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March-May 2023

For two months, Ella Chedburn travelled to Tulungagung to conduct research, experimentation, and an exhibition in collaboration with Gulung Tukar, a multidisciplinary cultural arts collective from Tulungagung.

Ella created seven different artworks, each collaborating with different Indonesian artists in a different medium. These were presented in a final exhibition and public programme.

This project was gratefully supported by a 'Connections Through Culture' 2023 grant from British Council.

Artist residency exploring scientific and mystical methods of reducing flooding in Tulungagung, Indonesia through multi-disciplinary collaborations.


The first month was spent thoroughly researching the scientific and mystical methods of how Tulungagung controlled its waterflow and transformed from swamp to city. Benny Widyo (Arts Producer, Curator and Founder of and Gulung Tukar) led the process of introducing Ella to the local culture through lots of site visits, chats with local people, and digging through archives. Many tangled narratives were discovered, drifting between fact and fiction.  
Full research blogs can be found here.


To launch The Trees & The Wires exhibition and public programme, a live performance was held in Tulungagung's city centre. The performance merged different findings about Ringin Kurung - a mystical ritual where seven banyan trees were planted in the city centre to soak up water with the help of mythical creatures and white buffalo offerings.

Here a banyan tree dancer (Nur Roqim) performs the ritual of Ringin Kurung, with offerings of white buffalo and ijuk (palm fibre). Audience members (acting as the mystical creatures in Ringin Kurung) stamp down the ijuk and attempt to physically contain the Water dancer (Anugrah Nilawati). In the end, Water retreats - like a tide going out - but it’s clear it could return at any moment. This is not a story of good vs evil, it is a story of balance, accepting water’s cycles.

Performers: Anugrah Natalin Nilawati (Water), Nur Roqim (Banyan), Ella Chedburn (Buffalo) 
Costume design: Gandez Sholihah  //  Visuals: Bayu Ratmanda & M. Riduwan  
Music: by Agil Pujantoko & Febriyan Stevanus  //  Directors: Benny Widyo & Ella Chedburn

Water dances were projected throughout the live performance stage.  These were filmed in the north, east, south and west of the city centre (where the banyan trees were planted). Each location is a different method of flood management: the merging of the Ngrowo and Brantas rivers in the north; Niyama Tunnel funneling water to the south; Wonorejo Dam pooling water into a reservoir in the west; and Dam Buntaran, representing the canal system, in the east. Watch each one minute video here.

The dances interpret the energy of different bodies of water, reflecting on how they affect our physical bodies.

After, these four films were displayed on floating screens in the exhibition.


The final exhibition, ‘Rippling Water, Spreading Roots,’ showcased the project's findings around mystical and scientific methods used to transform Tulungagung from swamp to city. Each artwork was a collaboration between Ella and different Indonesian artists, all using different mediums. This ranged from interactive projections into water, floating screens with films, laser cut illustrations on glowing buffalo skin, and lots more...

More information about each artwork can be found here.

"We uncovered many layers of narratives during our research. Our work aims to honour all perspectives of how Tulungagung drained the swamp, playing in the murky waters between fact and fiction. We accept flooding as an inevitable cycle and water as an element to be respected - both too much or too little are detrimental to our survival. So instead of making a binary opposition of good versus evil, throughout the exhibition the water and the banyan roots exchange dominance and harmonise one another."

- Benny Widyo


Alongside the exhibition was a series of workshops and events open to the public. These included cyanotype workshops, film screenings, artist talks, an audio theatre experience, curatorial tours and a farewell party for Ella. Read more about the public programme here.