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December 29, 2015

Hospitality, Friendship, and an Emancipatory Politics

Written by Mitha Budhyarto

Over the last two decades, we have seen how artist-residency programmes grow in global popularity, signalling encounters that are intensifying beyond national alliances and standing as a symptom of an art world whose borders are expanding. Within these encounters, the relation between the artist and the inviting institution becomes one of “guest” and “host”, where the host institution puts out an invitation into their “home”, and the artist takes up the figure of the guest to be welcomed by not only the institution but also the community that it is located in. During a residency, as they are welcomed into the new territory, the figure of the selected artist shifts from being a guest to a friend. Artist-residency programmes thus rest on ideas about friendship and hospitality, which I aim to investigate further here. In doing so, I will limit my scope to the practice of Jatiwangi art Factory (JaF), an artist-collective in the village of Jatiwangi, West Java.

In a wider discussion about cosmopolitanism, hospitality and friendship are important concepts because they point to a specific type of encounter and relationship between people. Analyzing the format of artist-residency in terms of hospitality and friendship is particularly pertinent today especially when signs of cultural intolerance are evident in worldwide public opinions and attitudes. Here, I propose two premises. First, I assert friendship and hospitality as a political entity as they are formed by the discrimination between friend or guest and enemy. I will discuss the methods devised by JaF’s residencies for selecting their guests, the role that is assigned to them in the home, the practice of welcoming and the way in which guests shift position to that of the friend. Building on this idea, I suggest that JaF’s residencies and the small public sphere they create present an emancipatory mode of politics. By placing Rancière’s idea of “emancipation” in the context of JaF’s residencies, I propose that the political aspect of emancipation becomes evident in the way these programmes facilitate a broader social transformation by altering how one makes sense of the experience of “living together”.

Collectives, Residencies, and “Epistemic Partners”

While collaborative and collective practices in different parts of the world continue to be widely discussed, relatively little is known about the development of such practices in Indonesian art. For the purpose of this essay, I will refer to two sources that are helpful in filling this gap: the Indonesian Visual Art Archive’s (IVAA) publication Kolektif Kreatif (or Creative Collectives), and the 2010 exhibition Fixer held at Jakarta’s North Art Space, which surveys the work of twenty-one collectives from ten Indonesian cities. It is interesting to note that both IVAA and Rifky Effendy’s curatorial essay for Fixer (re-published in Kolektif Kreatif) point out the role of art collectives in the construction of nationalism in Indonesia’s modern history.[1] For instance, Persatuan Ahli-Ahli Gambar or Association of Drawing Experts, was formed in 1938 as a platform for young Indonesian artists to create works of a distinctly “Indonesian” character.[2] In the years leading up to the country’s independence as well as after it, other collectives were formed: Seniman Indonesia Muda or Young Indonesia Artist, as an example, formed in 1946.[3] What these signify is that the method of working together and independently organizing a group of people within an arts framework was an important part of cultural production in the early formation of Indonesia’s national identity.

While Kolektif Kreatif provides a brief historical overview of Indonesian art collectives, the Fixer exhibition makes the practice of collectives that were formed after the Reform its focus.[4] The fall of Soeharto’s authoritarian New Order regime beckoned a wave of creative freedom that had an impact on not only the media that were used in artworks but also how they were produced. This was compounded by the growing use of digital technologies that made a wealth of information accessible as well as making it possible for artists to create global networks. New thinking began emerging in direct consequence. Ideas about artists and audience as collaborators, the urgency of working together rather than individually, the necessity of organizing not only exhibitions but also workshops, publications, discussions and so on, began to proliferate. The artist-run spaces and artist-collectives presented in the Fixer exhibition, including JaF, share this approach.

