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Festival Mata Air: beyond the usual artist/audience relationship

Updated: Apr 28

Mr. Didik introduced me to some very interesting people that introduced to some very interesting people that … that’s how it works here in Indonesia. One could say it’s the same all over the world but here in Indonesia you rarely bump into someone that isn’t willing to share his/her/hir most precious contacts with you. Besides, they’ll also talk about their work and creative projects without an attitude of ‘ownership’ or “copyright”. And, if they happen to have something material that represents their work, they’ll promptly offer it to you as a gift. At the end, this shared creativity only creates… more creativity.


So, via this stream of introductions, I ended up in an old squat event of mostly hard-core Indonesian bands celebrating John Peel. I met interesting genders that evening. Weeks later, I found myself on my scooter facing heavy rains squeezed between two dubious overloaded trucks on sinuous roads that climb up to the town of Salatiga situated in a mountainous region of Central Java. I was heading towards the Festival Mata Air ‘organized annually by an organization called TUK, Tanam Untuk Kehidupan (Planting for Life)’, which ‘began as a group of environmentally concerned local artists in 2005’.


Festival Mata Air intends to bring awareness about the endangered natural springs of the region of Salatiga, ‘a water catchment area for the surrounding districts’. The festival’s program provides ‘an excellent opportunity for local and international artists to get actively involved in a grass-roots collaboration with government, activists and local community residents’. It was a weekend of workshops, performances and exhibitions that always had the local community engaged in some level. Besides, I was welcomed in a residence where these ‘cultural workers’ lived for those three days, which gave me the chance to follow their actions from very close.


The festival ‘is also an important part of Australian-Indonesian cultural dialogue’. The “Gang re : Publik” Book Launch touched me in particular. The book features works of artistic collaborations ‘across Australia and Indonesia’. It is closely related to the Sidney based Gang Festival, which defines itself as a ‘creative exchange’ and ‘an artist-led initiative celebrating the deep links between Indonesian and Australian community arts’. It has provided me with inspiring and illuminating literature on issues I have been experiencing myself as a foreigner ‘visitor and artist’ in Indonesia without falling into the trap of ‘empty rhetoric of cross-cultural collaborations’.


Having always been skeptical about artists or cultural events that feel the need to define themselves as social engaged, my experience at the Festival Mata Air has made me reconsider some of my opinions. Despite the fact that I still believe Art to be social by definition, there’s something that works about this festival’s aim of engaging the ‘community’ and bringing an environmental consciousness. Something that does bring the community and the artist him/herself somewhere beyond what the usual artist/audience relationship provokes. Maybe the secret lies in how this particular festival is organized. Or is it because both artist and community cannot dissociate from their common ‘environment’ and are thus intrinsically related? It is not enough to say that the work of the artists that have been involved in this festival existed before and that their participation in the festival is simply an engaged participation. I figure reading the “Gang re:public” book might shed some light into this mysterious awakening. I certainly have some homework to do.

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