ISSUE 2 Curators’ Living Rooms
Extended Living Room: Space and Conversation Conversation by ruangrupa
Ruangrupa is a Jakarta-based collective established in 2000, known for organizing festivals, exhibitions, and various events and publications. One recent project is the Gudskul Ecosystem, a community-based cross-disciplinary platform and cultural support system, inspired by collective farming and traditional agricultural methods in Sulawesi. Pronounced “good school” in English, the project’s complete name is GUD-SKUL: contemporary art collective and ecosystem studies.
As part of the Curator’s Intensive Taipei: International Conference and Workshop, held October 2019 at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, two ruangrupa members, Ade Drmawan and Mirwan Andan, were invited to discuss the Gudskul Ecosystem in a public forum, “Extended Living Room: Space and Conversation”. The conversation was a mutual interrogation between the two, discussing both this project and the possibilities it raises for art, education, and new practices that go beyond the frameworks defined by modern bureaucratic institutions.

Chris Evans, Weather vane on the roof of the Taipei Fine Arts Museum(Home Entertainment), Taipei, 2010

Ade Darmawan: I am one of the co-founders of ruangrupa. We were formally founded in 2000, but the other co-founders and I actually met during art school around the mid-1990s, just as the military regime was collapsing. During the 1998 reformation, we could openly share our ideas.

My first question for Andan is: Why school? I met Andan in 2005, and we later set up the Gudskul project, which is a collective study. Gudskul is not just about studying how to practice collectivism, but also promotes collaborative thinking and practice. Moreover, for us, it is about how to learn together and share that moment in time with people.

So I would like you to share your own experience––why school is really relevant for Indonesia in particular, and also in other contexts. And also how it relates to your own background, as you yourself are Indonesian, from Makassar, South Sulawesi, and spent six years in an Islamic boarding school.

Mirwan Andan: Why school? Well, the idea for “school” originated with Indonesians who went to study abroad––people from the middle classes who studied in the Netherlands. While they were there, they decided to establish an organization called Perhimpunan Indonesia (Indische Vereeniging). It was actually an initiative or movement against the colonizers at the time. Then later on, in Indonesia, there was a brilliant man called Ki Hadjar Dewantara, who initiated an educational platform called Taman Siswa, which means “student park.” This student park idea really inspired us, because that was how we realized that education didn’t have to be in a classroom. Taman Siswa showed us that any place could be a student park or classroom. And we found this such a groundbreaking idea that it became one of the most important notions of our practice. Since the establishment of ruangrupa in 2000, many people consider us mainly to be an organization that focuses on setting up festivals, which is partly true. We do organize festivals, but the festival is only a kind of medium. At the beginning of ruangrupa, education was already on the table as an important keyword to discuss, develop, and practice.

Ade Darmawan: You haven’t actually answered the question…

Mirwan Andan: What was your question?

Ade Darmawan: Why is school relevant? Even for us, as a collective practice which also practices transformation of knowledge. Because forming a school is a formalization of education and an institutional practice in itself. How do you think it is really relevant and important?

