Darivisual Province: DKI Jakarta Regency/City: Central Jakarta Subdistrict: Gambir

Disrupting the Narration


This article is part of an anthology published by Forum Lenteng, entitled Diorama: Since History is Fiction (2016). We re-publish it on AKUMASSA’s website in the framework of “Darivisual”.

Surprise from Visual of a Battle

An explosion soaring at the end of the horizon. Purple clouds billowing to the sky while beneath it, an armored vehicle pointing the enemy from the distance. In front of the armored vehicles, people were scattered along the rubbles. They were lying down, lurking for the enemies while several others were injured and killed. In the right corner, someone dressed in white was seen among those injured. The building looked tattered and no longer intact. Perhaps due to the onslaught done by both parties. Those were glimpses of appearance that I had seen in a diorama titled Battle of Surabaya.

This diorama which located inside the National Museum at National Monument attempted to narrate the story about the battle of Surabaya. In its complementary text, it told that the Allied forces landed in Surabaya with NICA officers on October 1945. Some of the incidents happened and escalated to a battle. It also said that after Brigadier General Mallaby was killed, an ultimatum was issued to the people of Surabaya to immediately surrender their weapons. But according to the text of the diorama, this ultimatum was ignored by the people of Surabaya and caused the outbreak of a great battle between the Allies and the people of Surabaya on November 10th, 1945. The text also said that the day of the battle in Surabaya was happened, then was monumentalized as National Heroes Day, considering the number of Indonesian warriors who died at that time.

This story about the battle which identically depicted as the Event of November 10th somehow has been presented on the diorama differently from the history that’s been repeatedly told. At least that’s the impression I got when staring at the diorama in a glass box. What my memory collected when attending elementary school back then did not seems sufficiently reflected on what I had seen in the diorama. There was no portrayal of Brigadier General Mallaby or the fiery Bung Tomo, burning the passion of the warriors. In fact, the event when the enemy’s flag was tore by Indonesia warrior at Hotel Oranye or Yamato was not presented at all. The events that occurred in November 10th 945 were appeared in a very different way.

Partly wondering, I carefully observed the visual of Battle of Surabaya presented in the diorama. Instead of capturing the whole impression of the Battle, the one that stole my attention turn out to be strokes of paint on the wall that created phrases. The strokes said ‘Merdeka atau Mati’ (Freedom or Dead), ‘Freedom Forever’ up to “RIS linggis” (Lever the RIS) as well as “Mandi darah” (blood bathe), and all those seem to be the visual of the battle itself. They strongly echoed once the eyes caught the sight. A real articulation that could be sensed since the verb has turned into visuals. It became an unheard but visible statement.

Those scribbled on the wall along the battlefield were not much. But within the small numbers, the message of rebellion felt so real. The letters were written in a pitch-black paint as if it was trying to proclaim the toughness of the warrior’s heart to fight the colonizer. Even through the way it were placed, the visual of this text seemed like narrating the heroic act during that battle. The text of ‘Blood Bathe’ for example. It was placed a little above the visual of a white dressed woman –probably a nurse who was helping the wounded one, a soldier perhaps. A little closer to this scene, there seen the text ‘Lever the RIS’ that indirectly identified the enemy. The presence of word ‘NICA’ that was crossed, even more confirmed the ongoing war situation regardless the enemy only appeared in the form of visual text, ‘Lever the RIS’.

The presence of those rebellions texts in fact gave even deeper information about the November 10th 1945. Probably it was the historical aspects that had been skipped in the common stories. This strange depiction of history for me was embodying other face of the history that rarely seen by most of the people. The portrayal of this situation that previously we didn’t receive when we were studying Indonesian History just as it is, now, it was illustrated on a form that (probably) more varied. My mode of thinking received new information but at the same time, the stream of question overflew because I was shocked. This shock inevitably created a situation where the construction of my understanding toward Battle of Surabaya’s history was being disrupted. Between the attempts to criticize, validate and bridged the knowledge that seems to have many gaps.

The Stuttered Spectator

Although the visual of the diorama is three dimension that can be seen from many directions, the diversity of spectator views of the diorama are not as rich as it should be. The presence of glasses give limitations toward my experiences in reading the diorama, more over with the limitation of eyes itself (nearsighted, farsighted, et cetera). My point of view as a spectator hits the glass and stop at the two dimension reality. Though actually diorama is a 3D dimension, the spectators get the sense of watching TV only. We can just watch it from a certain direction without any ability to go deeper to every corners of the diorama. There are always details from diorama that is left and unread. Thus it is not doubtable when the information received are always in pieces and not always containing the entire reading meant by the diorama.

