Day 13

Friday, 16th of november 2012.

(handwritten on the planes from Yogyakarta to Djakarta and Kuala Lumpur )

Today we end this perfectly organized orientation trip (bravo Haco, un Tour de Force!) with a visit to the mythical Buddhist temple of Borobudur, a building which is considered by some to be one of the wonders of the world. Followed by our last call: the private museum of modern and contemporary art , OHD Museum-Magelan, developed and owned by dr. Oei Hing Djien.

We get up at 5 am, pack our bags and presents, run to the bus, sweat already, and head off  at 6 towards the intriguing Buddhist complex situated about 1 hour north from our present location, Yogyakarta. Basically this ultimate journey will be our first experience of some form of countryside, perhaps  even of mountains and forests, as until now we visited mostly mega-cities.

It takes the bus quite a while to leave the jam-packed urban environment, and once I see vast arrays of palm trees, my mind wanders of into the landscape, seeking a necessary break from the hustle and bustle, inherent of the 21st century mobility addiction. This journey brings me back in time, a return to my archaeology studies where Buddhist and Hindu architecture and culture occupied an important place. But this was more than 20 years ago, and in the end I choose contemporary art as my major. So the reader will hopefully forgive my fragmentary, coloured or even outdated knowledge of the sites and the related cultures.

And to top it all:  I forgot to bring any literature on the subject,… pity. Anyhow, seated in the bus, I try to put the famous sites into some kind of historical context. I remember that I was struck  by one question: how and why did groups of hunter gatherers, which invaded around 2000 BCE the Indonesian peninsula from the South of China, turn to Buddhism and Hinduism and erect massive structures on high plateaus somewhere hidden in the jungle. As far as I can remember we still do not know exactly when, where and why those inhabitants embraced these religions and philosophies which were clearly not endemic to the region. But we do know, that at the beginning of the first millenium AC, a number of small thriving states arose mainly on the islands we know now as Java and Sumatra and that they basically combined forms of Hindu and Buddhist culture. One of the possible explanations for the erection of Borobudur and its related temples is the Javan state of Mataram which was founded probably somewhere during the 4th or 5th century ACE.

One of the assumptions I recollect, is that it is through extensive international  trade and contacts with India and China that the local inhabitants embodied these two religions. So, with the exchange of products, came ideas, beliefs, religions. In those days, forms of cultural barter were rich and widespread, apparently even the Roman Empire boasted products and goods exported from the Indonesian archipelago. Minds jump often to easy conclusions, and mine is no exception, so this last word ‘archipelago’ brought me almost self-evidently to Edouard Glissands ‘pensée archipélique’. In one of my previous entries I wrote about the trap, the danger of binary, dualistic thinking. So before I realized it, here is another one: the open Indonesian culture I encountered, is partly the result of its geographical location and demographic situation and the inherent natural fragmentation: the archipelago. And this stands in opposition to the cultural inward journey occuring in monolithic China during the Ming dynasty, which ultimately led to the decline of this once great empire. But sometimes, sometimes, empires bounce back. Anyhow, the archipelago as a metaphor, as a way of thinking and being, not only embodies forms of insularity, but stands especially for openness, diversity, exchange, fragility, creolisation. This image opposes monolithic, closed systems. But as I said before, beware of presumptions, stereotypical generalizations, superficial analysis and shallow thoughts. But I have to admit it is tempting, tempting to think the archipelago.

My thought process is suddenly cut off: the bus arrives at the first destination: the Buddhist temple of Mendut, which stands in direct relationship to Borobudur. The bus driver asks if we want to stop here.

And: yes! We go for the temple ! We all run, well I start to run, towards this magnificent example of 9th century Buddhist architecture.

Inside the structure we find three sculptures : in the middle we see an impressive version of the Buddha Vairocana who is not seated in the usual crosslegged lotus position. The sculpture is flanked on the left and right by two boddhisatvas.

Standing on the terrace surrounding the majestic central tower, I continue my thoughts: I think that if one even tries to evaluate, to assess the historical dimensions of the Borobudur monuments, we have to return to its local, Javan or Mataran context, before comparing it to, for instance related constructions in India, such as the ones in Adjanta which are much older than Borobudur, and have a close linkage to the rise of Buddhism in the 6th century BCE.

After this ultra brief halt at Mendut, we continue our journey and at last reach Borobudur. The largest Buddhist temple in the world, so it says. As was to be expected, even at this early hour, we are not the only visitors.We can only imagine what the situation will be later during the day,…. Surrounding the ticket boot are hundreds or is it thousands of vendors, hawkers and shopkeepers, still unpacking or preparing for the arrival of the swarms of tourist locusts. I have the feeling that we will not be able to ascend towards nirvana amidst this staged consumption craze. Its nearly impossible in modern times to preserve this kind of places of pilgrimage, from people like us. After a necessary moment of Buddhist cross dressing at the ticket office, we sprint towards the looming structure.

The massive complex,  based on a Buddhist circle or Mandala is situated on a hill, amidst a lush park and towering mountains. The structure  consists of no less than 9 platforms and hundreds of clock-shaped stupa’s protecting a similar amount of distinctive buddha sculptures. Starting from the East the pilgrim could ascend the temple through the three levels of the building, embodying the three stages of Buddhist enlightment. But not today.

I was particularly struck by the difference between the diamond shaped motives of the stupas on the lower two circular platforms, and the square or cubic shaped orifices of the stupas on the last ring, which seemed  to prepare the pilgrim for the end and fullfillment of his journey. The temple is adorned with thousands of exquisitely sculpted panels recounting the life of Buddha and the daily life of the local culture, but sorry Kathleen, thats all I remember.

What keeps on puzzling me, is how this immense structure was actually constructed, almost out of the blue. But that’s proper to archaeology: here they deal only with the facts on and under the ground, and as long as we do not find proof of older buildings, part of the mystery will remain. Remember the Anazasi, Nazca, Petra and the Nabataeans or why not sunken Atlantis? Before we know it, we are in the middle of Charroux or Von Däniken and talks about extra-terrestrial cosmonauts. So to keep it simple, Borobudur didnot suddenly appear, but remains an impressive testimony of the grandeur, craftsmanship and international connections of a wealthy and booming local culture.

After this short, but memorable visit, we head towards our final destination: the OHD Museum-Magelan. No presentations I hope, just a voyage into the mind and heart of a well-known collector. Arriving at the Museum-Magelan, owned by dr. Oei Hing Djien, I am struck again by the size and quality of the buildings and its collections. Though I still recall a number of stories and rumours which are related to some of the works in the collection, I have to read more about that subject. Dr.Djien greets us at the entrance of the art complex, while a camera crew shoots a documentary of the collector. This documentary made by Patricia Chen-Law,  is part of an interesting series of interviews with some of the major Asian collectors. An endeavour I am certainly interested in !

Patricia Chen-Law

Dr. Djien embarks the group on a guided tour of a small part of his huge collection. I saw some impressive examples of work by Soedibio, Sudjojono and many more, which confirm again the fact that modernism was never a western let alone European phenomenon. But I think that most of us, and I am certainly one of them, are nearing total exchaustion,… Are we ready for three flights in a row today, or for some even more?

Dr. Oei Hing Djien

So its back to the hotel in Yogyakarta and off again to the first airport of the day at Yogyakarta.  Alas, our first plane at Yogy airport is stuck on the tarmac, torrential rain, low visibility, makes it impossible to take off to Djakarta. It gave me time to write these lines, but will we make it to our next destination?

Later, the plane for Kuala Lumpur: we just made it ! We arrived about 1 hour late at Djakarta Airport and ran to the second plane heading for Kuala Lumpur. I thought I suddenly landed amidst a National Lampoon Asian disaster movie: as we were late, we had to run in shifts towards the check in desk. Indonesian staff brought us, in pure Olympian 4×400 metres estafette race-style, towards the check in desk where we had to pay some sort of ‘I am being-late fee’ to take the next plane.

But we made it, and fly home after this fruitful, rich and eventful orientation trip.

I think I can speak on behalf of all the members of the group: we thank wholeheartedly all the organizers, the Mondriaan Fund in particular, who gave us the unique opportunity to be part of this trip.

But one man stands out for his professionalism, dedication and outstanding organisation: mr Haco Deridder. In the 1930’s, the Great Leader Mao Ze Dong took his army to escape the Kuomintang onto his (in)-famous Long March. Here we encountered ours: So thank you great leader for this trip.

Michel Dewilde.*

I think most of us, including myself, had enough of my jokes, quotes and wisecracks. Copyright: I am indebted to many great names in the business, please watch Marx Brothers: A day at the races, A night at the opera, Monkey Business, etc. Thank yo!

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Day 13

Brobudur


Borobudur, or Barabudur, is a 9th-centuryMahayana Buddhist Temple in MagelangCentral JavaIndonesia. The monument consists of six square platforms topped by three circular platforms, and is decorated with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues. A main dome, located at the center of the top platform, is surrounded by 72 Buddha statues seated inside a perforated stupa.

Built in the 9th century during the reign of the Sailendra Dynasty, the temple’s design in Gupta architecture reflects India‘s influence on the region, yet there are enough indigenous scenes and elements incorporated to make Borobudur uniquely Indonesian. The monument is both a shrine to the Lord Buddha and a place for Buddhist pilgrimage. The journey for pilgrims begins at the base of the monument and follows a path around the monument and ascends to the top through three levels symbolic of Buddhist cosmologyKāmadhātu (the world of desire),Rupadhatu (the world of forms) and Arupadhatu(the world of formlessness). The monument guides pilgrims through an extensive system of stairways and corridors with 1,460 narrative relief panels on the walls and the balustrades.

