Saturday, December 15, 2012

Ruangrupa and Tromarama - Collectively Speaking - APT 7 - GOMA - INTERVIEWS

Asian Pacific Triennale Curator Russell Storer and Ruangrupa spokeperson Ade Darmawan talk to Paul Andrew about this seventh APT and Indonesian Artist Collectives Ruangrupa and Tromarama.

Ruangrupa is an Indonesian word that loosely translates as “a space for art”. Ruangrupa is also the moniker for a lively crew of indie music-focused visual artists based in Jakarta.

“For us it’s a space that is quite organic, and interdisciplinary”, reveals Ade Darmawan a member of the art-muso-fusion-enthusiasts, “like a beehive, where people meet, distribute and share knowledge. We are not only an art space, but also a collective. So, as a collective - we work in collaboration in producing artistic work, like the concert we are performing on APT opening night – and as an organisation we work with public engagement, festivals, workshops, publishing, and research. We combine two approaches, artistic producers and an artistic institution.”

“Even before we came together in Ruangrupa, each of us was involved in a lot of music activities, like organising concerts and playing in bands, music has always been there. It comes together with visuals, life styles, “he says.” We are very interested in Indonesia and how it shifted in the 60s - the modern Indonesia started at that point. We focused on that era, especially music, which is really interesting and attractive.“

According to colleague, APT Curator Russell Storer, this collectivist approach is becoming more prevalent: “Art has always been a collective or collaborative activity – it was only really until the modern era that the singular artist genius became the dominant figure. Many contemporary artists work collaboratively, for many different reasons – it can broaden the possibilities of what you can do by bringing different skill sets together; it challenges the emphasis on individual identity; or it can be a critical response to certain corporate or market-driven approaches to cultural production. You are also much more effective politically as a group than as an individual and many artist-activists work collaboratively or create artist groups.”

"[In Indonesia]artists have always had to be self-sufficient, in the absence of government support and institutional infrastructure. It is only very recently that a significant art market has developed for Indonesian art. Ruangrupa began in 2000, just after the fall of the Suharto regime, and have worked hard to provide support for a range of artistic activities – they run a space, organise festivals, publish journals, curate exhibitions and make their own work. “

“Living in Jakarta, the largest city in Indonesia, their primary interest is the nature of urban, and the experiences and histories that feed into that life", adds Storer . Tromorama is another collective of artsts featured in APT 7 and they began later in 2006 in Bandung, and make stop-motion video works that address social issues in a very playful way – we show three videos in the exhibition- and unlike Ruangrupa, Tromarama are from a younger generation who have seen the rise of a consumer class in Indonesia, who shop at the huge new mega-malls and wear designer clothes. Bandung is a centre for the Indonesian garment industry, so they have plenty of material to work with!”

First Published Time Off, Dec 1, 2012


Russell tell me a little about this particular anniversary APT  what it is foregrounding in the way of the Asian Pacific zeitgeist?

APT7 continues the Asia Pacific Triennial’s focus on our region; this geography has provided the framework for the exhibition series since it began in 1993. It has therefore been tracing the development of contemporary art in Asia and the Pacific as it has emerged from a primarily local concern into an international force – the zeitgeist as you say – over two decades. This APT encompasses the widest geography to date, reaching from Turkey and Egypt across to Tonga and Samoa, and involves many artists who live in the diaspora in Europe and the United States. So in a way it foregrounds an Asia Pacific that is now firmly at the centre of things, spanning half the world and reaching deep into the ‘West’ as well. The works have a palpable confidence, strength and vitality – such as those by young generations of artists from Indonesia and Vietnam, which we have focused on, as well as a group of artists from Central Asia and the Middle East, in a co-curated presentation called ‘0-Now: Traversing West Asia’.

Are there particular themes being addressed?

