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The Bandung Centre for New Media Arts (BCNMA) was founded in 2001 by the artists Gustaff H. Iskandar and R.E. Hartanto, and the architect T. Ismail Reza, in order to incorporate different spheres of daily life into the arts in Indonesia, to encourage a dialogue with circles outside of the art world, and to offer greater action-taking possibilities to experimental forms of expression.
As Gustaff points out, the setting up of the BCNMA and its subsequent developments are intrinsically linked to the era in Indonesia following the end of Suharto’s military regime (1966 to 1998): "After 1998, we were very skeptical about all governmental and ministry-related institutions, as well as the existing cultural organizations and established artistic practices. This also goes for the old way of handling artistic activities, used to accumulate power in terms of authorship with a signature. It was art for art’s sake. There’s nothing wrong with that, but we felt that we needed an alternative approach (...) This hierarchical structure does not fit in at all with contemporary cultural practices. Now we can communicate everywhere and with everyone. Anyone can be a center and relate with others. We have to distribute the power and the information and the rights of authorship, in order to liberate the discourse and allow power to circulate".
Focused on an art, science and technology crossover, the BCNMA strives to establish a cooperation between individuals and institutions from different fields in order to shape new ideas, stimulate discussions, as well as to experiment and work together in new constellations. According to Gustaff, the term "new media" is used very broadly and must always be understood in the respective context: "In the context of Indonesian art practices, one has to take into consideration how we have experienced the development of information technology, and how it changed our daily life. In Indonesia, for example, during the student movements, without the vital access to the Internet, mobile phones, fax machines, and other technologies, it would have been impossible to disseminate information and develop the network that supported the movements (…) Their speed is amazing, and the connection almost frightening, because this represents another form of power and control. So the political and social aspects of such technologies are very strong; we can not separate them from our daily life, no less than we can from contemporary art practices".
The efforts made to reach a wide range of audiences, and to cooperate with them, began through a private initiative and structure. The BCNMA is located in the private home of one of its members (Reina Wulansari) in a quiet residential district of Bandung (a two-hour drive from the capital, Jakarta). On the premises is a bookshop (the Tobucil Bookshop is open daily and supports literacy movements since 2003), library, guest room, computer workshop, and a studio space.
In August 2003, the BCNMA and Tobucil decided to share the interior garage – under the name of the "Common Room" – for exhibitions, workshops, small-scale music concerts, public lectures, residential programs, and other functions. The realized projects addressed the visual arts, urban architecture, music, fashion, literature, and urban culture. In March 2005, for example, Class’ 95 was organized here – an event showcasing Indie-Pop youth culture, which has steadily developed in Bandung since 1995. Also during that period a specific style emerged through independent labels and bands linked to current trends in Pop music, graphic arts, and video clips. Presented in this framework were posters, photographic works, T-shirts, and opening-night band concerts, which not only attracted crowds from Bandung, but also from Yogyakarta, Bali, and Jakarta.
In this particular sociopolitical context, negotiation is one of the key words for determining the work carried out by the "Common Room" in order to involve as many groups of people as possible in the program, and, to a certain extent, contribute to nurturing a sense of civil society. Gustaff emphasizes that the BCNMA and Tobucil never decide alone on the program’s structure, but that the public should also participate here and negotiate the proposals, together with all the partners, until they reach a consensus: "Because we receive no financial support, the proposed projects have to be inexpensive. Everything proposed has to be easy to implement, enjoyable, and allow for the public’s participation" .
The same applies to sustaining the space, which can only come about through a meaningful connection to the local scene. Without such alliances and partners, long-term endeavors would most likely be impossible. This is made clear in the Common Room's presentation flyers, in which the names of the respective partners appear, ranging from the art space Selasar Sunaryo to independent art groups such as Jendela Ide, Bio Sampler, Video Babes, and others.
Sustaining such a space also refers to the financial issue. As Gustaff explains: "The Common Room is largely self-funded through books sales and the profits made on its own projects. What helps us tremendously is having a good, financial manager (Reina Wulansari). Currently, some of the projects receive funding from foreign institutions like HIVOS or ASEF – but this type of support is rather infrequent and only for particular projects. There are, of course, possibilities one could arrange through institutions, but this has to happen on the basis of an equal standing that allows us to hold to our own ideals and perspectives".
