Curratorial Text

by Sandy Hsiu-chih Lo

Metaphors about Islands

The world is still under the threat of COVID-19, and when the coronavirus pandemic will end is unknown. The pandemic of the century has caused millions of lives and countless people to lose their jobs. However, the gap between the rich and the poor in the world is getting wider and wider. With the America-China-Europe-Russia relationship as the main axis, the geopolitics of different regions of the world are also facing new challenges, and the battle goes further towards the online virtual network world. The significant business opportunities in the space industry have allowed universe exploration to re-enter the field of vision of mankind. The battle for power has also expanded from the surface to space. The disasters caused by global warming are spreading all over the world; therefore, paying attention to the environment and ecology is a problem that brooks no delay. In addition to the above-mentioned challenges, Jakarta, the location of the 2021 Jakarta Biennale where the Ring Project #1 "Metaphors about islands" is presented, is also facing serious threats of severe stratum subsidence and sea level rise.

In the world's most extensive archipelago of Nusantaria, every island has a similar historical experience. Looking back in history, the Nusantarian people’s past footprints as far as China, India, and Africa are culturally intertwined with the influence of Indian, Chinese, and Arabian trade, culture and immigration, and they have also experienced different degrees of European colonization, the struggle for independence, and subsequent globalization. From the perspective of islands, Indonesia has the largest number of islands in the world. To a certain extent, the relationship between countless islands in Asia and neighboring islands is similar to Java Island. Therefore, "Metaphors about Islands" expects to use the metaphorical imagination through the lens of islands to try to outline the mappings of alternative inner Asian and world relationships through collaboration among 41 artists and collectives from Asian countries.

My heart is an island

In fact, everyone's heart is an island. Especially in the era of global pandemics, the forced isolation of individuals at home is more like an isolated island. How to establish relationships with the outside world poses a great challenge, especially in terms of mobility, connection, imagination and creativity. It is a principle that never changes at any time. This curatorial project "Metaphors about Islands" starts from "My heart is an island" to reimagine the relationship between the individual and the world. 

Rahic Talif x Volume Escape’s "The Message”: For a long time, Rahic Talif has been conducting his art project through the "action" of picking up marine garbage with his own hands as a personal daily practice, as well as providing an excellent example of new art epistemology. He is like a sailor who has sailed through difficult and dangerous seas, returning to the habitat of the bay and forging an epistemology that reflects on the ecological environment. He started with the island-like slippers, depicting the unique imagination of the archipelago. Each trash slipper is an island, containing its own unique narrative, waiting for people to listen. Volume Escape uses the Indonesian sea goddess Nyai Roro Kidul to echo the similar sea god myth of the Taiwan Amis people to which Rahic belongs, and also pays tribute to the countless female factory workers in Sukabumi where Volume Escape is located. The life narrative of every female worker is like an unheard solitary island whisper that needs more listening and speaking.

The original plan of Hanoi Doclab x Cut and Rescue was to use videos as letters to communicate between the two groups. The results of the development showed some differences. Hanoi Doclab prefers to use artistic poetic creativity to shape island metaphors, such as using the concept of utopia to create a floating garden with the connotation of aesthetic suspense; a cosmic fantasy that treats the earth and other planets as isolated islands; imagining life as an island of human faces; retelling the legendary Penglai Paradise Fairy Island; describing the forgotten islands of ruins with the images of leaves in the wind. Cut and Rescue turned its attention to the last garbage disposal area Bantar Gebang in Jakarta. This garbage mountain that has been in operation since 1989 is the same age as the average age of the Cut and Rescue members. Therefore, Garbage Mountain is not only a concern for the ecological environment, but also a metaphor for the state of existence.

Noorlintang “Nori” Suminar x Xobat Xeni's "Beneath the Mind, Into the Soul" is presented in the form of panoramic theater, allowing the audience to enter the deepest part of the inner island through an immersive experience and to explore the bottomless desires of the soul in the process of searching for self-identification.

I look at you on another island from this island

There are hundreds of thousands of relationships between islands, not only the differences in size, but also the master-slave relationship, or special historical, economic, political, and cultural linkages. No matter from which island or seeing through which perspective, you will find that there are unlimited possibilities to depict the picture of “I look at you on another island from this island”, which outlines the relationships between an island and another island. 

YAO Jui-Chung X Prfrmnc.rar’s "Keyeup Bodas Kingdom”: Based on “establishing diplomatic relationships” between the Yao’s fictional "Republic of Cynic" (the abbreviation of the country is R.O.C. just like Republic of China, examining the collective national identity of the islands of Taiwan with black humor) and another country virtualized by Prfrmnc.rar, the "Keyeup Bodas Kingdom" (planned during the Dutch colonial period, Jatigede, a dam built in 2008 and fully operational in 2017, is located in West Java. The work wove together the local mythological narration, the historical context and the spatial memory of the land), is a gaze of imagination that both summons and mocks the subtle collective identity. It is an illusion in reality and a solid flux in desire.

