Arts between the State and the Community: The Problem of Consumption in/of the City

Talk delivered at Lasalle College of Arts, Singapore, 27-28 March 2012.


Public/common space, community, ecology, arts, management, state, city, community, sustainability, democracy, freedom.


My talk will be in three parts. The first will try to make a distinction between the state and the community, and between the public and the common. The second will discuss limitations of both and tries to explain the risks that we are facing, illustrated with the problem of consumption in and of the city within the perspective of (ecological) sustainability. The last will ask questions about what arts can do, and how we should manage arts within such problem set.

Distinction between the common and the public, the community and the state

On the state, I mean the form of nation-state that has been evolving since 18th century in Europe. It is an “imagined community” in Benedict Anderson’s words. He believes that a nation is a community socially constructed, imagined by the people who perceive themselves as part of that group. An imagined community is different from an actual community because it is not (and cannot be) based on everyday face-to-face interaction between its members.Nation-state is the product of Enlightenment/Modernisation project, and is therefore entangled with the process of industrialization and the rise of capitalism.

On communities, I want to emphasize its capacity of taking matters into their own hands, of doing-things-by-themselves relatively without the dependence to the mediation or services from the state, and its capacity to be relatively independent from omnipresent leaders, or at least from idolized leaders. One of the most important properties of community is the commons. I shall define the commons as those collectively belonging to a spatially and temporally specific community, usually limited in size of its membership, for their free use and maintenance on their own. Common space, a property that is fundamental to a community’s existence as a body, is therefore distinct from what we call public space.

Public space falls under the authority of the state. The state is present in the public space to provide maintenance and mediation.

In the public space, individuals perform as citizens.  Citizens are individuals defined in their relationship with the state. As such it is as reductionist as when individuals are defined in their relationship with the market, when they are identified as consumers; or customers, when they are supposed to be loyal to certain products or services.

When there are conflicts between citizens in the public space, a typical action would be a call for the mediation from the state, oftentimes represented by the police, for example.

Visual art that stands in public space, when commissioned by the state, is often full of heroic message demanding the general public to imagine a unifying spirit in them. It is often very imposing. Realist forms, with some exaggeration, is often unavoidable. The ambition to appeal to the general public makes abstract works not quite possible.

In common space, on the other hand, people exist as more whole and complex individuals. They become cultural in concrete ways. More are revealed and expressed. More are visible as manifesting certain common values. Norms are more specific and defined.  It is becoming more difficult for outsiders to enter it. In common space, conflicts among users, as much as maintenance of the space, will be typically resolved and taken care of by the members of the community face-to-face without a call for any outside help for mediation. There are persons of authority that might be called upon to mediate, but they would be from within the community. Oftentimes, there are also conflicts between different communities that are resolved through negotiations between their representatives. In post-colonial states, from time to time we see the state has to eventually ask the help of communities’ leaders to resolve conflicts between them. This is not so much a respect to the communities’ leaders (often called as “local” or “informal” leaders) than the impossibility for the state’s agents to enter and interfere into the communities that are still strong with their strongly shared values and norms, that the state agents do not really comprehend.

Tanto Mendut’s works with Komunitas Lima Gunung in Borobudur subdistrict (surrounding Borobudur Temple) are recent examples of arts practices that organize communities into cultural, social, economical and even political cohesive groups. In 2003 they successfully rejected the development of a “mall” that would damage the temple. It shows the capacity of community confronting the state, as they get organized into a body through practices of arts.

It might open up more imagination to see community as co-existing in parallel to, not in subordination under, the state. The fact that they persist within the administrative boundaries of nation-states gives us an opportunity to rethink the state as not the only possible way to organize living-together in many post-colonial states.

For the purpose of this talk, I should restrain myself from offering a fundamental critique towards nation-state and modernity/modernization, which is far beyond my specialization and competence. We know by now the limitations of both the nation-state and the community, especially when evaluated against the emancipatory utopia that we somehow would still like to remember. Some anarchist ideas might need to be revisited with open mind. Arts and cultural practitioners and managers need to discuss how we can manage arts to expand the space for communities, not as a reactionary anti-state frustration, but as ways to build new utopias that might be viable for our common sustainable future.

