Contemporary Art, Ecosystem of Ideas, and Suburban Contexts

admin Narration February 29, 2020

Contemporary Art, Ecosystem of Ideas, and Suburban Contexts

How is the contemporary art of Indonesia as an idea being accepted, adapted, and practiced in the context of cities that have been considered insignificant in the cultural field and discourse? At least in the timeline of Indonesian art history compiled by Enin Supriyanto in the Europhalia, also the National Art Development Plan 2015-2019 compiled by Mia Maria, Asep Topan, and Dila Martina Ayu, the cities which considered a representation of Indonesian art was only dominated by Yogyakarta, Bandung, and Jakarta. In such conditions, how the position of the non-mainstream cities in determining the strategy or more specific for the perpetrers is either personal or communal.


As a group, Kolektif Hysteria was declared since September 11th, 2004, but it was in the year of 2006 Hysteria intensely involved in the events T-even other fine arts and disciplinary events. Contemporary art as an idea is not yet being studied in a class but from accumulated meetings, discussions, views, practices, pieces of knowledge, and practiced in the flow of time. Term Art project became common place to refer to the practices of arts that emphasize the process chain from the end result of art artifacts only. This collage of ideas and absence of standard assessment are the things that makes the working field fun to be explored as the other art collectives in Indonesia which grows at that time. Complaints about the lack of ecosystem support does not make the art collective in many places give up, moreover there was arts’ booming in 2008 that give an overwhelming enthusiasm. An alternative and collective art meeting scope in FIXER in Jakarta in 2009 marked a new spirit of many strategies that being experimented rather than condemning the art infrastructure in each city. After the market made a new correction one by one, these collectives began to fade and even closed. Kolektif Hysteria that does not join into the mapping section, survived until now. It is precisely our presence that is neither here or else left a great question from the collectives, what kind of things we are.


Accusations of this group are not specific, because the art community usually takes on a special form. We know that Mes 56 is a group that focuses on photography, Garasi Teater, House of Natural Fiber, and Lifepatch New Media, and citizen science, Ruangrupa formerly known artists who process video. These specific formations seem to be the only model if the art collective wants to succeed in its field. Hysteria fails to be identified, perhaps because we never stand in any specific group. Lately, this specific formation is what I questioned, considering the cities with simple art structure and anyone should be ready to become an amateur. Artists, brokers, collaborators, invitees, documentary, display teams, and marketing! There is never provided an adequate museum in cities like Semarang. Complaints about the need for national caliber writers, mainstay curators, art media, and many more art infrastructure chains have lasted for a long time. As if only by completing it we will come to the same status. It was just in Semarang, how about the other cities such as Demak, Kendal, Cirebon, Pasuruan, Kediri, and many others. Since which year these cities are considered always lacking of supportive things so there is nothing interesting that can be read from friends who are active in those area. Lest not all of this lack of supports that became the cause, but the wrong point of view.


The theories of cultural evolution, as if requiring the change, are always gradual and step by step. From A to B to C to D and so on. People forget about modernism, post-modernism, and many other -ism coming to the third-world countries simultaneously. Disruption in many places, as if people understood in those places, to achieve the same position in the relationship of power must be taken gradually. They think that it is a must to have galleries, art museums, critics, art institutions, media, collectors, and so on to achieve a plenary art society. People forget that politics in Indonesia is the commander, imagining the small towns to have it all and ignoring the political process that often makes depression for me, just a waste of time while we continue to age over time. In a lame relationship of power, how contemporary art in Indonesia is practiced primarily by small towns that always bear the imperfections of infrastructure. Of course, if we adhere to the various ISO standards of contemporary art world, please just continue the political representation that is played on this recent decades. But in the context of country and indonesianism, this biased view will not only impoverish a growing practice but also scatter the budget if it is based on data and assessments that are not familiar with the context. As a result, the program can be initiated by the country in the form of a spirit of modernism in a single taste.


Art Expression of the Poor: A Symbolic Adaptation on Poverty, written by Tjetjep Rohendi Rohidi is a good study of how the aesthetic of a particular group of people is inseparable from the cultural field where they grow. It’s no wonder that Rohidi’s art in Kendalini District characterizes rapid expression of art, limited duration, money orientation, and is also easy to adapt. In the poverty culture, the values were adopted and used by the villagers and transmitted if needed, and the results are amateur and meaningless art expressions. We can certainly argue for times about high and low art value differences and how to have own strengths. An interesting reading precisely happened when we see the related artistic expression with the cultural terrain that live and being lived by its adherents. In this context, the reading by anthropological point of view using is more adequate than using the theory of art itself that approached in terms of shape, although there is also a theory of relational aesthetics. In cultural relativism, there are no cultural peaks, but one and others are working within the same field to contribute each other. This point of view may be difficult to shift the system’s values that has been stabled by decades, but I think this perspective can enrich and become an alternative for small towns that have never been considered significant in cultural field.


