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Repetition, Deafening Din, Excess, and, Once Again, about the CP Open Biennale 2003

Agung Hujatnikajennong
Sunday, September 14, 2003

The presentation of the CP Open Biennale 2003 (CPOB 2003) with the theme Interpellation at the Indonesian National Gallery through October 3, 2003, brings hope as well as concern. Hope " because in the midst of a poverty of infrastructure for art in Indonesia, this activity brings form to the aspiration to develop a sustainable international art dialog and forum. The concern " because when viewed from all aspects, this presentation and activities have turned out to have displayed a number of basis weaknesses, especially if we carefully and thoroughly analyze and compare the concept, the vision, and the curatorial goals of this exhibition with their realization through the mechanism of selection and presentation of the works displayed in the exhibition spaces.

As has been noted in the curatorial essays for the exhibition, the presence of the works (20% of the total) of artists from countries outside of Indonesia not only brought the CP Open Biennale 2003 to the scale of "national plus" but also onto the level of "international". This should be valued as an effort that is significant enough when viewed from the perspective that this activity/event is capable of filling a vacuum in relation to the frequency (or rarity) of "international" scale art events in Indonesia. Even though the comparative ratio was not balanced, the presence of the artworks by European, American and Asian artists (outside of Indonesia) evenly juxtaposed with the works of Indonesian artists could become an important signal. After more or less a decade has passed " at the very least counting from the Non-Block Nations Contemporary Art Exhibition in Jakarta in 1995 " until now, at long last, the public can once again witness the works of Indonesian artists alongside the works of foreign artists within the same context. Before that the public could only hear, read, and know that the works of a handful of Indonesian artists of the likes of Dadang Christanto, Arahmaiani, and Heri Dono had made an appearance in the universe of large exhibitions in Europe and America, even though these artists and their works rarely appeared before their "own public".

Besides that, the arrangement of sub-sub programs in the CP Open Biennale 2003 seems to have made reference to the "ideal" model for the presentation of art events. There were an international symposium, a national seminar, artists" talks, public education programs through tours, and art workshops for children, all in an apparent effort to involve the public more intensely.

Outside of analyzing/evaluating the quality of the implementation of this exhibition, the overall scheme itself deserves to be looked at from the point of view of the extra value of the CP Open Biennale 2003 within efforts to mediate between the actual practice of art and the public through a variety of levels of understanding.

However, outside of noting the expectation that there will be more exhibitions of this caliber to make a contribution to the institution and discourse of art in Indonesia, there is also the need to note the various obvious, or even blatant, weaknesses in the CP Open Biennale 2003, which certainly cannot be ignored. The involvement of 114 artists with a wide variety of creative tendencies apparent in their artworks in the limited spaces available at the Indonesian National Gallery causes this exhibition to seem just like a crowded din-filled art expo, a little bit like a "general store". All kinds of "things" are on display there: ranging from paintings, photography, sculptures, space and wall installations, ceramics, graphic artworks and drawings on paper, video pieces, baskets that looked like traditional craftwork, and other items all overflowing into every nook and cranny of both the closed and open spaces used for the show.

Taking a critical look back at the pre-exhibition preparations, when the curators and the management of the of the CP Open Biennale 2003 began publicizing the activities by holding traveling discussion sessions and passing out application forms to artists, it was stated quite firmly at the time that the framework used in relation to the criteria for selection was visual art as an alternative to the paradigm of contemporary art. As a frame of thinking, visual art, which is initially set forth to "interpellate" the paradigm of "contemporary art" (which is generally used in international exhibitions such as Dokumenta and La Bennale de Venezia) certainly does make it possible to include all kinds of categories of art objects, and is even unlimited in relation to what is called "artwork". However, it is really astonishing that this framework, in the end, has not been touched upon at all in the written curatorial introduction to the CP Open Biennale 2003. What happened that the discourse about that framework would go up in smoke just like that " when, initially, it could be imagined that it would become a unique "new discovery" " does this mean that this has just turned out to be a sign of inconsistency within the curatorial practice?

Another fatal mistake in the curatorial arrangements and presentation of the CP Open Biennale 2003 is the division into sub-sub themes that, as it has turned out, do little to assist the public to more easily access and understand the exhibition as had been desired. The three sub-themes of the main theme of Interpellation -- Changes Interpreted, History Translated, and Localness Reconsidered -- have turned out to be simply an effort at small talk, because they are not at all realized within the actual presentation of the exhibition. The division into or grouping under sub-themes should actually have been done with a more "lofty" purpose, that being to "serve the public" so that a kind of consensus could be reached about how best to understand the overall exhibition, and to make the curatorial practice a basis of thinking.

As an example of this, just take a look at how a few of the installation pieces are displayed in "meaningless" array in open spaces, because if we look very closely and carefully, we will see that the artists whose works are displayed there are classified under different sub-sub themes. In the catalog for the CP Open Biennale 2003, Tisna Sanjaya is categorized under the sub-theme " Changes Interpreted", while Amrus Natalsya and Sunaryo are listed under "Localness Reconsidered" The presentation of the artworks in the main space of the gallery also raises some "suspicious" things. True enough, there certainly are many works displayed there by artists with admirable international reputations, such as Fang Lijun, Wenda Gu, and Heri Dono, who are actually (also) grouped under different curatorial sub themes. Is this because these works have a "unique value" so that they must be placed in the main exhibition hall? If so, what is the use of the sub themes? This kind of presentation is sure to confuse.

Referring to the article by the art observer Wicaksono Adi (Media Indonesia, Sunday, September 7, 2003) that describes the CP Open Biennale 2003 as having "sophistication that confuses", in this writing I would say that the view is the opposite. In my observations and through comparison with regional exhibitions in Asia and the Pacific that have been taking place since the beginning of the decade of the 1990s, actually, the curatorial concept for the CP Open Biennale 2003 is truly nothing new at all, and it is almost exaggeration to call it "sophisticated". If considered and comprehended more basically and overall, the curatorial agenda of Interplellation is the thinking that has been repeatedly set forward by Jim Supangkat over a prolonged period of time, at the very least since the Jakarta Art Biennale IX, at Taman Ismail Marzuki (1993-94) just as Post Modernism was becoming a kind of buzzword among the practitioners of art in Indonesia. At that time, internationalism and modernism, which are Euro-American centrist (and which now tend to be merged to become "the contemporary"), continued to be used as the supposition of domination that must be questioned (interpellated?).

Certainly, the thinking of Jim Supangkat has made many contributions to the emergence of artworks from Indonesia into international art exhibitions. From this point of view, the CP Open Biennale 2003 constitutes a "repetition" (although not necessarily an "emphasizing") of this kind of thinking with a few new samples thrown in, and with a context that has shifted slightly.

On the other hand, Wicaksono Adi"s concern about the disarray in the "interpretational boundaries" of the curators in the reading of the artworks and the artists at the CP Open Biennale 2003 could actually be well based and reasonable because of the chosen mechanism " that being an "open" format. Using this kind of mechanism or selection format, the curator certainly does not have to do research, and because of that it is highly likely that the CP Open Biennale could be construed as being a "semi-competitive" biennale that is epistemologically flawed because it resembles a kind of roll-calling or elimination activity. If this mechanism continues to be used without introducing issues and clear curatorial research criteria, it is possible that the next CP Open Biennale will continue to be perceived as overly full, din-filled, out of focus, and excessive.