The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Contents
Leonhard Bartolomeus
Leonhard Bartolomeus
*1
In the 1980s and 1990s, Indonesia was led by the President Suharto. His powerful, authoritarian regime enabled socio-economic progress by pushing forward industrialization and improvement of the social infrastructure. But after three decades of economic growth and political corruption, the Suharto regime ended when the Asian financial crisis hit the country in 1997 and subsequent demonstrations and riots calling for political reform rose in cities across the country. Ade Darmawan, ruangrupa’s founder and director, wrote that after Suharto’s resignation and reformation of the government in 1998, along with the massive changes in Indonesia towards a more open society, many artist-run spaces and artist communities were born, mainly in major cities such as Jakarta, Yogyakarta or Bandung. He pointed out the role of university campuses as places “where they (the younger generation) could keep their ideas safe and alive” in the last days of the Suharto era, and that the surge of art spaces and artist communities was “seen as the evolution from many art-campus practices that occurred in parallel with the students’ movement during Suharto’s fall in the late 1990s.” (Ade Darmawan “Homemade Structure and Small and Medium-Sized Speculation” from The Japan Foundation Asia Center: Art Studies 2, 2015). Among those spaces and communities, there were several spaces and collectives that were able to survive because they were specific with their long-term visions and strategies. Ruangrupa, an art collective which Darmawan founded with some other artists in 2000, was one of those successful spaces and collectives.

In the international context, there was a growing interest in the Asian contemporary arts since the 1990s. Big international exhibitions became increasingly popular in Asia and new exhibitions were born such as Gwangju Biennale (1995), Shanghai Biennale (1996) and Yokohama Triennale (2001). Festivals devoted to the Asian contemporary arts also started during this decade: for example, the Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (1991) and the Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale (1999). These changes provided Asian artists with a connection to the global art scene and a broader scope in artistic activity.
In Indonesia, there were already two large biennales, Jakarta Biennale (1975) and Yayasan Biennale Yogyakarta (1988, also known as Biennale Jogja), and in 2003, the Jogja Art Fair (now called Art Jog) started. Now, the Biennale Jogja and the Art Jog are two of the leading international contemporary art festivals in Asia, and they have been showcasing not only Indonesian artists but also artists from other Southeast Asian countries.
*2 ruangrupa
Ruangrupa is a contemporary art collective founded in 2000 by a group of artists including artist and curator Ade Darmawan. Based in Jakarta, ruangrupa offers many interdisciplinary activities focusing on social and cultural issues within the contemporary urban contexts. Alongside exhibitions, festivals and public learning events organized in their headquarters in Jakarta, ruangrupa has also been participating in international art festivals such as Gwangju Biennale (2002 and 2018), São Paulo Biennial 2014 and Aichi Triennale (2016). In 2019, ruangrupa was selected as artistic director for documenta 15 which will take place in 2022 in Kassel, Germany, as the first Asian artist or art collective to curate the prominent international exhibition.
https://ruru.ruangrupa.org
*3 RUN & LEARN
Around 2014, the Japan Foundation started projects to support human resources development in the arts and culture fields in ASEAN countries. The projects were aimed at not only artists but also people supporting artistic production with technical, managerial or curatorial work. “RUN & LEARN” was one of those projects and started as a series intensive workshops held in Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia with young curators and visual art professionals from those countries and Japan. Subsequently, selected members participated in short internships in Japan and co-curated art projects and exhibitions in nine cities of the four countries from December 2014 to 2015.
https://www.jpf.go.jp/e/publish/asia_exhibition_history/43_14_run-learn.html

Curators workshop in South East Asia
https://www.jpf.go.jp/e/project/culture/exhibit/exchange/2014/06-01.html
*4 Japan Foundation ASEAN Center
The Japan Foundation ASEAN Center was founded in 1990. In 1995, it was reorganized as the Japan Foundation Asia Center with a broader geographical coverage and to carry out a wider range of projects, until its dissolution in 2004. Established again in 2014, the Asia Center has been conducting and supporting mutual exchange projects with the ASEAN nations in many areas, including Japanese language education, arts and culture, sports and intellectual and grass roots exchange. The Japan Foundation Asian Art Archive contains exhibition catalogues, symposium reports and other documents from the Japan Foundation’s projects since 1990.