The APT is never organised under specific themes or topics, as the region is so diverse and we don’t like to constrict ourselves too much. We begin with the artists’ ideas and work outward from there. One of the major threads in the exhibition is that of temporary structures and ephemeral materials. This was inspired by the spirit houses and masks from Papua New Guinea which are these incredibly engineered structures that are used for a single performance or event and then discarded in many cases. We made connections to artists such as Shirley Macnamara, who references traditional Aboriginal shelters in her spinifex sculptures, and to Richard Maloy, who makes huge installations out of cardboard. 
We also thought that this was a powerful metaphor for the enormous changes taking place throughout the region, where the structures of power and daily life are transforming at an incredibly rapid rate, and nothing is permanent or certain. Many artists address urbanisation, for example, or the experience of migration and displacement. The West Asia project uses landscape as a background for the cultural interactions and shifting borders across that region, particularly following the fall of the Soviet Union.

What you feel the APT has contributed - and indeed illuminated and/or awakened- within the Australian collective psyche during the last two decades?

I think that the APT has been incredibly important for the introduction of contemporary art from Asia and the Pacific to Australian audiences, and to engage people with the ideas and histories that inform artists. The APT was also one of the earliest forums to bring artists, curators and writers from across the region together, generating and contributing to cultural debate in crucial ways. It was very important to involve Australia in these conversations, and the APT has continued to do so, even though there are now so many biennales, conferences, exhibitions and museums throughout Asia and the Pacific. The fact that the Queensland Art Gallery has always collected works from the APT has also enabled major works to stay in Australia and become familiar to local audiences, and to be placed in dialogue with Australian art.

In the time the APT has been staged have the internet, telecommunications and new technology have come to play a more integral role in artmaking than ever before, what are your thoughts about this shift?

New technologies have of course significantly transformed the possibilities for art making, as well as how artists can communicate with each other, receive information, and circulate their work in the world. It is also crucial for curators – it’s hard to appreciate how any large international exhibition was organised before the internet! Certainly in the Pacific, which is so dispersed, the internet and new technologies have become very important. The Pacific Reggae project in the last APT, for example, demonstrated the importance of music video as a form to circulate ideas and political expression as carried by reggae music and lyrics. 

Video and new media art has become highly sophisticated and is a significant form across the region – it’s a dominant medium in Central Asia, as in the work of Almagul Menlibayeva in APT7 – as it can be made and circulated relatively cheaply and quickly. Ruangrupa work actively with video and through their website – they run the OK Video Festival in Jakarta and have strong connections to the experimental film and video worlds. Tromarama are very innovative in the way they use video – they began making music videos for local bands. Other influential artists in APT7 who work in new media and communications technologies are Yuan Goang-Ming from Taiwan, Tadasu Takamine from Japan, and Raqs Media Collective from India, each of whom are presenting major new projects that use technology to reflect on time and memory.

Ruangrupa is performing on opening night and are focusing on Indonesian music and the 1970's  Queensland Indie Music Scene, tell me a little more about this relationship they are reimagining and are Punk exponents, The Saints and indies, The Go Betweens referenced in this event?

Ruangrupa’s work for APT7 looks at the 1970s Indonesian music scene as a way of discussing the politics of the time and to make links to the same period in Australia. It builds on their many previous works that attempt to dig beneath the surface of different cities to uncover the narratives that lie underneath. They were intrigued by the role of punk music in Brisbane in the 1970s during the Joh era, when bands like the Saints and the Go-Betweens and radio stations like 4ZZZ were active. 

They were looking at it in relation to the situation in Indonesia at the same time under Suharto, when following the anti-Western period of Sukarno, the influence of American music was very strong. Yet the music was more psychedelic and hippie rather than punk as bands were not able to be openly political. They devised a punk band, The Kuda, who were very much underground, and through an Australian journalist they met, had their music played in Brisbane. They have written an album of songs by The Kuda, which a band made up of Brisbane musicians, named the Family Butchers, will play during the opening weekend, along with Brisbane punk and indie music from the time. It should be fantastic.


Top Pic:  Mural collaboration with Brisbane artist Fintan Magee as part of THE KUDA: The Untold Story of Indonesian Underground Music in the 70s (detail) 2012, commissioned for APT7

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