The Bridge to Nowhere

20 Dec 2014 | Ferdiansyah Thajib - Yogyakarta, Indonesia

During his long visit to Yogyakarta for KUNCI’s Made in Commons, Rotterdam-based artist Simon Kentgens spent some time staying in Ledhok Timoho. His attention was drawn to the bridge idling over the Gajah Wong river located right next the living compound. There is no connecting road beyond the bridge. The bridge leads to nowhere.

The same bridge is often referred to as the formative source of the community living. When the bridge construction was stopped in 1998, the construction workers left the area along with their temporary shelters made out of plywood. These shelters were then taken over by the first inhabitants of the unused land. They were people who just got evicted from other sites in the city as their original places were redeveloped.

As the community grows, the bridge remains to be unattractive for most people living there. On daily basis they may use it to dry out their clothes and matrases; ocasionally some children  also play there. But in general, the local populace seems to ignore the bridge, if not avoiding altogether. At nights, children are warned not to play anywhere near the bridge. It is haunted.

Through a series of workshop with children in Ledhok Timoho, Simon Kentgens invite the people to imagine a different story for the bridge. Since most of the remaining land is already constructed with public infrastructures, like mosque and library, Kentgens wondered whether the people there would be interested in making use of the existing open space on the bridge for common activities, not unlike a public space.

The workshop was conducted on the bridge for three days. There are two people from Kunci Cultural Studies Center, Syafiatudina and Pipit who assisted Simon. On the first day, the children were asked to speculate different forms and functions of the bridge on a piece of paper. The results were unsuprisingly typical. Images of a scenery with mountains and paddy fields were predominating the pictures produced, with a bridge perched in the middle. The two former images are commonly drawn by children across the country due to the unimaginative approaches of art educations in formal elementary schools. While the pictures themselves were not exceptional, we learned that the illustrations told by the children as they drawn were more insightful. So the next day, we changed our approach and asked the children to get rid of their paper and try to draw on the bridge instead, using chalks and cellophane tapes.

Their tasks were to draw a new compound on the bridge, and then determine their own house and personal space. Some of us helped them when there was propietry dispute.  Visually, the end result on the bridge resonated with Lars von Trier’s Dogville.

As the day gone by, each children were preoccupied in building and decorating the ’interior’ of their houses. No one really paid attention on where to build the common facility. And when we suggested them to do so, they cared more about where the mall would be built while noone seemed to eager about building a community center (something that is commonly found in more established housing compounds in urban Java).

On the last day, we draw a big rectangle on the bridge and then drew some lines dividing the rectangle to nine smaller ones. Each children was assigned to one rectangle as their house. As the whole plot was filled with houses we asked them to change the lay out so that they can have access road and change the lay out. So they discussed for half an hour of what to do.  The bigger kids asked the younger ones to give up their land so that the road could be build in the middle of the housing area. The smaller kids refused. One of the smaller girl who was impatient with the whole negotation and only wanted to play house right away offered her plot as an exchange for a bigger plot elsewhere. Upon hearing her request, the other smaller children also asked for the same deal.

After the negotiation, everyone came back into their own squares,  preoccupied with building and beautifying their ’houses’. One of the bigger girls initiated to build a mall. One boy expanded his house beyond the appointed area towards the compound.

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