Japan Foundation Asian Art Archive
https://www.jpf.go.jp/e/publish/asia_exhibition_history/index.html
*5 Mark Teh
Mark Teh is a performance director/researcher and member of the Malaysian artists collective Five Arts Centre. His diverse projects are particularly concerned with the issues of Malaysian history, memory and participation. In 2018, he and the YCAM co-curated an exhibition project titled “The Breathing of Maps,” composed of various events such as lecture performances, video screenings, etc.

The Breathing of Maps: Transformations of the Geo-Body
https://jfac.jp/en/culture/events/e-asia2019-the-breathing-of-maps/

Presenter Interview
*6 YCAM OpenLab 2019
“Understanding Living Culture”

YCAM OpenLab is an interdisciplinary event series which has been showcasing YCAM’s unique research and development works through talk sessions, exhibitions, live concerts and workshops since 2017. OpenLab 2019 featured biotechnology, topics such as the roles of the biotechnology and its relationship with creativity, inviting experts and bio lab members from Slovenia, Ghana, Indonesia and Japan to participate. In 2020, while the COVID-19 outbreak forced museums and art institutions to shut down, OpenLab offered a weekly online lecture series focusing on one guest speaker every week. The guests were not only from among the speakers that participated in OpenLab 2019 but also persons from other fields. The details and videos of the eight lectures can be found at the above link.
https://www.ycam.jp/en/events/2019/openlab/
*7 g0v
g0v is an open-source civic community started in 2012 in Taiwan. Committed to the transparency of information in society, the community provides platforms for open discussion by citizens concerning government policies or social issues.
https://g0v.asia
Presenter Interview
Dec 16, 2020
YCAM’s new Curator, and the Concept of Arts Professional Collectives 
YCAM’s new Curator, and the Concept of Arts Professional Collectives 
Based in Indonesia’s capital of Jakarta is the artistic collective “ruangrupa” that engages in a wide range of community-centric activities, from organizing exhibitions and festivals, producing radio broadcasts and engaging in online publishing, surveys, research and more (including serving as artistic directors for documenta 15 in 2022). As of 2019, a member of the collective, Leonhard Bartolomeus, has joined the curator team of the Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media (YCAM), an organization known for its progressive explorations of forms of expression utilizing media technology. In this interview he talks with us about his involvement in a variety of projects as an independent curator and as a member of ruangrupa, as well as the new challenges he has taken on at YCAM.
Interviewer: Yoko Kitagawa


First, we would like to hear about your career, your first encounter with “art”. What was it like?
I was born in 1987, and experiencing the arts in the purest forms, like in galleries, museums, or theaters, was not something easy in Indonesia back 20 or 25 years ago. (*1) If you talk about the “arts,” it was either popular arts or traditional arts. Those were the most common things that people got. For example, art was mainly related to making drawings on paper or putting up something on the wall during our school years. It was never considered necessary. Maybe in Japan and in Europe, you can experience “art” as a kid by going to museums, seeing the artwork, and getting some information about paintings, installations, video art, or something. But that was never the case in Indonesia, at least for my generation when we were young. I should say that my first connection to what I came to know as visual art was coming through manga and anime. As I said, it was either through popular culture or through traditional culture. Because I lived in a small city on the periphery of Jakarta, the culture there was not rich in terms of lifestyles or traditions. So, my primary exposure to art was through popular culture. That’s how most of our generation was getting some initial impressions of visual arts. The boundaries between visual arts, music, theater, film, etc., were never clear enough. It always came altogether at one time. So, I was experiencing visual arts when I was buying a music album or watching a movie, etc. I think the situation is now different. After 2005 or 2006, when Internet connection was getting better in Indonesia, you could finally access all the information and get more knowledge.

