Gudskul is an educational platform with a pedagogical model that focuses on collective study and grassroots ecosystem-building. It is designed to provide an infrastructure for the contemporary art scene in Indonesia. We met with members Marcellina Putri, Gesyada Siregar, and MG Pringgotono over a Zoom call in three time zones (Miami, Dubai, and Jakarta) to discuss the beginnings of Gudskul, why collaborative practices are still a fascinating concept for the West, and their plans for documenta fifteen. Gudskul operates from a warehouse in the south of Jakarta, with its many rooms and spaces shared among different entities and the working spaces for the projects they spearhead. Gudskul is part of the lumbung network of documenta fifteen, curated by artist collective ruangrupa, who also came together with Grafis Huru Hara and Serrum to form Gudskul.
Maria Mumtaz: Could you give us a bit of background into Gudskul and how it came about?
MG Pringgotono: In 2006, we established Serrum after a couple of years of working on several projects with ruangrupa. In 2013, after many years of collaborations and working together on exhibitions, ruangrupa and Serrum started to think about another platform for institutions and organizations wanting to work with us on exhibitions and so on. So we said, okay, it’s a good idea to make a unit where we can all work together as exhibition consultants through a serious platform. In 2016, after the Jakarta Biennial, we had some issues with the space. ruangrupa was paying a lot of money on rent, so we decided to move to a 3,000-square-meter warehouse where we could upscale our collaboration and make our own ecosystem, which is why we call that place Gudang Sarinah Ekosistem. It was an abandoned warehouse of Sarinah, which is the first department store in Indonesia. We opened it to everyone and anyone, collectives and groups, who would like to rent the space and join us with their studios under one roof. We also rent the space to institutions who would like to exhibit, present a concept or festivals in the big warehouse. This continued for two years and became a very hipster place, inviting youngsters and creatives.
MM: After establishing the space and Gudskul, how did you then continue to create a sustainable program of community engagement?
Gesyada Siregar: It is important to start with the education program, which is the DNA and prototype of what has today become the Gudskul. Each collective focused on a division or sub-unit to create a diversity of programs ranging from guest oriented to high school and university student oriented programs, as well as inviting emerging artists and curators. We realized the potential that each division or sub-unit has in educational programs. We held workshops and classes like any other collective, but we also thought about how we can glue all our efforts together. And that is the DNA of the Gudskul—taking its name from gudang (warehouse) and Indonesian spelling of school (skul). When Sarinah realized the warehouse was popular and attracting lots of visitors, they decided to increase the rental cost. We still had that non-profit mentality, you know, when friends come from different parts of Indonesia we offered the space for concerts and musical festivals for free. This is when we found profit-based programs to cover our operational basis and balance things out. Many people would come back to see the spaces because they knew about us, the ecosystem, the environment and the dynamics. This is when we realized the potential and importance of having educational programs and how we can exchange knowledge, because when these people come for our educational program, they are not only learning from us, but we also learn something from them. There's always a mutual exchange in the arts. Apart from people coming in as participants, we also get a lot of volunteers whenever we have festivals. These volunteers then go on and invite their friends, and based on these friendship networks, we attract more and more audiences who have a sense of belonging to the space.
Marcellina Putri: I also started as an assistant curator for Ok Video Festival. Gudskul was an informal education platform that invited more younger people to be part of the ecosystem. Many of us graduated with the choice between commercial or non-profit work. However, Gudskul is an alternative platform for such students who want to learn more about how the contemporary art ecosystem works, and how they can build their own collective in their hometown if they ever return. Serrum and Grafis Huru Hara also came from the same university. Serrum had a peculiar approach towards art pedagogy, and that’s also why Gudskul chose its path towards an educational platform.
Leilani Lynch: I am sure it fluctuates from time to time, but how many people form the core group of Gudskul, and how do you make decisions on programming and operations?
GS: There are about fifty main board members working in different roles and capacities, as coordinators of different sub-units and fulfilling the “triangle,” or the three units of the Gudskul. The first is the educational program (Gudskul) composed of collective studies, short courses, short residencies, and art camp; second is the art collective compound under which ruangrupa, Serrum, Grafis Huru Hara, Ok Video, etc., fall; and the third is RUX, which includes artistic consultation, studio rental, art handling, and artistic production services. The financial support we get from RUX goes towards the collective pot, or lumbung, which is at the center of this. Everything we do with the art collective compound also nourishes our educational program.
