When I went to Gudskul

Over the summer of 2019, I had the pleasure of visiting Indonesia and getting to know its network of artists, curators and collectors in Jakarta and Yogyarkata. The trip was part of my extended research into alternative spaces and modes of working in regions likely to face extreme changes due to rising water levels and climate change. While coastal cities all over the globe are affected, according to the World Economic Forum, Jakarta, with its population of 10 million people, is one of the fastest sinking cities in the world – a condition exacerbated by the over-extraction of its groundwater.

In Jakarta, I had the opportunity to spend some time with ruangrupa and at the Gudskul. I chatted broadly with ruangrupa about the development of the collective over the last decade and their approach to their biggest project in the making – being Artistic Directors of documenta15 in 2022. While at the Gudskul, I became familiarised with its set-up across different buildings, multiple rooms, nooks and crannies, hung out with the staff and students, and also did a ‘crit’ with the first graduating class who shared their final projects.

Visiting the headquarters
A hand-drawn layout of the Gudskul art-ecosystem

While we did not broach directly the issue of sinking Jakarta, the visit was insightful into thinking about the Gudskul’s arts practice as a form of radical pedagogy that aimed at transforming infrastructure via education and training.

It does feel like a lifetime ago, but following my visit, I wrote a feature for ArtReview Asia with more reflections on the Gudskul’s position within the Jakarta art scene.

This approach of intervening at the systemic level is particularly evident, now in the midst of the pandemic, where the Gudskul has halted art classes and turned their energies into producing masks and hazmat suits, while hosting a vegetable seller from the mountain. They have prioritised community needs above art production, and even the question of what is art. It’s a form of artivism or curatorial activism that sees no need to justify its lineage in art terms or within the art institutional framing. As ruangrupa (one of the core collectives forming the Gudskul) are Artistic Directors for the one of the largest and most prestigious art events in 2022, this raises compelling questions as to how art might be redefined, and whether art institutions such as large-scale exhibitions and festivals might be re-purposed for real community needs.

This research was kindly supported by Diverse Actions. The Diverse Actions Leadership Bursary is a Live Art Development Agency (LADA) programme as part of Live Art UK’s Diverse Actions initiative to champion culturally diverse ambition, excellence, and talent in Live Art. Diverse Actions is supported by an Arts Council England Ambition for Excellence grant.

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