But you studied ceramic art at school, Jakarta Institute for the Arts. What made you choose that as your major?
I actually wanted to study to work as a graphic designer at the beginning. Being a graphic designer in 2004 or 2005 was still a hipster job. But you don’t really understand what you should do (to become a graphic designer). Then I decided to go to the Jakarta Institute for the Arts because it was the closest step. We have several institutions related to the arts in Indonesia, Jakarta Institute for the Arts (IKJ), Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB), and Indonesian Institute of Arts in Yogyakarta (ISI Yogyakarta). At that time, to enter the Bandung Institute of Technology, you had to take the same test as students who want to study mathematics or science. And the primary impression of students studying in Yogyakarta was that they really had good craftsmanship because most of them had already graduated from high schools for visual arts. But IKJ was in the middle and more about lifestyle rather than focusing on things intellectual or craftsmanship. So, I joined the school as a graphic design student for two years, then I started working as a freelance designer during my school years. Then I changed my major to ceramic art because my college points were insufficient due to my freelance job. My years of study would have been very long if I had continued to study graphic design, and my teacher advised me to change my major to save time. At that time, I was already doing my job as a graphic designer, and my knowledge about the art scene started to develop. I knew (in the art scene) that there is a profession called curator, the writers, or artisans that helped the leading artists. Then I developed a new interest in art history, art writing, and art history, etc. Looking back, my decision to choose ceramic art allowed me to have as much free time as possible, because I was the only student studying there.
The ceramic department was an entirely new world. All my teachers were artists at that time, so they had a very different perspective on understanding art than my teachers in graphic design, who were basically industry-based and had very rational, logical perspectives. In graphic design, there is a client and [market] needs. That’s how graphic designers think: you work to fulfill your client’s needs. On the other hand, some of my teachers in the ceramic course were really liberal. They said you can do whatever you want to do, art for art’s sake, etc., even though it was a craft department and we should think about ergonomic design, like what kind of cup is right for drinking. It gave me an excellent perspective on this kind of industrial background and going through the art scene.
What I expected in the ceramic department as a paradise, but it turned out to be different because I had five teachers who came to me anytime to see if I had finished my work. During the years at the ceramic department, I could have more time studying art history, curatorial work, how to write a text about art, and how to review an exhibition.

How did you get that kind of knowledge on curation, art writing, art history, or art review?
I think everything happened organically. My only information source at the time was the faculty library, and they had good books. But at school, there was a widespread opinion that if students were focusing more on writing, it was because they didn’t have good craftsmanship or good art skills. The school system pushed you to be an artist; you had to produce artwork rather than do research or text writing. For example, we only studied art history for just one semester. Compared to the curriculum in Europe or Japan, we had minimal chances to be exposed to this kind of contextual knowledge.
During those years, I met a group called “ruangrupa” (*2), and it made me wonder like, “Is this art?” They were doing things like an exhibition about T-shirts, selling artworks in a flea market style, and making installations and video art. We could not get this kind of knowledge in our art school because it was very conservative and old. I thought there must be another layer in the art scene that I didn’t know about during those times. I think that is when I started to think that there should be some ways to work without producing pieces of artwork.
There was the significant influence of ruangrupa on me and my generation in the art school, because they offered something unusual in art, sometimes very kitsch, ugly artworks, or sometimes exhibitions heavily based on political or social issues. It was something entirely new for us. Then I started to try writing texts, helping friends making proposals, doing exhibitions, etc. My first exhibition as a curator was at the Japan Foundation Jakarta. That was a ceramic exhibition inviting students from four cities, Jakarta, Bandung, Yogyakarta, and Solo. It was the first time I participated in the exhibition-making process, making proposals, calling the Japan Foundation, setting up the space, negotiating with sponsors.

