In early 2005, a small group of Sydney-based artists got together to open up creative dialogues with Indonesia. They came up with ‘Gang’, a year-long cross-cultural collaboration between 16 artist-run initiatives.
Drawing from the Indonesian word for alleyway, which evokes images of crevices, margins, and a sidestep from mainstream culture, Gang took shape as an expansive community project. The first stage brought together a compilation of work from Australia. From video art to oil paintings, the exhibition was made up of active artists not represented by commercial galleries. James Hancock and Alice McAuliffe spent two months presenting the work through the network of artist run venues in Yogyakarta, Bandung and Jakarta.
Alice and James found not just receptive audiences, but active arts communities. The exhibitions and screenings acted as catalysts for important discussions between artists. Although different in scope, many of the challenges facing Indonesian artist-run initiatives are common to those in Sydney, such as censorship and funding. But in Indonesia, artists are very familiar with working collectively. The Sydney artists were particularly impressed by the resourcefulness of groups such as Taring Padi, VideoBabes and ruangrupa.
The next part of Gang brought a diverse team of Indonesian artists from artist-run initiatives to Sydney for an intense period of presentation and collaboration in January 2006.
Ariani Darmawan from VideoBabes, was one of the two female artists selected to take part in Gang. Located in Bandung, VideoBabes was founded in 2004 by Ariani, Rani Ravenina and Prilla Tania. VideoBabes is an artistrun initiative supporting video art in Indonesia, running video-related programs and events and holding an open submission bi-monthly video screening called Rec It.
Immersed in the artist-run spaces of Sydney, Ariani drew comparisons with the Bandung scene. ‘There are artists who live communally in Sydney, but most of them work individually. It’s the other way around in Bandung. But I see the same spirit. They are small torches, lighting the cul-de sacs.’ And Ariani lit plenty of torches in Sydney. As well as presenting her work in the Gang screening program, she collaborated directly with four other artists. They produced a powerful video piece called Cross breeding the dirty artist which explored female power, identity and the fine line between miscommunication and violence.
‘The easiest way to make anything happen,’ she laughs, ‘is to gather two or more dirty artists in a dirty warehouse.’
These ‘dirty warehouses’ were the essence of Gang. Lanfranchis, located in a disused chocolate factory in Chippendale, was one of Gang’s key venues. It hosted the launch party, complete with dangdut karaoke, the Asia- Pacific zine fair, as well as artist talks, screenings, and a debate night.
Alex Davies is a co-director of Lanfranchis. ‘We specialise in quite specific mediums such as experimental sound. I think it’s probably pretty different here to Indonesia but everyone is really open about sharing that … The Gang events meant artists here really had the opportunity to develop a better understanding of Indonesia.’
Gang culminated in a festival day that took over the streets and alleyways of Chippendale. The work of artists was hung from buildings and fences and installed in gutters. Busking or ‘ngamen’ brought every street corner to life. The closing performance, a colourful musical parade featured work produced by Taring Padi, as well as the Sydney Samba School, the DIS/EASE dancers, AZAN (call to prayer), stilt walkers and The Rhythm Hunters with Rendra and the Sumatralia project.
The creative energy inspired by Gang went well beyond existing networks. People started talking about ‘Gang Darwin’ and ‘Gang Melbourne’ in future years. The success was about working collaboratively, bringing two cultures close together, and clearly celebrating their differences. ii
Alexandra Crosby (firstname.lastname@example.org ) was co-ordinator of the Gang Festival.