George Clark on Jatiwangi Art Factory's living archive
22nd May 2018
The second of filmmaker and curator George Clark's reports on his residency with Jatiwangi Art Factory in West Java, undertaken as part of the UK/Indonesia 2016-18 season.
On returning to Jatiwangi in September 2017 we began work to realise a new collaborative exhibition called the Living Archive. When I first arrived in Jatiwangi, Ismal Muntaha and Bunga Siagian had asked me to look at and think about new ways to understand the history of their celebrated Video Village Festival founded in 2009 by Jatiwangi Art Factory and Sunday Screen, a collaborative screening and production collective in Bandung. They were keen to take stock of the legacy and memory of this influential project as they think about the future of JaF. The festival has a unique and radical model for situated practice. For each edition, under a distinct theme, they brings artists to Jatiwangi who produce all the works on site – upturning the usual festival model of showing works from elsewhere.
With all its ongoing projects – more than 50 just in last 18 months! – JaF has a very interesting approach to archiving. The collective utilises its members and community to document and disseminate information about projects, often working with little concern for their legacy or international reputation, focusing instead on how to continue to engage people without being precious about what they have done before. Given this approach what would be an appropriate way to approach the Village Video Festival and its very unique model of distribution practice? In one way the archive of the festival can be said to exist on a few hard drives and online blogs but these don't really speak to the rich social relationships of the festival. The idea for our new project came during an open discussion when founding member Arief Yudi said they had no need for a fixed archival space as they already have an archive that lives in all the villages and is stored in the memory of all the people who have been involved with JaF. To access this archive you just need to talk to people.
This idea made us realise that we should not attempt to construct an archive but rather we just needed to find a way to present the archive that already exists: the archive that is Jatiwangi itself. With this starting point we realised that the curators could not be us or members of JaF, but instead anyone who has participated in the festival. With these principles in place the project became a simple but daunting task to document this expanded archive and meet as many curators across the communities as we could. Working with JaF members and people from the Sinemathek workshop we began visiting and interviewing curators from as many villages as possible.
We decided to mark the archive with an open-ended exhibition that, rather than seeking to present a totality, would introduce the Living Archive – the individual curators and an expansive range of archival items – as the start of an ongoing process. By the time of the exhibition opening we had visited and interviewed more than 30 curators from Jatiwangi, who guided us through the living archive object by object. Each curator carefully selected items by which to introduce the archive, leading us to realise that Jatiwangi is a museum that can include anything. Archival items ranged from an entire rice field to chatting in your mother tongue; from a simple but foundational nail to all the citizens of the village of Wates; from a Nasi Goreng stall to a magic wall.
To introduce the archive I designed, and with JaF members, built an organic display structure. Made with plants, soil, bamboo and roof tiles, the suspended garden cut through the gallery spaces from one side of the building to the other. Constructed with a bamboo water irrigation system, the structure housed a series of monitors and a projection screen on which videos from the archive and curator introductions could be watched, alongside a growing range of organic vegetables from the farming collective in Wates. The structure, connected by a network of bamboo water ways, proposed a living, growing framework that would continue after the exhibition. Watered through a manual pump at either end of the installation, the structure was dependent on villagers to engage and help nurture the garden.
At the invitation of the British Council we were able to bring elements of my projects in Jatiwangi to Jakarta in October 2017 as the final elements of my residency. Transplanted from its original context we worked to reimagine the A Distant Echo performance for Jakarta. With Hanyaterra we refined the score and developed the musical response with a group of readers from JaF who read the script live in a new Bahasa translation (thanks to Bunga Siagian). Despite performing without the context of the ruin of the Kandi Kosmic, we attempted to bring the spirit of Jatiwangi to Jakarta to present our collaborative cinematic ritual.
To introduce the Living Archive we presented a map of the archive's territory (covering the 16 villages and paraphernalia from the archive) and introduced the curators responsible for the stewardship with a large banner and video where curators guided us through aspects of the archive. By presenting the archival project we hoped that the exhibition would act as an open invitation to come to Jatiwangi and discover the archive for yourself. Much like JaF, the archive is a fantasy that exists.
That reminds me that in my first article I mentioned the password Makan. This is the word you hear when you first wake up and throughout the day. It is the main thing friends from Jatiwangi say when checking in on social media. It's a fundamental word but simply means 'to eat'. Everything at JaF starts with eating together, then anything else you can imagine can follow.