“Both,” I asked shortly. “An artwork based on research.”
“Can you do that?”
“Of course I can! Now all things are inter-discipline, aren’t they?”
He frowned, but his head nodded. His eyes were still on me, full of questions, but no other question coming out of his mouth.
Now, here was the thing. Lot of my friends at campus did not understand how an art could be combined with research work. I meant, a real research work, not only a location survey for a presentation or negotiation needs with a community at a certain location for the smoothness of art activities’ sake.
If I wanted to share my experience about research that could be combined with art, then people in my campus, Faculty of Social and Political Science, could become real examples. This problem had been becoming rooted for so long because it had been trapped within the confines of exclusive academic interests.
In a research, for instance, usually, if you wanted to get an A for the research subject, the students (including me) had to follow what the lecturer wanted (who followed the department curriculum). Students had to include the review on scientific journal into their paper, at least ten journals. The journals had to be international ones. The university provided good access for this need. Students could download hundreds of international scientific journal through the online portal provided by the university for free. This was a chance, where students could study about various forms and developments of research methodology from the journals they had read.
However, this thing became a problem in the end. My friend had an experience to spend the night studying at campus with her research group. At that time they were reviewing a scientific journal about traffic regulation. My friend, a rock ‘n roll student whose hobby was to spend the time everyday hanging out and playing music (so that she liked to procrastinate in doing the assignment), screamed hysterically because she sickened of the journal she read. It was only because of the words ‘police stop’, for which she had a difficulty to find the right word in Indonesian, so that when they arrived at the point of boredom, her group took a shortcut and interpreted those words into ‘tilang’ (the evidence of a traffic violation), whereas it was not that simple. Because in American context, ‘police stop’ became the attention among social science researchers because there was a system disablement which became the problem behind it. And the journal that she read was actually about black people minority group in Uncle Sam.
There was another experience, when I was involved in a discussion with my other friend about ‘crime’, ‘media’ and ‘popular culture’. In a short exposure, a western academic called Jeff Ferrell expressed his opinion about ‘bloody scene which full of threats’ in his writing. At first, I had thought what Jeff Ferrell meant was a crime story and an information about crime in visual form, which had affected on lifestyle of urban people, who lived in ‘spectacle society’. Of course that was wrong, but I did not realize it at that time. Not until a few days later did my friend’s opinion make me clapped a hand to my forehead. That opinion might be proper coming from a communication student, but, from criminology angle, my major, I should have had translated Jeff Ferrell’s expression as an expression of crime which was enveloped systemically in popular culture packaging which was distributed through mass media. “Meaning in Motion; Bloody Knuckles,” said Ferrell, that that crime visuals which was packaged into a TV show hid the subordination form by capital (industry) power from public awareness: more complex form of crime. And art, by majority of academics like Ferrell, was approved as one of expressions that could criticize it because of the nature of art itself is skepticism. It was simple actually, in Indonesian context Ferrell actually was talking about ‘sinetron’ (soap opera).
Those were a few of many humors that I often found regarding the experiences in reviewing international scientific journals. Generally, students were confused because the case examples that they read had different space and time context instead. The perspective was also different, let alone the paradigm. Generally, students had a difficulty to escape from the influence of Western way of thinking in facing research problems that happened around them.
In art, no less problematic. I often frowned when one week there was an art appreciation program, suddenly my campus was full of celebrities. Music program, visual art exhibition, theater performance, art program that invited public; all of them performed entertainers. There was one who was a moderator in one day workshop and seminar, competition jury, guest star or MC. The students? They became lackeys who felt satisfied and proud to walk up and down bringing walkie-talkie with cable encircling the alma mater jacket.
Students in my campus, generally, considered art as a different object from their study field. Even, there was an opinion about art as something more artificial, far from ‘modest’, and it assumed that art was an area for famous people. If, there were some people who liked art, they considered it as hobby, not an integral part with their area as academician candidates. The impact was that art program in my campus stopped at the point of celebration and entertainment only. The art show only became a peak performance of the events. Its packaging was not far from the one usually organized by EO (Event Organizer).
So it was not surprising when there was one friend of mine who was confused when I told him that I and some friends stayed at Senen for about two months to work on a research with sociological-anthropology approach to make an art work.
***One October evening around 11 PM, I and Andrie, my companion at Senen, were at a parking lot in front of some rukos (small shop with residence in the rear or upstairs) at Senen Market. In the evening, that parking lot became places for cake traders. People called it ‘Kue Subuh’ (Dawn Cake), because the traders there sold the cakes until dawn. We both wanted to record the mass activity at that place.
The dawn cake might be a common phenomenon. The issues that developed around it were also easy to guess. Just name few of them; economic circulation, social and political conflict about space commodification and ownership, etc. But, on akumassa projects we usually worked in a way that led us to other interesting issues. Akumassa talked about beauty, about the aesthetics related to social practice between the traders and the ‘dawn cake’ buyers, about the artistic which was developed unconsciously by a habit of a trader community range at Senen.
What kind of beauty was that?
