Karim Raslan: Yogyakarta’s Biennale Jam In Yogyakarta, from the perspective of the arts, more is more. And with the recently concluded 10th Biennale: Jogja Jamming, the city once again revealed its central role in the nation’s creative imagination. Over the years, one of the biennale’s greatest strengths has been its rootedness. This is a biennale for and about Yogyakarta. However, since the city has been so central in the republic’s history, it is also an evocative journey through Indonesia’s recent past. This year’s biennale offered an impressive sense of time and place. The organizers recreated the world of the 1940s, conveying the tumult and excitement of that period, as well as the intensity and tragedy of the ’60s. In doing so, visitors were reminded of the rich traditions and explosive narrative upon which current art-world stars such as Nyoman Masriadi, Eko Nugroho and Jumaldi Alfi have built their careers, because every time an artist in Yogyakarta lifts his or her paint brush, they are re-living and re-affirming the experiences of men such as Soedjojono, Affandi and Hendra Gunawan. With four venues, street art (including an exuberant and multicolored Ronald McDonald surfing through the rice fields), murals, performances and countless other activities, the organizers sought to reconnect the city and its artists under the rubric, “Public on the Move.” Certainly this aspect was enormously successful and over the past month (the biennale concluded on Sunday) the city was buzzing. Open till late at night, each of the venues was crowded with visitors. Invited to give a talk on Southeast Asian art, I arrived in the city just days before the closing, catching the biennale as it peaked. Even though there had been countless events — talks, discussions and presentations — I was amazed to find that audiences were still lively and engaged, presenting tough and insightful questions. Having completed my presentation, I dashed off to see the art. In truth there was so much to see and enjoy I was happy I had a few days to work my way through the various venues. Perhaps the most startling was a newly completed artist-run space, Sangkring in the heart of Nitiprayan, a favored residential area for students and artists. Built by Putu Sutawijaya and his wife, Jenny, the two-story building is a superbly airy and well-lit addition to Yogyakarta’s limited stock of exhibition spaces, and the couple deserve to be congratulated for their commitment to the arts and to the city. Amid the sleek but expansive lines of Sangkring most art would look spectacular, but works by the Jendela group’s Handiwirman and Yusra Martunus were especially strong. Handi is continuing his exploration of flesh-colored resins, creating disturbingly strange forms that make you both queasy and inquisitive at the same juncture. With Yusra’s work, a simple envelope fixed on the wall with the letters “R-U-A-N-G” (space) tumbling out is an exercise in elegance as the artist, currently Indonesia’s most accomplished sculptor, reveals his mastery of form. The mood shifted at the National Museum and there was an agitprop vibe with the artist combine Taring Padi, a resolutely anti-commercial group, setting the tone. Their room showed off their tremendously powerful wood-cuts and politicized, pro-rakyat art. But if you got tired of the art, there was also a ping-pong table and reams of paper to scribble on. Upstairs in a quiet side-room, there was a video show of one of the most extraordinary performances I’ve ever seen. Created by a group called Geber Modus Operandi during the country’s political reform era, the video captures the chaos of the time with two men boxing, a woman disrobing and a solitary Sisyphian figure — dragging what appears to be a vast and rusting piece of metal. Disorientating and highly theatrical, the video captures the zeitgeist of the late ’9s: the exultation, the fear, the anger and the hopelessness. Cardboard was the surprise ingredient of the biennale. Cheap, versatile and reusable, it popped up everywhere, from Indieguerillas (another artist combine with a more manga-cum-anime vibe) to Yuli Sulistya’s virtuoso three-piece, sci-fi alien-type installation, where the cardboard had been rendered into an eerie dark green metallic finish. Alongside the cardboard, fiberglass was another frequently used media as artists conjured exotic and vibrantly colored forms. Wedhar Riyadi led the way in this respect with a sculpture titled “Dangerous, Sexy, Scary, Happy.” However, Davy Army Putra’s tale of teenage angst — a boy caught masturbating — was the darkest and most vivid evocation of growing up. As I said, only in Yogyakarta. Karim Raslan is a columnist who divides his time between Malaysia and Indonesia.

(The Jakarta Globe)

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