Why? What is at stake? 

What is at stake is the aspiration for emancipation, the very promise of modernity and motivation of modernization project. The nation-state, by treating people as individuals, promises to liberate them from the confinement and oppression of traditional communities. By now we are aware that being individualized per se does not necessarily guarantee emancipation. There have been pathologies of the nation-state as there have been pathologies of modernity and process of modernization. The promise has at least been partially broken by both nation-states and communities in many parts of the world.

While many nations are now tinkering here and there to make their nation-states “more perfect”, communities are returning strong to the scene as well, offering spaces for emancipation, too; but not without problems.

In most developed nations, the state has taken over most of the community’s functions, but there are symptoms of things slipping out of hands such as in the case of abandoned and derelict public spaces and infrastructures, while there are more and more people getting marginalized in many different ways. In developing countries the state is failing to take care of many things, and demand is increasing for the state to do more, without any critical thinking on why that should be the ambition.

In many cities in the west, public spaces have become problematic because, while the community has been dispersing, the state has abandoned them for eventual lack of resources or a-prioritizing.  In many public spaces revitalization or re-animation projects, it is obvious that what happens is actually (re-)institution of communities to reclaim the spaces, to animate it with their re-enacted relationships and to take care with their newly established collective, unmediated resources.

Early February this year, in a conference “Radius of Arts” in Berlin, there was a presentation of a case of public-turned-common space in Neu Koln, in Berlin. (ölln) It illustrates perfectly my point above.

Another participant in the same conference, Alessandro Petti,illustrates a different dimension of the tension between the public and the common spaces. He said that among many difficulties faced by Palestinian communities is the fact that the State of Israel is taking over most of the common spaces, transforming them into public spaces. Palestinian have less and less (common) spaces to express their existence as communities. Communities and common spaces are inseparable.

Of course we know many nation-state regimes totally reject the use of public spaces for community and individual expressions. We had this episode in Indonesian history until 1998, for example. As substitutes, these regimes would often provide synthetic “common spaces” in neighborhoods for centrally programmed activities that are seemingly healthy, harmonious and happy.

Kunci Cultural Studies Center last year and early this year made manifest Indian community in Yogyakarta, in an exhibition that resulted from their six months project of participatory mapping of their role in the textile economy of the city. They had been almost a mystery until then, even when they are actually very visible on the high street of the city.

The promise of the nation-state makes people expect a lot, too, and makes it easy to forget their own capacity as communities.

Last week I posted a blog in Yahoo (see also my personal blog) that shows some timber shacks built between the girders underneath an elevated highway in a neighborhood (Menteng) in Jakarta. They are suspended between the highway above and a street crossing perpendicularly on the ground. A family of three –a young couple and their baby—live in it. It incited thousands of comments. Of all comments, only two mention about what “we, people, can do”. Others asked what the state must do.

You might think that this is a developing country’s problem. But homeless people are found in European cities as well as American cities. In contrast, in traditional settlements that still exist in in many parts of the world, there is no homeless community member. Building houses is a collective responsibility and rituals of communities.  In modern economy the state takes over. Singapore state is successful. But many others states failed to some degree, while communities, especially in the cities where modernization and capitalist have developed furthest, lost their sense of immediacy to take independent direct actions.

Except for being incapable of taking over everything, there is also a symptom that the state’s taking over of communities’ function can actually weaken communities’ initiatives.

Social Media provides a new tool to organize urban communities. They seem to fit urban communities, with it’s non-spatiality and non-temporality. Experiments are being conducted, but it is too early to conclude, except that it has a huge potential as well as un-known risks.

Our Rujak Center for Urban Studies are experimenting with, for example and @jalankaki.

Comsumption of and in the City

First, the importance of cities needs to be noted.

More and more people will have their future in the cities.

In the period between the year 1750 and 1950 only 400 millions people were added to the existing and new cities in Europe and the US. In the period between 1950 and 2030 it is projected that 3 billions people will be added to existing and new cities in Asia and Africa, with the most will be in Asia. There will be at least 900 millions people living in slums.

