German art professor Tobias Rehberger says Jakarta’s traditional markets hold tremendous artistic potential. (Photo courtesy of Barbara Lemm)

RuangRupa, European Artists Create in Traditional Markets

APRIL 14, 2015

Jakartans’ views of their pasars, or traditional markets, are nearly as varied as the city’s eclectic population and cultures. For its regulars, a pasar isn’t just the go-to place for fresh produce, meat or other foods, as well as other commodities like pets and gemstones; it also provides a sense of continuity in our urban fabric that links us to our forebears.

However, many more affluent urbanites disagree, and view traditional markets as a black hole of crime, disorderly public transportation, and an unnecessary anachronism in light of supermarkets, minimarts and other more modern retail outlets.

For German contemporary artist Tobias Rehberger, Jakarta’s bustling traditional markets hold tremendous artistic potential. “Jakarta’s markets are a microcosm of its diverse population,” Rehberger says.

The 48-year-old counts among his honors a Golden Lion award from the 2009 Venice Biennale, where he won acclaim for ground-breaking work that transcends the boundaries between art, design and architecture.

“Their mix of tradition and modernity, in individual relationships between customers or vendors alike — and how they forge the market’s communal characteristics and even conflicts — are what give it its draw. Structures like food stands, restaurants and other businesses shape the market’s character, and that of Jakarta. That’s the other half of markets’ appeal.”

Off to the market

Rehberger hopes to find traditional markets that live up to the artistic potential he believes they possess.

The Frankfurt Stadeschule Art professor plans to soon take five of his students to collaborate with Indonesian counterparts from the RuangRupa art collective in creating public art here.

The project is part of German Season, a cultural festival held by the Goethe-Institut, the German Embassy and the German Chamber of Commerce from September through November this year.

“One of the objectives of this art project is to see the market’s role in Jakarta’s organic growth. The capital is a fascinating urban jungle that poses many intriguing questions, as it seems to be an ungovernable, chaotic urban jungle that is fluid and changeable,” Rehberger says. 

His Indonesian counterpart from RuangRupa, Ade Darmawan, agrees.

“We plan to examine the markets’ organic development as a byproduct of disorganized urban planning and policy by the central government or the [Jakarta provincial administration],” Ade explains. 

“The structure of the markets, such as their impromptu architecture and designs, as well as the interaction of people there, will be among the highlights,” Ade says, adding that he’s already scouted such markets as Pasar Minggu and Pasar Persatuan Sepakbola Pemuda Tebet (PSPT) as potential venues for the project.

“The artists will make about five to ten artistic projects,” Ade adds.

“They will range from happening art, incidental art and other mediums of varying complexity, depending if they’re solo projects or cross cultural collaborations between the European artists and their Indonesian counterparts.

“Other issues that we might include in the project,” Ade says, “include flood mitigation and how they’re used for political gain, the effects of gentrification on the market or the public, and how the markets reflect lower-class communality in contrast to an upper-class individualism shaped by capitalism.”

Shock value

Rehberger and Ade both say their charges are artists in their own right with the work and artistic vision to prove it.

“One of the expected highlights of the market project is the cultural juxtaposition of the European students and the marketplace, as well as the effects of the resulting culture clash and shock.

“The shocks, surprises and other reactions that will come about will make the artists a part of their art, not just the people they observe,” Ade says. 

“I’m certain that the marketplace will provide worthwhile challenges for both the European and Indonesian artists.”

Rehberger agrees: “The eclectic background of the artists from the Stadeschule that I took with me will serve them well. They can cope with the circumstances and be productive in spite of challenges due to their artistic vision, open mind and ability to connect with their surroundings.” 

The students will hail from France, Poland, Denmark and Finland, as well as Germany. At least one already has an Indonesian connection. 

“I hope to make art that will address the public’s ideas or notions to create or develop something new, making it memorable long after the project,” says German artist Edi Danartono Winarni, whose parents come from Cilacap, Central Java. 

“Most of all, the work is a good way to affirm my [Indonesian] roots and getting in touch with them, as well as find new ways to deal with Jakarta.” 

“I was struck by the massive extent of changes in Jakarta as it developed into a megacity,” Edi explains: “the challenges from traffic and poor infrastructure, as reflected by the lack of sidewalks, as well as how Jakartans can still find their way amid the chaos. Most of all, I’m keen to use this experience to find and recontextualize myself, so I’m intrigued to see how it will turn out.” 

Edi’s previous works include an intervention piece in the Dutch city of Maastricht that explores nature’s natural way of reclaiming urban spaces. His artistic vision and that of his friends will be complemented by their Indonesian counterparts from Bandung and Jakarta, among them Angga “Acip” Cipta and Riyan Riyadi. 

Angga is known for his multimedia “Survival Tips in Jakarta,” a wry series of illustrations about life the capital and its pitfalls. The series has earned critical acclaim both at home and from as far afield as South Korea. 

Riyan is a mural and graffiti artist better known by his alter ego The Popo. Now a lecturer in communications art at the Institute of Social and Political Sciences (ISIP) in East Jakarta, The Popo made waves with “Demi Flyover, Pohon Game Over,” (“For the Flyover, Game Over for the Trees,”) and “Demi Rating, Semua Di Setting,” (“Everything Can Be Up For the Setting, When It Comes to Ratings,”), installations critical of Indonesia’s haphazard urban development and television landscapes, respectively.

Rehberger is certain that the traditional market art collaboration between the Stadeschule students and their RuangRupa counterparts promise to yield interesting results.

Marketplaces, he says, are a good forum to broaden artistic horizons. For RuangRupa, their work with the Goethe Institut is the second collaboration with Indonesian artists since Mahardika Yudha’s 2011 video artwork “The Face of the Black River.” 

And when artistic horizons meet, it’s certain to provoke inspiration to imaginatively rethink the world around us, starting with the quotidian experience of shopping.