By UK/Indonesia 2016-18 team

28 March 2018 - 17:37

[MASS PUBLICATION] COMING SOON!, detail of the poster installation, part of MASS, 6-20 March 2018, Cemeti Institute.  ©

Cemeti - Institute for Art and Society

From 9 February till 9 March 2018, Auto Italia South East members Edward Gillman and Marianne Forrest undertook a research residency at Cemeti-Institute for Art and Society in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, in collaboration with British Council Indonesia. Auto Italia initiated the project MASS, which takes the shape of an exhibition at Cemeti (6-20 March 2018) and a fanzine to be published later in the year, with contributions by art practitioners from Yogyakarta and the UK. The below is a conversation between Auto Italia and Cemeti Chief Curators Sanne Oorthuizen and Alec Steadman.

Cemeti: Before we begin the conversation, let us briefly sketch a context first: in the beginning of 2016, together with British Council Indonesia, we invited Auto Italia for a research residency at Cemeti with the aim to develop a project as part of Cemeti’s current Maintenance Works program (Jan 2017-June 2018). With Maintenance Works, we take a moment for public reflection, to ask basic questions about where we are and where we want to go. The second draft of Maintenance Works is an exhibition series called Berbagi, (“berbagi” means “sharing” in Indonesian), for which we invited various artists and groups with collaborative practices to develop a project. MASS by Auto Italia is the fifth Berbagi project. Auto Italia’s practice has been collaborative from the start, not only in the sense that they work together as a group of artists, the members changing as time goes by, but for each project they do, they invite a broader circle of artists to join, which is something we found very interesting and which is perhaps more unusual in a European context. Most importantly, Auto Italia has a critical, experimental and political approach to art making, from conception and production to distribution and public, which we felt would be inspiring for our local context, Yogyakarta. 

So firstly, I would like to ask you, Ed and Marianne: how did you experience your research residency at Cemeti Institute and how did you come to develop MASS?

Auto Italia South East: We arrived at Cemeti having done all the research we felt able to do online and through conversations with friends but really not knowing what to expect. Our aim with this short residency was always to try and make connections with artists working in Jogja, but we were aware throughout of the problems forcing collaborations would pose. We wanted to try and find shared interests and modes of working and not fall into the well-worn mode of “learning from” a place where we are very temporary visitors. In 4 weeks this felt challenging, but the focus for us was always on making space for collaborations to build slowly and to look beyond the month that we were physically working in the city. The first phase of this was obviously to meet with practitioners and groups working in Jogja to try and get a better idea of the scene. There’s always a lot of talk around Jogja as a place full of collaboration, with artists often members of multiple groups and collectives which is something that was very apparent after only a few meetings. What was more interesting to get into during these conversations though wasn’t the idea –that is often the only one presented— of collaboration as a glorious DIY approach to making things happen, but actually as a mode of labour that has its own specific hierarchies and demands and creates certain shapes for work in the artistic community. We also were really interested in meeting people working across disciplines –artists, designers, sociologists, architects, curators–which is something really core to how we work as well, with a view that everyone collaborating together can take on the title of “artist”. 

Cemeti: Can you tell us about the collaborative aspect of MASS, both the exhibition at Cemeti Institute and the fanzine that you will produce?

Auto Italia: Something that jumped out at us was the prominence of publishing within the scene, and the dedication from many artists we met not only to printed matter as a key mode of expression and sharing, but actually a desire in some cases to own the means of production to be able to have a printer, a risograph, screen printing tools and so on and to be able to offer these out as community facilities. We started to see a lot of affinities with research and questions we’ve been exploring at Auto Italia over the past year, particularly thinking about the political and commercial potentials of subcultures and fandoms and the different modes of organising and sharing that hold mainstream appeal as well as niche desire. It was through this entry point that we started to develop MASS, thinking through what the format of a fanzine in its loosest form might mean or could offer as a tool for creating collaborations and conversations between ourselves, artists we were meeting in Jogja, and collaborators in our network back in the UK. In this way, MASS immediately became a long-term project, something that will unfold over the next 12 months which is really exciting for us as it will allow collaborations to take place and develop more organically, with space for reflection along the way.

