Story by Barbara Hahijary and Banyubening Prieta
Having hosted biennales since the late 19th century, the Floating City of Venice is a prestigious venue for exhibiting the latest and most innovative concepts in visual and performing arts. One anticipated event of this nature is this year’s 16th annual Venice Architecture Biennale (VAB), running from 26 May to 25 November.
The Indonesian Creative Economy Agency (Bekraf), together with the Indonesian Institute of Architects (IAI), will represent the nation to showcase vernacular Indonesian architecture to international spectators.
“Sunyata: The Poetics of Emptiness”, a curatorial by Ary Indra, Ardy, David Hutama, Dimas Satria, Hartono, Johanes Andika and Jonathan Aditya will be the concept for this year’s Indonesian pavilion. The construction—essentially an empty room—will highlight the importance of space in architecture. We talked to the minds behind the concept and preparation of this event.
Ary Indra (Lead curator)
The Sunyata team consists of Ardy Hartono, David Hutama, Dimas Satria, Johanes Andika and Jonathan Aditya, with Ary Indra as the chief. All of these members are working within the architecture field—from practitioners, academicians, to app developers—although, surprisingly, not everyone has an architecture education background. The team offers not only mind-blowing exhibition concept and tasteful curatorial, but also including recent technology to their display presentation.
The VAB’s main theme of this year is “Freespace”, which emphasises the generosity of space and how to bring people to the architecture context in general.
In the context of Indonesia, we found out that people are the main characters in our vernacular architecture – not the instrument, device, materials, or even the shape. This reminds us to the nothingness, where man can just be.
The name Sunyata is chosen to represent this poetic emptiness. Through this curatorial, we dare people to experience an architecture that is less, or even none decorated, to feel free, as if finding a new zero point. Hence the emptiness that we bring would not be hollow, since it is an active entity that will encourage a new start, from the zero point.
The concept of emptiness is strongly rooted in Indonesian architecture. The elaborations of this concept disperse in various ethnics with various implementations. While being observed in different space and time, the mean is yet, always in the same “tone”. Therefore Sunyata situates dialogue between human and space as the core of architectural manifestation.
The design of this curatorial aims to demonstrate these meditative yet provocative qualities by initiating a tactile experience between man’s senses and space. It will have a geometrical shape that will celebrate the people, as the triumphant, to establish cosmos over chaos and to find their new zero – their freespace.
Ricky Joseph Pesik (Commissionaire and Jury)
Ricky Joseph Pesik is widely recognised as vice chairman of Bekraf, with 24 years of experience in advertising. A go-getter, Ricky started his career as a copywriter after graduating from the chemist faculty of Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB). Ricky was the managing director of Satucitra, a Jakarta-based ad agency that received awards from ad festival Citra Pariwara. Ricky was also a jury member for Spikes Asia 2010 and Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival 2012 in France.
I represent Bekraf as a jury for the curatorial process and also a commissionaire for the event based on Bekraf’s decree. Working together with Indonesian Architect Association (IAI), we agreed that we should do a contest —adopting how other countries do their selection process, that would be judged by a jury.
The most important thing in VAB is about how each country is able to demonstrate the ‘Freespace’ concept; the selected winner should have a deep understanding in constructing an idea with a strong metaphor about Indonesian architecture.
We believe the Sunyata team expresses the Indonesian architecture and its metaphor well. They have a deep understanding about the Indonesian culture and are able to create an attractive display for visitors. Sunyata gives a contemplative appreciation for Indonesian architecture, and all the jury members agreed that the ability of an artwork to create contemplative nuances while also giving triggers for visitors to visualise is the perfect fit for VAB.
Gunawan Tjahjono (Jury)
Gunawan Tjahjono is a respected adjunct professor of architecture at the University of Indonesia (UI) where he earned his bachelor’s degree. In 1980, he completed his higher education in architecture in the US, obtaining a masters from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and a Ph.D from University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley). Gunawan serves as one of the juries for the Curator Selection for Indonesian Pavilion at VAB 2018.
As juries, we evaluate how the curator team brings Indonesia into a world-class event, which will highlight the values of humanity, generosity and human civilisation through architecture. In the selection process, we did not wish to consider the past, but instead we focused on the larger picture of the future. Therefore, we hope this curatorial event will be able to present a clear image to the world regarding the state of Indonesian people, and its condition in the future.
Sunyata was selected by all members of the jury. It takes the essences of the Indonesian architecture and unites them as one entity. In Indonesia, we know that our ancestors were not at all materialistic and instead placed more significance on spiritualism. Sunyata sees this annihilation of materials as the foundation of the Indonesian architecture because if something is void then it possesses unbounded possibilities, and therefore the nothingness becomes available for us to fill. This is also universally relevant, and so this curatorial holds two values: universal and local. In Sunyata’s curatorial event, I can see a form that seems to seek monarch – the smallest unit of spiritualism.
