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Political Practices, Leaps & the Credo of the Mask
Agus "Koechink"

"The changes in the theoretical framework of philosophy, the sciences and aesthetics in the last 30 years of the 20th century have changes the practices in world art." --cp open bienniale

Quoting the "testimony" above is important when we consider the art scene in Indonesia. So many various developments have occurred. Even so, the artworld of the past decade has experienced a crippling of discourse in embracing the creative process. This does not seem to match the testimony above.

This is a gripping issue to artists, the restless creators who seek inspiration in the tense environments of Yogya, Bandung, Jakarta, Bali and Surabaya. Their biases toward their own subjects becomes important when we find only the discourse of the market in those cities. This is a discourse deliberately developed by the players in the art market themselves.

The discourse on art is not nearly as lively as it used to be; the historic steps taken by PERSAGI, then LEKRA, then the discourse of MANIKEBU. This is true, even though works heavy with the Mooi Indie (beautiful Indonesia) style continue to be seen in the market up to now, mixed in with art with styles originating in the Gerakan Seni-Rupa Baru (GSRB: New Art Movement Indonesia) that rebelled against the existing values within its own environment.

After the New Art Movement announced its disbanding, no other discourse has been broached. There is no longer any sign of any art practice being dissected with the sharp knife. In the face of the hegemony of the West, art practices have experienced disintegration in relation to both aesthetics and ideologies. The contemporary art discourse developing up to now is only empty packaging without any sharp direction in thinking capable of delivering the beauty promised on the outside.

Certainly, this crippling of discourse is not always immediately felt. Interesting phenomena exist, among them being the CEMETI GALLERY (Yogyakarta) which provides alternative space within the development of contemporary art. There are also the RUANG-RUPA (Jakarta) which advocates New Media Art, and TARING-PADI (Yogyakarta) that emphasizes awareness and other art that is based in that environment. Then, there is also the Yayasan Seni-Rupa Komunitas, Tulungagung (YSRK Tulungagung " Tulungagung Art Community Foundation), which is more focused on what is called the political practices (ideopraxis) within art that is geared toward instilling awareness of the lower classes.

Also of interest was when INDOFOOD"s Painting Contest (2002 and 2003) broke some enthusiasm the art environment. Of course, the PHILIP MORRIS art awards had another meaning, because the works presented tended (to the artists) to become a barometer of what is become a trend. The difference is in the cp open biennale that has accommodated almost every expression in Indoneseian art.

In this situation of crippled discourse, with no new discourse emerging in the wake of GSRB"s disbanding, it is relevant to revisit the issue of political practices in art. So, we now return to the first paragraph of this paper, with the continued testimony saying: "Those changes are certain to have an impact on Indonesian art and to give rise to problems." Then, this statement goes on to ask: "Just how aware of the problems are we, and how well do we understand them?

Perhaps this answer is a clich": the artists of the Third World are caught up in the channels of capitalism. This has turned artists into objects that spend their lives without any rebellion or questioning of themselves or their environment. This is because their environment has become dominated; thus there is the hegemony of capitalism in relation to local cultures that are clinging strongly to their roots.

It is, therefore, not surprising that the cultural event now taking place (cp open biennale) seems intent on making its presence felt, or on embarking on a mission. That mission being: "Theoretically, to motivate the creation of International Art Forums which have the desire to continue in a more appropriate and fair manner." 1)

Neo-liberalism & the Process of Globalization

Purportedly, our "enemy" is now no longer the leaders of the Third World. But, yes, that neo-liberalism! Even though this is actually just an assumption, because of the political practices of our art, we continue to face this crippling of discourse.

The post World War II economic boom came to a grinding halt in the middle of the 1970s. And, just around that time, the business class, along with the intellectuals, left behind the old doctrines and embraced a new theory, which was initially called Monetarism, and which later took on the names Thatcherism and/or Reaganomics, but is now labeled Neo-liberalism. 2)

This change is also the impact we have felt in all sectors in the Third World. It is among the elements of the Capitalist hegemony toward local cultures that has affected the creative process. Art is no longer the acting subject but has instead become an object that can be manipulated. This is the creative process of today. This is the creative process that is faced when things, Capitalist products, surround us, when the consumer public and the dynamics of the market become a part of our daily lives.

