Asmudjo J. Irianto

Kuratorial 2 (Bahasa Indonesia / English)

Pengantar Kuratorial

Jakarta Contemporary Ceramic Biennale 2009
Ceramic Art: In Between Contemporary Art and Contemporary Craft

Oleh: Asmudjo Jono Irianto

Seni Keramik: Batasan dan Permasalahannya
Istilah “seni keramik” bukan istilah yang asing bagi kebanyakan orang di Indonesia. Namun, mendengar istilah tersebut barangkali orang awam akan teringat pada benda-benda keramik kerajinan tangan (handicraft) atau barang-barang keramik dekoratif. Pengertian “seni” dalam istilah “seni keramik” memang bisa mengacu pada pengertian seni yang luas, yaitu “keindahan” dan “ketrampilan”. Dengan kata lain “seni keramik” yang dimaksud merujuk pada barang-barang keramik hias dan kerajinan, atau yang kerap dikategorikan sebagai ”seni-kerajinan”. Sedangkan seni keramik dalam konteks seni rupa masa kini (=kontemporer) lebih merujuk pada karya seni kreasi seniman—umumnya lulusan perguruan tinggi seni rupa—menggunakan bahan keramik. Dalam kontek penyelenggaraan Jakarta Contemporary Ceramic Biennale, maka yang dikategorikan sebagai seni keramik adalah karya-karya bebas (non fungsional) yang mengacu pada paradigma seni rupa modern dan/atau seni rupa kontemporer. Judul utama Jakarta Contemporary Ceramic Biennale hendak menegaskan upaya menempatkan perkembangan seni keramik dalam bingkai seni rupa kontemporer.
Di satu sisi, barang keramik—seperti kerajinan-tangan, hiasan, wadah, perangkat makan-minum, ubin, saniter—sangat populer dalam keseharian masyarakat, namun di sisi lain, hal itu seolah menuntup keberadaan seni keramik kontemporer dalam medan seni rupa di Indonesia. Harus diakui tak mudah mengurung ruang lingkup dan batasan seni keramik kontemporer. Istilah kontemporer tentu saja mengandung pengertian temporal, yaitu semasa dengan kita, atau singkatnya saat ini. Maka seni keramik kontemporer, adalah seni keramik masa kini, yaitu seni keramik dalam perkembangannya yang paling mutahir. Namun, apakah pengertian dan bagaimana wajah seni keramik dalam perkembangan mutahirnya? Tak mudah menetapkan batasan dan pilihan seniman dalam konteks seni keramik kontemporer, karena hal ini akan berkait dengan dua hal, yaitu warisan tradisi seni keramik, dan pengaruh seni rupa kontemporer. Masing-masing wilayah berangkat—tepatnya: dikonstruksikan—dari konteks yang berbeda dan saat ini, khususnya di negara maju, memiliki infrastruktur dan paradigma yang berbeda. Warisan tradisi seni keramik yang dimaksud mengacu pada tradisi seni keramik dalam konteks ceramic art di Barat, baik itu sejarah, pengertian dan paradigmanya, yang pengaruhnya menyebar ke penjuru dunia—seperti juga seni rupa modern dan kontemporer Barat.

Bukannya, tanpa alasan bahwa pengertian seni keramik atau ceramic art beresiko merujuk pada barang-barang handicraft dan dekoratif. Hal ini berkaitan dengan perjalanan seni keramik di Barat yang secara genealogi berasal dari wilayah low-art, yaitu kategori craft. Hal itu juga berimbas ke Indonesia. Karena itu ada baiknya kita coba tengok perjalanan dan situasi seni keramik kontemporer di Barat, juga dalam relasinya dengan seni rupa kontemporer di sana.
Ceramic art dalam konteks medan seni di Barat umumnya merujuk pada karya-karya keramik para seniman keramik individual. Seni keramik bisa dikatakan cukup popular, namun demikian seni keramik di Barat lebih kerap ditempatkan di luar medan seni rupa, baik dalam seni rupa modern maupun kontemporer. Hal ini tidak terlepas dari konstruksi sejarah seni rupa di Barat sejak masa Renesans yang secara hirarkis membagi seni ke dalam seni tinggi (=seni lukis dan patung) dan seni rendah (=craft, decorative art dan apllied art). Seni tinggi menurunkan tradisi fine art, yang garis keturunannya adalah seni rupa modern dan seni rupa kontemporer. Hirarki dikotomis tersebut tetap berjalan sampai saat ini, masing-masing wilayah memiliki medan seninya sendiri. Seni keramik di Barat kendati saat ini didominasi karya-karya bebas (non fungsional) sebagai bentuk ekspresi seni, tetap dikelompokkan sebagai wilayah contemporary craft, karena diturunkan dari wilayah craft dan beredar dalam wilayah institusi craft (craft department, craft gallery dan craft journal). Dengan kata lain secara paradigmatik contemporary craft, atau craft dalam perkembangan mutahir di Barat didominasi karya-karya bebas. Itu sebabnya contemporary craft juga kerap dikategorikan sebagai craft-art, yaitu seni yang berkarakter craft, atau art-craft, yaitu craft dengan orientasi art. Tak sulit menangkap kenyataan tersebut, lihat saja jurnal dan majalah craft di Barat, demikian pula craft gallery dan bienal-bienal craft, termasuk bienal seni keramik.

