This article is part of the Eleven Stories from the Southeast written by Muhammad Sibawaihi, Otty Widasari and Manshur Zikri, published by Forum Lenteng in 2016. We re-upload it on the AKUMASSA website in the framework of the “Darivisual”.When Wahid Hasyim first decided to start a small-scale cable television business in Pemenang a few years ago, he probably never realized that what he did was creating a city-scale installation in an 809.53 km² city with a population of more than 200,000. He had about 400 customers.
Through a small room (about 1.5 x 2 m²) under the stairs in his living room, Wahid controlled what was watched by approximately 400 houses of residents of Pemenang District, North Lombok Regency. They were the customers of his cable television creation, a cable television with analog device. The work pattern was very simple. He had about 14 receivers which he gathered into one terminal where all the cables of the receivers were. Then the cables came out of the terminal and were connected to the homes of residents.
The thing that was unique about Wahid’s creation was, he provided an empty slot that he could fill with a variety of his own videos as he wished, from a video clip he made with Madun, his Gambus musician best friend, the Qur’an recitation event at the mosque, to the documentation video of traditional Sasak wedding that he often documented. He aired the videos as he pleased to change the television program that subjectively he considered boring. Sometimes there were people who called Wahid, protesting, why the favorite program they were watching changed. But there were also many people who did not complain about it, probably because those substitute programs felt very close to them. It was fun anyway to watch video clips of people they knew with songs about daily life they knew. Or, it was also fun to watch a wedding event in the next village, especially when the faces they knew appeared, to watch the tradition that they had known since they had been born, and locations that they recognized as part of their lives. The point was, Wahid controlled the home entertainment for residents on a scale that was not exactly small: Pemenang District. It should be noted that moral responsibility of Wahid who had this power to control what public watched was based on his role as a Principal of an Elementary School in Pemenang, and as a religious person.
Although his permanent job was a Principal, Wahid Hasyim had nurtured his unstoppable desire to play with the audio-visual for a long time. He had once been actively made the video documentation for some government agencies and other documentations such as wedding events, or people’s party. He had earned the money from it. However, that business declined when everyone was doing the same thing, because the technology was becoming easier and cheaper. Finally, while playing, he also made a small business by creating an organic cable television service that residents of Pemenang District quite liked.
The phenomenon of the explosion of private television station in Indonesia around the late 90’s and early 2000’s, along with the explosion of video technology and its massive spreading in communities, inspired Indonesian researchers and visual arts activists to read possibilities of the expression of art that appeared, and then produced the discourse of the social phenomenon. Was there any creative expression by millions of people who used developing audiovisual technology? The reality was, there were many initiatives of the people who developed their technological knowledge creatively in the implementation of daily life, which could be read as an expression of art. Internet facilitated the appearance of community TV. There were not a few people who did it offline either because of the business intention, or only the fun pastime. Wahid was one of them.
As an artist from Jakarta, it was common for Gelar Agryano Soemantri to work anywhere, without the studio, without the quietness of the room. With an educational background in journalism and then working at Forum Lenteng, which was an organization of socio-cultural studies, with the film and video media, and also being active as a facilitator in the community-based media empowerment program, AKUMASSA, making a work was not always individual and personal for him. He was familiar with the collaboration work and becoming facilitator of media literacy workshops which cooperated with communities in various cities in Indonesia.
Gelar had already known Pasirputih Community since 2010, when he had become a facilitator for AKUMASSA Pemenang program, which had unraveled Pemenang in a media frame. It meant that Gelar knew Pemenang quite well. In 2012, he and Pasirputih collaborated in producing the documentary film Elesan Deq A Tutuq (The Endless Trail), which told about the life of the community of Pemenang. So, it could be said that Gelar had seen this small town enough from his subjective perspective, through the medium of video, and also through the construction of the film. In one of the videos of the Water Montage series that he produced in AKUMASSA Chronicle, he found another perspective of Pemenang, that Pemenang had to see itself through an objective perspective. Of course such objectivity was not easy. However, Gelar was sure that it could be mediated by video technology. In Bangsal, he gave his waterproof camera to small children who jumped into and swam in the sea, letting them record anything they wanted when playing in Bangsal. What was obtained from this anthropological capture was quite surprising. There were only the images of water, seabed, friends, free-falling. None of images recorded by those children aimed at three gili and the phenomenon of tourism. This was a different finding about the character of Pemenang’s residents who had felt that Bangsal, their sweetheart, had been snatched by the tourism all this time. There was another fact that, if people still felt that they owned Bangsal like these little children, then Bangsal would not go anywhere.
Gelar tried to continue the search for that identity by building a bank of video data with Pasirputih Community. He was aware that archiving equaled to produce knowledge. He indeed looked for actions of the audiovisual medium empowerment in Pemenang. And from there, it could be read how the shape of the social map of other residents of Pemenang. Through performative video frames which became a symptom in society, he initiated the citizens, especially young people who never separated from their smartphones, to donate their video footage.
Here, it could be seen that what Gelar and Wahid did were in a linear line.
Also with his experience in curatorial working in International video festival, Gelar read what was done by Wahid Hasyim as an installation which controlled the space throughout the Pemenang City. Gelar saw it as something important in the field of social and media.
Gelar and Wahid did not meet unintentionally. Previously, Pasirputih had indeed already had a relation with Wahid because his awareness got the potential in the idea of the distribution of knowledge in the scope of the citizens of Pemenang. When he knew there was a resident who managed a cable television business, Gelar immediately met him. He considered Wahid to be able to be a collaborator to develop the idea of the spread of the creativity of citizens. Like a bank working method, the footage donated by the residents was collected and was redistributed through the channel owned by Wahid and then it could be watched by hundreds of residents of the city.
Saling Gitaq (watching each other). That was the name of their footage bank program that finally continued as a regular program on Wahid’s cable TV. Saling Gitaq, which could be defined as a reading of the phenomenon of social media today, was a situation where people had needs to see and to be seen, and to show their existence performatively in the media.
There was an important thing in this collaboration. If all this time the Indonesian media and visual arts scenes had highlighted the creative work of audiovisual art as a “technological tinkering” creativity, then the meeting and collaboration between Gelar-who was active in the area of activism and empowerment-and Wahid who liked to play with technology was a meeting that produced a social reaction. That social reaction was in the form of “social tinkering” because what happened was they played with the social field of society.
Well, there was a clear point about Pemenang’s identity at this stage.