Because of that, the present has brought us into the process of the globalization of culture. This can be seen in five dimensions: Ethnoscpae, Technoscape, Finanscape, Mediascape, and Ideoscape. The consequential meaning of all this is that the intensity of the ideological movements, especially those inspired by Western enlightenment thinking, such democracy, human rights, openness, and social welfare, has had an impact. 3)

Speaking of ideology, as we know, the understanding of Capitalism, Communism, and even "Liberal Islam" (including the Jewish element), as well as the sub-local Javanese Kejawen mystical faith, or, for that matter, any other ism, exists between the two dialectic poles of Freedom and Justice. Even though people may know only of the freedom aspect, efforts toward justice can still proceed. 4)

Here, within the capacity of the creator, I can feel that ideological conflict shadowing the international forums powered by the cp open biennale, whose mission is to establish and implement the previously mentioned "desire to continue in a more appropriate and fair manner".

As attractive as that idea may be, there is the possibility that what is meant is a cultural approach. Although there is one thing, among us there continues to exist perceptual confusion. This confusion is rooted in the hegemony of western perceptions, which is paradoxical in relation to the consideration of art in the Third World. 5). To the point that the West when viewing the visual art of this country (for example: in my mask (ganongan) piece: Face of Indonesian) identifies it with traditional art. But is that so?

Certainly, this artwork depicts the face of our fate. There are many masks. At the same time, this antagonistic image/visage (colliding with the values of Luhur-Asor, or the Noble and Lowly) in the literary sense of art bears the point that "Blood Still Flows" -- blood is still flowing, alias the mother of terrorism. 6)

Therefore, in my opinion, the tendency to come in international forums will be a new world discourse that will end up with the hegemony of the perceptions of the West being identified with globalization!

The YSRK Tulungagung discourse, is an example of the view that the West has forced them to set up a blockade. Thus, the creator must first master the area he is working (among the people, in a number of villages or cities), as well as having a strategy within society, in order to protect the source of the artist"s creativity. 7)

Or, as in my ganongan mask work mentioned earlier, however the stance of a given persona is or has been expressed. It has come down to: Who cares about the confusion in the local discourse (visual art being identified as traditional art), or even about the doubts that the West has in its view of the Third World.

More than just being free and just, it is a fact that our artists have been agape with surprise at the momentum of the idea of Local-Global. We are becoming increasingly anxious. Perhaps this is simply because discourse has been crippled. Without a "leap" the creator will end up buried in all of this. This is the threat, without an alternative.

We do understand that Post Modernism has provided an opportunity to all those (local cultures, ethnic cultures, Eastern cultures, Third World cultures) that have not been taken into consideration for a long time. Now, the creators are capable of actualizing themselves within the play of the global culture, to the point that a post-modern cultural collage is formed, which is full of the color of aesthetics. 8)

Therefore, it is interesting to note what is being done through the WORLD WIDE DESIGNER 2007 that is powered by a French web designer. This involves the creators/artists of 50 countries, including Indonesia. The artists who are expressing themselves through the Internet have the target of taking off like Gatutkaca (online) and then landing on earth (offline) for a show together along with a book on a mutual, forward-looking view of the visual arts. 9)

The Ideology of Aesthetics & a Leap Forward

The West has been an ideological phenomenon that has dominated the local discourse. This chapter has been a long complex one (within the creative process) and has given rise to the "who cares" attitude mentioned previously. The issue now is whether or not we desire the presence of conventional or psychologically aesthetic works of art. 10) The consequence would be that the creator be required to possess an Ideology of Aesthetic that is at once clear and challenging. This will create the impetus required for the great leap forward.

