Jogja Biennale’s Restropective: 1988 – 2007

Life seems to be too big to just be a research object, and too great to not be celebrated. — Ignas Kleden, 1988

It’s out of doubt that Jogja Biennale (BJ) is the most consistent big and routine arts event in Indonesia. It only rivals with Biennale Jakarta (which is older than BJ but not as routine). Several other biennales, such as those in East Java and Bali, are not as established as the previous two biennales that I mentioned beforehand, and are not as consistent in terms of their routinities. Just like the Biennale Jakarta, BJ is also a product of the local government.

In its 21 years of existence, BJ has changed looks three times. It all began with the Yogyakarta Painting Exhibition which was organized by Taman Budaya Yogyakarta (TBY) in 1983, 1985, 1986 and 1987. Afterwards, TBY, which was under the leadership of Rob M. Mujiono by then, changed the biggest exhibition into Biennale Painting Yogyakarta (BSLY) 1988, 1990, and 1992. In the introduction of the BSLY 1988, Mujiono said that the aim of the biennale event was to provide facilities for the best artworks in the past two years, so that, in time, the event could be a barometer of activity and the creativity level of the artists as well as the public’s appreciation toward Yogyakarta’s paintings. To select the best artworks, BSLY has a panel of judges who did not only choose the works to be exhibited, but also other works that will be awarded (as winners); that continued until BSLY 1992.

One day ahead of the BSLY 1992 event, the public and media attention was taken over by the opening of the Binal Experimental Arts 1992. (Jogja is indeed a wordplay city: “Biennale” in Indonesian dialect is pronounced “bee-null” and written “binal” in Indonesian, which translates into naughty.) Binal was organized by a number of youngsters who objected the requirements of BSLY participants. (The two most controversial requirements at that time were “Participants are professional painters aged at least 35 years old as of July 1, 1992 […] Participants hand over painting works [two dimensional] not using the batik medium” Source: Binal Experimental Arts 1992 Proposal.) As the name suggests, Binal provides numerous forms of arts other than paintings; from installation works in public spaces (valleys, circles and UGM boulevard), performances in public spaces (Tugu Station, Taman Sari and the South Square), artworks exhibitions at artists’ studios (Eddie Harra and Regina Bimadona), installation exhibition at the Senisono Gallery, as well as publicly open discussions at the Tempo Building. In nine days (July 27 – August 4, 1992), Yogyakarta was filled with art activities which involved over 300 artists. BSLY 1992 kicked off and ended losing popularity and exposure. There was barely any mass media covered the BSLY, or if there was, it’s only to compare it with Binal.

Two years later, BSLY name was no longer heard. As a replacement, TBY organized the Rupa-rupa Seni Rupa (The Variety of Arts) Exhibition comprising: Outdoor Sculpture Arts National Exhibition, Biennale IV Painting Exhibition, Contemporary Arts Exhibition (Installation) and Arts Workshop. The Variety of Arts exhibition triggered the birth of Yogyakarta Visual Arts Biennale (BSRY) which no longer included panel of judges as it was with the BSLY. In exchange, the Variety of Arts exhibition in 1994 and BSRY 1997 and 1999 invited several source persons and a number of writers who are involved in the events. The source team was the one who curated —in the curatorial logic that we understand right now— the event.
There was no BSRY in 2001 due to a local autonomy policy which eliminated funds for one period of the BSRY event. In 2003, Biennale came back with a new look. One (single) curator came up with a theme for Biennale. The event was then officially called BJ. Not only was a curator involved in the BJ event, but also a commercial gallery came as one of the sponsors. As a result, the succession of BJ increasingly depended on the curator, the management team, and sponsors. Brought by the curator Hendro Wiyanto, BJ VII 2003 under the theme Countrybution, was the roots of the establishment of the BJ.

Indeed so, BJ VIII 2005 themed Right Here Right Now, was curated by three curators, M. Dwi Marianto, Eko Prawoto, and Mikke Susanto; was organized in 13 different locations; and sponsored by Gudang Garam Internasional. BJ VIII 2005 brought back the “win – lose” principle (one is better than the others) with an award as a symbol of it. Merry celebration, festivity and award-giving ceremonies were patterns of the event, which are repeatedly (and are even getting bigger and bigger) in the next BJ events. Aside of the fact that the event was just organized in three locations, the four curators of the BJ IX 2007 Neo-nation—Suwarno Wisetrotomo, Kuss Indrato, Eko Prawoto, and Sudjud Dartanto—included 167 artists and four groups; while BJ X 2009 Jogja Jamming: Art Archives Movement was organized by four curators (Wahyudin, Eko Prawoto, Samuel Indratma, and Hermano) along with the board of curators (Agus Burhan, Ong Hari Wahyu and Sindhunata). No wonder there were 323 artists (including 82 groups) listed as participants of the latest BJ event.

Something interesting happened at the BJ X 2009 event. A number of art workers who have long been involved in the arts scene proposed the institutionalization of an independent BJ. Aside of the unchanged name, the face of BJ would have been changed. How will it look like? Let’s see!

*) This is a short note out of my findings in the process of archiving the ten Biennale Jogja events. The assembly of documents and documentation, and the archiving of the Biennale Jogja were done with (and for) the Indonesian Visual Art Archive.

Jogja Biennale’s Restropective: 1988 – 2007
An archive exhibition as a part of Jogja Biennale X 2009: Jogja Jamming – The archive movement
At Bank of Indonesia’s Heritage Building
11 December 2009 – 10 January 2010

Discussion session, moderated by Ferdiansyah Thajib
At Taman Budaya Yogyakarta
17 December 2009, 15.30 – 18.00 WIB
(Transcription by Yuliana Intan)

Click here to see the show.

About Grace Samboh

Believes in unicorn, conviviality and the struggle towards collective subjectivities—even temporarily.
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