Evidence suggest Borobudur was constructed in the 9th century and abandoned following the 14th century decline of Buddhist and Hindu kingdoms in Java, and the Javanese conversion to Islam. Worldwide knowledge of its existence was sparked in 1814 by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, then the British ruler of Java, who was advised of its location by native Indonesians. Borobudur has since been preserved through several restorations. The largest restoration project was undertaken between 1975 and 1982 by the Indonesian government and UNESCO, following which the monument was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Borobudur is still used for pilgrimage; once a year Buddhists in Indonesia celebrate Vesak at the monument, and Borobudur is Indonesia’s single most visited tourist attraction.

OHD Museum, Magelan

OHD Museum is a private modern and contemporary art museum owned by dr. Oei Hong Djien (OHD). As a well-known art collector, curator, and advisor to The National Art Gallery, Singapore. Dr. Oei Hong Djien started his collections in early 1970s.

Currently, with dr Oei’s collection of more than 2000 artworks, ranging from paintings, sculptures, and installations from different time periods, OHD Museum provides a collection representing the essence of modern and contemporary Indonesian art. The OHD museum aspires the young generations to appreciate, enjoy, treasure and preserve Indonesian art.


The group with collector dr. Oei Hong Djien, Magelan

Day 12

Kunci – Cultural Studies Center

KUNCI Cultural Studies Center is a non-profit and independent organization established in in 1999 in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. KUNCI is working to create an Indonesian society that is culturally critical, open, and empowered. Its mission is to develop cultural studies with the spirit of experimentation and to advance its criticality into a wider movement through popular education practices.

Working Team
Ferdiansyah Thajib (Director), Nuraini Juliastuti (Co-founder), Antariksa (Co-founder), Syafiatudina (Programme), Brigitta Isabella (Junior Researcher), Rarik Oktaviani (Office Admin), Wok The Rock (Web Admin), Yuli Andari Merdikaningtyas (Library), Hayyu Al Qoyyumi (Assistant Librarian)


Presentation at Kunci by Nuraini Juliastuti (Co-founder)
& Antariksa (Co-founder)

Ruang Mes 56

MES 56 is an artist collective established on February 28, 2002, which is active in the field of photography that emphasizes in the exploratory approach of contemporary photography, both in theory and practice, conceptually and contextually; having the purpose to develop the discourse of contemporary photography sphere in Indonesia. Ruang MES 56 do several programs, which are Exhibition, Artist in residence program , Workshop, and Archiving. All of these programs are carried out by self-financing and with the support from several donors, either from non-profit institution or from commercial company. All of the programs aim to empower the pop-culture society in Indonesia.

Presentation by Ruang MES 56 director, Wimo Bayang

HONFablab

HONF. It starts as a young community, with various backgrounds and ideals. They want to do whatever they wish, but with a natural inclination to create by the spirit of togetherness. There is no ambition to work simply for personal profit. They create for themselves, their family, and their environment. This is the basis for the first actions and commitment between them.
The house of natural fiber, Yogyakarta, is a New Media art laboratory, founded in 1999. They concentrate on the principles of critique and innovation. Since the beginning, the house of natural fiber has consistently focused on cultural development and New Media art, running numerous New Media art projects and workshops. In every project we concentrate on interactivity with people and environments. Thinking forward, positive and creative is becoming a vision for this community. In the implementation of this vision, in every program, they work towards the development of art with technology. This desire to contemplate the future of technology and art, is an important endeavour for the technology itself.

Venzha seeks to have a limitless space in which to experiment various ideas, working to realize his vision. With Irene “Ira” Agrivina, Istasius “Itaz” and Tommy “imot” Surya, he begins to work together, in response to great ideas in their community. Venzha is an interior designer who is technology and UFO maniac. Ira is a fashion designer, who likes reading and writing poetry. Itaz is a graphic-designer, who is a skilled comics artist. Imot is a VJ who working on web and interactivity projects.
The basic idea is to communicate something about New Media that focuses on limitless ideas, neglecting whether outcomes belong to an ‘art’ scene or not. Venzha believes everything can be an art and everyone can make a work of art, with various forms and definitions. It is legal throughout the reason and its responsibility in it. Even though finally Venzha and his community make some works interactivity projects, technology research, media art festival, DIY gathering, workshops, media performances, lecturing, electronic music movement, etc, this is perhaps because of their bargaining position, drawing on from their various supporting backgrounds.
Their concern with the younger community is expressed though the Education Focus Program (EFP), which proposes various workshops for children, and ‘newcomers’ to New Media technologies. It is also simply about sharing a vision, and not neglecting the surroundings one works in. This environment sustains them, as people and as artists, to continue working and living.

Office for Contemporary Art

OFFICE For Contemporary Art (OFCA)  International is an Artists’ initiative founded in Yogyakarta, Indonesia by Berlin based curator Astrid Honold, the painters Jumaldi Alfi and Fendry Ekel with the aim to support individual talented artists working in Indonesia and abroad within the international context. The selection of artists reflects the diversity of contemporary art practice, from new developments in painting, sculpture, installation, video and photography and is based on a shared attitude towards art practice and the position of the artist in today’s society. OFCA International is based in Yogyakarta in its own building which houses also artists’ residence and an exhibition with a semi permanent display of its contemporary art collection. With Black Cat Publishing, OFCA International produces art exhibition catalogues and monographs.
The origin of OFCA International begin in 2004 when Astrid Honold after many years of working for international design label Droog Design in Amsterdam, founded Astrid Honold OFFICE and started managing the careers of visual artists. In 2011 she co-founded OFCA International in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Today besides focusing on the career of its artists, the activities of OFCA International is developing art exhibitions, lectures and artist residency program.


Presentation by Fendry Ekel

Day 12

Thursday, 15th of november 2012

(handwritten in a taxi, bus and rickshaw )

On this penultimate journey, the day before we actually head home, we have some (short) time off  before we head to our first meeting at the KUNCI cultural centre.

So it gave me time to ‘escape’ the tight schedule of the orientation trip, and head of first north, towards another bookshop. Yes dear reader, my thirst for stuff and knowledge seems insatiable, though the space left in my luggage or on my bank account are not.

So I leave the hotel at 8.30, first by taxi, than by rickshaw.

This is actually a quite funny situation, I leave the group and find myself suddenly in some kind of solo-traveller mode, a position which I know very well. Now I have to act, take decisions, outside the ensemble, outside the unity and without any leader.

As I was unable to bring my laptop on this trip, I have to write these notes by hand.  Just try this, sitting in a taxi which zigzags through the city, between rickshaws, strayed dogs, lost tourists, hawkers and much more.

After a, rather disappointing, stop at the local bookstore, i.e. no English books on Borobudur, our main target on friday, I head to the Kraton, or is it Keraton(?), the palace of the Sultans of Yogyakarta.

I am eager to visit this 18th century palace of the present Sultan (build in 1755 or is it 1790?). Yogyakarta, former capital of the island, boasts since a few centuries a number of Sultans who still live here, and rule the place, even though now, they have a more ceremonial role in society. Actually Yogyakarta holds still a special protected status within Javanese society.

Interesting for me is the link with Mataram, the former ancient Javanese kingdom which was probably initiated here in the 4th or 5th century ACE, and which is said to have developed the mythical Buddhist temples of Borobudur, which we will visit tomorow.

The taxi driver drops me of north from the palace on the gigantic market square alun-alun which is filling up with a multitude of shops.

From afar I see the forecourt of the Keraton Yogyakarta.

Forecourt Kraton

I run to the ticket booth, cross the guards and enter the palace.

Astonishing how many, mainly local, visitors are already present at this early hour.

We have only access to a small part of this more than 1km2 palace, which is still inhabitated by the present ruler the 10th Sultan Hamengku Buwono X

Basically the Keraton is a city within the city, consisting of museums, mosques, private quarters of the sultan, and still hosting thousands of inhabitants.

It’s called a living museum of Javanese culture.

My overall impression is that the visitor is watching or being part of a setting, a stage, or representation of forms of power, institutions, in this case the ancestral Sultan and his family. Left and right from the forecourt , kept in two buildings and hidden behind thick glass windows are a range of mannequins, life size puppets stuck in beautiful attires  and lavish gowns. Here we see the royal family ready to perform, but frozen in time and space.

Kraton

In the middle of this northern part of the palace I see the impressive Reception hall.

Reception Hall

On the left and right of a number of central courts, which are clearly meant for the presentation of the Sultan and the related ceremonies, I find some spaces for the Gamelan instruments.

Gamelan

In one of the buildings behind the Reception Hall we see portraits of the different Sultans, in another some exquisite drawings of the royal carriages. But I fear for the exhibition conditions of these ancients prints.

Sultan

Alas its time to leave the palace and go back to the hotel, the group leaves for our first stop at KUNCI cultural centre.  

So it’s back in the rickshaws and the group is hurled towards this dynamic non-profit organisation which was created in 1999. We arrive there a bit early, our great leader is perhaps a bit to punctual. I read that: the main aim of the organisation is: ‘ to develop a culturally critical and open Indonesian society’, so is written in their mission statement. I am curious how they want to achieve this.

