Kedai Kebun, Stories of Space and Interaction

Yustina W. Neni

A venue as one of the elements of art, in practice, has often been associated solely with its physical and material existence (a place) rather than its spatial concept which constitutes certain imagination and ambience constructed within (a space). Such restricted limitation or definition affects interaction within the performing space, either between artist and his/her space, audience and their space, or between artist and the audience.
Regarding the relationship between space and art (events), LeBur has asked me to share my (and Agung Kurniawan my husband’s) experience in managing Kedai Kebun (a restaurant cum gallery and performing space) in terms of the following questions: What does space mean for an artist? What does it mean for the audience? Which factors that may perhaps affect artists’/audience’s understanding and signification upon space? How does the venue manager ‘organize’ and mediate the traffic between the two dissenting interpretations of space? What sort of situation, then, would emerge when the two interpretations of space interact?
I’m not very sure whether I could provide adequate answers as the editors have expected, bearing in mind that I am not an artist and Kedai Kebun is not solely intended for art events. I prefer not to give direct response to the questions; instead, I will try the approach of describing how Kedai Kebun has been evolving so far. I hope you’ll find my stories interesting.

Story One- Learning to Manage a Restaurant
Founded as a restaurant in July 1997, Kedai Kebun is sited in a building formerly used by a well-known restaurant for tourists from abroad. Managed with minimum investment and with no business knowledge on restaurants whatsoever, Kedai Kebun was solely run by the will to learn from the former restaurant’s employee we rehired. At that time, we agreed that for the first year the prior target was to learn. This means that I did not make any new policy.
Free-falling!! Kedai Kebun proceeded with massive load on its back. Hand in hand each line tried to reclaim what used to be its major market: overseas tourists equipped with the holy book of traveling, “Lonely Planet”. Every measure was taken, including by standing on the sideway to invite passing-by tourists to make a stopover. The most ridiculous act was that of our chef when, out of desperation, he covered the Kedai Kebun sign board with a piece of paper announcing the former name of the place (since it was still that name enlisted in the standard tourist guide book). Certainly this upsets me. Yet the chef did not accept my objection and started to hassle. He pointed out that the restaurant is meaningless without him. I found him counter-productive butI delayed firing him due to the target of learning that we had set together. I just kept on observing, listening and food tasting.
The restaurant shuffled while at the same time Indonesian political upheaval intensified, then culminated in May 1998. The unrest resulted in the decreasing number of tourist visits to Indonesia. Of course, the fallout was also suffered by Kedai Kebun.

Story Two– A Dangerous Whim
Kedai Kebun has three main spaces: a kitchen, the adjacent restaurant and an empty room behind the kitchen. Due to the lack of resources to buy table and chair, in September 1997 we instinctively, owing to our prior involvement in the field of visual art, decided to function the space behind the kitchen as a display room for painting, sculpture and other art works. All this was just out of our sheer enthusiasm to see our artist friends have space for displaying their art. The first two artists presenting their works in the gallery are Syahrizal Pahlevi and Sekar Jati Ningrum. The event was officially opened by art critic Suwarno Wisetrotomo, a lecturer of Graphic Design at the ISI Yogyakarta Institute for the Arts. As the owner, as I recalled, my speech mention about “a venue that welcomes any cultural activities” and Mr. Suwarno said something like “I am happy that…” Not many visited the exhibition.
Afterward, similar situations prevail from one exhibition to another: empty of visitors, packed only at the opening time, and for the whole year I was looking after the gallery in heavy-eyed. From time to time I fled out of boredom. Many times I ended up in an embarrassing situation when an artist unexpectedly checked his/her works while I was off guard.

Story Three- Learning from the Season
One year has gone by, twelve months have elapsed or two seasons have taken turns. Lessons from the wet season: damp wall, leaking roof and trickling water from the roof edge, mold on paintings on canvas while those on papers crumpled. Lessons from the dry season: the poor quality paint that covered the wall were peeling out while repainting it had only made it look even worse for the uneven drying process causing patches here and there, plus the sun light piercing through the grass roof and punctured the paintings.
The lessons have driven us to make plans for renovation.

