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Asmudjo J. Irianto
In Place, a book written by Tacita Dean and Jeremy Millar, there is a picture by Jeroen de Rijke and Willem de Rooij titled Bantar Gebang, Bekasi, West Java, May 2000. To Indonesians, the title sounds familiar, as Bantar Gebang in Bekasi is known as the landfill for Jakartans, and was the subject of national news for several times due to the disputes between the local government of the Capital Territory of Jakarta and the local government and populace of Bekasi. The displayed picture (analog filmstill from a 10-minute film) will probably be not so unfamiliar to most of Indonesians: slums with quickly made-up huts, and with garbage all over the place. An "exotic" landscape for the Western audience. In the book, Bantar Gebang is set within the chapter on "Urban," along with several pictures from other artists representing urbanity. It is interesting, however, that while other pictures are appended with explanations by the two authors, Bantar Gebang receives merely a quotation by the French thinker Bruno Latour:
Probably Bantar Gebang by Jeroen de Rijke and Willem de Rooij does not indeed need any description, as the displayed visual construct has spoken for itself. Bantar Gebang clearly does not depict an urban space in the West. The landscape portrayed in the work has become a stereotypical portrayal of the conditions and problems in the cities of the developing world. The life of the community around Bantar Gebang invites "amazement" on the part of the public with no direct experience and with "empathy" toward such condition. The stereotypical depiction of the developing countries, however, is not merely of the "garbage-scape" and poverty, but also of the rapid physical development spurred by huge capitals. Hotels, malls, apartments, and luxurious housing are incessantly built with a quality equal to that of such building in the West. Saskia Sassen explains about the rich - poor disparity of the mega-cities:
Meanwhile, the relocation of industry from the rich to the developing countries, expected to provide work to the youth migrating from the rural to the urban areas, turns out not to be able to absorb all the available workforce. Those who manage to find work in the factories scattered on the fringe of the city, are nevertheless unable to earn enough money to be able to live decently in the city. As a result, they can only afford to live in inadequate housing around the industrial area. The economic globalization marked by the entry of the multinational capital to the developing countries is alleged as incapable of giving enough advantage to the location where the capital has been poured in. This situation is depicted in the following remarks:
The luxury and poverty are naked characters present in the urban spaces of Indonesia. We see the rapid physical development with much comfort within them, but this is coupled with decreasing comfort in the public spaces. The sporadic development increasingly lessens the city's capacity to support its inhabitants. The problems of traffic jams, pollution, the lacking public transportation, the slums, the crimes, and the various pathology of the cities in the poor country are strongly felt. It is not surprising, therefore, if the potentials for conflicts in the city are huge, due to the great social gap between the rich and the poor.
The inhabitants of urban spaces, from the bottom social level to the top, are busy seeking pleasure and entertainment. There are no doubts that strength of the cultural conglomerates succeeds to create the popular art as an inseparable part of the city life. The culture in the big cities is mainly spurred by the culture of spectacle transmitting mostly popular culture and art. The surging popular art forms, however, are not accompanied by the presence of more "serious" art with higher "standards." The public in the industrialized countries, having experienced more intense rush of popular art forms, feels the need for some balance in the form of more challenging and complex art forms, such as the contemporary art. That is why the cities in the rich countries are developing and repairing their art museums. In the West, as also in other rich countries, the museum becomes the place with a major role in mediating the contemporary artworks to the public, and its existence is supported and required by the public. Hans Belting explains:
Of course it is not fair to compare the art infrastructures of the industrialized countries with the art infrastructures in Indonesia. But if the luxurious shopping facilities are being developed all the time, and as the urban space swells, doesn't it occur to the inhabitants and managers of the cities in Indonesia to provide just a little space for mediating the contemporary art? The lack of space for contemporary art mediation in Indonesia makes the praxis and discourse of the contemporary art become alienated from their public
The Contemporary Art and the Problems of the Urban Space
