CURATORIAL TEXT / Memoir of The ‘Lost’ Memory / Irham Nur Anshari
“Just enough, a good Stern. I, Multatuli, raise my pen… I, the one who create you, make you big becoming marvelous being under my pen…I don’t apologize for my book structure, that I think is good enough to achieve my goal…
Yes, I want to be read!”
(Multatuli in Max Havelar(1))
An exhibition entitled “Memoir of Tanah Runcuk: A Note from the ‘Lost’ Land” could take the audience to the journey of an unknown land. The audience is challenged to explore a study of a group called CTRS (Center for Tanah Runcuk Studies) on artifacts left by Ludwig Stern Jr., a man who is described as an explorer to the never-never land. I hope this epilogue could distract the audience’s excitement by determining a fact that this is not an ethnographic exhibition but this is an experimental project or a solo art exhibition of Timoteus Anggawan Kusno.
If you have ever read “Max Havelaar” written by Multatuli, you are supposed to remember a character named Stern (Ludwig Stern Jr.) told in the novel. Stern’s real character as if being revealed in the last pages where Multatuli name, the real author, comes out. Throughout the story, Multatuli as if hides himself in the character of Stern(2), creating a storytelling model of blurring the line between fiction and fact, just to emphasize that he would like to everyone read and hear his story. Multatuli (who is actually a pseudonym of Eduard Douwes Dekker) does not really care how people might think of him as an author or his works in the history of literature. For him the most important thing is the readers could reflect on and re-imagine the unjust situation in the colonized land.
Timoteus Anggawan Kusno, nicknamed Angga, who also uses a character of Ludwig Stern Jr. as a fictional character in his exhibition, apparently is moved through the spirit of creation similar to Multatuli. Angga even hides his real name in the exhibition publication, making speculation with free interpretation of the audience on the story and the artifacts he created in a space. Unlike Multatuli who told a story through a novel as a medium, Angga told his fictional works in the medium on an exhibition or ethnographic museum.
Museum as a Medium
In this exhibition, it is important to review the ethnographic museum (or memoir) of Tanah Runcuk as a storytelling medium used by Angga. One of his work strengths is how he blurs its fictional story in the texts or artifacts, which is considered as a real entity in the dominant interpretational framework. What is meant by interpretational framework is especially refers to the artifact figures and the display method in an exhibition space in the ethnographic museum.
For instance, Angga created many drawings on papers that he somehow processed so that looked like hundred-year old papers. Indeed, drawing could be said the most familiar documentation method during the colonization period. In fact, drawing is still to be an important method for documentation after the invention of photography and film. Richard Kuba in his article Portraits of Distant Worlds: Expedition Paintings between Ethnography and Art(3) described why several ethnographers used drawing as their method for documentation although many opinions said that photography was more considered to be honest technique.
For instance, Leo Frobenius, a German anthropologist, argued that a drawing created step-by-step in some cases could show the essence of the object compared to a mechanic photography in which froze the reality instantly. Unlike a photographer, a person who sits to draw could understand better how images are being created. Often drawing could also allow other persons to have discussions or comments, which indeed has possibility to give effects on the process of creation.
Angga also considered ethnographic context in the content of his drawings—especially the ethnography in the colonization period, as a setting for the journey of Stern. One of his drawings, for example, describes unique flora and fauna in Tanah Runcuk. Such documentations could be said the most common ethnography record had ever been found in the ethnography writings. Just like how European made field notes in Indonesia during the period of colonization.
Besides drawing, Angga’s effort in creating fiction into realistic story was also expressed into photography artworks. Similar to drawing, he made photo papers having worn-out look. One of his manipulative photo works showed a portrait of a “special” fauna of Tanah Runcuk, Kuda Runcuk (Horse of Runcuk), which was presented complete with mythical figure including its sacred worshipping spells as a proof of its “existence”. Unlike any other horses, a mythical Kuda Runcuk’s head looks like a megaphone or a trumpet. This photo work as if legitimated a Kuda Runcuk, which also presented in many Angga’s drawings as a realistic creature.
Text in an ethnographic exhibition is a prominent thing. As it is stated in Henrietta Lidchi in The Poetics and the Politics of Exhibiting Other Cultures(4), ethnography object is a product resulted from the ethnographical practice in the distant and foreign culture so that it is difficult to understand. Text, therefore, becomes important as interpreter and translator of meanings for audience. “Text” in this case is not only a set of words written in the exhibition display, but also the whole construction of knowledge used as reference including oral statement or social and academic text.
Text constructed by Angga in this exhibition in fact is not only written records and artifacts’ notes displayed in the exhibition, but also an oral utterance of the opening speech of the exhibition played by an actor. In the opening speech, the actor played a role as a representative of CTRS who is characterized as a formal, busy, and dull person. Such character was intentionally created as a method to legitimate this fine art exhibition as a formal, serious, and institutional ethnographic exhibition.