Nevertheless, cities offer better opportunities for better life and innovations, despite apparent poverty, crimes, psychosis, and other pathologies. The facts is that the rate of poverty in rural areas is higher than that in urbanised areas.

Cities use 40 % of total material resources extracted from the earth, and 30 % of total energy consumed by humans. This is not just a problem of quantity, but quality. Our dependence on renewables is decreasing since 1750 and decreasing most dramatically within the last 5 decades. It is replaced by increasing dependence on synthetic non-renewables with similar rates. This is not sustainable. The future of the planet depends on the city.

Our cities are currently trapped in infrastructures that impose unsustainable way of living, in the ways we consume it and consume in it. A critique is important not only on infrastructure and the materiality of the city itself, but also on how we consume it and in it.

We live in a world that, through cities, is never sated and never rests from consuming all things. If any, it demands even more, and for more varieties.

While consumption provides us with a way to “enjoy life”—not just a way to “live”, it is not the only way. We are also aware that, as the variety and number of consumption goods that we can enjoy increase, the greater and more pressing are the ethical questions that haunt us. Recently, these questions grew in number and depth due to, among others, an increasing awareness of global warming and depleting finite natural resources.

As the “conscious ones”, humans are cursed to always question their every action. As such, he or she will always require self-criticism.

Design in its narrow sense is the sophistication of goods for daily use. In this sense, it is different from art, which does not concern itself with “use” in the way design should. However, design is always a derivative of arts in its basic competence, sensitivity and creativity. Design is also closely related to consumption (of goods) and, through them, with life style. Life style is a layer of civilization identified with consumption patterns. “Who-one-is” is determined by “what” one consumes.

The industrial production of modern consumer goods requires design to reconcile two things: uniformity to enable mass production, and unique identity. Branding serves as a middle ground. By branding, even identical products within a brand can retain their own unique identity thanks to design styles, price stratification, establishment of various consumer communities with privileges in the forms of membership and other services, and other exclusive attempts to protect the “purity” of the uniqueness of the designed products, such as through copyright regimes and application of certain design “personality”.

In cities, the process of production and consumption takes place in dramatic industrial intensity: goods are always available in great variety and excessive quantity. Choices and amounts are well maintained above the level of daily needs. Something is always in stock. But, just something in stock is not enough. There must be something new all the time. Thus, there must always be new models or new product series that people keep expecting, and are to be introduced as something both new and familiar due to their known branded characteristics. Cities becomes loci of noisy competitions, teeming with abundant quantities and varieties of product personalities.

Such hustling and bustling do not just occur in markets, but also expand into all urban spaces and into various private spaces through media and information technology. Urban and private spaces are packed not only with the products themselves, but also with various forms and ways of communication about them. These later ones are known as “advertisements,” and they have become products in their own rights, oftentimes placed upon pedestals through various awards and ceremonies. Capitalism has managed to create layers upon layers of products that attempt to become meaningful in increasingly abstract sense as well as ever more tempting.

Meanwhile, we feel that social media are safe spaces, relatively free from products competition. In reality, there are already competitions taking place between ideas that are either idealistic or banal, as well as competitions of images and powers. Soon enough, through apps technology—that packages information to satisfy consumers’ requirements of being streamlined, alluring, cool, and ready-to-use—social media will become spaces deafened by the increasing intensity of product communication.

How does this crowded world of products actually influence all individuals, their lives, their personalities, and their view about their surroundings, and about themselves? Do city-dwellers differ from village-dwellers due to the fact that the formers are being surrounded by the obsessively competitive products that want to speak as loud as possible to their ears, and appear as much so to their eyes? How does this competition between plastic and true personalities actually happen in both private and public spaces?

The city itself is a magnificent designed product, very large and all encompassing. Seen as a whole, people will say that cities are the greatest man-made material masterpieces. A city is not just a agglomeration of architectures of buildings. Instead, it is itself an architecture comprising of buildings and spaces that interlock each other at various levels of strength and order. Every level of order has meaning. At least it reflects a society’s collective values, abilities, conflicts, and ironies.

