Bengawan Solo is a 7-channel video-installation which Arin Rungjang produced for the 2017 Jakarta Biennale. The song is one of most popular Indonesian folk songs and its title refers to the island of Java’s longest river. Rungjang’s work juxtaposes the personal narratives of artist, the singers’ stories and the complex history of Bengawan Solo. It contrasts the romantic idea that can be found in the song’s lyrics with the dark history of the river during the Indonesian massacre of 1965-1967.
Rungjang’s first encounter with Bengawan Solo was when he saw Wong Kar Wai’s film In the Mood for Love (2000), in which the song was performed by Shanghainese singer Rebecca Pan. It was originally written in 1940 by the 23-year-old Gesang Martohartono. Rungjang identifies Bengawan Solo with romance and melancholia as it accompanied his tormented sensual feelings he had harbored for one of his classmates—despite his adoration for his then lover —ever since he was a little boy. According to the artist, it was so powerful, that it destroyed both his body and soul.
In the seven-channel video work Rungjang invites Rachel Saraswati to sing “Bengawan Solo” with her keroncong group. The display of the individual singer and musicians on every screen is synchronized with texts recounting his personal experience.
Rungjang’s work suggests that the meaning of things can change drastically following the tides and turns of our lives and the stories revealed in unexpected situations.