Thu, 18 Sep 2003

Art gathering attempts to redifine 'international art'

Margaret Agusta, Contributor, Jakarta

Terrorism mounts worldwide. Iraq continues to smolder while Iran, North Korea and Cancun heat up.

As we are caught in the midst of the rapidly shifting perceptions of global boundaries and power centers, the deepening concerns and urgent agendas of the artists, curators and other intellectuals gathering for the ongoing CP Open Biennale and its scholarly symposium held recently at the National Gallery in Jakarta may not seem very momentous.

The issues these art world people are heatedly discussing, however, mirror the overall concerns of marginalization, domination, equivalent access, and an equal voice in the destiny of mankind that human beings all around the world are struggling with.

These concerns are currently shaping the world of arts, remarked Jim Supangkat, a noted Indonesian art critic and curator for the CP Open Biennale 2003, in his keynote speech to open the symposium, Interpellation: Simultaneous Translation in Understanding Contemporary Art.

The arts exhibition is continuing until Oct. 3.

Jim pointed out that the growing critical attitude in the art world toward internationalism, marginalization, and the perceived domination of western thought has given rise to a phobia against the concept of "international art" and brought into question the function, purpose and validity of the exhibitions being presented periodically worldwide.

"It is not difficult to see that art in the Western sense is the art which has become international art. The agreement to retain the context of 'international' in the presentation of international exhibitions was based on the ingrained sense of the appropriate that was difficult to change.

"The identification of international art in today's international exhibitions is an effort to comprehend the idea of appropriateness," he told a group of several hundred attending the symposium on Sept. 4.

According to this internationally respected curator there are two main realities now facing any discussion of international art and what is appropriate within that context.

The first is the fact that the concept of art in the western sense that forms the basis for the idea of international artist is not identical to western art.

The second factor is that the formulation of a concept of international art does not end with art in the western sense.

Jim further explained, "The most important part of this process of formation, the element that has been most blatantly overlooked, is what I identify as 'art with an accent'."

Art with an accent can be most readily defined as works of art that originate from traditions outside of the mainstream frameworks of thinking about art that have roots in Europe and America.

It is this cultural issue of "art with an accent", discussed at the symposium along with the existing curatorial and gallery structures that artists view as limiting their access to public exposure, which calls into question the prevailing definitions of art in general and international art in particular.

In the interpretation of art in the western sense within the global context of the cultures of individual nations, there is inherent the possibility of art-to-art encounters.

When the art created by artists from differing cultural backgrounds and national origins converges in an international exhibition, such as the CP Open, which is the first of its kind to be held in Indonesia, the sheer variety of the art presented is bound to prompt attempts to find some common ground or similarity.

In the past, one of these attempts was the development of the framework of universalism, which assumed that all art could be measured and evaluated by a single yardstick of theory.

Unfortunately, this led to a limited perception of what art is and what it is not, and any type of art not fitting into the guidelines set out, including ethnic art and art emerging from traditions other than the Euro-American realm, was denied adequate consideration.

It is the residual effect of this kind of thinking that has motivated the accusations that the international art scene is dominated by the theories, structures and systems of Europe and America, and which has caused artists from areas outside of the West to view "international" art shows with skepticism because their works are often overlooked within such contexts.

As Jim Supangkat commented, art-to-art encounters have "the potential to result in developments that give the impression of being parallel with the developments in art in Europe and America.

"However, as an element of cultural translation, art with an accent cannot be removed from the framework of its culture and seen only through the framework of art.

"When the development of art with an accent is returned to the framework of culture, the developments that give the impression of being parallel begin to exhibit a variety of basic differences -- the difference is "localness" which not only indicates the presence of indigenousness and ethnicity, but also indicates the presence of the translation of art in the western sense."

This is why the idea of "art with an accent", the interpretation of a variety of artistic expressions in relation to their specific cultural contexts as well as to the more general concepts of art, should be perceived as an important breakthrough in approaching the wide variety of artistic creations that is so apparent in international shows, the current CP Open being no exception.

The interpretation of the similarities and differences in works of art from various places around the world is more readily possible if the art works are viewed within the spectrum of cultural contexts, which is the case in the "art with an accent" framework of thought.

With an approach such as "art with an accent" that takes the various cultural traditions into consideration in international art forums, artists worldwide can achieve more open and constructive discussions among themselves, leading to a greater understanding across cultural and national divides.