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Re-identification of International art
Keynote Speech by Jim Supangkat

Distinguished speakers of this symposium, celebrated artists who are attending this symposium, ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of CP Foundation, I would like to express my appreciation for your precious participation on this symposium. Let us hope that the CP Open Biennale 2003 as well as this symposium will be salutary to us all, since both the biennale and the symposium are intended to find a better view of international exhibitions as part of renegotiating the understanding of international art and probably the understanding of the international world in general.

Actually, the tradition of presenting international exhibitions in the format of the biennale and triennale should have been left behind when the doubts about internationalism began to emerge. Or, at least, the tradition of holding such exhibitions should have continued only in Europe and America. However, this is not what has happened. The tradition of presenting international exhibitions has continued, and, in fact, more and more of these exhibitions have been initiated. The presentation of these shows occurs not only in Europe and America. New biennales and triennales are emerging in countries outside of Europe and America.

Those exhibitions have continued to view art as a global phenomenon. In the beginning of the 1990s there emerged a framework of thought that attempted to differentiate "diversity" from "difference". The thinking about "diversity", which is diametrically opposed to the uniformity inherent within internationalism, has the potential to close down entirely the discussion of art as a global phenomenon. Meanwhile, the thinking about "difference" is more open. Although rejecting uniformity, this thinking does attempt to step into the gray territory between diversity and uniformity. This way of thinking embraces the belief that cultures not only exhibit differences but also similarities.

The thinking about "difference" has expanded into a discourse that has closed the possibility of the thinking about "diversity" and has brought "difference" to the fore as the strongest thinking in opposition to internationalism. In the last 10 years, the thinking about "difference" has become an issue central to the new biennales and triennales that are emerging outside of Europe and America. The fact that the thinking about "difference" is more popular, in itself indicates an agreement that retains the tie between "international" and "art" as a global phenomenon within international exhibitions.

This phenomenon is, in fact, what has made the understanding of "international art" that developed in the past " that only took into consideration the art of Europe and America " have to change; it needed revision. This change required the re-identification of the art being presented at international exhibitions.

It is not difficult to see that "art in the western sense" is the "art" which has become "international art". The agreement to retain the context of international in the presentation of international exhibitions has its focus in "art in the western sense". This agreement was not the result of any kind of pledge or negotiation. This agreement was based on the ingrained sense of the appropriate that was difficult to change, and because of that it was never made an issue of.

As it turned out, it is the appropriateness that has been overlooked within the thinking about art that is now developing just as the international exhibitions are beginning to give rise to opportunities to develop the sense of the appropriate into a concrete concept or understanding. This opportunity, which did not exist previously, was the presence of artists from outside of Europe and America.

Contrary to the efforts to understand the significance of appropriateness, the thinking that is now developing calls this appropriateness into question as a sign of domination by the West. This excessively critical attitude toward internationalism, marginalization, and domination has given rise to an international art phobia. This phobia is not only causing an avoidance of internationalism and the discussion of international art. This phobia is even causing an avoidance of discussion about art.

The identification of international art in today"s international exhibtions is an effort to comprehend the idea of appropriateness by delving into the various realities behind it. The one reality that must be dealt with first and foremost is the "art in the western sense" concept that forms the basis for international art, which is not the same as "western art", and because of that there is no reason to perceive it as being a sign that domination exists. And there is still another reality to face, that the forming of international art does not end with "art in the western sense". The most important part of this process of formation, the element that has been most blatantly overlooked is what I identify in the curatorial introduction of CP Open Biennale 2003, as "art with an accent".

"Art with an accent" is an issue of culture that reflects the occurrence of cultural translation. The translation of "art in the western sense" to "art with an accent " is a long process whose tracks can be seen in cultural history. The development of "art with an accent" could certainly be observed and perceived as a development in art " seen as part of the history of art.

In the translation of "art in the western sense" there is the possibility of an "art to art encounter" which has the potential to result in developments that give the impression of being parallel with the developments in art in Europe and America. However, as an element of cultural translation, "art with an accent" cannot be "removed" from the framework of its culture and seen only through the framework of art (the error made by the identification of art in modernism/internationalism was to remove art from its cultural framework and place it within the framework of autonomous art). When the development of "art with an accent" is returned to the framework of culture the developments that give the impression of being parallel begin to exhibit a variety of very basic differences.

These differences occur because the development of "art with an accent" is based on its own development that began, more or less, in the 18th century. Besides this, the development of "art with an accent" contains another translation, that being the translation of various art phenomena within the framework of ethnic traditions. Within totality the difference is "localness" which not only indicates the presence of indigenousness and ethnicity, but also indicates the presence of a translation of "art in the western sense".

