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Indonesia in SongEun : MES 56 – Keren dan Beken

Indonesia in SongEun : MES 56 – Keren dan Beken

2016. 4. 22 – 6. 25


Outside SongEun ArtSpace, three of Jim Allen Abel’s “General” greet the

audience on a glass facade. These are three generic figures of military authority in Indonesia with colorful abstracted faces. This work investigates the utilization of uniforms as methods of control by those in power, and emphasizes the notion of how such tools are utilized to intimidate or oppress. In this show, however, the generals also act to introduce the viewer to a certain visual symbol indigenous to the Indonesian social fabric. As one approaches the SongEun ArtSpace itself, there may perhaps be questions as to how similar uniforms are worn by the viewer’s own military structure. Why can one seem to be able to identify these uniforms, and yet they seem foreign in some way? And why are their heads abstracted? It is only through entering the Song Eun Art Space that these questions may be answered.


On the second floor of the exhibition, the viewer is introduced to a typographical “Keren dan Beken” element. This metal piece is taken directly from the MES 56 space in Yogyakarta, Indonesia and serves to introduce the actual signage for the MES 56 collective there, brought to SongEun ArtSpace to designate one of the primary intentions of the show. The physical displacement of the signage metaphorically expresses the idea of moving “Keren dan Beken” to SongEun in terms of the thoughts and philosophies it represents. These words are kept in Indonesian in the hope that it invites the audience to ask, read, and decipher its meaning through experiencing the exhibition as a whole. The viewer also experiences a video work made by the collective as a whole, it represents a city landscape in Semarang, Central Java and seems to be almost static in nature. It is only after an extended period of time that the audience is surprised by the landing of an airplane; the sound of the landing envelops the

space. This work discusses the notion of mobility and disability in Semarang, where this work was initially shown. In the case of this exhibition, however, it is hoped that this work acts as a point of demarcation for the audience to be introduced to the show through a surprising visual and aural experience. This is where MES 56 “lands” into SongEun and invites the viewer to the show. The viewer can then walk towards the mezzanine and is met by an unusual series of 14 hand-tufted carpets made by Anang Saptoto. The carpets are monotone in color and seem to appear abstract. This work invites the audience to step on and interact with the works through wondering and asking what the forms on the carpets represent. It is only through a hint provided by the title of the work “People Prostration Seen from a Height of 720cm” that one may begin to guess what this work represents and means. Perhaps we may return to this work at a later point in time, as the distortion of the image is intentional. It may even be the case that the audience may not become aware of this work until a later point

of the show as they may be focused on another piece positioned throughout the majority of the mezzanine’s main wall itself. Edwin Roseno’s “Green Hypermarket” presents an Indonesian phenomenon of reutilizing discarded food and drink packaging as containers for plants and gardening. In this work, Roseno emphasizes the notion that it is possible to establish intimate “relationships” between things that are industrial/artificial, with those things that are natural/environmental. Beyond representing a visual observation on social behaviors, this work suggests that some of the more complicated issues we face may be mitigated through creative collaboration. What happens if we attempt to more comprehensively seek other permutations of

such combinations, something as simple as placing a plant in a can, in terms of sustainably relating to our environment, or at least being more aware of our surroundings? This work is key in establishing the attitude of the show, seeking seemingly simple approaches towards more difficult questions.


As one climbs up the first set of stairs to the third floor, one then experiences

Andre William’s “To Me You Are A Work of Art”, a set of still life images depicting generic parcels of varying dimensions and form from such prominent Western artists such as Barbara Kruger, Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. This work was intentionally placed to introduce the second component of the show, as the artists mentioned on the parcels of this work are so iconic and universally recognizable. The impression that William attempts to establish is that it is as if these images represent parcels from these artists, given to him personally as gifts or as mementos of inspiration. In many ways, in fact, it cannot be denied that MES 56 are heavily influenced by these modern artists and their respective approaches and attitudes. However, as one looks more closely, these parcels show that the original addresses written on them do not come in any way

from their respective senders. What William actually did was he ordered

reproductions and merchandise from stores that reproduce these artists’ works and took pictures of them. Through the act of taking photographs of these reproductions, William attempts to question value in layers of imitations. On one hand, “To Me You are A Work of Art” seems to bring up the idea of originality and whether it is significant in contemporary photography, it also alludes to, however, the idea of how significant these artists were, and how what they did continues to resound to a global-scale audience, that these artists continue to be relevant to the development of art today. Reproductions and merchandise inspired by their

work continue to be produced. Wok the Rock’s work “Burn Your Idol” is a durational project conducted to collect 1000 Compact Disc albums of Indonesian popular music. This work attempts to categorize and represent socio-cultural phenomena of the 2000s in Indonesia wherein Compact Discs could easily be duplicated and reproduced by anyone. The title of the work “Burn Your Idol” takes the term “burn” from the slang word of duplicating Compact Discs, in combination with the album by Sonic Youth “Kill