Grafis Huru Hara x Forum Sudut Pandang  (FSDP)’s ”Lucky Gift”: Many people are used to buying local souvenirs when they travel away from home. The currently popular souvenir items are usually related to local collective memories, identity representations, memorial architectures, special ecology, etc., all belonging to the positive and unique values of the local area. This collaborative project aims at reimagining and interfering with the formations of souvenirs from various places, reflecting on the narratives of souvenirs, and providing alternative imaginations of local memories.

Baan Noorg Collaborative Arts and Culture x Extract Collective’s ”Ruma No. 555”:

Thai collective Baan Noorg Collaborative Arts and Culture and Extract Collective, a collective composed of Indonesian cross-city and cross-disciplinary members, interacted with each other through understanding the differences in social and cultural aspects of each other, played the role of host and guest in turn, and started a free exchange and dialogue. Occasionally, the exchange may become some form of debating or invalid friendship. The audience will communicate freely in a home environment that has been transformed into a living room and a dining room, and share the results of various communications carried out by the two over a period of 10 months. This work has become the best metaphor for “conducting a friendship".

Pearls lost by the Gods

The interconnections between multiple islands are often named beautifully, such as "Pearls Lost by the Gods", "Gem Bracelets", "Pearl Necklaces", and so on. In fact, some of the relationships between islands have the same beautiful intimacy as the names; however, there are also some relationships between the islands that are as mysterious and thought-provoking as the names. As a metaphor of the archipelago, "Lost Pearls of the Gods" intends to imagine the possible relationship between groups or collectives, or the various possible scenarios of collective narratives. 

Lin Yichi x Blanco Benz x Studio Malya’s "🏝️island echoes🏝️": This work intends to explore hope, fear, uncertainty, life and death, multi-layered violence, and related issues such as the fragility of life using the lighthouse as a metaphor and the trembling and charming pirate narratives. Applying multiple sets of dialogues to present the records of reality, inviting the visitors to use a device shaped like a beacon to conduct dialogues, and to construct the sounds of polyphonic voices of the different imaginations of the collective through participatory "drama reading" in different languages.

Yuma Taru x Kahe Community’s ”Linking”:The drifting trajectory of the Austronesian peoples needs more research to reconstruct due to the fracturing of collective memory. This work simulates the excavation of archaeological pits and used the connection of Atayal weaving, trying to connect the Atayal in Taiwan and the Austronesian culture of Indonesia's Flores through time and space. This project is an alternative interpretation of the cultural relics of the Austronesian culture in Flores and also serves as a starting point for further exploration and questioning the future “togetherness”.

Britto Arts Trust x Sinau Art: Sinau Art and Britto "EC-ON" share a common focus on the symbolic meaning of clothing materials. Generally speaking, clothing carries the collective memory of cultural identity, geopolitics, religious identity, social and economic status, and national culture. However, the fashion industry is also one of the main factors that damage the environment. Therefore, they used recycled or environmentally friendly materials to make soft sculptures and displayed them together with musical instruments made from waste, constructing a contemporary narrative of traditional fabric or fiber weaving in the form of soft sculpture and linking the cultural connections through the weaving of warp and weft.

Haoritsa x KATAKERJA’s “Tukar Tutur: Melanesian and Austronesian Markets”: They outline the maps of the archipelago that belongs to ordinary people's lives and commodity exchange through the images and texts on food packagings to stimulate the experience of different senses such as vision, taste, smell and touch, and to draw an alternative map of relations between Asian countries.

Forgotten islands

There are many islands that once existed in history but have long been forgotten in a certain time and space or abandoned in an unknown corner. Moreover, numerous isolated islands that coexist with us in the present time and space are neglected for various reasons. This curatorial project aims to view these islands through an artistic perspective and to reveal these isolated islands forgotten by the world. 

Ugeng T. Moetidjo x Sanggar Seni Rupa Kontemporer (Contemporary Art Studio)'s “In Search of Lost Time”:

The celluloid film of the third volume of a 1970 World Exposition documentary was scratched to depict the images of the prison islands for political prisoners selected from all over the world. By scraping the exposition images that are in command of high-tech society and singing the progress of the future, dozens of groups of islands of exile are superimposed, and the exile years of each island are included to indict the violence of the state apparatus and social governance. This special island chain focuses on "invisible subjects" and shapes "alternative political entities" that question the existing global order.

