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Agus Suwage, Social Mirror #3, 2013, trumpet, copper, wood and car audio systems, 118 x 24 x 70cm; image courtesy the artist

Biennale fever in Indonesia: temporary sites for contemporary art ROY VORAGEN Today, large-scale exhibitions are a global phenomenon; with hundreds of biennales, triennales and art fairs organised around the globe it’s physically impossible to visit them all. This fits the trend of the past few decades to view the development of contemporary art as one of – assumedly – cosmopolitisation. While biennales were initially part of nation-building processes, now they are often used as a way of city branding (flavoured with a dose of art as politics to hide this from plain sight). Biennales are hot in Indonesia as well: Yogyakarta will launch its twelfth biennale this month (from 16 November) just after the fifteenth Jakarta Biennale (from 9 November). Both biennales were not continuously organised: Jakarta’s biennale started in 1968 and it also changed its name a few times. Not so long ago, Jakarta was home to two biennales – the CP Biennale was held in 2003 and 2005. Hoodlums operating under the guise of Islam disrupted the second edition, and senior curator Jim Supangkat decided to close the artwork that caused the protest from view,1 after which participating artists decided to remove their works, effectively closing the biennale. Bandung had the intention to house a biennale as well, the Bandung Art Event, but it was only held once, in 2001, and was discontinued because of a lack of funding. For such a huge country, Indonesia’s contemporary art community is relatively small. However, artists are thriving creatively as well as commercially at home and abroad. For example, Albert Yonathan Setyawan, Sri Astari, Eko Nugroho, Entang Witarso and Titarubi are representing Indonesia in the current Venice Biennale, with Rifky Effendy as curator of the first Indonesian pavilion. Indonesia art monthly AUSTRALIA

was also given its own pavilion as a focus nation at Art Stage Singapore (‘We Are Asia’) earlier this year. Jakarta and Yogyakarta are both home to biennales, which might be perhaps a bit much. Both cities and biennale organisations lay claim on a substantial history to make the decision near impossible about which city should predominate (and who should take that decision?). Staging them in alternate years may work better for logistical reasons: As in 2011, both biennales this year will open within a week of each other this year, a blessing for foreigners, though, who are able to see both events in a single trip. Often, in exhibition catalogues, the lack of state support is lamented. Curator Rizky Zaelani, for example, wrote: When the state’s bureaucracy is not – or, perhaps, not yet – able to organise its wealth so that it can support and develop infrastructures for the art, the ‘fate’ of the art development cannot be supported by strong and capable institutions. As a result, various artistic events are held with neither coordination nor long-term plans.2 For three reasons this fatalism might not be warranted. Art organisations like Cemeti Art House in Yogyakarta (currently celebrating its 25th year), Common Room Networks Foundation in Bandung, and ruangrupa in Jakarta, to name just three, have shown that they do more than fill the gap left by the state without the need to copy strategies that have proven to be successful in the West.3 Biennales could learn a lot from these organisations; for example, that with energy, passion and dedication it is possible to organise ambitious events that attract Indonesian 2 6 5 N o ve m b e r 2 0 1 3 9

1 + 2/ Indonesian Pavilion, ArtStage Singapore, 2013, including (below): Tisna Sanjaya, I Like Capital and Capital Likes Me, performance and installation; images courtesy ArtStage, Singapore

