Imagining Jakarta, 2004

Imagining Jakarta is a collaboration in 2004 by architects, urban designers/planners, poets, graphic designers, photographers, sculptors, and multi-media artists, to “imagine” visions for some urban spaces and issues in Jakarta. It was conducted through a series of  workshop in 2004, and the results were exhibited at Gallery Cemara in December 2004. The participants are: Marco Kusumawijaya, Adi “Mamo” Purnomo, Dewi Susanti, Bonifacius Djoko Santoso , Yuka, Irwan Ahmett, Paul Kadarisman, Erik Prasetya, Enrico Halim, Akhmad “Apep” Tardiyana, Gregorius Supie Yolodi, Hedi Hariyanto, Budi Pradono ,Yuka Dian Narendra and David  Setiadi. 

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For more pictures, see: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rujak/sets/72157620952348995/

Here are some statements.

Press Release: Is Jakarta a failing metropolis?

Imagining Jakarta feelss that Jakarta has never been given a chance to succeed. Her potentials, including even ones that might arise from her problems, if understood correctly, have yet to be given ample space and momentum, vis-à-vis a way of developing that lacks discourses, perspectives, imaginations, and participations. The existing plans and “projects” tend to avoid the heart and the true scale of the matter.

Jakarta is not failing; rather, it has never been given a chance to succeed.

Although she has made many people frustrated, Jakarta metropolis is still offering cosmopolitan opportunities, providing sources of hopes to increasingly more people who will invariably depend on her in many aspects of their life: work, market, public, power, lover, limelight and hide-outs, existence and anonymity, edu- and infotainment, illusion and disillusion, victory and remorse. People never stop hoping. The problems and, at the same time, the potentials of this city lie exactly in the energy derived from the ever increasing hopes that people place on her. The hopes are based on imaginations, be they individual or collective. Perhaps it is also imaginations that are needed in order to able to realize these hopes.

Imagining Jakarta believes that imagination is the springboard to fly higher up in order to gain wider perspectives, and simultaneously to dive deeper in order to see what lies under the surface. Imagination is the passport to allow possibilities and potentials to have their chances. Imagining Jakarta manages shadows of possibilities: “What if all of those possibilities are really given their chances?”

Imagining Jakarta tries to present into the public sphere personal imaginations about the collective hopes for Jakarta. Imagining Jakarta offers an alternative method to experience Jakarta; one that not only serves as a source of ideas, but also as a space for interdisciplinary dialogues, among writers, artists—graphic designers, photographer, sculptors—and architects, all of them are from the younger generation. Twice a month, from morning to evening, June to August, they meet in a series of workshops. They explain their preliminary ideas, they give critiques and references, whether in the forms of examples of projects, works of others, or data collected from other institutions or data that are specifically collected for Imagining Jakarta.

As its initial standing stone, Imagining Jakarta believes in the programmatic density (and is against the mere volumetric cramming that ignore diversity), wishes Jakarta to be a “city of life” (and is against the negative power that turns her into a mere “city of work”), hopes for her spaces to become creative spaces, considers mobility as social, cultural, and economic rights, and aims for the environmental sustainability as a goal.

Imagining Jakarta asks us all to imagine other possible Jakarta’s. Therefore, it also entreats that all projects about Jakarta be disclosed before the public, so that these projects can enter the process of collective imaginations and be realised with the participation of the public. Imagining Jakartawishes to reveal dialogues about the values that emerge along with the process of producing the artifacts of the city. 

 

Imagining Jakarta: Suddenly Dusk, Suddendly Dawn…

by Marco Kusumawijaya

Imagining Jakarta started when Rifky “Goro” Effendy caught me straddling out of Cemara 6 Gallery one evening when night was approaching. He asked, “What if we make an architectural exhibition?”