Your Idol”. In this project, people were invited to send data including their names, photographs of themselves, the titles of their favorite music albums, as well as testimonies of why they enjoy these particular albums. This data would then be “burnt” on CDs, with the name and photographs of each sender printed on the album, and testimonies on the back covers. Although this project seems to celebrate and document young people’s preferences for music in Indonesia, as well as the respective bands, this project also questions the idea of piracy of another’s copyrighted intellectual property, as well as the ease of duplicating such property. In a more literal sense, one would be “burning” one’s idols by reproducing their work illegally, and in doing so steal something from them. In relation to William’s work, which this work is juxtaposed to, “Burn Your Idol” provides another view regarding the idea of the ease of reproduction and duplication that is becoming more and more prevalent as we engage into a more digital world.

Before entering the main space, the viewer is invited to enter a small room

involving three video monitors. In this room, they experience Akiq AW’s “On Photographic Time and Motion,” a work that examines the interrelationships between photographic and video processes, and the indistinct boundaries between the two mediums. In this work the viewer is presented with images in a methodology they are familiar with, portraiture, still life, and landscapes, universally understandable and relatable to a wide audience. Akin attempts to evaluate the tension between moving and still images. Can and should new progressions of technology allow for moving images to fall into the category of photography? And how about the reverse, to what extent can static images be considered as videos? The work is a double entendre in the sense that what Akiq presents, attempts to trigger conflicting intuitions in the viewer and the intention is to push him to make a decision on this perceived inconsistency.


As the viewer goes further into the second section of the exhibition, one is

presented with “Ka’bah”, a series of photographs by Wimo Ambala Bayang. In these works, one is faced with images of the Kaaba, the Islamic Holy Site for pilgrimage in Mecca. Muslims from all around the world visit the Kaaba as an integral part of their faith’s journey. As one looks closely at the series of images, though, one may find some unusual things. First of all, it seems peculiar that the Kaaba has no people around it. It is almost always the case that photographs of the Kaaba contain thousands of people surrounding it. Secondly, the Kaaba seems to be located in different places in each of the different images. Thirdly, all of the Kaabas represented in the images look different from one to the other, and there is a certain scale of the image that does not look right. Most interestingly, these images Bayang photographed are actually replicas of the Kaaba in Yogyakarta where people practice going to the spiritual pilgrimage to Mecca and conduct practice prayers around these replicas. Baying himself is not a Muslim, and thus found these Kaaba replicas to be fascinating. To what extent, for instance, does ritual play a role in determining the spiritual? Could rituals act as constructions created by institutions for more political purposes? In front of Bayang’s work, the viewer is also presented with three photo albums that compose Nunung Prasetyo’s “Holy Picnic”. In this work, Prasetyo documents his holy journey to Mecca with his family. Given that Indonesia is the most highly

populated Muslim country in the world, it is also the greatest contributor by

percentage for travel there. Given the religious nature of this excursion, people in Indonesia take this very seriously. They save money for extended periods of time, take loans from various sources, and even sell vital assets and property in order to be able to go to Mecca and thereafter complete their spiritual responsibilities. “Holy Picnic” attempts to represent a different side of Mecca, one that is more touristic and commercial. There are stores around Mecca with Indonesian signage selling an assortment of products, restaurants, as well as rows and rows of sightseeing buses. People take “selfies” of themselves and seem to take leisure and enjoyment in being in Mecca. Taken together, Bayang and Prasetyo’s works seem to acutely criticize the certain notion of rituals as an emphasis on religious identity, one with regards to more daily kinds of religious rituals in terms of ontological purpose, and the other with a sense of self-reflection towards certain issues in one’s own faith. But it would be inaccurate to suggest that they take such a strong negative stance. The interesting dialogue these works establish is in encouraging a certain reevaluation of one’s own belief systems and ideas, and in doing so consider the essence of those things that are actually substantial. It also discusses the notion of how others’ faiths may not be so different to ours in certain regards, and the same can be said about the opposite, that other’s faiths may have similarities to ours in other capacities.