How did you feel about the work as a curator?
I remember that my first impression was that the job was something important. Of course, I knew some famous curators in Indonesia, like Jim Supangkat, who is well known in Japan, and some other names. But it was hard to get a clear image of the curator’s role. I think in Europe and Japan, there is an exact way to become a curator. You should do an art history major, then you take a curatorial semester class, and so on. But in Indonesia at that time, it was very obscure. Most of the curators at that time had graduated as artists, and surprisingly, most of them studied ceramic art. Maybe it was for the same reason as me.
Actually, I never thought I had the capacity to work as a curator because I didn’t really know how to do it. So, after I graduated from school, I started to work as a visual merchandiser in a fashion retail company. It was almost like being a curator, setting up mannequins, putting the clothes on, arranging the stalls, concepts, etc. But it was very repetitive, and I felt that this job was not for me. Then, at that time, ruangrupa was doing a curatorial workshop, and I applied. And they said, “there are not enough participants, but you can join the art critic writing workshop instead if you want.” And I joined that workshop for two weeks, and I continued to work for the company. Then sometime later, someone from ruangrupa asked me to become a moderator for their exhibition event. I joined the event as a moderator, and then from that moment, I became heavily involved with them. If someone asks me whether it was then that I joined them as a member, I would say I’ll never know. Nobody knows at what point you are actually already involved in a collective. In 2014 or 2015, they asked me to join their big group meetings like the annual meeting. We talked about what the collective should do for the next year, etc. They offered me a position as manager/curator/finance manager for ruangrupa’s small gallery, called Ruru Gallery. After that, I worked as a guest curator outside ruangrupa as well, like for Jakarta Arts Council and some other galleries. Then, I think it was that same year that a ruangrupa director, Ade Darmawan, asked me to become his assistant for the Japan Foundation Asia Center’s young curators’ workshop in Jakarta. (*3) Some of my friends joined as participants, but I was there as a note-taker. The mentors were Ade Darmawan from ruangrupa and Yukie Kamiya from the Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art.

So that’s why you joined the Hiroshima City Museum as an intern?
Yes, but that came very out of the blue. I got an email from the Japan Foundation asking if I had time between July and August that year. They were trying to propose for me to do an internship at the museum, which I never expected. I knew that the young curator’s workshop participants were about to go on a trip to Japan for research at YCAM and Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, etc. Still, I never thought (that they had an internship program). But they asked me to write something about what kind of things I wanted to do if I was accepted by the Hiroshima City Museum. At that time, I wanted to know about the relation between art institutions and the public, because I knew that all the museums in Hiroshima were trying to deal with the wartime memories and tragedies. Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art was also doing the same thing in a contemporary way. So, I wanted to know why they decided to do something like that and how those sensitive topics were being communicated to the public. And that’s how I ended up spending one and a half months in Hiroshima.

Can you talk about your connection with the Japan Foundation? Did you already have a relationship with Japan Foundation before the internship?
Not really. I only learned about the Japan Foundation when I was in high school because they were sometimes doing anime screenings. The Japan Foundation Asia Center was started in 1990, and they started to build a relationship with Asia, and especially with Southeast Asia, from that point onwards. (*4) The Japan Foundation was putting the spotlight more on the Southeast Asian contemporary art scene. I think ruangrupa has an intimate relationship with the Japan Foundation, person-to-person relationships. For example, Ade Darmawan was the curator of an exhibition with the Japan Foundation, and a Japanese artist came to ruangrupa to do a collaborative project together there. In the last two or three years, the Japan Foundation’s presence has been quite strong compared to other nations’ cultural institutions. The Japan Foundation is also doing quite a lot of work in the visual arts and in the performing arts, film, and language. I think that’s how the web, the infrastructure is being formed. So somehow, the connection with Japan and the Japan Foundation happened very organically for me. After my internship in Hiroshima, I always have something going on with Japan, and I have been coming back here almost every year for different projects.

Last year, you joined the curator team of YCAM. So now you are a member of an art institution that is known for its very unique programs. Could you tell us about your first meeting with YCAM?
I came to YCAM for the first time when I was in Hiroshima. I made some trips to other museums and did interviews with curators and directors to understand how they built their relationships with the public. YCAM was obviously one of the best places for the interview because I knew Kumiko Idaka, a former YCAM curator who also participated in Jakarta’s young curators’ workshop. In her presentation, this institution looked very impressive. All the artworks, buildings, and the story were interesting, and I wanted to see YCAM.
YCAM was totally different from other museums. I felt an amiable atmosphere from the very beginning. When I got the information from my friend, Mr. Yoshizaki, about joining YCAM, I thought he wanted to do a collaboration project with ruangrupa. Because the year before, YCAM had just finished a project with Mark Teh, (*5) a Malaysia-based performing arts director and curator. So, I said yes, and a few days later, he said to me to send my personal profile, not ruangrupa’s. I was surprised that they offered me a position of in-house curator that I had no expectation of, because I was not even specialized in media arts. In Indonesia, you need to do everything; you cannot be specialized because the field is still being developed. I never intended to see YCAM as a career step, because I am still unsure if I have already become a curator. When I submitted my application to YCAM, it was more out of my respect for the people I know.

