Post New-Order: Common Room and Alternative Spaces as an Art Practice in Bandung
‘Post new-order’ is a phenomenon in Indonesia’s art practices taking form through the presence of alternative spaces in several major cities in Indonesia such as Ruang Rupa (Jakarta), House of Natural Fiber (Yogyakarta), and Common Room (Bandung). These alternative spaces have come to play important roles in contemporary art practices in Indonesia, including in the quickly changing city of Bandung. After living under the New Order, a monolithic political regime for 32 years, Indonesia is in a social, political, economic, and cultural transition into a new phase of democracy and information openness. At the same time, the presence of media technology, especially through internet, is changing the views about this new media’s important role in art practices in Indonesia. As an art institution and network of artistic practices, Common Room is at the forefront within this field of discourse promoting new forms of artistic expression in music and contemporary art.
The interest in forming the Common Room network came from the development of the Bandung Center For New Media Arts (BCFNMA) in 2001. At that time, four young people from different backgrounds – Gustaff H. Iskandar (artist), R.E. Hartanto (painter), T. Ismail Reza (architect), and Reina Wulansari (graphic design) – saw the need to establish an institution that can push the development of multidisciplinary art, particularly media and technology-based art practices, in Bandung. The attention on the development of the center quickly began to grow and flourish. They started organizing exhibitions, producing online forums, holding workshops, as well as creating networks with individuals, communities, and other institutions with diverse backgrounds.
BCFNMA officially changed their name to Common Room Networks Foundation in 2006. During this period, the internet was becoming the most dominant platform for establishing networks and offering points of connection with international artists. But, in a local context, the presence of physical spaces is very important and is still needed to create an environment for local artists and international artists to connect. The needs of physical spaces for an art platform is very important in the middle of increasingly contested spaces in Bandung, where space for young artists to gather is increasingly scarce. The development of commercial spaces (malls, hotels, and minimarkets) and private spaces (apartments) are growing rapidly, but it’s a very different situation for the art spaces. The area had several art galleries and museums that serve the elitist vision of the developing area. The museums are owned by the government and are overly bureaucratized and the commercial galleries follow the market and industry to the exclusion of the innovation and experimentation of young artists.
Given this backdrop, it is no surprise that Common Room became a hub for experimental art practices in Bandung over the last ten years. Common Room became a place for young artists to share their knowledge and make new innovations. Every day, young people from different disciplines came to Common Room to gather, collaborate and make connections. Groups such as Openlabs, a non-hierarchical collective exploring development of electronic music, visual arts, experimental media, and media culture, meet at Common Room, planning collaborations, small-scale performances, a festival and an upcoming compilation album. Another example is the karinding community. Several artists from Ujungberung, Bandung, who are primarily known as metal musicians, are creating new experiments with Sundanese traditional music to promote karinding, organizing workshops, classes, and public performances. In the present neoliberal political and economic situation, Common Room is one of the few spaces that follows in the spirit of independent art rather than markets or industry.
Nu-Substance Festival held by Common Room from 2007 until 2013 became an important space where the numerous art communities in the area presented their experimental work. Various art activities were organized, including exhibitions, workshops, discussions, public lectures, music concerts, and documentary film screenings. The festival also invited other international artist such as Benjamin L. Aman, Jan Van Den Dobbelsteen, Danielle Lemaire, Romain Osi, Arrington de Dionyso, and many more to collaborate with local artists. Like the vision of Common Room as a whole, the festival was a forum for interdisciplinary collaboration and sharing ideas. It became a place that bridged dialogues and multidisciplinary cooperation intended to connect numerous individuals, communities, and various organizations with diverse economic, social, and political interests through certain negotiations, daily experiences, and knowledge exchange.
Common Room also contributed to the birth of a policy that supports the movement of the local creative economy. Since 1970’s, Bandung has been famous as the center of music, design, and fashion in Indonesia. The booming economy of local distribution outlets (commonly known as distro) and clothing companies has contributed to the economic development in Bandung. The presence of these products encouraged the creation of ideas and creativity-based economy – commonly known as the creative economy. At the public policy level, Common Room also contributed in the conversation about the creative economy in a local and national government. From 2005 until 2011, Common Room initiated a project called “Urban Cartography” that conducted research and mapping to trace the creative economy’s many communities in Bandung – especially the growth of DIY practices following the economic crisis in the late 90’s. The self-participatory research process enable these communities to craft their own narrative, documenting the development of the projects themselves. On the other side, art and culture in Bandung still must be developed into the new phase of creative economy. To reimagine industry based on the ideas and creativity from the artist communities in Bandung needs support from government policy.
On the national level, Common Room is also trusted by the Ministry of Economy Creative and Tourism of Indonesia to help organize and activate Taman Budaya (national cultural parks). Common Room was invited to give input to develop a policy about Taman Budaya that the group hopes can offer space for local artists to gather. From 2012 to 2013, Common Room was doing field research and assessment of parks in several provinces in Indonesia, from Aceh, West Sumatera, Jambi, West Java, Central Java, Yogyakarta, East Java, Bali, West Nusa, East Nusa, West Kalimantan, South Sulawesi, North Sulawesi, and Papua. The various traditional art forms from these areas should be carry an interesting potency in Indonesia. If it can be well organized, Taman Budaya can be a magnet for local or international tourism, as well as a resource for the artists of Indonesia.
The structure of Common Room then comes to not merely be a mere physical space but has become a transit space in the form of the development of ideas, creativity, and public policy to promote knowledge and collaboration. The presence of alternative spaces in Indonesia is still needed as Indonesian contemporary art has developed and continues to evolve with the social changes that occur in our society. The presence of art spaces in Indonesia isn’t easy in the middle of contested political and market interests. Cities are increasingly privatized by the owners of captial, while several alternative spaces are still struggling to survive. The development of Bandung is growing rapidly and is reshaping the lives of its citizens. Until now, there have not been sufficient spaces that support art and culture in Bandung that emphasize the spirit of independence, innovation, and experimentation. With all the limitations artists face, alternative spaces in Indonesia should have a strategy to simply survive in this new environment.