KUNCI consists of 4 writers/researchers and 1 accountant and is mostly project funded, for example by the Ford Foundation.

After a while we are met by Antariksa one of the co-founders of this cultural studies centre.  Later he is joined by Julia Nuraini, the director.

Kunci

He starts an interesting presentation of the research centre which begun its activities with a number of newsletters, which are no longer published at the moment. In the mean time they evolved into a more project based organization. KUNCI started to work on the connections between  social sciences, art and the community. Through the direct contact and collaboration with vulnerable groups in society, the usage of oral history, they developed participatory projects which led to forms of local empowerement for the poor. KUNCI went beyond the critical and theoretical and mingles, intervenes within the local, using dance, theatre, story telling, or even setting up exhibitions. Thus they worked on a re-writing of the personal history , working with non-conventional stories, for example dealing with the making of local alcohol. Or Bahasa: a dictionnary of old slang.KUNCI thinks about forms of an alternative museum, a mobile community museum, consisting of an accumulation of our thoughts.

One of the most interesting projects for me, was their work on the Indian community in Yogyakarta. Actually it is striking that it was the first time since 1945(!) that anyone worked with this ancient community.

The best was yet to come, KUNCI has a ‘special relationship’ towards copyright and working with ‘authentic material’. So for example on their anniversary , they put up the KUNCI copy station : whereby they basically rent some copy machines and anyone can photocopy any publication from their archive.

If we speak about the democratic, well here is an extreme example. Or to use the KUNCI philisophy: Piracy is a form of organization! I like them more and more!

One of the most intriguing project was beyond doubt the one with the Dutch artist Wendelien van Oldenborgh and her book ‘A well respected man, or Book of Echoes’.

This incisive publication gives a fine example of working with the local. It starts from the famous literary piece : ‘Als ik een Nederlander was’ (If I were a Dutchman (1913) by the polemic writer Soewardi Soerjaningrat. This book proved to be  a fierce critique on the Dutch occupation and a plea for the construction of a new national subjectivity.

In a nutshell we could say that KUNCI, and other comparable institutions, fill the gap left by the universities, they set up essential archives, they work with the social fabric, or translate books (for example Lawrence Lessig, 2004) but act directly.

Finally they also host some artists in residence.

And then it’s off again, here are the rickshaws bringing us to the next stop the Ruang MES 56.

MES56

This year we witness the tenth year of existence of the (all male) artist collective MES 56 specialized in photography.

The collective took is name from a former mess of the Air Force which it rented. The collective consisted mainly of former students of the photography department.

The Mes boys received initially funds from the French Cultural centre. The lenghty and detailed presentations retelling the history of the collective and their projects are led by Wimo Bayang

During this presentation we hear not for the first time about 1999 as a key year in Indonesian history which saw ultimately the rise of many alternative non-profit organisations. In that period the Ruang Mes 56 group evolved, it developed a physical space, institutionalized. The Mes 56 gallery was inaugurated in 2002 with a first exhibition. Pop and punk culture appropraition played an important role in the artistic choice of the group.

During the presentations: I remember amongst others:  Anang Saptoto’s  delightful Ping-pong education system video, Dito Yuwono mesmerizing pictures of faces and many more,…

I am nearing exhaustion, I can practially use my sweat to swim to our next destination.

We are leaving our fly-boys and head towards the ultra-dynamic HONFablab, HONF foundation, HONF(the House Of Natural Fiber) tout court, which produced one of the more interesting projects I saw during our two weeks ‘mission’.

HONFablab

We are welcomed by (Vincensius) ‘venzha’ Christ(iawan), the actual founder of the HONF lab.

HONF

This graduate from interior design fuzes in his career music, with the arts, technology, education and a close interaction with society. He is HONF.

So, how can I describe the polyphonic HONF structure , and all the other HONF’s ?

To create (almost) anything! Is one of their slogans and in that respect they are comparable to other media- or creative laboratories I saw popping up in the last decade all over the Net.

Thus HONF  presents itself as a laboratory, a media lab where one can fabricate, develop his own pcultural products, ranging from objects to discourses, media festivals, to parties (this last aspect seems recurrent). Above all HONF is open to collaboration, preferably with people from other disciplines. It also hosts a number of residencies.

The HONF-movement, started in 1999 with a small group of people and became a community. In the end HONF evolved or was it split up into three distinct organisations : VUFOC, Honfactory and Honfablab.

During the presentation of the programm of the last years we see a high number of projects, spread all over the world. How do they manage?

What was most intriguing for me, was there Micronation/Macronation project started in 2012. Here we witness the fusion between science, art and the local population at its best. A project which aims in part to solve the fuel problem, the heating up of the planet due to the damaging emissions from fossil fuels, related economical problems and so much more. And they want to achieve all this with an integrated art project, a practice which works directly with local farmers and scientist. Bravo HONF !

The next and last stop brings our brady bunch to the outskirts of the city, we see the beginning of some part of a forest, and there in the middle the splendid offcies of the Office: For Contemporary Art (OFCA) led artists Fendry Ekel and Jumaldi Alfi.

OFCA

In the mean time we seem to have lost some of the taxi’s, our motley crew is not complete, but Fendry shows us the first building and garden of the OFCA a local variation of paradise. OFCA is not a gallery, nor a museum, it’s more a support system, a group of go-betweens, mediators, brokers for the artists. After another walk we visit the new buildings of the OFCA, situated a bit further down the road. Here we see a comprehensive number of works by Entang Wiharso, installations, sculptures, paintings are on show. Again appearances can be deceiving : but this museum style presentation is normally not open to the public, it is not a gallery, etc.

Most interesting to me was a work by Fendry Ekel: a faceless portrait of a sculpture of Soekarno.

We return late to the hotel, I will not join the late diner, and drop dead in bed with some last reflections buzzing in my mind.

Tomorow, Borobudur is the main dish on the menu, or the temple of temples.

But tonight, at the wonderful Eclipse hotel, it are the questions of collector Wiyu Wahono put forward in Djakarta, that are not leaving me: what did we expect from Indonesian art?

I would expand the question: ‘With what kind of expectations did we come here, and on what kind of frameworks is this orientation trip built ?

I think we have to be alert, awake, and aware of not falling into our own assumptions and expectations about the so-called others, in this respect ‘Asia’. Somehow I feel we still translate the quest for the contemporary, too much in terms of degrees of Westernization. So Nations which are, according to our positions,  not  Westernized enough, should somehow be helped forward? We should then apply forms of re-orientation towards this (western) standard perhaps?

Is it not typical that I just used the word ‘orient (ation)’?

What I experienced here during this short trip, are different forms of modernity, distinct applications of the contemporary. I think here of the development of models which are distinctive from European examples. In a way we have to think the modern as a plurality, and here in Indonesia, we westerners, have to think this modernity as possibly non-western and even antagonistic to ours.

So ‘they’ do not need or expect ‘our form of modernity’, let alone our desire, quest or expectation for it.

In that respect, shouldn’t we revaluate notions such as ‘orientation’ altogether?

Michel Dewilde

Day 11

Kedai Kebun Forum, Yogyakarta
I am writing this post from Rotterdam with 2 days of jetlag and a 25-degree temperature drop shocking my system. Still, the buzz and warm embrace of Yogja linger on. The moment we landed at Yogyakarta’s airport I was transported back to the smells and scenes of my childhood- having spent many a summer in Indonesia. I feared that whatever I would write would be tainted by a tinge of nostalgia, but the art scene in Yogja is too dynamic and too contemporary to allow itself to be boxed in like that. Selemat datang di Yogjakarta! In Jakarta Carla Bianpoen urged me to try the gudeg in Yogja, a traditional dish made with jackfruit (nangka), palm sugar (gula djawa) and coconut milk (santen), served with rice and chicken. I have to admit that I was not courageous enough to try it for breakfast – being vegetarian it was primarily the chicken that put me off – but I did have many pieces of delicious pisang goreng (fried banana), which at our hotel were strangely topped with grated cheese. Not a bad combination. Later in the day Lissa and I explored the goods in a local bakery, and skipped the pain au chocolat with – yes again – grated cheese. I did have a nice cheeseless chocolate bun, though.


Agung Kurniawan

Our first stop of the day was Kedai Kebun Forum, an alternative self-funded art space with a bookstore and excellent café, run by Agung Kurniawan. KKF runs a thematic program, and this year the focus was on crafts. The exhibition space showed projects related to printed matter and publishing an artist himself, Agung showed us a project he participated with in the recent Kwangju Biennial, Adidas Tragedy (2009-2012), a series of customised Adidas sneakers and their matching boxes addressing places of tragedy. From Cambodia and Tienamen Square, to Ramallah and Egypt.

Later on we sat down for freshly squeezed fruit juice – I had guava – with Yustina Neni, Agung’s wife and the director of the Yogja Biennial. Yustina explained to us that for the coming decade the Biennial will focus on the topic of “equators”, not only resonating political and historical references with the non-aligned movement that Indonesia was part of, but also going further back in history and revisiting the clove routes. Its previous editionconcentrated on India and was co-curated by Alia Swastika and Suman Gopinath.Coming editions will focus on Africa and the archipelagos of the Pacific Islands. But first things first, 2013 edition will reach out to Egypt, U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia. 3 artists from Indonesia will undertake production residencies in respectively Egypt, UAE and Saudi Arabia, to produce new work, while their Arab colleagues will be hosted in Yogja to make newly commissioned work.


