The Greenhouse Blog

Introducing our Amazing Babes: Genevieve Fricker

The very clever and funny Genevieve Fricker is one of Australia’s most exciting emerging comedians, with credentials such has having trained and performed at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade theatre in New York.

As part of our event Amazing Babes for the EWF Roadshow, we are inviting an incredible line-up of writers to tell stories about the women who have inspired them, in their writing and their lives. The most popular event of this year’s Emerging Writers’ Festival finally comes to Sydney; this is a night to be inspired and celebrate the women who made us who we are.

We had a quick chat with Genevieve about her work, advice for writers and how she braves taking the stage!

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What is your writing background?

I’m a stand up comedian/musician, who somehow had a weekly social column in the Sydney Morning Herald for a year before they figured out I was terrible.

What piece of advice has helped you grow as an artist which you could share with us?

To always go by gut feeling. If I make something and it doesn’t feel good performing it or putting it out there in general, chances are it’s not good. It goes the other way to – making something that makes you feel happy sharing it shouldn’t be second guessed or intellectualised. If it feels good, keep doing it!

Do you ever get scared putting so much of yourself out into the world when you are on stage? How do you calm your nerves?

If anything I find it much easier to be honest on stage than I do in real life, which is unfortunate for my loved ones. Also, hiding the most horrible stories about yourself behind jokes is not particularly brave, so I’m only ever nervous when someone I know is in the audience. When that happens, I drink.

Amazing Babes
7:30 PM, Thursday 6 November 2014
Giant Dwarf, 199 Cleveland Street Redfern
$15 Full / $12 Concession: book now

Introducing cartoonist and curator Leigh Rigozzi

Leigh Rigozzi is a Sydney-based artist and the editor of Blood & Thunder, an infrequently published anthology of Australian comics. He is the Projects & Communications Officer at the NSW Writers’ Centre.

Leigh has curated an exhibition of comic art for the upcoming Emerging Writers’ Festival Roadshow and will be speaking on a panel about book design.

We spoke to Leigh about curating a comics exhibition, women in comics, and designing zines.

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Katie Parrish small

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The exhibition is being billed as “an exhibition of comic art from Australia’s thriving graphic publishing scene”. What do you think has changed in the last couple of years so that we are at the point of the scene “thriving”?

There has always been great output from the comics scene in Australia if you know where to look, but the publishing culture is very homegrown and DIY. A lot of it is still like that, but there have been a few big events in Australian comics recently. Pat Grant and Simon Hanselmann, who are both represented in this exhibition, have each produced graphic novels which have gone on to become international successes. In fact, Simon’s book has just hit the New York Times bestseller list.

There’s movement happening in Australia, too. The Museum of Contemporary Art puts on a hugely successful zine fair every year, there are small publishers in Australia like Milk Shadow books and Pikitia Press doing some great stuff, and print collectives like the Rizzeria are making it easier than ever for creators to realize their visions in print. Perhaps the scene isn’t ‘thriving’ in the sense that people aren’t making money out of it, but there are more and more talented people coming out of the woodwork all the time.

Comics and graphic novels have traditionally been a male domain but with the work of female artists being recognised more and more, do you think we are beyond that point now? You have curated Katie Parrish in this exhibition, are there any other emerging Australian female artists you would recommend checking out?

There is no shortage of women in the Australian comic art scene. I think that is because it is largely based around creative communities driven by passionate creative individuals rather than an industry driven by commercial interests, where the types of stories that sell often seem to be based around hoary stereotypes and narrative tropes.

Some of the women who will be exhibiting in this show are Nicky Minus, Jo Waite, Natalia Zajaz, Bailey Sharp, Katie Parrish, Lizzie Nagy and Mandy Ord, all of whose work I recommend highly, and there are a lot of other very talented ladies out there in the Australian comics scene.

Comics are appreciated as much for their storytelling and artistic merit as for their printed form. You used RISO to great effect with the Blood & Thunder Anthology, a form of printing with a cult-like following. Do you think comics need to be held to be truly appreciated, do you lose something viewing them on the computer screen?