Mirwan Andan: Because learning and sharing is part of our DNA. We have this important term called nongkrong, which translates as “hanging out.” When we hang out, we share knowledge, content, networks. We share books, the movies we love to watch. We share the musicians we listen to all the time, the exhibition opening we attended last night. We share our comments and also our critiques of the works. So establishing an educational platform is like bringing this culture of hanging out to the next level——it is not official; it is organized, but in a way that it doesn’t have to be too strict, and there are no specific or particular restrictions. Anyone can come and go when they join this educational platform.
Ade Darmawan: It sounds disorganized. And maybe that’s why this sort of idea doesn’t sustain.
Mirwan Andan: It has been three years since we set up the Gudskul. It is said that three is seen as some sort of milestone. If it has been sustainable for three years, I’m pretty sure that it will continue. Can I ask you a question in return? In relation to these educational platforms, once you said that you don’t believe in art. So what do you believe in?
Ade Darmawan: That’s also my question. But maybe it’s not a question of belief. It’s always that an institution, or even an art practice, in order to have this engagement and conversation with its surroundings––which can be ecological, be between human beings, and so on––has at the same time this belief, which is a notion of critique. And at the same time, this practice blurs the line between art and life. But nowadays, these art actions or practices are continually consumed by institutions. They’re being institutionalized really quickly––too quickly sometimes.
So what I’ve learned from being in this practice with my friends at ruangrupa is that for us, art is not the main thing. It’s not the only thing, because we know that it’s not enough. And also we know there are other things happening around it. If you’re talking about curating and exhibition-making, there’s always this extractive mechanism, and there’s always this mechanism of reduction. These are problematic. When you make an exhibition, it means you reduce a lot of stuff. You reduce the moment. You reduce engagement. This building, for example––in a museum like this [the Taipei Fine Arts Museum], it’s always great to see exhibitions. But the context of the works is always being explained or over-explained and emphasized over the experience of the works. So to have an experience of the works, we have to have this idea of no reductional mechanisms, which should be… I don’t know how, maybe we should be thinking of a different kind of architecture. Maybe the museum shouldn’t be architecturally designed like this.

Mirwan Andan: So it’s not about belief?

Ade Darmawan: I think I still believe. I think it’s like when on the one hand you have art, and on the other you have life, and those things are in dialogue. I think most of the time, art is reduced, and that makes disconnections. Institutions or events like biennales are systematic mechanisms for disconnecting. We invest a lot into them. So I’m really glad to hear about Raqs [Media Collective]. They are talking about really generating [their project] from a year before the actual time [of the exhibition] to deal with the knowledge and people involved and also how to create actual dialogues. I think we should really think again about how far the ideas of curating and making exhibitions can go. I think there is the word “beyond” somewhere, in the title [of this symposium]. I think it should be: go beyond––maybe not beyond Asia, but first beyond these walls, beyond the [museum] building.

Ade Darmawan: I’m going to ask you about lumbung, the rice barns. You spoke about the natural farming community you recently researched in Sulawesi. It’s really interesting how the agricultural side of society can be so inspirational.

Mirwan Andan: A few months ago I went to South Sulawesi. It’s actually my hometown, where I was born and raised. I regularly visit my partner and son there. When I was there last, I used my time to visit a remote area to meet certain groups of people who practice what they call “natural farming.” Natural farming is a practice they choose to do in their daily lives. Before, they used to use fungicides, herbicides, pesticides, insecticides, and chemical fertilizer, and they found that these things really destroy human health and the human body. So that’s how they started––eight years ago they began digging up all this knowledge from their ancestors, from YouTube and books. So they gathered all of this information, and they curated all of these things and used it as a curriculum to start this natural farming. Eight years later they have become a really good organization. They plant their rice paddies and also vegetables. And the most important thing they have learned from their ancestors is the concept of lumbung, or the rice barn. The knowledge they have learned from their ancestors about the lumbung is a way to keep all of their resources in common and as a community.

Ade Darmawan: It’s a surplus, right?

Mirwan Andan: Yes, it’s a way of storing all the surplus from their harvest season. This is one of the lumbung shapes typical to a particular area in Indonesia. These are not the only shapes. There are many different types of lumbung. What I found is that they are now really happy practicing this natural farming in comparison to the past, when they only had time to meet as farmers, and then only to discuss how much money they lost. After practicing natural farming, and because they are not using chemical fertilizers or pesticides, or herbicides, the insects and plants began to converse with each other. They saw how even ants changed their paths because there’s no chemical fertilizer anymore. Another good thing is that in economic terms, they have also become happier in comparison to their earlier farming practices.

Ade Darmawan: How do they protect themselves from a bigger system?

Mirwan Andan: This is interesting because it’s knowledge, it’s a curriculum. They have an educational platform for anyone who wants to learn this way of natural farming, and it’s free. So they don’t sell the knowledge. Anyone can come and learn it. If you have time to visit this place, you will find that it’s like a hospital. Patients come and talk and bring their rice and vegetables and then discuss how to practice natural farming.

Ade Darmawan: Do you think it is possible to scale up?