Salah satu penyebab langgengnya dikotomi contemporary art versus contemporary craft adalah karena keduanya memiliki institusi dan infrastukturnya masing-masing. Kendati banyak pihak berpendapat bahwa telah terjadi peleburan contemporary craft dengan contemporary art tetapi sesungguhnya batas antara keduanya tetap terjaga. Anggapan meleburnya craft dengan art mungkin dipengaruhi dari realita dominannya karya-karya bebas dalam contemporary craft. Namun demikian, seni rupa kontemporer memiliki paradigma, sejarah, dan wacananya sendiri yang sulit ditembus oleh para seniman dari garis keturunan craft. Dibadingkan seni serat (fiber art), wood craft, gelas, metal craft, maka seni keramik sebagai kategori dalam contemporary craft bisa dinilai yang paling advance orientasi penciptaan ke arah karya-karya bebas (karya seni). Namun sangat sulit menemui seniman keramik yang diakui oleh contemporary art world sebagai “orang dalam”. Sulit menjumpai karya-karya seni keramik di bienal-bienal seni rupa kontemporer internasional. Karya-karya yang tampil dalam seni rupa kontemporer adalah karya-karya yang diturunkan dari tradisi fine art, seperti seni lukis, patung (dengan berbagai kemungkinan konsep dan material), instalasi, performance, happening dan new media, seni lingkungan, seni proses, seni keterlibatan dan beragam kemungkinan seni rupa yang menerobos batas-batas dan eksperimental. Tak ada pilihan lain, para seniman keramik yang membutuhkan wilayah mediasi pada publik harus membangun wilayah mediasinya sendiri. Karena itu muncullah bienal, trienal dan event-event khusus seni keramik. Di satu sisi hal tersebut sangat membantu pewacanaan, praksis dan popularitas seni keramik, di sisi lain makin menegaskan keberadannya di luar lingkungan seni rupa kontemporer.

Bagaimanapun, bienal-bienal seni keramik internasional mengindikasikan adanya kekhususan keramik kontemporer sebagai salah satu kategori seni. Di beberapa negara yang memiliki tradisi keramik yang canggih, seperti Jepang, Korea, Cina, dan negara-negara Eropa maka seni keramik (sebagai kebudayaan material dalam bentuk seni dekoratif) sudah popular sejak lama. Karena itu pada masa modern, tatkala muncul fenomena pertumbuhan studio keramik mandiri—yaitu studio keramik yang dikelola secara mandiri oleh seorang pekeramik (dengan skala produksi yang sangat terbatas dan mementingkan karakter personal)—maka keberadaannya terdukung oleh pengenalan dan apresiasi masyarakatnya terhadap seni keramik dekoratif. Keberadaan studio keramik mandiri cukup berkembang di negara-negara maju, karena dipandang sebagai komplemen atau alternatif lain dari keramik buatan industri. Publik yang menghendaki barang-barang keramik fungsional, tapi tetap menginginkan sentuhan tangan pembuatnya, tidak massal, dan berkarakter personal akan memilih benda-benda keramik fungsional dan dekoratif buatan studio mandiri—kendati harganya jauh lebih mahal dari keramik buatan pabrik. Pada awalnya studio keramik mandiri memproduksi barang-barang keramik fungsional dan dekoratif. Hal itu dipelopori oleh Bernard Leach dari Inggris, legenda dalam dunia seni keramik di Barat yang membuka studio keramik di St. Ives, Inggris sejak tahun 1920-an dan menerapkan falsafah seni keramik Timur, yang tidak memisahkan fungsi dan seni. Bagi Bernard Leach “seni” dalam keramik inheren pada aspek kegunaan dan craftsmanship pembuatnya. Bisa dikatakan Bernard Leach agak menentang otonomi seni dengan prinsip art for arts sake.
Sejak awal pertumbuhan studio keramik mandiri, para pekeramik, khususnya dari lingkungan perguruan tinggi seni rupa sudah terpengaruh oleh perkembangan seni rupa modern. Karena itu banyak pula seniman keramik yang menghasilkan karya-karya bebas, keramik sebagai karya seni. Nama-nama seperti Hans Copper dan Lucie Rie di Inggris merupakan pelopor keramik seni kendati masih didasari oleh bentuk wadah. Revolusi dalam seni keramik dilakukan oleh Peter Voulkos dari Amerika ketika pada tahun 50-an membuat action ceramic, yaitu semacam penerapan action painting pada tanah liat. Voulkos dipandang dapat membuktikan bahwa keramik dapat sepenuhnya menjadi karya seni sesuai dengan batasan seni rupa modern. Itu sebabnya Peter Voulkos adalah hero dalam sejarah seni keramik modern. Sayangnya Peter Voulkos dianggap bukan tokoh penting dalam sejarah seni rupa modern Barat. Hal itu menunjukkan bahwa institusi seni rupa modern sulit ditembus oleh seniman-seniman dari wilayah garis keturunan craft. Tidak perlu jauh-jauh melihat kenyataan tersebut, dalam pendidikan tinggi seni rupa Indonesia yg mengacu pola Barat, maka minat utama atau program studi keramik umumnya berada di bawah Jurusan Kria, yang merupakan sinonim dari Craft Department.