Comics employ a visual language that can translate across many media forms. I enjoy online comics a lot, but I also have a fetish for print. A lot of comics are designed with physical publication in mind, so for that work obviously print is the most appropriate form. When we put together Blood & Thunder, we wanted to make a book that was as much about the variety and quality of print as it was about the narratives it contained. We used multiple stocks and print techniques to bring the book into being, and that tactility is obviously something that can’t be replicated on a screen.

In this exhibition I’ve tried to bring together some artists that represent a spectrum of what is going on between drawing and print in comics. I love the artifacts left behind by an artist on an original comics page, and I love the qualities that are unique to various print techniques, so to some extent I’ve chosen artists based on that relationship between original pages and printed work.

Along with curating this exhibition, you are appearing in the session The Look of the Book, a discussion on why book design is so important. Is there an example of interesting or exciting book design that has come out Australia in the last couple of years?

I’ll be talking from a personal perspective on that panel as opposed to some kind of ‘industry insider’. I’ve self-published a lot of work over the years in various forms, and in some ways the Blood & Thunder anthology was a culmination of that. I’ll be talking about some of the print techniques I’ve used over the years and how those techniques affect the design of a book.

The full day festival at the New South Wales Writers’ Centre on Saturday 8th November is filled with daring contemporary conversations around the art of writing – featuring discussions on pop culture, criticism, mentorship, digital literature and way, way more. To read more about the Emerging Writers’ Festival Roadshow and to book tickets, click here.

Introducing our Amazing Babes: Tamar Chnorhokian

Tamar Chnorhokian is one of the original members of SWEATSHOP and her first book The Diet Starts on Monday (Dec 2014) is the first publication by the group. The book is an exciting addition to Australian writing for young adults, with a strong focus on cultural diversity, growing up in Western Sydney, and the promotion of positive body image.

As part of our event Amazing Babes for the EWF Roadshow, we are inviting an incredible line-up of writers to tell stories about the women who have inspired them, in their writing and their lives. The most popular event of this year’s Emerging Writers’ Festival finally comes to Sydney; this is a night to be inspired and celebrate the women who made us who we are.

We had a quick chat with Tamar about her work, advice for writers and telling the story of your culture and community.

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What is your writing background?

I completed a communications degree in writing and publishing at the University of Western Sydney. My stories and articles have appeared in Westside, Seizure, Fairfield City Champion Newspaper, Moree Champion Newspaper, My Home Magazine and on Big Ideas (ABC 1).

My first novel is The Diet Starts On Monday (SWEATSHOP, 2014). I’m an original member of SWEATSHOP Writers and have been collaborating with the group since 2007.

What piece of advice has helped you grow as an artist which you could share with us?

That less is definitely more. In other words you don’t have to explain everything. You need to trust that the reader will be able to connect the dots.

When did you realize that you had an important voice, and a point of view other people needed to hear?

When I wrote about what I knew. There are lots of references to my Armenian culture in my stories. This brings about topics that haven’t been explored in Australian literature before – for example, encounters with the evil eye. I also write about where I was raised, along the western suburbs of Sydney. I think it’s important that positive portrayals of the community are told from people who know and understand the region.

Amazing Babes
7:30 PM, Thursday 6 November 2014
Giant Dwarf, 199 Cleveland Street Redfern
$15 Full / $12 Concession: book now

Introducing our Amazing Babes: Eliza Sarlos

Eliza Sarlos’ Amazing Babes introduces readers to such inspirational women as Gloria Steinem, Kathleen Hanna, Aung San Suu Kyi, Miles Franklin, and Malala Yousafzai. All the women in this book had the ideas, determination, and creativity to bring about change in the world.

As part of our event Amazing Babes for the EWF Roadshow, we are inviting an incredible line-up of writers to tell stories about the women who have inspired them, in their writing and their lives. The most popular event of this year’s Emerging Writers’ Festival finally comes to Sydney; this is a night to be inspired and celebrate the women who made us who we are.

We had a quick chat with Eliza about her work, advice for writers and her proudest creative accomplishments.

