Once my research and meetings with artists was well underway, my work at PSBK continued with auditions to find Jogja actors. The call was sent out via an advert on What’s App, Instagram and Facebook, mostly to people who were known to PSBK and to Project Manager Iteq, and word travelled fast.
The first idea was to find a group of actors to work with for two days. However, during the auditions we saw 11 actors/performers, and I wanted to work with them all. Another idea we explored was to conduct one workshop in Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian language) and one in English, but as it turned out that there were essentially two groups of actors applying – one more movement based, one more experienced in acting for drama, so it made sense to divide the days according to that.
It was challenging to see all 11 people, one after another, when I had originally planned to meet about four! People kept responding right up to the last minute. Two of the actors I met with were already part of the current group of artists in residence at PSBK, and since I was scheduled to do a separate workshop with resident artists in my third week, in the end I made the decision not to invite these two for the impro sessions, since I wanted to have fresh and equal start with everyone in the residency.
Movement and live art based artists scare me a little bit because it’s not my area of expertise, and so I was hesitant to have an impro session based around movement. However, part of this residency is an opportunity for me to push myself out of my comfort zone. And having Michael (my support worker and project assistant) on board created backup support.
So, we scheduled one impro day for Monday (18 Sept) and one for the following Monday (25 September). The first was to be more movement based (5 actors) and the second more drama/scenes/scenarios (4 actors).
Following the auditions on Saturday, I met with the resident artists at PSBK and it was our first official introduction. The first question they asked was what I was planning during our time together – on the already agreed theme of “Collaboration”. My response to that was, if I tell you what we are going to do, then it wouldn’t be a collaboration, so we are going to figure that out together. However, I gave everyone a piece of paper and I’ve asked them to write one word each day – What makes you who you are? Also, I’ve asked them to take photos of anything in their immediate surroundings – if they see something in which they recognise themselves, or identify with. It will be another way of answering the same question.
Sunday afternoon, I had a long conversation with Rismilliana Wijayanti (Ris) in the garden at Nanamia Pizza. Ris is a freelance curator and artistic director of Jogja Contemporary that I met at their opening the previous week. Ris was very open and generous with her time and we had long chat. One thing that stayed with me that she said, was that young artists always ask her “What is my place in the art scene? What should I do?” Her response is there is no place/no such thing – you need to claim your place. The other thing she said that stayed with me is that art and artists are at their best when they have a common enemy.
In terms of her career, what works well for Ris is that she has a lot of collaborations and works for many different organisations (Jogja Contemporary, Jogja Biennale, Jogja Street Sculpture Project, to name a few), wearing many different hats. But she stays independent of institutions, and that keeps her horizons open and allows her to create a wide range of relationships. Ris pointed me in the direction of several different artists that I wanted to meet from different backgrounds and disciplines.
Impro day on Monday. Through the movement exercises and impros we explored how do we see ourselves and how do other people see us, with five exciting Jogja actors. Through mapping and movement exercises, we explored relationships between ourselves and our families– how people felt about where they were born and how their parents and grandparents may have felt about where they were born. What does it mean to be in this space right now and how did we get here? This work created some beautiful, very strong moments of movement, body shapes, and interactions.
In the afternoon, we developed impros out of ideas about who we are, how we project ourselves, and how we are perceived. Throughout the day, there were lots of words used in the exploration of What Makes Us Who We Are, both as individuals and in relationships, including the relationship between the actors and the characters they play. I’m currently gathering these words into word maps, which is a tool I continue to use in my work.
The experience of the impro day highlighted how, here in Jogja, people feel that immediate family is a very important influence on who they are – their family background, their order or role in the family circle, and their memories of childhood.
On Tuesday, Michael and I flew to Jakarta to attend a British Council Indonesia sponsored event – a round table discussion to look at opportunities presented by the Para Games 2018, to be held in Jakarta. Attendees included representatives from two ministries (Youth & Sports and Education & Culture), arts organisations, disability NGOs, as well as artists, gathering to discuss the possible creation of a disability arts programme of work alongside the Games. As a disabled artist, I was invited to reflect on the experience around the London Paralympics and Cultural Olympiad, and the Unlimited Progamme of Disability Arts that was created during the 2012 Games and still continues.
It was powerful and encouraging to experience the passion of the Deaf and disabled Indonesian people in the room, although I had to try to supress my dislike of competitive sports. It felt like we were invited to witness a private conversation, since the interaction and initiatives of Indonesians and especially Deaf and disabled Indonesians are what’s important. But I do hope that we will find ways to support each other as Deaf and disabled people regardless of where we come from, or what we do. After the previous day, repeating 11 times for the sake of the auditionees who I am and what I was doing, at this event when I tried to repeat it for the 12th time, almost nothing came out!