Budi Lim (Jury)
Budi Lim started his firm Budi Lim Architects in early 1980s after spending years of studying and working in the UK. He is the proud recipient of the Indonesian Eisenhower Exchange Fellowship and the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards. He designed the award-winning Indonesian Pavilion at the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai. Prior to this event, Budi was appointed as a jury for numerous events, including the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation.
In the first elimination process, from more than 70 submissions 40 were selected to qualify. Then the jury was asked to pick the five best submissions, but I decided to pick only one, Sunyata. In fact, Sunyata truly stood out from the rest. I was moved by the design and felt such a respect towards it because I believe Sunyata can clearly represent what ‘Freespace’ meant by space. It is not trapped by forms.
Sunyata shrewdly grasps the spirit of our traditional architecture and brilliantly translates it into two planes that are formed by a piece of paper. Even the free spirit of the hanging paper manages to provide the freedom and essence of Sunyata’s soul. Two contrasting rooms, one extremely bright and the other pitch dark, will provide visitors with a venue where they can interact.
The subject of ‘Freespace’ is well-suited and extremely good. It is high time that architecture pays more attention to space rather than the typology of form. This is because in the future, quality of space will be more significant, considering that it will become a catalyst. I am proud to see that Sunyata represents Indonesia. It is truly a world-class concept.
Jay Subiyakto (Jury)
Celebrated art director Jay Subiyakto is one of the juries for the Indonesian pavilion at VAB. An architecture graduate of UI, Jay’s most recent breakthrough is capturing Banda Island’s beauty and spice trail history through the jaw-dropping feature documentary, Banda: The Dark Forgotten Trail. Since the 1990s, Jay has been known as a pioneer in various art and music performances, including initiating the first Indonesian solo concert in Plenary Hall’s Jakarta Convention Center in 1994.
When IAI asked me to be part of the jury, they expected me to give a different perspective considering my background in film and performance arts.
Many contestants of VAB were trapped in a traditional architectural sense or even referenced previous VAB exhibitors. They don’t realise that our traditional architecture comes from our own ideas that we should develop into an original concept for the event. So, what we want to show to the world is the ‘what and how’ of the Indonesian architecture today.
Sunyata came up as the winner because they didn’t romanticise traditional Indonesian architecture. They understand that Indonesian architecture emerged through a rumination that requires serenity, which also tells the essence of architectural ideas coming from any part of the world. Sunyata comes with a very minimalist approach that conveys the idea, ‘in our most serene state we find diversity’.
Achmad D. Tardiyana (Jury)
Achmad Deni Tardiyana is the co-founder and principal of Bandung-based architecture and urban design firm Urbane. He studied architecture at ITB, and urban design in the US and Australia. He is currently listed as an architecture lecturer at ITB. During the 2014 VAB, he was one of the curators of the Indonesian Pavilion.
The proposal of Sunyata pavilion is visually persuasive and has a very promising concept for various issues because it can be interpreted into a host of different topics under the subject of Indonesian architecture when we talk about how architecture can be a visual commodity. This provides a good chance for us to reflect upon the tendencies of architecture.
Sunyata, which means emptiness or void, allows us to stop and reconsider the things offered by architecture in context of commodification. Sunyata will incorporate a lot of audio visuals in place of models and printed portfolios, which I believe is a strategic decision as this will eventually save space and budget. Hopefully the visitors can absorb this and engage in the thought of the Indonesian architecture in the short time it provides. I also hope that the audio-visual concept of this will enable visitors to bask in the spatial or three-dimensional quality of this year’s Indonesian Pavilion.
Going around the many pavilions available during the event, VAB visitors will no doubt be bombarded by an array of visual treats and ideas. Once they enter Sunyata, visitors can enjoy a break that allows them to bask in the void and emptiness of their surroundings.
Steve J. Manahampi (Project Manager)
The commissioners chose IAI Jakarta chairman Steve J. Manahampi as the project manager of the Indonesian pavilion at VAB 2018 considering he participated in the 2014 event. Currently the principal of Waga Studio & Gallery, which produces many designs for integrated public spaces, Steve studied architecture at ITB and UI.
This year’s theme is quite difficult to present because the context talks about the idea of architecture instead of its shape. The brief gives details about the politic, social and culture of the space within architecture. Therefore, it is a real challenge to answer the theme of ‘Freespace’ in the context of Indonesian architecture.
The jury hopes that the curator does not merely present a spectacular display, but also something that can open up people’s knowledge, especially to the world’s architects, because VAB is not a run-of-the-mill architecture exhibition where visitors come to see only attractive displays.
On the contrary, people come to VAB in the hope of finding something that is forward-thinking and to foster more ideas. The idea of Sunyata is expected to become a topic of conversation on the profession and study of architecture, to show practicing architects and aspiring architects that there are other interesting aspects to reveal in their field of work.
Generally, when people present the Indonesian architecture, they tend to focus on the shapes. Yet, Sunyata manages to appear simple and elegant and not too concerned about its installation. Sunyata offers an intangible value that presents the essence, vision and feelings of the Indonesian architecture.