Ela Mutiara / Sukabumi – West Java
“Folding Distance, Expanding Memory”
“Folding Distance, Expanding Memory“
by Ela Mutiara
Sukabumi – West Java
In the art world we often find the word “residency”. I understand an art residency as a collective work where some people with different backgrounds and work patterns meet. They undergo a process of incubation of creation involving cultural identity, experience, capacity, to diverse viewpoints.
I define Bodies of Care (BoC) as a residency process where we create a space to jointly read issues, translate thoughts, criticize ideas, and interpret them in artistic selection. In this platform I met with nine other choreographers from Indonesia and Germany. Although it was not the first time to undergo residency, but the BoC process became a new experience since all activities were carried out online for more than four months. Facilitators and mentors from Germany and Indonesia filled workshop after workshop. These included LIGNA, Melati Suryodarmo, Butet Manurung, and Sascia Bailer.
The BoC process invited me to rethink about the meaning of care. How much I care about the environment, life, and living things as subjects. Does that care still work in the social life around us? Does that care also work within me? Does this body also implement that care?
“Care is a shared responsibility, meetings will leave personal memories, sensory impressions, and emotions.” Sascia Bailer
Can I as a choreographer create instructions that can stimulate certain sensory to be able to connect all participants in a public space? Different feelings, memories, and experiences will also affect the impressions that arise.
Butet Manurung, one of the speakers in Bodies of Care, shared about the process of her experience to be able to enter a certain space. She is an educator and founder of Sokola Rimba. In Bukit Dua Belas, Jambi, where Sokola Rimba began, there is customary law. Outsiders can’t just be present then do something. There are steps to become part of a group and a way of adapting to the surrounding ecology. This workshop process opened my view that connecting with the public means relating to the whole order of life in it.
After full intake from the facilitators, then the participants entered a collaborative process that began by throwing keywords. From the key words submitted, I searched for perspective, pursued ideas, and experimented with usable media. Occasionally, we did some things spontaneously, just throwing questions and passion of sharing. This step was taken repeatedly and even overlapping each other.
The final work created later was instructional and expected to contain universal values. I also had to think about having the method applicative anywhere, anytime, and can be done by anyone. It crossed my mind to choose paper as a medium of work.
I recalled an activity in my childhood while playing with paper. It can be shaped into anything, used as an intermediate tool to exchange news, even be a place of various feelings that cannot be expressed verbally.
Then I pulled the relevance of paper to the philosophy of life of Sundanese people, silih asah, silih asih, silih asuh. Silih Asah means sharpening the mind, Silih Asih means loving one another, Silih Asuh means taking care of each other. These three guidelines are the concept of life in regulating human relations in Sundanese culture. Through the medium of paper in the context of these three concepts, I tried to construct a moment in a short period of time: a moment of play, create, and share.
The word “democratic” seems to quite accurately describe the process of artistic discovery that I lived through. We, at the BoC, got the freedom to choose whether to create instructions individually or in groups. I don’t know what was on my mind at the time, it felt like working as a group looked interesting. There are challenges and curiosities to let us melt into a group.
I then worked together with Krisna Satya (Bali), Eva Borrmann (Nurnberg), and Izabella Maria (Berlin). Maybe we matched because the theme has underlying causes with the keyword “togetherness”, and both departed from large activities that involved many people.
At first, I was quite worried because our backgrounds were different. Language differences gave rise to the potential for miscommunication, a rather wide time zone would force us to organize things well and discuss effectively and efficiently. But it’s also fun to work with artists from different countries. Negotiations between us were not so difficult, we were open to all possibilities. Maybe because of the big differences, we put our trust in each other to build a comfortable situation.
In a major BoC forum, we as a group choose an additional day to discuss online aside the regular agenda every Thursday. The rest of the communication is done on WhatsApp and GDrive as a space to work together. This collective process gave birth to a work titled Togetherness with artistic development of the initial idea of hand waves, eye contact, applause and folding of paper. We recorded the instructions in three languages namely, Indonesian, English, and German language.
For me personally, the process of following the BoC gives tremendous awareness. “Community care” has always been a recurring highlight in documentary publications. I then looked back at the neighborhood where I was born and grew up in Sukabumi. It’s become an afterthought and a question for me, what does community really mean? Can care only be seen within the community? Of course not. But in the community, there are many habits that are cared for, the ways that are maintained, the meeting rooms that are created for dialogue and sharing.
A little story about communal customs in Sukabumi, my hometown. On every religious day, we always gather to pray together. Each house representative will bring food to the mosque and place it in the middle while the prayer process takes place. After the prayer is done, the food will be exchanged so that each person can taste various types of food.
I realized that the traditions around us foster a connection between the subject and the objects within it. All are connected to each other. The connection is made through gestures. Everyone, consciously or not, takes turns putting down food and if there is difficulty, everyone will help each other spontaneously. When the time has come, they will tidy up the place and all will work according to a mutually agreed system without the need to be commanded. So unique.
On the other hand, this collaboration process also awakened the awareness to care for each other. It is not easy to listen to workshops and sit for hours facing a rectangular screen, with an on-cam mode that is always lit with heavy discussion intentions and tendencies. The eyes should always be focused, the sound that continues to flow through ears, thousands of vocabularies that must be quickly digested in the mind. Fatigue, boredom, and suspended drowsiness is a feeling that appears frequently.
Direct messages became a bridge to greet each other. The questions “why?”, “are you okay?”, “is there any difficulty?” spontaneously appeared in the chat room to make sure that the people we’re with were okay. Small thing, but when it’s done and occasionally got similar treatment, it felt like this process became something that not only creating a work, but also creating mutual feelings. Sense of belonging process, telling each other, finding solution for any difficulty, and sharing convenience. That sense of care was also present and growing between us.
Internally, this process also re-questioned whether the sense of care is also done to yourself? Do I care too much about the things outside that make me forget to take care of myself? Sometimes the desire to continue to be productive makes me so demanding to my body, mind, and feelings. I defined exhaustion as weakness though it’s okay to stop for a moment and give thanks.
Four months is not a short time for a process. But it’s short enough to define a friendship that we built. Good impression and a feeling of comfort arose. The circle we built was so close and warm. Until the moment I wrote this article, I never thought that in the end we could fuse into one. Moreover, being able to go through a collaboration process with those who are so different in terms of culture, language, and time.
I also gained an understanding of instructional performance methods. This method becomes a way that can be used as a lancet to create a happening art. Inviting the public to participate, the universal process of artistic selection, the curation of the medium so that the desired intention can be accepted and understood simply.
I found another important thing as well, it was the method of dealing with subject, public space, and formulating ideas with an approach to the pattern of community life around us. Occasionally as a choreographer, I carried out creative processes that can embrace various elements of community, not only with people who have an art education background. The creation is not only a single work of a choreographer but there are various roles that are integrated with each other.
The experience from this residency has matured me and added wisdom. There is a broader perspective on how to integrate the body with various spaces. The body as a collective reality in a certain space. There is language, gesture record, repetitions of motion and responses to events. It becomes the door to further doing choreographic work that is more personal and effective. In the end reading reality is reading about the history of formation of the body. This can give birth to the nature of ego in a work.