The next day in Jakarta, I was excited to have the opportunity to spend some time in the city to explore and experience daily life and see some galleries and art spaces. It seemed, however, like our timing wasn’t great because many of the galleries were between exhibitions. Sita from the British Council Indonesia gave us a list of recommendations and we decided to go to the Galerie Foto Journalistik Antara (Photojournalism Museum Antara). The ground floor had a very interesting and informative display of images showing and celebrating Indonesia’s struggle for independence. Because the images were so strong, we didn’t miss having text in English. I couldn’t go up to the second floor (no lift), but Michael tells me the exhibition continued with historic journalistic equipment like old typewriters and photostat machines. Coincidentally, a large street art piece by Sigit, Jogja stencil artist and husband of Iteq, was on one wall, although we didn’t know it was his at the time.
After that visit, I thought I could walk around a bit to experience the city, but I had to give up in a very short time – it was too hot and difficult to be outside in the chaotic streets with their broken, uneven or non-existent pavement. We headed to the historic old city (Kota) where I sat and chilled at the Batavia Café, in the central square surrounded by Dutch Colonial buildings that have been transformed mostly into museums. It gave me an opportunity to take a peak at the daily life in Jakarta. I took lots of photos. I don’t know if it’s possible to generalise, but compared to Jogja people in Jakarta seemed less patient and less happy. But then I thought – do I look like this in London? Am I less patient – do I look unhappy? And the tourist visitors in London – what do they think of me?
Finally, we had a two-hour taxi journey back to the airport. These times we were stuck in taxis in relentless Jakarta traffic were a great opportunity for me to see some daily life and steal some images of local people.
At the airport, when we approached the desk to check in, we were told that wheelchair service was at a different desk, which I was supposed to walk to, in the next section of the airport. After a chaotic experience getting any of several desk clerks’ attention, I was asked to sit and wait. Then a young person approached me and asked, excuse me, but why did you ask for a wheelchair? A bit later, the same person came back and asked, how old are you? I said, why are you asking me these questions, how are they going to help you? I must strongly underline that it’s not the individual person’s fault, but lack of proper training and experience. So – Garuda Indonesia, if you are reading this, you really really need to train your ground staff. My in-flight journeys to and from Jakarta were all comfortable and I was well looked after.
Thursday night, Iteq took us out for a drive through Jogjakarta. We were hoping to witness the Silent Walk, a new years’ ritual for Muslims, specific to Jogja, were people walk barefoot and silently around the kraton (palace). We never actually found the walkers, since they only started after midnight, which we didn’t know. But while we were driving through the city, we had the privilege of seeing different parts of Jogja, and again from the car I experienced some beautiful moments and nice photo opportunities, including at the South Square and the Malioboro.
On Friday, I met with two artists: Joned Suryatmoko, a writer/director/activist working in theatre and Moelyana, a sculptor who creates large scale installations from crochet.
Joned squeezed me in before participating on a judging panel for young theatre artists from all over Java. His career is an interesting mix of pushing the envelope of Indonesian theatre, and creating support for Indonesian artists and writers, as well as more community based projects. Joned described a fascinating project that he did with blind actors, working in an innovative way that looked at set design and access for the actors as well as creating a unique audience experience. The highlight of my conversation came when I asked Joned What Makes You Who You are? He felt that who he is comes down to his parents, who were both engaged in politics and were both committed to doing positive work for others. He then told me the story of his childhood and how he went to Catholic boarding school since his family wanted him to be priest. He quickly realised that this was not for him – but he learned a lot from that experience. The boys in the school had to keep an ongoing diary, and every year they were asked to write an eight-page document explaining why they should continue at the seminary. Joned says that although he gave up his religious studies, he still maintains a lot of the discipline that was instilled in him at boarding school. And also, when he thinks of working on something, it’s not a question of how, but always a question of why – and that gives him a lot of insight and strength into his work.
My conversation with Moelyana was more casual – I just wanted to hear what his life was like as a practising artist, and was interested to hear about and see images of his work, large scale crochet installations that are very beautiful (see link below). I hope to visit him at his studio in the coming weeks and see some of the work in person.
Saturday, I worked on prepping for the week ahead: a second impro session on Monday and then and a week of work (Tuesday to Saturday) with the artists in residence at PSBK. These artists performed a show they have been working on Saturday night at PSBK, a mix of traditional Javanese storytelling with some contemporary touches – masks that had flashing lights as the eyes, and torches used for lighting effects. The artists in residence include theatre artists, dancers and visual artists – who created a beautiful simple set as well as traditional costumes. The movement was very precise and you could see that the actors are trained in traditional dance techniques. The outdoor theatre was full of local people, young and old, and even the children seemed to stay quiet, at least for most of it. Of course, I missed a lot of the meaning, since I didn’t know the language, but it gave me insight into who they are as artists that will be useful when I get to work with them.
Actors for impro session 1:
M. Dinu Imansyah
Agung Dwi Atmaja
Rizki Irwan Wijaya