“ruangrupa Artist Collective Elected as Artistic Director of Documenta 15”
February 22, 2019. In a surprising turn of events, an artist collective was named as Artistic Director – a first in the history of Documenta. Past Documentas were always directed by very influential curators from around the world. These were the individuals who were charged with leading this event that happens only every 5 years. This marks the first time that an artist collective has been charged to curate Documenta, and the very first time that Asian artists have been tapped to take the lead.
In the early 2000s, several Asian alternative movements such as Art Archive and Tokyo Wonder Site began to form. ruangrupa, the art collective established by Jakarta-based artists in the year 2000 is one of them.
Indonesia in the 90s. The Asian Financial Crisis that began in 1997 triggered unemployment and inflation rates to skyrocket. The tragic May 1998 riots resulted in violence and the deaths of many Indonesian citizens. Suharto the Indonesian Military leader and politician who held the office of the president finally resigned after 31 years. The social and economic instability and anti-government demonstrations in the late 90s became the catalyst for the formation of collectives and organizations questioning the existing social system.
As an artist collective, ruangrupa has been taking different roles in a variety of activities. They are artists, curators, editors, educators and activists. Members of the collective are not bound by any specific role thus giving each individual the freedom to participate and lead as they see fit. Their activities range from managing art spaces, exhibitions, workshops and research projects to organizing community radio station, RURU radio. Recently, they have co-initiated GUDSKUL: Contemporary Art Collective and Ecosystem Studies. This is a public learning space created to practice and expand understanding of collective values such as equality, solidarity, etc.
19 years ago, runagrupa began with just 6 people. Currently, the collective has 30 members.
ruangrupa questions the authoritative and conservative definition of “artist.” As a collective, their activities are flexible and develops organically, unlike the one-off movements created in the 1960s. They are challenging the new collectives to think about how to grow naturally and maintain the ideals of sustainability in both the local and global context. This is not about creating a new elite. This is about creating a space where everyone can come and go as they please. “Ruang” means field and space while “rupa” means form. This collective is trying to form a new space – a platform where artists use their sensitivities to review diverse issues in society, history and politics.
Creating a “smart and tactical strategy.” That is how ruangrupa approaches issues surrounding government policies. Opposing these policies by simply attacking the government is not effective. They believe that creating a way to communicate and negotiate is the key.
They believe that simple thoughts and actions are vital when dealing with the myriad of issues across the globe. It is also more important to embrace friendship rather than make art. Perhaps it is because of this progressive way of thinking that ruangrupa was chosen by the Documenta Selection Committee. The committee must have felt the potential to initiate a positive change for the present and the future of the arts – namely for art to go beyond the small world of art. The collective has begun preparing for Documenta by visiting Kassel over the course of several months. It will be really exciting to see how they will change things for the 2022 Documenta.
Finally, I would just like to quote their answers when asked in an interview about collectivism. It is a rare thing for people to think that the current system is changeable, taking for granted the moments we have that last mere decades. I am thinking especially of the social situation in Japan now, where the status-quo is not questioned. It is hard to find Japanese people really contemplating on what an “original” society should look like or how our social system should evolve in the future. Within the present society where we face many challenges, I think that we can all discover new ideas that can tackle these challenges through the activities of ruangrupa. Their works, events, movements and practices that take into account the relationship of art and society in a broader perspective and their emphasis on making friends rather than enemies will provide great insight for everyone, thus maintaining hope for a more positive future.
“So collectivism is a small-scale way for us to constantly challenge institutions and question how we live together. It is a way of speculating about things. It gives us the luxury to speculate. Not many people in society today have that luxury, because they can’t afford it. There are too many risks. In general, we can’t afford to change how we live. No one wants to speculate about it, because it’s too risky. But through collectivism, we have the luxury of being able to think that way.”(interview by ART-iT)
Yusaku Imamura, Professor
Global Art Practice, Graduate School of Fine Arts
Tokyo University of the Arts
ruangrupa – always written using lowercase letters and without spaces – is a contemporary art organization and artist collective founded in 2000 by a group of artists based in Jakarta, Indonesia. This collective started as a contemporary art ecosystem that was developed from a nonprofit work model. As an NPO lead and founded by creatives, ruangrupa is involved in wide-ranging initiatives including operating the art space that they use as their headquarters, holding exhibitions and workshops, conducting research as well as directing international exhibitions.
In 2019, ruangrupa worked together with 2 artist collectives: Serrum and Huru Hara to initiate Gudskul: Contemporary Art Collective and Ecosystem Studies. This is an educational platform aimed at maximizing learning opportunities surrounding the arts in the forms of collaboration and sharing.
Another facet of their art ecosystem is the ArtLab which is a program that examines art projects and perform creative collaborations. These usually deal with urban issues and the media. ArtLab aims to be a space for individual artists or interdisciplinary groups from within and outside Indonesia to interact and work together.
ISWANTO HARTONO, FLOWER, 2008
Iswanto Hartono & Reza Afisina
Jakarta-based artists part of the ruangrupa artist collective. Together, they established a conceptual duo: RAIH.
Iswanto Hartono is an Indonesian artist with a background in architecture. Since the late 90s, he has been showing works with strong social and political content. His interests lie in history/memory, globalization, geopolitical powers, post-colonialism and race/identity. However, he is particularly interested in a country’s history that have been consciously forgotten. He currently lives and works in Jakarta, as an artist, architect, curator and writer.
Reza Afisina is a new media artist utilizing performance art in his practice. He co-curated TRANSaction: Sonsbeek 2016 held in Arnhem, Netherlands. In 2018, he served as an interlocutor for the Asia Pacific Triennial. He has been the director of ArtLab since 2008.