Naturally, Bantar Gebang does not merely "articulate" the problems depicted in the work; it also conveys the aesthetic conditions within it. The critic Sven Lutticken appraises the work: "In the case of Bantar Gebang, there is more of a sense of discontinuity and on the viewer's part probably a slight sense of shame at deriving aesthetic pleasure from such a picture. Yet the nature of the picture (in contrast to the nature of what is depicted) is compatible with the art space: it is calm, fairly static, and is often labeled 'contemplative'".5
As a work of art using the medium of 35 mm film, Bantar Gebang is mainly composed to present artistic potentials. Not only can we read matters or problems from the work, but we can also find aesthetic pleasure, and this is linked with the creativity and the expertise on the part of the artist in composing the "strength" of the work. The artistic strength of the work propels the audience to contemplate and think critically. Should the daily reality be seen as a given condition, won't the public obtain a contemplative "space" through their encounter with the artwork? Such contemplation is nevertheless necessary for the public to be more critical and imaginative. The subject matter and reality presented by the artworks do not invariably become a realm whose presence is felt by the audience, even if the represented reality is the vast dump of waste Bantar Gebang. Bantar Gebang is the backyard; there are not a lot of Jakartans who have seen it first-hand. Looking at the work Bantar Gebang, therefore, can be an interesting adventure for the Jakartan urbanites. Unfortunately, the public in Jakarta does not have a lot of chances to view the various faces of contemporary art.
The contemporary art, however, never leaves its avant-garde spirit. Artists always try to find new possibilities. Contemporary art, just like any other cultural aspect, is inevitably affected by trends and fashion - which are often short-lived - whether in its practice or in discourse. The elaborations of the "new" possibilities and thoughts by professionals in the art world certainly create a space between them and the general public. On the other hand, the involvement of art with matters outside itself enriches the possibilities and variations of the contemporary art, just as Linda Weintraub says, "No topic, no medium, no process, no intention, no professional protocols, and no aesthetic principles are exempt from the field of art."6 .
It is an undeniable fact that in the industrialized world the contemporary art and its mediation become an important part of the culture and life of the modern society. At the same time, the contemporary art is no longer certain about its position and orientation. The contemporary art contains many paradoxes. Arthur Danto statement about the end of art does not indicate by any means the cessation of art practices; the art praxis and discourses are never as rich and varied as those in the contemporary art. What is no longer possible to do is to define the meaning of art.
If the contemporary art indeed represents the "problem" of the society and culture of the day, what, then, is the "use" of contemporary art for people, and in what context artworks are linked with the problems they present? These are naturally not easy questions, and more or less disturb the art actors who are aware about the "difficulty" in positioning and developing the art context with the modern society, especially in Indonesia.
The contemporary art indeed becomes an open field, which can be expanded to all courses, according to any interest. The contemporary art becomes naturally a highly "political" realm, not free from interests. The contemporary art becomes the means of "struggle" and "emancipation" of the marginalized people. Therefore, "identity politics" become an important part in the discourse and praxis of the contemporary art. Aside from the interests of the warring factions in the contemporary art, the existence of contemporary art triggers critical attitude on the part of the public about the culture of the day. That is one of the important functions of contemporary art, just as Sandy Nairne says,
The Contemporary Art and Its Risks in the Urban Space of the Developing Country
Talking about "aesthetic potentials" is not a simple matter; on the other hand, it is very much related to the potentials of other components in the art realm. This is related to historical understanding and comprehension on the art discourse and on the tendency that is now forming the trend. The discourse of the contemporary art and its parameters are created by "strong" art fields, i.e. the art field of the West. The sophisticated information technology enables the specialists in the art field outside the West to find out and understand the latest development of the art discourses and praxis. Globalization enables the various values, models, and parameters from the "center" to spread more easily, more trendy, tempting, and convincing, as they are justified by the strength of the discourse. The problem is, in the Indonesian urban spaces, the works displaying the latest trends from the West face a huge gap between the understanding of the specialists and that of the audience. In this case, the Indonesian contemporary art has the risk of becoming unfamiliar and unknown territory.