Another text produced in this exhibition is in the form of scientific journal that consists of articles from collaborated writers/researchers with academic background. Entitled Jurnal Malalongke(5), this journal deserved to be put into important points as in the process, Angga tries to open up the interdisciplinary canals for several academicians to participate in writing a fictional research report for which putting their names “at stake”(6). The two first sections of the journal contain fictional articles by academicians (also Angga included himself with pseudonym Lukman Sudjatmika, Daliho Kusbirin, Beatrice L. Jingga) who respond a story of Tanah Runcuk. Meanwhile the last part of the article (including the article you are currently reading) deconstructs the fact of the exhibition of Memoir Tanah Runcuk as Angga’s art project.
By seeing this fictional ethnographic museum as Angga’s method to deliver his ideas, we have already got new perspective in seeing this exhibition/project. Up to this point, we can see how Angga tries to produce his own fictional story as real as possible by creating artworks, resembling ethnographic artifacts as well as his texts creation. By using particular symbols, Angga tempts to legitimate his fiction as a reality. Just like what has been done by mockumentary directors, Angga tried to propose questions: Do we think something real is truly a reality? Isn’t it possible something we think real is constructed product and manipulation of people with power? To what extent an institution has power to construct something we believe in and not?
Furthermore, not just merely debating representation of a problematic colonial ethnographic museum to put into this context, the using of museum as a medium done by Angga make me reflect on the symbolism that the museum has. As Durrans stated in his article The Future of Ethnographic Exhibition(7) : museum does not only collect and preserve every piece of a culture because a museum is part of the culture itself, a special zone where an animate culture becomes inanimate and the dead one comes alive. In larger context, it is prominent to observe the emergence of several museums in recent days that could be the practice of power maintenance(8).
Tanah Runcuk as Metaphor
As an experimental project, this exhibition has the possibility to be seen within the framework of audience’s consciousness on this fictional museum. For instance, if it is contextualized with the space where this exhibition was held, Kedai Kebun Forum, it thus can be accepted straight away by the audience as an art project. From Angga’s works, we could also see holes that he created to make the audience questioning the truth in this ethnographic museum. For example, the texts attached in the artifacts are written in new language, the figures of modern objects in the artifacts, as well as the using of drawing technique in which much more contemporary than the ethnographic one.
In relation to that, it is important to see Angga’s works beyond the medium itself. One of the entrances to see his idea is by digesting the whole story of Tanah Runcuk. Tanah Runcuk, an imaginative land could be seen as a metaphor of Indonesia. Everything that he described in Tanah Runcuk is a question as well as his restlessness on what happens in the society and surrounding.
In my conversation with Angga regarding to his idea on this, he repeated several times his critics to mental inferiority and feudalistic character that subtly kept operating, reproducing, and regenerating within our society who lives in hierarchy and collectivity. With magic realism approach, Tanah Runcuk community is told to live in the reality full of surrealistic, magical, empirical thing (law of nature) simultaneously. In his map of Tanah Runcuk artwork, Angga tried to describe how the people gave names their landscape based on their fears, as a form of their alienation of their own land (it).
A character of Runcuk Horse that comes out in several works, like Equus ferus sonitus and Kotak Perjalanan Stern (Stern’s Journey Chest), is used to show how a magical or spiritual thing often being created to legitimate dominant power. By combining a megaphone figure (symbol of industrialization and modernism) and the horse body (local being, masculinity, power), Angga as if tries to show the creation of myth that is done “co-operatively” between local elite and colonizers (or the power) from outside in which affirmed by the society collectively in their unconsciousness. As it is shown by Multatuli that colonialism happened because it is allowed by the local elite, domination that is still happening until today (either in the context of post colonialism, feudalism, or imperialism) is a complex system involving local authority.
In some of his ‘journal texts’ works, we could see that Angga agitated the social-politics issues in details. In Per Fidem Intrepedus, Angga expressed the significant events in the form of black and white drawing artifacts of Tanah Runcuk. Angga also put the poetic texts as a ‘translated manuscripts’ in Indonesia Language. The texts represents the metaphor of the dark memory in history that ever happened in his society—which are still questionable for him. Those ‘forgotten memories’ constitute Angga’s artmaking in investigating how history is written, read, and reproduced under the dominant paradigm. For example, some problems related to the genocide in Indonesia under Suharto’s regime that seems to be ‘vanished’ from the mainstream national historiography and ‘grand narratives’. In the heavy-look leather cover book entitled Puisi dari Seberang which is thicker and more colorful, Angga used collage to represents the metaphor of important issues. One of them is a puzzle of a Europe map that shows the turning over of orientalism(9).