Yustina Neni, director of the Yogja Biennial

As Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world, the Biennial is interested in exploring notions of what Islam means today, which stereotypes are being perpetuated, and how art(ists) can break with this. Hmmm…well that will definitely kick up some dust. Interested to see how that will translate from the the Gulf and North Africa to Southeast Asia. The main elements of the Biennial are a comprehensive exhibition, a symposium, and perhaps most importantly a series of parallel events involving students, local communities and emerging artists.

Nat Muller

Cemeti Art House
Since 1988, Cemeti Art House has been actively promoting and stimulating practices in the contemporary Indonesian art scene and art practices on a wider international platform. More than ten projects, such as site specific, community based exhibitions, presentations, and performances involving local and foreign artists, writers, and art activists, have been realized each year.
Artist’s talks, project presentations and group exhibitions are presented locally, as well as internationally, as well as our monthly indoor curatorial exhibitions at Cemeti Art House gallery. They include ‘ART OF BAMBOO’ in 2002 (Indonesia and Danish artists), ‘CHOOSE YOUR OWN PUBLIC’ in 2005 (Indonesian artists), LANDING SOON RESIDENCY PROGRAMMES from 2006 through 2009 (local and Dutch artists), ‘TRADITIONAL PERFORMING ART ADVOCATION PROGRAMME’ in 2007 with Ford Foundation support in five villages, ‘THE PAST FORGOTTEN TIME’ (Indonesian artist), a travelling project at The Hague, Amsterdam, Jakarta, Semarang, and Shanghai in 2007.


Introduction to Cemeti by Mella Jaarsma

Contemporary art in Indonesia can be seen as a form of concern and reflection of artists’ views related to issues on developing society. Through their work, artists honestly respond and often criticize a very specific social phenomena and bringing an aesthetic perspective to the discussion, whilst others may express their individual and personal approaches to their realities. Being bond and stuck to particular media disciplines becomes a less crucial issue.
In 2010, Cemeti Art House launched a new platform in which activities will revolve around and focus on reinventing ‘Art and Society’, emphasizing more alternative art practices that honour the ‘process’, rather than the ‘promotion’.
The Cemeti Art House exhibition space which was designed by architect Eko Agus Prawoto in 1999, highlighting the local – global, traditional – modern, art – non art, individual – collective, natural – manufactured, crafted – industrial, conventional – innovative as the paradoxes reflected in its architectural  construction, is transforming into an open studio suited for workshops, displays , discussions, and fulfilling but critical learning.


Cemeti Art House, Yogyakarta


Cemeti, space

Cemeti Art House and Studio will gradually undertake an ideal and strategic role mediating dialogue by focusing more on the research process of each party, where curators, writers, art critics, art activists, and artists meet each other in our residency programmes.

Sankring Gallery, Yogyakarta


Santkring Gallery

Indonesian Visual Art Archive
We were picked up at 17.45 by I think 8 rickshaws to go to the Indonesian Visual Art Archive to meet up with the local art scene.

These were the invited guests: Eko Prawoto, architect, artist / Yoshi Fajar Kresno Murti, architect, activist, IVAA / Anggi Noen, film director / Salahudin Siregar, documentary filmmaker / Yudi Ahmad Tajudin, theatre director, Teater Garasi / Joned Suryatmoko, theatre director / Jompet K, artist / Eko Nugroho, artist / Heri Pemad/Seto, art manager, ArtJOG / Bambang Toko, artist, ArtJOG

Wok The Rock, artist, music producer / Naomi Srikandi, stage actor, theatre director / Venzha, artist, HONF / Yustina Neni, director of Biennale Jogja Foundation / Alia Swastika, curator
Nindityo Adipurnomo, artist, Cemeti Art House / Mella Jaarsma, artist, Cemeti Art House / Farah Wardani, IVAA / Dian Anggraini, Yogyakarta Art & Cultural Council (Governmental institution) Syafiatudina, Kunci Cultural Studies Center.

Although not everybody who was invited was present, a lot of people came and after a brief introduction by Haco we all told who we were and the guests did the same. Luckily, because this had not been always the case, especially not in China. After that we got a few presentations by very different artists. We started off with puppet theater that was very much about communication with the audience and retelling stories that had not been told for a long time because they could not be told before. The most striking was that very different practices came along, not only visual arts. Like the Teater Garasi or Salahudin Siregar, who is a film director, but it wasn’t very clear whether he made documentaries or short films, as he said that they were documentaries and that he wanted to play with the border of doc. and fiction. But the fragments were short and puzzling. Another presenter: Wok the Rock, who calls himself an artist and music producer, does projects wherein he asks people for their favorite album and their profile photo and statement which he then burns after getting the file with a bit torrent from the internet and shows it in a sort of jukebox installation with an iMac under the title ‘Burn your Idol’. His projects are all copy-left and he is also okay if people copy his idea, if they only mention his name, so he tries to be as copyleft for his projects as possible it seems. He also produces music that can be downloaded for free as well, all copyleft.

We had food in between and after a lively event with a lot of thunder and rain we got to the last presentation of the IVAA. The Indonesian Visual Art Archive (IVAA), formerly called The Cemeti Art Foundation, is a non profit organization, which has a huge archive online which contains information on works by artists (and curators), documents, photographs, audio files and projects that they have been taken part in. A great resource on the Indonesian art scene. What was really nice was the flexible, relaxed and open atmosphere in contrast to especially China. At the end at 20.30, we walked back to the hotel. It was raining again, rainy season is about to start.
Petra Heck

Day 10

Jakarta, Tuesday, November 13, 2012
The last day in Jakarta. Due to heavy traffic we sampled all our meetings in one place: the ‘Ruang Rupa’ space. Here we spend a whole day of presentations and discussions on art and the Indonesian art scene.

Ruang Rupa
Ruang Rupa is a not for profit artists run organisation initiated in 2000 by a group of artists in the southern part of Jakarta. Ruang means ‘space’ and rupa means ‘visual’. Director of the place, Ade Darmawan, and is crew refferred to Ruang Rupa as a beehive, a bustling place where people meet and work. The space is open for everyone who wants to collaborate and make art projects which reflect on issues related to history, politics, economy and culture in Indonesia. Ruang Rupa disposes of an exhibition room, a library, a video library, a shop and a radio station. They publish a yearly Carbon Journal and organise workshops for art critics and curators in order to respond to the lack of research in Indonesian art history. Important past projects are the OK. video festival in 2003 and the Jakarta 32° festival in 2004 which presented the works of young Indonesian artists coming from art academies in Jakarta, Bandung and Yogyakarta.

The Ruang Rupa Art Laboratory is an on-going project which investigates questions related to urban development in a city such as Jakarta. Each year, they invite artists to look at issues such as mobility and communication. To give an example, Lonely Market is a research project that portrays local markets as systems of alternative economy after the economical crisis In Indonesia in the year 2000. The project resulted in a printed map of local markets in Jakarta and shows how different forms of transactions are developing in the city.
Ruang Rupa is currently preparing a project for the next Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art starting on 8th December 2012 at the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) in Australia. The project revolves around the fiction story of an Indonesian rock band from the ’70s and retraces the socio-political historical context of Indonesia at a time when there were tensions between Indonesia and Australia as a result of the murder of several Australian officers in East-Timor. The project also refers to Australia’s political context in the 70’s when the state of Queensland was led by a reppressive government.
Ruang Rupa is not supported by the government and most of its funding comes from international organisations such as the Hivos Foundation and the Mondriaan Fund, but also from diverse local partners. Ruang Rupa also runs a business unit using the skills they developped over the years in production, website design and so on.
Remarkably, Ruang Rupa is one of the very few alternative art spaces in Jakarta. Since a few years, it has been active in the development of an Indonesian Art Coalition, a platform of art organisations claiming a coherent cultural policy from the government’s arts council in order to support the emergence of an independent not for profit arts scene.
Lissa Kinnaer

Besides from Ruang Rupa themselves, a lot of other artists and artists groups participated. We meet Forum Lentung, Akumassa, the artist Anggun, ISAD and Garden House.

Forum Lenteng was founded in 2003 by a group of artists. It organizes a lot of different projects with relation to film, video and other audiovisual media. The organisation is self founded and based on members, who contributes with material and/or founds. They work on a project basis and also do community based workshops. They practice copy left. Se more info at:

As a part of Forum Lenteng Akumassa makes workshops in different neighborhoods in collaboration with the locals, for example they did a project where they asked people to discuss their local media the relation to specific topics such as: crime, human rights, environment, good governance, women and children.

Anggun, who is a part of Ruang Rupa, works with video – both music videos and more artists ones. He showed a couple of works Crash and Sinema Electronic. He works with the relation between cutting and sound and also loops. Most of his videos are humorous with an edge.

ISAD is dedicated to Street Art. ISAD was founded in 2011 and is documenting and archiving Street Srt. At the same time they facilitates discussions and make workshops. They see Street Art (which in Indonesia also includes murals) as a mean of communication with the public.

In relation to ISAD Gardu House made a short presentation. They are also into Street Art and run a small exhibition space. As a part of graffiti they also work with stencils. Garden House also blogs on blogspot and make parties.

All in all we had a very interesting day at Ruang Rupas – thank you for having us! Next Yogyakarta….

Kristine Kern

Day 9

Erasmushuis, Jakarta
On our first morning in Jakarta, it seems we were lucky enough to miss the city’s notorious traffic jams and quickly arrived to our destination, Erasmushuis, which is the Dutch cultural center in the capital of its former colony. The Erasmushuis is located within the embassy complex and requires going through security to access that makes one wonder how comfortable a general public might feel about attending their activities.