Located in the village of Jatiwangi, an area famous for its traditional roof tile factories, JaF was conceived in 2005 by brothers Arief Yudi Rahman, Ginggi Syarief Hasyim, and Rahman’s wife Loranita Theo. The local residents – who see “JaF’s activities the same way they watch a football game”[5], that is, as a recreational activity – become imbedded in JaF’s sensibility: not only is the village small enough to include them in JaF’s activities, but the rural setting and sense of community are crucial elements that JaF continue to draw from in their practice. For Rahman, it is important that JaF’s activities remain as a form of entertainment for the residents. One of the reasons for this was pointed out by Hasyim, who explains that there is little in the way of entertainment at Jatiwangi, where young people had little to do apart from work at the factories – it is this industrial way of life that becomes characteristic of the residents’ collective identity. Bearing this in mind, one could see why Rahman considers ‘art-as-entertainment’ as an effective strategy for engaging the community. Rahman critically added, however, that art has an advantage where people generally understands that it is not quite like any other form of entertainment, that it requires some type of skill if not knowledge – it is this common assumption that JaF continues to use as a basis for starting conversations with the local residents, and to create a common ground between people’s diverse backgrounds. This initial step allows JaF, according to Rahman, to treat art as a “door” that one passes through in order to “talk about other things”.

Two of the main events that JaF regularly organize – the annual Village Video Festival and the bi-annual Jatiwangi Residency Festival – use the format of residencies. In both, there is a heavy emphasis on collaboration between artists and residents to work around issues that are specific to rural life while maintaining a global perspective. The temporary, loosely structured alliances formed by the invited artists and the residents during a given project become an alternative platform to produce knowledge. Putting such a format of artist-residencies within a debate about cosmopolitanism, it becomes clear that the purpose of such programmes is to open up a space for inquiries into the idea of coexistence that is based on exchange; in other words, its purpose lies in the facilitating of possible kinds of exchange that would enable the artist, the host institution, and the community in which the residency takes place to be part of an experience that position them as what Nikos Papastergiadis, borrowing from George E. Marcus, refers to as “epistemic partners” in the production of alternative, locally-based social knowledge.[6]

Hospitality and Friendship in the Context of JaF

The very notion of friendship is never neutral: as soon as we distinguish between a friend and an enemy, friendship becomes a political entity. The same argument may also be applied to hospitality. Derrida, for instance, writes of the impossibility of an “unconditional hospitality”, explaining that no matter how generously one cannot be hospitable “without reaffirming: this is mine, I am at home, you are welcome in my home…”[7] In the context of artist-residencies, how do we choose our guests and what role is assigned to them? How does a residency then transform the figure of an artist from a guest to a friend? How does it “welcome” guests, i.e. what kind of gestures, attitudes, actions, language are used in the act of welcoming? Additionally, how does the host ensure that differences and tension within the home are critically negotiated rather than prematurely smoothed over?

In addition to the Village Video Festival and Jatiwangi Residency Festival, JaF also hosts informal residencies, usually for local artists whom they already know. The three programmes operate on different methods of invitation. For the Village Video Festival JaF invites artists that they deem suitable for the current theme to work with the local residents. Contrastingly, the Jatiwangi Residency Festival uses an open-call system, which no doubt allows them to widen their network and makes it possible for them to work with artists from other countries. An entry is posted on the well-known residency website, where information such as the cost that must be paid by the artist and what this amount covers are clearly stated. Arie Syarifuddin or Alghorie, who manages the residency programmes, says that there are certain things they look for in the application packages submitted by the artists: what the applying artist intends to do at JaF, their previous projects and so forth. For the informal residencies, people would simply ask to come visit as if they were visiting someone’s house, and what they give in return would vary from a sum of money to the buying of daily necessities such as rice or coffee.