As a personal activity, I have always been imagining Jakarta all the time, at least since 1998, when I was writing my master’s thesis on the city[1]. In the period of 1993 – 1995, I attempted to provoke the Arsitek Muda Indonesia (Indonesian Young Architects club) to channel their energy to works for the public, instead of merely holding exhibitions promoting themselves or some architectural styles—which invariably appears too late in Indonesia anyway. A term was born, “Kotak-Katik Kota Kita”—or “Tinkering with Our City”. Preparations took place. It remains unclear, however, why the effort eventually ceased. My presumption: There was not enough self confidence, due to doubts about technical matters, and not enough motivation, either, as in their early twenties or thirties, in the beginning of their career, people will desire more to promote themselves.

Working on the city, for architects, is indeed a step taken at the senior level. Ironically, however, after a long period of silence, in the 1980s Indonesian architects started to learn again to design cities precisely outside the cities—i.e. in the “new cities” or “new towns,” a term in the market to refer to the “sub-town” or the “sub-urb”[2]. The word “new” was indeed considered as having its own charm or power, after development has, in reality, created a dystopian image to the “old” town.

The “new-town” has nothing to do with the New Urbanism, either semantically or (even more so) ideologically. In approximately the same period of time, New Urbanism was blooming in the United States. New-towns in Indonesia are a logical step in the capital expansion to produce some added values to the existing space through a wider and deeper power over the spatial structure. This is achieved through the ability to self-arrange land-use and its infrastructure, so that price is actually no longer determined by competition in the open market, but instead by holders of vast amount of land. “New-towns” are also a special achievement in the cooperation between the capital and the state[3].

The (old) towns, meanwhile, are operated and arranged by the state, through the hands of the officials and staff of the Department of the Public Works and other related departments. This was true especially until the beginning of the 1990s, when the capital expansion started to widen and deepen its grip on the spatial structure at the heart of the city—usually with the justification that the developing of super blocks would enable the integration and efficiency of infrastructures. Naturally, what was implied but never stated was the ease for the capital to control the operating margin solely by itself, without meaningful interference from external parties, except by the state, which has in turn been assured to trust everything in the hands of the capital owner, presumed to be more responsible and professional.

The expansion of the capital and the state (which has become its puppet) over the city is far wider (and deeper) than what we can possibly imagine. “Trusting the hands of the market,” we increasingly realize, turns out to be the choice of the power holder with no true awareness and real knowledge about the market. The reason for such choice, it turns out, is due to their profitable ignorance—ignorance that, deliberately or not, has profited the persons holding the power to give license to build[4].

The marginalization of the housing areas, not only for the poorest but also for the middle class, is the result that will be most harmful in the long run. Only the capital owners and the uppermost class will enjoy this situation—because, just as their capital, they are not spatially-bounded: they are not attached to a place, and can seemingly fly wherever they want, alighting later always with the free options to stay or to move again.

The distortion in the price of the land and the house, making them even more unreachable for the majority of the people, is only one of the results. Pollutions, environmental damages, and traffic jams are other examples of how the individual profit of the capital is harmful to the wider public. Bundaran HI, or the Hotel Indonesia roundabout, with the potential to be a public space, is precisely set for the interests of private cars and create a feeling of self-assurance on the part of the capital. Consumptive messages pervade the spaces in the city intensely[5].

Taking over the public space is a form of awareness on the part of the citizenry, requiring interdisciplinary sophistications. There needs also be a blurring of the boundary between thinking and material production. What Imagining Jakarta is doing is to blur out the distinction between free critical discourses and the activities to produce, to take part in the market.

In the activities of Imagining Jakarta, taking over the public space has come to mean two things: 1)to  actually take over the physical space of the city in order to create imaginations over it for the public interest in the long run, and 2) to take over the public attention toward the proposed alternatives. Taking over the public space also means taking over a piece of the market of ideas. We don’t know whether this will be successful or not; it is, however, an adventure considered as necessary, conducted with concerns and responsibility.