This limitation due to the presence of the glass is not different from the limitations caused by the lack of knowledge. The understandings about the history of Indonesia that are lack of depth and the information about the history itself, that is not thorough caused the spectator feels the sense of stutter during their reading upon history. The historical contexts are digested pieces by pieces to make it relate to the big narration. As if accepting the endless water from the sky which falls drop by drop.

Just like Battle of Surabaya diorama. Instead of portrayed by the visual of the rubbles and the text about rebellions, the history about Battle of Surabaya usually is more identic with the event where our soldiers tore the flag of the Allies at Hotel Oranye or Hotel Yamato which finally triggered the aggression and the death of General Mallaby. Besides that, most of children who are privileged to study History in Elementary School will remember the iconic picture of Bung Tomo calling for the revolutionary spirit of the soldiers through a local radio. Indeed, this picture appear many times at the basic History books during elementary school. This makes the Battle of Surabaya itself seems so identical to Bung Tomo. While the situations where there is much rubbles and the revolutionary visual seems like escaping our mind. The obvious presence of farmers joining the battle with barefoot using caping (farmer’s hat made of hay) are also missed from the common story about the battle. In fact, it tends to be unimaginable. There are always certain figures who appear at the front, mostly blurred the situations around, including anonymous figures in the history itself. Whether the imagination of the spectator is indeed limited or the inheritance of knowledge system that is always sta. We only get a glimpse from abundant knowledge that actually very plentiful.

Questions over the ignorance that comes to mind may sound a little naive, but it also could almost reflect the poorness of imagination of the history. So there is a narration in the images of diorama that is so difficult for us to read. As a spectator, we feel stuttered to capture the story of the figures in the diorama. In fact there is a sense of disturbed that emerged from the presence of unread narrative about this figures. As if there was a story that is still hanging, hidden and asked to be read.

At this stage, the stuttered over the face of history feels so disturbing. The composition of the historical narrative that previously existed inside head is asking to be disrupted. The disconnection of knowledge makes the already limited eyes becomes increasingly more restricted. Barriers also well-developed, from physical barriers until abstraction of knowledge. To the extent that the system and unit stuck together with each other in empty space and can only play guessing because of this stuttering matter.

Smart Phone and its camera

Glasses that presented between the spectators and diorama became a barrier that selecting spectator views and images of narrative diorama. Not surprised, later on there is a kind of standoff when digesting the visual narratives in diorama. But the difficulty in digesting the visual apparently did not fully make the spectator fails to accept the narrative of the diorama. Glass which become the barrier between our knowledge and the diorama, actually can be transformed into a potential. Through its ability to provide reflection, glass was able to give a chance for spectators to chop apart the narration of the diorama.

This treatment comes not only from the nosiness and half-desperate’ consideration alone. This treatment actually is a way to read the narration that is not readable by the eye which has minimum knowledge. Because knowledge is limited, then what can be done is splitting apart the unreadable narrative because it is not entirely readable. To do this work, a man’s natural eye lens is not enough. It requires the presence of an eye that is able to unpack and infiltrate into the crack and gap that is unable to enter by the human eye. This is where the help of the second eye is needed to read the tiny figures in diorama to be enlarged so it could tell its own the narration.

One of the closest and most familiar visual medium to us today is the camera. This optical instrument at the beginning of its appearance feels so exclusive and can only be used a certain person. But now, it is very accessible and even owned by most of people. It has been a mass objects belonged to the people and are so closed to their daily lives. Almost everyone today has a camera, even a little kid. Sometimes, a little kid aged 4 years even already literate to operate the camera and record things using it. Playing with camera seems to be a natural part of their childhood experience.

This condition applies because of the development of technological innovations where camera becomes attached to the mobile phone technology. It is unclear that how long this mating had occurred, but this product of mass communication that existed in 1973 is now so attached with camera. Nowadays, camera is one of the features that must exist on a cell phone. Especially when the digital era has provided the convenience for people to explore the world as well as ‘add’ the repertoire of life through internet on mobile phones. The image recorded or unrecorded by eyes then can be reappeared through a cell phone camera and distributed to the audience through the features of the Internet.

The integration of this function furtherly ease human life along with the invention and development of smartphone. The digital technology today has entered the era of smartphone and touchscreen which makes human physical can directly come into contact with the digital world at any time. This condition allows technology to be so immersed with our daily lives. We begin to touch not only directly on objects we touched, but also through the media. We begin to see not only through our eyes but also through the eyes of the second eye. The eyes of camera’s mobile phone can be a technological vision that makes the ‘disability’ of natural human eyes can be perfected. Unconsciously, this technology is able to embody and becomes the second eye to create and view images that are hardly seen or shown by the natural human eyes.