The other important works are his mixed-media artworks which combine collage, handwriting notes, quotes, drawings, and photographs, in which Angga are freer to express his idea and to borrow the other literature frameworks without burdened by ethnographic media. In Phantasmatic Love, Angga tried to question how human beings and their institutions constructed their beliefs, but snared the social relations among themselves.
To end my essay, I think it is important to re-question how far Angga relates his fictional stories—which are used as the medium to express his idea—to the reality, or at least, its connection to the collective memory. Some of the audiences might question why Angga did not express his criticism directly? “Chandana”-Santalum Album could be the answer of this question. In this work, Angga put the real chandana wood (which have been carved into marble-size piece, brought from Timor Leste at 1991) into a laboratory glass/reagent bottle, as if Angga presented the remarkable power of Cendana Family which constructed New Order dictatorship.(10) Angga might be the generation which had been lived (and/or still living in the fear of being) under the repression.
On the other hand, the way Angga expresses his idea gives the audiences experiences to explore and ‘invade’ Tanah Runcuk; by reading Jurnal Malalongke we undertake the orientalism. In one of his text, angga says that the imagined communities (11) are actually constructed in our (collective) mind as we ‘write down’ our history.
(1) free translation on Multatuli. 1972. Max Havelaar.Bandung: Djambatan Press.
(2) Not only Stern Jr., but Multatuli also hid himself by creating another character, like
Batavus Droogstoppel who is written as the first person’s and Syaalman’s point of view and.
(3) In Clementine Deliss (ed.). 2012. Object Atlas: Fieldwork in the Museum. Bielfeld: Kerber Verlag.
4) In Stuart Hall (ed.). 1997.
Representation: Cultural Representation and Signifying Practices. London, Thousand Oaks, New Delhi: Sage Publications.
(5) The word Malalongke derives from Runcuk Dalam Language, from the speel “Malalongke Pacah”. Malalongke means sacred traditions, having high quality and being frozen do not develop.
(6) This fictional work reminds me of Skandal Sokal in 1996, when Alan Sokal, a physics professor in New York University wrote an article full of lies but still accepted by a notable journal Social Text. Then, Sokal revealed his purposeful lies to criticize the like-an-amateus misapplication of the newest physical science by some theoretical thinkers. This scandal makes them aware and skeptic toward the articles even though they are from the notable journals or written by a competent writer.
(7) Durrans, B. 1993. “The Future of Etnographic Exhibitions” in Zeitscrift fur Ethnology No. 118:125-39
(8) By the end of his position as a president, SBY launched a presidential museum namely Balai Kirti. The aim is for the generations to learn from the values of the leadership of the former presidents. Moreover, Museum Soeharto was built several years ago which records the leadershio of the second presidents of Indonesia.
(9) Orientalism here is related to the concept proposed by Edward Said about how the West World tried to conquer The East World through discursive operations. See Edward W. Said. 1978. Orientalisme. New York: Vintage Books.
(10) The symbol of Chandana is also important. Its presence represents the complexity of the colonialism discourse and our history which still become the problem until now, 69 years after the declaration of freedom. During the colonization, all of the chandana woods growing all around the forest and all the lands belonged to the landlords and the local government. In that era, they cut all the chandanas and extracted them in abundant over decades. It endangered the population of chandana woods. According to Majalah Forum 34th edition (Cendana 96, 2010) via Siti Maimunah (2013), chandana woods did not recover even after Indonesia declared their freedom. In 1996, the chandana bleaching policy applied, and since 2008, all of cendana woods were legally belonged to the country. Timor people believe that the exploitation on the chandana was the main cause of the erosion and the critical land in that island. In Majalah Fourm 65th edition (Banu, 2012) it is written that “Cendana wood is Pah e afan, the fat of the earth’s lubricator. If the woods ran out, the land would not have its lubricator anymore and it would be broken easily and become unstable”, said Aleta Baun describing the ecological role of chandana woods. See, for example, Widyatmika. M. 2007. Cendana and the dynamic of the people in Nusa Tenggara TImur. Pusat Pengembangan Madrasah NTT. Kupang; Maimunah, Siti. 2013. Accessible in http://etnohistori.org/edisi- genealogi-gerakan- dan-studi-perempuan-indonesia-perempuan-di- wilayah-tambang- melawan-neo-kolonialisme- baru-bagian-1-oleh-siti-maimunah.html (1 November); Cendana 96, 2010. Majalah Forum edisi 34, Jakarta; Banu, 2012. Majalah Forum 65th edition, Jakarta
(11) See Benedict Anderson. 2001. Imagined Communities: Komunitas-komunitas Terbayang (terj.). Yogyakarta: Insist Press & Pustaka Pelajar.