To take the example of the earlier mentioned ganongan (mask) piece. If the work were deconstructed we would eventually get to the spirit of the local culture. In my opinion, the wayang (puppet) no longer carries a purely ethnic Javanese identity. In other words, Bujang Ganong (a figure in the form of a mask, which is rooted in the butho, dhemit character, could also be defined as the epitome of the knight or military figure) no longer carries the same meaning as in the Roeg Ponogoro. Wayang also is not Chinese though it is shadowed by the figure of Dewi Kwam Im, and it is neither eastern or western or any ism for that matter, nor is it Petruk Becomes Queen (Military Republic); it is a local-global phenomenon whose point is that the "Blood Still Flows". 11) To the creator, personally, this work gives rise to what is known as an Aesthetic Ideology.

The meaning in terms of local-global momentum is that the creator/artists must have the ability to create a belief in what is going on in the creative process. The point is reaching the conclusion that wayang is Humankind with a capital "H". And it is na"ve to refer to this "H" as Indonesian art. Not as something within the chapter of universalism. Because "H" is in the central position within globalization itself.

How and what is needed for such a leap, is that the creators or artists seize the opportunity after having placed themselves as a subject in the global position. Along with their ideologies and concepts of aesthetics, of course. The discourse then becomes simply a local object. What is difficult is only the dynamics, which is the spring of all aesthetics.

The tendencies that are being voiced, such as is the case with YSRK, indicate the taking of a stance in a local position as a form of resistance: Developing an institution to bring forth a political strategy for art at the village (grassroots), village-city, and national levels that can be given the stamp "Indonesia". 12)

To me, there is just the choice of moving into a global position through the use of local material (objects), a jumping off place in order to gain the right to lend one"s voice to world institutions and international forums. That is all. Without local genius, only brokers for certain groups will exist.

Therefore, the process of building confidence, to me, is like sprouting. So this choice of attitude or stance and belief could be called a kind of Artist"s Credo. 13) This is a belief that requires no group. There is also no need (in terms of artworks) for the legitimacy of a group. Yes, just look at the artist"s work. And let the market speak. (Especially since in 2004 we will be entering the free market.)

Thus, I am of the opinion that as a catalyst (to artists) my credo could be called the Mask (Ganongan) Credo. Or the credo of the wayang, or whatever else. Respectfully.


1. Program Guide to cp open biennale: Indonesian National Gallery, Jakarta, September 4 " October 3, 2003

2. Ant-Capitalism, Chris Harman, Teplokpress, Jakarta, 2003

3. Global-Lokal, Journal for Performance Art in Indonesia, th.X 2000.

4. A brief discussion with Saif Bakham, an NGO activist from the NGO-Bawean, concerning Bawean Island & Ideological Protection with a Cultural Approach, August, 2003

5. Dua Senirupa, Sanento Yuliman, Kalam Foundation, Jakarta, 2001

6. Comment on ideologi of aesthetics, source (idem) from point 4 above, referring to the author"s writings.

7. A brief discussion with Moelyono, an artist with YSRK Tulungagung concerning Neocolonialism & Protection of Areas Exploration/Work, September 2003

8. Global-Lokal, idem

9. Click: www.worldwidedesigners2007.fr.st (The writer represents Indonesian in the "Visual Art Program" on the Internet, July 2003)

10. Brief discussion with FX Harsono, a GRSB artist, concerning The Psychology of aesthetics & the ideology of aesthetics.

11. Ganongan (Face of Indonesian) " Dewa Kwam IN " the Miltary Republic, in particular, the work titled "Blood Still Flows" (Surabaya Gallery, 2000) which was purchased by a Singapore collector Click: Agus Koecink, Galeri Online 2001, www.sam-design.com/agus

12. Taking a Stance & Tendencies: Source (idem) same as point 7 above

13. Visual Art Credo for artists: criticizing the Pop Art Credo which is a result of the consumer credo of the industrial culture (see the work of Andy Warhol "Marilyn Dyptich" " 1962) that influenced the writing of Tulus Warsito & Budi Sulistyo in the exhibition titled the Essentialism of Pop Art, 1976

Agus "Koechink" is an artist and NGO activist, based in Surabaya.