Performance Klub

by on Monday, 30 November 2009 Comments


Yogyakarta Province in Central Java, Indonesia is a city of artists, which contains an exceptionally rich and varied architecture, painting, graffiti, tattoos, dance, puppetry and religious heritage. Thus there are a disproportionate number of artists and activists centred in and around the cultural capital. On May 27th 2006, the region was struck by an earthquake which devastated the region. The considerable destruction impacted heavily on the minds of locals and in turn changed the course of one of the world’s most unconventional art festivals. It is in Yogyakarta, three years after the earthquake that I discovered a group of performance artists, entering the eye of the storm, had used their art and their passion, to contribute to the physical and spiritual reconstruction of Gemblangan village, at the epicentre of the earthquake.

Performance Klub
Established in 2003 by Iwon Wijono, a renowned painter in Yogyakarta, the group has organised and performed at a total of four ’Perfurbance’ festivals, each focusing on a different social, political or humanitarian topic. Perfurbance #1 dealt with the issues surrounding unbridled urbanization, #2 was centred on the commercialism of education, #3 was the spiritual renewal described below, and #4 focused on global warming and environmental issues whilst experimenting with impromptu group performances exploring how artists could collectively interact with space and spectators. Furthermore all of the Perfurbance festivals attributed special importance and respect to the traditional arts and artists in each place. They also attempted, sometimes successfully sometimes not so successfully, to engage the community in the issues they were focusing on, in the hope of leaving a lasting effect, thus truly use their art for a greater good.

With the impending environmental crises, there exists no lack of new issues to throw themselves into, and PK now have plans in the works for their Food Forest Cultural Centre, their biggest project yet. The FFCC is a huge and complex initiative intended to create sustainable energy to produce food using a variety of natural methods, to give free seeds that it grows to the poorer farming communities, and eventually to set up a free school to teach and train those who might emulate Food Forest in future projects.

Inspiringly, the plot of land chosen for the project was the home of the late W.S. Rendra, one of the most famous poets in Indonesia and also a dominant figure of modern Indonesian theatre, being the first to bring aspects of traditional Javanese culture to theatre. The man, who was imprisoned for his bravery in standing up to the Suharto regime, was a pioneer for activist, subversive artists, who claimed: "I wanted to introduce something new: causality. ... I wanted people, particularly politicians who were becoming increasingly dogmatic, to be able to think analytically." Daughter of the late Rendra, Rachel Saraswati (see Rachel’s performance), is now also Project coordinator and Festivals secretary for Performance Klub. Rendra became the patron of an unrestricted, free and socially engaged artistic community of which the tradition continues now with groups like Performance Klub, often still fighting for the maintenance and extension of the comparative freedoms they have enjoyed in recent years.

Perfurbance #3 - Spiritual Renewal
The festival ’Spiritual Renewal’ (Pembaharuan Spiritual) was held in Gemblangan Village, Bantul Regency, Yogyakarta province in 2006. Thousands died following the May 27th earthquake and Gemblangan Village where the festival was held, was the area worst affected, and the symbolic epicentre of the quake suffering the destruction of up to 90% of the village buildings and the loss of many, many lives. Performance Klub actively involved themselves in logistic aid from the day of the earthquake and following that helped educate the villagers whilst promoting their local traditions. In their search for ‘Spiritual Renewal’ they would raise their own awareness of the villagers’ culture and exchange artistic ideas.

Throughout the time building up to the performances, the artists conducted seminars, discussions and workshops. The topics ranged widely: from emergency relief, organic farming, food production and alternative education, to attitudes of political ideology, social customs, community self-help, mutual assistance and spiritual values; all the while respecting and developing traditional practices. For example whilst educating on health and nutrition they also introduced Sugiyanto and his herbal drinks as a source of alternative, local medicine.

At the same time as attracting a host of voluntary international performance artists from over a dozen countries, they also enlisted the support of, and mobilised the local peasant associations. When it came to the five days of performances, the artists performed on stages, in cattle fields, on intersections, in houses, by the river etc, and used a variety of different forms of expression to communicate different meanings. Rachel Saraswati used satire to highlight the identity struggle for Indonesia in a globalised world. She dressed in trash and sat in a bathtub singing the national anthem ’Indonesia Raya’ whilst her colleagues raised the American flag. Bruno Mercet from France responds with his body to the movements of small sculpture made of pliable material, to display how people have been enslaved by small objects. There were many more acts and, not to be outdone, the local villagers also performed some of their own superbly colourful traditional dances which invoked supernatural beings and other music and indigenous rituals.

For those who participated and masterminded Perfurbance#3, it was a real bridging of the gap between the theory and the practice of performance art; a bringing together of art and real life issues. Jan Cornall, a performer from the US, commented "how extraordinary that a village community and international art community would find that they spoke the same language - the language of spirit, the language of the heart" and Reza, performing for the first time, said "The village itself became the performance art, where there was no boundary between the artist and audience."

In a village in the heart of Indonesia, some went away with less inner demons, some went away with new spouses, but it seems that everyone went away with their spirits renewed.


Nick Coulson (聶克)

I was born in sunny Torbay on the south western coast of England's green and pleasant lands. I'm prowling the streets, parks and ruins of Taiwan hunting for absurdities and studying the sociology of the underground. Furthermore with our nomadic arts and action space "The Hole" we attempt to challenge rigid and alienating structures.


Help us!

Help us keep the content of eRenlai free: take five minutes to make a donation


Join our FB Group

Browse by Date

« May 2020 »
Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
        1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30 31

We have 2125 guests and no members online