After looking briefly at an exhibition about the perspective of local Indonesian architects on contemporary Dutch housing complexes, we were met by the director and cultural attaché Tom van Zeeland, the curatorial team and a local art historian called Amir Sidharta.


We were walked through their four-hundred seat theatre space and on to a conference room. After the usual round of introductions, Amir Sidharta gave us a brief lecture on the development of modern and contemporary art in Indonesia. Here is synopsis:
1800s Indonesian modern art begins when artist Raden Saleh Suprit Bustaman (1807-1880) is sent by his mentors to Holland, France and Germany where he learns about modern European art and returns to Indonesia and starts to work in a new way.
Simultaneously, Dutch transport companies begin organizing the first waves of Dutch tourism to Indonesia including artists who begin to have a strong influence on the local scene.
1900-1950 Pioneering artist, Sudjojono, coins the term “Mooi Indi” referring to the European influenced art, and begins to advocate for a local art.
Also, the Dutch industrialist Renault brings his exceptional collection of modern art to Indonesia that is presented from 1935-38. Today, this collection is (partly) owned by the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.
1945 Indonesia gains its independence from both Holland (and Japan).
1950s Two art schools are set up in Indonesia constituting to opposing poles. One academy is set up in Yogyakarta focused on traditional art and the other in Bandung within the Institute for Technology. At the later, Dutch professor ___, was very influential as he encouraged the students to experiment with analytical cubism. Up to this day, this academy is seen as the more progressive of the two, and the latter is mocked as the “laboratory for the West” by the Yogya school.
At this time, the communist were very strong and Sudjojono, who was a member and was running for office, began pushing for a more populist approach forwarding visual realism that was mainly adopted in Yogyakarta.
1965 The coup takes place, and many of Yogyakarta’s artists are captured, killed or imprisoned. This event led to a move away from visual realism and artists began to work more abstractly and “Indo decorativism” became the dominant style up through the 1970s.
1980s A new generation feels a need for ‘art with a heart’. This generation of contemporary artists felt that local art should be more socially responsible and push for a voice in society and dominated the scene through the 1990s.

Today The absence of museums to study Indonesian art and present collections, as well as art historians who can research developments in Indonesia. Commercial galleries are sprouting since the late 1990s and have become the central destination to view art but not a place for research. There are few alternative and experimental spaces but they remain modest in scale and are only supported by foreign donors. Also, one of the main non-profit hubs for artists in the 1990s was started by artist Taman Ismail Marzouki in his studio, known as TIM, has been suspiciously closed for renovation for over ten years now.

Currently, the important commercial galleries include Nadi Gallery, Sigiart and Ark Galerie, and the Institute for technology in Bandung remains the most important art academy. There is a strong video art movement, introduced by artist Teguh Ostenrik, since about five years and the film industry has seen a renaissance over the past ten years. Also in Yogyakarta is an interesting Indonesian Art Archive,  and an influential artists-run space in Bandung called Sunaryo.

Amir Siddharta, who is himself starting a museum for “Mooi Indi” art in Bandung, concluded his talk by giving us a list of the key figures in the Indonesian Art scene.

Following Siddharat’s talk, Tom van Zeeland, introduced us to the activities of the Erasmushuis. A seasoned diplomat who has been posted in Berlin, Ho Chi Minh City, and lastly in Guangzhou before moving to Jakarta about three years ago, van Zeeland gave us some of his own reflections on the differences between his work experience in China versus Indonesia. In Jakarta, he finds a fruitful basis for cooperation as it is a context where people live with culture whereas in China the concept of reciprocal exchange is not so well defined. Also, the countries’ attitudes towards heritage are very different where in China the old is always quickly replaced with the new.

After this informative discussion, the visit concluded with a very colorful lunch!


On the way to The National Gallery

Indonesian National Gallery
In the afternoon, we went to the Indonesian National Gallery. After Mr. Sidharta’s introduction to Indonesian modern art, I was excited to see the paintings of important Indonesian modernists like Sudjojono, expecting to see them somewhere in a line with other central figures of Indonesian art history and indeed, one of Sudjojono’s was to be found in the first room. His other works in the collection were on loan for an exhibition in Myanmar, but first things first.


The National Gallery

Indonesian National Gallery has three buildings that are used as exhibition spaces. The first one is devoted to short-term (10-15 days) exhibitions of contemporary art. This space is made available to whoever comes with a proposal that interests the gallery curators. The space is a proper white cube and during our visit it was occupied by spectacularly shiny, figurative, very manly and potential metal sculptures.

In contrast to the temporary space, the other two buildings accommodate displays of the National Gallery’s collections. One building is entirely devoted to the works of historically important artists from Indonesia. The display in the gallery is quite special, as the curators have put together works of the most important figures of the Indonesian art scene (from the past and present), without paying attention to genres, historiographical or aesthetic principles.

There also was an exhibition of the winning works from the annual art price that is given to artists for the work that they’ve handed in. The work then becomes part of the museum collection. Again, the selection criteria were vague. In this exhibition I learnt of ‘glue colour painting’, of which I’ve never heard before. The head of collections explained to me that it was painting made with a kind of glittering acrylic glue produced in China.

The exhibition in the third building left me ever more puzzled. It seemed to be a room with a lot of things brought together for no specific reason. There were prints, sculptures, vases, paintings and so on. When I left the gallery, I completely identified with the sculpture that welcomes visitors at the entrance/exit of the exhibition room.


Henri Dono

Collector’s Presentation & Diner

Presentation by collector Wiyu Wahono, Jakarta


Collector’s, curator’s & Artist’s diner in Jakarta

Day 8

Redtory  Art and Creative Park & CEAC
Today was our last day in China. We were a few people that went for a quick swim in the hotel pool before breakfast. And afterwards there was just time for a walk in the near by park named Yuexiu. Chinese people of all ages were doing exercises and different forms of gymnastics /dance. The concept of park/garden is so different form the European – also from an architectural point of view – and it was interesting to see the combination of trees, plants and pavement/stones.

Our main project this Sunday was visiting the Redtory Art and Creative Park located east of the city center. This is an area that used to be a can-fish factory, but now has been turned into an area for culture and arts. Since 2009 a transformation and restoration of the old industrial buildings from the 1960ties has been going on. We went to see the group show “Rolling Snowball #3” organized by Chinese European Art Center (CEAC) featuring Chinese and Dutch artists (see blow), but also got a tour of the area.

Entering Redtory we walked down a street with an outdoor marked selling all kinds of homemade, ‘artistic’ stuff such as cookies, jewelry and musical instruments. In the main street we found “Rolling Snowball” in Hall E7 along with a lot of other exhibition spaces housing temporary exhibitions such as a show with the late Chinese artists Wu Guanzhong and a photography exhibition with Bai Dao: “Nil Mirror”. We also saw a very nice architecture/design office and showroom with contemporary Chinese furniture designs, an equally nice bookshop and lots of restaurants and cafés. Walking through the area with all its old industrial buildings was an interesting experience. We also had a very quick but enjoyable lunch in one many restaurants. For more information on Redtory.

For the first time we saw a bit the famous Chinese landscape when we – when after visiting Redtory – drove straight to the airport.

Next stop Jakarta (Indonesia). Upon arrival we had some difficulties at the airport filling out thousands of documents (it seemed), but then a smooth drive into Jakarta by night.

Kristine Kern

We were supposed to visit today Libreria Borges at 9.30 am. Luckily, due to program change, I could start my day at 7 having a swim.

Breakfast with another  elegant cappuccino.

And  look what a Chinese barista had to offer the day before yesterday. I think it is a pigs snout.


Before heading to the airport around 2pm we visit today only one site: Redtory Art and Creative Park. It is in the Tianhe District. We will visit the show ‘Rolling Snowball/3’. The exhibition was initiated by the Chinese European Art Centre (CEAC) in Xiamen, Fujian province. CEAC was founded by Ineke Gudmundsson from the Netherlands and Prof. Qin Jian of the Xiamen University art college in 1999. CEAC is non-profit, with an artist-in-residence program open to visual artists, architects, designers, curators, composers and writers. In 2010 May Lee was appointed director of CEAC.

Redtory is a complex of abandoned old industrial factory buildings which are now revitalized with cultural activities. Redtory promotes itself as the CAD, the central art district of Guangzhou. This district and park turns out to be a  lively and green place.

We are lucky, it’s Sunday, families stroll around or have lunch in one of the many  restaurants. Lot’s of young people too.

Triggered by  a  local market, with handcrafted stuff only, I buy hand-luggage-size presents for home front. Other members of the group seem to have done the same.

The atmosphere reminds me of culture park Westergasfabriek in Amsterdam-West.

The exhibition ‘Rolling Snowball/3’ is put up in a big space with rough walls, an attic like ceiling and some temporary white walls.

We are warmly welcomed by founder Ineke Gudmundssen, May Lee and Annelie Musters (platform CEAC Amsterdam). 24 artists are presented who had a residency both in CEAC Xiamen and in Amsterdam, showing classical pencil drawing, sculpture, painting, video, photography and installation.  The atmosphere is relaxed, with many visitors (free entrance) clearly also from the neighbourhood. (One artist complains about visitors feeling free to touch the work and mess with her slide projector). I am for a while engaged in meetings with artists, predominantly from China.