What do you think about YCAM as an in-house curator?
At the beginning, what I was afraid of, not only for me but also my friends in ruangrupa when they found out that I was going to work here, was how I could fit into the system here. In most of my time working as a curator, I have been working as a radical element, because I can go anywhere I want, I can do anything, etc. So, I decided to just try it and see if things worked.
But surprisingly, when I came here, I didn’t feel any impression of hierarchy, top and bottom connection, because everyone was on the same floor and had the same desk. I then found out that most of the YCAM staff working as lab members also used to be, or are still, working as independent artists. That gave me a bit of a loose feeling. Because I know what kind of people I am going to be working with. It is close to my experience in ruangrupa, an artist collective; it is just more organized. Everyone has a task, but they are allowed to think about other departments and give their opinions. That’s why I thought I could work in this environment.
But one thing I was concerned with was that I had never worked in a public institution before. I know that I am working with money from Yamaguchi city taxpayers. This consciousness about using public money is always in my mind. So, I am thinking about what we should do, how YCAM can function appropriately with that awareness of being a public institution in a particular area. Geographically, politically, historically, Yamaguchi-ken (prefecture) and Yamaguchi city are quite remarkable in Japanese national history. So, it was kind of striking for me.
Coming from my experience in the artist collective, I never see a curator as a superior position. I don’t know how other curators think about their profession, but I think a curator acts as a facilitator. We need to bridge two different sides and then present it visually or through some other programs. That’s what I learned in ruangrupa. I never got the idea that being a curator is a top position, like deciding everything.
What made me interested in YCAM initially was that they have a dedicated educational team. I think globally, and generally, there is now a significant shift happening in the art scene, in which prominent museums are now considering putting the educational team in the forefront, rather than leaving it behind, and engaging the public more. And this is, of course, coming from different motives; it might be coming from a financial one or a political one. But I believe it’s a promising future for the arts in general because I understand what the arts should be. It should be an appeal to the public rather than building up barriers.

YCAM also has very unique international programs like the OpenLab project. (*6) What kind of opinions do you have about the international programs of YCAM?
That is a tough question. Of course, it is useful if you have international exposure, but sometimes we tend to think of international exposure and then leave behind the local contexts. That is also happening in many cases of biennales, triennials, and art festivals in general. This kind of idea of being international is a bit obsolete, I should say, because now you have the Internet, you can do searches for any artists that you want, and you can meet them and go to see their exhibitions. It is basically a very tricky thing, but I would like to say that YCAM has a fifty-fifty approach in my opinion, one way seeking international conversation in the art scene, and also at the same time trying to engage with the local public. That’s one thing that many museums and art institutions are struggling with.

This year’s OpenLab online talk series was very interesting. That was during the global outbreak of COVID-19, and every week one guest speaker was invited from a different country and with a different background, such as a bio lab member in Ghana an independent BioArt artist from Austria, to have a discussion with YCAM Bio Research members. You were also part of the talk series as a curator.
The OpenLab about biotechnology is related to the previous exhibition that my colleague Yoshizaki-san did with the YCAM Bio Research team and contact Gonzo. In last year’s OpenLab, we wanted to focus on why BioArt was becoming something important in the art scene and how it could be in the future. I didn’t join the research, but Yoshizaki-san gave me a lot of updates. He went to Ghana, Slovenia, and started to build the conversation from that point. If BioArt could bridge the world of biology and the arts, biology might be more appealing to the public and easier to understand.
Then the coronavirus pandemic happened. We thought it was a good time to talk again about BioArt because the pandemic is also related to understanding bacteria, viruses, biology, and all the things about them. I also thought it was an excellent way to bring in different speakers and different perspectives to understand how this situation affects our current ways of working as artists, as art institutions, and how we could respond to such a situation in the future. So, this year, we invited two speakers who weren’t related to BioArt. We wanted to extend the conversation, so we had Bess Lee from g0v (*7) in Taiwan and Bojana Piskur from the Museum of Modern Art in Ljubljana, Slovenia. So, this lecture series also related to civil society and how it is related to artistic practice.