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Can you tell us a little bit about your writing background? 

It’s weird, only when I’m asked about being a writer do I feel like I’m a writer. I feel much more comfortable with the idea of being a facilitator, or a creative producer – I do a range of things, one of which is writing, and within that I had the good fortune of wanting to make a book for my son’s first birthday. It started off as a really small, personal project – I got my friend Grace Lee to do some drawings to go with the book and her illos were so beautiful it felt really selfish keeping them on our bookshelf. I convinced her that we should do a crowdfunding campaign and print up some more copies, and when we did that it was wildly successful, and somehow landed under the nose of Scribe Publications, who wanted to print it. And suddenly I’m a writer. I couldn’t be happier about it.

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What piece of advice has helped you as an artist which you could share with us?

There’s a kids book I really loved that got recommended to me on one of the launch events for Amazing Babes, by this awesome guy who worked there, called Line 135. It’s about a girl and her dreams, basically – really beautifully illustrated but the story is even more striking than the wonderful line drawings. It’s basically about just believing that you can do anything. It tells you that whatever it is you want to do, it is possible. That’s totally been my experience in life – I think I’ve probably fallen victim to wanting to do too much, but I think it’s all been completely possible. Whatever it is you want to do, you can do it! </inspirational message>

Alternatively, I recently flicked Dave Eggers a copy of Amazing Babes at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival and in return he gave me a copy of McSweeneys – the one that’s printed as a zig zag. I asked him how he got the printers to do that. He said he just asked. That all you’ve gotta do is ask, and most of the time people want to make things happen with you. It’s totally true.

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What professional accomplishments are you proudest of?

I feel incredible lucky to have collaborated with so many amazing artists and creators on some really wonderful projects – from running a music festival in Newcastle to an arts festival on Cockatoo Island, to starting a radio show on FBi Radio that’s now a national program, supporting young kids across regional NSW to create a tour to presenting illustrators, storytellers and radio makers on stage at the Sydney Opera House. It really blows my mind that I get to do these things and call them, to varying degrees, “work”. But hands down the best collaboration I’ve been involved in was working with Grace Lee on Amazing Babes - at every stage of it – from when it was going to be a zine for Arthur (my son) to a rough n ready crowdfunded print to a book you can now buy in stores all over the world. Every time I see it on a shelf somewhere I virtually have to pinch myself.

 

Amazing Babes
7:30 PM, Thursday 6 November 2014
Giant Dwarf, 199 Cleveland Street Redfern
$15 Full / $12 Concession: book now

kathllen

Island to Island (to Video!)

For five days (Sept 26 – Sept 30, 2014), two exceptional emerging Australian writers and two exciting emerging Indonesian writers travelled across Java as part of Island to Island, a new immersive cultural exchange program, ending up in Bali in time for the 2014 Ubud Writers & Readers Festival.

Join André Dao, Gillian Terzis, Maggie Tiojakin and Ninda Daianti as they explore the difficulties and possibilities of strengthening cultural ties between Indonesia and Australia.

Supported by the Asialink Arts, Arts Victoria, the Australia International Cultural Council, Ubud Writers & Readers Festival and Melbourne Writers Festival.

A Glimpse of Java through the Window: Ninda Daianti on Train Travel, Indonesia-Style

(Ninda Daianti is one of the writers travelling across Java as part of Island to Island, a new immersive cultural exchange program supported by Asialink Arts and Arts Victoria)  

 

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Our Island to Island journey began in Jakarta. After two days of exploring the city and stuffing ourselves with (mostly) coconut milk-based food a.k.a Padang cuisine, the six of us stood on the big outdoor lobby of Gambir Station with our backpacks and luggage. Looking down on the swamp-green tiles in the aula, a reflection of the Dutch’s choices during the colonial era, I felt the moist Sunday morning air. The day was still early; the humidity hadn’t kicked in just yet and we were lucky enough to encounter the remains of dew.