Thirdly, a catalogue text might not be the most strategic place to express dismay about the state’s assumed lack of interest in the arts. It is true, though, that the Indonesian state views art mostly in terms of its GDP and tourism; art is then seen as traditional cultural expressions to attract foreign tourists. Biennale organisers, on the other hand, have to work with the means available and create an exhibition that is as ambitious as possible without blaming the absent state for possible shortcomings. And lobbying the state behind the scenes is then and foreign artists, an enthusiastic audience, loyal sponsors and (foreign) perhaps more fruitful. donors. The biannual Ok. International Video Festival, organised by Kate Fowle, the current head of ruangrupa, is an important reference (in 2009 it had 5500 visitors in two weeks; Independent Curators International, states in 2003, the first edition, that number was 1300). And Cemeti Art House that biennales can ‘act as a testing ground functions as an important training ground through its residency programs, for artists and a barometer for the workshops and internships. The fragmentation of these art organisations, development of art practice’.5 Indonesia however, could pose a problem (within Yogyakarta there is some degree of lacks public art museums that collect and collaboration between art organisations).4 If this fragmentation on the national preserve artworks, and by doing so puts level could be overcome, an infrastructure for the arts could be institutionalised these works in context (Indonesia does from the bottom-up through coordination between these diverse arts have private art museums however most of organisations and collectives. these don’t employ a curatorial board or Secondly, speaking in terms of the ‘absentee state’ in reference to the arts staff that can conduct and publish in Indonesia is an exaggeration. Approximately one-third of the budget of the research); therefore, biennales could offer 2011 Yogyakarta Biennale came from the state. The Jakarta Biennale is partly this context and serve as temporary and indirectly state-funded as well through the Jakarta Arts Council. And all four museums for contemporary art. venues at the two biennales are state-owned. More than the lack of appropriate The norm for biennales is to be buildings for contemporary art exhibitions and the need to fund these, it’s internationally acclaimed. However, putting problematic that there is no department of art history at an Indonesian university a biennale and its host city on the to provide much needed context to the rapid developments of the Indonesian international map is at best a happy sidecontemporary arts and to train a new generation of art researchers. Art schools, effect. The main goal should be to reach out obviously, do teach classes on art history and theory, but those who want more go to local audiences. The danger of seeking abroad: Farah Wardani, executive director of Indonesian Visual Art Archive in international recognition is not only that Yogyakarta and Artistic Director for Biennale Jogja XII (2013), studied art local audiences might be overlooked in the history at Goldsmiths in London; Alia Swastika, head curator of the 2011 process, but also that the matter of Yogyakarta biennale, took a curatorial workshop at De Appel in Amsterdam, and legitimating the biennale is transferred away some others have studied art management in Singapore and Hong Kong. from local audiences. There is no reason to 10

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Heri Dono, performance at Indonesian Pavilion, ArtStage Singapore, 2013; image courtesy the artist and ArtStage Singapore

make final judgments of value dependent on the generosity of outsiders. Appreciation should come first and foremost from local audiences. In Indonesia, though, fairly few outside the art practitioners’ community visit exhibitions in general and biennales in particular. A successful biennale requires focus. Attention obviously needs to be paid to selecting artists and artworks that come together as an exhibition through a spatial display. Furthermore, attention should go to communication, which includes wall texts, a catalogue, a website and other new media tools, but also, in general, putting the ‘word’ out (one only goes to a biennale website if one already knows about the event). The last (2011) Yogyakarta Biennale was very successful in all these aspects, perhaps with the exception of the last form of communication: few in the city I spoke with knew about this event or the location of one of the venues Unfortunately, however, a successful biennale is no guarantee for the future. Swastika did a superb job in Yogyakarta, setting the bar high for the next curator(s), Agung Hujatnikajennong (with Sarah Rifky), who was also the curator of the 2009 edition of the Jakarta Biennale, which was an artistic success (with the help of an experienced curatorial board; among others, ruangrupa founder and director Ade Darmawan and urbanist Marco Kusumawijaya). The 2011 edition of the Jakarta Biennale (‘Maximum City’), on the other hand, was a letdown. Perhaps at the time, it seemed a good idea to invite three journalists as curators (Ilham Khoiri, Bambang Asrini Widjanarko, and Seno Joko Suyono) but their inexperience made the selection and presentation of artworks chaotic at best. It is unfortunate that only when an exhibition is not properly organised that we become aware of the good use of art managers. Heri Pemad Art Management organises the yearly ArtJog, its 12th edition in 2012 had a fantastic selection art monthly AUSTRALIA

of artworks as well as a museum-like display; the space was re-designed beyond recognition.6 The lack of an adequate budget was used as an excuse for Jakarta’s last biennale, though this lack could have been utilised as a blessing in disguise: an Indonesian biennale could become more focused and, in turn, more ambitious. The decision of the Yogyakarta Biennale to focus only on art from two regions – Indonesia and India in 2011 – was a smart way to attain such focus. (In 2013, the second edition of the biennale’s ‘Equator’ theme launched by Swastika, the countries of focus with Indonesia are Egypt, Saudi Arabia and The United Arab Emirates.) Swastika wrote in the 2011 catalogue: ‘The problem of the limited infrastructure […] gives rise to the wish to position ourselves within the global arena using a different approach […]. The idea to sharpen the practice of the biennale into one specific theme […] is also a reaction toward the pattern of uniformity in global art trends.’7 Swastika, who co-curated this year’s ninth Gwangju Biennale currently showing in South Korea (‘Roundtable’, 7 September to 11 November), recently posed the question why there has never been an artist from Indonesia at Documenta in Kassel, Germany. She provocatively states that it is because of a lack of quality and she urges the government to create an infrastructure that enables artists to experiment and improve the quality of their work: In Indonesia, we need more experimental art spaces that enable artists to work on risky aesthetic approaches. We need more grants for artists to conduct better research. We need art history departments or courses at educational institutions that can be a forum to rewrite and re-analyse the context of our own (art) history. We need a platform to work together and make art a social movement.8