 ***

Indeed, Jakarta is built always one step behind the aspirations of her dwellers. We tend to remember only one moment when the development of this city was quick enough to respond to the needs of the public—that was the moment of Ali Sadikin. In all honesty, however, he was also late when compared with what should actually take place—but this was not commonly felt considering the absence of previous examples and because of the harsh condition of the time. The problems of Jakarta today is piling up, because after Ali Sadikin’s moment expired, there had been no meaningful initiatives that had an ample time before the next dusk arrived.

All of a sudden it’s nighttime, when new works are just started. All of a sudden it’s morning time, the sun wakes us up, when plans are just beginning to be thought up. Changes rush in intensely, pressurising also the integrity of the decision makers.

The rush often entails recklessness, and this has been the characteristic in the management of the city of Jakarta for four decades. And such is life in the city, too. “When I look into the mirror-map of Jakarta—a creation of Dewi Susanti in the exhibition of Imagining Jakarta—I find my own face, in the size of one municipality,” said one visitor to the exhibition.

Such was the process of the workshop and the production of the exhibition. We thought the time between June and September would be enough. There were three workshops, two days each, between June and August. These were meant to provide a space for a process of understanding, to exchange views, to imagine Jakarta. All of a sudden it was already morning, we had to wake up, to produce an exhibition. Indeed, the current reflection has been: Do people have to work hard at night as well in this ever-rushing metropolis? Isn’t there appropriate time to stop for a while, to reflect about what is right and what is wrong, to let the experiences settle, before we start to produce again the next day?

Imagining Jakarta, through the four-month time of togetherness, expects to give ample time for a group of architects, sculptors, writers, photographers, graphic workers, and composers, to dwell in her problems. But we still woke up with the feeling of “suddenly dawn.” And when we started to work to build our imaginations, again we faced the fact that it was suddenly dusk. Night and day times are very short in this city—especially because we spend three hours on the road, and three more hours in front of the TV.

The city has never had time to settle her problems, applying real actions, as all of a sudden there will be new issues, new problems, or a new governor. The city has never had enough time to reflect about her future, to sublimate her experience, as all of a sudden she will have to rush again when the morning comes.

In such situations, Imagining Jakarta, therefore, becomes a kind of meditation amid the crowd and haste.

The participants in “Imagining Jakarta” realize that their imaginations must compete with other imaginations. The situation of the workshop was often carried away with the pressured atmosphere when we realized about the domination of the imagination by the power of money and politics, providing no breathing space for the imaginations of the public and the common people—or even of the experts. Advertisements, for example, are all but a campaign to form public opinions. Look at the houses in the style of “Little Spain,” “Little Italy,” and so forth. Such advertisements build the images that slowly become the “norm.”

Some of the participants, therefore, felt that they had to meditate on the realities of the metropolis, delving below the surface, without the pretension to offer any construction at all. Others viewed Jakarta as one total, integrated network. Imaginations, indeed, are like a springboard, enabling us to reach for a higher point in order to gain a wider perspective, if not a whole one, and then delving deep below the surface.

Imagining Jakarta was begun not with a strong belief about what it would achieve. What we were certain of was merely that as an experiment, this was worth trying. Architects in Jakarta (or in Indonesia) has never been truly involved in a collaboration with artists, especially by taking a city such as Jakarta as the subject—this was an ambition that had seemed a bit overconfident. Jakarta, however, has triggered so much emotions and it seems appropriate to turn them into some creative energy. What is soothing for us, at the end, is a comment from one of the audience to the exhibition: “Most of what has been imagined here someday will come to be, as that is precisely the direction of history and the inescapable fate of a metropolis. The problem is whether we want to anticipate such changes or not; proactively to plan them or not; to be able to gain the biggest possible advantage for the public and to sustain this advantage—or are we going to ‘let things work by themselves,’ let the market decide, and consequently weaken the bargaining position of the public and the future generations?”

Suddenly it’s morning time, and before our eyes we see the latest examples of public policy such as the busway and the monorail; neither of which is truly planned as an early, anticipative, and proactive public policy. Instead, these policies are more due to the pressure from certain NGO’s, and the result of the calculations of the private sectors. Fortunately, however, these policies are eventually realized, although still with such rush and recklessness.