Combining the works of ex-residency-artists, explains I guess, a certain lack of thematic and spatial coherence. ‘Rolling Snowball/3’ is foremost attractive in the way it is connecting to the local community.

However CEAC’s residency program does really create opportunities for artists both from Holland and China. And the Chinese artists I spoke definitely hope to find opportunities to travel.

Paula van den Bosch

Day 7

Guangzhou
Considering the misty morning Guangzhou offered once we walked out of the Dongfang Hotel (one brief note on the hotel: this humongous complex exemplifies for me the epitome of China’s ambitions. Developed around a 150meters square perimeter, it carries the perfect synthesis of all the elements one would image beforehand visiting China. A central negative space with traditional Chinese garden comprised of wooden arch-shaped bridges, hectic fat red fishes, waterfalls, secular-looking trees, but also hydromassages, cocktail terrace and jacuzzi springs; a shopping centre, a beauty salon and even an office providing wedding facilities on the spot), I would not expected such an energetic, involving day – maybe the busiest to far. After the canonic one hour drive from a neighbor to another (the same times it takes me to reach Bruxelles from Rotterdam), we get off the bus and walk through a vibrant, stunning indoor market. Smelly as all the indoor markets in the planet, Chinese’s business plan seems very specific to me: I sell on my stall only bananas, you sell apples, he sells mandarines. The result is a corollary of colorful masses aligned one next to another. The presence of our group takes the locals by surprise, but I appreciate their inner ability, garnished with sparks of subtle discretion and pride, to pretend as nothing is happening. Pride? Shyness? Ataraxia.

Vitamin Creative Space
In the backyard of the market, we walk through a damaged entrance of a damaged building. Throughout the stairs, vinyl bilingual texts texts (back for Chinese, red for english) recite questions such as What is physical? What is a tool? What is prosaic? What is metaphysical?… and so on. A mixture of rhetoric and taoism, which brought me to mind the now my(s)tic Dongfang Hotel, just carrying much more self consciousness.
Hu Fang

Hu Fang, artist, curator, thinker, cordially welcomes us into Vitamin Creative Space. I knew this gallery indirectly from friends being involved with it and at first had from art fairs. I always remarked their ability to stand on the side of protocols, such as a in Frieze when they had an artist sleeping in a comfortable, candid-white bed placed in the middle of the booth, or Cao Fei renderings of Second Life into our shared reality, and vice versa. I was imagining a gallery mainly interested into the exportation of Chinese’s sense of contemporary tradition by means of ad hoc  situations and immaterial strategies. That is true only partially. The physical space represents a great deal for the sake of the program. Built ten years ago by a gallery artist (not sure if the name was disclosed), who explicitly avoided the white cube-paradigm, the space itself challenged the gallery since day one, stimulating Hu Fang and director Zhang Wei, to overcome site specific practice: rather than adapting works to a given surrounding, it is the space which adapts to the project, distancing from the obsession of the form. Cement floor, curved walls, adjustable spots throughout the ceiling, alternating with the tiniest, most efficient light bulbs I have ever seen. In thoughtful, gracious and crisp manners, Hu Fang explained how the market in which the gallery is located represent a way to understand the way of modern life. A continuous experiment. Now reporting it, it seems to my eyes much more banal than it sounded on the spot, but I believe we are agents of communication therefore sometimes, and this is the case, the way we say things values as much as what we say. The frame of a painting or the plinth of a sculpture can shine light into the artwork itself. I don’t see it as superficial, or rhetoric, rather holistic.

The exhibition on view is entitled Spirits Linger with Dust, by Zheng Guogu. Zheng Guogu is a chinese artist, sometimes working in the frame of the Yangjiang Group, living in a smaller city (smaller than Guangzhou which is twenty millions people does not mean much, but nevertheless the city seemed small in western terms nevertheless), lacking of any supporting infrastructures, facilities etc. Zheng Guogu is interested in self-sustainability, in a hybrid between a open space, a garden and a private house. A personal vision of a museum, related to his different practices and media. To active this, Zheng Guogu bought six years ago an agricultural land, “his empire, to see how an individual land can be transformed into a landscape” in Hu Fang’s words. Basically a never finished place or, maybe better, an always unfinished place. This attention to the process is at the core of the exhibition. Five paintings, differing in style, colors and shape, not much in size; one sculpture and a wall pairing wrapping up the show, which explores how a mental space (as opposed to the physical) can generate the constant transformation of a media. Or in order words, not to fall into abstraction and elusiveness, how to transform a painting into spacial media, for example (>> wall painting). In order to achieve that, Zheng Guogu recurs to different practices which are illustrated into the exhibition (at a first look it seemed to my eyes a group show): the adaptation of the Tanka style, a tibetan traditional painting technique, the embracement of collectiveness (the figurative and abstract wall painting was executed over one month by 50 artists comprising the Yangjiang Group), the recurrence to chance as in Ming Dynasty Shan Shui No.3: lacquer is poured on the canvas, material, chance and time arrange each other until a “Chinese Lanscape” pops up. This is the work I enjoyed the most for its formal qualities. Having now learned on the predominance of the process, I am still questioning.
After visiting the exhibition, we gathered in the vitamin’s office for a discussion mainly centered into the mission of this non profit-space turned into commercial gallery, defined by Frieze in 2008 as the coolest gallery space in the world… It does not mean anything at all, it is actually rather lame, if not how difficult it is to be wirklich cool nowadays. Hu Fang explained how Vitamin will soon move out of their premises Guangzhou to relocate in the country side, to focus on a new model based on self-sustainability. The aim is to adopt a new slow-motion timing which sounds very cool but I believe the gallery will manage to achieve it in a critical, engaging way. I understand and appreciate how Vitamin throughout the years sticked to their objectives, built around ideas, desires, artists, writing, seduction, theory, and probably transmuting and at the same time foreseeing the image western world carries about China.Libreria Borges, Institute of Contemporary Art

After our trip to Vitamin Creative Space, we headed to the Libreria Borges. Its founder, Mr Chen Tong, had already introduced us to his institution on November 8th during the OCAT marathon meeting in Shenzhen. Nevertheless, nothing beats seeing the real thing. Housed in an old villa, Libreria Borges boasts an impressive collection of translated works by the likes of Alain Robbe-Grillet, Jean-Philippe Toussaint, Jean Echenoz, and other (predominantly) French thinkers who are standard fodder on humanities and critical theory curricula: Baudrillard, Deleuze, Derrida, Bourdieu, Foucault and Barthes. Since none of us reads Chinese, I guess the main point for us here was not to browse the publications, but to get a feel of the work that Libreria Borges undertakes. It’s the institute’s mission to introduce French postmodern thought to a Chinese readership. I do wonder how far the reach is of these thinkers in China; somehow regret I never got a chance to ask this to the staff.
Video Bureau

More up my street was the brand new video library the institution had set up. Each month one or two artists are invited to show video work; the work is archived on DVD, and catalogued together with biographical and portfolio information. Slowly slowly Borges is building a mediatheque of Chinese video art. Too bad that the catalogue is not accessible online and that the institution is not thinking about the preservation of these media works. The artists on show during our visit were Lu Chunsheng and Huang Ran. Huang’s video showed a basketball match between teams of identical twins, all dressed in the same uniforms, which obviously confuses the rules and the nature of a game, based on beating opponents.Guangdong Museum of Art

Guangdong Museum of Art was our next destination – a huge museum placed on Er-sha Island in the Pearl River in central Guangzhou. We were met by Grace Lu from the Research and Curatorial Department and started off with lunch in the museum’s empty cafeteria. The museum hosts nearly sixty exhibition a year, has 8,000 m2 of exhibition space and currently they’re filled with the 4th edition of the Guangzhou Triennial (one of three venues in the city).The exhibition includes works by approximately 75 artists, is curated by Jiang Jiehong and Jonathan Watkins and is entitled The Unseen. As Mai wittily points out to me as we get to the museum, “the unseen” seems a fitting title for a biennial-type exhibition as many of these global large-scale exhibitions remains unseen by many. In this case though, the title doesn’t refer to a lack of audience – a lot of people are spending their Saturday afternoon visiting the museum (always free of charge), especially young people.
Instead, one reference to “the unseen” is Harold Edgerton’s 10 minute b/w film Seeing the Unseen which is presented in the exhibition. The film was made at the MIT in 1936 and shows “the strange and beautiful world of motion” (Edgerton) in a Muybridge-as-film kind of way with slow-motion images of for instance a hummingbird caught in mid-air flapping its wings, falling drops creating strange formations in a glass of milk and the threaded needle of a sewing machine repeatedly punching though the fabric. The film is accompanied by a series of Edgerton’s iconic colour photographs from 1934 where a projectile shoots through a playing card or an apple. With the assistance of the camera, Edgerton shows us what the human eye can’t see.

On a positive note, the Biennial promotes artistic expression over the inflated nationalistic representations which occur both in China and in the Western world. The formula, is the updated version of the large survey exhibitions throughout the world: singular positions arranged in a linear space; different generations presented horizontally ( here it spammed from Felice Beato’s photographs of now destroyed chinese temples -1860- to Zhang Dali’s questioning over the reliability of the image in the current overflowed nexus of information -2012-); the presence of several works engaging with the spectator (really appreciated by the public); and selected artists recurring throughout the exhibition (though, if we don’t need so many Ceal Foyer, but do they?). On a more negative note, a general veil of amateurism, especially apparent in the installations’ architectures (Dan Flavin’s bulbs protected by plexiglas…) and in the lack of educational material, which can be forgotten by pointing out the enthusiasm and the humble approach of the organization. I’m still hoping to see in an exhvition a parallel model to the Western standard of display and concerns in regards to how and what contemporary has to say, but I doubt this is the direction China is interested to undertake. The Guangzhou Triennial runs through 16 December 2012.

