Scenemakers Part III: Ruang Rupa

Asia Scout | December 19th, 2008

The group is acknowledged as being the single biggest catalyst for Jakarta’s independent arts scene — the Ruang Rupa artists-run collective is approaching its ninth year of existence.

Ruang Rupa grew out of the Jakarta Art Institute and represents a number of independent bands whose members were part of the collective. Among these are Goodnight Electric, White Shoes & The Couple Company, That’s Rockefeller, and The Adams.

Physically, Ruang Rupa (affectionately dubbed RuRu) is a studio workshop in south Jakarta’s Tebet district. Conceptually, it is much more. I recently caught up with Indra Ameng (pictured below, upper right), one of the driving forces behind RuRu, and manager of White Shoes & The Couples Co. He’s got a lot to say, so enough from me!

S: If you were to describe RuRu’s mission using three words, what would they be?
IA: This is Playground. Haha. I don’t know how to really say it in three words. To put it simply, RuRu’s mission is to support growing contemporary art forms in Indonesia.

S: How did RuRu establish such diverse connections across different scenes?

IA: First of all, the name starts with “ruang” (meaning “room”/’space”). RuRu aims to open a space [for] all wishing to enter. The word “rupa” (meaning “visual”) [implies] liquidity of meaning and openness to anyone. Second, RuRu has been around for eight years, so in a way we’ve endured and grown to get this far. Another factor is that we do a lot of networking. In this era, we have to do collaborations with many people. Most importantly, is that they have the same vision we do and understand the vision we have. Everyone who works in RuRu is an artist. Before RuRu existed, they worked in many other places and fields. So everyone comes with a diverse network when they joined RuRu. So that’s why we have such a good network, domestically and internationally. Third, because so many people know that RuRu is open 24-hours like a Circle K or McDonald’s, a lot of people come to our place. From people who just come to do nothing, to people who have a project or agenda to talk about.

S: Who do you consider to be your strongest allies?

IA: Young artists. From the beginning, RuRu has been built by young artists, and one of our missions is to support and promote [them]. RuRu does a lot of collaboration with young artists [on a] variety of projects, and it’s become a place for practice, meetings and discussion. We’re always interested to support and facilitate young artists who have new quirky-funny art, and the unknown.

S: Where are you most keen to develop more relationships?

IA: Education for sure. Perhaps in the future, we want to make a school, but with our own work model. Education is very important and urgent right now.

S: How would you describe the influence you’ve had on the music scene?

IA: Whoa! I don’t know how to describe this. Maybe because in RuRu, everyone is an artist, so we just have the energy to make visual art, video art, film and music too. We do it because we enjoy it. So anything can happen, [anyone can] become a visual artist, sometimes amateur DJs make exhibitions, but also do music gigs. How RuRu influences the music scene, I don’t know, because the art field is interrelated. RuRu as an organization, [where] its individuals [are] often involved in music gigs and are producers of music. We do this work as part of our daily lives. That’s how I see the influence and involvement of art with music.

S: I’ve never seen a glaringly obvious corporate stamp on anything to do with RuRu. Has this been deliberate? Do you agree or disagree that independent media (from music to visual arts) eventually has to “dance with the devil” when it comes to corporate sponsorship/patronage of the arts?

IA: It is a choice we made. For example, on [two] art projects held by RuRu, the OKVideo Fest themed “Subversion” in 2005, and “Militia” in 2007 , there was no big corporation that would sponsor an event with that kind of theme and content because there would be collision in the process.

Projects by RuRu offer ideas that invoke questions, and criticizes government policy, consumerism, and mass media. Obviously no corporation would sponsor [these] projects, even if there was an interest. So, we just have to find funds in other places or work independently. On the issue of agreeing or not agreeing to big corporate sponsorship or funding, it’s a relative one. As long as there’s a definite position to both parties, an understanding of each other’s vision, and no influence or interference whatsoever with content, then there’s no problem. This isn’t just an idealistic issue, but making sure that the messages or ideas don’t become vague or a blur. We must think of the consequences.

S: What is the key to creating more awareness among the general public about Ruru and its activities?

IA: What RuRu has done so far is give perspectives issues/subjects through visual language. The subject matter we bring up is usually common daily things in Jakarta, issues we relate to very closely, as it is a part of our lives . Hence it’s not really difficult to communicate that with the public. I think the first key is to bring up a contextual issue, so what we try to convey relates to the public. That way, it’s easier for people to connect to what we’re trying to say. If the issue is not interesting, and the context is irrelevant, it’s a waste of time. No one would look. Second, the way we communicate things is important. To whom we want to send messages determines how we speak. We need to differentiate how we explain things for different levels of society, for example, how you speak to high school students is different than with a cultured journalist. Use the right literature to get the message across properly. We always think about that. Third, expanding networking and collaboration with various media. This is another way to create awareness and distribute ideas. The more people know about RuRu, the better. Finally, the most difficult part is to keep the program rolling. Continuation is important. We won’t be able to create an awareness if we’re not consistent and not doing things continuously. Five years is not enough. This is a long-term work. Without continuity, the work will all be in vain. People will take notice in what we do if we can do it continuously.

S: What projects are you currently developing, and what should we be looking out for from RuRu this year?

IA: In July 2009, we will have the 4th OK Video Festival, themed “Comedy”. This theme will be interesting, knowing that we will have the elections next year. How do we see daily issues through comedy or humor, using video as a medium? Besides that, there will be two art projects that discuss mobility within today’s urban context.

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