Collaboration such as in the Imagining Jakarta means a working together on the part of different groups and in several stages and layers. Such collaboration takes place starting from by merely accepting inputs from, and giving inputs to, other participants; asking for reactions and contributions in terms of ideas, words, and substances from fellow participants; collaboration in executing the ideas; up to the level of truly working together, developing the concept up to the execution stage. There are also collaborations along the process, among the participants thinking that their ideas can be worked on together, or among the participants who thought that they needed others’ expertise. Often there were changes or developments away from the original plans of each of the participants, as other participants in the process influenced them. The prevalence of such changes and doubts precisely shows the success of the collaboration process among the participants.

Indeed, not everything that Rifky and I have imagined has been realized. There are, however, new imageries that we have not thought of before. Even the composition of participants changes. Some cancelled their participation, and some new participants came. We do miss the participants who had cancelled their involvement in the project, and are thankful to new participants who had come forward.

Personally, I have fulfilled one of my selfish goals when I designed the program since the very beginning—that is, I want to learn as much as I can from the creative perspective and expertise of each participant:

Cecil has helped me (and I think other fellow participants as well) to understand the fate and the unexpected and unlimited probabilities in the metropolis of Jakarta; to appreciate the intense varieties provided in the city, and the richness of the visual vocabulary of Jakarta.

Dewi has helped me (and I think other fellow participants as well) to comprehend Jakarta as a web—is there a femme fatale in it? This is indeed what the fate of a city should be: the intense communication and mobility.

David has helped me (and I think other fellow participants as well) to acknowledge the desperation of the heritage movement to conserve the old city, and the futility of the existing plans due to their pretentious denial of the real depth of the problem.

Joko has helped me (and I think other fellow participants as well), with an acute sense of humour and irony, to understand the chaos of the metropolis due to the solitary nature of the individual islands, they being humans or other elements of the city, which at the same time provide the richness of the city. Individuals in the metropolis—human being or not—are at the same time overexposed and confined as lonesome fragments.

Yuka has created a new folder in my mind (and hopefully in other fellow participants’ as well) for a new program of experimentations: the history and the traces of the sounds that are often not considered as a “form” in the daily life of the metropolis; and the history and the trace of the music about Jakarta, as an expression of hate and love toward this step-mother that is the city. 

Supie has invariably made me (and others, too) realize the differences about architectural and artistic approaches, and why architecture must seek solutions.

Mamo helps me (and others as well) to see the possibility to treat the city as a loved subject, challenging our autonomous sincerity to give, without being dependant on the structure and the government; to see them “who fill the city,” and not the city itself. Hopefully I don’t have to be a vegetarian to be able to have the capability of the 40 Hz wave in the Spiritual Intelligence of Mamo’s. Why, I wonder, hasn’t the idea come up from me, one who is often considered an anarchist[6]?

Apep helps me (and certainly other fellow participants, too) to see in all certainty that the problems of Jakarta are actually common and classic in the history of the cities—they are not out of control at all; it is only our capability that has been out of date, and the existing solutions that are let to take place (trusting it all to the market, they say) are moving us away from the real natureof the city, and are banal and superficial.

Eric leisurely shows me (and other fellow participants) the intense happenings and feelings taking place in the frame of the moment of 1/30 second (or less?). Looking at his pictures, we feel at once framed and frozen in the moment. My spirit of activism that is often seething meets the question: “Isn’t it true that not everything needs to be changed, and we only need to live in it, giving no judgement?”

Paul, who is such a quiet person, subtly shows his unsettling and cynical feelings about the city. From a highly “objective” art form such as photography, Paul’s works are the most subjective among other works in the exhibition. We not only see Paul in his photographs, but also hear him. He creates his own personal and subjective saying, without having to utter any new word, but only by taking and composing the visual words he finds in the reality. Photography becomes a loud medium—as loud as it possibly can be—for Paul’s quiet personality, who is quietly… unsettling the curators!