How does this city, as a design, relate to other consumer products in connecting with each individual living in it? How are cities or city-spaces actually consumed? How does a city make easy the consumption of goods and services, industrial or otherwise? Can a person identify her- or himself with this gigantic object named city at the levels of use, meaning, and personality? Is it not true that some cities are already deliberately branded, through various touristic marketing and thematic economic town planning attempts such as those seen in “creative cities”, et cetera?

The functionalist modern town-planning practices introduced by Le Corbusier have unexpectedly entered so deeply into public consciousness, so much so that a city is too conveniently identified with one or two of its functions, making people forget that a city is basically a space to gain a better life. And that forgetfulness is so institutionalized in the processes and practices of city building, that it has caused problems for city designers and architects to communicate that urban spaces are essentially more than just particular functions, and cannot be rightly created if based merely on functions.

The emphasis on cities as economic engines has also caused identification of cities with certain core traits only. The city is pushed and limited to become a brand, in addition to becoming a locus where a brand, or at least its origin, depends on.

The term lifestyle seems to emerge from the domination of designed goods and services. And, they have become ever more dominant, as if poised to take the whole cultures over, at least especially their material layers, although not limited to them, as medical services, insurance, entertainment (as a manifestation of a “play” culture) are also becoming building blocks in the formation of identities, symbols, and new structures of meanings.

Faced with the temptation of these designed products, bodies stand between two extremes. The first extreme is a trance-like condition where individuals are carried adrift, identifying themselves with these products, valuing themselves, or at the very least allowing other people to value them based on their relationship to these products, thus allowing themselves to be “owned” by these products. They then seem to forget either time or space, unable to know when to stop, does not feel the need to stop or exit this crippling current. This is an extreme that places city-dwellers as mere consumers, no longer a critical citizens. The other extreme is a meditative condition, where one only watches and perceives, but completely maintains a distance, detaching her-or himself, seeing things come and go, as though watching a river flowing by—a metaphor widely used in Buddhism. Maybe, in the end, most people find themselves occupying a point between these two extremes, or oscillating between one extreme and another, confused, pulled apart by these two ends.

Consumption manifests the playful side of human beings. However, it can also lure out one’s irrational sides, even those that tend to lead to destruction of the self and the environment. It is also very easy to fall victim to a trick or a trap. One can easily become irrational when confronted with the glam and glimmer of goods and services emerging from sudden modernization.

Our time is also marked by an increase of what I call “the consumption of inspiration”. Holy religious texts are quoted in fragments, taken in parts, and packaged in such a way that they may be easily consumed as inspiration for personal development. This is also an era filled with a penchant for talk shows that is increasingly climbing to industrialized intensity. Cutting-edge capitalism has made itself increasingly dependent upon continuously flowing ideas, innovations, and discoveries to win in competition, all the more leading to the industrialization of inspiration. The competition involved in selling products and services to an increasingly saturated market has pushed creativity into the realm of deceit and banality.

How do art practices and their results position themselves in the midst of these design products, and within urban spaces that are also designed in increasingly industrial ways?

How can one practice art in such a condition? Should art practices play a heroic role in saving people? Or must it play the role of a wise clown, disturbing both the trance and the meditation? Can art practices still inspire either at the deepest critical layer or just to continuously renew and sophisticate designs so that lifestyle may prevail, subduing boredom, or maybe extend boredom to unknown heights?

What arts can do? Shall we manage arts into what direction?

Towards sustainability the city need to change in at least three ways:

First, yes we need to train ourselves in the practices of efficiency and re-use, but this alone is not enough, because, even if consumption per capita decreased drastically, the total consumption will still be very high as the number of people will increase, so that the finite natural resources will be depleted. Therefore reduction of consumption is not enough. There should be substitution towards the renewables, which requires great innovations and creativity. 

Cities, their material systems and communities are responsible for the biggest part of these necessary practices to change towards substitution.

Works are progressing on the structural issues such as reformatting of urban infrastructure and towards new “ecological economy”. But changes require also collective individual and personal actions and behavioral changes en masse.