Could you tell us a little bit about your future project at YCAM?
I am proposing a 3-year project under the theme of “alternative education.” Again, the main idea is to examine the function of the arts and art institutions in society. Of course, we understand that art has a function in society, affecting people’s behavior. But this time, I would like to see how some other museums and art institutions are trying as hard as they can to open themselves to the public. That’s why the more prominent topic of alternative education is coming to the program. I want to talk about the typical educational system that we in the world have right now and try to open up conversations on whether art can be a learning source. It’s more about understanding what kind of critical things artists or art institutions could do. In Indonesia, and maybe also in Japan, some bigger hands control what you should learn, for example, historical things. In Indonesia, there is some censorship regarding which parts of history you need to learn. If it is related to communism or socialism, it will be omitted from mention in history. But the arts, artworks, and art institutions have opportunities to talk about those sensitive issues from a different point of view. People tend to give that permission to the arts, like “Oh, it is controversial, but it is art”. So, it can be one of the safe spaces to talk about those issues. I know several art institutions in Japan are trying to take this approach, whether it is collectives, artist-run spaces, or institutions. The idea of opening up yourself as an art institution and engaging the public in the conversation is fascinating. That’s what I am planning to do in the next three years.
“Alternative education” is not the title of the project, but rather as a critical concept which comes from the combination of “alternative” and “education,” and for me, it is interesting. “Alternative” means that you have an option; you can do something else. You can talk about politics through dance, history through theater, minorities through music. There are a whole lot of possibilities. And also, the important thing is how to avoid making it an enlightenment process. It is not about “We are art institutions, we are museums, we are artists, and we understand. This is something you should learn.” I am trying to avoid this kind of situation. If possible, both parts should be in dialogue. Even if you are an artist, curator, or performer, you are part of society. It’s not an impossible task to talk about the same idea with people you meet in the street. How can we engage in the conversation more openly, that’s what I think about. I would say it is not always easy. There might be some other obstacles, some other challenges that are different from what I experienced in Jakarta. But I think it’s a good exercise for us in YCAM as an art institution. It’s like linking to each other; it is about opening up YCAM resources for public use.

We know that ruangrupa is an artist collective, but it is still difficult to know what kind of group they are. Could you tell us more about them? How they were formed, and how they work?
Yeah, ruangrupa is an artist collective, but they were developed over the years. In the beginning, I think most of them were artists, but then they started opening the collective up. Some scholars, anthropologists, political students, social science students joined in. They let more people join in along the way as they built the collective. But one thing that ruangrupa still doesn’t want to do is to label themselves. I know it’s very confusing, especially for people who are used to classification.
Also, it’s challenging for me to ask questions like, “Have you quit ruangrupa?” We don’t have this mechanism of “in and out.” You can go to study abroad for some years, and then come back. But for the moment, right before I left for YCAM, ruangrupa and two other collectives in Jakarta (Serrum, and Grafis Huru Hara) joined hands to create a platform that is focusing on study for a collective art ecosystem. I think it’s much more institutionalized now because they are joining forces with other collectives.
Ruangrupa has two types of funding. I think not only ruangrupa but also some other collectives receive funding this way. So, the first one is institutional funding, which goes to the institution’s needs, such as rent, electricity or water bills, things like that. Then there is project funding, which you need to find whenever you want to do a project. Each project has a different purpose. If there is a program focusing on young students, they approach the Ministry of Culture and Education. If there is a project related to labor or religion issues, then they approach other funding sources. Most of the time, that’s how art collectives in Indonesia survive. Apart from that, we need to ways to sustain ourselves because funding can be cut. Some of these art collectives are trying to build self-sustaining systems by selling artworks, T-shirts, or doing some commercial work, like setting up exhibitions or being a consultant for art projects.
There is a plan for the Indonesian government to open an endowment grant, which would be like there is always a fund, and you can apply anytime no matter what happens. It’s not tied to one ministry or one governmental body, you can apply as an artist and then there is an independent group of people who review your proposal. It’s similar (I think) to the National Arts Council Grant in Singapore. But it’s just a plan. I don’t know when it’s going to be realized. One of the reasons why working as a collective is quite popular in Indonesia is that people need to survive together. If the endowment grant plan happens, the scene will be completely different from what we experience nowadays.

