Aiming to be the “first world-class contemporary art museum” in Indonesia, Modern and Contemporary Art Museum at Nusantara (MACAN) in Jakarta has been building up our expectations since we first heard about it in 2015. While it is still not open, they have finally begun a small programme of introductory events in advance of its official opening in November 2017. The latest of these events is called First Sight. And in fulfilment of its “contemporary” mission, it is a series of performance work by Reza Afisina, FX Harsono, Agung Kurniawan, Tisna Sanjaya, Melati Suryodarmo and Yin Xiuzhen.
It is appropriate that respected Bandung artist Tisna Sanjaya is placed right outside the main gallery’s entrance. His work is often collaborative, ritualistic and infused with an element of celebration. Potret Diri Sebagai Kaum Munafik does not disappoint with its large, sprawling stage, prayer mats, coloured powders and one very wild artist. Visitors to MACAN are invited on stage where they collaborate with the grinning Tisna to spread powder, traverse the stage and contribute to the canvases. The flow and ebb of the visual form of Tisna’s work is provocative. The process of making, unmaking and remaking in collaboration echoes the positive ideals of the new museum at the cusp of its birth, with Tisna standing in as MACAN while we visitors enact our literal role of engagement with the space through entrance, participation and delightful sociality, all the while getting as covered in the art as Tisna himself.
Past the gallery entrance run by QR codes (coloured stickers mean nothing to machine), visitors enter what supposed is the main exhibition space. That still remains rather unclear, as artwork is rather scarce during First Sight. While there were sculptural works by names like Yayoi Kusama and Ju Ming present, they were tidily kept in the corner away from the main event. Our attentions were rather diverted toward the performances by the different artists, which were spaced out across the boldly empty gallery floor. As visitors flock from point A to B to catch the different artists, they simultaneously explore the gallery space, which has beautiful white walls and extremely high ceilings.
The performances are packed back to back and while it does seem overwhelming to attend on paper, especially with the true art lovers quick marching to the next location like the aunty trying to get a seat on the train, the roomy gallery and truly delightful Indonesian spirit of sociality creates presence, conversation and diversion even in areas of non-activity. In the Tisna-esque spirit of making and re-making and the contemporary fascination with the exhibition and spectacle, it is productive to view these clusters as part of the art of First Sight itself, an acknowledgement by the museum that they are Indonesian and there is space for Indonesian-ness within the “world-class” museum. In any case, creeping around these groups was a brilliant excuse to admire the architecture.
Performance art is an interesting thing for a museum, which is traditionally a collection of artefacts, be it art, archaeology or other forms of treasures. As Tisna’s performance implies, performance in Indonesian terms is ephemeral, ever-changing in its visual form. Melati Suryodarmo, who was recently named Best Artist at the Indonesian ALEQS, is well-known for the use of her body in her performances, barely leaving any physical documentation of her presence behind. FX Harsono, who performed his critically acclaimed Writing in the Rain, leaves behind a clean pane of glass after the performance. Each performance artist’s practice poses its own set of problems on what can be collected.
Ultimately, there does not seem to be much for MACAN to store into their collection and it remains to be seen what will be the place of these performances when the museum is officially open. Would it be costumes, video and photo documentation, performance objects or something else? Perhaps it would be a regular showing of the performances they collect? It is clear, however, that it would be a museum that does not forget its Indonesian context, which means that formulas from other museums worldwide cannot be easily transplanted. Their official opening and the making of their museological identity is certainly something to observe.