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1/ Magdi Mostafa, Transparent Existence, 2010, a sound/light-specific installation first shown in the underground graves of the Sufi Malawian Museum, Cairo; image courtesy the artist 2/ Entang Wiharso, work showing in Indonesia’s first national pavilion, Venice Biennale, 2013; the Indonesian Pavilion takes the theme ‘Sakti’ (‘magic and power’); image courtesy the artist and Venice Biennale


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Sri Astari, work showing in Indonesian Pavilion (‘Sakti’), Venice Biennale, 2013; image courtesy the artist and Venice Biennale

Art in Indonesia is thriving creatively and commercially; there are many interesting artists, artistinitiative spaces, galleries and private museums. However, if this success is to be prolonged, discussions on the sustainability of ideas and practices, financial sustainability (the prolonged financial crisis affecting EU countries might have consequences for donors active in Indonesia) and infrastructure are vital. 1. This concerned the installation Pinkswing Park by Agus Suwage and Davy Linggar. Yogyakarta-based Suwage is one of the most successful contemporary artists from Indonesia. 2. Rizky Zaelani, ‘Interpellation: Notes on a common language of comparison in international art events’, exhibition catalogue for Interpellation, CP Biennale 2003, CP Foundation, Jakara, 2003: 3. If the success of organisational institutionalisation can be shown when a new generation takes over then the coming years are going to be interesting as the founders of these three above-mentioned art organisations are still in charge. On the other hand, Gustaff Iskandar, founder and director of Common Room Networks Foundation, stated at a seminar on sustainability that these organisations could have a limited life cycle. See ‘Towards Financial Sustainability: Funding strategies in managing art and cultural organizations’, at Selasar Sunaryo Art Space, organised in collaboration with Roma Arts, Bandung, 10 December 2011. 4. Compared to Jakarta and Bandung, Yogyakarta also has more art organisations, which might also be because rents are much lower. Commercial art galleries, though, are more active in Jakarta compared to other Indonesian cities.

5. Kate Fowle, ‘Who Cares? Understanding the role of the curator today’, in Steven Rand and Heather Kouris (eds), Cautionary Tales, Critical Curating, apexart, New York, 2007, p. 15. 6. ArtJog presents itself as an art fair, while works are indeed for sale, the presentation of ArtJog comes close to that of a biennale as the selection of artworks is the responsibility of a curator and no art gallery has a booth. 7. Alia Swastika, ‘The Façade of Faith’, in Equator, Shadow Lines: Indonesia meets India, Biennale Jogja XI 2011 (Yogyakarta: Yayasan Yogyakarta, 2011), p. 208. In the past, the biennale in Yogyakarta offered a platform for artists from Yogyakarta; in 2011 many artists from Bandung presented work at the biennale, for which the curator was criticised by some Yogyakarta-based artists. 8. Alia Swastika, ‘Why has there never been an Indonesian artist at “Documenta”?’ The Jakarta Globe, 21 July 2012. The 2013 Biennale Jogja XII ‘Equator #2’, presented by the Biennale Yogyakarta Foundation, is curated by Agung Hujatnikajennong and Sarah Rifky, with Farah Wardani as Artistic Director, and runs 16 November 2013 to 6 January 2014: The 2013 Jakarta Biennale opens this year in a basement, and is titled ‘Siasat’ (Tactics). Included are international artists from Australia, Colombia, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria and Vietnam, along with a focus on making/collaborating on new public art projects while in Jakarta; runs 9 to 30 November:

Roy Voragen is a Bandung-based writer and founder of Roma Arts; he can be contacted at Free admission Gallery open Wed-Sun 10am - 5pm (DST)

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Biennale fever in Indonesia: temporary sites for contemporary art  

Roy Voragen, “Biennale fever in Indonesia, Temporary sites for contemporary art,” Art Monthly Australia 265 (November 2013): 9-13