Story Four – Learning Economics and Culture
During the political upheaval in Indonesia which was followed by the economic crisis, no sooner than the price for staple food increased the cost for other needs began to soar. Tourist visitation plummeted while some employees began to complaint about their lessening bonus. In the absence of “bule” situation as such, the routine visits made by locals to see the exhibitions at Kedai Kebun had surely budged the domination of expatriate customers. However the artist and audience’s popping in did not give positive contribution to the restaurant because for them the price was so high; in addition, tipping is not a habit among local guests. The unexpectedly dominant number of local guests also prompted a conflicting situation among employees; being accustomed to serving expatriates, they now look awkward in dealing with local guests. They prefer locals who came with foreigners.
The problem eventually led our employees to give excessive services to tourist guides: no matter how many tourists they brought in, anything they wished for was granted: a 10 % commission plus meals for the tour leader, driver and conductor. There was even a day when a tour guide brought his girlfriend and she was also favored with free services. A tour leader for Dutch tourists ordered to paint the restaurant white as Dutch people do not like green as it was then.
The issue of commission also created tensions between us and tourist guides and becak drivers. I concluded then that “high cost economy”, or “the economy of scale”, was not only the concern of the state but mine as well. Plaguing for almost one year, such practices had grown into my nerves so I cut off the entire traffic of commission. The result was very significant: Kedai Kebun was deserted; the tourist buses that had used to stop now simply passed by; “private” tourist guides got deterred; Kedai Kebun chief cook, along with his two sons, opted to quit.
Hence, I learned that if I wanted Kedai Kebun to run just the way I always expected it to, I also had to consider aptly the complicated issues of the tourism business. Because the restaurant is a “space” of its own, another system of living resources that calls for a clear-cut management to grant equitable welfare among the employees while the art programs we have in mind may run securely. To Kedai Kebun, tourism is a sword that cuts two ways.
Kedai Kebun proceeded and waddled with one cook assistant, one bar tender, three waitresses, a gallery and one year of learnings that I nonchalantly attained.
Then the nature also worked its way, –one afternoon, a heavy rain struck down the old and shabby roof of Kedai Kebun, leaving no reason to delay renovation.
Our first reconstruction focused on the physical aspects: the damp gallery walls to tear down, the roof to fix, some adequate lighting installation to set and our famous garden to restore. Next was our management: we prepared a new menu, adjusted the prices, handed out new commission policies to travel agencies, and designed a management more accomodative and appreciative to local potentials while developing equal partnership with artists.

Story Five– Fusing All Things
The restaurant is the very reason of our existence and social encounters, while art is a whole another reason, a side-kick in Kedai Kebun. The renovation finished in one month. The main objective, as we had designed for our non material renovation, was to learn how to cook. Everyone should know how to cook, mix drinks and serve customers. Exhibitions were to run again but more carefully designed. But as the restaurant was empty, the gallery became more stranded than ever. Ennui was inevitable. Then came an idea to invite our friends who like to cite poems and play music to “fill the exhibition room” that actually means only its walls. Dance performances, plays, concerts, short-story readings, poem recitals, book launchings, movie screenings and group discussions began coloring the gallery. Performing arts and other programs were held in tandem with visual art exhibitions that only occupied the gallery’s walls for the display. Such activities were reciprocally supportive; people came to the visual art exhibitions while the performing artists were exempted from paying anything for the venue because the cost for electricity was shouldered by the artists whose works are exhibited; the restaurant did well with the increasing number of guests that meant enough income to launch Kedai Kebun marketing program. Now we can offer subsidiary fund for performance artists to rehearse; we could even invite and provide proper accommodations for artists from outside Yogyakarta.

Story Six- Learning to Interact
Within the second and third years of Kedai Kebun, tourism began to recuperate, tourists from around the world were returning. Without us knowing, Kedai Kebun has been enlisted in the tourist handbook (it turned out that the ‘spy’ from the publisher of Lonely Planet had been secretly visiting our place). During those years, tourists of differing skin colors packed the restaurant and while a performance was taking place, we could hear various languages being spoken. The restaurant was packed despite our strict policy in commission we still maintained. In result, Kedai Kebun saved quite a lot during the two years.
During this particular period, the intensifying events and the various and experimental performances began creating a certain disharmony in relation with the increasing number of customers to the restaurant. Those people crowding at the restaurant differed in preference for art, and they started to leave notes on scrapos of paper, complaining: “Do they have to shout?”; “I can’t go on with my dinner, too many people loitering”; “Could someone please turn down the volume?” (at that moment, a musician was preparing his performance.) On the other side, we could hear comments coming from artists, such as “I am not relaxed when performing in front of people who are eating”. An installation artist frowned when the performance props were being removed by rotary club ladies who needed some more space to display their merchandise items; there was also the case when a painting was sagged by someone among the audience who had leaned against it.
For the audience’s part, they complained about the columns which blocked out the view. Then some people would often move tables and climbed on them while other people nearby were eating at the restaurant. Our employees also protested about how artists dominated the serving room by using it as a changing place, and it was not uncommon that they warned our employees against operating the juicer while a performance was underway. To avoid more complaints, from time to time we would close the restaurant for public as a peculiar performance took place.