The porosity of the contemporary art toward matters outside itself makes the art discourses to bear the burden - and make use of - discourses outside the art realm. The sophisticated elaboration of art discourses from two sides complicate the discourse even further. Here, contemporary art betrays its paradoxical reality: on the one hand it becomes the representation of matters within the public realm, on the other hand, its modes/ways of creation are becoming more impenetrable for the public. The discourse it supports is also an increasingly sophisticated discourse due to its relation with the discourses and thoughts from other branches of knowledge.
The sophistication of the discourse creates suspicion that the artwork is merely a vessel to form the discourse. The reality of the art practices becomes the realm to absorb arguments. The discourses often leave the reality of the art world, go further away from public understanding, and isolate themselves in the sophistication of languages penetrable only in the academe. Ole Bouman says thus,
In fact, the contemporary art is open for the public to react and read it in any way they choose. The potentials of meanings and awareness that might grow depend on the needs and the understanding or knowledge previously held by the audience. The contemporary art is one of the gates for us to understand the bigger culture that forms it. Actually, it is through the contemporary art that the people are able to see the reflections of themselves, and understand themselves as modern humans. Arthur Danto says, "So many of the questions that define us as culture have been raised through and by the art of recent decades, that without coming to terms with our art, we can scarcely understand ourselves."9
In the context of the urban culture, the praxis and mediation of the contemporary art form one of the identity owned by the urban space. The contemporary artists reside and grow mainly in the urban spaces, after all. In terms of the spread and relations between the contemporary art and its public, however, there are many differences between the urban space of the industrialized country and the urban space of the developing nation such as Indonesia. The Indonesian art field that has so far been very limited are crowded mainly by specialists - artists, critics, curators, art dealers, collectors - and it actually requires more audience, or those called the non-specialist audience. This has developed in the urban spaces of the industrialized country, as Sandy Nairne explains:
It should not be denied that appreciating contemporary art is also a leisure activity. The "leisure" activity in appreciating contemporary art opens the possibility for extension in terms of the deep and critical "reading" and "meaning assignation." Unfortunately, the urban spaces of the developing world still have a tremendous lack of means for "critical contemplation" for the inhabitants; while there are actually many problems in the urban spaces - and their solutions - that depend highly on the critical awareness of the urbanites.
The Contemporary Art and Its Problems of Mediation
One of the most conventional mechanisms for art works to reach their public is through exhibition. Museums and galleries are the main venues for the art works to gain admittance to the public. The hegemony of the art museums in the modernism era triggers some opposition and gives rise to alternative spaces and efforts to present art directly in public spaces.
The art museum plays a vital role in the modern art and becomes one of the most important realms in defining and justifying theories, discourses, and praxis of the modern art. "Museum are crucial to the definition of what constitute art in our society12," thus Suzi Gablik. In terms of the contemporary art, however, museums apparently learn a lot from the strategies of the alternative spaces, and in fact museums are holding exhibitions just like alternative spaces would; they no longer apply high - or at least strict - standards toward the exhibitions. Hans Belting opines,
It is undeniable that museums today again have a vital role as a mediating realm for the contemporary art, as Hans Belting further explains, "Contemporary art would not only be homeless without museum, it would also be voiceless and invisible."14
In fact, art museums in the industrialized countries have become an egalitarian area; become a place of interest for the public in the cities. Art museums are no longer holy temples for the art, but rather adventurous spaces for the public. Art museums have become a populist realm. Museums try to attain more and more public, and exhibitions become thus their most important agenda. Jan Vaessen explains, "Instead of keeping a certain balance between conservation, study and research, presentation and education, it is increasingly becoming an 'exhibition machine' first and foremost15." In order to be able to play its vital role as the producer of exhibitions, a museum must succeed in obtaining funds from various parties. Museums must also attract the biggest possible number of audience (who will pay entrance tickets and shop in the museum shop). Museums are also managed with commercial goals,
The building of several new art museums in the West has even been based on the belief on the potentials of art museums as the generator of economic potentials and urban regeneration. Emma Barker says thus,
The problems of funds and commercialization aside, big exhibitions in museums cannot be separated from the agenda and motifs or the managers, especially the curators and artists. Big exhibitions often become contested cultural realms based on the interests of identity politics. Such controversies are sometimes precisely the reason why exhibitions are urgent and relevant, just as Suzi Gablik explains, "Museums are among the most conspicuous fields of conflict in the contemporary culture war."18 This was apparent, for example, in the controversies regarding the Whitney Biennial 1993, which was steeped in the "politically correct" aura carrying the multiculturalism spirit. The works in the biennale were criticized as having no aesthetic quality, and as being too pretentious, purporting as they were to be the advocation for the identity politics of the marginalized people.