The Unseen, The Fourth Guangzhou Triennial
Let’s start addressing the 4th Guanghzhou Triennial by having a look at the curatorial statements by the Guanghzhou Museum of Art’s (the main venue) director Luo Yiping, and its curators Jiang Jiehong and Jonathan Watkins. Luo starts by stating that what sets this edition apart from previous editions, is the fact that it is based on “research”. Well one would hope so! Makes me wonder how the other triennials were put together. I was told by Grace Lu of Guangdong’s Museum curatorial department that previous editions had focused on retrospectives of Chinese contemporary artists, or on social and political issues particularly poignant for Canton. This being said, one would assume that also here a research process would precede the implementation of the exhibition. This Triennial was to signal a return to art, by focusing on – what felt very much as a randomly chosen topic – “the unseen”. The curators lay out their curatorial framework as one that explores the invisible or the limitations of our sensory organs. They write that “the Unseen resides in impulses that resist representation, in realms of desire.” At no point do they motivate why at this very moment in time, within the Triennial’s or the regional context it is of importance to address this very issue. And so the topic comes across as haphazard and random, as is the exhibition. Granted, the exhibition space with its 3 floors is a tough nut to crack, but an exhibition designer could have had a ball with this topic. Granted, there were a few excellent works, such as Michael Craig-Martin’s classic An Oak Tree (1973) or Jonathan Schipper’s Slow Motion Car Crash, which shows 2 cars being pushed into each other. However, what was it doing there on the cluttered ground floor, why not place it at the entrance outside? The work is a living sculpture, and quite monumental, it deserves space alone. This is true for most of the works. It is as if the curators placed stuff wherever there was room with no consideration for how works speak to each other, or without any sensitivity to how works are installed. Dan Flavin’s installation was ruined by placing plexiglass in front of the neon tubes, NG Kinsley’s piece Moon Gate, which he told us about in Hong Kong, was very badly projected on some free space of wall, the wall’s architecture changing the projection completely. Nevertheless, the show did introduce a few great Chinese conceptual pieces to me, such as Tan Ping’s 40 metres, which showed a selection of frames spanning 1 metre, its upper and lower contours always traced slightly differently with thick black lines, Xiao Yu’s piece Popularity No 1, a rope suspended from two ends of the wall turning and unturning itself, or Shi Jinsong’s Twelve Stones. Nevertheless, the messy and cluttered installation of the show depleted the strength of good works. In addition, the curator’s very literal interpretation of their theme rendered complex works utterly flat. Ceal Foyer’s Untitled Credit Roll (2012) for example, is a video showing blurred film credits. Indeed, one cannot make out the text, but viewing this only with the lens of invisibility is a reductive and futile exercise. For an exhibition focusing on things “unseen”, the Fourth Guangzhou Triennial had indeed had very little vision.

Dinner
All day the air had been very humid and as we left the museum it finally started to rain a bit. By the time we arrived with the bus at our next stop, a hotel restaurant in the northern part of town, it was pouring down. We had a quick Chinese dinner, by now a routine for the group: round tables, warm hand cloths and tea for everyone and a lazy Susan in the middle with a variety of dishes spinning around until everyone was full.

Guangdong Times Museum
Next and last stop of the day was very close to the restaurant: the Guangdong Times Museum which hosted an event with the local art scene. The museum which is part of the Guangdong Museum of Art was founded in 2003 by the Times Property, hence its name, and started its operations in October 2010. Privately funded (at least in part), the museum is a non-governmental organisation and, interestingly, therefore apparently enjoys more freedom than its state-funded counterpart.

Taking place on the museum’s 19th floor roof terrace (with an amazing view of the city centre’s lit skyscrapers), the evening started off with speeches and introductions and then continued as an informal exchange session between us and the artists/curators from the Pearl River Delta. Local participants included a large number of Guangzhou artists – many of them teachers at the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts – as well as representatives from local institutions we had already visited such as Vitamin Creative Space and Librairie Borges. It was great to have a chance to engage in more intimate conversations with the artists (even if a little short) and to see their presentations which gave a better impression than most other events of what Chinese artists are actually engaged with.

Nat Muller, Henriette Bretton-Meyer & Franscesco Stocchi

Day 6

Dafen Oilpainting Village
We left the hotel in Shenzhen (龙岗区大芬油画村) in the morning where they don’t have floor numbers with a 4 in it, like 4, 14, 24, because they think it stands for bad luck in China. We have stayed in this city for one and a half day in what seemed to be a residential easygoing relaxed place with lots of green, but as a matter of fact I heard the city contains 16 million people (see Michel’s post from yesterday). The hotel was opposite a theme park called ‘The window of the world’ that we passed a few times and contained parts of the world in small. Almost life size German houses, a smaller Eiffel Tower and the pyramid by Pei. The artist Constant Dullaart who had actually visited the place since he does a residency at Shenzhen, told me that America in the theme park looked very small. New York City buildings hardly reached your knees, except for the twin towers of course (which are actually both still there) which are slightly higher. Are the directors of this park not in favor of the US or is the country just too big too handle?

We left by bus for the Dafen Oil Painting Village before hitting the road to Guangzhou; our next stop. Dafen (大芬社区) is not an actual village, but a gated part of a Shenzhen suburb consisting of a few streets recognizable by the large sculpture at the ‘entrance’ of a hand holding a brush. What seems at first instance to be a touristy place with lots of commercially working galleries, shops and studio’s becomes more interesting once you wander around and think about the function a bit more. The galleries have paintings of animals, landscapes and other western cliche pictures, then there are the copies of well known paintings by not only Western artists, but also Chinese painting stars like the Chinese contemporary painter who does all the paintings with smiling Chinese people on them.

In our itinerary the following is being written on this painting village: “the early 1990s a group of about twenty artists under the leadership of the painter and businessman Huang Jiang took up residence in this town. They specialised in the making of large numbers of replicas of oil paintings by masters such as Van Gogh, Dalí, da Vinci, Rembrandt or Warhol. These replicas were sold in many countries for relatively low prices. The endeavor was quite successful and the demand for replicas increased. In order to fulfill the demand more and more artists took up residence and started to make a living, the estimate (2006) being in the thousands. Many of the artists are trained at art academies in the required techniques and produce dozens of replicas daily. The official policy states that these replicas are of paintings of artists who have died more than seventy years ago and consequently out of copyright. An obvious exception to this would be Andy Warhol (cited above) who died in 1987, and Dalí, who died in 1989. The only requirement is that it is made clear that these paintings are replicas. Currently, the village sells both originals and replicas. It is possible to commission paintings for low prices.”

I am quite amazed by the fact that artists from art academies come here to work and that it is quite ‘normal’ and accepted to work here to make a living next to probably making their own work. Some paintings on show have actually fake crackles to make it look ‘old’, so they go quite far in their attempts to fake the real. Is this different in the Western world? Do the Chinese love making copies more, than we do? Or do we have a problem with copies and are lurking only for the original? On the one hand I do believe we have had our era of copying a long time ago – when painters went to Rome to study and copy the Italian paintings, but then still the idea was to learn by copying and by that making your own painting, whereas here it functions much more as a commercial act that sells. Though this is what I think in the beginning and of course everything is always hard to understand and not so black and white. To start with, this village is the only place like this in China, I was told by the director of OCAT. People come here to educate themselves, to train in painting, to study the masters too, though here they don’t go to Rome, but as in the 17th century a lot of artists worked after etches -reproductive affordable media of the time- people study pictures here from art history books. There are bookshops in the village too and apparently also a place where you can see what reproductions they took from the books to copy, but I haven’t seen the actual place where this is visible. In the bookshop though there are next to books about artists also books availabe on how to draw and paint figures and postures. There is for instance a book on postures with Chinese youngsters standing in different ways so people can copy that posture. So this village functions not only as a great selling place where cheap paintings (both non-formula paintings as they call it and copies) are sold to places in China and the East and to Western countries, but works as well like a training centre for artists. The director of OCAT expresses that because of the production city of Shenzhen this village also ‘produces’ a lot of paintings. And this makes sense. A lot of artists (like the Dutch Dirk van Lieshout who was present at the dinner of the Consul General Mrs. A. Luwema in Guangzhou tells me) from the West come to China to have things produced they need for their art installations. China is not only the place to get cheap clothing produced or electronics made, but also where art pieces, or parts, are being produced cheaply and well. Though good craftsmanship often needs to be returned because of mistakes in execution because of language problems and things. I heard for instance that neon making is best made in the Netherlands, instead of in China, because that went an awful lot of times wrong.

So this village is not only meant for the production of paintings for the East, but also for the West. Dutch people probably all like to have a copy of an important painting at home, like my grandmother used to have a reproduction of a Van Gogh painting hanging in her home. It was simply always to expensive to get a ‘copy’.

