ES 2014: Closed Group Workshop

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<< Equator Symposium 2014

As a part of the preparations for the Equator Symposium 2014, we held this workshop involving young academics, researchers and writers from various academic and higher education institutions in Indonesia. This workshop aim to provide the extra input for the participants in developing a diverse range of studies and research that will or are currently being undertaken, with the expectation that this will strengthen the development of knowledge for the implementation of the Yogyakarta Biennale Foundation's agenda.

Date and Place

SaRang Building, Yogyakarta, Indonesia
29 - 30 August 2014


Main topics for discussion

Session 1: Intellectuals Knowledge, Capital and Power

Speaker: ST Sunardi

Foreword → In 1975, poet, actor, and theatre director W.S Rendra (1935-2009) was chosen to receive the Jakarta Academy Award. In his acceptance speech for the award, he explained the role of artists - and also intellectuals in general - in connection to authority (government, state, capital) and society, citizens.

He, as an artist, said that the position and claim of his discipline was in "the wind." Meanwhile there is a group of people whose position and discipline is in the “palace”, and another again in the “council.” This separation and differentiation, for Rendra, was to stress that the position of artists, intellectuals, is best at a distance from this power, as well as towards society itself. In his formulation: “People who work in the palace must work with a plan: Planned implementation, planned locations, planned time, and planned security.” Meanwhile “people who live in the wind don’t have planned spaces because they are space, they don't have planned time because they are in nature: yesterday and tomorrow are today; they have no debt because in the eyes of nature, disaster and good fortune are the same.” Those who live in the “council,” he opines: “must stand guard so that there is always room for thinking, feeling and speaking diplomatically." If the palace is the body and the wind is the spirit, then the task of those in the council is to “ensure that the opposition between the spirit and the body does not descend into war, but remains diplomatic."

Rendra’s description and formulation is perhaps not far from the expectations of artists and intellectuals, in the midst of the political practice of the New Order, which was populated with plans and the implementation of "regimentation”: Every kind of working group, profession and expertise was collected and organised to serve – as well as to be subject to – the authority of the State. However, every time we direct the focus of our attention to intellectuals it is as if we see the aura of "a culture of critical discourse." This, continuing on from Rendra’s proposal regarding the place of the artist, the intellectual, we are faced with the issue of the complicated position of intellectuals in their connection to authority, capital and moral (responsibility).

What is the condition and position of the intellectual today? Where does the artist, the intellectual, stand? In the "wind", in the "palace" or in the "council"? If we return to the formulation, as well as the classic question about the responsibilities of the intellectual, how can be determine and answer this today? If we maintain the opinion that the intellectual is the amplifier for the voice of critical thinking and the agent of change, how to explain the fact that in our social-political life we are still experiencing a deficit of change?

Session 2: Intellectuals, Inspiration and Imagination

Speakers: Yulius Pratomo, Sazkia Noor Anggraini, Inyiak Ridwan Muzir, Adrianus Bintang. They discussed these texts from Hilmar Farid and Herlambang Wijaya.

Foreword → Intellectuals and political activists in Indonesia in the 1970s-1990s grew and established themselves as resistance and opposition to the New Order/Suharto, protected under the umbrella of the ”moral movement." This truly emphasises the fact that when the pillars of the New Order began to be sunk into the "clear land" that had resulted from the brutal cleansing that occurred in 1965-66 amongst all kinds of progressive and class based movements, they also extinguished the potential of progressive intellectuals (including artists).

Without a clear class basis, intellectuals during the New Order acted and voiced their nervous criticisms: “the moral movement.” The New Order implemented its class-denying political regimentation, collecting all kinds of professionals and groups to become part of or an extension of the bureaucracy. Citizens in general were distanced from politics, disorganised, becoming a “floating mass." In the end, the intellectual critics who were connected loosely to the "pro-democracy” movement poured all their energy and attention onto Suharto as the main figure and personification of the authoritarian and repressive New Order regime.

Then, Reformation deposed Suharto, shaking the basic principles of the New Order. However, the New Order was a banyan tree with strong roots - borrowing the emblem of the primary supporting party of the New Order, Golkar – that was not easy to fell or kill. Reformation merely trimmed the leaves, some twigs and perhaps a few branches. The main principle, and even more of its muscly roots, still cling on in various field of the social-political life of Indonesia.

In the period of transition to democracy, the New Order even put out new shoots in its political parties, elite authorities in various regions, and an inefficient, corrupt and complicated bureaucracy There were also tacky stigmas: communist, SARA (ethnicity, religion, race, inter-class), and the like. Citizens who were used to “floating” were not yet able to self-organise to struggle for their interests. Intellectuals, and artists, were even more nervous. A number of intellectuals/activists from the New Order seemed to experience disorientation because they had lost their “one and only enemy.” Some involved themselves in practical politics and exploited the road that had been conventionally (and conservatively) prepared: Join a party, become a member of the House. Artists return to their struggles with aesthetics and trade. In general, the New Order left behind a thick smoke that still overshadow our social-political-cultural lives: Leaving behind no source of inspiration, crippling imagination.

Nervousness, stammering and confusion are perhaps natural symptoms for a society in transition from one system to another, from an authoritarian system to a democratic one. If we count on from Reformation in 1998, that transition has already been underway for two decades. Perhaps it is time for the nervousness to end. Because the “transitional period" defence at a certain point becomes useful for tolerating various weaknesses and fraudulence; but this must not continue to be acceptable, as if the transitional period has no end.

So, what are the challenges and opportunities for intellectuals, activists and artists now, so that they can regrow their strength of imagination and re-sharpen their criticisms so that they can become socially-politically-culturally inspired, so that their work can ignite citizens imagining of active roles of our lives together?

Session 3: Critical Theory for Indonesia Now

Speaker: Martin Suryajaya

Foreword → It has already generally been explained how power in Indonesian is based on various theories of modernisation that rely on positivistic assumptions about a completely a-historical development process. The results continue on around us: the domination of capital that now has a global stranglehold and produces economic imbalance; managerial rationalisation that is the main principle in political culture. In the end this erodes the principles of social-cultural activity in society to mere units of contribution to the accumulation of capital.

We often hear that critical awareness will free humankind from domination and exploitation. In many cases, what we find – to borrow a verse from Chairil Anwar – is that actually:

We tremble weakly With one blow we collapse All moaning and shrieking We are buried in the every-day

Thus, this session hoped to provide a stock of understanding regarding the principle thinking behind a particular theory as a firm basis for critical and reflective research and study. This session reviewed and discussed once more the relevance - and also the challenges and limitations - of the principles of Critical Theory/Social Critical theory in our efforts to know and understand a variety of social-political-cultural trends that exist around us.