The Narcissist Art Bait

[Jakarta, LTTW] Google, the tech company who program search engine into our curios heads gives us something new to ponder. This time the 1996 founded company is taking a shot at persuading people to care more about arts and culture of the world, exploring mankind creative legacy as the ideal goal.

An application named Google Arts & Culture gain a relatively large attention at the start of 2018. Originally created in 2011; the sudden fame came because a new feature that automatically compare the users self portrait  to works of art.

Our face can be compared to Rembrandt’s self portrait painting or anything else that has a resemblance with us — juxtaposed side by side. The details of the painting are described in the application; we can learn a general knowledge about the painter, the painting, and the museum that keeps it. For now it is limited in the United States, but other countries can easily access it with a VPN.

It wasn’t a significant increase in art enthusiast, instead it can be seen as a significant increase in people who simply like to post their own portrait with some gimmick that accompany their faces. Google try to use a modern behaviour as a bait for a greater purpose, but the worse case comes when people succumb to the comfortable bait without even using it in a wider positive sense like it supposed to be.

At this point, the application is no different than face “filters” or animations that social media such as Snapchat and Instagram use to lure it’s audiences.

In Greek mythology there was a beatiful man named Narcissus. He fell in love with his own reflection in the pool that leads to death. A self absorbed being, still relevant until this day. Google’s new feature and other application that celebrate narcissism are the pool that can reflect our own demise.

It’s seems rhetorical to think that the internet positive effect is to give the users information, ideas, and even perspectives. It goes old when we still uses that argument because the current technology keeps expanding — making room for new negative effects. We must be critical and not take everything for granted, including the one we are comfortable with.

The Google Arts & Culture aspire to be a portal with vast collection of art around the world. It even allows us to take a virtual tour of museums and other art related places. A clear purpose that has the fundamentals of internet creation.

The challenges of the internet era are real, one of them is the unmeasurable success accompanied by more weight on factual failures. We must ask ourselves, does people really broaden their mind when comparing themselves to art pieces or does it stop at just another selfie? Falling deep into the Narcissist art bait.


Attacchi di Pane

“Picture of Today” in the Eyes of Italian Contemporary Dance

[Jakarta, LTTW] December 6, 2017, Listen to the World had the pleasure to watch a contemporary dance performance from Italy; organized by the Italian Cultural Institute (Istituto Italiano di Cultura) at the historical Jakarta Art Building. The group presented a dance routine entitled Attacchi di Pane, choreographed by Federica Galimberti, performed by dancers from the E.sperimenti GDO Dance Company.

The theme of the dance is “Man in Society”, a political work of art that is reflected in the story about the struggle of people in life, both in the west and other places around the world. Just like any other arts that are born and developed in the West such as Rock, Breaking, Dadaism, and so on, this performance showcases that the West culture still responds to its locality. It is no surprise if the symbols used in the dance are stemmed from the culture into which it is born.

This dance is filled with symbols that are manifested in the movement, gestures, and stage properties as the media for the choreographer and the seven dancers to convey the message to the audience. Chairs are used as the symbol for territory and identity, and a large Italian bread, which is the center of the routine, symbolizes the source of life.

A scene in the dance shows how the dancers fight over the large bread, and the story ends with the bread cut in two and shared equally. In Italy (Europe), bread is like rice to Javanese.

Listen to the World sees the struggle in Attacchi di Pane as the reflection of the world’s current political condition that is getting more divided due to greed and the fact that humans are still maintaining their territorial nature. Take proxy wars for example; where big countries fight over for power by making use of smaller countries that are in conflict.

Serrano Sianturi (Chairman of Sacred Bridge Foundation) takes a deeper look on the bread scene. He suggests that the bread scene may be the representation of “break a bread”, a term stemmed from Christian culture in Europe. The depiction of “break a bread” can be found in John 6:1-14, in which Jesus shared five pieces of bread and two pieces of fish to 5,000 hungry people. But, the most famous depiction of this term can be found in the Last Supper, in which Jesus breaks and shares the bread to the Apostles on the eve of his crucifixion and says, “This is my body given to you.” With this story, bread can be seen as the symbol of love, friendship, solidarity, peace, and reconciliation.

Tyas, our colleague and a dance teacher at Namarina Ballet, shares our view. She caught some movements where the dancers imitate the gestures in the painting “The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci. The connection between dance and other forms of art is nothing new, especially in contemporary dance, which is evident in the history of dance in the 20th century USA.