Gambir Station was renovated a few years back. As the center of most intercity and interstate travels and the main transit stop for Jakarta and Bogor-based (a small town just outside of Jakarta) commuters, the city officials set aside big budgets to create a friendlier, more modernized station. Although there were no major reconstructions, the empty hallways are now filled with rows of local restaurants, mini markets, and of course, a Starbucks store. Ironically, after the renovations, due to the immense crowd and the increasing crime rate in the surrounding area, the passengers could only stop at stations before and after Gambir. The central station is now only dedicated for “real” travelers.

When Sam informed me we would be traveling via train from Jakarta to Jogjakarta and from Jogjakarta to Surabaya, I was excited and wary at the same time. To be honest, what I fear the most was using the toilet. The last time I took a train was around eleven years ago; I didn’t go to the bathroom for four hours because the condition wasn’t very suitable for use. But surely, we’ve improved after one decade, no?

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The train arrived twenty minutes late, which I expected, or as Indonesians would like to call it, jam karet (literal translation: rubber watch). We sat in the first two rows and a minute after we adjusted our seats to a more comfortable position, the images from the windows started to change. Tall buildings were replaced by infinite grass and rice fields. Suddenly I could breathe better. There was always this sense of liberty whenever I left the city and perhaps that is the beauty of going away from somewhere—or from anywhere, really.

An hour passed by. We stopped for fifteen minutes. Jillian’s eyes were already set on the mid pages of Laksmi Pamuntjak’s The Question of Red. Two hours. Everybody was asleep.

Three hours. We stopped at Cilegon. Perhaps the train needed to rest? Why did we have so many stops? I walked around and saw the conductor standing on the pavement, smoking a cigarette. After he finished, he went back inside. I sat down and a minute later, the images at the window started to move again. Sam was looking out at the long river by the valley.

I finally encouraged myself to use the bathroom. Bernard Herrman’s Psycho Theme might as well be playing in the background. I opened the door. Nope, it hasn’t changed much, I must say. You still need to squat to do your business instead of sitting down in a small cramped room. Well, at least toilet paper was provided, which was definitely an improvement. And there was running water, a luxury we didn’t have before. I walked back to my seat and saw Andre reading Earth of Mankind by Pramoedya Ananta Toer.

Eight hours we’d been on the train. We stopped yet again. The farther we went, it seemed that we waited longer and longer. I finally lost track of time when Maggie took out her cards and we played Cangkul, a simpler version of Go-Fish. We got bored after a while and decided to do some work on our laptops.

It was time for the sun to rest and darkness finally came. The train stopped. Jogjakarta. Yes. It was time to go. All of us were restless and we stood up quickly.

Although we spent almost twelve hours on the train (with the expectation of only spending seven hours), the train ride was pleasant as it gave a chance for us to slow down from our daily, busy lives. And most importantly, the train had space—specifically legroom—that we wouldn’t have had on a plane, because who wouldn’t want a little more legroom?

 

 

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Island to Island is presented by Asialink Arts and the Emerging Writers’ Festival, supported by Arts Victoria. Supported by the Australia International Cultural Council, Ubud Writers & Readers Festival and Melbourne Writers Festival.

Ubud Writers & Readers Festival highlights

The 2014 Ubud Writers & Readers Festival wrapped up last week and we asked our four incredible ‘Island to Island’ writers what their highlights of the festival were.

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Ninda Daianti

One of the most rewarding experiences on being a panelist is being able to reach out to the public and to connect with the audience. As a rookie, I learned a lot by listening to other writers articulate their writing process and rituals, the political and cultural issues that stroke them, their ongoing journeys as writers, and their place as writers in this world. However, I realized that after everything was said and done, when a few hands raised their hands, we have stoke their curiosities. That was all that mattered. In one of the panels at Bentara Budaya Bali, along with Maggie Tiojakin, Agus Rois, and Bambang Kariyawan, our audience was mostly sophomores from Udayana University. It was gratifying to know that there’s a slight possibility that we might stimulate new ideas and new perspectives on their minds and also encourage them to pursue their careers as young writers.