Seni Keramik Kontemporer dan/dalam Seni Rupa Kontemporer
Seni Rupa Kontemporer disebut-sebut adalah seni rupa yang plural dan membolehkan apapun sebagai seni (anything goes). Sepertinya era seni rupa kontemporer membuka peluang bagi para seniman keramik untuk masuk ke dalamnya. Namun kenyataannya tidaklah demikian. Agaknya, di negara-negara maju, establishnya medan seni keramik sebagai entitas yang terpisah dari medan seni rupa kontemporer justru menyulitkan upaya seniman keramik menjadi bagian praksis seni rupa kontemporer. Lagi pula, bagi seniman-seniman keramik yang mengutamakan perkara medium, teknik dan ketrampilan maka kredo anything goes tentu saja menjadi paradoks. Ibaratnya, jika apapun boleh, mengapa pula ada seniman-seniman yang masih mau bersusah payah mastering material tertentu. Mengapa pula harus bertahan pada satu material (=keramik) terus menerus. Paradigma seni rupa kontemporer agaknya tidak compatible dengan paradigma contemporary craft, yang di Barat masih menjadi landasan para seniman keramik. Namun demikian, sesungguhnya teknik dan ketrampilan tentu bukan hal yang diharamkan dalam seni rupa kontemporer.

Banyak karya-karya seni rupa kontemporer yang membutuhkan kecanggihan teknik dan ketrampilan untuk dapat direalisasikan. Di sisi lain banyak pula karya-karya seni rupa kontemporer yang tampilannya sangat seadanya, dari bahan-bahan yang tidak berharga, tak membutuhkan teknik dan ketrampilan sama sekali. Dengan kata lain perkara teknik dalam seni rupa kontemporer adalah perkara konsekuensi dari gagasan dan konsep seniman. Perkara teknik dan ketrampilan adalah perkara yang tak harus dikuasai seniman kontemporer, kendati menguasainya pun tak diharamkan. Perkara passion seniman terhadap medium, material dan teknik bukanlah hal penting dalam seni rupa kontemporer. Karena itu merupakan hal yang sangat umum bagi seniman kontemporer mengalihkan esksekusi karyanya pada pihak lain, kepada para artisan (tukang ahli). Lihat saja karya Jeff Koons berjudul Michael Jackson and Bubbles, berupa patung life size sang raja pop musik bersama simpanse peliharaanya yang terbuat dari bahan porselen. Kita bisa yakin tak sedikit pun Jeff Koons akan mengotori tangannya dengan lempung dalam eksekusi karya tersebut. Tak dapat dipungkiri karya tersebut membutuhkan kemampuan teknik dan craftmanship keramik yang sangat tinggi, namun tak lalu karya tersebut dipandang lebih bernilai dari karya Jeff koons lain yang tak membutuhkan craftsmanship dalam pembuatannya, seumpama karya-karya “vacuum cleaner”nya, yang merupakan ready mades. Di sisi lain, kita juga dapat melihat bagaimana seorang pematung kontemporer macam Ron Moeck memiliki penguasaan teknik dan ketrampilan yang sangat tinggi dalam menggarap karya-karya patung realisnya dari bahan fiber glass dan silicon rubber. Banyak artisan yang memiliki kemampuan seperti Ron Moeck, dengan kata lain Ron Moeck mendapatkan pengakuan dalam seni rupa kontemporer bukan terutama karena ketrampilannya.

Perbedaan antara craft dan art merupakan konstruski yang dibangun melalui sejarah, teori dan wacana. Awalnya, (high-) art mengeklusi craft, dan dalam perjalanannya craft membangun paradigmanya sendiri. Sehingga masing-masing pihak memiliki cara pandangnya sendiri mengenai prioritas makna dan nilai seni, menyangkut pula makna mengenai medium, ketrampilan, teori dan wacana. Hal ini tentu saja berpengaruh pada cara pandang seniman dari kedua wilayah tersebut. Dalam seni rupa modern dan kontemporer aspek konsep, teori dan intellectual appeal menjadi utama, sedangkan contemporary craft (kria kontemporer) lebih mendahulukan kemampuan teknik dan cratfmanship menangani material tertentu. Bagi seniman keramik skill dan pengetahuan teknis merupakan komponen penting dan utama. Sementara dalam seni rupa kontemporer skill bisa dipinjam dari pihak lain. Dalam seni rupa kontemporer skill dan craftsmanship merupakan konsekuensi dari konsep, adakalanya dibutuhkan namun kerap pula tak diperlukan. Itu sebabnya seringkali skill absen dalam karya-karya seni rupa kontemporer.

Seniman keramik umumnya mengandalkan ketrampilan personalnya, dan mencurahkan waktu untuk mastering the material. Tetapi seniman keramik kontemporer juga tidak mengecilkan konsep, bahkan cukup konsumtif terhadap konsep. Namun genealogi yang berbeda juga memunculkan cara menyusun konsep yang beda. Umumnya seniman keramik lebih isoterik, dan kembali pada kemungkinan yg ada ada medium, bahkan kendati karya-karyanya representasional, mereka tetap berpijak pada keterbatasan dan kemungkinan material. Itu sebabnya, menampilkan tanah liat tanpa dibakar atau menggunakan cat sintetik untuk melapisi keramik kerap diharamkan.