The pioneers of 20th century contemporary dance such as Marta Graham, Merce Cunningham, and Lester Horton have set a new perspective in the world of dance. Marta Graham integrates choreography with visual arts; adopting the artistic concept of Picasso, the architectural works of Frank Lloyd Wright, and Stravinsky’s compositions. Merce Cunningham is the first choreographer who used the Avant Garde approach in his works. Lester Horton pioneered in combining Native American and Afro dance style into Western style. Contemporary dance has continued adopting styles from around the world such as Yoga, Zen, and American Gymnastic to Hip Hop. It is no surprise if Attacchi di Pane also uses this approach.

Keep in mind that Attachi di Pane is from Italy, the country from which ballet is originated. This dance made a progress after the marriage of Queen Catherine de Medici with the King Henry II from France. Even though different in style and movement, ballet and contemporary dance are strongly connected, even more than we know.

While modern dance is the anti-thesis of the ballet tradition, contemporary re-incorporates ballet as much as retaining modern approach and searching beyond the West. Departing from Christian tradition, ballet attempts to move “beyond the limit of human capability” to depict an angel’s move: its grace and beauty. One can see how light and graceful a ballet dancer moves, as if they are “flying and floating”. Modern dance, on the other hand, incorporate human emotions into the movements, and emphasizes gravity in the motion.

This shows that the counter thoughts brought up by modern and contemporary dance traditions would not have existed without ballet. On the other hand, ballet would cease to develop without modern and contemporary dances as counter parts.

E.SPERIMENTI Workshop: Brief Interview with Namarina’s Students

The Attacchi di Pane program involved dance students from various institutions in Jakarta to take part in a dance workshop taught by the choreographer. Several students from Namarina Dance Academy (partner of Listen to the World) also participated in this workshop.

Before the routine was presented, participants were given the chance to perform their creations from the workshop. Listen to the World had an opportunity to briefly interviewed two participants from Namarina Dance Academy: Kirana Nasywadara (Ara) and Dwigdi Diksita (Didi). They shared their experience and expressed their hopes to Listen to the World.

Ara commented that she learned a new method and gained a new perspective that is different from the tradition of ballet and also learned basic breathing skill, how to use their abdomen. Didi said that she learned about how to direct the flow of her moves. They felt happy to meet new friends from other institutions. Didi and Ara were very enthusiastic in welcoming the dancers and choreographers from Italy, because this was a rare moment for them. Didi wished that the workshop had longer duration, while Ara wished that she could learn more about skills and techniques than choreography.

When asked about the conception behind Attacchi di Pane, they explained that none of the contents in the workshop touches such subject. Based on its experience in education and culture, Sacred Bridge Foundation believes that this workshop should teach more than just techniques. The participants should be encouraged to understand the conception and thoughts both in historical and cultural perspective, so the participants (in this case they are all Indonesians) learn how to respond to the local context and their identity, so they can be more creative and original.


English Translation by Riri Rafiani




Maritime Museum

Does History Matter to Indonesia?

[Jakarta, LTTW] “Never forget history.” That was what Soekarno, the First President of Indonesia, used to say. Yet recently—in the first month of the 2018—two historical buildings in Jakarta, Indonesia have been damaged.

The day after Jakarta Stock Exchange’s hallway collapsed, Jakarta Maritime Museum was scorched on January 16—leaving half of the building heavily damaged and many of its collections unsalvageable, including the priceless ones. It is such an irony that a maritime museum could be engulfed by flames, when the word “maritime” itself means ‘relating to the sea’. The building once stood as VOC’s spices storage too, which added more historical significance to it. Unfortunately, there are only three maritime museums in Indonesia—including the damaged one—which is a very small number for an archipelago country. Contradictory to what Soekarno used to say, it is hard to justify the significance of history among Indonesian.

One thing that needs to be well-pondered is that maritime is the original culture of Indonesia that needs to be revived. However, the question remains: could Indonesia revive the culture while a large number of us are still ignorant of our own history?

Long before this incident happened, maritime culture has long been abandoned—imposed by monoculture during colonialism. This unfavorable situation has blurred our memories, as if the story of Majapahit Kingdom uniting the archipelago with its warships was just another bedtime story. Courage, hunger for exploration, willingness to take risks, and solidarity are maritime values that are very rare to be found among Indonesians today. The role of fishermen these days is only seen as a profession to lift economic welfare; nothing more, nothing less. This narrowed role is even enforced by the government’s campaign. The culture, together with its history and values, is just kept in museums as “memories” rather than living inside the people.

When Soekarno told us not to forget history, does it really mean simply to remember? In Listen to the World’s opinion, “not forgetting” means to learn from it. History is what gives us today, so it’s essential to see history as a source of knowledge. Thanks to history, we could learn from our mistakes so we would not repeat making the same ones. By comprehending our roots, we would uphold the contained values and keep our identity intact. Those are essential if we want to revive and improve the culture within the nation towards a better future.


