Jakarta Museum of Ceramics and Fine Arts launches an exhibition of ideas by well-known Indonesian and international artists…
IO – Yayasan Mitra Museum Jakarta or the Foundation for Friends of Jakarta Museums in collaboration with the famous Kayu/Lucie Fontaine international community of artists, art professionals and art connoisseurs, have launched an extremely sophisticated exhibition of installation art at the Museum Keramik dan Seni Rupa or Jakarta Museum of Ceramics and Fine Arts.
The exhibition was opened by Jakarta’s new head of Cultural Services, Iwan Henry Wardhana who praised the Yayasan’s many efforts for the museum including the current exhibition, as supporting the city’s efforts to build bridges and help create a tranquil city.
Meanwhile, museum curator and art auctioneer, Amir Sidharta who is the managing head of the Foundation expressed his delight that the exhibition which in the past was only held at art galleries is now available for the general public in a museum. “I hope this will make people feel less intimidated because at most art galleries such as Museum Macan for example, the entry price is extremely high and one has to dress up to a certain extent but here people can come casually dressed and enjoy not only historic art by Indonesian artists but also contemporary art by well-known international artists.”
Catherine Widjaja who heads the Foundation was in full agreement and expressed the hope that the Foundation’s work with the municipal government would help to enrich Jakarta residents’ understanding of art – and here in lies perhaps the only serious criticism of the exhibition. Actress and psychologist Niniek L. Karim was delighted with the exhibition but lamented the lack of information and labels. She commented, “This is quite a sophisticated exhibition that many members of the public will have difficulty in understanding. Providing guides and labels and even little talks about contemporary art would not only help the general public to better enjoy and understand the exhibition but would also help educate the public which is after all one of the aims of the Foundation.”
Indeed, it would but it is the Foundation’s first exhibition of this kind and for that it is an extremely praiseworthy and courageous effort. So, what is it all about?
We Move Amongst Ghosts is not foremost an exhibition about objects of art but rather an exhibition about ideas namely, the ideas associated or attached to certain objects that are used in an installation and how the viewer’s thoughts or ideas can change when the space in which the objects are placed is changed. Here the main thought is that memory both historical as well as communal memories very much affect how we look at an object and objects in turn can influence our ideas and ways of looking at events and because of this the creators of the exhibition contend that objects have a sort of internal life of their own. It is in playing with this idea that an exhibition was created quite irresistible to thinkers and intellectuals alike, entitled: We Move Amongst Ghosts.
The exhibition was put together by two people: exhibition coordinator Adi Hong-Tan, an Indonesian Cambridge law graduate with a degree in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art who – tongue in cheek – describes himself as “an art and heritage guy or activist” (representing the Foundation) and curator Marco Cassani, a Bali-based Italian artist who runs Kayu the Indonesian branch of Lucie Fontaine in a joglo or Javanese traditional house located in the compound of Rumah Topeng dan Wayang Setiadarma or the Setiadarma House of Masks and Wayangs. Lucie Fontaine is the name of a fictional lady, an artist, writer, curator, and collector with excellent taste who the art community that makes up Lucie Fontaine profess employs them. The concept of Lucie Fontaine is itself a playful form of performance art in the realm of ideas besides being a very real community that produces work.
As an artist, Marco Cassani’s installations are concerned with the concept of value. He tries to show the fragility of modern society’s understanding and agreement about value especially, monetary value. Marco’s installation ‘Fountain ‘Negari’ is a thin vertical line of coins placed one on top of the other. Marco went to several Balinese temples where there are fountains into which people throw coins and asked if he could take the coins for his art project. Usually, the Balinese priests take the coins and use them to restore the temple or for temple activities. Marco approached them and replaced the monetary value of the coins to use for his art. “If one takes a bank note it has in itself no intrinsic value other than the value of the paper it is printed on but because society has agreed to give it a certain value aside from the value of the paper it has another value. Here, I have destroyed the monetary value of the coins by using them to create my installation but by doing so they obtain a new value as a piece of art.”
Jakarta artist Fendry Ekel was educated at the Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten (the Dutch Royal Academy for Fine Arts) in the Netherlands and at the Cittadellarte, Fondazione Pistoletto in Italy and has exhibited in many parts of the world. Presently, he is based in Berlin and Jogjakarta. In the exhibition his exhibit is a large photograph of the American flag at rest. Fendry says he does not have a message for the viewer. He uses iconic objects for his art and leaves it to the viewer to gaze at his art and give it a message or interpretation. So, why of all the millions of iconic objects available in the world did he choose an American flag? “When I photographed this flag I was doing an artists’ residency program in Manhattan. It was coincidental in that I never research an object before I use it for my art but of course, there is a personal element in my choice because it was a way of dealing with my reality at the time as at the time as it was the first post- 911 election and the situation was very polarized. It is up to the viewers however, how they connect this image with their own personal experience. It is never my intention to make a statement with my work but in fact to pose a question,” explained Fendry. One could of course, ask whether a question is not also a statement but that the writer will leave that up to each individual reader to decide in connection to their own personal experiences.
