How they did art then*

To reconstruct the history of video art is not the aim of this presentation. This presentation tries to present historical works, which is often mentioned, talked about, studied, analyzed, referred, etc, in many publications (and even other works) that have never been screened in Indonesia.

What’s so important in bringing these works in today’s vigorous development of video in Indonesia? After all, ever since their first event in 2003, OK Video Festival has always presented the latest video works from different parts of Indonesia.

How do we understand video art in Indonesia related to the birth of video art in Europe and USA? It is important for the video creators, observers, collector and viewers to see and to experience these pioneers’ works in order to be aware of the historical gap along with the differences in socio-historical dimensions, and aesthetics, especially regarding the fact that video art is such a common practice today. As an example, we can observe how “self identity” or “social identity” never or haven’t been considered as an important issue at the time these beginners in video art started recording and showing their works in Berlin and New York in the seventies.

Being an anomaly is not something new in this country. One interesting example is Saya Sasaki Shiraishi’s description on the inefficient family members’ drop-offs and pick-ups in such a modern city that happened on behalf of “decency” (Pahlawan-pahlawan Belia/The Young Heroes, 2005). “The elders’ first,” they say; we then ‘blame’ feudalism with sneer. Meanwhile, tens years ago, to drive a car on the main road is already a sign of Jakarta’s modernity —the existence of asphalt road itself were one of the main indications of a modern country. Up until today, feudalism —which is of course not one of modernity’s traits— is still happening without anybody questioning its ineffectiveness for people living in a city as big (and as modern) as Jakarta, along with its traffic jams. If the story had to be written in today’s setting, Shiraishi would’ve had to write how in the middle of such hierarchical act of dropping off and picking up family members, each passenger (of the car) is busy clicking their gadgets (Blackberry, iPhone, iPad, laptops, etc), yet always managed to answer (or react to) anything that comes out of the elders’ mouth, even if its only a hum or yawn. Though Indonesia still less than a century old, no body have tried to investigate why feudalisms stayed in our contemporary culture; only a very few people tried to live against it; of course, fewer that actually succeeded; and no body have been trying to redefine modernity in the context of living in Indonesia, being Indonesian.

The absence of curiosity to such dualisms is similar to how identity as an issue is almost non-existing in this presentation of historical videos yet it is one of the main issues any video art (all forms of art) in Indonesia. None of these video artists come from/where brought up in a developing country. Identity is not a difficult question for those whose knowledge in their own being is completed during school time; and even their countries’ ideologies are being planted ever since. To them, the invention of such ‘handy’ audiovisual recording device is a new chance to explore a new medium (as a tool) and at the same time to question the existence/validity of the existing media in arts.

Therefore, in these pioneering videos we can see the domination of the will to record (the term used by Ronny Agustinus in his essay Video: Not All Correct, 2003) rather than the will to narrate. Even when the artists’ ideas and thoughts is the main issue in some of these early seventies works, the euphoria of the ability to record (what is believed as) reality is still dominating. Time has, of course, changed that state. Then again, to watch and to experience these works (and to put it in the context of its emergence) is an important baggage for reflection(s) —though we live in the era that never seems to have enough time. Referring to a classic —yet still true— thought of James W. Fowler, people should pass the step of being reflective in order to understand existing paradoxes; then he/she can achieve enlightenment (Stages of Faith, 1981).

There’s almost nothing mentioning, even alluding, such a basic difference between the emergence of video art in Indonesia and in the world in the (recently so many) texts regarding video (written by Indonesian). It is almost as if this fundamental difference is taken for granted and there’s no need to talk about it, as just modernity. Whereas we suspect that this particular difference is actually related and bounded to the underlying decision of using video as a medium (or one of the media) in creating.

Yogyakarta, September 2011
Enin Supriyanto & Grace Samboh
Langgeng Art Foundation

* The title of this text is a playword from John Baldessari’s videowork, How We Do Art Now (1973).

How They Did Art Then

Video show in conjuction with OK Video Flesh 2011
At National Gallery of Indonesia, Jakarta
6 – 17 October 2011

At Langgeng Art Foundation, Yogyakarta
1 November – 20 December 2011

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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