Freedom of Speech and Social Media

Freedom of Speech is important to us. It allows us not only to share our voices, but also to obtain and learn more knowledge from others. Social Media, in this frame of mind, should be a perfect platform for it, because the volume and immediacy of the exchange are incredible.

Yet in reality – in the name of “freedom of speech,” a large number of us still use Social Media senselessly; from bullying people’s opinions, sharing immoral jokes, spreading hoax, igniting conflicts to encouraging violence. With (human) rights comes responsibility, but in social media, where the interaction is indirect and often in disguised, how can anyone be responsible for what he/she says? If we can’t, is this how freedom of speech (in social media) should be?

Journalism: Juggling with Politics, Money & Technology

[Jakarta, LTTW] Journalism operates within the freedom of speech and freedom of the press principles. In doing so, there are ethics and code of conduct that must be followed. Covering all sides, fact-based, and seeking the truth are parts of the foundation on which journalism stands. Prior to the emergence of internet, information technology and widespread changes in political mores, journalism was the “authority” of what we call today as the conventional media.

During the Cold War, countries of the Eastern bloc and developing countries elsewhere were the enemies of journalism. At the time, many (if not most) regimes were allergic to journalism. Censorship, media ban, revoking publishing permit were familiar policies imposed on media. Several countries like China, Russia, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Burma are still practicing such policies. In this matter, nothing really changes.

As in any other sector, the media “industry” also consists of minor and major leagues. In the heyday of conventional media, the big players were considered as the ones who controlled the contents. Newspapers, TV Networks, and Magazines grew as giant media corporations holding strong political influence along with money to spend. So by being the flagship of freedom of the press and journalism and also prosperous, they had the power to choose what issues to expose, thus shaped public opinion. Today, this is not the case anymore.

State vs. Press

The State against the Press is nothing new, but the State banning a foreign state-funded Press was unprecedented prior to the shutting down of Al-Jazeera TV in Amman in August 8, 2002 by the Jordanian authority. The channel is accused of “provoking sedition in the kingdom” and “defaming” the royal family. Almost a decade later, the Egyptian government closed down Al-Jazeera for allegedly encouraging the country’s uprising. In August last year, Saudi Arabian government accused Al-Jazeera of inciting fundamentalism and separatism, supporting terrorism, and destabilizing political situation in the region. Not long after, the Israeli government blocks the Al-Jazeera’s news broadcast. The Israeli claims that the network supports terrorism, and is a tool of ISIS. The Israeli government is seeking a legal way to completely shut down Al-Jazeera operation in Israel.

Being impartial is essential in journalism, but the view is different from the political side, especially in countries or regions that do not practice the Western democracy. In the Arab world, where Monarchy and dictatorship are common practices, freedom of the press is not welcome. The perpetual distrust and conflicts among Arab countries add the difficulty for the press to be impartial; covering one side is most likely to be taken as opposing the other.

Al-Jazeera itself is a news broadcasting company sponsored by Qatar government. While state funded, Al-Jazeera considers itself as an alternative and independent network that not only challenges the mainstream narrative, but also serves as the voice for the unheard. Its claims include being impartial and covering all sides. Such claims are questionable when it comes to criticizing its owner. Qatar itself has been one of the fastest growing economies in the world, and is today’s one of the wealthiest. Although “more democratic” than its affluent neighbors – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates – Qatar is not a democratic republic; it’s an absolute Monarchy. Given such fact, promoting freedom of the press (through Al-Jazeera) can only take place outside of Qatar. This what makes Al-Jazeera’s credibility in journalism is under constant suspicion.

In recent years, the “battle” between the State and freedom of the press has happened not only in the Middle East and countries governed by dictatorial regimes, but also, alarmingly, in the United States. The narcissist “superstar” personality of President Trump apparently cannot stand criticism. Every single thing (either true or not) that he disapproves is countered by the now famous “fake news” label. This kind of “opposition” by the White House Administration to the media is unprecedented in the United States. The non-partisan press that was once a necessary counterpart is now an enemy of the State, particularly the President. While detesting the unbiased media, Trump is craving for the use of Twitter in his communication. Giving him a title as the King of Tweet seems appropriate to match his addiction to Twitter, or perhaps Twitter Junkie could serve as the alternative. In spite of whichever the title that suits him, the use of Twitter (and other social media) by the public has shaken the existence of conventional and mainstream media.

