Thursday, January 3, 2013

Jatiwangi Art Factory

Yesterday (2 January 2013) was my last day in Cirebon on this trip, and I used the opportunity to visit Jatiwangi Art Factory (JAF) and arts collective and centre located in the village of Jatisura, just north of the small town of Jatiwangi in Majalengka. I had heard much about the centre, both via the internet and an English friend, Teresa Birks, who presented a selection of video art originating in JAF at the first Indonesia Kontemporer festival at SOAS in 2011.Along with me for the trip was Purjadi, who was curious about the organisation and wanted to spend some time with me before I left.

Since its founding in 2005, JAF has developed an increasingly important international footprint and prides itself on its local engagement. It is located in the middle of a gerabah industrial area, where roof tiles, earthenware vessels and the like are manufactured, and many of its projects have a direct relation to this. In 2012, it hosted three festivals – a festival of musik gerabah, a village video art festival and an artist-in-residence festival. It also has its own radio station, which broadcasts from 7am to 12 midnight and can be heard as far away as Sumedang, Brebes and Indramayu, a playgroup for children ages 3 to 6 years, a gallery, a number of musical ensembles in residence, an instrument building experimental lab where a number of makers are experimenting with making instruments from gerabah and stones, and regularly hosts visiting artists and writers, who lodge in the houses of neighbours. It had its own  tv station until recently, which broadcast at the kecamatan level, but this is now closed due to equipment malfunction.

JAF’s village video art festival had ended only a few days before my arrival and I was able to see some of the videos that premiered there and also an installation exhibition that opened on 30 December, the last day of the festival. The festival was intended to bring locally prominent figures and actors into dialogue with artists. So a video made by the Pak Camat (District Head) showed various stamps being applied on paper. A video by a police officer showed a rather desultory attempt to put out a fire in a Jatiwangi shop house, followed by vox populi comments about what the police mean to you. There was also a video about the controversial new electronic ID card (KTP) system, which showed a variety of these cards, and then the office where they were being office with JAF’s director taking a snooze. The commentary for this video posted on the wall (which took the form of a pseudo official document) noted that the issuing of these ID cards was a chance for people to congregate which could fructify as relations. I asked what this meant to one of the JAF staff members who was taking us around and he said that young men and women met while registering and then started dating.

The exhibition/installation was on the theme of home – and involved the construction of a number of ‘rooms’ in the gallery. A kitchen, for example, was constructed by putting a video monitor on top of a refrigerator. A living room was signed at by a carpet, a couple of rattan chairs and a case with small containers.

Purjadi and I also had a chance to talk to one of the instrument makers, a middle aged man originally from Sumedang, who studied ethnomusicology in Medan and gamelan making in Solo for two years and also worked as an assistant for Philip Yampolsky in the Music of Indonesia Smithsonian project. He was busy working on a number of earthenware percussion instruments. Some of his instruments were currently on display in Jakarta, others had been purchased by museums. Purjadi had purchased his own gamelan in Solo and so they had much to talk about regarding gamelan making.  

We were generously treated to a light lunch, which we ate standing up during a brief tour of the facilities – peeking in at the radio station, an instrument making area, a music studio, the gallery, various domestic spaces etc. I spoke about the need to reach out to the community of traditional artists. Some mention was made of a little wayang kulit project that a Mexican artist in residence had done in years past, which apparently involved some research but no direct involvement of traditional puppet artists. Before parting I was encouraged to spend more time at JAF. I said I would think about this seriously.

Afterwards I spoke to Purjadi briefly about his impressions. He said that he was struck by a number of things. First, he recognised that JAF had a wide reaching web of international connections. (The next musik gerabah festival, for example, will be held in Brazil and co-sponsored by JAF.) He saw this as a way to promote locally-made products to international markets. Second, he was struck that many of their projects seemed to lack a clear direction or purpose. As a traditional artist, he has something clear to offer, a wayang performance which will last for a certain number of hours and contain elements which will be anticipated by sponsors. But what possible function might a newly designed instrument made of earthenware have? What is its use value? Such questions are hard to answer, indeed, and go to the heart of what splits modern and traditional arts.

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