Ary Indra, left, one of the curators selected to represent Indonesia at next year's La Biennale Architettura in Venice, explained the concept of 'Sunyata: The Poetics of Emptiness' during a press conference last Thursday (14/12) at The Westin, Karet Kuningan, South Jakarta. (Photo courtesy of Bekraf)

Indonesia to Present Empty Shared Spaces at 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale


DECEMBER 21, 2017

Jakarta. After months of contemplation, "Sunyata: The Poetics of Emptiness" has been chosen by a team of six curators to be the concept of the Indonesian pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale, which will run from May 26 to Nov. 25 next year.

The team, consisting of Ary Indra, David Hutama, Dimas Satria, Jonathan Aditya, Ardy, Hartono and Johanes Andika, will present a construction that does not emphasize aesthetics but gives ample room for people to interact with it and with each other.

"We want to restore the quality of space in architecture. Humans are the main element of architecture, but they are often forgotten in the wave of technological advances," Ary, the head curator, said at a press conference on Thursday (14/12) at The Westin in South Jakarta.

The concept is in line with the biennale’s theme, "Free Space," which opens up possibilities for exchanges between people and buildings. The theme was chosen by the biennale’s curators, Yvonne Farrel and Shelley McNamara from Ireland’s Grafton Architects.

"Sunyata: The Poetics of Emptiness" will take shape as an elevated, curved plane made from Tyvek, a synthetic fiber. The paper-like material is known to be strong, durable and most importantly, lightweight.

Since most of the space will be without ornaments or decorations, visitors are expected to spend their time interacting with the surrounding air, sound and other people, or have a quiet moment of self-reflection.

Regarding the function of "emptiness," Ary said his team was inspired by traditional shared spaces in Indonesia, such as Taman Sari, a former royal garden of the Sultan of Yogyakarta, and the Joglo [Javanese-style house] with large, empty centers.

Ary called those spaces "poetic" because being empty does not mean being "passive." Instead, those rooms invite people to meet and conduct activities there.

However, what people usually admire about traditional buildings are the designs of their roofs or their decorations, instead of the value of the space and how it suits their needs. "Sunyata" is also a critique of that phenomenon.

"Sunyata" will still include exhibition pieces that represent traditional architectural styles, but Ary said that there will not be much visual attraction, so that people can use their feelings instead of eyesight to define the space.

"People who haven’t been to Taman Sari, for instance, will still reminisce about an empty space that they’ve visited before. Every visitor will have different interpretations of it [the Indonesia pavilion]," Ary said.

Promoting Indonesian Architecture

Indonesia has only participated in the prestigious Venice Architecture Biennale once before, in 2014. Participants of the biennale must be official representatives of their origin country, selected and supported by their government.

The selection process that resulted in "Sunyata" was held in October by the Creative Economy Agency (Bekraf). There were two stages of the process.

The second stage of that process required contestants to make a five-minute presentation in front of judges, including film and performance director Jay Subiakto, poet Goenawan Muhamad, as well as architects Gunawan Tjahjono, Budi Lim and Achmad Tardiyana.

Bekraf deputy of marketing Joshua Simanjuntak said that "Sunyata" will show how Indonesian architecture is not just about shapes but also values.

The Venice Biennale has seven separate events for different art forms. So far, Bekraf supports participation in architecture and art.

Bekraf vice chairman Ricky Pesik said the biennale, which dates back to 1895, is a good medium for nation branding.

"We’re talking about a 100-year-old platform that is considered the biggest in the world because each year, it welcomes up to 10 million visitors," he said.