Kemapanan seni keramik sebagai wilayah terpisah kadang mendatangkan dilema, di satu sisi wilayah seni keramik kontemporer harus mengakomodasi warisan dan tradisi dan sejarah seni keramik masa lalu, di sisi lain para seniman keramik kontemporer juga tak lepas dari pengaruh seni rupa kontemporer yang bernuansa avant-garde. Tentu saja hal ini bisa dilihat sebagai pluralitas seni keramik, namun di sisi lain hal itu menjadikan paradigma seni keramik ambivalen dan paradoks. Banyak seniman keramik yang anti terhadap paradigma seni rupa kontemporer, yang serba instans, dan dinilai dekaden, karena itu mereka tak ingin menjadi bagian dari seni rupa kontemporer. Sebaliknya tak kurang seniman keramik yang ingin menjadi bagian praktek produksi dan konsumsi seni rupa kontemporer.
Pilihan untuk tetap terikat pada tradisi dan “estetika khusus” keramik, seperti keterikatan pada bentuk wadah, karakter lempung dan glasir, passion pada teknik dan proses menjadikan banyak seniman keramik tampak old-fashion dan terpisah dari paradigma seni rupa kontemporer. Kendati warisan-warisan tersebut digarap melalui pendekatan personal, non-fungsional, bahkan berkonsep, namun tetap tak sebangun dengan tradisi neo-avant-garde dalam seni rupa kontemporer.
Pada kenyataannya, jika kita lihat pameran-pameran besar seni keramik kontemporer seperti parade kualitas teknik dan material. Namun, tanpa kualitas dan karakter seperti itu, barangkali eksistensi seni keramik juga menjadi tidak relevan. “Kategori khusus” dan determinasi teknik/craftsmanship agaknya menjadi perkara laten bagi para seniman keramik. Namun sejauh para seniman keramik tidak terjebak pada paradigma craft yang dikonstruksikan berbeda dengan paradigma seni rupa kontemporer, maka terbuka jalan menembus barikade seni rupa kontemporer. Kecuali, hal itu bukan menjadi tujuan, dan sebaliknya para seniman keramik justru senang serta merasa aman di dunianya yang spesifik: “seni keramik”, dunia yang terpisah dari medan seni rupa kontemporer yang berbahaya dan “liar”. Tentu saja hal tersebut berpulang pada masing-masing seniman keramik.

Seni Keramik Kontemporer Indonesia: Di antara Paradigma Contemporary Craft dan Contemporary Art .

Berbeda dengan negara-negara Asia Timur seperti Jepang, Korea, Taiwan dan China, Indonesia tidak memiliki tradisi keramik yang canggih, karena itu modal kultural, teknologi dan apresiasi masyarakat terhadap seni keramik rendah. Bukan hal yang mengherankan jika perkembangan seni keramik jauh dari pesat. Namun hal ini juga menjadi blessing in disguese. Tidak establish sebagai wilayah khusus, menyebabkan seniman keramik kontemporer di Indonesia tidak berhadapan secara diametrikal dengan seni rupa kontemporer. Karena itu mudah saja bagi seniman keramik di Indonesia menjadi bagian dari seni rupa kontemporer. Hal ini di antaranya disebabkan pula belum establishnya infrastruktur seni rupa kontemporer di Indonesia, sehingga kebutuhan dan kecanggihan untuk melakukan dan membenarkan eksklusi terhadap praktek seni rupa yang tidak sejalan dengan paradigmanya (misalnya: seni keramik) boleh dikatakan tak terjadi.
Beberapa tahun terahir ini cukup banyak seniman keramik yang bisa meleburkan ke dalam medan seni rupa kontemporer. Agaknya dorongan untuk mencari alternatif dari seni lukis dan media baru, membuka peluang bagi para seniman keramik untuk masuk dalam wilayah produksi dan konsumsi seni rupa kontemporer. Nama-nama seperti F. Widayanto, Titarubi, Nurdian Ichsan, Lie Fhung, Albert Yonathan, Nadya savitri, Noor Sudiyati, Tisa Granicia, Endang Lestari merupakan nama-nama yang juga tercatat dalam medan seni rupa kontemporer Indonesia. Selain nama-nama tersebut beberapa seniman keramik dalam bienal ini memang muncul dengan semangat studio keramik mandiri, tanpa terlalu peduli pada fenomena seni rupa kontemporer. Nama-nama seperti Evy Yonathan, Ivan, Ika Burhan, dan Ira Suryandari mewarisi semangat ketangguhan seniman keramik mandiri. Dalam beberapa hal sosok mereka mengingatkan semangat “truth to the material” ala contemporary craft. Menariknya, beberapa dari mereka mendapatkan pengetahuan dan ketrampilan keramik hanya dari kursus keramik. Barangkali justru karena itu, sebagai under-dog, mereka memiliki semangat militan.
Penyelenggaraan pameran besar seni keramik umumnya tak lepas dari tegangan antara dunia contemporary craft dan contemporary art. Demikian pula, Jakarta Contemporary Ceramic Biennale tak lepas dari nuansa tegangan tersebut. Sebagai penyelenggaraan bienal keramik pertama di Indonesia, JCCB berupaya menangkap fenomena seni keramik seluas mungkin, kendati tetap diupayakan selektif.
JCCB awalnya diniatkan sebagai bienal untuk para seniman keramik Indonesia, namun beruntung tawaran untuk melibatkan beberapa seniman keramik dari negara tetangga seperti Malaysia, Singapura, Thailand dan Filipina disambut dengan baik. Situasi seni keramik kontemporer di negara-negara tersebut tak jauh beda dengan situasi seni keramik kontemporer di Indonesia, kendati dalam perkara perkembangan infrastruktur dan teknik keramik agaknya Indonesia tertinggal. Umibaizurah, Shamsu Mohamad, Ahmad Bakar, Jason Liem adalah para seniman keramik yang juga memiliki kredit dalam seni rupa kontemporer di negaranya masing-masing. Jason Liem, bahkan menjadi seniman yang mewakili Singapura dalam Venice Biennale tahun 2007. Jason Liem juga dikenal sebagai seniman performance andal di dunia internasional. Selain itu ada terlibat pula beberapa seniman keramik Barat, seperti Marcello Massoni, Michela Foppiani dari Italia dan Hillary Kane dari Amerika yag tergabung dalam studio Gaya Ceramic and Design di Bali. Ada pula Mirjam Veldhuis dari Belanda dan Aeadan Harris dari Australia. Diharapkan kehadiran para seniman luar tersebut dapat memberikan nuansa lain pada bienal keramik ini.

