– Summer 2012

Who Cares a Lot? Ruangrupa as Curatorship

David Teh

ruangrupa (ArtLab division), Lonely Market, 2009, Jakarta. Courtesy the artists

Last year Southeast Asia hosted two significant media art shows, both daring to juxtapose recent work from the region with seminal collections from the First World. In ‘Video, an Art, a History 1965—2010’, the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) tentatively aired its nascent Southeast Asian collection alongside a roving blockbuster from the Centre Pompidou in Paris. At the National Gallery of Indonesia (Galnas), the Jakarta artists’ collective ruangrupa held the fifth instalment of their video art biennial, OK Video, featuring a curated selection from the catalogue of Electronic Arts Intermix in New York.1 Both exhibitions were rare treats, featuring contemporary video works from Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam, side by side with works by Western artists including Bill Viola, Dan Graham, VALIE EXPORT and Vito Acconci — the first time this canon had alighted on the region en masse. In both exhibitions worlds came together, but they were worlds apart.

I found myself wondering what it would be like if these two worlds were swapped, if SAM were to take over the ageing halls of Galnas, and ruangrupa the colonial nooks and crannies of SAM. For a start, we would see OK Video with fewer mosquitoes, and comfortable seats; with an injection of Singaporean efficiency, Galnas would get a much needed overhaul. SAM would meanwhile be unrecognisable, revived by a shot of the spontaneity and personality it lacks. Alas, it was wishful thinking. One can only dream of a day when the region’s resources are effectively shared.

It could be objected that I am not comparing apples with apples. SAM is a well-funded public museum, with its own collection, but, like all of Singapore’s institutions, it

  1. ‘Video, an Art, a History 1965—2010’, co-curated by Christine van Assche and Patricia Levasseur de la Motte, Singapore Art Museum, 10 June—18 September 2011; and OK Video FLESH: 5th Jakarta International Video Festival, curated by Hafiz, Agung Hujatnikajennong, Farah Wardani, Mahardhika Yudha and Rizki Lazuardi, National Gallery of Indonesia, 6—17 October 2011.

  2. Agung Hujatnikajennong, ‘Everything Melts onto the Screen: Video and Media Art in Indonesia’, presentation at ‘Video Vortex #7’, Kedai Kebun Forum, Yogyakarta, July 2011. See also his ‘The State and the Market: Two Decades of Indonesian Contemporary Art’, in Biennale Jogja XI — Equator #1 (exh. cat.), Yogyakarta: Yayasan Biennale Yogyakarta, 2011, pp.180—89.

  3. See Jacques Attali, Noise: The Political Economy of Music (trans. Brian Massumi), Minneapolis: university of Minnesota Press, 1985.

  4. See John Pemberton, On the Subject of ‘Java’, Ithaca, NY: Cornell university Press, 1994.

  5. Thomas J. Berghuis, ‘ruangrupa’, Third Text, vol.25, issue 4, 2011, pp.395—407.

  6. Patrick D. Flores, Past Peripheral: Curation in Southeast Asia, Singapore: NuS Museum, 2008. Apinan, who left the biggest international footprint, was in fact the youngest of a regional cohort that included also Redza Piyadasa in Malaysia and Raymundo Albano in the Philippines. In the Indonesian context, it is worth noting the exceptional case of artist-couple Mella Jaarsma and Nindityo Adipurnomo, who founded the country’s first contemporary art space, Cemeti Art House, in Jogja in 1988. Committed to artists’ professional development and anything but parochial, Cemeti’s legacy — art historical and curatorial — is hard to overstate.

  7. I would not be the first to observe that this nomadism is often a smoke screen for the industrial and economic transmigration it quite faithfully maps. See Pascal Gielen, ‘Curating with Love, or a Plea for Inflexibility’, Manifesta Journal, issue 10, 2010, pp.14—15.

  8. See, for example, Guy Tillim’s Avenue Patrice Lumumba (2007—08), or Cyprien Gaillard’s Desniansky Raion (2007). Louidgi Beltrame’s film Brasilia/Chandigarh (2008) even made it to Singapore with the Pompidou show. The appeal of this genre is apparently universal, although it might be interesting to compare the respective geographies of production and consumption.

  9. The cultural centre was built on the site of a public park established by Raden Saleh, Indonesia’s first modern artist, during the Dutch East Indies era. In using this space for exhibitions and concerts, ruangrupa continues a tradition of diverting art’s resources towards the provision of public space. Patrick Flores deals specifically with the matter of incomplete modernities in ‘The Curatorial Turn in Southeast Asia and the Afterlife of the Modern’ (2008), in Melissa Chiu and Benjamin Genocchio (ed.), Contemporary Art in Asia: A Critical Reader, Cambridge, MA and London: The MIT Press, 2011, pp.197—210.

  10. John Roberts, ‘The Curator as Producer: Aesthetic Reason, Nonaesthetic Reason, and Infinite Ideation’, Manifesta Journal, issue 10, 2010, pp.51—57. See also Hito Steyerl, ‘Is a Museum a Factory?’, e-flux Journal [online journal], issue 7, 2009, http://www.e-flux.com/journal/is-a-museum-a-factory/ (last accessed on 23 April 2012).