Hedi (the runner up in terms of quietness) helps me (and other fellow participants) in critical times to at once remember the real dimension, to withhold decisions that are too concrete, unifying, and freedom-threatening. In other words, he prevents us from becoming fascists, reminding us about the natural right of art as the main actor and main claimant of creativity and spontaneity. At the same time, Hedi is also a realist. Therefore: “Just be careful when you’re eating!”

Rico reminds me that there is always a challenge to be more idealistic (and “why not?”); which means that there are always more home works to do and to strive for. There should be no words of tiredness and contention.

Iwang helps me (and other fellow participants as well?) to be alert to see something that is… (without words), and let our mind to be stirred up by perspective and way of thinking that demand the installation of other operating system in our brain. The logo of Imagining Jakarta that he designs has an interesting history:

“I have made more or less 300 alternatives for the logo. I became confused making all those circles. There was something interesting that happened when I was making the logo. My right hand suddenly unceasingly made artistic circles, taking composition much into account. It should be more spontaneous. I tried using my left hand, it turned out that the result was ‘chaotic’ enough, but there was still some aesthetic feelings left. Hmmm… My last resource was making circles with my eyes closed… the result was ‘not bad’ and always surprised me when I opened my eyes. It was like how I am surprised every day when I see Jakarta. Oh, and in the alternative of 1 and 4, in the middle of it there was a peeping eye, accidentally made. That reflects our condition now, as the ‘Peeping Toms’ of Jakarta. Hopefully this will be beneficial to the nation and the country.”

Budi makes me (and others, too) aware of the meta-physics of data. Together with Iwang, he has inspired the idea to create a City Corner, in the shortest possible time, which will publish the data of the city in the series of “Citizen’s Book,” combining the graphic and the text which might hopefully function as an eye-opener for the citizens of Jakarta.

Amy helps me (and all other fellow participants will never deny it) to see the fact that metropolitan urbanite likes being served with data.

***

In the last few years, there was truly an increase in the discourse on the city outside the professions that have been conventionally thought of as having the competence to hold such discourse—architecture, among others[7]. Several activities with the theme of urbanity recently took place among the artists and intellectuals. The photography exhibition “Urban Horizon” during May 11 to June 12, 2004, in Jakarta, truly gave an alternative perspective and approach, much needed in order to understand continuously the reality of the metropolis, which is always metamorphosing and pregnant. There was also the exhibition of sculptures, titled “Six Urbanites” during April 13 – April 21, 2004, in Yogyakarta, looking at the symptoms of urbanization and its baggage,  including the pathology, which might not seem as real as we need them to be in order to conduct some critical evaluation. Twenty intellectuals from various disciplines were invited on July 21, 2004, by the Foundation of Science, Aesthetics, and Technology (SET Foundation), led by Garin Nugroho the film-director, which for its seventeenth anniversary was holding a panel discussion called “Saving the Public Space as the Means for the Culture of Democracy.” Although the public space does not invariably relate to the city and exist as a material space, there are naturally various urban dimensions that are involved here. Much early on, in December 19 – 21, 2003, there was the event of  Urban Literature, the meeting of the Jakarta literati. Discussed in the December event were the issues of urban history, conflicts, and the symptoms of suburbanity.

Aside from what has been discussed above, there might be still other events that I don’t know of. In the year 2005, it is already heard, there will be an art event with the theme of the urban.

The various examples above, and the increasing intensity of the news on the city in the mass media due to the frequency of the urban events (from bombs to gossips of marriage and divorce among the artists; from the natural disasters to the cases of mis-management of the city developments) in the increasing free space, show that there has been an increase in the awareness and the discourse about the city. This is a meaningful progress compared to, say, ten years ago. This is precisely the capital that we need to amass in order to promote the quality of our urbanity and urban civilization. This is a success that we need to keep creating in its various forms, by engaging  the public through exchanges of information, negotiation, and discourse making.

It is actually strange for, as far as I know, there has been no exhibitions about the design and planning of an Indonesian city, open to the general public—except those for marketing purposes by the developers.

