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Finding One’s Identity in Hypercultural Space

Finding one’s identity in hypercultural space. A German-Indonesian exchange project.
By Christina Schott | Feb 2011

Indonesian art: in Germany, until recently people thought primarily of Balinese temple masks in anthropological museums. In the course of globalization, when a few progressive curators recognized that contemporary art plays a role also in countries like Indonesia, works by Indonesian artists began appearing more and more frequently in European exhibitions. But usually these were the same already internationally successful artists. No curator will burn his fingers with such a selection, because the works generally already conform to the globalized taste of the art world and thus fit Western understanding.

Rare are exhibitions that are not limited to the anthropological gaze at an "exotic" region but still try to address the different national identities of artists – and that may even make their selections on the basis of the degree to which the artists’ concepts have to do with a search for identity in the multi-cultural mishmash of the globalized world.

ID – Contemporary Art Indonesia in the Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien is such a project. It already began in 2007 in Indonesia’s cultural metropolis Yogyakarta with a German-Indonesian exchange of artists. But here the exhibition’s organizers went one step further and ask whether the concept of interculturality isn’t an outmoded – Western – concept in modern hypercultural space: the diverse cultural forms were to exist beside each other in equality without fitting into an overarching system, thereby exploding the boundaries of a standardizing idea of multicultural exchange.

Against this background and with the key word "identity", 13 Indonesian, German, and Dutch artists addressed the intercultural contexts of their experiences in Indonesia or Europe. The focus thereby was on finding not only one’s national or individual identity, but also collective, multinational identities, the intercultural exchange in the group, or boundary experiences between binational couples, friends, or colleagues.

The artist Rizki Resa Utama, who is studying in Braunschweig, addresses the theme in a simple but effective way. In large-format double-photographs, he stages himself as the doppelganger of friends and acquaintances, whereby it becomes astonishingly clear how greatly external appearances affect the appearance of a person’s character. The video artist Prilla Tania of Bandung uses stop-trick technology to place herself in rooms drawn in chalk. One of the things her video Ini Ibu Budi is about is her critical stance toward the salute to the flag in her country. In a workshop, she used the same technology to help pupils of Berlin’s Robert Koch High School to explore their understanding of their own identity.

In her works Indonesia I&III, Jorinde Voigt of Frankfurt translates the rhythm of life that she experienced in Indonesia into visual scores. They include motor noises and animal sounds, the noise of a market and the multilingual murmur of voices at an event.

The broad thematic framework of the exhibition is also its greatest weakness. The spectrum of works spreads so far apart thematically and formally that it leaves not a few visitors bewildered. The presentation by the Forum Lenteng collective of Jakarta and that by the artists’ group Mes 56 of Yogyakarta are difficult for the uninitiated to understand without further explanation. Overall, more information is needed, for example the respective concepts of the artists.

The installation artist Setulegi of Yogyakarta learned this while he worked on site in an open studio; almost every visitor asked him for background information on his installation Tanah Tumpah Darah. It is about political identities and social contrasts: the first part of the work shows the jungle in Papua being clear cut to make way for huge palm oil plantations. In front of this image on the wall, the heads of aborigines sink into the mud of the bird’s-head-shaped peninsula in eastern Indonesia. In the second part of the installation, the Javanese artist answers his own work, now from a Berlin perspective: the destruction in faraway Papua is rooted in the anonymous big-city life of the West, for hardly any product of our daily life is without palm oil. And Indonesia is its primary producer.

Understandable across all boundaries and forms of society is the remarkable performance series Birdprayers by the Indonesian-Dutch artist couple Arya Panjalu and Sara Nuytemans. Under the title All in the Mind, groups of four performers put their heads in boxes inspired by birdhouses and shaped like a church, a mosque, a temple, or a synagogue. Their field of vision is limited to the small opening in their respective house of worship. Without accepting any influence from their surroundings, the performers stand once in a rice field in Bali, once on a square in Istanbul, walk through the bird market in Yogyakarta or around the Coliseum in Rome. For their most recent performance in Berlin, four actors forced themselves into birdhouses of worship constructed from fast food packaging and stepped onto the subway at Alexanderplatz Station. The hardboiled Berliners could barely bother to glance at the odd birds beside them. Here, apparently, the multinational identity-finding has arrived on the hypercultural level that the exhibition’s organizers aim for.


Christina Schott

Based in Jakarta, Indonesia. Works since 2002 as South-East Asian free-lance correspondent for German media. Co-founder of the correspondent's network weltreporter.net

(Translation from German: Mitch Cohen)

ID - Contemporary Art Indonesia

10 December 2010 -
13 February 2011

Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien

Mariannenplatz 2


Sally Moira Busse, Setu Legi, Yudi Noor, Sara Nuytemans & Arya Pandjalu, Rebecca Raue, Nadin Reschke, Prilla Tania, Rizki Resa Utama, Jorinde Voigt, Forum Lenteng (Otty Widasari & Andang Kelana), Ruang MES 56 (Anang Saptoto)


ID - Contemporary Art Indonesia is a project of Nya Luong and J.C. Lanca in cooperation with Kunstraum Kreuzberg / Bethanien

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