A radical collective takes on one of the largest art exhibitions in the world

I made my way to several days nonkrong at Gudskul, arrived in the mid-morning quiet to sit under the breadnut trees with anyone who felt like chatting. When the collectives bought the property, it had an indoor soccer field, so ruangrupa left the high roof intact and built two stories of shacks inside — some with drywall and glass windows, others from shipping containers. Above a central, tree-lined passageway are more shipping containers: double-stacked, in a bright row, like a sophisticated children’s arrangement of Legos. By late afternoon, as Jakarta’s usual downpour set in, Gudskul was purring with activity. Classes on Zoom. A tattoo parlor. A radio station called Rururadio. An archivist in the compact library. A graphic design lab. A publisher and shop with Indonesian translations of world literature. Artists in their container studios. And everywhere the sense of slow fermentation—the sense that as people soared through each other’s orbits, they were being creatively stimulated, all the while working towards new art and new ideas. Not necessarily big projects, as Andan said, but small, rich narratives with high frequency.

To flesh out some of these abstractions, consider ruangrupa’s exhibitions at two exhibitions: the Asia Pacific Triennial in Brisbane in 2012 and the São Paulo Biennial in 2014. That period proved to be a high point, says Farid Rakun, an architect who Joining ruangrupa in 2010 For Brisbane, ruangrupa invented a 1970s Indonesian underground rock band, creating memorabilia and convincing Brisbane rockers to witness the band’s influence. It was wild, absorbing work, and ruangrupa in particular was pleased to see the ruse trickle out of the museum and into real life. “Years later someone showed us a blog post that was about the kuda,” Darmawan said. “I don’t think they knew it was actually fiction because it was a very serious piece of writing talking about how the Indonesian punk scene influenced the Brisbane punk scene.” what people think of as art projects,” Rakun told me. São Paulo, on the other hand, became “the first time we staged ourselves”. After that, he said, invitations to arts festivals multiplied, “boom-boom-boom-boom,” and the export of ruangrupa — his exercises in collectivity — became a convention.

In São Paulo, ruangrupa planned very little and did almost nothing. Instead, Rakun said, they replicated ruangrupa’s presence and methods on the ground. In the run-up to the Biennale, they flew twice to Brazil to meet other collectives: graphic designers, architects and activists. “Tell us what’s going on in your city,” ruangrupa asked investigatively, learning about the hottest karaoke songs, São Paulo’s motorcycle taxis, which resemble those of Jakarta ojeks and about a public square that a collective of architects wanted to preserve. “It was her way of engaging with a city that was similar to Jakarta in terms of growth and colonial history,” said Charles Esche, the curator of this biennial.

In their assigned room on the ground floor of an Oscar Niemeyer building, they laid out a scaled-down one Ruru house: couches for nonkrong, a place for rururadio, another for a gallery. And in this second home, ruangrupa has started a dialogue between Jakarta and São Paulo. The gallery housed works by artists from the two cities. A Paulista food truck converted into a film projector played films from the OK. Video archive and a collective from São Paulo. As a Rururadio deputy, ruangrupa set up a tent and invited people to karaoke; They sat cross-legged on the floor and sang Portuguese, English and Indonesian songs. Esche recalled that São Paulo’s ojek drivers—not usually the kind of people who feel welcome at biennials—hung around the area ruru house, Rides for visitors.

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