(by Dale Gorfinkel)
I remember something Tintin said about growing up in Indonesia and not learning anything at school about China or Russia, two countries that seem to take up a massive proportion of the world and aren’t that far away from Indonesia. Well growing up in Australia, I feel frustrated too that I didn’t learn anything about Australia’s neighbours including Indonesia. So this trip has been a real revelation for me. Big thanks to Joel and Kristi for bringing together an inspiring bunch of artists who are keen to share ideas, brainstorm, and deeply engage with each other’s practices.
Art and music worlds in IBP.
Aside from any differences between the artists such as language and locality, I’ve actually been more aware of the worlds of difference between art and music. If there’s such a thing as artform ethnicity, mine would be music. Actually I think all of the IBP artists have some form of musician ancestry. But early on it became apparent that IBP (and artists) seemed to steer away from musical contexts for instrument building.
Joel had asked each of the artists to give a ‘presentation’ at the start of the residency. Other than Peter and myself, everyone had pretty snazzy power-point presentations with documentation of past works. It was super impressive – both the art works but also the presentations! I’d never seen artists do these kind of presentations before, but it struck me that this was what people connected to the ‘art world’ do. As I understand it, these things are necessary for showing to galleries, curators etc …and really useful for showcasing to collaborators! It’s certainly not necessary to get a show at Make It Up Club or The Now now (in fact you’d probably be less likely to get a gig if you paraded the organisers with an impressive Powerpoint slideshow).
It’s obvious that music and art have different institutions, paradigms, economies and cultures. And that’s another reason why instrument building has so much potential to stretch contexts.
To date, the instruments that I have made have generally had my presence in mind. These tend to be like lego or meccano where pieces can be continuously pulled apart and put together in moments of play, from gig to gig and even during performance. I re-use materials from installation to installation and gradually build a vocabulary of materialistic relationships.
When Joel and Kristi implied that the work I made here would be left here, my brain kind of discombobulated. It never really occurred to me that I might return home without my usually trusted set of motors, balloons and reeds. Creating object based works with some kind of permanence for an art world had seemed like a foreign pursuit. But this project has helped me to feel open towards this possibility and even excited about connecting with a different community of artists and audiences.
As sound works are becoming more popular in the visual art world (which presumably foregrounds visuals), I wonder how this situation affects the perception and production of unique listening experiences. What kind of interest would there be in a crappy looking but unique sounding work? As Caitlin’s work suggests (and Ray Charles), blindness might help to raise the listening sense. For me though my blindfold is off …I’ve just discovered colourful tubing!
A question about DIY
In Australia, my own practice involves using materials that are easily accessible, free or affordable. Also I chose materials that I can personally manipulate with my own limited set of skills. So for example the frames for instruments are made using coat hanger wire that can be reshaped with a pair of pliers, or milk crates from the street that can be cut with a knife. I don’t have the skills or the equipment for welding or for creating intricate electronic systems.
The budgets within which I build instruments are often very small, and perhaps more often there isn’t one. As well as that, I have enjoyed the activity of making stuff myself and developing an intimacy with materials over a long period of time, extending the possibilities of sonic and sculptural form with a limited set of materials. For sure, those limitations can be conducive to establishing a need for inspiration and creativity. I never gave it a whole lot of thought until I came here, but I’m definitely part of a DIY culture.
However, during this residency I have been exposed to artists who seem to create work quite differently, both socially and economically. Here (referring both to Indonesia but also to the ‘art world’), artists can employ technicians, tradesmen (seems to be usually men here), and sometimes friends, to help to realise an idea. In some ways it’s like an architect who draws up the plans and communicates to the builders what they want made. There’s Tintin and her odong-odong builder, Bagus and his electronics-wiz uncle, Jompet and his technicians, Caitlin and her leather worker. Plus there’s the amazing IBP staff Stufvani, Dholy and Iqbal.
In Yogya this way of working seems normal, affordable and also quite community minded. One artist’s project can employ many people, giving value to the skills of others. This attitude and the affordability of labor and materials allows artists to ‘think big’ whilst perhaps also providing a space for people to share their specialized skills. There seems to be a whole realm of creative vision and social inclusion possible within this mode of operation. (Obviously there’s also some questions about authorship too and different interpretations of ‘collaboration’.)
For me, I’d never experienced this before and have felt somewhat confronted and embarrassed at the thought of having people available to assist in my pursuit of idiosyncratic sounds. Certainly no one in my circles has operated in this way, until now. In Australia, I guess affordability would be the main constraint, but perhaps it also ties into ideas of individualism, competitiveness and merely trying to get by – by getting ahead. For artists like me, ‘Do-It-Yourself’ is a source of pride but probably also the response I’d expect to hear from other people if I asked for help!
I’ve just been introduced to the acronym DIWO – Do It With Others. I like that!
Despite the Bunnings sausage sizzles on the weekend, buying stuff in Australia does not fill me with much sense of supporting the local community. In Jogya I go to a hardware store, I meet the family who run the business, and I have a warm fuzzy feeling when I spend Australian tax payer’s money! I see money changing hands and economics seems tangible. I wonder why spending money in Australia feels different? And how does this create a different relationship to materials?
A couple of weeks ago Dholy took me to a family run recycle centre to find some containers. I felt a lot more at home there than at the supermarket, even though I still had to pay for the junk materials that I wanted.
IBP continues to provide me with inspiration, reflections and exposure to multiple ways of thinking about and making instruments.