Seni keramik—di mana pun–sepertinya menghadapi situasi yang dilematis. Tentu saja membangun sarana dan wilayah yang spesifik sebagai wilayah kategoris—seni keramik—akan menguntungkan perkembangan seni keramik. Namun, dengan posisinya yang dipandang sebagai outsider oleh medan seni rupa kontemporer, bisa jadi wilayah kategoris seni keramik yang terlampau rigid akan semakin menguatkan posisi outsidernya. Selain itu, saat ini membangun wilayah yang dengan garis batas yang terlampau tegas, barangkali tidak terlampau menguntungkan, terlebih jika wilayah dengan garis batas tegas tersebut dianggap sebagai second grade—oleh seni rupa kontemporer. Namun demikian memadainya sarana dan keberadaan event seni keramik merupakan kebutuhan yang tidak dapat ditawar. Tanpa adanya kegiatan-kegiatan pameran dan presentasi seni keramik, maka seni keramik kontemporer Indonesia akan jalan di tempat, atau bahkan mundur. Minimnya event seni keramik tidak memicu pertumbuhan seni keramik secara memadai. Tanpa event, tidak tumbuh seniman-seniman keramik muda. Padahal minimnya seniman keramik juga tidak menumbuhkan situasi kompetitif bagi perkembangan seni keramik. Minimnya seniman juga menyebabkan tidak tumbuhnya pers apresiator dan kolektor.

Jika event seni keramik (pameran, workshop, demo dan seminar) marak maka akan menyuburkan pertumbuhan seniman keramik muda. Harapannya, akan tampil para seniman keramik muda yang piawai dan cerdas, yang tidak saja menjadi seniman keramik yang disegani oleh dunia seni keramik Indonesia tetapi juga medan seni keramik internasional. Lebih hebat lagi, jika para seniman keramik muda yang nanti muncul juga dapat menembus medan seni rupa kontemporer global. Hanya dengan pencapaian seperti itu, para seniman keramik dapat menunjukkan bahwa wilayah seni keramik dengan seni rupa kontemporer bukan wilayah yang harus dipertentangkan, namun merupakan wilayah yang saling melengkapi dan tumpang tindih. Dengan kata lain, adakalanya dia (pekeramik) harus berada dalam lingkungan spesifiknya (seni keramik), namun kala lain dia juga harus berdialog dan memberikan kontribusi pada lingkungan yang lebih luas: seni rupa kontemporer. Untuk itulah JCCB ini diadakan, mudah-mudahan memberikan kontribusi bagi perkembangan seni keramik dan seni rupa kontemporer di Indonesia.

>>>English translated by Rani Ambyo

Jakarta Contemporary Ceramic Biennale 2009
Ceramic Art: In Between the Contemporary Art and Contemporary Craft