Mirwan Andan: Up until now, it has taken three thousand farmers [coming together] for them to become an organization. They are aiming to increase [their numbers] to five hundred thousand farmers in one province. This is very interesting, because it all started with the notion of lumbung—where farming is supposed to make you happy and provide enough food to consume as a community rather than buying rice from somewhere else.

Ade Darmawan: It’s only in one place, right? Do you think it is possible to replicate this in another context, for example?

Mirwan Andan: I think it is very possible, because they are often invited to share their knowledge in other places throughout the archipelago.

Ade Darmawan: Are there any actual examples of it working outside the original context?

Mirwan Andan: In South Sulawesi, yes. Not in that particular region, but somewhere else. And interestingly, it’s always started by traditional communities. They are often invited by traditional communities to share their knowledge and practice of natural farming.

Ade Darmawan: This is like going back to the old knowledge. In what situation do you think this can be combined with modern knowledge? So that one is not going to consume or repress the other?

Mirwan Andan: As far as I understand, they use multimedia to record their practice, and sometimes they share their knowledge through WhatsApp to anyone who wants to learn it. It’s really applicable in the contemporary sense as a practice, if we bring it to our community and follow through. They really started it from universal values. It’s not only about food, but about how to communicate as human beings and how to behave as a person. If we say that there are seven deadly sins, and one of them is greed––
Ade Darmawan: I thought that you were a Muslim?

Mirwan Andan: Yes, I’m a Muslim. But you don’t have to be a Christian to understand that greed is one of the seven deadly sins. That’s what they started to fight against, all the greed in the chain of the food industry.

Ade Darmawan: For me, this question of traditional versus modern knowledge is always a really relevant question. We came up with the lumbung idea, for example, for Documenta, and the challenge is not only how to scale up, but if it is possible to bring the idea into a different context. This is also about sharing the idea of the common or collective and about the redistribution of resources. And how these ideas can actually be adopted and help us find another model. I think these ideas must be shared and practiced in many places.

But now in art, there is a certain kind of currency or transaction, a kind of mythical capital, which is only shared or occupied by a certain elite. So this kind of exchange value or distribution should really be rethought. That’s why I’m getting inspiration from that lumbung, for example, which we practice now in Jakarta. And that also brings me to my next question for you: in what conditions can this lumbung survive?

Mirwan Andan: They always say they will survive as long as they practice this lumbung concept. They really believe it.

Ade Darmawan: Lumbung has been practiced for a long, long time, but there was a moment, very special in South Sulawesi, that actually changed the mechanism. That was logistical storage. The lumbung model was taken over and organized by the government. So these things are really possible.

Mirwan Andan: It’s very possible, because they set up their own lumbung. As I mentioned before, as long as they practice these lumbung values, this lumbung concept, they believe it will last for a long time. We’re pretty sure it is not only in farming, but also in fishing, and there are many other examples. Natural farming has always used things available from your surroundings so that you don’t need to buy materials. It’s consumable by humans, but it’s not only for humans but also for the animals and plants. So it really is amazing.

Ade Darmawan: Our next challenge and question is how to bring that mechanism into an exhibition. It’s like bringing a resource pot of ideas into an exhibition. It’s a move from the representational into the occupational, so rather than representing a practice, we move it into an occupational practice. For example, we bring one practice to one place, chop it up, and bring that into a certain system.

Mirwan Andan: This is possible.

Ade Darmawan: We’ll see.

* The copyright of the pictures belongs to ruangrupa.
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Author

Ade Darmawan lives and works in Jakarta as an artist, curator and director of ruangrupa. He studied at Indonesia Art Institute (ISI), in the Graphic Arts Department. In 1998, a year after his first solo exhibition at the Cemeti Contemporary Art Gallery, Yogyakarta (now Cemeti Art House), he stayed in Amsterdam to attend a two-year residency at the Rijksakademie Van Beeldende Kunsten. His works range from installation, objects, drawing, digital print, and video. Exhibitions include “Magic Centre” (solo show held both in Portikus, Frankfurt, 2015, and Van Abbe Museum, Eindhoven, 2016), Gwangju Biennial and Singapore Biennale (both 2016) and “Doing Business with the Dutch” (Lumen Travo Gallery, Amsterdam, 2018).

