URBAN EXPRESSIONS. Charles Esche, the head curator of the Jakarta Biennale 2015, discusses the themes of this year’s exhibition and the difference it can make with Gabriela Yosefina
Some of the works from the previous Jakarta Biennale: “Berteduh di Bawah Siasat” by Enrico Halim
Jakarta Biennale, the biggest biannual art event in Jakarta, is open for public from November 15 until January 17, with the theme “Maju Kena Mundur Kena.” Highlighting issues such as water, history and gender roles in society, the exhibition will mainly be curated by Charles Esche, the director of Van Abbemuseum in the Netherlands. Having curated a handful of international biennales such as the ones in Gwangju, Istanbul and Sao Paulo, he will lead a team of young curators in presenting the importance of looking at what’s happening now and interpreting the culture of various cities.
“Urban Memory” by Lost Generation
Gabriela Yosefina: Can you tell us a bit about what the Jakarta Biennale is all about and what makes this year’s installment different from the previous ones?
Charles Esche: The origin of Jakarta Biennale goes back to the 1970s when it was a national painting exhibition, and gradually over the years it has changed and become more international. It has also moved from featuring paintings only to including other kinds of media. This year’s biennale is different because we do not only focus on the city of Jakarta and Indonesia as a whole, but also on the works of international artists. The idea is to invite them to come to Indonesia—to Jakarta, Surabaya, Makassar and even to the countryside—and to ask them to create works about their experiences here. Therefore, as strangers can sometimes tell you something about your home that you would otherwise miss, we hope that visitors will be able to see something about Jakarta or Indonesia that they would never expect to be highlighted, or they would have never told themselves—in the form of an important idea or informative question.
Gabriela Yosefina: The theme this year is “Maju Kena Mundur Kena.” What does it signify?
Charles Esche: It is about trying to look at what’s happening now—the theme is loosely translated to neither forward nor backward—and also to see that what’s happening now is always influenced by the past. So, it is not about being nostalgic nor utopic, but to understand influences from the past and look at the moment. For instance, the theme itself is taken from a 1980s movie, and the eighties was not a fashionable decade. However, that decade defines the styles and the cultures of today.
Gabriela Yosefina: As people are becoming more aware of contemporary art today, what can the audience expect after attending this year’s biennale?
Charles Esche: I hope that they will see something of the world around them in a different way. They will also be engaged because there will be a lot of performances and works they can sit on and touch, and have an exciting experience that makes them feel free to be themselves. We are currently working with a lot of communities in various areas as well, and I hope that we can build bridges among people from different social backgrounds. The biennale will thus be a communication hub where people can meet, where the works of young artists and more established artists can be found, where a mix of videos and paintings can be enjoyed. This idea of mixing actually comes from the city itself; in Jakarta you will find residential and commercial areas, rich and poor neighborhoods standing next to each other.