So, what happens if the dominant value is continuously enforced? James Scott researched perfectly the poor farmers in the Sedaka, Malaysia in his “Senjatanya Orang-orang Kalah” (Weapons of the defeated). They no longer taking weapons or massive calls, instead their attitude became indifferent, ignorant, defame, and reluctant to participate. This became a real obstacle over development slogans. They never feel that they are part of the movement, so what’s in it? In such condition, the improvement of communication must be accomplished by many parties, if people still want the contemporary art to be really grounded in Indonesia, not just a privilege of some cities.


Penta KLabs, Sites Specific Art Project Biennale

(Biennale a la Kolektif hysteria)


Hysteria begins to realize its existence in this field not long ago, starting from 2012 when almost all the collective members graduated in college and understood that no money could be generated from the art activism at that time. The choice is to stop or continue, but if we continue, what basis should we take? Awareness about the urban space is actually triggered by particular study because it is related to many NGO, for example with LBH Semarang, Rujak Center for Urban Studies, Pattiro (Pusat Telaah dan Informasi Regional = Regional Study and Information Center) Semarang, LBH Apik and many more which make Hysteria for long time never merely dealing with artistic production. The research in Tugu and Bustaman is a turning point in seeing urban phenomena and community existence. I realized, although since 2008 we have initiated the program in the village and involved within the village event, in fact we are not really understand the village and the life of its villagers. We begin to question the work of artistic works.


Debate about the role of art whether to serve the community or for the sake of the art itself has been going on for a long time. In Indonesia, LEKRA (Lembaga Kebudayaan Rakyat = The People’s Cultural Institution) and the Manikebu (Manifes Kebudayaan = Cultural Manifest) group argue fiercely about it. TURBA (Turun ke Bawah = downward) movement, initiated by LEKRA, encourages artists to internalize their role in cultural works, primarily seeking the identity of Indonesia as well as the usability of their work. While Manikebu, who is driven by the spirit of Surat Kepercayaan Gelanggang (October 22nd, 1950), feels as a part of the universal culture without faltering in practical political interests. This debate was stalled halfway through the bloody G30S (1965), which placed the PKI as the only defendant. LEKRA accused of being affiliated with the ideology of communism and close to PKI (Partai Komunis Indonesia = Indonesian Communist Party) was depleted. After the power of Orde Baru (New Order) established, normalization of campus life began. The honeymoon of Orde Baru and college students ended after the events of Malari in 1974. At that time, students rejected investments from the Japanese government. The action that ended in chaos, led to the rise of NKK/BKK (Normalisasi Kehidupan Kampus/Badan Koordinasi Kemahasiswaan = Normalization of Campus Life/Student Coordination Committee) regulation.


Art activism includes as the victim that wants to be kept away from the political reality. On the other hand, there are many innovations in other areas of aesthetics such as in the theater of “Bulan Bujur Sangkar” by Iwan Simatupang, in the dance there is a concrete poem of Sutadji Calzoum Bachri, Danarto, etc. Nevertheless, it does not mean there was no resistance. In the field of fine art, there was Black December, later became GSRB (Gerakan Seni Rupa Baru = The New Fine Art Movement) to accommodate many other expressions, not only just stuck on two or tri dimensions art. Other forms of artistic expression began to be practiced, one of them was Moelyono, who famous for its art project named “Kesenian Unit Desa” (Village Art Unit), namely art activism in Tulung Agung where its process is presented in the Bachelor Degree at ISI (Institut Seni Indonesia = Indonesian Art Institute) Gampingan at the time. The presentation was rejected but became an ideological path for Moelyono to develop the art of awareness of his struggles with the daily reality he faced in the village with the ideas of Paulo Freire.


Toward the collapse of Orde Baru, more communities grew. Art Happening and performing are almost always present in moments of demonstration. Taring Padi (Paddy’s Fang) was one of them who carries this type of demonstrative art in Yogyakarta. The year of 1990’s also marked the birth of many collective arts in Indonesia, including groups formed in the early 2000s, many of which were exposed from euphoria on the overthrow of Orde Baru regime. Shortly thereafter, the law of regional autonomy was legalized and the imagination of shared enemies at the central government collapsed. Regional autonomy makes the area takes their own policy and frequently create “little kings”. Sadly, awareness to the more local context, according to my observations throughout the years 2004-2012, did not grow much in the art community. Cruelty narrative of Orde Baru known indirectly because my generation does not experience it directly, moreover in a small town like Rembang where I grew. It certainly made a perception about the regime. The mode of movement had its own variation. On the other hand, Dadaism from which Duchamp has gained a huge resonance in the Fluxus movement also has a collage of ideas that I learned from many places. Including Beuys social sculpture, especially his project in Kassel in the documentary event. The expansion of the art as a practice in society that creates impact and sculpt the social and the city structure itself, gave a fresh direction over anything that eventually initiated by Hysteria. Originality since ready made art enter the gallery is not significant anymore plus the absence of academic aesthetic authority makes everyone become anyone. That is what I love about the art of freedom which approaches the banality. Nevertheless, any ideas are relevant to our anxiety about the cultural practices what should fit in our capacity and in the context of where our art lives in it, Semarang.


