By Jaya Limas
Yogyakarta – The Biennale Jogja XI (BJ XI) was officially closed on Sunday 8 January 2012. The BJ XI closing ceremony held in the Concert Hall Taman Budaya Yogyakarta was as simple as its opening ceremony held in Jogja National Museum in 26 November 2011. It began with a mass dance, which previously was performed in Kilometer 0 as one of the Festival Equator programs labeled Bollywood Km 0, the event went on with the winner announcement of competitions that was held in conjunction to the BJ XI, screening of BJ XI kaleidoscope, the presentation of Lifetime Achievement Award to Moelyono, the performance of Ilir-ilir children vocal group and was ended with the performance of the Jogja Hiphop Foundation.
BJ XI taking the theme “Shadow Lines: Indonesia Meets India” and is the first edition of the Biennale Equator series. The biennale was open for 45 days in Jogja National Museum and Taman Budaya Yogyakarta. During the event, BJ XI reaped several harsh critics starting from the lack of socialization of the BJ XI, the curator’s covertness, the choice of India as a partner, the lack of festivity, the unpreparedness of the committee during artwork display installation, the messy display of artworks, the lack of society’s involvement, etc.
The first biennale in Yogyakarta was held in 1988, titled Yogyakarta Painting Biennale (Biennale Seni Lukis Yogyakarta/BSLY). Like the title, those who were allowed to apply were only painters and naturally the event only exhibited paintings. The same went on the second biennale in 1990 and the third biennale in 1992. In the three biennale events that were the work of Taman Budaya Yogyakarta, there was a panel of jury whose duty were to select the best paintings to be exhibited. This period is the first phase of biennale in Yogyakarta.
In the fourth and fifth Yogyakarta Biennale, aside of paintings, sculpture and installation works were also exhibited. This was because in 1992, exactly a day before the opening of BSLY, artists who were outside of the biennale system and not getting any space to exhibit their works were protesting by organizing an opposition biennale known as Binal Experimental Arts. The opposition event that was held in jubilant for 9 days successfully stole the public and media attention and causing BSLY to lose prestige. As a consequence, Taman Budaya Yogyakarta no longer used the name BSLY on the fourth biennale held in 1994, instead the name Pameran Rupa-rupa Seni Rupa was used. The next biennale was held in 1997, which again changed its name into Yogyakarta Visual Arts Biennale (Biennale Seni Rupa Yogyakarta/BSRY). This period is the beginning of the contemporary arts practice in Yogyakarta art scenes.
The sixth biennale in Yogyakarta in 1999 still used the name BSRY, while the seventh biennale in 2003 with the theme ‘Countrybution’ used the name Biennale Jogja, which would be used for the later biennales that followed. These two biennale were part of a new period, marked by the application of curation method by a curator, in line with the growing articulation of contemporary art. The period is considered to be important by several art experts because during the period several strong contemporary artworks with new aesthetic orientation were present in Yogyakarta. In the seventh biennale, private sponsorship began to support the event.
The eighth biennale in 2005, themed “Here and Now” and the ninth in 2007, themed “Neo-Nation” not only presented the artworks of Yogyakartan artists but also artists from outside of Yogyakarta, some even from outside of the country. In these two biennales, global issues started to emerge and there seemed to be an effort to shape the Yogyakarta biennale as an international forum. The concept of an ‘open’ biennale was applied by using the open application method.
Although Taman Budaya Yogyakarta wanted to develop the biennale event in Yogyakarta as an international event, yet during the tenth biennale in 2009 the curatorial team presented the theme ‘Jogja Jamming: Gerakan Arsip Seni Rupa’ (Visual Arts Archive Movement) that involved nearly all artistic groups and elements of Yogyakarta art scene. This biennale is recorded as having had presented the most participants up until today, 323 artists and groups. During this biennale, an idea came up to create an autonomous organization for biennale that is independent from Taman Budaya Yogyakarta that had been acted as an organizer.
The eleventh Biennale Jogja was held an organized by the Yogyakarta Biennale Foundation (Yayasan Biennale Yogyakarta), which was officially established on 23 August 2010. On forth, this foundation will be responsible in holding and organizing the biennale in Yogyakarta. This biennale firmly stated its position as an international biennale by inviting India as a partner. The big theme of “Katulistiwa (The Equator)” is a theme formulated by Yayasan Biennale Yogyakarta to frame Biennale Jogja for the next decade, or as much as five editions. In each edition, a country in the equator area will be selected as a partner.
All eleven biennale events in Yogyakarta, it’s safe to say that none is critic free, whether it is from the participants, intellectuals or the society. The theme, judgment or curatorial practice and the chosen artworks are often the target. On other hand, the committee often blaming short time given to prepare for the biennale and the lack of funding. The formation of new committee for each biennale is also considered to be a problem because in every new committee group, everything must start from zero again.
