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.
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.
In the middle of this northern part of the palace I see the impressive 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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
We are welcomed by (Vincensius) ‘venzha’ Christ(iawan), the actual founder of the HONF lab.
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.
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?