Lightbox Library (Lightbox Photography Library) x Sokonh! x RAWS Syndicate (RAWS SNDCT)’s "Force Majeure!": These three collectives have been promoting the flow of photobooks for a long time. The image deployment strategy of this work is to collect ready-made images from the Internet or print media, to revisit the disaster sites for location shooting, and to apply post-production technology to intervene and change the main theme of the images to reflect on the mechanism of contemporary image circulation and the dialectical relationship with accidental events. By intervening and changing images, the disaster narrative chain challenges people's inertial cognition and calls for rethinking of disasters.

Shellda “Alienpang” x Roompok’s “Lele Village”:This work takes the catfish as the main body of the islands' narratives to re-examine the alternative imaginations of the islands from another angle. Catfish can be found in almost all islands in Asia. It is highly adaptable to the environment and exhibits tough vitality. This work not only creates the ambience of an animal carnival, but also vaguely calls the audience to learn from animism, as well as reflections on anthropocentrism.

Legendary Utopias

Utopia was originally a fictional island in the Atlantic Ocean and an organized ideal society described by Thomas More in the book Utopia, published in 1516. However, other concepts such as dystopia, Cacotopia, kakotopia, or anti-utopia are also derived from it. In many cultures, there is also a concept similar to utopia; therefore, in this curatorial project, we try to find new narratives that build the future together by rethinking the concept of utopia and metaphors of dystopia and heterotopia in different cultures and legends. 

Gubuak Kopi: The Jawa village where Gubuak Kopi is located is a place where diverse ethnic groups live together, such as Java, Minang, Batak, and Kerin (India), later known by the abbreviation JAMBAK. The spiritual narratives of different ethnic groups coexist here and become a source of new vitality and cosmology for the village. Through this project, they invited participants from different ethnic groups to jointly study and think about the problems encountered by local society and conduct dialogues in the form of new spiritual initiatives.

HOU I-Ting x It's In Your Hands Collective’s “Future Alchemy”: This collageration is based on sci-fi narratives, discussing eco-friendly artistic alchemy and reflecting on the environmental impact of overdevelopment and industrial production. The creative platform based on storytelling invites participants to weave future recipes with ecological research, ancient recipes, historical archeology, and sci-fi. At the same time, they turned their attention to the non-human perspective and imagined the new order of the universe in the future in terms of superspecies’ interdependence and cooperation within the ecosystem.

Sa Sa Art projects x Ruang Alternatif’s “In Our Room”: It is a collaborative project between Ruang Alternatif (Cirebon, Indonesia) and Sa Sa Art Projects (Phnom Penh, Cambodia). They created a space where people can gather and experience the art and culture of ordinary people from Indonesia and Cambodia through a variety of different senses. 

Putri Ayu Lestari x Kecoak Timur’s “ Manunggaling Lemah or Unite with the Ground”:This collaborative project uses social media to research, applies land as a vehicle to reflect identity and narratives in other places, and presents the world from the aspects of folk celebrations through the joyful ritual of weddings. The multilingual and plural narratives of this project show the unending dialogue relationships among people and also symbolize the endless possibilities of connection between lands.

LASANAA x Siku Ruang Terpadu’s “Dismantling the Invisible Walls: Exist-Coexist-Unite”: Through performance art and sound art, it presents the flow of human hearts between hope and despair, resilience and fragility, and evolution and adaptation under the global COVID-19 pandemic, reflecting on the phenomena that have caused global unrest. It is a polyphonic chorus of artistic narratives responding to the pandemic in normal daily life. The spiral-shaped circuitous device makes people feel like they are in a certain ritual space. The audience seems to join the collective ceremony with a certain action through mobile gazing and listening.

Lostgens x Tudgam’s “Warung”: They brought the street vendor "Warung", which is common in Indonesia and Malaysia, into the museum to create a space for interaction with the public using paintings, prints, and letterpress printings as media to create artistic works that show the cultural landscapes and history of Malaysia and Indonesia. The audiences are invited to tell their own life stories through video or audio recordings to exchange for the exhibited artworks. The transactions refuse all form of money. This interactive work treats art as a public, non-commercial, communicative, and holistic project with an anti-capitalist, anti-elite, and anti-market-driven attitude, and is close to people’s daily experience and life scenes, life narratives that embrace individual differences.

Zhang Xuzhan and’s work "Hoodwink" is inspired by Xuzhan's research during his stay in Yogyakarta as an artist in residence. He applies the "Alnay-Thompson Classification System" to classify folk tales, researches the common theme "mouse deer" in Indonesian folk tales, and adds traditional Taiwanese folk costumes used in religious parade performances to create the image of a half-fox, half-mouse deer to jointly interpret the protagonist of "AT5" in the changing narrative of random reorganization of the story. In the same way, this collaborative project is inspired by "Aunt Tiger" from Taiwan, "Grandma Pakande" from South Sulawesi, and the "Little Red Riding Hood" folktale in Europe to question the discipline method of educating children. In fact, the threats to children are not the monsters in the stories, but environmental pollution, global warming, online violence, war, and domestic abuse. The fictional world in the work is still a dystopia that is difficult for children to escape. This work presents a collapsed contemporary social picture to expose the violence of the real society to children.