By Asmudjo Jono Irianto

Ceramic Art: Definition and Problems
Most Indonesians are familiar with the term ‘ceramic art’. Upon hearing the term, however, people might generally be reminded of ceramic handicraft or decorative ceramic objects. The understanding of ‘art’ in the term ‘ceramic art’ can indeed refer to ‘art’ in its wider sense, i.e. ‘beauty’ and ‘skill’. In other words, the term ‘ceramic art’ here refers to decorative ceramic objects and ceramic handicrafts, or what we often categorize as ‘craft art’. Meanwhile, ‘ceramic art’ in the context of the contemporary art today refers to art works created by artists—who are generally graduates from art universities—who use ceramic as their medium of choice. In the context of the Jakarta Contemporary Ceramic Biennale (JCCB), what we categorize as ceramic art are free (non-functional) works with the paradigms of modern art and/or of the contemporary art as their point of reference. As its main title suggests, the Jakarta Contemporary Ceramic Biennale 2009 wishes to affirm the effort to situate the development of ceramic art within the framework of the contemporary art.
On the one hand, ceramic objects—such as handicrafts, decorations, containers, tableware, tiles, and chamber pots—are very familiar to a lot of people; on the other, such familiarity seems to foreclose the contemporary ceramic art from the realm of art in Indonesia. One must admit that it is difficult to demarcate the scope and definitions of the contemporary ceramic art. The term ‘contemporary’ clearly has a temporal sense, which means that it exists in the same era with us, or, to put it succinctly, it is of today, the present. The contemporary ceramic art, therefore, is the ceramic art of the present, i.e. the ceramic art in its latest development. But what is the definition of the ceramic art in its latest development, and what does it look like? It is not easy to determine the limits and the selection for artists in the context of the contemporary art, because this has to do with two things at once: i.e. the ceramic art heritage and the influence of the contemporary art. Each region departs from—or, to be precise, has been constructed out of—a distinct context and today has different infrastructure and paradigms, and this is especially true for the developed countries. What I mean by ‘the ceramic art heritage’ here refers to the ceramic art tradition in the context of the Western ceramic art, whether in terms of its history, understanding, and paradigm, whose influences have spread all across the world—just as the case with the modern and contemporary art of the West.
It is not without its reasons how the term of ceramic art comes to be considered as referring to handicraft and decorative objects. This has to do with the journey of the ceramic art in the West, which, genealogically speaking, originates from the realm of the low-art that is the craft. This situation affects the conditions in Indonesia, too. Therefore, we might benefit from learning a bit about the history and the situations of the contemporary ceramic art in the West, also considering it in relation to the Western contemporary art. In the context of the art realm in the West, the term ‘ceramic art’ generally refers to ceramic works by individual ceramic artists. We can safely say that ceramic art has been quite popular; however, in the West, ceramic art is more often placed outside the tradition of fine art, be it in the era of the modern art or the contemporary art. This has to do with the historical construction of art in the West since the Renaissance, which hierarchically separates art into high art (painting and sculpture) and low art (craft, decorative art, and applied art). High art then gives rise to the tradition of fine art, from which the modern and contemporary art descend. This dichotomous hierarchy still applies today, with each region has its own art realm. Although dominated today by free (non-functional) works as forms of art expressions, ceramic art in the West still remains in the category of the contemporary craft, because it descends from the region of craft and moves among craft institutions (craft departments, craft galleries, and craft journals). In other words, paradigmatically speaking, contemporary craft or craft in its latest development in the West is dominated by free works, and that is why the contemporary craft is often called ‘craft art’ or art with craft characteristics, or art craft, which is craft but orientated toward art. This phenomenon is not difficult to observe; one must only take a glimpse into craft journals and magazines in the West, as well as craft galleries and craft biennales, including ceramic art biennales.

One of the reasons why the dichotomy of contemporary art versus contemporary craft has been so enduring is because both have their own institutions and infrastructures. Although many believe that the contemporary craft has merged with contemporary art, in reality the boundary between the two remains intact. The view that sees the merging of craft and art might be due to the dominance of free works in contemporary art. The contemporary art, however, has its own paradigm, history, and discourse that artists hailing from the region of craft find difficult to enter. Compared with fiber art, wood craft, glass, and metal craft, we can say that the category of ceramic art within the region of contemporary craft is the one whose creative orientation toward free works of art has been the clearest. However, it is very difficult to find ceramic artists whom the contemporary art world recognize as “insiders”. It is also difficult to find ceramic art works in international contemporary art biennales. Works that are generally present in contemporary art are works that have been direct descendants of the fine art tradition, such as painting, sculpture (with a range of conceptual and material possibilities), installations, performance art, happening art, new media, environment art, process art, involvement art, and a range of art possibilities that break through boundaries and experimental in nature. There is no other choice: ceramic artists who need an intermediary platform to communicate with the public must develop it themselves. A range of biennales, triennials, and art events especially designated for ceramic art thus emerge. On the one hand, they facilitate the discourse, practices, and popularity of the ceramic art; on the other, they reaffirm further the place of ceramic art outside the contemporary art circle.
In any case, the existence of the international ceramic art biennales indicate the specificity of the contemporary ceramic art as an art category. In countries with long ceramic traditions—such as Japan, Korea, China, and the European countries—ceramic art (as decorative art, a form of material culture) has long been popular. Therefore, in the modern era, when independent ceramic studio started to sprout up, public knowledge and appreciation about the decorative ceramic art readily support them. Such independent ceramic studios—managed independently by ceramic artists, with limited production scale and focus on the personal nature of the artworks—develop quite well in the developed countries because they are seen as complementary to, or alternative to, the industrially-made ceramic objects. People who want functional ceramic objects that still show the makers’ personal touches and are not mass-produced will choose functional and decorative ceramic objects created in such independent studios—although these ceramic works are far more expensive than the ceramic objects made in factories. In the beginning, the independent ceramic studios produced functional and decorative ceramic works, as initiated by Bernard Leach from the United Kingdom. He is a legend in the world of ceramic art in the West. In the twenties, Leach opened a ceramic studio in St. Ives, England, and applied the philosophy of Eastern ceramic art, which did not differentiate between function and art. For Leach, the ‘art’ in ceramic lies within its functionality and the craftsmanship of the artist-maker. One can say that Bernard Leach was quite critical toward the idea of art autonomy with its principle of ‘art for art’s sake’.
From the beginning of the development of the independent ceramic studios, the ceramic artists, especially those coming from art universities, have been influenced by the development of modern art. Therefore, there have been many ceramic artists who created freestanding ceramic works as art works. People like Hans Copper and Lucie Rie from the UK were the trailblazers of ceramic art-works, although the forms of their art works were still based on the shapes of containers. Peter Voulkos from the US began a revolution in ceramic art when in the fifties he initiated action ceramic, or a kind of action painting on clay. Voulkos more-or-less proved that ceramic art can fully function as art and faithful to the definitions set by modern art. That is why Peter Voulkos is a hero in the history of modern ceramic art. Unfortunately, he is not considered a significant actor in the history of modern art in the West. This shows that the institution of modern art is invariably difficult to penetrate for artists hailing from the region of craft. We do not need to look far to find some confirmation about this: in Indonesia, whose art education system uses the Western system as its point of reference, ceramic major usually resides under the auspices of the Craft Department.