Story Seven- Learning Mathematics and Culture -Season Two
In the fourth and fifth years of Kedai Kebun, suddenly Kalimantan, Ambon, Flores, Eastern Nusa Tenggara, Eastern Java, Sumatera, Bali, Jakarta, Yogyakarta, Solo, New York and Bagdad exploded! The already plummeted tourism took a nosedived. Kedai Kebun suffered a more severe crisis than the earlier. It was a global-scale crisis; people were afraid to get out from their houses, to leave their cities, not to say their own countries. The restaurant income took a sharp turn down while phone bills, electricity rate, gasoline and gas prices, everything swelled. Revenue from local tourists was barely sustaining. Subsidies for performances were cut down and the gallery was returned to its former function: made available to the more established and well-funded artists only.
Meanwhile, Kedai Kebun received anonymous threat via phone calls, charging our programs to be promoting pornography and Christianity.
The crisis was not only coming from outside; one by one the women at Kedai Kebun got married and their pregnancy was almost simultaneous. With their dates of labor approaching, in chorus they took pregnancy leave and resigned. They raised families and lived happily in their homes. Some time in the afternoon they dropped by while nurturing their children. I didn’t know whether I had to feel glad or disappointed with the situation, I only knew I became a fatalist and would only accept male employees. The composition is 5 men and 2 women (including me).
Life goes on; I spent the quiet period to think back through times, albeit not that far behind, summing up all that I had learnt.
Out of my reflection upon the journey that Kedai Kebun has led, “the point is not just how to manage a restaurant as well as how to run an art space but, more than that, how to manage living with others having different needs, goals and problems. It requires the ability to identify and make the most of others’ potentialities (be it positive or otherwise), however minor they may seem, while maintaining positive thinking; the alertness to deal with changes however extreme; and independence and self-reliance in attitude.”

