A graduate of Brown University & 2016-17 Henry Luce Scholar, Evan Silver has collaborated with artists & creators all over Indonesia during his time as Artist in Residence at Rumah Sanur, Bali. Here he talks to us about his inspirations, time in Indonesia & how Rumah Sanur played a part in creating collaborations.
Where do you find inspiration for the work that you create?
I find inspirations in old texts, folklore & mythology from a pretty wide range of sources. I worked on an adaptation of a Hans Christian Anderson story, I wrote & directed a piece loosely inspired by the Icarus Myth. Two years ago I did some work with the Thousand & One Nights, so working with Arabian folklore.
For me the stories that last, the ones that survive & have these clear almost treasure troves of archetypes, tropes & roles & structures excite me because I’m interested in the idea that there can be human universals that can be accessed across cultures, across times & across media.
How have local Indonesian artists & folklore influenced your work?
Enormously. First, I would start with Indonesian artists & Balinese artists in particular.
A large portion of my year has been studying under a number of Balinese mask artists.
All of those people are so inspiring because of their mastery, the way that fits so seamlessly into Balinese culture & the way that art is so inseparable from the daily flow of life in Bali. That to me is so fascinating & beautiful.
I would say one of the special things about a lot of artists in Indonesia is the depth of the spirit in the work. That intangible spiritual component which I’ve come to realise is just so essential & absent from the work I’ve seen in places I have grown up in. I love Chicago, I love the theatre community. But I think there are some spiritual & community elements that are missing anywhere in the US & in a lot of Western countries.
What has been a highlight of your involvement with Rumah Sanur?
Rumah Sanur has facilitated really meaningful interpersonal engagements. I think it’s a wonderful space to meet people.
One example is I was here one day & I met this Tibetan Finnish filmmaker. I started chatting with her, it was right before Kuningan & she contacted a Balinese midwife to organise to take me to their celebration. The next day I go to where this woman lives & it turns out the Balinese midwife’s husband is a Balinese dancer. I told him I had an interest in studying Topang, the mask dance in Bali & he said I know guy. So we end up in Tanjung Sari where I met Pak Windia who is a masked dance master & the one who became my teacher who I had not yet & there are all these ridiculous serendipitous coincidences. He travelled to the US on a scholarship on funding from the same foundation that brought me here. He came to Brown & did a workshop there & was close friends of one of my professors at Brown.
I think there’s like this fuel in serendipity in Bali that just somehow the world manages to run on this like unbelievable cycle of things & one thing leads to another & you end up in the home of your teacher, & basically like your balinese family.
I also would say there are just a lot of really amazing people associated with Rumah Sanur & it’s been like really good to keep afloat & in touch with.
Why are creative hubs such as Rumah Sanur important for fostering local Indonesian talent & international talent?
In my eyes there are few things more important in producing a really engaged, collaborative energy among artists than having spaces that are hubs for that.
The word hub is a good word in that when I think of hub, I think of a literal space that is also a source, an enormous amount of energy that takes in energy from a wide variety of people & also gives energy back. It’s a constructive cycle of artistic creative energy, it’s about a network, it’s about having a space in which artists are frequently engaged in creative collaboration & also just physically present.
I think it can’t be understated how important that it is that it can’t just be a creative engagement space where we curate projects, it’s important that there’s coffee. I believe that, it’s important that there’s beer, it’s also a place where people come because it’s a nice place to be & like maybe there’s music, maybe there’s not but if people can cross those boundaries to just engage with one another that’s where things begin.
So many projects have begun with just a conversation or something said over a beer.
A productive, collaborative hub needs to nurture a certain kind of creative energy but also give it to the space to breathe & combine in ways that can’t possible be predicted so it’s an incubator in that way, I think that’s the word I’m looking for there’s an aspect of nurturing but there’s also an aspect of space & letting sparks fly as you will, letting chemistry happen, & that’s the beauty of a hub.
What was your recent project?
I knew I wanted to build some kind of culminating project in Bali & I wanted to primary collaborate with Indonesian artists. I knew it would be a piece of theatre or performance of some kind.
I read through a story, edited by this West Sumateran folklorist & there was one story in there that I just kept thinking about this could really be something. It’s called the Heron & the Fish, it is about a manipulative, tyrannical heron who convinces a pond full of vulnerable fish to convince them that there is a beautiful, shimmering lake out in the distance, which may or may not exist & a skeptical crab who is the outlier.
This story while it is from Central Java, it originates in India but what is really interesting is this story originates in both a Buddhist & Hindu text.
To me the idea of this long surviving story which originating in a Hindu & a Buddhist text travelled with the Buddhist text through India to Indonesia to Central Java to become part of the Buddhist Central Java which later transformed into majority Muslim & now part of a modern Muslim majority area which then travelled in a book by a West Sumateran folklorist to Bali which is majority Hindu to be picked up by an American Jew speaks to me right now.
I believe that it has survived as long as it has for a reason & I want to maintain the tradition of keeping it alive while also making it relevant in the contemporary era.