Ichwan Noor is a Yogyakarta-based artist renowned for his large-scale sculptures of hybrid human, animal and technological forms. A graduate of the School of Visual Art at the Indonesia Institute of the Arts (ISI), Yogyakarta, and a Professor of Fine Arts at the University of Yogyakarta, Noor works predominantly with bronze, aluminium and resin. His recent works have also included found components that are transformed through the processes of casting and welding. In local circles he is sometimes called ‘The Maker’, a nickname he has earned through mentoring other artists and sharing his expert knowledge.1 ‘Ichwan Noor’, Prudential Eye Awards: Contemporary Asian Art, , accessed 19 May 2016.
Noor’s work Beetle sphere, 2015, currently installed in the foyer of NGV International, is part of an ongoing series the artist began in 2011 featuring the 1953 Volkswagen Beetle (or ‘People’s Car’) reimagined in a variety of new shapes. The car’s original design was purportedly based on a sketch by Adolf Hitler, and subsequently built by Ferdinand Porsche’s automotive design company in 1934. The mass-produced vehicle was manufactured with only minor changes for the next forty-one years.2 ‘1977 Volkswagen Beetle’, Conceptcarz, <http://www.conceptcarz.com/vehicle/z12718/Volkswagen-Beetle.aspx>, accessed 19 May 2016.
Beetle sphere takes the vehicle’s iconic curves to the extreme. Responding to the car’s loaded political history and signature design, the work features the twentieth-century design classic warped into a sphere comprised of authentic and fabricated components. To avoid the damage involved in reshaping a real car, Noor carved a spherical polyurethane replica of the vehicle’s body and then cast it in aluminium. A separate spherical interior was produced and fit to the cast exterior. The resulting sculpture is augmented with original car parts by the manufacturer to complete the illusion.
Noor has explored the theme of transport in previous works featuring objects and figures in motion, such as Kaki #3, 2006, a human leg cast in resin and fused with peddles and bicycle gears; Traveller, 2008, a pair of bronze legs on rollerskates; and Pegasus, 2011, a horse with aeroplane wings. These sculptures reflect Noor’s interest in the combination of the man-made and the organic, in which human or animal forms are supported by or merged with technological attributes. Increasingly, however, Noor focuses exclusively on the man-made, modifying different vehicular components into new, simplified shapes in which their original function is challenged.
In 2011 Noor was included in the group exhibition Art Motoring: Motion and Reflection at the Galeri Nasional Indonesia, Jakarta. An initiative of the Indonesia Classic Car Owners Club, this exhibition paired forty-five classic cars with eighty-five works by Indonesian contemporary artists that responded to the vehicles’ designs. It was here that Noor presented the Beetle box, his first work in the Volkswagen Beetle series which featured the vehicle crushed into a cube. Describing the series, Noor observes that his dramatic transformations of these iconic forms encourage audiences to see things differently:
The idea emerged from a personal perception towards objects that are products of a ‘transportation culture’, which induces hints/signs of spiritual emotion. To behold a vehicle (car) is to have a ‘magical’ (supernatural) identity. By combining the techniques of manipulation and substitution, the form of this sculpture tends toward realistic distortion, which allows new interpretations about the object (car), as a shift in perception that creates an associative meaning.3 Ichwan Noor in Pinar May, ‘VW Beetles compressed into circular balls and cubes’, 30 May 2013, My Modern Met, <http://www.mymodernmet.com/profiles/blogs/ichwan-noor-beetle-sphere>, accessed 18 May.
Serena Bentley, Assistant Curator, Contemporary Art, National Gallery of Victoria, spoke to Noor about his practice, and Beetle sphere:
SB: You lived through the 1998 Reformasi in Indonesia; what effect did this period of significant transition have on the local arts community and on your own practice?4 The Reformasi is a term for the movement to end Suharto as President of Indonesia in 1998, and the post-Suharto era in Indonesia that began immediately after it.
IN: The Reformasi had significant influence over the art community in Indonesia; during this time artists became freer in choosing themes that would have otherwise been considered sensitive under the New Order regime. It had a similar impact on my practice, even though very few of my works concern Indonesia’s political situation.
SB: Would you describe yourself as a sculptor primarily?
IN: I am very much a sculptor. I majored in sculpture at art school; I live off my sculptures and my activities in the field of sculpture.
SB: Beetle sphere is part of an ongoing series of sculptures involving the iconic 1953 Volkswagen Beetle. What is it about this particular vehicle that interests you?
IN: This vehicle is familiar to almost everybody across the globe, no matter their age or social status. People everywhere, across space and time, know the Beetle. I see the VW Beetle as one of the most successful designs, one that people will always be familiar with.
SB: How was Beetle sphere fabricated?
IN: I took the shape of the VW Beetle, which is an oval, and returned it to its basic shape, a sphere. I modelled and moulded the work using cast aluminium then added original VW parts to ensure people recognised elements of the classic car even though they aren’t seeing it in its usual context, driving along the highway.
SB: When talking about the works in this series you mentioned that some objects have a ‘spiritual gesture’ or ‘magical identity’, what do you mean by that?
IN: There are always traces of the human in objects that have close relations with humans. I don’t mean ‘automatism’ but merely a projection of consciousness. I see this as more than simply adoration of an object because of the nostalgia it invokes, like memorabilia. Maybe there are some animistic beliefs in there.
‘Ichwan Noor’, Prudential Eye Awards: Contemporary Asian Art, <http://prudentialeyeawards.com/2015/sculpture-1/ichwan-noor>, accessed 19 May 2016.
‘1977 Volkswagen Beetle’, Conceptcarz, <http://www.conceptcarz.com/vehicle/z12718/Volkswagen-Beetle.aspx>, accessed 19 May 2016.
Ichwan Noor in Pinar May, ‘VW Beetles compressed into circular balls and cubes’, 30 May 2013, My Modern Met, <http://www.mymodernmet.com/profiles/blogs/ichwan-noor-beetle-sphere>, accessed 18 May.
The Reformasi is a term for the movement to end Suharto as President of Indonesia in 1998, and the post-Suharto era in Indonesia that began immediately after it.