The Contemporary Ceramic Art and/inside the Contemporary Art
The contemporary art is said to be pluralist and have an ‘anything goes’ attitude. It seems thus that the era of the contemporary art opens the path for ceramic artists to make their entrance. The reality, however, is nothing like it. Apparently, because in the developed countries the realm of the ceramic art has become established as an entity that is distinct from the contemporary art, it is precisely difficult for ceramic artists to become part of the contemporary art practices. Furthermore, for the ceramic artists who focus on the medium, technique, and skills, the ‘anything goes’ creed is certainly paradoxical. If anything really goes, why should the artists make such thorough efforts to master a certain material? Why should they stay loyal to one certain material (i.e. ceramic)? The paradigm of the contemporary art seems to be incompatible with the paradigm of the contemporary craft, which in the West still forms the basis on which these ceramic artists work—although techniques and skills are certainly nothing taboo for the contemporary art.

Many contemporary art works indeed require technical expertise and superb skills; but then there are also many contemporary art works with really simple appearances, made of cheap materials, and require no technical expertise whatsoever. In other words, the issue of technical expertise in contemporary art is a matter of the consequence of the artist’s ideas or concepts. The contemporary artists are not required to have technical expertise or superb skills, although it certainly never hurts if they have such skills. The passion an artist has toward the medium, material, and technique is not important in contemporary art. It is therefore normal for a contemporary artist to let artisans execute the work. See, for example, the work by Jeff Koons, entitled Michael Jackson and Bubbles, in the shape of a life-size porcelain sculpture of the King of Pop with his pet chimp. Rest assured, Jeff Koons did not dirty his hands with clay as the work was being made. It is undeniable that the work requires technical mastery and great ceramic craftsmanship—but the work is not seen as more valuable than other works by Jeff Koons that do not require any form of craftsmanship—for example his vacuum cleaner works, which are ready-mades. At the same time, however, we can also observe how a contemporary sculptor such as Ron Moeck has such technical expertise and great craftsmanship as he created his realist sculptures using fiber glass and silicon rubber. Many artisans have skills similar to Ron Moeck’s. In other words, Ron Moeck gains recognition from the contemporary art world not because of his skills.

The difference between craft and art has been constructed through the history, theories, and discourses. In the beginning, (high-)art excluded craft, and along its journey, craft created its own paradigm. As a result, each party has its own view about meaning priority and art value, as well as the meanings of the medium, skills, theories, and discourses. This naturally affects the views of artists from the two realms. In modern and contemporary art, the aspects of concept, theory, and intellectual appeal are substantial, while contemporary craft prioritizes technical capability and craftsmanship in dealing with the material. To a ceramic artist, the skill and technical expertise are the most important things. Meanwhile, in contemporary art, skills might very well be borrowed. In contemporary art, skills and craftsmanship are the consequences of the concept—sometimes required, but often not necessary. That is why the aspect of skill is often absent in contemporary art works. Ceramic artists generally rely on their individual skills and dedicate their time and energy to master the material. The contemporary ceramic artist, however, does not think lightly of concepts, and even quite obsessed by them. A different genealogy, however, has given rise to a different way of developing the concept. Ceramic artists are generally more esoteric and often return to the possibilities that the medium contains; even when the works are representational, they still base their works on the limitations and the possibilities posed by the material. That is why it is often taboo to present unfired clay or use synthetic paints to coat the ceramic.

The established condition of ceramic art as a separate area sometimes creates a dilemma: on the one hand, the contemporary ceramic art must accommodate the ceramic heritage and history; on the other, the contemporary ceramic artists are not free from the influence of contemporary art with its avant-garde atmosphere. This can naturally be considered as the plurality of ceramic art; at the same time, however, it makes the ceramic art paradigm ambivalent and paradoxical. Many ceramic artists oppose the contemporary art paradigm that is all-instantaneous and considered as decadent; these ceramic artists, therefore, refuse to become a part of the contemporary art. Still, there are also many ceramic artists who wish to become a part of the contemporary art production and consumption. The choice to remain bound by the ceramic tradition and the “special aesthetics”—for example the attachment to the shapes of containers, the nature of the clay and glaze, the passion for techniques and processes—make many ceramic artists look old-fashioned and separate from the paradigm of the contemporary art. Although all these legacies are handled using personal approaches and even armed with concepts in creating non-functional works, still it is not the same with the tradition of the neo-avant-garde in the contemporary art.