Such as small pictures that are unattainable by eyes. It takes zooming feature to be able to capture images of small images that are hard to directly seen by the eyes. Or if the lighting is inadequate, then the cellphone camera mode can be changed to suit the needs. The camera mode features even capable of distorting the color of objects displayed by the camera. Providing an alternative that is sometimes almost completely different from the reality. Even over the autofocus system and the type of lens, a cellphone camera can capture visual refraction and integrate it with the existing visual realities. Then create an object as if it was on the place where it is not actually there. Such visual is the kind that cannot be directly captured by the human eyes. By using camera technology, that limitation can be patched and even be used as an opportunity for exploration and provocation of visual reality. A celebration of the harmonization of technology and human work.

In the context of photographing the dioramas, the exhibition space is dim and the diorama stored in glass box, makes the process of reading the narrative of diorama becomes not easy. In the very big exhibition hall that is affected by a variety of lights make the glass of diorama is prone to reflections. It is very difficult to capture the scene in a diorama without the shadows of the present situations or additional reflection of the lights on the location. In the afternoon, visitors are very crowded, photographing the diorama and/or taking selfie with diorama. As if they are part of the diorama. The flashlights from cameras also become the ‘noise’ that makes it difficult to frame diorama ‘cleanly’ to make it a complete spectator personal archives.

By the night, the light inside the exhibition hall is even stronger chiming at diorama. For my eyes that suffered from nearsighted, this condition is very frustrating because they interfere the process of looking closely to diorama. For the camera eye, these light glows as if they are challenging the diorama. It defeated the flaming narrative that attempted to be performed by diorama and becomes a huge distraction to the process of archiving diorama. The hall lights, lights from vending machines up to the flashlight of the cameras keep on interrupting the narrative of diorama mercilessly.

Cellphone camera technology in these conditions seems to have dependable contribution to the attempt of reading diorama. What needs to be done is by optimizing the features in a mobile phone to be able to capture the narrative of the diorama. So that what was once in a distant and hard to read closely, become easier to read. The physical design of a mobile phone that is light, thin and easy to carry anywhere make it very flexible to read the diorama though other visitors are sometimes very hectic and crowded.

In this case, our freedom as camera holder is facilitated by the presence of the camera. What we need to find can be found by the eyes of the camera. What we need to show can be shown through the help of the camera eyes. Head, eyes and hands at the same time are needed to synchronize what need to be seen and shown through the ability of the camera. So that it becomes an extension of hands (and eyes) for our own interests as human beings as well as the authority holder on the technology that we hold.

Trans-piercing the Boundary Glass

Assistance that can be provided by a mobile phone also includes a process of circumventing the interfering condition of the exhibition space. As previously said, the lights inside the exhibition hall are so bright and bouncing everywhere in the glass of diorama. Similarly, the brilliant light from the vending machine keeps flashing and appearing in the capture of diorama image due to the refraction by the glass. This distortion by a mobile phone can actually be a gap to play with. What should be distraction would turn into form of novelty narrative.

In Battle of Surabaya diorama, for example. When we read this diorama, our eyes cannot escape from the befalling refraction of light in the exhibition space that goes into a diorama. In fact, not rarely happened that the vending machines suddenly appear in the background of diorama or just being present in the middle of the soldiers at war. So inconsiderate the presence of this vending machines until as if it becomes part of the diorama. Not to mention the shadow of other visitors who enter the diorama and seems to be a large black ghost in the battle arena!

Distortion and hustle which complicates the process of reading or perpetuating diorama is actually not much different from the knowledge of spectator that is full of distortions. System of locations that have a lot of distractions are the limitation of diorama. But all obstacles and difficulties in reading this diorama could still be transformed into a playground.

Cellphone cameras in this case proved to have magical ability that could play with distortion and distraction caused by the glass. Instead of making it as divider, the glass can be converted into a bridge to transpierce us into the diorama. The presence of refraction on the glass of diorama can be placed as if it was truly part of diorama. Of course, this process of selection and also through a reconstruction are done entirely by the camera holder. As the result, the narration about a battle against the enemy in the Battle of Surabaya diorama can be very surreal when the eye of camera inserts vending machines and framed into a target of armored vehicle. Through other position and angle of camera, this machine can also be changed as a hotbed of the army or become a strange bag carried by one of the fighters. It can even be a mere imagination chased by the youths who were playing hide and seek!

