Who is the One? Who are the Many?

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[1] In the Major Indonesian Dictionary, an orang [person] is a "manusia [human] (in a specific sense)". What does this mean? Specific in what way? ‘Person’ is a non-specific third person term.[2] The word "person” is used to indicate a specific human but not necessarily one human, for instance: “Don’t trust a person’s words easily" is an expression with the intent to advise anyone about anyone else. If that sentence was whispered to you by a friend in reference to someone nearby, then it would certainly be accompanied by a denotative indicator, for example: “Don’t trust that person’s words easily.” “Persons” is also a classifier for people, for example: "Five fisher-persons were sailing with two nets.” SK 2014 selected the phrase "the one" – in its title – to underscore the existence of the individual person in the scope of the many.

How far is knowing and/or becoming someone, connected to the gathering of many people? Is there a specific limitation on becoming a gathering of many? Is that limitation geographic? Is it primordial or ideological? Is it religious or gendered? Or what...? This also raises further questions. Are the limitations necessary? Who determines the limitations and why?

"The many” is a gathering of people who possess a specific similarity (either living place, neighbourhood, hobby, profession or even time-based problems like traffic jams, floods, natural disasters, government policies and so on). There is a word “masyarakat” (society) that may seem more accurate than "the many", and this should be extrapolated here.[3] The connotative meaning of the word “masyarakat" – just like “community,” “group,” and “collective” – actually limits our space to move and explore the latest possibilities for more than one person. There are also meanings tied to particular disciplines, which attach these words to concepts used in those fields, for instance ‘society’ in political practice, ‘community’ in anthropology, ‘groups’ in sociology and ‘collectives’ in art.

Bear with this explanation based on the Indonesian language. We have in fact chosen to take this approach on the basis of our national language because, in all cases, language is a tool for communication between human beings, based on the consensus of users. So, although words are arbitrary signifiers, if they continue to be used, ergo they represent life in the place where that language is used. Yet everywhere, language is frequently regarded as trivial. Nonetheless, with language we can have money, property, government, marriage and other social institutions; conversely, without language, we can have none of these.[4] In many of his papers, Prof. Sudjoko quotes the dictionary, because he regarded it as a “artless an unpretentious" source.[5] ES 2014 wants to rekindle the enthusiasm of the former professor in the Faculty of Art and Design, Institute of Technology Bandung for the accurate and creative use of the Indonesian language. “To speak a language is ordinary, so eventually it [language] will become ordinary too,” said Prof. Sudjoko, who continues to be supported by the community of Indonesian language devotees.[6]

ES 2014 wants us all to become critical towards theses dynamics, which continue because we are all thinking creatures. What occurs in the structure of our collective imagination? Why do many people think the same way about the same things, in a form and manifestation that is the same? Thinking critically begins with questioning things that seem necessary. When the tag #ShameOnYouSBY disappeared from Twitter, for example, Tifatul Sembiring was immediately accused of being involved. However, it was easy to see that Twitter determines trending topics with algorithm based on what you follow and your location. This algorithm calculates topics which are popular over a short time, rather than those that have been popular for some time or become routine.[7] We must know the ‘rules of the game’ in advance so that we can think critically. This is the habit that ES wants to awaken in us all.

In the globalised world with the speed of today’s information, do you know someone as an isolated individual? Or as how the many distinguish him? Or as how the person in question identifies himself as being a part of the many? Who is each individual inside the diverse formations of the many? Does this individual really exist? Perhaps this question is easier to answer of we blame the "national identity" that the New Order proposed when its logic failed to adhere to the mentality of the nation. Identity obviously belongs to the individual; the concept of national identity becomes an effort towards uniformity and the erasure of independence. Individuals who may become part of the many are by nature independent. Tolerance is the basis of the existence of the many. Without independence a person cannot tolerate others. The basis of tolerance is simple: behave towards others as you would have them behave towards you, do not do to others what you would not have done to you.