Just like the dialectic utopia described by Jean Baudrillard, utopia is a fundamental modification of the existing order. Utopia is a stage of theoretical construction and can only exist as part of a dialectical utopia. Only through a dialectically updated utopia can we articulate new ideals of residence, both inside and outside the current system. Nonetheless, the narratives of utopia must be plural.

"Metaphors about Islands" not only emphasizes individual differences, but is also a new community imagination based on politics, ethics, and aesthetics. It is not an attempt to construct the collective identity of Nusantaria of marine Southeast Asia. Rather, it is an attempt to engage in dialogue and consider the pluralism and differences in the artistic narratives of the metaphors of islands in response to the underlying of the life situation of “togetherness" through the collaborations among 41 artists and collectives. It is not easy to build a friendship with open arms and kind greetings. Only by rethinking the relationship from isolated islands to archipelagoes and taking dialogue as action can we summon the current political energy that connects the past and confronts the future.

Curratorial Text

by Gudskul

Presentation of Ring Project #1: Metaphors About Islands is a result of interlocal collaborative art projects initiated and co-curated by Gudskul (Jakarta) and Sandy Lo (Taipei), and supported by Taiwan National Culture and Arts Foundation. Since March 2021, this project has been an attempt at adaptation, healing, and solidarity within art realm, wherein global pandemic triggered us to seek new cycle for interlocal works. Entitled Metaphor About Island, various perspectives and metaphors on ‘island’ become the unifying idea for artists and collectives involved in this premiere project. For ten months, they discussed, redefined, speculated, and examined the meaning of closeness, residence, survival, togetherness, diversity, presence, connectedness, and equality within respective ‘island’ and time zone. Ring Project #1 pairs 20 artists and art collectives from Bangkok, Bangladesh, Hanoi, Jakarta, Kathmandu, Kuala Lumpur, Mumbai, Phnom Penh, and Taipei, with 22 Indonesian art collectives that participates in the third batch of Gudskul Collective and Contemporary Art Ecosystem Studies, class of 2020/2021, spread around Bandung, Batu, Cirebon, Gresik, Kuningan, Jakarta, Makassar, Maumere, Nganjuk, Palu, Sidoarjo, Solok, Sukabumi, Surabaya, and Yogyakarta. Pieces of process from these artists and collectives from around the world and time zone complete a series and concept of Jakarta Biennale 2021: ESOK in National Museum, Jakarta today.

As a platform for collective and contemporary art ecosystem studies, Gudskul was formed upon the awareness that we need joint effort to face various challenges today, while also strategizing for tomorrow. Working in collective, creating a space for sharing knowledge, and allowing everyone to fail and try again are important steps to strengthen us and fellow human beings. We are unable to work alone in building and stirring art ecosystem. We believe that collectivizing is a way to go forward and face tomorrow.

If previously Gudskul participants consisted of individual members and learning process occurred onsite, the third batch of Gudskul, class of 2020/2021 is the first batch consisting of collectives that followed the overall learning process online. Despite the unfortunate circumstances in adapting to digital communication platform due to uneven internet connection distribution as well as longing for face-to-face meeting, this direction eventually brought blessings. This batch brings together and realizes the possibility of expanded collaboration and networking to islands that were barely reachable beforehand due to cost problem and nescience. Instead of feeling confined and alone, each collective member participating in Ring Project weaves sustainability patterns to share and heal each other, as well as putting forward passion and respective environment.

If we imagine the path taken from the locations of collective in the third batch, connected to more artists and collectives, then anchored in Jakarta Biennale as a platform for their works, and finally back to their own localities, this unbroken path can be imagined as rings. This rings will ignite connection, explore knowledge cycle, marry opposite contexts, offers new methods, and unite common strength. This path becomes a circuit rotation that brings changes today and tomorrow.

Curated By

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Sandy Hsiu-chih Lo

Sandy Hsiu-chih Lo is an independent curator, art critic and documentary filmmaker, whose main research areas include urban studies, philosophical construction of space, gender politics, contemporaneity of indigenous art, curating in the margins, situated knowledge, and multiple epistemologies. Her current program focuses on curating as a method of social practice, read more ...

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Gudksul: collective study and contemporary art ecosystem is a public learning space formed by three art collectives in Jakarta: ruangrupa, Serrum and Grafis Huru Hara (GHH). Since early 2000s, the three are active in the field of contemporary art by exercising collective and collaborative work. In 2015, these collectives agreed read more ...