MG: We founded ruangrupa and Serrum to commemorate and remember our expressions and interests through any number of activities. This has become a very basic mentality at Gudskul. In the Gudang, we can see what is missing in our ecosystem and what we would like to do to support it and make it a reality. ruangrupa, Serrum, and Grafis Huru Hara had their own programs before we came together. We decided to keep some elements from each in order to become a magnet for everyone else to come and propose new ideas. For example, a group of designers, architects, and independent publishers set up studios in the warehouse, making it a truly interesting and dynamic place to come to. Our next step was to see how to transform all the knowledge we had accumulated over the years, through our experiences of working on exhibitions and festivals, and make it sustainable and distribute it. We all have a concept of a Western school, how you learn there and disseminate knowledge, but we don’t do that. We just borrowed the concept of school, and we are trying to run it in our own style. It was only after years of operations that we realized we are running a school. When ruangrupa started curatorial work, it was a very good moment for us because at the time there was no formal education in Indonesia.
MM: I think it's also interesting to note how collaborative practices are somehow second nature to the Global South. I feel like it's just innate in the culture, the social and religious practices—it beautifully comes together in your artistic and pedagogical practices.
MG: Collectivism as practice is a method; it’s how we see and think. We would also like people to learn more about this. What we are seeing in documenta fifteen is quite interesting because the idea of collectivism is getting bigger, and more people are curious about it. Maybe it is going to be something. Maybe it will work for some and not for everyone. But like you said, it is second nature to us in the Global South. I agree with that.
MM: I would be curious to know how you position your practice within a global perspective, especially in the context of the upcoming documenta fifteen—how do you translate your practice in Jakarta to Kassel?
GS: We are going to translate the triangle in our work for documenta fifteen. We would like to see documenta fifteen as a knowledge resource where many artists from the lumbung network are coming together. There will be a mutual exchange in this model, which is why we are creating an adaptation of the Gudskul Ecosystem from hanging out, cooking together, playing games, and giving workshops or classes. Through this model, we move away from the trap of just presenting our work for a period of time, and then poof, it's gone when documenta fifteen ends after 100 days.
MG: We also have a digital platform called Sekolah Temujalar that we imagine will optimize communication and how we distribute the knowledge from each collective in our network. Let’s just say what Gudskul does is a small version of documenta fifteen on a daily basis, and what documenta fifteen is doing right now is a bigger version of Gudskul. The idea of lumbung, the idea of value, is already there in our practice, but it will be on a bigger scale with so many different cultures coming together for documenta fifteen. We also need critique about this model and to grow and to do more.
LL: I was thinking about knowledge exchange and how it’s not just people learning from you, but you learning from other people as well. I am wondering if already in your interactions with the wider lumbung network, there has been some learning or something you have taken away?
GS: Yes, it is an ongoing process because to work together you still need to be in the same space physically. I can step on your foot, I can tap your shoulders, you know? We still need that kind of intimacy. During the past two years, we have been working with other lumbung members online to develop trust and understand each other’s languages, each other's accents. The main thing is learning and adapting the new models of the pandemic. All of us are learning, taking the time to absorb and reflect, and come back with feedback. I think documenta is also learning. When you are working together in such capacities, there aren’t only artistic issues to tackle. We are also having visa issues. It is very easy for an artist or collective in Europe to arrive in a heartbeat, but for us and many other collectives, we have to go through a very difficult visa process. Even with the first Indonesian directors of documenta fifteen, we still have visa limitations. It is also a learning process, especially for documenta fifteen to reflect on how they can handle this collective, budget, scale of works, a collective mechanism that can be shared by members. These are tiny things, but they push you to think about how you can find ways to connect.
MM: How are you funding your project in Kassel for documenta fifteen? Is there support from the local government in Jakarta?
MG: We are still looking for local funding. But we are also pushing the idea of the Lumbung Collective Pot. We are thinking about how to leave something behind for Kassel-based collectives that we are collaborating with and bring some things back for other collectives and friends in Indonesia. Right now, we have three Kassel-based collaborators and are looking for more to work with us during the 100 days of documenta fifteen. We are making a sort of a dormitory in Kassel where collectives from different parts of the world can come and discuss, meditate or sleep. A hub for more collectives to come together.
MM: What are some other solid strategies that you are thinking of implementing beyond the duration of documenta fifteen?
