language play that are

constantly in the process of evolving .


three catalogs are made after this residence period.

See for their texts

Wimo Ambala Bayang

Maarten Schepers













The making of




Sketches of the ‘Imagine’ installation

Small teaktrees in a silicon garden with fiberglass broken Son Goku’s.


Ellen Rodenberg

Photo’s Belanda Suda Dekat! / Wimo Ambala Bayang,  Indonesian Table / Maarten Schepers


House of eggs / Maarten Schepers


The house of eggs ( Maarten Schepers) in front and Imagine (Ellen Rodenberg)  in the background.


Studio view with sketches


Studio view


Photo of Toys and flags placed on photo. The photo I made during a demonstration ( about the raising gazzoline prises) in the streets of Yogya in 2008.