Do people merge themselves¬ in the gathering of the many? Or are the many merged into them? Or do we merge them together? These questions need no answer because the many do not constitute an organisation, an association, a group or anything that depends on membership. The many are not apolitical, but the many are free from the political value of togetherness, which has many different agendas.

There are many efforts to institutionalise that which has previously mobilised – and been mobilised by – the many; these efforts come from both state and private interests. We are familiar with the situation where these institutions often end up adrift from what connects the institution to the tempest of the many. When institutionalised, that which was once 'something' withers. Does not the institution begin with the many? Shouldn’t this mean the institutionalised party is fulfilling the needs of the many? Remembering that in many cases institutionalisation fails, there must be a particular and casuistic answer to these last two questions.

ES 2014 intends to discuss the dynamic of social negotiations in current societal lives, as well as the attraction of tendencies to depart from those negotiations. It is no longer important whether these negotiations are something that is ‘bottom up’ or ‘top down’. It is no longer important who the initiates and whether the intention was obvious or concealed. The dynamic of social movements based on negotiation is all around us and clearly we are within it. Are we aware of it? Do we know it? What is our role? In more general political terms, we are in the process of questioning the connection between citizens and the state, with a particular emphasis on citizens (of the state).

ES 2014 tries to reveal the ecosystem in the associations of the many (artist groups, societal hobby-based groups, business associations, etc) in the arrangement of their lives (city, village, country, and in between all of these). Examining these encounters, either physical or virtual, and how these encounters are then disseminated to many more people is our first step in the effort to uncover the ecosystem of these groups.

Yogyakarta, August 2014
Grace Samboh
Program Manager for Equator Symposium


  1. The One and the Many is in fact the title of Grant Kester’s book on the diverse forms of cooperation in the field of contemporary art. Kester’s thinking does not specifically inform the presentation of the Equator Symposium 2014, apart from the title of the book, which is fairly representative of the principle thinking behind the ES 2014.
    The scope of the Equator Symposium encompasses the nations along the equatorial line which divides the earth, so, although we base our thinking in the Indonesian language, we must also consider – at least – the English language.
  2. In English, orang is “person” (a human being regarded as an individual) and orang banyak is “people” (human beings in general or considered collectively). Merriam Webster Dictionary Version 2.2.1 (156), © 2005-2011 Apple Inc. All Rights Reserved.
  3. The Major Indonesian Dictionary describes “masyarakat” (society) as a collection of people in its broadest sense, connected by a culture that they regard as the same.
  4. [...] one reason that traditional accounts of institutions, both in institutional economics and elsewhere, are incomplete is that they all take language for granted. It is essential to see in exactly what respect language is the fundamental social institution in order that you can see the logical structure of the other social institutions. It is intuitively obvious, even pre-theoretically, that language is fundamental in a very precise sense: you can have language without money, property, government, or marriage, but you cannot have money, property, government, or marriage without language. What is harder to see is the constitutive role of language in each of these and, indeed, in all social institutions. Language does not just describe a pre-existing institutional reality but is partly constitutive of that reality [...]” — John R. Searle, What is an Institution? in the Journal of Institutional Economics (2005), 1: 1, p. 11-12
  5. Prof. Sudjoko, Pada Mulanya adalah Kata…. (In the Beginning There Was the Word…) in the daily newspaper Sinar Harapan, 22 July 1978. (A paper written in English and presented at the International Conference on Art in Bandung, Indonesia, 9-14 July 1978)
  6. Prof. Sudjoko, Menjelang 50 Tahun Indonesia Merdeka: “Hoodlums”, Bahasa dan Kekanak-kanakan (Sudjoko advances to 50 Years of Indonesian Independence: “Buaya Darat” Language and its Childishness) in the daily Kompas, 5 April 1995.
  7. Trends are determined by an algorithm and, by default, are tailored for you based on who you follow and your location. This algorithm identifies topics that are immediately popular, rather than topics that have been popular for a while or on a daily basis, to help you discover the hottest emerging topics of discussion on Twitter that matter most to you.” From FAQs on Twitter (accessed 6 October 2014, 14:37 WIB)