Admittedly, museums are not a place free from interests. Museums, therefore, must be a place to be suspected. This has been based on the fact of the overbearing strength of the museums in the West, then co-opted the artists' position. Mary Jane Jacob, one of the pioneers of independent curators, said, "For instance, in our models, the artist become a product within the institution19." She sees the institution of the museum as an inappropriate place to display contemporary art. "The museum, I feel, has contributed to what Arthur Danto calls the disenfranchisement of art."20 Having often managed art activities involving the artists and the works directly with the audience in the public spaces, Mary Jane Jacob wonders about the existence of the museum and the possibility to "overthrow" it;
Mary Jane Jacob's last sentence in the above quote is interesting. The sentence shows that the awareness about the need for other alternatives outside museums is stronger precisely after the museum becomes hegemonic. In other words, the awareness about other alternatives is conditioned as being a stance of defiance and based on the awareness about the negative aspects of the museum. The attitude and appreciation of the alternative spaces and the direct display of works in the public realms have also been supported by the pre-conditions formed and created by the museum (the understanding and ability of the public regarding the contemporary art). Then what about the urban spaces in the developing countries? Isn't it necessary for them to create and own an art museum? This is highly dependent on the option, need, and "consensus" among the actors in the field of the contemporary art and the city inhabitants. What is obvious, however, is the fact that in Indonesian big cities, the contemporary art museums do not create negative influences just as in the West; neither do they give positive contribution to generate culture. Because in these cities, the museums and big exhibitions are absent from the daily life of the public.
CP Biennale 2005 as a Temporary Art Museum
Some cities in Indonesia have more than 2.5 million inhabitants. Ask not, however, about the number of art museum that these cities own. The mediating spaces for art that are alive are mainly commercial galleries and alternative spaces. Both kinds of spaces are not places that are quite "open" for the general public. The commercial galleries are mostly visited by only a small number of visitors for every exhibition. Meanwhile, the alternative spaces and galleries are too much flavored by "common-beliefs community" and are busy with their international networks. Unlike in the West, the alternative spaces and galleries in Indonesia emerged not in order to oppose the existence of the big art museums, but precisely as alternatives due to the lack of art museums. Not only are they lacking; the existing art museums are also inadequate in their programs and the exhibitions they hold are not sufficiently close with the developments in the contemporary art.
The absence of significant art museums can be an indication that there are no needs for their existence. Meanwhile, for the past few decades, art markets are alive enough thanks to the existence of commercial galleries and auction houses. Ironically, though, the fervent art markets are not accompanied by non-commercial big exhibitions. This shows that contemporary art, in this case the painting art, mainly becomes seen as merely providing "commodities" for collectors' investment and set.