Collective actions require common values. Arts can work at this level: identifying them, investigating them, re-inventing them, and creatively deconstructing them when necessary. Arts often also see emerging phenomena early, and hence are able to share them with larger public early and more effectively through their communication skills to touch hearts.

I would like to quote thoughts summarized in a paper resulting from discussion among arts and cultural practitioners from Asia and Europe in Copenhagen, in December 2009 in conjunction with the COP15: Arts, Culture and Sustainability: Visions for the Future, edited by Mary Anne de Vlieg.

“…There are artists who have turned to issues around sustainability and climate change because they are passionate about them and feel the need to take a stand. Others engage with these topics because they are the current challenges to our humanity, and thus form the essential material with which artists reflect contemporary life…

…although art and culture is not a savior for all global ills, strong proof is emerging which shows that the methods used in the arts sector can promote deeper awareness, reflection, creative problem solving and sense of civic engagement in our publics. For too long now, art has become associated with elites when in fact it is among the most basic human activities. Engagement with art – whether as amateur, professional, participant or spectator – is about becoming more human.”

“…sustainability of cities is appealing not only because of its urgency, but also because it offers an opportunity to think of, and search for, new ways to live wholly sustainably by also taking care of other problems pre-existing in cities. This opportunity challenges societies to be humane again, to take care of other ecological and non-ecological problems that have been outstanding in cities, such as poverty, social justice, and migrant workers”

“…the arts and cultural sector can work with the people and start, bottom up, from the community. The cultural sector is a natural change agent, instigator and provocateur in paradigm shifts and mind-set changes.”

If we see it in the long term and open our imagination radically, we are actually talking about a future yet to be envisioned.

Our new knowledge about the world has been offered as a new opportunity for arts and cultures to redefine themselves and the world, or even to invent and create a new one. Taking the ecology and metropolises as our cases, we have a new mission redefined for the arts and cultures. It is now up to us to take up the opportunity and the challenge or not. When art and cultural practitioners decided to take it up, I believe that their freedom and autonomy must be a priority.

To carry out that mission, we need a structure that allows flexible, ever-adapting, plural structures to emerge, grow, interact and multiple, to produce maximum innovations to change existing patterns and create new ones that are sustainable. We need to let diversity diversify with quality and intensity. It is possible when freedom and autonomy of the arts expand as much as they can; because only when the arts and the artists are free they can be truly useful to societies in search of new visions and constructs. More than ever, we need them to realize their full potential and capacity. And for that, we need them to be free as much as they can and want.

The metropolises of the 21st century and beyond consist of multiple cities and plural communities. The time for mono-centric metropolises of the 19th and 20th centuries is gone.

The future is indeed in polycentric cities, intense in each center, and supported by intense network and maximum possibility for mobility. Programs to support the arts could therefore be generated based on bottom-up, decentralized process. Each cycle will be both a mapping that will enrich the future evaluation and policy as well as a sensitive response to the real need of each area. Each branch of the arts might have different problems, too. Each area might have different problems in the different branches of the arts. Decentralizing supports could also mean “locating” arts and artists to their communities as organic audience without necessarily “localizing” them, by making available information and mobility networks. The hope is that arts will be part of community life, without being narrowly communal, and community will become stronger as the basis of civil society to effect the necessary changes towards global sustainability.

The more important issue is to have more possibilities for the differences to be creative. For that, they need to mingle, to cross breed. Metropolises should not be left to be just multi-cultural, but should thrive to be inter-cultural, where many cultures are facilitated to mingle, to interact to each other, to spark and create new fusions. Urban public and common spaces should be “public infrastructure” that, by virtue of its inclusiveness, would encourage urban integration without centralizing. Arts spaces, venues or institutions, as well as community centers, can be such public or common space, too.

Beyond economy and culture

No one wants to avoid the economic effects of arts. But no one would agree on valuation of arts to be determined only by the market. Market can only value products, and not process. Market is effective in determining the price, but not necessarily the cost.

The essence of a country is its culture, not its economic development, said Japanese artist Katsuhiko Hibino. But cultures are dynamic and ever changing. That means we all, governments included, should support processes and spaces for experimentation and dialogues, through which innovations are only possible.