Another interesting exhibit is Rafram Chaddad’s Art Povera piece: a home-made chess set placed on a table between two chairs. This again is connected with ideas and memory. If one looks at it from Rafram’s memories it is immediately shrouded in a wealth of deeply moving experiences.
Rafram who is a Tunisian and Israeli Jew was in Libya documenting Jewish culture and history when he was arrested and thrown in prison, a sordid place where he could not see the sun and was placed in isolation – without trial or justice despite having all the correct permits and papers. He thought that he would never get out and perhaps die there. Rafram hates chess but in order to survive he accepted the idea that prison is where he would be for the rest of his life, “Because the only way to not go insane is to be at peace with yourself even in prison. It was the only way to survive and the chess set that I made from old bottle tops was part of it. It gave me a structure and routine. I don’t know if there is a God. I believe in karma and I believe in ghosts. I would never say there is nothing but how can I know? In my mind I just had bad luck. I bumped into bad people who you find all over the world. Its Ok. You just need to accept it.”
After nearly 6 months Rafram was rescued by one of Khaddafi’s sons who was a friend of his. Of his artwork he says, “I am pushing people to think about their stuff when looking at it. Not my stuff but their stuff.
Some reject it, some become emotional about it… This is what makes art works infinite. Art is not saying something but only hinting at it…”
But speaking of playing with ideas Adi and Marco stress that in fact the whole exhibition needs to be seen as one art work. Ade says, “Marco rarely produces something new. He uses the artwork of others to create a new piece of art. That is what he does when creating exhibitions at Lucie Fontaine and also here.”
What does he mean?
The exhibition builds on the concept that objects and space can influence memory and identity in relation to the definition and meaning of a museum i.e connecting the past and the present. We Move Amongst Ghosts builds on the connection between the past and the future.
With a background in commercial and high fashion photography where too much is staged Indonesian artist Chris Bunjamin has tried to capture the authentic and the invisible in his photos of old buildings of Kota Tua including the Ceramics and Fine Arts Museum which reminds us that originally it was the Raad van Justitie or High Court during the colonial period. The exhibition has used the building’s façade, portico and main hall to create a dialogue with the museum’s past where courts once passed judgments to a place where the public now judges an art exhibition. Indeed, the venue has a layered history and it is for this reason that Adi who is at heart also a historian added Johan Heydt’s 17th century prints to the exhibition. “Although he was not an artist it is interesting because it raises the question of what is a work of art and what is an artist. To which Marco added, “Heydt was also included because he gives us a reference of what Batavia was like before. In fact, his lithographs depict a Batavia even older than the Museum.
As Adi says, “The exhibition is an invitation to explore the memories conjured up by both space and object, memories that form the linkages between our past and present.”
One man would have insisted that that was not far enough. Were he still alive Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana, one of Indonesia’s most prominent philosophers would have urged the exhibition to have gone even further and included also a dialogue with the future. As a futurologist and member of the Club of Rome he felt that in planning the futures of nations and peoples it should be remembered that ultimately the future is a dream and who understands dreams if not artists? It was for this reason that he held that artists needed very much to be involved in planning the future we wish to create.
Through his work in the development of Arte Povera and Conceptual art Michelangelo Pistoletto has become one of the most influential contemporary artists of his generation. At the museum, his installation is an enormous mirror (7mx 4m) handmade in Bali representing the Indonesian seas with holes in the shape of our islands. It has 12 chairs of different styles around it representing the multi-culturalism of Indonesia and is entitled The Great Archipelago. “Now when a piece of art is changed its an intervention and there will be an intervention when we change this into a discussion forum on the United Nations sustainability goals at the end of the exhibition,” explained Marco. “Michelangelo’s mirror will host ten people to discuss and share their activities to support those UN goals in Indonesia. It will be an opera demopractica.” And so, the whole exhibition should in fact be viewed as a form of performing art.
Truly, there are wheels within wheels in this playful toying with art and ideas that would surely delight any philosopher worth his salt.
The exhibition We Move Amongst Ghosts is open to the public from the 12th of February till the 15th of March 2020 at the Museum Keramik dan Seni Rupa at Taman Fatahilah in Kota.