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George Clark on making and showing films at Jatiwangi Art Factory

15th February 2018

As part of the UK/Indonesia 2016-18 season, filmmaker and curator George Clark undertook a residency in summer 2017 with Jatiwangi Art Factory (JaF) in the small village of Jatiwangi in West Java.

Read George Clark's second report from Jatiwangi

The first word you learn in Jatiwangi is Makan. The word is fundamental to the Jatiwangi Art Factory and their operation. The art collective, commonly known as JaF, was founded on 27 September 2005 in the former industrial village of Jatisura, one of 16 villages that make up Jatiwangi. It’s located in a remote area in west Java, about six hours from Jakarta - a journey that took twice as long before the recent toll road was opened. The collective focuses on what they call 'discourses of local rural life', through a range of arts and cultural activities including festivals, musical performances, ceramic workshops, mystical agriculture, television broadcasts, an open university, soil rituals, body building and much much more. It's a fantastic place with a bewildering work rate and labyrinth of projects all of which seem to unfold with remarkable ease.

Given the prodigious scale of their activities, it can seem like Jatiwangi Art Factory must be a performance or an elaborate game invented to engage the community. And in many ways it is. Members of JaF are often asked about their work and how they develop participatory modes of practice. But in a typical fashion they reject this, saying you don't work with the community when you are the community. JaF has developed a de-centred mode of inclusive practice, blurring the lines that separate art from life at the same time as maintaining a rigorous and critical engagement in their work. To do this JaF has built an open structure which allows them to play with the very concepts of tradition, community, art and engagement with remarkable infectious energy.

During my residency there, together with Ismal Muntaha and Bunga Siagian, we inaugurated the Jatiwangi Sinemathek, an itinerant film-viewing-filmmaking workshop utilising the specific environments of JaF to present a bespoke series of events and invite people to come film with me during my stay. We sought to shift the emphasis of traditional workshops from one of knowledge transfer to one of collective creation. The performative and open project was structured around four themes: Rituals and Processes (which took place in the former tile factory, known as the Jebor Hall), Rock and Roll (which took place in the Studio Kosmik music studio), Labour (which took place in the Ceramic Studio), and the final event Archaeology, that took place in the Kandi Kosmic/Cosmic Temple, the ruin of the old tile furnace. Each evening was structured around different ideas of production starting with the proposition that each time a film is shown it is remade.

The final event of the Sinemathek was a re-staging of my film A Distant Echo for Jatisura with musical response by ceramic musicians Hanyaterra. Drawing on discarded tiles and other ceramic fragments the group founded at JaF construct their own instruments including Tedi En's 'Gitar Genteng', a guitar built with a roof tile base.

Growing up in West Yorkshire surrounded by industrial ruins, one of my attractions to Jatiwangi was to see how they draw on the industry legacy of the area for spaces in which to make art as well as inspiration for cultural production – ranging from the ceramic instruments of Hanyaterra with which they make their own traditional music to the now annual Jebor Cup, a body building competition for local factory workers.

Although A Distant Echo was shot in deserts across southern California, for me it was a way to explore my own ideas of culture and tradition through cinematic and acoustic lenses. I worked with composer Tom Challenger and members of the Colne Valley Male Voice choir to explore the sounds of the former industrial valley where I grew up. So the idea quickly presented itself to work with Hanyaterra, to rethink the project and how my interests linked to JaF's project to reflect the changing landscape of Jatiwangi. Through the workshop we developed a new musical response, rather than simply re-soundtracking the film, and sought to find points of resonance with the original sounds. Staged at the foot of the Kosmik temple, the performance transformed the film into a cinematic ritual. The special atmosphere was heightened mid-way through when we were plunged into darkness by a power cut. Rather than stop, Hanyaterra continued to improvise until the systems came back online, having to conjure the film in the absence of the original. This was a fantastic moment, marking the shift from cinema to ritual, a transfer where the original film was made afresh for Jatiwangi.

After this performance I left Jatiwangi to attend the 5th Arkipel International Documentary and Experimental Film Festival in Jakarta. This increasingly important festival is a key meeting place for filmmakers, artists and cine-activists across South East Asia. I presented my film Sea of Clouds together with work by Chieh Chen-jen and Rual Ruiz responding to the festival theme of The Penal Colony. The addictive atmosphere and exciting prospect of working on a larger project with JaF soon lured me back to Jatiwangi. On my return in September we realised an even more ambitious project working with over thirty curators to inaugurate an archive as large as Jatiwangi itself.

Read George Clark's second report from Jatiwangi