For the exhibition element, which we conceived of as the launch of MASS as a brand, alongside the idea of the future publication, we worked with Jogja-based artist Natasha Tontey to create the overall identity and logo, as well as revisiting work created in collaboration with UK-based artist Pablo Jones Soler and a soundtrack for the space by Japan-based artist Friend in French (a.k.a. Ahmi Kim).

Meeting Timbil, member of Lifepatch, Yogyakarta, February 2018. ©

Cemeti - Institute for Art and Society

Behind the scenes: artist Natasha Tontey putting the finishing touches on MASS’ brand identity and logo, Cemeti Institute, February 2018. ©

Cemeti - Institute for Art and Society

Behind the scenes: printing MASS posters, Yogyakarta, March 2018. ©

Cemeti - Institute for Art and Society

Cemeti’s entrance during the exhibition MASS. On the far right Cemeti’s “Information Stand” with posters by Auto Italia, March 2018. ©

Cemeti - Institute for Art and Society

Auto Italia members Edward Gillman and Marianne Forrest in front of Cemeti - Institute for Art and Society just after they arrived in Yogyakarta, February 2018. ©

Cemeti - Institute for Art and Society

Cemeti: What are your main interests, concerns and questions in the project MASS?

Auto Italia: MASS has two very closely related themes. Firstly, the current fascination with fantasy culture, science fiction and their associated heroes, villains and characters in mainstream popular culture (in particular mainstream cinema, fashion, and media). The proliferation of these narratives, ideas and symbols in the mainstream is interesting to think about as a potential response to rising social and political conservatism in public policy and social reform that appears to be becoming an increasingly global conversation. We’ve been interested for a while in thinking about what re-imagining the cultural identities we associate with these media means though, in particular cultural identities that had previously been cast as dangerous or subversive to society that are gendered female (such as the ‘witch’ character for example). The blockbuster trend for epic fantasy narratives, tales of post-apocalyptic survival and post-human survival panics continues currently at full pelt, however so often these mainstream hits ignore the baggage that evoking these themes and histories bring –which are so often white, western and male centric. 

Secondly, MASS considers the rising trend in what we might describe as “survivalism” or “neo-survivalism”, a predominantly aesthetic trend using visual and narrative tropes of survival within contemporary fashion and media. Examples could include hiking and outdoor wear becoming popular as street wear in London and cigarette advertising across the city of Jogja presenting athletic gladiator-like men competing in gruelling tournaments. Some of these examples again feel like a nod towards an anti-institutional position on global shifts to the right –every citizen can be a superhero in their own right– however we cannot avoid an actuality that all of this content is being produced and disseminated under the auspices of consumer capitalism. So MASS asks the question of what community is this supposedly creating and on what terms?

These themes, which have been key in our longer-term research, developed much further when we arrived in Jogja, as we were immediately struck by how busy and transient the city was with travellers and tourists. We became aware of the great number of international artists, curators and institutional representatives in and out the city on an almost daily basis interested in tapping into and exporting this notion of the “DIY city” into cultural programmes worldwide. We began to understand this extraction along the same lines as this research, and were asking what it meant to commodify notions of DIY, particularly when that creative and social value has been produced within a postcolonial nation. In the exhibition part of MASS, you can see a number of slogans printed onto posters that explore these ideas further, alongside a series of newly designed camo prints, and posters evoking the cover of a magazine featuring ominous cover stars; one a CG modelled human-like character, the other a severed chicken head. Coming together as a whole, the format and conceptual framework of the project are one –asking how we can negotiate collaborations whilst acknowledging these pre-existing structures and on-going systems that continue to exploit them. The development of MASS and its format became for us a tool to resist what felt like an extension of pre-existing structures that extract cultural value and labour, and instead create longer-term relationships with artists both in Jogja but also within our network back in the UK.