So we became buyers with cell phone camera. The days we had spent at Senen for more than a week before had given us detail information that the rush of traders when they opened their place had happened at 4.30 PM. The trucks with basket of cakes would move aside the road then people would lift the baskets and placed them onto plywood tables. Those tables with iron legs were rented from parking lot owner for Rp. 5000,-. At that time, the motorcycles which parked there would leave one by one. Generally, like I observed, the last motorcycle riders were the secondhand clothes trader at ruko in front of parking lot. At 5.30 PM, the baskets were opened. One by one, the colorful deep-fried, boiled and steamed cakes were displayed on the tables. There were also tarts. Beside those, baskets full of breads were arranged on the asphalt floor. The area which was previously dark became light. The sight of row of cakes was started.
The beauty that we found was real. All captured within the frame of cell phone camera that we brought. From my experience, if I stood on a buyer’s position who picked up cakes, through my camera frame, I would see that that pile of cakes formed symmetrical composition of points, lines and sides, and composition of colors in orderly fashion. The orderliness experienced the distraction by hand gestures of the traders and the buyers, who were dealing. They were caught up by yellow and white light which came from the lamp that hung from the ceiling, or by the light from the trucks which supplied the stocks for the dawn. People’s voices, songs from street musicians and the noise of motor vehicle from the highway completed the sight. Even, there was a sound from television which was deliberately placed by one of the traders at his stall to be watched to spend the time when there was no buyer.
We used the buyer’s perspective to see that beauty. Maybe, according to university ideology researchers, this angle was not special at all. However, I, who lived at Depok and spent more time at campus than other places, did not know much about other locations in Jakarta. When I found out that at Senen there were many cake traders in one place at dawn, I was amazed. Through the eyes of a buyer, I saw the pile of cakes at that parking lot as an artistic sight. Buyers who lived far from Senen could prove that. They could do what I did using cell phone camera to document it. And this narration was in the research result which was a video art work. It was entitled Sweet at Dusk.
***On a different October evening, around 9 PM, I was one of the audiences of badminton match at Perintis Square, Paseban Administrative Village, Senen District. The social kinship of residents was one of my focuses in this research. Perintis Square was one of spaces that built it.
If television people (mass media) had come to this location, the mass event on that evening—badminton tournament of PB Prints Paean was organized for about two weeks at that time—might have been the interesting information about citizen initiatives. I thought so because I remembered a story from Ira and Galis, activists from Paseban Cultural Community, about how often TV people had come to Paseban to report residents’ activities in that area. For mass media industry this initiative usually commodified into light news program materials, which in the end omitted the essence of social kinship which had the opportunity to be interpreted spiritedly.
I could be sure, regardless of other possibilities that of course existed, that the researchers from university would ask the time to interview the committee, the administrators of Rukun Warga (Community Association) and residents about that tournament. The instrument like questionnaire would be spread to measure how far the social kinship was affected by organizing an activity like that, or vice versa. The result would be a dry narration about life of residents who actually did not know at all that they had already become research object.
There was other style, wasn’t it?
I, as audience, was interested to document that event with my digital camera. Instead of shooting the competing athletes, I chose to record expressions of residents who watch the game seriously. Their moving head and glancing eyes followed the movement of shuttlecock on the court. They interrupted, joked, laughed, smiled and made a disappointed expression in responding the game. If usual research instrument needed written or spoken answers from respondents, I considered those expressions as ‘statements’ which were captured by camera frame instead.
Our research result, the video work entitled Today’s Match, was played to the Paean residents on the evening of November 7th 2013. Our interpretation result as newcomers was thrown back at the residents, provoking their reflection about social kinship at Community Association number 03, Paean Administrative Village. Their reaction was the answer of this research: the kinship had already been built long enough, that was why there was a badminton tournament. The residents knew each other, laughing, joking and doing activities at Perintis Square as a public space that was maintained together.
This was what we called participatory research. The residents were really involved. They had their share in the process of result determination. Besides, the research result was not necessarily put in the archive drawer which was difficult to access by the residents, like the university researchers often did, but it became an artwork which could be used by the residents of Paseban, either as alternative entertainment or educational material.
Akumassa gives priority to an action that encourages the residents to read themselves. The measurement standard of problem object of the residents is not determined by the researcher. Perspective and paradigm come from the residents, the reliability of the research result and the artwork quality ultimately will be legitimized by the residents themselves.
Because, akumassa believes, as Linda Tuhiwai Smith said in 1999 in Decolonizing Methodologies, Research and Indigenous Peoples, that residents’ narration (local) actually has power to re-question the characters which is assumed on ideal things and function as alternative story as a counter for the ‘established’. Akumassa thus sees “cultural protocols, local value and behavior as integral part of methodology”, either as research or performance art, or both at once.
*This article has been published in the Art on Senen Border journal (Forum Lenteng, 2013). The journal is one of the results of collaborative work of the authors of some of the communities who were involved in the Project of Akumassa Ad Hoc initiated by the Forum Lenteng AKUMASSA Program, in order to participate in the Jakarta Biennale 2013 – SIASAT (Tactic).
**Photos of documentation contained in this article were taken using a camera cell phone (mobile phone) and was retrieved from several Akumassa Ad Hoc participants’ Instagram account.