Happy Birthday Ruangrupa

Issue no1
Feb - March 2020

While outside the weather can suddenly change from blistering heat to thick curtains of rain, the exhibition that offers a forum for young art students carefully maintains its temperature: 32°C. Started in 2004 as a bi-annual event, Jakarta 32°C aims to foster critical dialogue between students, while introducing their work into a broader public. The exhibition related to this longstanding project is part of the 10th anniversary celebration of Jakarta based artists’ initiative Ruangrupa (‘Ruru’ for friends), which takes place at Galeri Nasional Indonesia and several other venues in Jakarta. With Decompression #10, a full two-week program ranging from exhibitions to artist talks, from film screenings to workshops and from seminars to karaoke, Ruangrupa is creating an open and interactive showcase of their work over the past ten years. They reflect on the past, experience the present and keep a critical, open stance towards the future.

Founded in 2000 by six Jakarta-based artists – Ade Darmawan, Hafiz, Lilia Nursita, Oky Arfie, Rithmi and Ronny Agustinus – Ruangrupa has shown a boundless energy in initiating art projects, transnational networks and a criticality towards art and its physical and conceptual surroundings. After the fall of Suharto’s New Order regime in 1998, Ruangrupa has been operating in the artistic centre of a wave of change and transition, constantly applying the exercise of trial and error to strike a platform.

Indonesia’s lack of historical awareness, mentioned in the Jakarta Post of last year can be related to the aim of Ruangrupa to first and foremost build a critical view and awareness on social and political issues. Connected to the urban space of Jakarta, they are always in search for new local public. As Ade Darmawan, artist and Ruangrupa’s formal director, reveals: not only Ruru, but also Javanese artists’ initiatives in general relate first and foremost to the community. In a political climate where there is little to no government support for the arts, they function as organic structures that read social change and work best when boundaries between art and non-art are blurred. They change and their public changes with them.

A series of exhibitions prefiguring the Jakarta anniversary can be regarded as a pars pro toto of Ruru’s way of working. The collective performance The Hanya Memberi Tak Kembali (Given Sincerely, Expecting No Return) in Yogyakarta was a gathering of Ruru members and friends. Dressed in bright pink aprons Ruru set up their laboratory, giving away their works of art in the form of stickers, CD’s, posters, calendars and graphics. Visitors could bring their own t-shirt or piece of clothing to be silkscreened. The public was thus invited to be part of a ‘transaction’, not only referring to our commercial society, but also putting the idea of trade in a more social realm, as a dialogue and as a mutual exchange of ideas and knowledge.

In Jakarta, this idea of sharing is the focus point of the exhibition ruru.net, a selection of local and international artists’ initiatives and art institutions, all part of the Ruangrupa network. As artist-curators Reza ‘Asung’ Afisina and Iswanto Hartono state: “An artistic practice could not exist without involving other fields of knowledge that take part in constructing various discourses and social practices.” The exhibition in Galeri Nasional is a mapping of this artistic practice, showing an organic interactive structure of exchange that continues to develop and expand. Ruangrupa not only reflects upon their own past, but also upon their current position as a community, who’s aim it is to reflect upon social change and to involve as much public as they can, including the ones who contributed to the discourse of contemporary art throughout the last decade.

By creating platforms for exchange and mediated through works of art in exhibitions such as ruru.net en Jakarta 32°C, the program in Galeri Nasional offers the viewer a sneakpeek into the social structure that Ruangrupa has become and Ruangrupa not only shows itself as a reflective society, but as a performative work of art in itself.

Sanne Oorthuizen is a curator and writer, based in Amsterdam. Currently, she is conducting research on the concept of history in contemporary art in Java, Indonesia.

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28 January 2011
reza 'asung' afisina

many thanks for a very warm writing contribution. CHEERS!

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Metropolis M Magazine for contemporary art No 1 — 2020