Ruangrupa is an artist collective based in Jakarta, Ade Darmawan from the group gives Paul Andrew an insight into their conceptual frame. Ruangrupa is featured at this year's APT 7.
You have been quoted as saying that “ruangrupa is a space for art”. Tell me about this in some detail?
For us it’s a space that is quite organic, and interdisciplinary, like a beehive, where people can meet, distribute and share knowledge. We are not only an art space, but also a collective, so we work on both approaches, first as a collective - we work in collaboration in producing artistic work, while as an organisation we work with public engagement, festivals, workshops, publishing, research. So we combine these two approaches, one is as artistic producers, and one as an artistic institution.
Tell me about your collective approach to art making?
I think we try to shift the position of artists as a centralised position in art making, that’s why we choose consciously to work as a collective collaboration, and also we think that contemporary art can only be relevant when it’s contextualised in the contemporary reality.
Our contemporary reality is massively interdisciplinary and interlayered, which is why we work in this way. In collectives we never kill the individuals, it’s a strength, it’s like a collection of individuals.
It’s a very interesting mode of working in a collective, at the same time you work as a group, and at the same time you respect the individual voices. In our collaboration it’s more about how to be really mixed, not like A+B=AB, more like A+B=C, where the result is more than the sum of its parts. It’s a different approach. In a collaboration you need to be ready to lose some things. You contribute but you also lose something, ready to produce or create something really new. Some people want to give it all but don’t want to give things up.
It is also interesting when we can connect these modes into how an urban context works, that’s also relevant. As an artist you question yourself and your position in an urban environment, and this method offers some answers or methods to relate to what is going on in real life. For example for this APT project, I already forgot whose idea this is, it’s just like one body, and luckily in ruangrupa, we are all very different but we all respect and adore each other, our skills and knowledge, even our stupidity, it’s really organic.
For this APT project, even before we came together in ruangrupa, we were 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. 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.
Talking about collaboration, we involved a lot of people such as music experts, friends who were in a band, supporting us with lyrics. When we do a project like this, we are not only thinking of the collective as us, but also growing something that we can work with.
With this project we involved a lot of people, including a band, street artists and radio from Brisbane, a collective that is thinking along the same frequency, same interests as well. That is what we divine the collective is about that as well, not just ruangrupa as a collective but it can also expand.
What are the some of the highs of collective art making?
The highs are when you get this expanded collective, and your ideas can actually expand and develop and grow in other places. In terms of lows, sometimes you don’t feel you have time for ourselves! If that happens though, we just leave. Our structure is not too formal, so you can hide or run away. So basically you can take a holiday anytime. That’s a danger actually, every day is a holiday, but also it’s a working day, so that becomes the same! When we start and decide let’s have a salary – we pay 11 people in ruangrupa – it’s like a change of working ethos, at times it becomes formal – we balance that, we are always in a tension between a formal and an informal structure, which is one of the interesting things as well. When it becomes a more formal structure, it can break down.
There is a playfulness that runs throughout your entire body of work so far?
Both the Singapore Fiction (Singapore Biennale 2011) and the especially the APT work, as we went into history, even for us we learned a lot, shaking our belief as well toward the history, while making and processing this project, which has been really interesting. We always think that it’s important to put our position or approach in a tension between art and not-art – that is coming out through playfulness and parody, it’s coming from there.
You have taken a keen interest in the Indonesia- Australia relationship through the 1960’s and 1970’s- an era when the ‘global’ focus was very Western centric?
You should come and see the work! That’s the best answer, just come and see it!
How do you feel this focus is relevant today for the Asian Pacific zeitgeist?
Rock and roll is always relevant. You should look up 1970s Korean psychedelic music and the Tielman Brothers, an Indonesian band from the 60s who made it big in Holland http://www.youtube.com/watch?
Tell me about the idea behind the opening night concert and what you hope the evening will illuminate?
It pays our respect to each other through music, it’s more about that. It provides an atmosphere and spirit.
Pic Above: ruangrupa artists Indra Kusuma (L) and Reza Afisina (R) during installation of their work THE KUDA: The Untold Story of Indonesian Underground Music in the 70s 2012, commissioned for APT7