Honestly, Semarang has only one authoritative art gallery that is Semarang Contemporary Gallery (usually called Galsem). Although Semarang has an art campus, very rare names are currently spoken in the field of discourse. Rumah Seni Yaitu (RSY) which is active since early 2005-2010 becomes an oasis of young people who want more diverse practices. His short lifetime allowed many people like me to gain knowledge and networking and shape the idea of what kind of art we want to be. After the closing of the Rumah Seni Yaitu, practically only Semarang gallery that regularly held an exhibition. As a commercial gallery, of course, they have their own standards so the artist in Semarang that is considered not yet worth to sell has a minimum opportunity to exhibit there. I do not care about such phenomenon. We started re-reading our capacities and resources. The art in the village as a manifestation and idea hooked up is slowly executed and find the most suitable format. So, we held Tengok Bustaman I (2013) and Tengok Bustaman II: Bok Cinta Project (2015). This start up makes Hysteria initiate a similar model but using a site or village that is always different from each event. Our first Biennale art Project was a program called Penta KLabs.


Penta KLabs or “5K” is a meeting between you/we/us- class- campus- community/village- city. This Sites specific art project Biennale used a specific place to implement the program with special issues. The first year in 2016, the event was held in Kemijen, East Semarang, with a focus on the issue of village resilience. Hysteria conducts ethnographic research and uses this data to be responded by invited artists. The artists will live and undergo residency for several days or weeks and create work with the citizens at the site. Cooperating PWK (Prodi Perencanaan Wilayah Perkotaan = Urban Area Planning Study Program), we received paper with related issues that being raised and presented in the village. That template is what we developed in several other villages with different types of issues. Of course, not all of them are fulfilled but more or less the same approach. It can be seen in other project, for example Nginguk Githok (Rembang), as well as the Festival Bukit Jatiwayang (Semarang). I also don’t want to get stuck in the history of Semarang as a big city while we have never participated in large scale events in the context of the city. Instead of being burdened with the history of Semarang, Hysteria conducts a specific and intensive approach. As well as the collective art of resistance, the entrance to the site is potential and could give a positive vibe. This may distinguish from other participatory arts that have been promoted by several groups in Indonesia that still treat the community as a laboratory but not part of them. It is this base that makes Hysteria activism either at the time of funding or not, keeps our work continued.


Our bond with various city issues and the local context made Hysteria learn the local political situation and how to link it to other global issues. The readability of the context seemed easy but the layers became a lot when it was about hacking power relationships. The pioneering contemporary art group activities from Semarang with successful residencies in Germany is not separated from the strategy of reading against the global context that is drawn to the local. We aware that it has never been easier, for example the fund snatching from the Ford Foundation, Hivos, even Djarum for specific issues of the arts, because the power relation is real and not easy to conquer. On the other hand, there are programs that utilize funds from local villagers or citizens such as Sekararum or in Tengok Bustaman IV. While we know, the world of contemporary art still keep distance with the country or not directly related to public affairs, Penta KLabs takes the opportunity to expand the context of art in society and especially in the cities with nastiest infrastructure.


Unfortunately, reading model to this phenomenon is still approached in the category of shape or form. This makes what is attempted in the Penta KLabs is often regarded as a derivative or more severe plagiarism of existing forms, for example what is already initiated by Moelyono. Or often, it is also called the ways of NGO to outsmart arts funds. Though almost from 2004-2017 only 15% of the funds we can get from art sector. The rest comes from the crowd funding and last credits savings from outsmart tactic in proposing non-art programs that can always be articulated as an art expression. That categorial system also reduce the culture work that does not offer new discourse. Come on, if the way to read them is just about shape or form, so what is offered even in the work of Raden Saleh in the presence of the painter Romantic in his era in Europe? In this context it is important to discuss how the ecosystem of this notion is supported and lived by its adherents in a distinctive context. Perhaps, because in it there is another future from contemporary fine art of Indonesia which is mainly embraced by other insignificant cities and later offered their own discourse.

(Ahmad ‘Adin’ Khairudin, exhibitions’ curator)