 

André Dao

One of my favourite things about the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival is the truly international nature of its programming. That was apparent on my panel about the global asylum seeker question: my fellow panellists were Mukesh Kapila, who has held senior roles in the UN, World Health Organization and the International Red Cross, and Hassan Blasim, an Iraqi-born writer who was describe the Guardian as “perhaps the greatest writer of Arabic fiction alive.” It was an incredible – and intimidating – opportunity to not only meet these amazing writers but to engage with them on an important topic like asylum seekers in the global context. Another highlight was discovering the work of Malaysian author Tash Aw. I first saw him on a panel on “Panglish” in which he spoke about the role of writers in countries like Malaysia writing in English to change and develop English – to challenge the “purity” of English as it is written and spoken by native speakers. His insight into language, and contemporary Asia were enough to get me to go straight to bookshop and buy his latest novel, Five Star Billionaire, about Chinese Malaysians trying to make their fortunes in the world’s foremost megacity, Shanghai.

Gillian Terzis

Political discussions at writers’ festivals tend to feature a lot of bien-pensant backslapping, the sort that makes you feel like a good progressive just by being there. That was not the case at UWRF’s panel A Human Right, which featured Professor Mukesh Kapila, writer Hassan Blasim and Island to Island’s very own Andre Dao. Kapila, who famously blew the whistle on the UN’s inaction in Darfur massacres, didn’t pull his punches when asked about his thoughts on Australia’s stance on asylum seekers. His initial condemnations met rapturous applause. He told the Australia-strong crowd that we got the leaders we deserved, and that our value system was broken — to more clapping. He was similarly unsympathetic to those  with ‘compassion fatigue’. But his prognosis for the future was sobering:  the crisis is likely to get worse before it gets better. Special treatment for refugees is akin to treating them like ‘animals in a zoo’, he said. This image of our complicity stuck with me for days. Could there be a more unedifying spectacle?


Maggie Tiojakin

The best part of being on different panels at Ubud Readers and Writers’ Festival this year is the opportunity to meet fellow writers from around the world and exchange ideas about what writing means to us, how we approach the craft and the kind of changes we are able to instigate simply by relying on the power of stories. My panel with Anne Ostby and Michael Vatikiotis was concentrated on the topic of how much we identify with our own culture and how we strive to provide context in a world whose boundaries are created by diverse identities — and it has been extremely rewarding for me to hear from my fellow panelists how these things play out in our own experiences as writers and readers. The same goes for other panels I was on during the festival. At its best, festivals like Ubud Readers and Writers aim to create a safe and conducive platform for people to come together and look at the world from a completely different set of lenses than the ones we would normally use to view the world. And it has done just that.

 

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Island to Island is presented by Asialink Arts and the Emerging Writers’ Festival, supported by Arts Victoria. Supported by the Australia International Cultural Council, Ubud Writers & Readers Festival and Melbourne Writers Festival.

A Taste of Home: Maggie Tiojakin on Rice in Java

(Maggie Tiojakin is one of the writers travelling across Java as part of Island to Island, a new immersive cultural exchange program supported by Asialink Arts and Arts Victoria)  

 

“What are those?” I asked Ninda, who sat next to me on the train, on our way to Yogyakarta, while pointing at the scattered mounds of black soot across the rice fields to our left. “Are they burning the fields?”

Ninda shook her head slowly, gazing out the window with an equal sense of wonder.

“I don’t know,” she said.

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The train chugged slowly across the track that divides acres upon acres of rice fields, where women in kabaya and straw hats stood at an angle, feet firmly planted on a narrow path, bending over the tall grass and systematically making early selections of the good crops. There were men, too, their pants rolled up to their knees, their lower legs completely submerged in water, inspecting the fields, probably looking for signs of pests. Cast over the bright green and light brown coloured crops was a stretch of yellow sky. It was almost noon and the sun was rather unforgiving. My eyes were fixated on the mounds of black soot dotting the fields, some of which were still sending trails of dark smoke into the air. What are they?

Curious, I decided to call up a friend in Jakarta who came from a family of farmers. She explained to me that the mounds of black soot were actually burnt rice straws, a common sight in the fields, which resulted from a common practice among farmers to get rid of leftover straws after the crops have been harvested.