At the end of the room are five photographs by Daniel Satyagraha entitled “New Romantic”. In this work Satyagraha shows a series of Javanese women in their traditional bridegroom costumes. Although it may not be tangibly evident to the naked eye, these bridegrooms are all wearing plastic symbols and accessories in replacement of more expensive jewelry. These plastic decorations can last longer, and are cheaper to purchase. Through these works, Satyagraha poses the following questions: Are we entering or progressing into a time where we no longer value cultural traditions the way that we did in the past? Or is it the case that perhaps it is not the traditions or rituals we have become accustomed to that we should place an emphasis on, but rather the essence of certain things? (In this case, for example, the actual relationship between the bridegroom and the bride) Can a wedding where people wear “fake” accessories become more genuine and authentic than one filled with opulence and luxury? Or would one just be cheapening the significance of the occasion? Dito Yuwono’s “Naked Series”, four self-portraits that are shown through a presentation of light boxes, invite the viewer into his own attempt at intimate self reflection and investigation. Yuwono always knew that there was something different in the way that he looks, and there was always something that his family kept away from him. It was only through finding a series of old x-ray images where Yuwono was able to comprehensively understand what had happened to him as a child. In this work, Yuwono places semi-transparent nude images of himself in various perspectives and then layers images of the x-rays he found as a representation of exploring his own histories and what happened to him. He

found that as a child he needed to undergo numerous surgeries as well as take many forms of medication in order for him to survive. Through this work Yuwono courageously expresses the painful realities of what he had to endure, and also share through his work the appreciation and understanding of facing and coming to terms with his own past.


The viewer then accesses the stairs to enter into the third portion of “Keren dan Beken”. As one enters the fourth floor of SongEun ArtSpace, one encounters Jim Allen Abel’s “The Dinner”, a multimedia installation that portrays six human-sized rocks sitting around a dinner table enjoying a meal together while discussing Indonesia’s 2014 presidential election. On a more personal level, this work deals with the notion of the “golden rule”, or the premise that one should treat others the way one would like to be treated. Abel finds it perplexing why this ethical framework seems to be held intuitively since one is a child. In “The Dinner”, then, Abel simulates a number of social relationships and interactions with the purpose

of addressing how such seemingly intuitive senses such as the “golden rule” are developed within society: How are social relationships built? How do social interactions work? What sort of emotions and logical premises are required in order for these interactions to go smoothly? How does one learn to comprehend other’s beliefs, desires, and intentions, which may be different than one’s own? How are systems of logic built in relation to more emotive concepts such as sympathy or empathy? Abel’s “The Dinner” attempts to provide an experimental framework in which his trial figures may be disseminated in terms of their thinking through this work. The six “characters” in the work were not scripted, and spoke openly about their thoughts within the setting that Abel provided. It was not by coincidence for Abel to have constructed the forms of the six people having dinner together as appearing like rocks. This acts as a simple metaphor for how people are generally either stubborn in their ways of thinking or ambivalent to evaluating some of their most fundamental beliefs and ways of life.

This work is perhaps particularly pertinent with regards to the current American Presidential Race in that it has become a global mass media phenomenon. Certain candidates who are at in contention for the presidency, and the overwhelming degree of their support, seem to raise many questions about what people in contemporary society are looking for in terms of leadership figures, as well as their fatigue towards systems and procedures.

Yudha Kusuma Putera, or Fehung, was involved in a residency program with Cemeti Art House in 2015, considered one of the most prominent alternative contemporary art spaces in Indonesia. The outcome of this residency was a project called “Kumpulan Cerita Anak” which translates to “An Assortment of Children’s Fables”. In this project, Fehung collaborated with kindergarten children in the form of drawing images together. Fehung would then create a collage of these images and turn them into something visually distinctive altogether. Although the work comes from such simple underpinnings, Fehung intends to express certain blurred borders with regards to his work in terms of authorship between the children collaborating in the project and himself, between painting/drawing and his own photographic practice, as well as the development of conceptual ideas that may come from the most unpredicted places and settings. One then enters an adjacent room encapsulated by lights and color, to reach the

work “Beyond Versace”, a work by Angki Purbandono. This work takes the outside form and design of a luxurious fashion catalogue. In its pages, however, Purbandono conducts a rigorous exploration and documentation of the mentally ill who live in the streets of Yogyakarta. In the style of a fashion spread, Purbandono attempts to capture the sense of inherent style and “fashion sense” these people have and portray through their respective body languages and choices not only what they wear, but also the confidence and attitudes they carry. It is of particular note that Purbandono is able to find similarities in terms of the fashion choices of these homeless people with actual designer clothing today that appear in Paris Fashion Week. Through “Beyond Versace”, Purbandono places an emphasis, value, and appreciation towards a very marginalized component of any society, that perhaps there exists more value in deeply relating to these forgotten people.