The Yayasan Biennale Yogyakarta is formed to answer issues from the organizing side. With the existence of a permanent biennale organization, a better management system and biennale coordination are expected so quality will increase. The idea to bring forth one big theme for five editions of biennales, other than the content and the goal of the big theme, can be interesting. Before, each Yogya biennale stood alone, and turning from one theme to the other, from one discourse to another. And after the biennale is closed, more often than not the same happened to the discourses. So seldom there’s any review or further discussion on what had been achieved, the contributions to the society and local community, new values being gained in the visual art world and how significant the biennale is for the future visual art understanding and development.
With one big theme to frame several biennale editions at once, the organizer can keep on reviewing and developing the theme. In this condition, the routinely organized biennale can have a strategic role in recording achievements in artworks and the artists’ aesthetic tendencies that are shaped by the social-culture circumstances, making it an indicator of the social-culture condition. Thus, biennale can contribute to the society and to the art development.
The first world biennale was held in 1895 in Venice with the name Esposizione Internazionale d’Arte della Città di Venezia (1st International Art Exhibition of the City of Venice). This event exhibited artworks of invited Italian artists, international artists and of non-invitational artists who were chosen by a team of jury. Biennale of other city only emerged about half a century later in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 1951, and in Paris, France in 1959. Currently there are 300 biennale listed all around the world.
Venice Biennale, the most prestigious international biennale, is a blueprint for other biennale in the world. But along the development of practice in the art scene, other biennale models emerges. Each biennale tries to discover new concept, form and ideas. Trying to be different.
Now you can find biennales focusing on the art and cultural promotion to leverage the status of the organizing city in the national or international forums, biennales that are focusing on developing relations between the society and art, biennales that are focusing on social values within a diversity, biennales that are focusing on developing bilateral and multilateral relations, biennales that are focusing on theoretical interrogation as a way to investigate the critical point of view of curators and artists, etc. Many discourses tendencies are also present in framing the biennales, starting from post-structuralism, post-colonialism, internationalism, globalization, feminism and multiculturalism.
In line with that, various opinions on biennale also emerges. Some thinks that a biennale must assist in re-comprehending the local condition, in this case the history, or the political-cultural condition. Some thinks that a biennale is solely only for the development of art. Other opinion also stated that biennale in whole must include the local community and not only the art scene and the art market. Some says that a biennale must become a part of a cultural strategy, or economy strategy, or political strategy. These various opinions are often accepted as comprehensions on the ideals of a biennale.
The artworks exhibited in BJ XI were actually quite interesting. The issues of religiosity, spiritualism and religion appeared strong in almost all artworks. The exhibited works seemed refreshing after almost a decade Indonesian art exhibitions are dominated by contemporary artworks with East Asian or Young British Artists tendencies, which might be considered as a global aesthetic. The experience was almost similar to when witnessing Indonesian contemporary artworks at the beginning of the contemporary art practice. At the same time the Indian artists works also distinctively local. It’s a pity how the display of these artworks seemed to be done a bit unprofessionally, especially the ones exhibited at the Taman Budaya Yogyakarta. During the BJ XI event itself, several multi media appliances used to display or being a part of certain artworks often found non-operational.
In the curatorial essay published in BJ XI catalogue and official website, the curator did not explain the theme of the biennale. The discussion is about the issues of religiosity, spiritualism and religion, and reading the artworks of the Indonesian artists that are divided into four groups of big issues often used in understanding contemporary artworks. The ending of the curatorial essay explains about the choices made during BJ XI.
Meanwhile the curatorial essay from the Indian co-curator explains about the term “Shadow Lines” at the beginning, continued with a little history on the relation between Indonesia and India. Later, she explains the issues of religiosity, spiritualism and religion through the artworks of the participating Indian artists.
Although there are interesting issues in it, “Shadow Lines: Indonesia Meets India” appear as if shallow. In the biennale there are meetings between Indonesia and India, but only as far as meeting, joint exhibition, with the nearly similar background for social-political issues and the relation in history. With the theme, audience would only see BJ XI as an exhibition of artists from two countries.
In the curatorial essay, the curator stated that the proposition to discuss isses like religiosity and spirituality becomes a way to reconnect artistic practices with what the society experiences in daily basis, which hoped to create an immediacy between the artists chosen issues and the daily practices, so the society is brought to layers of interpretation and reevaluate their own practices through some distance and a different point of view.
It’s not surprising when there’s an opinion stating that BJ XI had no content and was nothing but a mere rhetoric object of the curator. Instead of expecting the society to reevaluate their daily practices, BJ XI curators failed to communicate the issues they wish to carry. Even though there were texts accompanying the artworks, it did not do much but relating the artwork to the curatorial.
Aside of the curators failure in their function as a mediator between the society and BJ XI, there are still big hopes for the next biennales, considering BJ XI is a first step for the Yayasan Biennale Yogyakarta. Critics that emerged during the BJ XI event could be a valuable input for the next biennale organization. The big theme The Equator can be very interesting and becoming a new perspective and construction, yet it could be nothing at all. This depends on the next four editions of biennales under this big theme.