“But wouldn’t that compromise the soil?” I said. “And I imagine it’s affecting the quality of air around the fields, too.”

My friend laughed: “How do you not know these things?” She went on to tell me how the government has been trying to dissuade farmers from burning rice straws during harvesting season for those exact reasons. There’s already a regulation in place banning the practice of rice straw burning and a program suggesting the idea of rapid composting — in short, turning rice straw into compost at a much faster rate compared to the three-month window required in ordinary composting by using a compost fungus activator. Does it work? Yes, she said. Then what’s the problem?

“Well,” she sighed. “On top of the hard work they have already undertaken to produce rice, it takes a lot of effort for the farmers to transport all the rice straws into a single platform, soak them overnight, distribute the activator, layer the straws, cover the compost, and moisten the compost frequently for about a month before it matures.”

Ah. Right.

“More than that, you probably need special gloves to handle the activator since it is quite sensitive and can become less effective upon the mildest form of contamination,” she said. “Not to mention the fact that it’s bad for your skin if you ever came into direct contact with it.”

Uh-huh.

“And, of course, when you think about it,” she said. “All of that hard work benefits the soil and the environment, but rarely benefits the farmers. They are still grossly underpaid and underappreciated.”

Of course.

I eat rice every day. When I stay abroad, rice is the first thing on my mind, the first thing I would look for in restaurants and grocery stores, the only thing that gives me comfort. A taste of home. Yet I know nothing about it. That’s how much I take it for granted. Not to mention the fact that I have a healthier curiosity about wine production and potato farming in countries outside of Indonesia than anything my country produces. Any well-rounded foreigner would probably have a more extensive knowledge of how tempeh is produced than I do. My best explanation about tempeh is … it’s basically fermented tofu.

Throughout the Island to Island journey, I found myself constantly redefining and renegotiating my space, my identity in my own country, which is both unnerving and exhilarating and profoundly life-changing in its own way. And the larger concern that weighs heavily on me is the fact that I’m not the only Indonesian who takes for granted, through sheer ignorance and blatant disregard, the very essence of what makes this country great. Sure, some would argue, “Not a lot of people know about rice production, either. It’s got nothing to do with our sense of self or national identity.”

True.

But it’s not just rice production that I am completely oblivious to, it’s everything else, too — our history, our diverse traditions and where we are in the world right now, politically, culturally. More and more, I find myself in the awkward position of the lead character in a Jackie Chan feature, Who am I?

 

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Island to Island is presented by Asialink Arts and the Emerging Writers’ Festival, supported by Arts Victoria. Supported by the Australia International Cultural Council, Ubud Writers & Readers Festival and Melbourne Writers Festival.

Capturing Something Else: André Dao on Jogjakarta

(André Dao is one of the writers travelling across Java as part of Island to Island, a new immersive cultural exchange program supported by Asialink Arts and Arts Victoria)  

 

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Stepping through a small metal gate off a quiet side street in Jogjakarta, we find ourselves in a shaded garden facing an old building whose sign reads:

KUNCI

Copy Station

Since 1999

On the front porch is a boxed-up arcade machine, plastered with FRAGILE stickers, and inside we find books shelved and stacked on racks and ancient TV sets. On one wall is a mockup of Jokowi-JK in the Month of Ramadan, a Tintin parody featuring Indonesia’s President-elect and his running mate. Jokowi is widely seen as Indonesia’s best hope for a clean political break; the comic is subtitled Jokowimania.

Nuraini Juliastuti, one of the founders of KUNCI, arrives on a motorbike as we browse the library. Nuraini tells us she co-founded the ‘Cultural Studies Centre’ fifteen years ago, as a way to discuss the things that Indonesia’s existing cultural institutions were passing over. Those cultural institutions were – and are – preoccupied with big politics and the state of the nation. In contrast, as Nuraini explains, KUNCI’s founders wanted to “capture something else”, which meant exploring previously ignored subjects like fashion, youth culture and LGBTI issues.