Despite the different forms of invitation, for JaF intuition plays an important role in the process of selecting their guests and the subsequent “welcoming” practice. While intuition may seem as a dubious basis, it nonetheless plays an organizing role in JaF’s definition of hospitality and friendship. The JaF book mentions, “The more we need to explain things to someone, the harder it is to connect with them,” and that “trust begins from not explaining things too much.”[8] These statements imply that friendships have a built-in, universal form of understanding that requires little explication, which intuits that whomever one acknowledges as a friend do not necessarily need explicitly stated guides and parameters about one’s rights and duties. This may be interpreted in terms of risk-taking and trust: allowing strangers into our house is risky business, and while clearly defined criteria allows us to rationalize the types of people that would be best suitable for our home, our intuition kicks in to counterbalance logical justifications and allows us to speculate with our trust instincts. It is perhaps because we live in a society where what Papastergiadis calls “ambient fear” pervades that we do not often hear of intuition as a valid basis for transforming strangers into guests and friends.[9]

The same book also states, “We always invite people to come as guests, it’s our way of making our home comfortable.”[10] The positioning of artists as “house guests” rather than “visiting professional artists” also reveals a role that is ascribed to the guest. On one hand, it is through the figure of the guest that the characteristics of the home receives affirmation. The comfort that for JaF typifies the home is affirmed by the presence of the guest – the simplest act of domestic housekeeping demonstrates this, as Alghorie says, “since we’re lazy, having a guest becomes an excuse to clean our homes.” On the other hand, the figure of the guest also has the potential to threaten the stability of the home with the import of different norms and values. Thus, JaF’s “house guests” do more than simply sustain an idyllic image of intimacy and comfort, for opening our doors to strangers implies the violation of the home in the sense of losing its original orders. Instead, what “comfort” here signals is a continuous process of change: the home becomes comfortable due to a constant renewal of its orders that is made possible through the engagement with people, norms, and ideas that its inhabitants do not yet know or understand.

Homemaking inevitably involves tension and disjunction, especially when it is a home whose doors are constantly open to the invasion of strangers, each with their own distinctive characteristics. Yet hospitality does not require micro-managing one’s guests in a bid to make them feel at home – more often, this rests on assumptions about the needs of others. During my visit, I observed Rahman’s strategy, as a host, for mediating difference. While he takes on the responsibility of a host in introducing his guests to one another, he purposefully left it short before quickly leaving them on their own. This coaxes guests to find out more about each other on their own, and without Rahman being there, there was no authoritative figure of the host that would guide and be responsible for the conversations that emerge. Where Rahman sensed that a group of visitors requires some form of guidance or instructions, these were also left brief and open-ended. Being part of this experience, I realized that the responsibility of the host does not lie in creating consensus within their home. Rather, it is to use their authority to prevent the assimilation of difference according to the existing orders of one’s home. Rahman’s strategy entrusts strangers, as guests, to negotiate difference and transform themselves into friends without the ubiquitous presence of the host. Furthermore, the lack of such presence prompts conversation that would flow into unpredictable territories. Through such hospitality, we were able to weave what Celia M. Briton understands as Edouard Glissant’s idea of “Relation”: “a fluid and unsystematic system whose elements are engaged in a radically non-hierarchical free-play of interrelatedness.”[11]

Emancipatory Politics

For Derrida, the invitation to friendship contains within it a “desire” (something we hope to achieve in the future), a “request” (for the invited person to be part of this desire), and a “promise” (that together, as friends, we may achieve the desired thing).[12] As friendship is a political entity, then the “desire”, “request” and “promise” embedded in its invitation resemble something like a political motive, implying what we, as a group of friends, want to achieve together. For JaF, the motive is partly tied to the aim of building a body of knowledge that is specific to a particular locale yet unbounded by it, shaped by alliances that are formed from unprescribed modes of exchange. Beyond this, it is also tied to an aspiration that everyone involved in JaF’s activities may, in Rancière’s words, “take the measure of his intellectual capacity, and decide how to use it.”[13] On its foundation, JaF’s residencies rest on the assertion that everyone equally has something to teach and learn about, whether it is filmmaking, roof tiles, local histories or theoretical concepts. The residency programmes that necessitate an “epistemic partnership” between artists and residents, between guests and host, provide an external challenge that stimulates emancipation in the sense that Rancière conceives it.