As a curator, he has contributed in Riverscape in-flux 2012, Media Art Kitchen 2013, Condition Report 2016, and Negotiating the Future: 6th Asian Art Biennial in Taiwan. Together with ruangrupa, he co-curated TRANSaction: Sonsbeek 2016. From 2006-09, he was a member of Jakarta Arts Council, which led him to be appointed to become the artistic director of Jakarta Biennale in 2009. He is the executive director of Jakarta Biennale during its 2013, 2015 and 2017.

Mirwan Andan studied at the Islamic Boarding School for 6 years in Watampone and Makassar. From 1999–2004, he studied French Literature at the Universitas Hasanuddin, Makassar. In 2012, he graduated from Political Science in the Universitas Indonesia, while working in ruangrupa as a researcher and developer since 2007. He took part in Jakarta Biennale 2015 as researcher and co-curated TRANSaction: Sonsbeek 2016 in Arnhem, NL.  

His writing and book editorial works include All for Jakarta – a note on the tenth anniversary of ruangrupa: Decompression #10, Expanding the Space and Public (Journal of Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, 2011); and 20Kuldesak: Networking, Rebelling, Maneuvering, Moving (Kuldesak Network, 2018). Some international forums he has participated in are Independent Creative Art Spaces Leadership Training, Trans Europe Halles & ASEF (Paris, 2007); Enhancing Asia-Europe Meeting Visibility Through Cultural Visibility, ASEF (Halong Bay, 2010); State of Independence: A Global Forum in Alternative Space, Roy And Edna Disney California Arts (Los Angeles, 2011); Youth Initiative and Civic Engagement Training, UNESCO (Jakarta, 2013); Inter-Asia Cultural Studies Society Conference (Surabaya, 2015); Berlin Meeting, Responsibility of Religions for Peace, Federal Foreign Office of Germany and Ministry For Foreign Affairs of Finland (Berlin, 2018) and Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, U.S. Department of State (Washington D.C., 2018). From 2016–2018, he worked as advisor for Director General of Culture, Ministry of Education and Culture, Republic of Indonesia.  He now lives in two cities, back and forth, Jakarta and Makassar, mainly for family reasons. He recently opened a small library called Riwanua, at Gudside, Jakarta, while continuously running a project initiative called Jalur Timur in Makassar with his fellow researchers, artists, and cultural activists. 

 

He now lives in two cities, back and forth, Jakarta and Makassar, mainly for family reasons. He recently opened a small library called Riwanua, at Gudside, Jakarta, while continuously running a project initiative called Jalur Timur in Makassar with his fellow researchers, artists, and cultural activists. 

Archive
Archive
Issue 2 Curators' Living Rooms
Editorial /​ Curators' Living Rooms Sandy Hsiu-chih Lo
Extended Living Room: Space and Conversation ruangrupa(Ade Darmawan, Mirwan Andan)
Freeing the Weights of the Habitual Raqs Media Collective
Curating Topography Sandy Hsiu-chih Lo
Issue 1 Curatography
Editorial /​ One Step Forward, Two Steps Backward Hongjohn Lin
What is Curatography? Hongjohn Lin
Les fleurs américaines Yoann Gourmel, Elodie Royer​
There are No Blank Slates Eileen Legaspi Ramirez​
Archive
Issue 2 Curators' Living Rooms
Editorial Curators' Living Rooms Sandy Hsiu-chih Lo
Extended Living Room: Space and Conversation ruangrupa(Ade Darmawan, Mirwan Andan)
Freeing the Weights of the Habitual Raqs Media Collective
Curating Topography Sandy Hsiu-chih Lo
Issue 1 Curatography
Editorial / Curatography Hongjohn Lin
What is Curatography? Hongjohn Lin
Les fleurs américaines Yoann Gourmel, Elodie Royer
There are No Blank Slates Eileen Legaspi Ramirez