As one enters the final section of “Keren dan Beken”, one encounters a series ofvphotographs, “Steps in Silence”, taken by Eri Rama Putra, one of the youngest members of MES 56. He represents the notion of regeneration in the collective as a whole. These photographs are the result of experiments in understanding photographical composition. This work brings the viewer back to images of city spaces in Yogyakarta, providing snapshots and windows into a creative, gritty, and unique place where the MES boys live and grew up together, continuing to push their respective practices forward together. Rangga Purbaya’s “Stories Left Untold” is the first work in the show that places an emphasis on personal identity and histories. This work documents the life story of Boentardjo Amazon Kartowinoto, Purbaya’s grandfather, 50 years after his death. It was only after the fall of President Suharto’s regime in 1998, that Purbaya began to realize that his grandfather’s mysterious passing could have been caused by political considerations. One of the darkest periods of Indonesian history saw a short but cruel massacre of people considered by the government to be Communists in the days where President Suharto came to power on September 30th, 1965. In order to avoid persecution of his next generation of kin, Purbaya’s family changed the official date of his grandfather’s

death to the year 1964. This would allow his children and grandchildren to

eventually hold positions in the government and schools, something that would become jeopardized otherwise. What initially began as a project to learn more about a family figure in greater detail became a confrontation with his own generation’s detachment, or obliviousness, to their past. “Stories Left Untold” takes the form of thoroughly investigating past documents, photographs, and archives in order to more carefully comprehend what happened to his grandfather, who he was, and what

he had accomplished in his life. Perhaps the message in this particular work is to encourage a sense of value and respect to one’s own ancestry and the invisible things we come to take for granted. Through reflecting and exploring one’s own familial histories, one may be startled by the lessons and insights one may find. The last series of works in the show is one made by MES 56 as a collective, entitled “Alhamdulillah We Made It”. In this work, MES 56 draws on visual structures that are referenced by post-WWII Immigration posters to create anonymous, whited out images of people conducting everyday activities. This work documents immigrants who come from other parts of the world to seek refuge in Indonesia, and do not have an easily identifiable national identity. In traveling to Indonesia, they decided to abandon prior attachments to whatever countries they originally came from, with the hope of being accepted and received by this foreign country as one of their own. But at this point in time, it is highly unclear who they are as they lack what many consider essential: passports. The word “Alhamdulillah” is an Arabic phrase frequently used by Muslims that means to praise or thank God. And perhaps the fact that these people are all able to live and enjoy themselves despite the lack of clarity regarding who they are reflects a certain gratefulness that these subjects all have. But on the other hand there seems to be a tinge of sarcasm or irony in the preceding statement “We Made it”, in the sense that these people are clearly not

there yet until a court order determines that their emigration into Indonesia is actually justified. On an international scale, the issue of immigrants is one that is highly pertinent and requires much empathy and dialogue.The attitude, or position, taken by the immigrants they portray, is perhaps

analogous to MES 56’s as well. In several parameters, the collective has

achieved a great degree of appreciation, both domestically and internationally. But at the same time, MES 56 continues to struggle in terms of receiving, for instance, governmental support, as well as receiving support from a lacking contemporary art infrastructure in their own country. And yet still,“Alhamdulillah”. The audience finally reaches the “720 CM” point alluded to in Anang Saptoto’s work on the first section of the exhibition. The viewer is invited to look down into the first floor and can see a series of people bowing their heads down in prayer. The anamorphic visual device comes to play essentially at this point, and it was intentional for the work to only make visual sense after completion of “Keren dan Beken” in its entirety. At this point it’s no longer about any particular faith or belief

system. These monotone figures are bowing down in the most simple of ways. It is perhaps Saptoto’s last message to leave with the audience that ultimately, after conducting a rigorous analysis and dialogue on any number of pertinent issues, whether regarding our environment, conceptual discourse, our idols, our different view points on faith, on our own identities, on history, on superficiality and consumerism, on the socio-political landscape, on the migrant crisis, that perhaps the idea of aspiring to be “cool” and “famous” is a fleeting one, and that all we can do in the end is to pray.

Artists : Jim Allen Abel, Akiq AW, Wimo Ambala Bayang, Angki Purbandono,

Rangga Purbaya, Yudha Kusuma Putera, Eri Rama Putra, Nunung Prasetyo,

Wok The Rock, Edwin Roseno, Anang Saptoto, Daniel Satyagraha, Andri

William, Dito Yuwono

Written By Laksmana Tirtadji

Courtesy SongEun Art and Cultural Foundation - Photos Credit : O-Yeol Kwon

By: Malariahouse | 28 April 2016