What Bungalows Can Tell, exhibition at site specific art project 900mdpl, Indonesia

In October 2019 I participated in the research and exhibition project of 900mdpl in Indonesia. 900mdpl is an extensive site-specific art project in Kaliurang (close to Jogjakarta), a village on the southern slope of Merapi volcano. The project is initiated and curated by LIR (Mira Asriningtyas and Dito Yuwono).

900mdpl is projected to be a biennial platform of a site-specific art project, offering space of possibilities while assisting on preservation and transmission of transgenerational memory. The project’s primary aim is to create an alternative archive of the site by collecting myth, local wisdom, stories, and alternative history of the site through the memory of the people. 900mdpl consists of two parts: first, the residency period resulting in different solo projects by each of the artists; second, the project presentation of all artists at scattered sites around Kaliurang where wider audience will be guided on the exhibition walking route as a spatial practice —turning the site into a space of experience.

During colonial rule Kaliurang became known as a holiday retreat for the Dutch. At an altitude of approximately 900m, the perfect cool and refreshing climate offered a pleasant alternative to the hectic and sweltering city life. In the 1920s and 30s over 50 bungalows were build of which the majority is still used today for holiday purposes. During my residency period at 900mdpl I researched and photographed together with local collaborator Brigita Murti all colonial bungalows of Kaliurang resulting in a photo/text essay and a video work that I presented in the exhibition “900mdpl: Hantu-Hantu Seribu Percakapan” (Ghosts of a Thousand Conversations).

What Bungalows Can Tell (11:33), film stills:

Installation view:

photographs 1, 3, 5 and 6 by Kurniadi Widodo

For me as a Dutch, it was a strange experience to walk around in a village at the other side of the world that looks so much like a random late nineteenth-century garden neighborhood in the Netherlands. There is something uncanny and uncomfortable about this recognition and I am still not sure whether this feeling has to do with the colonial history that brought me here, or with the way in which the houses have been appropriated over time. What engages me is the way in which the local villagers perceive the histories of the colonial bungalows; it is very rich and visual, yet only tangible through storytelling. In contrast with the academic approach towards history, in which I was schooled and of which literature, documents, archives, etc. are the main sources, the storytelling I encountered in Kaliurang finds its sources all around. It is very alive and part of daily life. Stories are not so much sought after, they exist in the form of personal and local memories or they present themselves to individuals in the form of ‘entities’ (ghosts) that inhabit the houses, and other places. These kind of stories and appearances cannot be traced back to a document or archive, or anything that is considered as ‘proof ’ in the Western academic context. The narrative carried in the memory of the locals, the knowledge transmission activated through oral history, and discussions about class hierarchies during colonial times present themselves in the floorplans of the houses as well as the urban planning of the village.