In 2017-2018 Feral Studio visited Asia to research ways in which artists, arts organisations and community projects are addressing challenges faced by rural communities. Findings revealed a pertinence to the rural context in the South West include ageing rural populations, the decline of farming, the connection between urban and rural contexts and community engagement.
During the research period we connected with organisations and projects in Japan, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Thailand and Taiwan. These include Yoshino Cedar House, Jatiwangi Art Factory, Kamiyama AIR, Sangwoodgoon, Satoyami Mirai and The Land Foundation.
The research trip was part funded by the Arts Council's Artists' International Development Fund and forms part of wider research into international rural practice that has been conducted by Feral Studio over the last few years.
We are grateful for support from the following contributors:
Arief Yudi Rahman, Loranita Damayanti, Arie Syarifuddin, Ismal Muntaha, Ayako Oki, Rei Maeda, Fram Kitagawa, Keiko Kudo, Kazuhiro Takeuchi, Ayumi Kawano, Eri Takasu, Ikuko Miyatani-Axiak, Mitsuyasu Omotani, Teruichi Ishibashi, Natalie Lo Lai Lai, Sedhapong Kirativongkamchon, Pisithpong Siraphisut, Po-Chih Huang, Maureen.
Founded in 2005 by Arief Rahman, Jatiwangi Art Factory (JAF) is a community-based, non profit organisation located in a disused ceramic roof tile factory in Jatiwangi in Java, Indonesia. The site includes a gallery, media lab and residency space. One of the principal motivations behind Rahman’s initiative came from the need to challenge the issue of cultural inaccessibility in Indonesia’s rural regions. As such, the organisation examines how contemporary art and cultural practices can be contextualized with local life in rural areas.
Early projects were met with mixed reactions; intrigue and suspicion in equal measure. During this time (Suharto’s legacy endured long after his resignation) rural communities throughout the country tended to be cautious and guarded. There were vocal objections and concern that some attending international artists could be foreign agents. In response, JAF established a monthly forum which enabled the community to discuss the programme and express grievances. With participants from all walks of life (politicians, farmers, tile factory workers, teachers and entrepreneurs) the forum acted as a highly effective mechanism for community engagement and evolved into a successful catalyst for collaborative project development.
With a team of twenty core staff members supported by a substantial community volunteer network, JAF’s annual outputs and reach are impressive; 50 unique programs of varying scale, structured and fluid, and delivered to local, national and international audiences.
The principal programs are the annual Village Video Festival (VVF), bi-annual Jatiwangi Residency Festival (JRF) and the tri-annual Ceramic Music Festival (CMF). While the three are unique in character they all manifest JAF’s operational ethos; to invite local and international artists and cultural practitioners from various disciplines to live, interact and work with the local community in order to understand the intricacies of Jatiwangi’s rural society. Work is produced within a culture of collaboration and experimentation and is disseminated to wider rural and international audiences. The transformative nature of this work has been highly effective. For example, the 2012 Ceramic Music Festival worked with all sixteen villages in the Jatiwangi district to develop the Roof Tile Orchestra. 3000 performers (including local government officials, police chiefs and villages elders) collectively and rhythmically beat roof tiles while singing the Jatiwangi Hymn (a community promise to celebrate and preserve Jatiwangi’s traditions and culture).
JAF also operates an impressive media program; a community TV station which delivers content for 6 hours each day and a radio station that transmits in Sundanese (the dialect of Java) 50km into the surrounding rural heartlands. Both explore local community life and provide a platform to debate pertinent rural issues. These initiatives offer media training opportunities and have been highly successful in terms of reducing out migration of young people from Jatiwangi to Jakarta. A new purpose built cinema facility funded by central government is currently under construction will enhance JAFs media capability, showcase locally produced work and increase audience engagement.
In addition to the Jatiwangi Residency Festival which pairs participating artists with community hosts, JAF Air is an artist in residency program that provides a collaborative space for interdisciplinary artists from indonesia and abroad to work with local individuals, groups and institutions on specific projects relating to rural-urban discourse. This strand is particularly relevant as a new international airport located just 15km from JAF will be inaugurated in the middle of 2018. This major infrastructure project will have significant implications for the composition of the region; an influx of speculators following low cost labour are buying large swathes of land for factory based production. The assumption is of a rapid transformation from rural to industrial over the next few years. Issues relating to the long term sustainability of the community and threatened rurality now take a central and urgent role in both the JAF Air and other program areas.
JAF also promotes engagement activities in agricultural production in order to encourage younger community members to produce vegetables. Links with local organic farmers have resulted in numerous successful artist-farmer interventions. One such initiative involved inviting a popular Indonesian rock star from Jakarta to provide instruction on rice planting techniques. The outcome of the project, as is the case with much of JAF’s work, resulted in a legacy of inspiration, abundance and empowerment.