The friendships created – no matter how temporary or lasting – from these programmes produce a surrogate social space built by using the specific strategies of nonkrong (“hanging out”) and ngobrol (“conversing”). Ismal Muntaha from JaF claims that “it’s more important to make friends than art”, and this is emblematic of JaF’s approach to art and its function: for JaF, the role of art is to trigger modes of social interaction and communication in order to imagine and propose alternative views of reality. The point of these residencies is that they show that encounters between people from different socio-cultural and political backgrounds may in fact trigger conversations and dialogues that try to understand each other and discuss what would be possible and must be done. The activities conducted within JaF’s residencies stimulate the active contribution of the involved parties’ intellectual capacity, and confirm their equal competence in engaging in cross-cultural dialogues and negotiating what it means to coexist. As such, they are political not in the sense of involving people in a demystification of dominant power structures. Rather, the artist-residency formats as devised by JaF must be understood in terms of an emancipatory politics because they demand that each participant utilize their individual intelligences and engage in a cosmopolitan narrative, as part of cross-cultural partnerships that position residents and artists as co-producers of alternative visions of community and of living together in our globalized, networked world.

Mitha Budhyarto is Lecturer in Cultural and Contextual Studies at Lasalle College of the Arts, Singapore. Budhyarto holds a PhD degree in Humanities and Cultural Studies from the University of London, Birkbeck College.

[1] IVAA, Kolektif Kreatif (Yogyakarta: IVAA, 2012), Rifky Effendy, Fixer, exhibition catalogue (Jakarta: North Art Space, 2010).

[2] IVAA, Pelaku Seni, Persatuan Ahli Gambar Indonesia, (07 December 2015)

[3] Mia Bustam as quoted in Kolektif Kreatif, p. 15.

[4] We must add that the earliest artist-run space for contemporary art in Indonesia, Cemeti Art House, was not included in this exhibition as it was formed in 1988. Despite that, Cemeti Art House was influential in sparking an interest in art spaces that operate outside the dominant stream at the time.

[5] Irwan Ahmett and Ismal Mutaha, Jatiwangi Art Factory: 10 Culture Immunization Strategy, unpublished, p. 6.

[6] George E. Marcus as quoted in Nikos Papastergiadis, Cosmopolitanism and Culture (Cambridge and Malden: Polity Press, 2012), p. 159.

[7] Jacques Derrida, “Hostipitality”, Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities, Vol. 5, Iss. 3 (London: Routledge, 2000) p. 12.

[8] Ahmett and Muntaha, Jatiwangi Art Factory… p. 17-18.

[9] Papastergiadis, Cosmopolitanism… p. 16.

[10] Ahmett and Muntaha, Jatiwangi Art Factory… p. 17.

[11] Celia M. Briton, Edouard Glissant and Postcolonial Theory: Strategies of Language and Resistance (Virginia: The University Press of Virginia, 1999), p. 11.

[12] Jacques Derrida, “Politics of Friendship”, American Imago, 50:3 (Maryland: The John Hopkins University Press, 1993), p. 367.

[13] Jacques Ranciere, The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation (Redwood City: Stanford University Press, 1991), p. 17.


Ahmett, Irwan and Muntaha, Ismal. Jatiwangi Art Factory: 10 Culture Immunization Strategy, unpublished.

Briton, Celia M. Edouard Glissant and Postcolonial Theory: Strategies of Language and Resistance. Virginia: The University Press of Virginia, 1999.

Darmawan, Ade, Sumadi, Budi Karya and Effendy, Rifky. Fixer. Exhibition catalogue. Jakarta: North Art Space, 2010.

Derrida, Jacques. “Politics of Friendship”, American Imago, 50:3. Maryland: The John Hopkins University Press, 1993.

Derrida, Jacques. “Hostipitality”, Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities, 5:3. London: Routledge, 2000.

Indonesia Visual Art Archive. Kolektif Kreatif. Yogyakarta: IVAA, 2012.

Papastergiadis, Nikos. Cosmopolitanism and Culture. Cambridge and Malden: Polity Press, 2012.

Rancière, Jacques. The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation. Redwood City: Stanford University Press, 1991.