In the presentation of international exhibitions, from the very beginning until now, the development of "art with an accent" has been paralleled with the development of art in Europe and America. This parallelism in international exhibitions reflects the general perception within a larger context that holds the view or opinion that international art consists of only one substance, that being "western art", and because of that, international art, no matter where in the world, has or follows the same developmental pattern, and thus has parallel art history. It cannot be denied that this perception, which until now remains firmly imbedded in the past, is the basis for the internationalism that believes in uniformity. This phenomenon indicates that this perception has not changed substantiality form the past until today. The only difference between then and now is its "position". In the past, this perception was placed openly as a statement, while, at this time, this perception is hidden and tends to not be discussed.

This issue has once again been overlooked within the framework of thinking about art that is developing now. Behind the spirit of opposition toward marginalization and domination that is exhibited within the defense of non-western cultures, there is a hidden perception reflected in the quotation of Kipling, "Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet "". This preconception sees the cultures of the West and the non-West as being two completely separate things that will never converge. This tendency to find indigenousness and ethnicity to be the element that presents the difference, and, the cross-cultural aesthetics approach that attempts to see the relationship of art in the "culture of the other", as well as the phrase "art in our sense", are only a few examples that indicate just how ingrained this perception is.

This perception is not interested in the translation of "art in the western sense", and it is this perception that has caused the thinking that is developing now to not see international art as a plural phenomenon, as art that carries a variety of "art with an accent" elements that very basically indicate that there is a connection between the cultures of the West and the non-West.

The reluctance to see the translation of "art in the western sense" which is shadowed by the international art phobia that is concerned with the advent of domination, is the neglectful attitude that has given rise to the emergence of parallelism that automatically leads straight back to the issue of domination. This parallelism is an undeniable reality because it is reflected in the presentation of almost all international exhibitions that are being held at this time. The utilization of the question "What is international art?" within the analysis and context of my discussion here is basically meant to query the phenomenon of parallelism.

The tendency to read art as a cultural text, the emergence of the tendency to leave behind "conventional" media, whose characteristics have been explored by the essentialists in order to find the essence of art, and, the tendency to explore new mediums and new media that appear in almost every international exhibition that is developing now, all indicate this parallelism. And it is this parallelism that must be questioned because all of the tendencies apparent in the international exhibitions being held at this time are based in the changes in thinking taking place in Europe and America, ranging from essentialism to the frameworks of thought that include social contexts.

Are these tendencies reflected in the issue of "art with an accent"? This is the basic question. If, indeed, the tendencies inherent in "art with an accent" are different from those tendencies based in the developments in thinking in Europe and America, the difference is not based on the intensity of viewing issues. "Art with an accent" has had its own process of development, since, at the very latest, the 19th century, and this is what makes the development of "art with an accent" different from the development of art in Europe and America.

It is almost certain that the thinking behind the art theories that have become traditions in Europe and America would not be popular outside of Europe and America. Even if essentialism is known outside of Europe and America " within certain limits because not all thinking is transferable " I doubt if the artists have achieved the awareness that the characteristics of the various mediums and media can carry "essence". I also doubt whether "the age of the avant-garde" was ever truly formulated outside of Europe and America because the vast majority of works by artists from outside of Europe and America exhibit paradigmatic art that indicates a perception that runs counter to avant-garde perceptions.

All of these possibilities point out the tendency for works of art that reflect a sense of seeking that sees art as sensitivity, or perceives it as a nounish phenomenon, to be viewed as irrelevant for consideration outside of Europe and America. In connection with this tendency, trends in works of art that reflect the turmoil of thinking emerging from conceptual frameworks ranging from essentialism to ideas that emphasize the context are not reflected in the issues under consideration outside of Europe and America. There are possibilities that the works by artists from outside of Europe and America, which at a glance seem to exhibit the exploration of a conventional medium, may just be based in the translation of the principles of art inherent within an ethnic tradition which makes those works closer to cultural text " while ignoring the rhetorical statement regarding "the death of the author".

Understanding "art with an accent " is to understand the totality of its development. This understanding will build an awareness of the developments in art outside of Europe and America, which cannot be considered without including the idea of cultural translation due to the risk of achieving only a partial or fragmented view. Even though a part of this art exhibits similarities to a part of the art developing in Europe and America " because cultural translation is a continuous and ongoing process " these similarities may bear different meanings.

The international exhibitions developing now, whose spirited opposition to and attempts at the eradication of domination should not be questioned, cannot avoid this reality. It is basic to the efforts to identify the art that is being presented in international exhibitions. The urgency is to understand the developments in art occurring outside of Europe and America, which, until now, remain difficult to comprehend. Dominance and domination, from the past until now, occur mostly because these developments in art are not understood.

Jim Supangkat
Chief Curator