Aaron Seeto & the Importance of Art EducationByKim Tay
Ahead of Museum MACAN's (Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara) slated opening in November 2017, we sat down with Aaron Seeto, director of the museum, to find out what's planned for Indonesia's first museum dedicated entirely to international modern and contemporary art.
MACAN will officially be launching later this year, in November, and will be the first museum in Indonesia to focus on international modern and contemporary art. What is the main mission of the museum and what are you hoping to achieve with the space/programme? How do you think the local audience will respond to this?
Museum MACAN has three core components to its mission. Firstly, to develop and advance awareness and appreciation of art in Indonesia; to facilitate cultural exchange between Indonesia and the world, providing a platform for Indonesian art internationally and for international art in Indonesia; and to nurture and support the development of Indonesia’s art ecology through education and training. Through our exhibition and education programs, and a varied public program, we hope that we will be able to achieve this.
The program will include curated projects that are drawn from the Museum’s collection of modern and contemporary art, commissions by artists from Indonesia and further afield as well as education initiatives catering to all visitors. Education is central to the Museum’s vision, and we are dedicated to providing resources and programming for schools, students, and people of all ages and backgrounds in support of high-quality arts education.
For the many years that I have been observing the art community here in Indonesia – it is quite evident that Indonesia has a vibrant arts community and that people in Indonesia are curious and passionate about the arts. There are great artists and curators here and there is an extensive and supportive network of collectors. However, Indonesia lacks museum infrastructure, there is little governmental support for the arts, and private initiatives have been somewhat exclusive in their approach. We hope Museum MACAN will become an important platform for art in Indonesia – for research, exhibitions, education and contemplation. Museum MACAN will be a place where people from all walks of life can come together and access, and learn more about it.
You spent many years in the Australian art scene, working at the 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art and then at QAGOMA for the Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art. Australia has a strong history of non-profit and institutional support for the arts, which can be said to be lacking in Indonesia. How have you found the transition moving from Australia to Indonesia and what are some of the major differences that you have found between the two places?
As a curator who has been working extensively in the Asian art field, I have been in and out of Indonesia over many years. What Indonesia has lacked in infrastructure, it has provided in really exciting artists and a supportive creative community. Developing a new museum in a country where there is no precedent for the type of institution we are building is tremendously exciting.
Throughout my career, I have been dedicated to presenting and advancing artists from the Asia-Pacific region, I also believe in the important role that art and art education plays in opening up our minds to all kinds of curiosities and knowledge, so, when the opportunity came up to lead Museum MACAN, with its mission and its extraordinary collection, it was hard to ignore.
MACAN will have a strong focus on arts education and engaging with the arts community in and around Jakarta. How do you plan on furthering this goal?
Alongside our exhibitions, we will have a regular program of talks and discussions which will draw on the arts community. We want to be a base, or platform for local artists, curators and critics, and hope to stimulate all kinds of artistic discussions through our exhibitions.
Education is fundamental and it will take many forms – from school-age programs, training for young professionals as well as opportunities to learn for our broader audiences. Earlier this year we launched part of our schools program, an outreach program where our Education department regularly visits local schools in Jakarta to make presentations about the Museum. This program is a really important first introduction and it has been really well received.
We have also just run our first Educators Forum, which was a day-long gathering of teachers from across Jakarta who came together to talk about the Museum and the specific needs of educators. We invited the artist Tintin Wulia, who is representing Indonesia at this year’s Venice Biennale to do a presentation of her work and her process. It was a great discussion where the artist was able to talk about how she approaches her research and artmaking, but most importantly it provided teachers direct access to artists. Both Tintin and the teachers enjoyed the day and the initial feedback is that both the teachers and Tintin thought that it was a really useful exercise. We hope that these kinds of encounters spark off new ideas, give teachers direct insight into the practice of artists, and in the end, will benefit students.
Indonesian collectors are known for being primarily insular in their collecting habits, which has provided great support to many of the country’s homegrown artists, but less exposure to international artists. The MACAN collection will largely be drawn from collector Haryanto Adikoesoemo’s collection, who has gone against this trend, with only 40% of his collection dedicated to Indonesian artists. How do you see the museum affecting the art ecosystem in Indonesia?
Actually, the Indonesian collection is about 50% of the entire holdings.
I think the most exciting thing will be the opportunity to see and experience the collection – this is not just for the art community but for all kinds of audiences. It is a tremendous collection of modern and contemporary artworks – as a curator, I don’t really see the collection in the context of ‘trends’ but the relationships that artworks have to history and society. In the Collection, we can see a strong interest in the development of Indonesia’s own art history; the post-war period in Europe, America, Indonesia and other parts of Asia, as well as a deep commitment to contemporary art. Perhaps our audiences will see works by artists that perhaps they haven’t seen ‘in the flesh’ before, or historic works that are important to the art history of Indonesia. I hope that through our exhibitions, audiences will begin to see the relationships between artworks, begin to understand how and why artists made work and maybe sees these works in the context of their own histories and experiences.
But most importantly, the Museum offers physical spaces for active contemplation of art and opportunities to learn and join discussions through our public programs.
MACAN aims to introduce international art to Indonesia, and Indonesian art on an international scale. This indicates a very deliberate cross-cultural exchange; how will this be achieved and which international locations will you be focusing on?
There is a lot of interest in what is going on here in Indonesia from curators and institutions around the world. So Museum MACAN will be an important platform for two-way dialogues and exchange. It is important not only to bring art from elsewhere to Indonesia, but to also develop opportunities for Indonesian art to be presented and considered elsewhere in the globe.
Indonesia is a vibrant, multi-ethnic and multi-religious society - cross-cultural exchange seems to be so embedded within its daily life and popular culture. ‘Nusantara’, which is part of the Museum’s name, is a term which implies a whole range of relationships and histories beyond what is modern day Indonesia. It is a conceptual nod to the ways in which we might think about cross-cultural exchange in the future – it opens up fertile opportunities to think expansively about how we connect and interact in the contemporary world.
You were recently on a panel during Art Basel Hong Kong discussing the topic “Social Media is Killing Art.” In the panel you argued against the motion; Could you give us a summary of your own opinion on how social media is changing art and the art world?
I think the entire panel agreed that social media has changed the way that we perceive and understand the world around us. While I disagree that it is ‘killing the art world’, I do think that we need to have richer virtual and analogue experiences of art – social media should just be seen to add to this richness.
My key argument is that art cannot die – it relies on the ingenuity of artists, it can be consensual and also provocative and thought provoking, where new technologies aid in the creation of new forms and new thoughts and the best artists create art that is responsive to the here and now.
Most of my arguments related to my observations of Indonesia – an important developing country, with an extraordinary large population, with a developing middle class and an appetite for technology and social media. But it lacks infrastructure, it lacks opportunities for art education. So Social Media, which is cheap, widely accessible and democratic, can act as an important communicator of new ideas, and becomes a fundamental platform for conversation and debate, as well as an index which makes available all kinds of critical (as well as banal) information.
Through social media - Our geographies morph, and territories are reinscribed and reinvented, relationship spring up in the most unexpected ways, and criticism emerges from all corners of the network. Social media is a springboard to something new – in the hands of artists and as an agent of art – the only thing it helps to collapse is the status quo – the conservative – the already known.
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