Social Media and Journalism

The internet has evolved significantly since its early commercial use in early 90s. The first phase of convergence involving computing, communication and information or content has gone far beyond what we could have imagine then. The later convergence involves cellular technology and electronics, while the form of contents expanded from text only to visual, audio and video, not to mention the immediacy in speed and interactivity as the result of streaming technology. E-commerce, Blog, Social networks, Maps & Location and iPhone were platforms born out of this second phase convergence, followed by features and applications as branches.

Such continuous and rapid development changes how people perceive and do things, including the way people view and practice the freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and also freedom of the press. Journalism, as one of the manifestations of such freedoms, is heavily challenged by these changes.

Social media activists and users claim that conventional media can no longer “control” the contents. Through the internet, may it be web-based or social networks, any individual or group can publish or share any information they have, including their views, opinions and knowledge. Their claim also include that journalism no longer solely belongs to the conventional and mainstream press media.

Although different in form, the number of readership, audience or called followers in social media is far beyond the reach of any mainstream media. Based on several surveys, all of the 10 Facebook accounts with most followers belong to individuals who are celebrities. For Twitter, there are only two non-individual accounts (YouTube and CNN) out of twenty with the most followers. The number of followers of these accounts range from 40 to over 100 millions!

The growing use and reach of web-based media and social networks has seized the audience of the conventional media; several old school newspapers and magazines had no choice but to transform themselves into on-line media. Those who endure, extend their services to on-line.

The battle between web-based service and social networks not only in readership, but also the idea of journalism. The new media is said to represent freedom of speech and expression, and for many, practicing these freedoms needs no boundary. Web-based media and social networks bow to one rule, i.e.: there is no rule. Journalism, on the other hand, believes in sets of ethics and rules. Taking no side, legitimate source, keeping off the records to themselves, guaranteeing the rights of the subject to respond, and correcting the mistakes are some of the doctrines practiced and safeguarded in journalism. Not all of mainstream media obey these rules, but such disrespect does not change the idea of journalism at all.

Freedom of speech and expression are not without boundary because freedom itself is bound to certain limitations and rules. Any act that fails to recognize and respect limitation is not a manifestation of freedom at all, it is an anarchy.

The New Billionaires and Mainstream Corporate Media.

Giant media corporation is not a new thing; it’s been with us since the early 20th century when two fierce competitors, William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer established their private newspapers in San Francisco and New York. In 1950s, an Australian-born Rupert Murdoch bought a network of newspapers that later grew and known as News Corp and 21st Century Fox, today’s second largest media group in the world. At the time, however, the founders of these media giants came from families with publishing and/or journalism background. They became billionaires by successfully running their media companies.

Today, there is a growing trend indicating that wealthy individuals coming from outside of media business are both investing and attacking the press media. When it comes to investing in media, many wander why these billionaires took such action amid the sizable “migration” of audience from conventional media to digital. People get even more puzzled when billionaires of highest calibre like Warren Buffett (of Berkshire Hathaway) bought Media General Inc., Jeff Bezos (of Amazon) acquired the Washington Post, and John Henry (of Boston Red Sox) purchased the Boston Globe; these billionaires are certainly no dummies. Well, it turned out that there are good reasons why they invested in these conventional media.

First, according to Newspaper Association of America, the revenue of newspapers in the US has grown with an average of over 3% since 2013. Then, they all believe that locality can never be replaced by the “global” web-based and social networks. Another reason is that they also believe that journalism is an institution, and essential in free society thus worth defending. So, there you have it.

On the other side, there are billionaires who are allergic to conventional and mainstream media. They simply hate what the media expose with regards to disapproved contents. Donald Trump filed a libel suit against Tim O’Brien of the New York Times who reported that the President’s developer business is only worth between U$ 15-250 million, not between U$1.5-2.5 billion as Trump repeatedly claimed. Peter Thiel (co-founder of PayPal) did the same thing to Gawker, by financing the retired professional wrestler Hulk Hogan in suing the media. Prior to Hulk Hogan’s case, Gawker exposed the fact that Peter Thiel was gay, something that Peter Thiel would like to keep it private. Another case involved Idaho’s billionaire, Frank VanderSloot; he filed libel suit against Mother Jones magazine for releasing a story about a pedophile camp counselor in Idaho Falls. Thiel and VanderSloot won the case, Trump did not, but he said that he files the suit just to make O’Brien’s life miserable.

It’s quite interesting to imagine how the court battle would be if Trump, Thiel, and VanderSloot filed suits against the media owned by Buffett, Bezos, and Henry. Billionaires against billionaires; it would be gladiators combat of the 21st century, wouldn’t it?