While the field of the contemporary art in the West is probably saturated already by the existence of art exhibitions and museums, this is not the case in Indonesia. We are often made sure that it is not necessary for us to follow the West. Suzi Gablik said in her interview with Mary Jane Jacob, "many other cultures that have been influenced by the West think getting their own museum of modern art is the most desirable thing that can happen. They think it will put them on the map somehow."23
Being put on the map of the art world is certainly not a bad thing. Especially if the possibility to appear on the map is actually a side effect of the effort to present the contemporary art for its public. The question remains for the Indonesian cities: Aside from the commercial galleries, where can the public find spaces where they can observe and learn about the contemporary art? Is it wrong for the public to long for adequate exhibition spaces in museums? One of the tools for contemporary art mediation is curating work, as Lois Kedan said, "Curating is also a strategy not only for problematizing issues or opening up discourse but for creating a safe space for appreciation and consideration of seemingly extreme and subversive practices."24 A "safe space for appreciation" can also mean an exhibition space; whether in a museum or in alternative spaces open for the public.
Without the space for mediation and dissemination, contemporary art can only be an anomalous territory, unknown and invaluable. Naturally, the public and the elite can turn their backs to contemporary art, rendering the latter as futile. On the other hand, the specialists from the art field can also convince them that contemporary art is an important part of the Indonesian modern culture, which mostly finds its manifestation in the big cities. Without the effort, the contemporary art will only be a commodity whose form and variations is strongly determined by the market. Without having the chance to be appreciated and recognized by the large audience, the contemporary art will remain a silent and vague territory.
The works in CP Biennale 2005 represent the problems of the urban space, but the biennale itself tries to create one of the identities of an urban space: an art museum - although only temporarily. This is an option to complement (temporarily) the exhibitions in the commercial galleries and alternative spaces.
1 Tacita Dean and Jeremy Millar, "Place" (New York: Thames and Hudson, 2005), p.43.
2 See Joost Smiers. "Arts Under Pressure, Promoting Cultural Diversity in The Age of Globalization" (London: Zed Books, 2003), p.15.
3 Ibid, p.17 .
4 Hans Belting, "Art and Art History in the New Museum, The Search of New Identity" in "Painting in the Age of Artificial Intelligence" (Art & Design Profile no. 48) (London: Academy Group Ltd. 1996), p. 36.
5 See Sven Lutticken, http://www.smba.nl/shows/56/56.htm .
6 Linda Weintraub, "In the Making, Creative Options for Contemporary Art" (New York: Distributed Art Publisher, Inc. 2003) p.8.
7 Sandy Nairne, "Exhibition of Contemporary Art" in "Contemporary Cultures of Display", Emma Baker, ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), p. 113 .
8 Ole Bauman, "Editorial" in "And Justice For All" (Maastricht: Jan van Eyck Akademie, 1994), p.18 .
9 See Cynthia Freeland, "But Is It Art? An Introduction to Art Theory" (New York: Oxford University Press Inc, 2001), in "Introduction." 10 Nairne, op.cit., p. 110.
11 Ibid, p.117.
12 Suzi Gablik. "Conversations Before The End of Time" (London: Thames and Hudson, 1995), p.294.
13 Belting, op.cit., p.34. .
15 Jan Vaessen, "Opening and Closing: On the Dialectic of The Museum" in "Generator of Culture". Rob van Zoest, ed. (Amsterdam: AHA Books, 1989), p.24.
16 Ibid, p.25 .
17 Emma Barker, "The Museum in The Community: The New Tates" in "Contemporary Cultures of Display". Emma Barker, ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), p.181.
18 Gablik, op.cit., p.293.
19 Ibid, p. 303.
20 Ibid, p. 301.
21 Ibid, p. 303.
22 Reesa Greenberg, Bruce W Ferguson, Sandy Nairne. "Thinking about Exhibition" (New York: Routledge, 1999), p.1.
23 Gablik, op.cit., p.303.
24 Lois Kedan, Showtime, "Curating Live Art in the '90s" in "Curating, The Contemporary Art Museum and Beyond" (Art and Design Profile no. 52) (London: Academy Group Ltd, 1997), p.41.
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