“Over a span of several years, I have been in a constant process of making installations that deal with the state of matter in transformation. In this essay, that process is revealed through a careful and intimate look at my practice and the fundamental questions it has raised, especially with regard to the other-than-humans—who may be fungi, plants, virus, bacteria, deities, spirits, entities, animals... Below I write about how four specific artworks have contributed to these thoughts.
Observations from Practice
(Kampnagel, Hamburg, Germany, 2016)
With experimentation and observation as my main sources of study, I have tried to understand energy generation processes based on rotting. A turning point happened while I was building PODRERA, a monumental installation, in Germany. ‘Podrera’ is a Brazilian-Portuguese slang word that means large-scale putrefaction—or also a very bad situation.
Inside a pavilion with black linoleum flooring, without direct incidence of sunlight, this work was completely composed of organic elements. A ten-meter-long tubular sack of burlap fabric filled with straw that was covered in mud, was suspended three meters above the ground; it surrounded a standing totem pole made of a tree trunk completely covered in hand-tied flowers. White cotton fabric connected the suspended ring to the base of the totem and to two large hay rolls. On the surface of the jute ring flax seeds were sprouting.
At some point during the assemblage, we had to move one of the large hay. That roll had been standing there for a few days, and its lower part, which was in contact with the floor, had a little bit of soil mixed in with it. When we shifted the roll an expansive heat made us jump back. It felt like something completely unexpected—a phenomenon.
The shock caused by that experience got me thinking:
How did this soil heat up by itself? What caused this?
What processes were we witnessing?
These were the kinds of questions that were sparked and led me to further investigate the relationships with otherness, which I discovered are mainly caused by the presence of fungi.”
An existential scale of understanding: on fungus and fabulation in Daniel Lie’s oeuvre
by artist, curator, and writer Nomaduma Rosa Masilela
Published in the catalogue “Scales of Decay” (Berlin: Künstlerhaus Bethanien, 2021), on the occasion of the exhibition Scales of Decay by Daniel Lie within the International Studio Programme of KfW-Stiftung in partnership with Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin.
“A moment of silence before we begin.
In a corner of Daniel Lie’s studio at Künstlerhaus Bethanien sits a bowl filled with fruit and vegetables. Undisturbed, it quietly transforms as it slowly decays. The fruits gain fur, lose firmness, acquire a new turgidity and texture as they shrink in on themselves and cycle through the slow process of decomposition and decay.
As the fruits and vegetables decompose, Lie composes a series of mixed-media drawings on paper in response to the slow, evolving process of death, decay, and of artistic creation. Lie’s oeuvre, which includes performances, illustrations and large-scale installations, reveals the many ways in which creating follows a process of fabulation similar to that of decay.
A pastel and watercolour field of green and yellow serves as the background for a scattered cacophony of charcoal shapes, both figurative and abstract. Scales of Decay (2020) is a large-format multimedia work on paper that hangs from the ceiling on a wooden rod, like a banner, a hanging sheet, or a reinvented “jammer”.
The work depicts a bowl of decomposing fruit exploded across the picture plane – a détournement of the core elements of a traditional still-life painting through a combination of dynamism, incompleteness, and a flurry of gesture and movement. Lie’s détournement of still-life stasis reflects a core philosophy of their practice which engages the decayed and rotten as expansive vectors through which to critically fabulate processes of life and death, loss and existence, narrative and enunciation, both within the experiences of human life and within those which Lie calls “other-than-human”.
Is silence an absence?
While on residency and living in Indonesia for an extended period of time for the first time in their life, Lie learned of the power of silence, which they described as not simply an absence of noise, but as another form of communication with matter. During this time, acclimatising to an unfamiliar country that their ancestors had called home, Lie had to “access the power of a specific silence. [...] Living here has been a process of rebirth, [...] to develop a new form of accessing my body.”
The rebirth that Lie experienced during their year in Indonesia was also fuelled by an online art and archival project which explored the history of their grandparents, who emigrated to Brazil from Indonesia in 1958. Titled Toko Buku Liong (2020), the project was web-hosted by the Cemeti Institute for Art and Society, and was a collaboration between Lie and curator Adelina Luft. It operated as an effort to put together the biographical fragments of Lie’s family history before their immigration to Brazil and the archival remnants of the comic books that their grandparents produced through their family-run bookstore in Semarang, Indonesia, in the 1950s.
Combining personal narratives, artworks, as well as historical and archival research, the project was an affective archive that served as a “strategy to recover my Indonesian roots, undernourished due to 60 years of migration and 17,790 kilometres of distance”.”
“This printed conversation is based on two exchanges between Daniel Lie and farid rakun in March and May 2021. Based on mutual interests such as other-than-human agency and collective work, farid was invited to a conversation that ultimately presented an opportunity to acknowledge how getting to know each other had impacted Daniel’s artistic trajectory. In between the two online meetings, Daniel had to learn about the sudden death of their Indonesian father, who had immigrated to Brazil in 1959 and who tragically died of COVID-19.
The conversation therefore delves deeper into cultural perspectives on death and loss, while connecting them to core elements of Lie’s practice.
farid rakun: It was a very specific moment in my life when we met for the first time in São Paulo. It was in the second half of 2013, and I decided to come back to Indonesia after finishing my masters in the United States. “Okay,” I thought, “I’m not going anywhere else, I’m going to return home to Jakarta to be with ruangrupa”. I couldn’t find anything like our collective anywhere else, and I also became aware that a lot of people were actually interested in Jakarta and Indonesia, and because my roots were in Jakarta it made sense to come back at that moment. It was during that time, while we were doing the 31st São Paulo Biennial, that I had my deepest involvement with ruangrupa. I think it was on one of those preliminary visits, and not only for me, but for a lot of us in ruangrupa, the people we met in Brazil left a lasting impression on us – which remains up until today.
Although we don’t speak each other’s languages – and not all Indonesians and Brazilians can speak English – I think we felt a strong connection. I don’t know why, but with you, from what I remember, it was striking to find someone who had Indonesian blood running in their veins and who was interested in this heritage – although at that moment I don’t think you had any deep knowledge about Indonesia and hadn’t found a way yet to relate to the country as a part of your history, your family history and biography – the way you did things, how you approached them, your interests, everything seemed to me like you were planting seeds, metaphorically speaking. We’ve always been interested in that context, and you were a big part of that experience – at least subjectively. I remember visiting one of your studios at a residency, where I saw a glimpse of your work, and there was potential, talent, a distinct voice.
I realised that it was something valuable, but I didn’t know how to move on from there, and maybe up until now I still don’t know why or how I would translate that interest, also because we haven’t had the opportunity to work together in a professional way other than sharing networks.”
60 Years of Migration and 17,790 Kilometers Away” by Daniel Lie and Juliana dos Santos