[ art ]
The title spray-painted across one wall of Space 1026 could be read as an accusation of laziness in graffiti form. But "Phoning It in from Yogyakarta" represents the work of a thriving DIY arts culture that is anything but complacent.
"To some degree, it was a busier art scene than Philadelphia," says curator Lee Tusman of the two weeks he spent in the Indonesian city. "It was similar in the sense that it had a pretty thriving community, with arts universities, fine arts and DIY arts all intermingling. It's pretty fluid between mainstream and alternative culture there."
"Phoning It in" refers not to the artists' efforts, but to the method Tusman used to bring their art to Philly. Taking his cue from the graphically oriented nature of much of the Yogya artists' work (according to Tusman, locals use "Yogya" much as we use "Philly"), he had the exhibition's 11 artists email him work, which he printed. This innovative approach bypassed 20-hour flights and a considerable amount of money. "If I did this show with original work, featuring the exact same pieces, it would probably be in the neighborhood of $8,000 to $14,000," Tusman says. "We were able to do this show for less than $1,000."
Highlights include the vividly colorful, fantastical character work of Wedhar Riyadi, and pieces by Riono Tanggul and Hendra "HeHe" Harsono that combine cartoonish figures with patterns and elements from folk art. The show also includes several woodcut political pamphlets created by Taring Padi, a collective that wheat-pastes mural-sized versions of these smaller propaganda pieces on their own and in conjunction with local rice farmers.
Tusman discovered the Yogya scene while on an extensive arts-centric sojourn last year. A Philly native, he moved to California and worked as a curator for the Riverside Art Museum before returning home, where he now serves as creative director of Hidden City Philadelphia and a curatorial member of the Little Berlin art space. In the interim, he spent much of 2011 traveling Central and Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia "visiting artists, studios, galleries, museums, all kinds of art spaces, squats, communes, secret kitchens, a lot of different kinds of things."
Tusman credits Indonesia's vibrant contemporary-art culture to the flourishing of society that followed the 1998 fall of President Suharto. The work on display, while run through with identifiable markers of Indonesian culture and imagery, is far from alien at an American alternative gallery like Space 1026. Influences from underground comics, skateboard culture, punk and grindcore music, skateboard graphics and a grab bag of pop culture — from heavy metal to Bollywood posters to Muhammad Ali (depicted with jaguars for fists) — abound.
And while the show by definition is based on visuals that can be sent as digital attachments, the influences of the unemailable Yogya scene, like music, tattoo art and graffiti, are clear. The artists often display in "distros," a broad term that at its most basic refers to shops selling streetwear, skateboards and zines, but that can also encompass restaurants, art galleries and performance spaces — something of an old-school South Street ideal. Photographs taken by Tusman and by Drexel professor Brent Luvaas, a cultural anthropologist who documents street life, will be displayed and projected as an illustration of the interplay between street culture and the artworks.
Tusman hopes to continue his relationship with the Yogyakarta community — he plans to bring work and artists from Philadelphia there and to display further Indonesian work here. He also hopes to tour "Phoning It In" throughout the States: As he points out, "This show fits into two cardboard boxes, packed very, very well."
Through April 27, Space 1026, 1026 Arch St., second floor, 215-574-7630, space1026.com.