Nuraini Juliastuti, co-founder of KUNCI

Nuraini Juliastuti, co-founder of KUNCI

 

Over the years, that “something else” has continued to expand. KUNCI Cultural Studies Centre now functions as a co-working space, library, research centre and discussion area. It also publishes a quarterly journal, which started life in print before migrating online (print distribution – on a store-by-store basis – was simply too much work, says Nuraini).

A quick look at the library reveals shelves devoted to a broad range of topics, from Feminism and Gender to Architecture and Ethnography, with Western and Eastern thinkers lined up side-by-side. If the arrangement of the books seems a little chaotic, it is very much deliberate. In a recent workshop at KUNCI run by Sydney artist Rebecca Conroy (just one example of the many Australian collaborations that happen here, including one this year between the Footscray Community Arts Centre and KUNCI), the idea of “radical archiving” was discussed. The idea, Nuraini explains, is to deconstruct the Dewey decimal system in order to rethink how we organise our knowledge products.

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With this comes a restructuring of the relationship between the library’s owner and its users. In the traditional library, we are told how and where to find information. That system is both patriarchal and rather abstract, says Nuraini. The shelves at most libraries are not designed to be browsed; instead, we are herded to the catalogue computers. In contrast, KUNCI asks those who come in to try to re-imagine the best ways to organise information. It’s an approach that accords with KUNCI’s ethos of creative experimentation, and its focus on the intersections between theory and practice. Membership of KUNCI is open and voluntary, and radical archiving is only the latest in a long line of efforts to create an open and culturally critical Indonesia.

The growth of KUNCI – as with most artistic endeavours in Jogja – has been quite organic. Indeed, the library began with Nuraini and her co-founder’s personal book collections. A willingness to create new spaces and start new initiatives seems to be characteristic of the artists in this city, and Nuraini is quick to point out that KUNCI is not affiliated with any official educational institution, giving it a rare amount of independence and flexibility compared to other academic research centres.

André Dao and Nuraini Juliastuti

André Dao and Nuraini Juliastuti

 

The night before our trip to KUNCI, as we sat down to dinner after a long train trip from Jakarta to Jogjakarta, a group of young buskers arrived outside the restaurant. They played songs typical of Jogja – rousing sing-a-longs, accompanied by acoustic guitars, drums and a double bass, featuring choruses like, “The people’s representatives should be able to live with the people”. The songs are all composed by local Jogja musicians, and the most popular ones are taken up by other musicians.

It’s all part of the Jogja ethos – to create first and worry about paying the bills later. Politically, Jogjakarta is accorded special status as a “Special Region” within the Indonesian republic because of its prompt support for independence in 1945. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. As the chorus to another buskers’ favourite goes, “Jogjakarta is special because the people are special.”

 

 

 

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Island to Island is presented by Asialink Arts and the Emerging Writers’ Festival, supported by Arts Victoria.

Back in the Big Durian: Gillian Terzis on Jakarta

(Gillian Terzis is one of the writers travelling across Java as part of Island to Island, a new immersive cultural exchange program supported by Asialink Arts and Arts Victoria)

 

Being back in Jakarta felt like a kind of homecoming: I first found a taste for reporting and feature writing four years ago as an intern at The Jakarta Post, one of the city’s English-language newspapers.

Since then, some things have changed – and some haven’t. Indonesia has a new president in Joko Widodo, a former furniture salesman and Metallica fan with no known links to corporations or political figures, who is said to represent a symbolic break from the centralised cronyism and corruption of the Suharto era. But vestiges of the authoritarian old elite remain. The political party of Prabowo Subianto, the defeated presidential candidate and Suharto henchman, continues to be a redoubtable force. His party played a major role in rescinding one of the country’s key democratic reforms, which resulted in the abolition of municipal elections last week.

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The Island to Island team in Jakarta

Upon arriving I forgot how overwhelming Jakarta can be, with its air thick with exhaust fumes and its traffic snaked for kilometres down major thoroughfares. Its nickname, the “Big Durian”, seems especially apt. Much like its prickly and smelly namesake, the city elicits strong reactions: you either love it or you don’t. It’s not particularly pedestrian-friendly, yet travelling by car is also a major hassle. Public transport is an unreliable option. It’s a city both on the cusp of significant economic and cultural changes but beset by challenges of geography, infrastructure and bureaucratic buck-passing.

