Hafiz Rancajale
Hafiz Rancajale believes that arts soften our mentality and reduce chaos. Photo by Rintang Azhar/NOWJAKARTA

We sat down with Indonesian artist, educator, and curator Hafiz Rancajale about his activism in urban culture.

Your work has been exhibited at Singapore Biennale 2019? Can you tell me about your participation there?

I exhibit Social Organism as an iteration and development of my previous exhibition in 2018 at The National Gallery of Indonesia. The curator of Singapore Biennale requested this specific work that highlights 20 years of my career in the art industry. I also elaborates the exhibit with new drawings, objects, and installation to depicts a cultural transformation and its practice. It’s all based on my experience as an artist to insect organic pieces with something non-formal to manifest the reality of the society today.

Why is it important to show that multimedia works at Singapore Biennale for wider audiences? And what does it mean for you to be the only Indonesian artist who participates at the Singapore Biennale?

It’s my personal experience but I am not only talking about Indonesian. It’s more universal because the most important thing is the conception and how I could manage the issue as the base of contemporary thinking. It’s not the only experience to object and I think this work could establish its context in Singapore which can be a cultural experience for anyone who stops by seeing the exhibit.

Honestly, I don’t really care that I am the only Indonesian artist who participates in Singapore Biennale. In my view, it’s not about the concept of representation anymore. I have visited a number of international art events, It’s the part of the interaction. We can’t isolate our self and confine our mind in a local issue. It’s how we manifest our work to the global discussion, it’s not about we travel to the foreign nation. Seriously, we could do it here and make it a global trend. It’s all started how we approach a contemporary thinking in the context of art.

Many Indonesian artists establish a career in international art events. Is it the part being in the era of the global village or universality of the works that allow one to global. How Indonesian artist takes the position in the international scene?

As an artist, I don’t identify my self as a nation. It’s right that I am Indonesian. But the bottom line is that the way the artist manifests the local narrative that could resonate with the global subject matter. It’s not about my identity as Indonesian, it’s deeper than that. The mindset is how the artist acts and participates in a global society. Contemporary art is always like that. We can go international here in Indonesia when global audiences talk about similar things about what happens in the country.

You don’t limit your self to work in one medium and a particular discipline as you always discover something new. What does it to be a contemporary artist today?

For anyone who fathoms themselves to contemporary practice, the works will be multimedia and multidiscipline. It’s an infinity world that open to any kind of possibility. To have a contemporary mindset is difficult, we have to respond toward the present issues, nowness, and novelty. Don’t be mistaken! many people claim themselves as contemporary art but the way the idea of their works it’s not even contemporary. The object is the final execution, it could be anything.

You are one of the founders of ruangrupa and the initiator of Forum Lenteng? What is your intention when first established both community organisations?

In the late 90s, the homegrown art scene remains conservative. As the reformation era happens, these youth (Ade Darmawan, Ronny Agustinus, Oky Arfie Hutabarat, Lilia Nursita, Rithmi and I) established ruangrupa in 2000 to create a laboratory of thinking, similar to what Forum Lenteng in 2003, when it came out, to facilitate development and education programme for the young artist. The initiative was to encourage Jakarta-based artists to be more productive as the many people underestimated Jakarta for the lack of quality artworks. At first, we got a lot of criticisms as people thought that we are only art playgrounds, utopias, and militants. We found the model as a think-tank for contemporary thinking, a room for ideas. And from there, we discuss many issues around art in the city, street visuals, and urban life. Between ruangrupa and Forum Lenteng is a reciprocal relationship to build the ecosystem and base of thinking for the contemporary world.

As a Jakarta-based artist, How important the art for the city especially for you who witness the decade transformation in a megalopolis like Jakarta?

I believe that arts soften our mentality and reduce chaos. Many cities in the world have been competing to be called civilised city by organising many different kind of art events. Art in urban society is crucial. For example, Venice has it all, from film festival, experimental music concert to Biennale. Art in the city is not a decoration or ornament, it’s not makeup. Urban arts should a reflection of the attitude of its urban inhabitants. Believe it or not, many arts events such as Documenta in Germany, Havana Biennale in Cuba and Sao Paolo Biennale in Brazil are cultural reparation from the dark history of the past such as war, criminalism, unemployment, anarchism, and human rights violations. It’s a reflection of humanity. For those cities that organise arts in the scale of the urban areas, they think about the mission for humanity. We still don’t have the consistency for it. We don’t have to go far, look at Yogyakarta and Bali which have based activities in art, the visitor will feel more humanist. We will experience a more human experience, in a good way.

You are an artist, cinematographer, curator, and educator. What is the future for Hafiz Rancajale?

I just went back judging at Beijing International Short Film Festival. Next year, I will be a judge again for Rotterdam International Film Festival and participating in Biennale Art Matter in Prague, Czech Republic. I have been focusing on developing video art, art performance, as well as partaking in another project such as ‘Visual Jalanan’. I was and still am going to be the one who gears up cultural movements. My intention to cultural experience and sharing knowledge will never disappear from my self. It’s always going to be my activism in the arts.

How homegrown arts could respond to the participation of Ruangrupa as first Asain collective curator and artistic director of Documenta 2022 in Kasel Germany?

I spent 17 years with ruangrupa and we always nurture our mindset and life with a contemporary way of thinking. It the proof that this contemporary thinking that allows them to be in the global stage handling Documenta 2022. Ruangrupa exists without depending on issues around galleries as the practice is also diverse. I am not surprised that friends at ruangrupa are open-minded, egalitarian, progressive, adaptable to many political realms and space or nation. Back in the day, we are not in the mainstream art scene as we considered out in peripheral of the scene, but now, what they and I have been doing is seen as something important to global arts. As the first Asian collective to be an art director the highest art exhibition in the world, it’s not only criticism towards Indonesian arts but also global art which mostly dominated by western culture, to change the future past.

In the last decades, social media has changed many things including how we see the arts, indicated by many arts institutions shift with many alterations including the growth of interactive and media art. In the contemporary mindset, how do you see this global revolution?

Social media phenomenon allows one to experience art on a surface. It’s not real but we have to accept it and don’t see it in one perspective. In the commercial side and capital, there is potential due to the surge of social media, helping artists about branding and selling their work to the public. However, we have to put it as an economic product or cultural product. If we talk about popularity based on ‘likes’ in social media or to attract audiences by making instagenic installation, it’s totally fine but and we don’t have to take it seriously. Arts is not about popularity, it’s way deeper than human impression towards an exotism of media art, installation, or technology. The contemporary artist will make interactive works if the narrative and the idea behind it needs to be translated into interactive products. If it’s not, again we will only be fascinated by the exotism of the product.



This article is originally from paper. Read NOW!Jakarta Magazine January 2020 issue “In with the New”. Available at selected bookstores or SUBSCRIBE here.

Rintang Azhar

Rintang Azhar

Rintang is a previous staff writer for NOW! with experience in hard news and lifestyle journalism. He specialises in art, design, culture, fashion, environmental, and urban issues.