Welcome to Yogyakarta, a hive of alternative art spaces
"I don't know what I'm doing and why I keep doing it."
Carved into moss-covered tiles on the ground, these are the words that greet me when I arrive at the artist-run space Cemeti Art House in Yogyakarta. The artist collective Tromarama created the installation, Unconsciously Conscious, during a recent residency in the Indonesian city. The statement is a playful jab at local belief in Javanese myths.
Known for its batik artists, puppet makers and silversmiths, the central Java city of Yogyakarta is today teeming with alternative contemporary art spaces.
Thriving outside the mainstream gallery system, many are run by graduates of the city's esteemed Indonesian Institute of the Arts. Unconventional in their approach, the artists are experimenting with open studio programmes and informal exhibition styles.
Cemeti Art House has been a creative hub for Indonesia's leading artists such as Nyoman Masriadi, Handiwirman Saputra and Heri Dono since 1988. While it previously functioned like a gallery, the space has recently cut down on its selling shows as a reaction to the market boom in Indonesian art.
"It's a very drastic change but promotion of artists can be done by many other galleries. That's not our goal," says Nindityo Adipurnomo, who founded the space with his wife, Mella Jaarsma. They have turned their attention to hosting residencies to mentor young artists. For much of the year, Cemeti Art House now transforms into a communal studio for visiting artists that is open to the public.
To fund their activities, the couple run a year-round informal exhibition featuring a cross-section of Indonesian artists. The works range from political photographs - such as Wimo A. Bayang's The Sixteen Troop, showing women in hijabs posing with water pistols - to installations such as Adipurnomo's cluster of granite stones carved by local craftsmen to resemble traditional Javanese hairstyles.
"In Yogya, artists from many different backgrounds are spreading like mushrooms," says curator Maria Tri Sulistyani.
Clustering in the south side of the city where rents are cheap, a large colony of artists live and work together fostering collaboration and cross-disciplinary exchange.
Sulistyani recently curated an exhibition at Kedai Kebun Forum, another seminal art space in the city. Run by artist Agung Kurniawan, it is a gallery attached to a restaurant with a rooftop performance space. With steady funding from the restaurant, Kurniawan is free to experiment. "I am always focusing on young artists. This space is for them," he says.
Titled "Kopi Keliling vol 7", the current show in the gallery unites local artists, graphic designers and illustrators around the theme of Indonesia's coffee culture. Spanning a diverse range of media, the works include sound installations, papier-mâché sculptures and intricate collages.
A few minutes' drive from Kedai Kebun Forum is Ruang MES 56, an edgy artist collective. Down a narrow alleyway in a residential area, the bohemian house is run by Bayang and a group of fellow photographers. The ground floor is devoted to exhibitions and many of the artists live upstairs.
One of the newest additions to the local art scene is Sangkring Art Space founded by Balinese painter Putu Sutawijaya. Located outside the city centre in the village of Nitiprayan, the space has held more than 55 exhibitions since opening its doors. One of its most impressive shows featured Anusapati, who suspended a series of disused railroad tracks from the gallery's exterior façade. The installation, which shows the tracks entering a wooden shelter, examines ideas of the country's progress as timber was often stolen from railroads in Java leading to accidents.
From modest to monumental, craft to contemporary, humorous to heavyweight conceptual work, the art emerging from Yogyakarta is refreshingly diverse and experimental. As curator Sulistyani says: "Yogya is a city where you can create whatever you want. It's a city where art has become part of people's life."