Yet the city still manages to function even when, by all logic, it shouldn’t.  For some, this is part of its charm. Jakarta’s worsening gridlock tends to dispel the notion of peak hours, and Friday at 2pm was no exception. We had arranged to meet Ninda Daianti and Maggie Tiojakin (our Island to Island travelling companions) in Kemang. It was a 10-km trip from our hotel on Jalan Thamrin that took us nearly 1.5 hours.

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Maggie Tiojakin in conversation with the other Island to Island writers

Maggie and Ninda are both exciting emerging Jakartan writers with a few novels and short story collections under each of their belts. Over beers and burgers, we compared the nature of our respective literary communities: Jakarta’s is disparate, while Melbourne’s is fairly small, and rarely extends beyond a four-kilometre radius. Geography may well explain the lack of a literary community in Jakarta: they said Jakartan writers tended to be scattered all over the place.

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We also swapped publishing-world war stories. At an Indonesia publishing house like Gramedia, for instance, one editor can be expected to have overseen up to 150 books. Inspirational and self-help books tend to be bestsellers in Indonesia, while sports biographies tend to rake in the dollars back home. Publishing in both countries is a numbers game, which makes finding shelf space for literary fiction and non-fiction a daunting task.

At Salihara Komunitas, supporting these kinds of artistic endeavours is especially vital.  Unlike in Melbourne, where support for emerging artists is robust, the scene in Jakarta seems more nascent.  Founded by playwright and publisher Goenawan Mohamad om 2008, Salihara is Jakarta’s first multidisciplinary arts centre, comprising a theatre, gallery, bookshop and an artists’ residency for dancers, musicians, painters and writers. It has a special focus on promoting new and innovative artworks. It holds more than 100 arts events throughout the year, which include performances, public lectures, literary readings and workshops, as well as its flagship literary biennale. The centre also teaches classes for aspiring writers of all ages (some as young as 15), with a small proportion of students going on to publish books of their own through the centre’s publishing arm, Tempo.

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‘Surat ke Langit (A Letter to the Sky)’ at Salihara

Zen Hae, the centre’s publishing manager and editor-in-chief of Indonesian literary journal Kalam, said that Salihara is one of two organisations in Jakarta that provide Indonesian and foreign artists with opportunities to exchange ideas, connect with other emerging and established writers, engage in debate and form a community. Much of Salihara’s funding comes from private donors, which means it is less reliant on the diminished largesse of government organisations like the Jakarta Arts Council. While the Jakarta Writers’ Festival has ceased due to a lack of state funding, other festivals have sprung up in Ubud and Makassar. This year Jakarta also hosted the inaugural ASEAN Literary Festival, which showcased the works of writers from all over South-East Asia.

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‘Surat ke Langit (A Letter to the Sky)’ at Salihara

On our visit to Salihara we saw a contemporary puppet show as part of the centre’s three-week Happy Go Artsy festival, which featured artists from Indonesia, Australia, the Czech Republic, Germany, France, The Netherlands and Georgia.  I went in expecting an updated version of wayang (shadow puppetry), but it turned out to be unlike anything I’d ever seen: giant papier-mached bobble heads, which would sometimes be disembodied during the performance, were wheeled onto the stage on trundles. The set design was exquisite: paper boats, containing letters from the living to the deceased, were suspended from the ceiling. The performance itself was a rollercoaster of exaggerated emotion, broad comedy, moments of pathos and genuine tragedy: the show’s co-creator, we were told afterwards, had died during its production. It was an experience both bewildering and fascinating, and it seemed a fitting way to cap off our time in Jakarta.

 

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Island to Island is presented by Asialink Arts and the Emerging Writers’ Festival, supported by Arts Victoria. Supported by the Australia International Cultural Council, Ubud Writers & Readers Festival and Melbourne Writers Festival.

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