Probably the problem is on which level a discipline must process the issues. The city, for architects, has been a “practice,” a problem solving “project” that needs to be requested either by the state or by the private sectors as their clients. Without requests, it seems that there would be no process. Therefore the HI Roundabout is designed after there was a request, as is also the case of the sidewalk along Thamrin-Sudirman. Without the request, there is no initiative to take the problem into the level of an alternative discourse—much less in the level of participatory or imaginative discourse. The problem lies in several stages. To be able to talk with the multi-stakeholders and multi-disciplinary public, architecture and the practice of urban planning needs to elevate themselves or getting down (depending on how we view it) to the level of concept, or even briefs[8], whose formulation needs to be understood by and engage the general public. In public projects, when the owners and users of the projects are actually the people—although formally the task-giver is the government—the role of the architect becomes greater, indeed, and also more to the source: taking a role in processing the draft of the brief. In the methodological level, architects must find a way and language to communicate with the public and with other disciplines. At the most basic level, the (urban) society itself must have the desire not to give the brief and the concept solely to the architects, although still respecting the architects as the competent professionals who will help and lead the process to make the brief and the concept materialise.

——————————————————————————–

[1] Marco Kusumawijaya, “Thamrin Sudirman Avenue, Jakarta: A Case Study in the Problem of Modernisation in a Developing Metropolis,” Department of Architecture, Urban & Regional Planning, University of Leuven, Belgium, September 1990; unpublished thesis.

[2] “Sub-kota” (literally means “sub-town”) is a better term in Indonesian to refer to the “sub-urb,” as the two consecutive consonants at the end, “-rb” are not common in the Indonesian language. The two terms, meanwhile, have the same meaning.

[3] My four year experience working as a professional on the side of the capital owner, i.e. as a director in a developer company, has provided me with many experiences in terms of the cooperation between the state and the capital—and these experiences and stories are worth telling in another occasion. 

[4] Recently, the governor of Jakarta has repeated the argument that seems to be pro-market: “The developer who wants to develop malls has naturally calculated that there is a sufficiently-big market for malls…”

[5] The recent history of the reform movement also includes efforts to take over the spaces of the city in order to convey public messages. The private billboard at the northeast corner of the Bundaran HI was often draped by giant banner of the NGO coalitions, conveying public messages such as the corruption in the drawing up of the budget of the city of Jakarta. Several walls of the buildings, such as the sidewall of the Hotel Indonesia, had been taken over, too, as well as the pedestal of the “Selamat Datang” (Welcome) sculpture. There was an interesting dialogue that took place at the secretariat of the Urban Poor Consortium, when they were discussing whether or not they would ask for permission to drape the billboard with the banner. The poet Afrizal Malna commented, “When they built the billboard over there, they didn’t ask for our permission. Why should we now ask for theirs?” Although it sounded (deliberately) naïve, such comment shows the fundamental dissatisfaction that is thoroughly legitimate about how a public space should be managed.  In reality, the banner draped over the billboard turned out to be very beneficial to the public: For the first time, the middle class and the poorest of Jakarta were unified in the awareness about the corrupted budget of the city of Jakarta, and about other issues. In another place, near Borobudur temple in Central Java, the musician Tanto Mendut protested, “Hey, why are we always pushed to ask the Governor about things? Why isn’t the Governor requested to ask me things for a change?”

[6] For the meaning of anarchism, I refer to Marco Kusumawijaya, “Anarkisme: Sebuah Utopia Lagi?” (“Anarchism: Another Utopia?”) in KOMPAS, opinion page, May 2000.

[7] I don’t view “urban planning” as a scientific discipline; rather, it is a practise that harnesses a variety of disciplines such as architecture, sociology, economy, mathematics, statistics, and others.

[8] Brief, or the TOR (Terms of Reference) is the basic information from the task-giver (client) to the architect about the program, goal, and direction to be able to start working on the design.

This entry was posted in Arts, Language and Culture, Jakarta, Urban Planning. Bookmark the permalink.

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