In reality, upon close observation, grand exhibitions of contemporary ceramic art are akin to parades of the technical qualities and materials of the works. Without such quality and characteristic, however, ceramic art might lose its relevance. The “special category” and technical determination or craftsmanship seem to be latent issues for the ceramic artists. But as long as the ceramic artists do not fall into the trap of the craft paradigm that has been constructed differently from the paradigm of the contemporary art, there will still be ways for them to break through the barricades of the contemporary art—unless that is not their objective, and they are precisely happy and comfortable in their specific world of the ceramic art; a distinct world from the wild and dangerous world of contemporary art. Naturally, that depends on each ceramic artist.

The Contemporary Ceramic Art in Indonesia: Between the Contemporary Craft and Contemporary Art Paradigms
Unlike the East Asian countries like Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and China, Indonesia does not have a long and sophisticated ceramic tradition, and thus the cultural and technological capitals as well as public appreciation to ceramic art are low. It is not surprising how the development of the ceramic art in Indonesia has been far from rapid. This, however, is a blessing in disguise. Without the existence of a strong and distinct ceramic territory, the Indonesian ceramic artists do not stand diametrically in opposition to the contemporary art. That is why it is easy for the Indonesian ceramic artists to become a part of the contemporary art. This is also due to the fact that the contemporary art infrastructure in Indonesia has not become established either; so much so that the needs and the sophistication to justify the exclusion of art practices that are not in keeping with its paradigm (e.g. ceramic art) are simply not there.

Over the last few years, many ceramic artists have actively participated in the contemporary art territory. Apparently, the push to find alternatives to painting and the new media paves the way for ceramic artists to enter the territory of the contemporary art production and consumption. Such names as F. Widayanto, Titarubi, Nurdian Ichsan, Lie Fhung, Albert Yonathan, Nadya Savitri, Noor Sudiyati, Tisa Granicia, and Endang Lestari have also been recorded in the annals of the contemporary art in Indonesia. This biennale also presents ceramic artists who bring with them the spirit of the independent ceramic studios and do not concern themselves with the phenomenon of the contemporary art. Artists like Evy Yonathan, Ivan, Ika Burhan, and Ira Suryandari have inherited the spirit of being “true to the material” that is typical for contemporary craft. Interestingly, some of them have gained their knowledge and expertise from independent ceramic courses—and perhaps this is precisely why they, as underdogs, have such a militant attitude. A big ceramic art exhibition is generally not free from the tension between the contemporary craft and the contemporary art. The same is true for JCCB. As the first ceramic biennale to be held in Indonesia, JCCB tries to capture the ceramic art phenomena as expansive as possible, albeit still maintaining a selective attitude.

The JCCB was initially intended to be a biennale for Indonesian ceramic artists. Fortunately, the proposal to invite several ceramic artists from the neighboring countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines has been warmly welcomed. The situations of the contemporary ceramic art in these countries are not very different from the situation in Indonesia, although in terms of the ceramic infrastructure and technique, Indonesia has apparently been left behind. Umibaizurah, Shamsu Mohamad, Ahmad Bakar, and Jason Liem are ceramic artists who have been recognized by the contemporary art world in their respective country. Jason Liem even represented Singapore at the Venice Biennale in 2007. The international art world also recognizes Jason Liem as a gifted performance artist. Several ceramic artists from the Western world are also present here; for example the Italians Marcello Massoni and Michela Foppiani, and Hillary Kane from the US, who form the Gaya Ceramic and Design in Bali. There are also Mirjam Veldhuis from the Netherlands and Aeadan Harris from Australia. It is expected that these foreign artists will make this ceramic biennale richly nuanced.

The ceramic art anywhere seems to be facing a problematic situation. Naturally, the creation of specific facilities and a territory that is a distinct, categorical realm (of the ceramic art) will certainly be beneficial for the development of ceramic art. However, considering the position of ceramic art that the contemporary art world generally sees as an outsider, a rigid categorical realm of ceramic art can very well be further affirming its position as an outsider. Besides, it is perhaps not helpful today to create a territory with clear demarcations, especially if the demarcated area is seen as inferior by the contemporary art world. However, it is imperative for us to have adequate ceramic facilities and events. Without ceramic exhibitions and events in which the ceramic art can be presented, the contemporary ceramic art in Indonesia will not go anywhere, or even take a few steps backward. The lack of ceramic events has not adequately encouraged the development of ceramic art. Without such events, there will be no young ceramic artists, while the lack of ceramic artists will in turn dampen the competitive spirit that is beneficial for the development of ceramic art. The dearth of ceramic artists will also hamper the development of appreciating audience and collectors.

With flourishing ceramic art events (exhibitions, workshops, demo, and seminars), there will be many more young ceramic artists. The hope is that there will be clever and capable young ceramic artists who are not only respected by the ceramic art world in Indonesia, but also recognized by the international ceramic art world. It would be even better if these young ceramic artists can enter the global contemporary art world. Only with such achievements can the ceramic artists show that the realm of the ceramic art and that of the contemporary art are not in opposition to each other, but instead are complementary and overlapping. In other words, there will be time when the ceramic artist must remain in his or her specific environment (of the ceramic art), but there will be other times when the ceramic artist must engage in dialogues and contribute to the wider world: that of the contemporary art. This is why we hold the Jakarta Contemporary Ceramic Biennale: with the expectation to contribute to the development of the ceramic art and the contemporary art in Indonesia. ***

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