What is a creative city in the context of all said above? This needs special attention because we often focus too much on product and hurry to make decisions that we forget to create space for good process necessary in order to produce good results/decisions. Creative city is when all its dwellers and others with interest in the city have the capacity to recreate themselves, to mobilize collective power into a process of reinventing itself, of breaking current patterns, creating new patterns, not just a “class” of designers and artists producing more artworks and crafts for ever more consumption. Creative city is sustainable city, especially when we think of city as “its people” as Sophocles said, “ The city is its people”.

Another possible role for arts and artists is to help in re-connecting culture and nature. 

Michaelangelo Pistoletto, the Italian artist said that we need to construct a third paradise. The first paradise is the paradise of Adam and Eve before they ate the apple. Man, woman and nature are in complete harmony. The second paradise is the man-made paradise, the city. The third paradise should be a new synthesis of city and nature, perhaps through a re-connected circular metabolism in food production.

Food production is a major source of CO2 emission, and is related to the very core of the relationship between human beings and nature. Recently it was revealed that 25% of lifestyle-related C02 emission in Sweden came from food. It is the same percentage of those produced by housing and transportation. Half of that food-related emission came from meat consumption.

Food is important as it might be the only link that still connects human being directly to nature. But even this link is being made vague by packaging, processing and over-commodification. We know less and less about the origin of our food, how it is grown and nurtured, even less on the people who do that, the farmers. Organic farming is re-establishing a more intimate relationship between humans and nature and farmers.

Taring Padi artists collective, for example, discerns different issues related to farmers and farming: land scarcity and land-use change, pesticide and genetics engineering, deliberate naïfness among the decision making elites, injustice, industrial waste, nuclear, green house effects, deforestation, et cetera. The issue of farmers and farming appears the strongest because of the presence of the bodies of the farmers in their works. Taring Padi not only paints and makes installations, but also does performing arts in collaborations with farmer communities, transforming tools and materials of their everyday life into artistic properties and art forms, charging them with communicable symbolic meanings, both as self representing and codified language to send messages into larger public space.

Meanwhile, the farmers’s world could also become a stage where arts happen. This has formal potentials (for example when nature is treated as stage and props, as practiced for example by Min Tanaka in Japan) as well as symbolic potential (as source of messages and the message itself). Besides, the farmer’s world and the farmers themselves are intended as potential space for original and authentic genesis of new arts.

Environmental problems, now shifting awareness from Climate Change to resource depletion, actually more importantly opens up an opportunity to build a different life anew, that is sustainable and inclusive of justice in social and economic spheres.

The required changes, however, range widely from behavioral ones to values and reorienting of urban materiality (including its infrastructure). But this does not need to be necessarily seen as burden, as it has utopian promise for a better world and life. Artistic and cultural practices can help that process of change by producing critical dialectical antithesis of the (unsustainable) present. What Tari Pading has pioneered can develop in that wider perspective, while remaining critical towards pragmatic instrumentalization of arts.

The importance of re-learning

In Europe, despite the unfortunate economic situation now, there is a push that goes on to fund the role of arts for sustainability. 

One of the arguments is that we need to re-learn many things. 

“Aesthetic education means sensitive, perceptive, creative education, which, to speak in the words of Hannah Arendt, culminates in creative action that enables children and young people do to what will be demanded of them in the future: a creative approach to a loss of traditional structures, that includes finding and inventing new life and work activities.” 

“We claim that neither experts nor schools currently meet the demand.” 

There are so much to do in this field of relearning where arts can play a role.

Adrienne Goehlerand Jaana Prüss suggest that:

– All sustainability is the result of thinking new things and seeing the familiar from a new perspective. Sustainability is continuous renewal.

– Charging the term and the debate around sustainability in aesthetic terms is a great opportunity to resist the term’s losing its power to convince.

– Sustainability requires a social vision. The multiple links of the existing wealth of knowledge and experience can only truly unfold in the cultural society (Adrienne Goehler, Verflüssigungen): comprehensively, over a long term, and open to change and transformation.

