The Reverse Flow of Art Residency
Residency programs enable artists to explore their practices in other territories, conduct direct meetings, meet new people, and experience new locations. The emergence of art residency as a practice of contemporary art cannot be separated from global art discourse that obscures boundaries between territories, which connects us to the locality of other territories, connecting local views to the global art world, which comes with the ambition of carrying out intercultural exchanges.
However, in this case, the locality is not merely a fathomable geographic space and location bordering other areas; in this case, we define locality in a cultural manner. However, which locality that we imagine during residency? Is it only encountered in other areas? Is it only felt when experiencing life in new locations? Does it also exist in our own place, in our real everyday life?
Residency programs enable artists to explore the world, to travel from one area to another, seeing the various and connected cultures and socio-geopolitical issues. Art residency has created mobility that transcends boundaries, enabling artists so that they are not in a centralized area in exploring their art practices. One example is a long-term art project by Irwan Ahmett and Tita Salina entitled The Ring of Fire (2014—present). They traveled around areas that are prone to natural disasters and issues of social justice, freedom of expression, and human rights, spread throughout Southeast Asia, from New Zealand to Chile.
The relationship between artists and locality has become an important aspect in art residency, enabling them to get involved or collaborate with inhabitants around them, and therefore building an intense relation as their main asset to explore their art practices. Duration is one of the main aspects of building intense relation with the locality. Periodic art residency gives the artists relative time; it is usually conducted in one month, three months, six months, even one year. It is not enough to simply attend a certain area to get involved or collaborate in order to build an intense relation. They have to experience and become a part of a process that must be lived out consistently with continuous space and time.
Another example is the working method of Moelyono, which spent a relatively long time, in which he built an intensive dialogue and in-depth understanding of everyday problems of society. This method was called in various terms: enlightenment art, community-based art, or participatory art, which is often read with the concept of the relational aesthetic in Europe or America. Seeing Moelyono's working method, the whole dispute regarding terms begins falling off, since every aspect in each category is practiced in arts and its activism.
Art practice in Indonesia has been shifting in the past few years, not only growing centrally in art galleries, museums, or academic spaces. Art practice is also growing in community and social spaces, even blending with everyday practices. With the form of presentation that is no longer attached to a formal object of artwork, art practice today has the capacity to ignite activation from various possibilities. The shifting art practice places the artists no longer as the center of ideas, as determinants of articulation can come from the context of space and its inhabitants.
However, the current critical situation caused by this global pandemic makes artists face different challenges. Our gathering tradition becomes an activity that is susceptible to virus transmission, which results in a constrained physical meeting in art residency programs. There are emergency measures and certain guidelines that we must follow in this changing world. We are obliged to put safe distance to each other by social distancing and quarantine. So how do we imagine the unpredictable world? How does this pandemic put our body to discipline?
With physical activities being redirected online, space and time become a virtual reality. Our world today is increasingly legitimizing the birth of the digital era. Virtual reality and its whole algorithm could become another area in art residency programs. Before the pandemic, such a virtual residency program has ben done by Mahardika Yudha in Indonesia Media Arts Festival OK. Video, carrying the theme of OK. Pangan (Sustenance), which explored communication through the internet and social media. Then how do we define the current reality? How do we transform the body into the concept of virtual residency? What does engagement in virtual reality look like? What kind of exploration emerges in art practices in response to said virtual reality?
Furthermore, residency programs also have economic means to meet the needs and sustainability of the artists during their stay to manifest the process of exploring their art practices, such as travel tickets, accommodation, allowance, and production budget. How are these economic means used during this restricted condition? Could we also experiment on economic means so that we no longer rely on the exploitative capitalist economic system? Could we reproduce the economic means of art residency into shared and sustained resources to answer the monetary susceptibility and uncertainty today and in the future?
This reminds me of a friend who tried to make use of economic means of the residency program to support himself and run his art practice. Ambitiously and massively, he browsed website that provides information regarding art residency programs, such as Resartist.org and TransArtists, and made proposals according to the requirements from various areas of residency. Like sowing hundreds of seeds, some of his proposals were accepted by the institutions to which he applied.
The artworks that he made during the program made a little resemblance to this or that artist. Indeed, the discussion about the originality of art is no longer relevant nowadays. What are interesting lies in the practice of adapting that he did? His project proposal borrowed ideas from other artists, which were later connected to the locality in each residency area.
What if the practice of adopting residency project proposal is accommodated into a mutually agreed-upon open-source platform so that artists could access their project proposals to each other and examine which proposals they may adopt according to the needs of its locality? Instead, this practice is utilized for one's benefit and locality is seen merely as an exotic destination.