If the collaboration with international organizations is limited to individual projects, the benefit gained from that, in terms of local recognition and the global network, has a long-term impact, like in the case of the Third Asia-Europe Art Camp. From August 4 through 8, 2005, together with the Asia-Europe Foundation, BCNMA hosted the Third Asia-Europe Art Camp, focused this time on New Media art practices and artists’ initiatives, in which twenty art students and eight lecturers from Europe and Asia participated.
The yearly Art Camps, initiated by ASEF in 2003, include lectures, workshops, rounds of discussions, and visits to cultural institutions. They were devised to offer the selected participants a platform for exchanging information and contextualizing contemporary art practices. As opposed to focussing on an artistic product, the Art Camps focus more on the actual creative process, on acquiring knowledge of different cultures, and on widening the intellectual horizons of the participants, while providing them with useful contacts and information for future collaborations and international exchange.
This year, in Bandung, the students participated in a long-term project entitled "36 frames," already initiated in 2004 by the BCNMA in Bandung and Helsinki (Finland). The idea involves people (from the general public and/or students) using a disposable camera to take pictures related to a specific theme, in this case "Bandung: An Urban Space," and later arranging the resulting images on a large panel. The organizers wanted, above all, to motivate the participants to work together and convey their own view of Bandung.
Although the participants recognized the significance of collaborating on a mutual project, some were disappointed by the limitations imposed by the medium and by the stipulations. Expressed in their feedback in the end, some of the students even felt that the examples of new media practices in Indonesia, encountered during lectures and cultural visits, were far too limited to photography and video. But might this not also have to do with the development of new technologies and art in the special context with regard to Indonesia? Furthermore, what about the underlying discourse being addressed here, and the use of simple technologies as a counter-reaction to the seemingly homogeneous distribution of high-tech technologies throughout the entire world? At the 2004 Art Camp in Tokyo, focused on art and new technology, the comments ran contrary to those expressed in Bandung: the focus on technology was found too great, without it reflecting enough on its use for conveying a message and critical expressions. Different contexts, different expectations…
Despite the "normal" reactions of people beginning to discover more about the contexts and development of art practices by others – and despite their possibly unfulfilled expectations, all of the participants were extremely positive about the experiences they acquired at this edition of the Art Camp. They found it satisfying that all the workshops and programs were linked to activities of the BCNMA and its local network. It is very encouraging to see how lively the synergies and exchange still are, even months after the Third Asia-Europe Art Camp – something one also notices when viewing the mailing list and the various proposals for new projects. Some of the participating art students and lecturers have meanwhile met in Istanbul, Singapore, Budapest, Kuala Lumpur, and Copenhagen. Lotte Meijer, from The Netherlands, stated: "Suddenly I feel like I’m a part of some big, crazy international community."
For the BCNMA, the Art Camp proved to be an excellent opportunity for strengthening its network and its recognition in the local scene, and for developing contacts on an international level for future projects. In his closing comments in the context of Indonesia’s history, Gustaff summarized it this way: "We have learned a lot through the lectures, and through the new contacts that we made. We gained a new confidence in ourselves by being able to work internationally. Most exciting is that this gives us a great deal of energy to continue with, because many of our friends were willing to support the Art Camp locally (…) Thanks to this experience, we now have a better position to negotiate from (…) We also have to look to the future and eventually work with the government, as long as that can happen on an equal standing. We have to see this as a process. Everyday we find ourselves in a continuous process of ‘becoming’. In terms of our own nation, after sixty years of independence we are still in the process of becoming Indonesia."
Marie Le Sourd
Director of the French Cultural Center in Yogyakarta, 2006 - 2011. Before, she was in charge of the cultural exchange program at the Asia-Europe Foundation for 7 years.
Gustaff H. Iskandar
T. Ismail Reza
Active members, resp. dep. or activity fields:
Gustaff H. Iskandar, Director
R.E. Hartanto, Program Director
Reina Wulansari, Finance
Tarlen Handayani, Tobucil / Public Relations