Ruangrupa has a very global perspective at the same time, and surprisingly, they have been selected as Artistic Direction for the forthcoming documenta 15, which will take place in Kassel.
In fact, as far as I remember, when I was in ruangrupa, there was not even one time we talked about being the director of documenta. When you become a curator or artist, professionally in the visual arts, there is a particular direction you might want to go in, starting from group exhibitions, then going to galleries, maybe being invited to some biennale, and so on. Then documenta is the top of all of that. I am not sure, but maybe the documenta committee is trying to find some alternatives from the model that is already there because documenta is used like one curator curating many artists.
There are 10 members from ruangrupa who will join the documenta team, but I am not on that team. As the development now is about documenta 15, ruangrupa is inviting other collectives worldwide to join in the conversation. They are trying to function the same as they are in Jakarta. I think it is contradictory if you invite a collective, and the collective is acting as an individual curator. That’s the point of having 10 people sitting in a documenta state; they do what “people” can do. From what I understand, they are trying to develop a more significant, global collective.
Also, there is one thing to understand about how a collective should function. As long as the collective can give the individual insight, there will be an opportunity to grow. That’s how a collective should function properly. That’s why they still have no idea of exit-in, joining-in, or out. The idea of what I can contribute to them, that’s always in my mind. I am part of YCAM, but at the same time, I am still part of ruangrupa. The condition is not like I need to choose between them, but what can I do for both. That’s how I understand it. What kind of things I can do for YCAM, with what I already have in my resources, whether through ruangrupa or through my personal network, what kind of things I can do with YCAM resources. I didn’t see myself pursuing a career as a curator. I don’t want to limit myself to one track. Maybe in the future, I might want to be a farmer, a teacher at a university, etc. I never decide. I would instead focus on the present. Now I am in YCAM, so I am thinking about YCAM. After YCAM, I don’t know.

Your whole idea is very interesting. And this is the last question. What kind of opinions do you have about the possibility of technology for artists?
One crucial thing is for us, the art community or art institutions, to take a critical approach to technology. Of course, there are artists leaning towards an aesthetic that uses technology. That’s still okay. What kind of critical points of view we can offer to both is essential, because I think art can experiment, question, criticize and accept new technologies. The question is whether you take the side of a user or the side of a producer. That’s always like playing the role when artists want to work with technology. Sometimes they just use technology to produce something, or they become a bit more advanced by doing some hacking, trying to predict what kinds of futures there will be and the dangers within the technology. I think we can offer many different perspectives on technology.
We, as art institutions, can’t compete with technology companies. Their development of technology is always faster. One time you will use this technology, then next year something new is coming out. It’s always something like that, because the nature of the technology itself always wants to go one step or two steps ahead of the current situation. So, this is just my personal opinion, but maybe we could take the position of slowing down the process. That’s why the critical approach is fundamental, like how you are trying to use this technology and how this technology could talk about issues outside itself. For example, disabilities, history, or politics are things that technology cannot talk about by itself. Also, using technology as part of a medium for artistic creation, I think the options are almost limitless. For example, in BioArt, some artistic projects take a very radical approach, like injecting animal blood into the human body. Of course, there is no restriction if they want to express themselves by using technology. But the important thing is what kind of things we can give back to biology and the public. No matter how intellectual artworks may be, art is not going to replace science. Science will have its own way. But then you will see that the same role of art has always existed since thousands of years ago. Art is always a tool to communicate, a tool for people to understand something outside themselves. Maybe the same thing happens when some primitive people, native people, use dance as part of a ritual to pray to God, or celebrate the harvest season. Now there are different elements, but I think the role of art will be the same. We will become an intermediary on how these different things can be talked about together.
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