Creating an accessible open source enables the creation of ideas exchange between artists and local-based knowledge and experiences, as well as critical dialogue in seeing the urgency of the locality itself. We might be able to view our own locality and see what kind of idea that can be adapted to it, or vice versa: through the imagined ideas, we might be able to see what kind of locality fits the relevance of such ideas.
We could inclusively mobilize locality according to its context and urgency, which could be done individually or collectively. However, it takes trust and cooperation to reach awareness to share in the practice of adopting. While we see this life only as competition all this time, now is our moment to strengthen our relationship with each other. We need solidarity in critical situations such as this.
Democratization in this method also gives an opportunity to be accessed equally by various entities. Cosmopolite is not merely defined as the phenomenon of nomadic artists who make use of residency programs as means to travel the world easily. Brigitta Isabella's question regarding "why and how artists travel" becomes relevant and important. Every choice of country and partner institution made by artists is always based on political alignments.
Pushing locality to its urgency point might provide space for diverse narratives and issues outside the mainstream. Furthermore, it could also challenge the artists' artistic explorations to find the relevance of their own practices with the emerging locality issues, how they interpret said issue to themselves, both as artists and parts of the locality itself. By putting the artists as parts of the locality itself, it makes art practice not only within the competence level of the artists but also within the perspective of residents.
Art residency programs are not merely living in other areas or in new locations. When several areas are locked out of pandemics, at the same time a reverse flow appears, bringing human beings to look back at their own locality. In some conditions, it could take them back to their hometowns (ruralization), raise a longing for spiritual needs, trace back their traditions, and synergize with ecological life. In other conditions, people make use of their quarantine as a moment to contemplate their patterns of life, their living spaces, and their relationship with reality outside of themselves.
This reverse flow depicts how art is defined today. Art residency is not only for the development of knowledge in arts, but also in society; how art residency program could be a way for us to view and re-evaluate the definition of locality and current reality, why ideas have to be manifested within certain local, spatial, and durational context. The practice of adopting and being adopted is expected to expose artists to a different perspective from the residency program.
1. The definition of residency was summarized from various information regarding residency, particularly in TransArtist.
Reference: https://www.transartists.org/residency-history, accessed on January 9, 2021.
2. Artist in Residence Irwan Ahmett Tita Salina, NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore. Reference: http://ntu.ccasingapore.org/residencies/irwan-ahmett-tita-salina/, accessed on January 16, 2021.
3. Alia Swastika “Dari Penyadaran ke Pengarusutamaan”, Unjuk Rasa: Seni – Performativitas – Aktivisme (From Enlightenment to Mainstreaming, Demonstration: Art—Performativity—Activism), Yayasan Kelola, Jakarta, 2018, p. 51
5. This reading is summarized from Martin Sumanjaya's essay "Dorongan ke Arah Estetika Partisipatoris" (The Drive Towards Participatory Aesthetics) Indroprogress.com, February 17, 2016. Reference: https://indoprogress.com/2016/02/dorongan-ke-arah-estetika-partisipatoris/ accessed on January 16, 2021.
6.This information is obtained from Moch. Hasrul and Haviz Maha (new media artists)
7. Check out the concept of Lumbung offered by ruangrupa on Documenta 15. Reference: https://www.biennialfoundation.org/2020/06/documenta-fifteen-and-lumbung-practice-announcement-of-the-first-lumbung-members/ accessed on January 10, 2021.
8. With all due respect, I will not mention the name with the purpose of not evaluating the originality of his work.
9. Yuval Noah Harari, “Dunia Setelah Virus Korona” (The World Post-Corona), Re.Goblog, March 20, 2020. Reference: http://re-dot-go.blogspot.com/2020/03/dunia-setelah-virus-korona.html accessed on January 10, 2021.
10. Brigitta Isabella, “Mobilitas Gelandangan Kosmopolit dan Strategi Kebudayaan Kita” (Cosmopolitan Bums and Our Cultural Strategies), This speech manuscript was read at the opening of Dana Umum & Kesempatan / Artist Job Fair on Thursday, December 7, 2017, in Cemeti – Institute for Arts and Society.
Angga Wijaya works collectively with Serrum. At Gudskul, Angga teaches the subject Collective Arts Review, mapping the development of collective art practices. In curatorial practice, Angga implementing art project-based practices that intersect with community work, social dynamics and society. Angga is also part of Kolektif Kurator Kampung, a collective with art activities in urban and rural spaces. He is a reserved person until you take him to the karaoke floor, where he unleashes his inner karaoke king charm.