Why we do what we do?
By trying to “meme” academic writing and to “academise” memes, we hope to highlight the surface-level performativity found in artspeak, encourage play in research processes, and dig deeper into understanding various layers of colloquial humour.
ACADEMIC FANTASY INDONESIA is an online residency in partnership with the Indonesian art meme accounts @indoartno and @antikolektifkolektifklub. Non-Indonesian writers will be looking at memes sourced from both accounts and researching its significance — concerning the art scene, pop culture, linguistics, and history — and the reason why it’s funny. Account admins and the organisers will in turn assist in understanding the contexts of the local humor. The resulting research will be presented in the form of an academic essay, posted on a blog online, as well as on both meme pages.
Note: The title refers to a singing competition franchise in Southeast Asia, “Akademi Fantasi Indosiar”, a very vernacular and nostalgic memory to many Indonesians and other Southeast asian individuals alike. With its tacky, early 2000s visual, the programme often became the source of many memes.
This project was first suggested half-jokingly by our two friends, Mysara and Asyraf, when we talked about the unique vernacularism of Indonesian memes and the different depth, wit, immediacy, and relatability art memes could provide as a form of language.
The global contemporary art scene relies on an abundance of western references, theories, and writings. There is a constant desire for art writings to be legitimate —these attempts to be validated often cause an over-westernising, neglecting the vernacular context. The local meaning of the art becomes lost within artspeak; a sesquipedalian loquaciousness, jumbled references, and obsolete western literature. We realise that countless local experiences are unable to be conveyed in simplistic one-liners in an outsider’s language.
As language continuously evolves, the limitation of an art world’s institutional mode of communication has been challenged with alternative formats that are gaining traction by the day. The White Pube popularly opt to write generously in internet vocabulary, cultural workers would source unfiltered news through the Twitter accounts of Kelly Crow (WSJ), JJ Charlesworth (ArtReview), Hrag Vartanian (Hyperallergic), Alice Procter, Siddharta Mitter, etc., and Jerry Gogosian’s Instagram page has been increasingly validated by key art media across the world. The fluidity of human expression VS the stubbornness of institutional texts inspired us to mediate the two nodes with a universal medium, and memes became an obvious choice due to its shareability and digitally viral nature.
The humorous nature of a meme is classified by its rapid understandability to a group of people, making it highly effective as a joke, immensely relatable to each of our lives, while retaining layers of an unspoken nuance. However, a niche meme created for a targeted group of various segmentation would render it unreadable/unrelatable by an outsider; an engineer looking at a finance meme would understand the superficial premise of the joke, but not much of its original context and references. This “outside-looking-in” phenomenon is constantly experienced by diasporas, who would juggle two cultures in the locale where they live and the virtual arenas tying back to their hometowns.
As Indonesians, we’ve always assumed that Indonesian humour is insular and hardly translatable due to colloquial and linguistic puns, layered references taken from local pop culture, socio-political current issues, as well as ethical and moral values of various demographics spanning across the nation. Surprisingly, however, the Indonesian meme accounts @indoartno (stylised as INDO/ART/NO, a wordplay based on Indonesia’s pioneer art media INDO/ART/NOW) and @antikolektifkolektifklub has crossed the territorial border and found followers in neighbouring countries; showing a shared understanding despite the niche of the contemporary art scene.
Launched in end-2018, the account harbours 8,400+ followers, with its demographics highly concentrated with key Indonesian artists, curators, collectors, grassroots collectives, and major stakeholders. Its 9.22% engagement rate is over 4x of @jerrygogosian’s (2.65%) and higher than @freeze_magazine’s (7.38%), with an average of 700+ engagement per post. Another meme account also created in 2018, @antikolektifkolektifklub more recently rose to fame for its relevance to Twitter memes and its cynicism on collectivism in the Indonesian contemporary art scene. While its audience is much smaller, at 1,314 followers, their engagement rate is a whopping 16%, close to twice of @indoartno’s and indicating a high volume of discourse on their page.
In recent months, we’ve seen both accounts gaining tractions and being reposted in neighbouring Southeast Asian countries. The diverse range of content being discussed, from specifically niche Indonesian art market issues to globally discussed matters, shows itself to be an exciting virtual residency space brimming with opportunities.
Being physically immobile in 2020, we looked deeper into the meaning of an artist residency — an exchange of lived experiences by immersively absorbing a space or a locality. By developing the following format, we hope to convert the conventional residency space into the digital realm, while simultaneously retaining the learning process through the locals’ lived experiences. This would be achieved by connecting our resident writers with local communities, as well as amplified online interactions, interviews, and alternative research methods.
Memes are a powerful entry point for a wider audience to learn more about various issues, and/or how said issue affects a particular group; with that, we’d like to include vernacular expression and locally shared sentiments as pivotal elements of research. By trying to “meme” academic writing and to “academise” memes, we hope to highlight the surface-level performativity found in artspeak, encourage play in research processes, and dig deeper into understanding various layers of colloquial humour.
An update from the organisers
Halfway through the project, we realised that our outlined expectations are unrealistic. We have decided that the residency’s launch in end October 2020 will only include the paper’s abstracts, introductions, and prefaces; paired with the online residency process of text exchanges.
The White Pube Homepage Residency
We are very thankful for The White Pube to have featured and supported us in this project through their homepage residency programme. Visit our residency (up until 31st October 2020) at https://www.thewhitepube.co.uk/