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Paper “Turino Chapter” – Focus on Indonesia: The International Fair of Contemporary Art in Turin

Agung Kurniawan, Artistic Director of KKF, was invited as the curator of “Focus on Indonesia” project as one of the series of “The International Fair of Contemporary Art in Turin”, it took place at the National Museum of Cinema in Turino, Italia; on last November 6 – 9, 2008. This papper was his presentation material in relation with that program.

Turino chapter

As a country with low revenue, Indonesia might become a country with the highest level of Television set ownership. TV is always put in the family/living room. It is set on a table or buffet, then on top of the TV will be put a cloth to avoid the dust get into the TV, and also to become a decoration/ornament. And those clothes mostly are batik (Javanese traditional cloth or motif) or embroidery decorated with laces. Quite often on top of it is put with dolls, family picture, or other ornaments; it becomes something precious. For low-middle class family, TV is placed in the most important part of the house, probably in the main room or living, and sometimes probably in the dining room and bedroom, by shifting the chair, and then spreading the carpet on cement floor, but still in the most important spot in the house. It becomes a kind of life signal light. If the TV is turn on, means that there is family member who still awaken. And also during the Fascism Era of Suharto, TV had function as the state control device, where all messages and propaganda were broadcasted into our family room.

TV entered Indonesia at the end of 1960s. At that time, Indonesia became the host for Asian Games. For that reason, it was built the biggest Football Stadium in Asia, with the capacity for 100.000 audiences (that stadium only full for one time at the football match between North Korea and Indonesia at the beginning of 1970s). It was also built the first government’s TV station. Since that time, TV became the new icon, which slowly but sure was shifting the radio and also social life outside the house. For example, at the beginning of 1970s, my family was one of the first TV’s owners in small town of East Java. In every American movie broadcast, such as Rin Tin Tin and The Lone Ranger, our house was full with our neighbors who wanted to watch that movie. It was sort of emergency movie theater. It lasted for many years until one-by-one of our neighbors able to buy TV by themselves.

It was started with these luminous boxes, and then animation was introduced. Every afternoon, American and Japanese cartoons were broadcasted, minute to minute, with non-stop commercial. Animation was one of breakfast menu together with fried rice and egg. All Indonesian artists who were born in early 1960s until now have their own favorite animation figure. Start from that point, I think that the introduction with animation was started to build.

Indonesian Fine Arts

The Indonesian fine art lately is dominated by painting arts. It is as the result of the painting booming since this last five years. Painting suddenly becomes everywhere. The retired-artists, suddenly also back to paint and try their luck again. This boom, besides giving extra economical value to the artists and the arts infrastructures that connected to it (Frame maker, Arts material industries, galleries, artisans, etc), it also carries bad impact. That is homogeneity. Every artist races to one another, to paint with the style, which considered as the trend at that time, pop realism or also known as China Style.

The copy cat-ism symptom is understandable because of the economic background of the artists themselves, mostly the artists who come from Yogyakarta, are come from low-middle class. Become painter and then rich is a drastic social jump. Because of that reason, they will do everything for that. And so is the unreasonable arts market who will buy everything.

That homogeneity caused the theme and the medium that are used in Indonesian fine arts are very homogenous. Not only that, the taste of fine arts communities in Indonesia then no longer organized by the curators or arts critics, but it organized by the arts trader who trooped together to get short term profits. By take advantage of the auction rooms which grow like fungus in rainy season. They control the price and then the arts taste. The curators and arts critics turn into sales representatives or commercial galleries’ public relations.

On this level of situation, animation becomes one of media that considered as inferior media takes part. Animation offers the “anti-market” situation. This matter can be seen from various themes which are raise in this animation exhibition. The themes variety directly implies this medium is free from the grip of dominative Indonesian fine art market.

There are three artists generation who involve in this exhibition. The 80’s, which represented by Arahmaiani and Agus Suwage; the 90’s which represented by Popok Tri Wahyudi; the early 2000’s which represented by Terra Brajaghosa, Eko Nugroho, Indie Guerillas, and Marzuki; the latest 2000’s generation which represented by Yudha Sandy.

In the 80’s generation; Agus Suwage and Arahmaiani, their animations are based on strong narration. This tendency represents its era. On that era, art functioned as tools to voice their ideas, downtrodden thoughts, and also as social critics. Because of that reason, the artworks which often came out were based on the spirit to fight back. These meaningful artworks were felt very contextual in their era. The political changes caused those artworks shifted from political devices into marketable goods. Most of the artists, who practiced that kind of arts, are changed now. Some artists make more beautiful artworks, political but pretty, and some others are active in art occupations which are more down-to-earth, and some other small parts are frustrated, then they choose to become NGO activists.

On the next generation, the 90’s, politics are no longer considered as black and white. The political change which was whished by the 80’s artists that it can change Indonesia better, but it was not realized. Indeed that democratization was happened, but the change that was felt by most of the people was not happened. The 90’s artists represent artists who are apathetic to politics. They realize that arts cannot change anything. For that reason they look for the roots of the problem deeper. This catastrophe is not caused by (not only) external causes, (but also) more to the human problems it selves. So they do self-critic to art more, artists and their own artworks. The works of Popok Tri Wahyudi and Marzuki, I think they represent one of the tendencies of that ways of thinking.

On the next generation, which in this project is represented by Eko Nugroho, Terra Brajaghosa, and Indie Guerillas, has the different point of view. Art Politics and politics as a whole are not interested to them. They grew when fine arts have lost its political power. They became settled when arts was popular through music, fine arts, and fashion, which related to each other. Almost all artists who make animation here are Sunday musicians, or semi-professional musicians, beside that they also make merchandise which they sell in local fashion outlets. Their works are the forms of music-fine arts elaboration. Music and its animation is one combination, sort of video clip which done anti-commercially. By this way, they are aware that they are showing (also) their politics direction: “don’t care what ever you care.”

They are parts of a big group of Indonesian youngsters who are apolitical, which as part of the frustration of political changes, which changed nowhere. Become artist is one of legal ways to be apathetic and apolitical.

Yudha Sandy is the youngest generation. He just graduated from art school in Yogyakarta, and not yet completely occupies to be professional artist. He is one of comic maker who makes lots of comics using photocopy media and simple printing. He becomes not-yet-professional artist, is nothing but his choice on the media; comic and animation. If he paints on canvas, I think the problem might be different. Sandy is part of the young artists’ generation in Indonesia, who grew at the time when to be an artist is easier. “It is easy to become artist, what you need is only paint, brushes, and canvas.

Sandy choose the difficult way, his comic and animation will lead him to the different track than his other friends from his year who are busy shifting from one art fair to another art fair 1.

(1 It is different with the fine arts traditions in the west, which is hierarchical with the state museum as the top. That kind of tradition does not exist in Indonesia. The entire infrastructure starts from museums and national galleries, but mostly they function as commercial galleries. Whoever who has money able to rent it. Most of the time, to jack up some artist before they are brought  to overseas art fair, the commercial galleries’ owners rent state gallery for their artists. They pay all of the curators of that state gallery to make the exhibition review. So fine arts in Indonesia (nowadays) have very commercial and lack of expressions characteristics. This is a decadence compared with 5 or 10 years ago. The entire of art infrastructures are concentrate on auction room and art fair. )

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