And I don’t mean that Chinese art is only about copying. Though in the interview we got from Defne Ayas (see my first post) the artist mentions the fact that a lot of things are instantly being copied from the West in this Chinese process of modernization. The artist therefore does stress the importance of keeping the Chinese tradition and to harmonize the two. And of course there are Chinese artists whose works are not only about copying conceptual ideas and formal qualities from the West, and I mean this on a complex level, not in a simple way…., like in the painting village…. But it is difficult to judge easily. I hope to see more of this kind of Chinese art tomorrow at the Triennial and during the visit of Vitamin Creative Space. On the other hand one cannot say that we in the West are only in favor of ‘originals’, and especially now in this digital era where the original is not so important anymore, or as a matter of fact, original and copy are almost equally important. It is much more confusing now to distinguish between original and copy with remixes for instance. By referencing continuously on the internet, copies can become as important as the supposedly called originals, though it is hard to speak of those terms anymore in an era where so many things are made of only digital information. Look for instance at the work of Oliver Laric, where he speaks of different ‘versions’, but of course he is not the only one and def. not the first….

On the road to Guangzhou you see the beautiful landscape that makes a lot of the grey monotonous building structures bearable. We get into Guangzhou that contains of a mixture of architecture that is often brightly lit by lamps or advertising (first impression). I have been told by somebody that this city contains 30 mln people, but then a Dutch writer at the reception in the evening says only 20 mln, and then Francesco mentions he has heard an artist say that the Chinese people don’t think that way, that they don’t think in how many millions of people live in a city because it does not make sense to think that way, it does not serve a purpose…. And maybe it is also not that interesting, but it gives an idea to us at least, living in such a small country.

Speaking about different cultures, I got to speak to Sigurdur Gudmundsson, the famous Icelandic artist who used to live in the Netherlands, at the reception. He moved to Xiamen 15 years ago, because of a miscalculation, meaning sort of by chance. I asked him whether he speaks the language, and he replies he manages himself mostly with gestures. He says that of communication only 20% is based on language, all the rest is gestures, odor, sex. He has written a book about this, but it is in Icelandic…..(so if any publisher is interested?) I would love to read it and I know that in China it can be printed at least cheaply.
Petra Heck, za. 00.47.

I start my day with the view from my window of an apartment building with balconies hung full of washing.

Last night, before drawing the curtains, I could see the inhabitants moving around in their apartments, busy with their evening rituals: cooking, washing, reading, eating, talking, cleaning… In the morning, things are much less transparent – the early sun blocks the view of the activities within. It’s like a lot of what I’ve experienced in the past days: Now you see it, now you don’t.

After packing up and a quick breakfast (it must be mentioned that the buffet at the Seaview Overseas Hotel is really quite spectacular), it is time to catch the bus scheduled for 10.15 to take us to another curiosity of China, the  Dafen Oil Painting Village on the outskirts of Shenzhen, a tourist attraction so great that it is already indicated 10 minutes before our arrival on the highway signage leading up to it.

We grin when we walk through the entrance of the so-called village flanked by a larger-than-life-sized easle on the one side and a giant hand wielding a paintbrush.

         

But after a  badly needed caffeine shot at a café on the central plaza (cappuchinos donned with elaborate foamy illustrations of hearts, flowers, swans and teddy bears, a small artistic performance by the barista, who serves us with a broad smile) we break up into groups and it soon becomes apparent that Darfen is no joke, but a serious business, completely true to the vein of Shenzhen claim to being “the factory of the world”: There are hundreds of shops with “artwork” on display: Van Goghs, Lichtensteins, Rembrandts, but also by contemporary Chinese painters and any scene, literary, historical, comical, abstract (although, for whatever its worth, I did not spot any Pollock imitations…) political (Obama proclaims next to Lenin from the rafters of a shop) or personal (including portraits children, families and of newly-weds in fantasy environments) or pop (the Beatles re-created in Andy Warhol’s style), catering to any taste and desire imaginable, small or large-scaled, framed and unframed (and thus practically rolled to hand-carry). Darfen is not only a maze of sales shops, but also material shops brimming with brushes, pencils, paint, sketchbooks and fine and coarse linens, framing shops with any type of frame,  bookshops with publications ranging from historical models and “how to sketch” textbooks and workshops, were linens are being hammered to frames in the streets and  “artists” are busy “producing” the works that are stacked everywhere. But who is all of this for?

A  sign on a storefront reads:  Our main market: North America, South America, Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, AfricaOceania, Mid East, Eastern Asia, Western Europe. And: Annual Sales Volume:  USD 1 – 2.5 Million. Apparently, the majority of these “reproductions” (the sunset, the seaside landscape, the abstract painting) are produced and purchased  on commission not only for private homes but much more lucratively for hotel lobbies and rooms, as well as corporations around the world.

I am neither an art historian nor a critic, and I will not pretend to deliver meaningful thoughts on the above-mentioned sights and I am sure Petra has much more intelligent reflections to offer. However, I would like to point to a trusted professional friend of mine, Phil Tinari –  a former journalist/writer and editor of the acclaimed Chinese contemporary art magazine “LEAP” and currently director of the Ullens Collection in Beijing – for a more informed insight into the wonders of Darfen. Phil, who has lived in China for over a decade and was Art Basel’s “Man in China” for many years until 2011,  contributed a piece on Darfen for Artforum in 2007 that I believe is worth your while.  http://www.philiptinari.comwriting/dafen/

I will say, though, that what I encounter as I wander the streets of Darfen chatting with Paula and Kathleen reminds me in a twisted way of a project that was on display in Art Basel’s Art Unlimited a couple of years ago by artist Gabriele di Matteo: “China – Made in Italy” – a series of 100 paintings by contemporary Chinese artists (sold for millions of dollars at the time) that he “reproduced”, but painted all in grey tones. See below for an excerpt of a description of the work by Federico Luger:

“The China – Made in Italy project, by Gabriele di Matteo comes from the awareness that patenting a single pictorial style is almost impossible such as it is impossible to apply claims related to copyrights to any artistic imaginary. Since the beginning of his artistic career, Di Matteo has always questioned how the active presence of the author during the painting process should have a role strongly tied to the manual exercise of the pictorial practice itself.

Today with China – Made in Italy he tries a piratical “boarding” at the expenses of the new pictorial Chinese wave. The million worth paintings by Ma Liuming, Zhang Xiaogang, Yang Shaobin, Zhou Tiehai, only to quote some of the most notorious ones, reflect the booming Chinese economy and its primacies. Gabriele Di Matteo’s project enters in this reality to create a short circuit and so introduces a destabilizing element: the author has selected one hundred of the most significant and famous works of the contemporary Chinese art to reproduce them. The copies faithfully reproduced in their original size show their nature of fake ones: they are repainted in black and white.

Depriving the copies of their colours, the artist places a distance from them yet developing a logic of repetition by which, apart from exploring the significant potential of painting, he sets up a direct dialogue with the ephemeral and perverse rules of the art market. These works hardly definable neither as copies nor as a postmodern appropriation, set a series of reflections on the power and autonomy of the originality beside the persuasive force of art. Another not secondary aspect, underlines the falseness of the reproductions: they do not obey to any economical logic that determines the price, mainly based on the artist’s personal quotations, but, nevertheless their dimensions, they have the same price. (…)”

Our trip continues. After street-side dumplings and “pizza” we board our bus to Guangzhou – and although the high-rises do grow lower and there are occasional rice paddies and towering bamboo in-between, there is no distinguishable boundary between Shenzhen and our next destination on our 2 hour ride. A short stop at a gas station leads to us munching away on variably recognizable savory and sweet snacks. By the time we pull up to and are engulfed by the grand entrance and the huge chandelier hovering above us at the Dong Fang Hotel (apparently originally built for the pleasure of Guangzhou’s high-level party members), we have a mere 30 minutes to change into clothing worthy of a consulate’s reception.

It continues to amaze me what my female friends pull out of their suitcases, we all could equally be going to the Opera!

A mesmerizing sky-scraper skyline flickers in constantly changing neon colors and the line-up of thousands of cars’ head and tail lights reveal the dimension of the city. Consul A. Luwema’s private residency is located in the Ritz Carlton complex, where we are treated to a delicious buffet and the company of broad array of local as well as Dutch, Belgium and Danish (art) representatives that soon engage in lively conversations. The Swiss, unfortunately, cannot make it to this occasion to meet and greet. I have the opportunity to hook up with Abel Zhao, the Director of the Times Museum which we will be visiting tomorrow. Our conversation, patiently and kindly translated by Veronica, confirms some of the thoughts on the motivation of corporate funding for the arts in China that have been accompanying me in the past days

Although (contemporary) art does not necessarily enjoy a high status with the broader public in China, Chinese corporations choose to invest money in contemporary arts funding (primarily museums and initiatives, but not direct support of the artists) because a) (as in many other countries) that monies going to the arts (and education) are tax-free is a simple fact that creates a strong incentive, b) because the “production” surrounding art practice and exhibiting in China is still quite cheap, the amounts invested by the companies represent small percentages of the turn-over with satisfactory return on investment, c) companies endeavor to brand and enhance their image with a particular lifestyle which the contemporary arts increasingly represents, d) the majority of individuals that participate in contemporary art offerings regularly are quite young – between 20 and 30. They represent the future of China’s better situated consumer society that are destined to participate in the above-mentioned lifestyle. All in all a simple logic.

Upon return this eventful day was topped off by drinks “funded” by Pro Helvetia, in the Dong Fang Bar. Let it suffice to say that thanks to the influence of the great personalities of the orientation trip group, the below implied national characteristics of the Swiss did not apply!

Annette Schonholzer