GS: We have the term “harvesting,” which means how we can extract knowledge in a conversation into other forms such as visual recordings, radio drama, etc. Once we harvest all this knowledge, it will form the basis to strategize and speculate ways in which we can do other kinds of programming. We need to have data, information, and knowledge to speculate. The strategy so far is to create these modules. We often joke that this is our hit single, as if we are a Pop band, invited to perform at a concert. Once we have this information, we are going to make another hit single called the speculative collective module, which is based on value, property, economy, sustainability, and members. By strategizing what we have in our groups, we create other modules. Since we cannot attend all sessions online, we have created a workbook consisting of games and illustrations based on classics such as snakes and ladder, yes and no games, fill in the blanks, etc., based on the speculative collective module. Once we finalize the PDF, we are going to send it to the institution to disseminate it with our collaborators who will then fill the workbook, and it will become the tool of harvesting. Once we have the harvest, we can then think of the sustainability of the program.
MP: We are trying to use gamification to become our methodology to translate our artistic practices. Workbook is one aspect we created last year because we cannot travel due to COVID-19. Temujalar is another such tool. Starting in 2019, Gudskul began researching Indonesian collectives, and from there we are also creating a collective of collectives. When we have the limitation where we cannot physically meet with other collective members, then we use the digital platform to share our knowledge, resources, and access to other networks. We share job and funding opportunities in one platform to help members develop their practice. This is what inspired Gudskul to create the Temujalar digital platform. We often get very bored of the typical Zoom platform, so we try to use other tools that don’t limit us to only some interactions, but enable us to host classes, workshops, and virtual exhibitions. We want to create what the Gudskul Ecosystem already did but on the digital platform. We only see gamification as an approach, to make learning and knowledge sharing more fun.
LL: How can visitors to documenta fifteen interact with your project? Are there set times for the module, classes, or some kind of physical representation of your work?
MG: We are going to move Gudskul in Jakarta to Kassel. The whole area is going to function exactly how Gudskul does over here. There are many tables and chairs and collective games, a program called knowledge market, some offsite projects, events, classes, karaoke, cooking sessions, talks at designated times mentioned in the schedule of the program.
LL: It must be such an interesting discussion with the museum staff to bring cooking into the museum. We cannot wait to see how your plans will manifest.
This interview was conducted on February 4, 2022, via Zoom.
Gudskul: Contemporary Art Collective and Ecosystem Studies (or, for short, Gudskul, which is pronounced like “good school” in English) is a public learning space established by three Jakarta-based art collectives: Grafis Huru Hara, ruangrupa, and Serrum. Since the early 2000s, all three have actively immersed themselves into the contemporary art realm by practicing a collective and collaborative mode of working. They collectively formed Gudang Sarinah Ekosistem in 2015 to practice an expanded understanding of collective values such as equality, sharing, solidarity, friendship, and togetherness. The collective transformed into Gudskul in 2018. Founded in 2012, Grafis Huru Hara (GHH) is a group of Jakarta-based graphic artists who focus on explorative, experimental, and educational methods of graphic arts as their main medium. GHH’s programs include exhibitions, graphic art workshops, and various publishing projects about graphic arts.
Leilani Lynch is Curator at the Bass, Miami Beach. She has organized recent solo exhibitions with Naama Tsabar, Mika Rottenberg, Karen Rifas, and Aaron Curry, in addition to co-organizing exhibitions with Abraham Cruzvillegas, Haegue Yang, Pascale Marthine Tayou, and Paola Pivi. Before joining the Bass curatorial team in 2015, she was Exhibitions Project Manager at Locust Projects, Miami. Lynch has participated on panels and lectures for STPI – Creative Workshop, Singapore, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, ArtTable, and ICOM, and served on juries for the Association of Art Museum Curators, Oolite Arts, FL, the Hopper Prize, and others. She holds a BA in Art History from University of California, Berkeley, and an MAS in Curating from Zurich University of the Arts.
Maria Mumtaz is an arts strategist and curator based in the UAE with ten years of experience in contemporary art from the Global South. She currently works in the Publishing division of the Learning and Research Department at the Sharjah Art Foundation, a contemporary art and cultural foundation based in Sharjah since 2009. Prior to this, she was part of the core team of Noura Al Kaabi, UAE Minister of Culture and Youth. She has also served as Director of Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde, which represents a significant and pluralistic roster of artists from the MENASA region. Mumtaz started her career as Editorial Assistant at Canvas magazine, the region’s premier magazine on art and culture from the Middle East and Arab world, where she wrote several in-depth articles for magazines, newspapers, and books. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Media Studies from SZABIST, Karachi, and an MAS in Curating from Zurich University of the Arts.