This is among many other reasons that Rujak Center for Urban Studies (RCUS) is building a place called Sustainability Learning Center “Bumi Pemuda Rahayu” that will open in October 2012. (Its website is under construction). The purpose is to bring together young people of different backgrounds to co-produce knowledge and practices of architecture, urbanism and arts that will support change towards sustainability.

On a plot of 3,600 m2 (38,000 sq. feet), the RCUS Learning Center will have 1,000 m2 (10,700 sq. feet) of floor space spread into three types of buildings:

–  A bamboo structure, a hall of 7×25 m2 featuring a library, conference rooms, dining and office spaces

– A re-used Javanese timber hall(Joglo) of 8×9 m2 featuring workshops and performances. This will be connected to a small open-air theatre.

–  New eco-friendly buildingsfeaturing accommodations for 48 junior and 5 senior residents; workshops for bamboo/timber, stone/brick, and alternative materials; a warung(convenient store), and other supporting facilities.

The buildings will be surrounded by an edible landscape.Our goal is to have 80% of the plants to be edible or practically usable in other ways, beyond being decorative. The landscape will also feature a natural water-recycling system, which includes, among other things, open ponds with water plants.

We choose the locationas our young architects have a history of working with the villagers in the surrounding hamlets. After the earthquake in 2006 and volcanic eruption of Mt. Merapi in 2010, many of the villagers’ homes were damaged or destroyed. Connected by the two subsequent disasters, the villagers of the South (suffering from the earthquake) and the North (suffering from the volcanic eruption) desperately need support and aid from architects. Already, many of these hamlets produce wooden windows, doorframes, and bamboo woven baskets and mats. New products made with local materials will become elements of new and retrofit buildings designed here.

In addition, the space will be dedicated to the surrounding communities as they explore better, more sustainable ways of farming, and working with timber and bamboo.

Activitiesin the center will include, among others:

– regular short courses in sustainable construction and building design

– specialized workshops on sustainability practices in building, farming and certain resilient living practices.
– young artists/writers/researchers residency

– specialized tours and lecture series

– performances, exhibitions and other art activities.

Closing Remarks

What I have been trying to propose is the possibility for arts to work in intimate scale and common space of increasingly urban communities, instead of the abstract public space of the state.

In communities (and their spaces) direct engagement is possible. They might even be the artists themselves.

As we constantly complains about the size of audience and supports, engaging communities in more intimate ways has the potential to generate more genuine and passionate audience and artists at the same time.

I have also insisted on the imperative of changes towards sustainability, into the ecological age, not as burden, but fun journey with a critical utopia of better world as the guide.

For that, the role of urban communities and their common spaces is important as the locus of innovations and changes from within and between them, for them to grow the roots and new shoots of a different future.

Artistic and cultural practices have a huge potential needed by our human nature to negotiate our ways in this transition period.

Given such contexts and challenges, the question on management becomes entangled with the need to collectively argue for democracy and freedom, that, as cumbersome and problematic as they will certainly be, is fundamental and a must for arts to be genuinely useful at all. Management also requires different micro details of operation when getting itself into the messy everyday life of communities, of their imperfect and murky common spaces.

To close I like to repeat a quote:

“There is no thought without utopia, there is no thought without reference to practices.” (Henri Lefebvre, in “Urban Revolutions”).

This entry was posted in Arts, Language and Culture, Communities, Nature and Environment. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Arts between the State and the Community: The Problem of Consumption in/of the City

  1. jogjadreams says:

    Dear Marco

    A remarkable article, thoroughly enjoyable and inspiring to read. Indeed sustainability is the future, but no-one can teach us what sustainable is, or how it will/should manifest itself. Sustainability needs a ‘locale’ a “here and now.”

    I recommend you to look at the modern French Philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy, whose thoughts on the “inoperative community” and modern city life, resemble many of your thoughts.

    I will be visiting Bumi Pemuda Rahayu today, very much looking forward to it.

    Terima kasih,


  2. slothglut says:

    Mas Marco,

    Untuk ide Bumi Pemuda Rahayu-nya, Mas familiar dengan Arcosanti? [] Mungkin ada yang bisa dipetik dari mereka.


    .farid rakun


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