Bamboo Products Exhibition at Rempah, Solo

Promotional poster for the exhibition

This post is perhaps a press release that didn’t get written in due time. It’s about our exhibition in Surakarta (or Solo, as people here say), a town in Central Java that is recently known as progressing in preserving local cultures and resources, thanks to the modest, smart mayor. “Our” refers to the Industrial Design research group I belong to, at Institute of Technology Bandung (ITB), and the “exhibition” includes bamboo products with contemporary styles and production processes that have been developed in the past couple of years. The exhibition took place on 10-19 December 2011, hosted by Rempah Rumah Karya, whose owner is a businessman with progressive visions.

Rempah itself needs its own explanation, but to keep it short, it’s a place where designers/ craftsmen/ cabinet makers/ students/ etc. can stay, develop and create their products with available supports: guest rooms, a workshop with wood-working tools and machines, an office, materials, and whatever else. The place had its soft-opening in July 2011 and is still being worked on, but its direction is quite visible already: almost all materials are reused pieces, retaining their rustic look, and natural lighting and ventilation are kept to maximum.  A place that can intrigue a mood to create.

The front yard of Rempah, the roof is iron beams and plant pots, so it provides shading but not sheltering from rain

Anyway. Back to the exhibition. The owner of Rempah and I actually met at a workshop in Temanggung previously, where I presented some slides that showed our bamboo products. We were then invited to hold an exhibition at his place, which we accepted happily. Come to think of it, we have been developing bamboo products since 2008, and not once had the products been exhibited outside academic/research contexts(!). So the invitation was truly an opportunity to have our products ‘tested’ publicly, especially to (potential) costumers and, most importantly, to (furniture) industry professionals such as the Rempah owner and his colleagues.

The bamboo products we brought were results of experiments in forms and production processes, often collaborated with research institutions and craftsmen. We made a sort of ‘family tree’ for our bamboo products, all were produced with different means but all have the similarity of aiming for contemporary lifestyles and to eliminate the stigma of bamboo as a ‘cheap’ material. According to the family tree, these products started from an experiment that was conducted in a collaboration with the Biomaterial R&D Unit of the Indonesian Science Institute (LIPI), which resulted in pressed bamboo strips and containers. The next collaboration, with craftsmen of Tasikmalaya, resulted in coiled bamboo disks that were made into stools. The legs of the first generation of the stools, pressed bamboo beams, were made by the R&D Center of Housing Technology (Puskim) that belongs to the Indonesian Department of Public Works. On to the next variants of the stools, different legs were designed to try different possibilities. A huge coiled bamboo disk was formed into a wide round seat, supported by a rattan structure (which is rare, since rattan is considered a ‘non-structural’ material that fits only for weaving and tying).

Setting up the display at Rempah

Next to coiling, we also presented our bamboo veneer and ‘wengku’ (bending bamboo strips into closed-curves) products: food containers, a set of cutlery, sling bags, backpacks, etc. The technique might not look new, since it’s been conducted in other countries where bamboo grows as well, but we wouldn’t know our capacities until we tried the basic ones to our SME. During our research, we had to introduce new techniques and standards that required some adjustments and, of course, an acceptance from the producers/ craftsmen as a production unit.

When shown to industry professionals, of course it was discovered that more adjustments should be made of the bamboo products, in order to fulfill safety standards, etc. However, the exhibition had raised a notion that a design research and development is necessary in a search for new products and innovation, both in forms and production process. It should also be noted that a production system also relies on constant material supply. Concerning bamboo (furniture, home accessories) products, we still need proper bamboo propagation for such industry purposes.

Exhibition: display

The next day after the opening we held a discussion session, which also opened new viewpoints toward bamboo products, contemporary design, new methods of processing, etc. The audience were students of diverse backgrounds, artists, industry professionals, etc. All in all it was a productive but relaxed event, of which hopefully new insights could be acquired, concerning wise and creative utilization of our natural resources. It is hoped also that this exhibition is a start of a continuous collaboration among the fields of academics and industries, which could be accelerated with appropriate supports from the government.

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