May 5th, 1923. The Dutch East Indies government celebrated the opening of a new radio station in West Java. It was called Radio Malabar. In March 2020, the Indonesian local government plans to reactivate the station as a historical site and tourist attraction. Tellurian Drama imagines what would have happened in between: the vital role of the mountain in the country’s history; colonial ruins as an apparatus for geoengineering technology; and the invisible power of indigenous ancestral roots.
Through the shining leaves of an Indonesian jungle, we can make out old stones. The ruins are not those of some indigenous temple but of a colonial-era building: the Malabar Radio station, which formerly nestled against the mountainous relief with the mission of projecting into the skies air waves destined for the Netherlands. Depicted on drawings and photos of the time, the station comes across as the incarnation of a promise that swiftly became obsolete. On the images, the film compares the plans for the project with its present-day abandonment – as if the present was no more than a junction between its anticipation and disappearance. Through text and sound, Riar Rizaldi lays down other stones to erect a baroque edifice where different approaches to reality come to meet: the fanciful hypotheses of a 1986 academic paper meet the reality of development strategies in today’s Indonesia. Something of the paradoxical temporality of post-colonialism is being told here: projects arrive too soon or too late as they have no organic ties to the land on which they are being established – we learn that it is the construction of the station that imposed mechanical time divided into hours and minutes on those who lived here by the rhythm of the stars. As the words appear on the screen, unstable, undulating, the film gradually injects into the landscape the ideologies that have shaped it. The hybrid melody placed as a conclusion then resonates in a landscape less peaceful than it appears.
Riar Rizaldi works as an artist and filmmaker. Born in Indonesia and currently based in Hong Kong. His main focus is on the relationship between capital and technology, extractivism, and theoretical fiction. His works have been shown internationally at Locarno Film Festival, BFI Southbank London, International Film Festival Rotterdam, Times Museum Guangzhou, Asian Film Archive Singapore, NTT InterCommunication Center Tokyo, and National Gallery of Indonesia amongst others.
© Kay Beadman