Bon Suwung Updates

18 May 2012 | Bon Suwung - Yogyakarta, Indonesia

From March- May 2012 the Bon Suwung project has held five workshops joined by approximately 10 Individuals coming fom various backgrounds and disciplines.

There are several key points that came up during the process, mainly about site selection, strategic approach and research-action design. Each point  is with its own nuances and interrelations,  some may be oversimplified due to the limited format of this presentation. Details  are as follow:

1.            Site Selection

•             Ledok Timoho

Ledok Timoho is the first site to be engaged by KUNCI as part of the wasteland-twinning initial trial. It features a community life that has been informally occupying the space for more than  10 years (for details see here), thus contributing a different trajectory of wasteland conversations in the wasteland-twinning network. While  similar symptoms are apparent in the different urban settings Indonesia, there are also prominent typologies that define current wasteland formations in the country. As a continuation to the preliminary phase in Ledok Timoho, this project includes at least two other types of wasteland formation in Yogyakarta in order to get a sense  of context diversity , to be elaborated in the later part of this section.

On the other hand, KUNCI’s decision to keep its current engagement with the Ledok Timoho site has spurred  new debates among workshop participants,  honing to questions of approach , such as:

- The risk and opportunity in collaborating with the “subaltern” occupying Ledok Timoho.

- How does one’s  intervention change already existing dynamic?

- As this is more collaborative in nature and not another reproduction of prescriptive empowerment,  questions of positioning and ethics matter: who are we and who are they in the knowledge production about that particular space?

- How do notions of repercussions, desired or not,   complicate/ simplify this relation?

These ideas will be maintained throughout the whole project in order to see the shifts and consolidations at the end result.

•             Guerrilla Agriculture

The Bon Suwung collective also saw an increasing need to understand the functionality of wasteland as food procurer, represented by the prevalence of informal farming in wastelands as well as its cultivation as wild-food resources. This focus is opted as a critic to the widely used notion of ‘wasteland’  which in this context proves to be a contradiction in terms , as anthropomorphically  speaking nothing goes to waste in the less developed part of the globe.

The project is mapping out various food-related function of wastelands in the city, and try to contextualize it with the globally burgeoning food-security movement.

•             Bon(g) Suwung

The location may be perceived as a word-play to the original term “Bon-Suwung”. However it has been used interchangeably for a long time, if not longer, to refer to a specific site located in the vicinity of (-200 meters along the railway approaching) the Yogyakarta main train station, perched right at the center of the city. During day time the area is empty and abandoned, with trains connecting the different area in Java actively passing through. While the  train remain as active in the night, the specific spot also functions as a rendezvous point between clients, female and male-to-female sex workers and local food hawkers. The night sex market has often been targeted for closed-down by municipal governance but continue to progress in a hide-and-seek manner.

The word ‘Bong’ in Javanese historically refers to Chinese Cemetery while a Bong Suwung means an empty Chinese cemetery. In the past, before the waves of incoming dwellers resided, Bong Suwung as well as other smaller community compounds (or known as kampung)  that formed the central part of the city  were a vast ground of Chinese Cemetery.

The project’s engagement with this particular site is to expand the definition of wasteland through its unexplored uses and meaning-making in local contexts. By definition a land here always already belongs to someone/something occupying the space. While relegation of presence to ownership have evolved through many historical and cultural encounters and forms: colonial-natives, formal-illegal, physical-mental (including narrative of spirits and ghosts) etc. it does not necessarily prevent common uses of the space, with or without permission.

2.            Strategic approach

The various issues addressed have elevated the discussions to identify the status of wasteland as less it is a location or property asset than it is a ‘living space’. To this aim the project’s approach need to diverge from typically distant site observation modes, such as exemplified by bird-eyes view techniques but heading instead towards direct engagement with unfolding social practice on/ of the space. In this way, the micro-narratives forming certain wasteland can be charted and compared with existing spatial lay-outs made from above such as those presented in Google satellite images and municipal urban-plans.

As suggested by one of the project participant, Yoshi Fajar Kresna Murti, among the common narratives of making/ filling space in the city, the local tactics of bancakan (literally, hide and seek) and babad alas (akin to the definition of slash and burn  in English) are framed as the analytical tools of the project, supported by field activities such as interviews and lateral mapping.

In addition participants are also encouraged to make use of a Ushahidi-based crowdmapping tool as a mean to calibrate existing location and the lifestories that shape them.

3.            Research-Action

The abovementioned concerns and strategies have determined the series of activities to be intensified throughout June 2012, as a part of the twinning-partnership program with the Nottingham site as well as a mid-term assessment to the course of the project.

-              Participants are divided into three exploration team working simultaneously  on three different wasteland contexts, Ledok Timoho, Guerilla Agriculture and Bong Suwung. At the same time the activity’s research component is also emphasised on crowdmapping on wastelands across the city.  The Guerilla Agriculture team may use more than one site as its subject, including Ledok Timoho and Bong Suwung, in order to grasp the diverse situation on informal farming.

-              Negotiation for garnering community collaboration in Ledok Timoho is to be centered in the creation of database about the site and its community. Being a self-sufficient community which has been targeted by numerous NGO interventions or research projects, many of the knowledge produced in Ledok Timoho have often failed to reach its direct constituents, since the esoteric nature of the report often limits its distribution to closed circles. Hence, this project is to recollect circulating knowledge about the site and made it available for local access. It will also seek additional and updated information where necessary,  together with the local residents and people living in the neighboring  area, in order to map social relations mediated by the wasteland condition. The priority use and ownership of all research findings in Ledok Timoho are for the local residents while its wide distribution would call for further dialogue with the community members.

-              Along this lines of action, some methods are currently being deliberated in the workshop, including, family-photo taking with local community and diary/scrapbook-making workshop with local children, and interviews by the local residents of Ledok Timoho (presumably teenagers) to their neighbors.  All of which will be focused on historicizing social relation within the occupied wasteland. While the plan implementations are still to be tried on daily basis, the Bon Suwung project participants are to continuously take an open and active role in initiating and sharing activities with local residents.

-              Project participants are encouraged to stay vigilant on  the possibility of leveraging certain unfolding events on the ground  during their exploration into a collaborative action.

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