If so, then not only enlarge and capture what the human eye cannot catch. Cellphone camera even can distort a narration and make it different from its previous holistic narration. It becomes an instrument to build a new narration and to sort out the readable narration. However, such act of distorting the narration can only be achieved when we look through the camera’s eye and consciously framing what we want to show. The presence of camera in this case is intended to do deeper infiltrate into the visible world to explore and record its visual phenomena. Operating the camera in this case is being emphasized to the extent of framing process and materializing the abstraction of what’s inside the camera holder’s heads. Regarding this matter, indeed we choose which history we wish to present.

Distorted Reflection in Reading History

Almost every diorama present as a representation history that has been sort out, just like diorama at Monas. Its presence as a narration which has been selected by certain authority to represent a past event, in this case is an event of Indonesian struggles since the age of stone until past independence era. This history reconstruction is going through a selection process until it becomes a 3D visual with certain narratives. And then this history representation become a no-man narration which actually is open to everyone to interpret. Unfortunately, this gap between the spectator’s knowledge and the diorama are often making the spectator stuttering to read. Moreover, there are shadows of the today’s location which became a presentation that is always interrupted spectator’s reading of diorama that has become a history representation.

To outsmart today’s knowledge gap, technology such as camera and handphone have the ability to be a bond between both of them. Through selfie, spectator is unconsciously put themselves in a representation of history. So that today’s presentation and past’s representation can be put together in a new representation of today and the past. This kind of behavior precisely capable of making a room to play, to overcome the difficulty of reading the history representation. Even, through the help of technology that is playing with refraction of today’s reality into a history, the narration of history itself can be distorted.

Specifically, the camera phone has a feature which capable to capture a whole shadows that refracted through a glass along with the object that is behind the glass altogether And combine both of the objects into a whole new visual. And of course, with a new framing of story.

In this case, a camera gives freedom to the people to distort the context and write their own narration, detached from the existed narrative. Through the authority of the camera’s owner, camera is showing what it sees to the eyes of human nature. The presence of reality is reconstructed by framing and a selection so that it becomes a new representation that is suitable with the camera owner’s wish. So, people consciously can pick which narrative that want to be shown through the authority of camera. This opportunity that might disrupt back the history fortunately can be gained from the gap between present knowledge and past representation in the diorama.

In and Out from Narration

As a three-dimension artwork, diorama not only offered a lot of perspectives but also a lot of narratives. From a big narrative that is presented by diorama, there are also many minor narratives in the corner of diorama like it has been waiting for someone to tell their story.

In the process, a presentation narrative of diorama is not just been there. It goes through a long process which controlled by authority and a story making of the history that has happened. At least, this has been started since a reduced event and which figure that want to be shown. As the consequences, the event was selected and change all the narratives that has happened. Making appearance of the history for the public is actually just a history representative which became a medium control for a nation to make an image about itself. In the process of diorama it is appeared in a shape of miniature and cherry-picking figure of the event.

In this three-dimension miniature, diorama appeared as a representative and a reconstruction of history. But, this representative circumstances is only applied when this diorama is not being read. However, its condition when read, diorama has become an attended, displayed presentation and even dynamically can also be a representation. This potential is to make a history as a public space for public to interpret.

This discretion flow is so hard to be stopped, especially with the presence of digital technology. Even so, the foresight to sort out the technology also needs to be encouraged because it is also related to the selection of public to write their own history. The context of in and out of an event and also a figure which was only a nation authority is now can be owned by the public. With a help by technology, the public can re-experience history and even can find many things that missed from a big history narratives. Making its leakage from historical scenario which was made by the nation.

This leakage is instead become a signal that history is indeed a fiction which can be own by us together. It is very hard to crystallized the history and locked from exposure in the era of technological innovation today. From which, there is always a room of playing interpretation for history to be experienced and reconnected again from generation who has not experienced through a trivial thing even once. At the same time, this leakage has become a public agent in telling the history. It is an uproar and a divided history by the public that ultimately celebrate by the help of today’s technology. ***

About the author


Anggraeni Widhiasih

Anggraeni Widhiasih (Sleman, 1993), earning a bachelor's degree in International Relations at the University of Paramadina 2016. She is currently a member of the Forum Lenten, in charge for Research and Development division and the Diorama program. She had been a reporter in 4th ARKIPEL - Jakarta Documentary & Experimental Film Festival. She is also a researcher at the Koperasi Riset Purusha and a member of kafha theater at the University of Paramadina.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.