Story Eight – Learning from a “Confined” Space
The sixth lesson that I have learnt concerns “interaction”. The flood of complaints from persons disturbed and disappointed must have sprung from the inadequate distance between the restaurant (as a public space) and the performance or the exhibition held inside our gallery. As I have observed it so far, artists running performances and exhibitions at Kedai Kebun did not explore this lacking distance. They seemed to just take over the public space without any consideration of potential conflicts involved. On the other hand, the restaurant guests and others who came for whatever reasons were not ready for the art events being encountered. In short, artists or Kedai Kebun itself did not carefully calculate all the elements there were and did not consider Kedai Kebun as a public space that had to be integrally incorporated into the creative process of the works being performed there. Many times artists claimed the protests as the results of their art. Yet, as I see it, if those protesting remarks were not in the artists’ awareness and designs from the very beginning, they only indicated failed (public) art.
The next question would be whether an autonomous art exists or not. On the other hand, is there such a thing as an autonomous space? Meanwhile, Kedai Kebun published “HALTE”, a 24-page three-monthly bulletin dubbed as the media for learning to write about art. Its fourth issue was printed 1500 copies and distributed freely. “HALTE” does not edit anything and welcomes anyone learning to write art critics. Our main purpose in publishing the small media is to identify those who take pleasure in Kedai Kebun, tracking their taste, patterns of reception, intelligence, educational background and educational systems. “HALTE” was managed by Primanto (who studies conflict), Kirik Ertanto (an anthropologist), Kris Budiman (a linguist), Kuncung SK (a writer), Joko Pinurbo (a poet), Agung Kurniawan (a visual artist), and myself. This little bulletin gave me clearer data concerning all the interactions taking place at Kedai Kebun.
Given Kedai Kebun’s history, art is a pursuit that only comes after cooking and eating. Are artists ever aware of this position? The presence of artists in Kedai Kebun could be out of our invitations or by their own initiatives. In our letters, we always tried to describe the situation of the display/performance room, which was next to the kitchen. This means that in the first place, before any art event being held, along with its sound, there was already the noise coming from the kitchen all the time: buzzing food processor, clanking pans and pots, and sloshing hot oil. Add the clattering made by plates and spoons from the restaurant. We also explained the physical condition of the venue, that there was a small pond in the corner of the room, a few columns in the middle, the low roof, the white wall and other physical information. Many times did I receive answers saying,”It’s okay, it won’t bother me”. I have always been rather suspicious to such responses. Did it really ever cross their minds, with the ‘natural drama’ already taking place in Kedai Kebun, what kind of drama would come up when the time came for performers to do their job in the space? Would we have contesting dramas or a resulting “new” drama? Had they really anticipated it?
On the contrary, often I heard artists complaining about the already existing situation prior to the art events. Some of them even reproached the limited space available. Was it true that the space offered by Kedai Kebun was that narrow a space? I wondered; the seemingly limited extent of the space hid a considerable potential waiting to be explored. In this regard, I shall point out the following cases.
In September 2001, Yukio Waguri, a Japanese choreographer and butoh dancer came to Yogyakarta upon an invitation from Bimo Dance Company. Hand in hand with Teater Garasi, Waguri gave a butoh workshop at the hall of SMKI Yogyakarta with a plan to perform the result at Kedai Kebun. During his stay in the city, Waguri had always spent his lunch and dinner times at Kedai Kebun. Unlike other tourists who prefer the gazebo, everyday Waguri would sit and eat at the same place, which was at the corner of our restaurant directly facing the gallery. He seemed to study and measure the room. Indra, one of Teater Garasi stage-managers, also did it but not very carefully. He missed the right dimensions when drawing the column in the gallery. In his sketches, the column was located outside the arena, so that during the earlier days of the workshop Waguri adopted the drawing to design the dancers’ movement. Once moving to Kedai Kebun, who was not very careful too with Indra’s drawing, realized it so he immediately revised the concept of the performance, making the column the central part of the space in his piece. Aside from that, the massive white wall did not seem to bother him at all, as well as the floor – originally red brick colored – which he whitened; as the result he attained a galore of shadow effects that moved under his direction. The performance became so lively and complete; the room was bursting with noise, while it was not enough for the audience to only face foreward. All this as if he were trying to tear down the narrow and banal space. He made the accidental butoh dancers run across the room, bump into walls and thump them loudly. No elements were left out: the roof and even the crowd that was showered with images of water and flowers, created by photographer Harisinthu, from a slide projector.
Another case, one week after that, Chefa Alonso and Nilo Gallego from Spanish music group ZIP ZAP came to mess up Kedai Kebun. They offered an idea of an interaction between music and dance with a further implication of the interaction between sound and movement. They used from percussions to corrugated iron plates and children toys. They transformed the use of various materials into a surprising musical idea. In the afternoon just before the performance they arrived to set their props, walked around the gallery and got interested in the fishpond at one corner. I thought they found the turtle inside the small pond attractive. In the evening, spectators were amused by one part of Nilo’s ensemble, when he walked around while playing a cow-bell amid the audience seated on the floor. Some of the audience responded to the music with mooing, then Chefa and Nilo moved towards the pool and plunged into it. While playing with the water, Nilo had found a ladder, which he later used to stir the pool. At the same time, Chefa responded to it by improvising his soprano saxophone.
Not all artists and performers had succeeded in exploring the space. During its earlier period, Jakarta’s Stock Teater once came to perform at Kedai Kebun. They presented “Tiga Phalkon”, a story about a love triangle among homosexuals. Back there on the wall, Kipli’s paintings were still in display. The entire scene of “Tiga Phalkon” took place on a bed, representing a bedroom. What occurred to me as a problem at that time was why they should put a black curtain as the room’s background. My questions were (1) whether the paintings were not enough to represent a bedroom? (2) Is the black curtain meant to indicate a stage, or, (3) is it meant to accentuate the dark ambience of the love triangle? Unfortunately, I forgot the answer that Totos Sugiarto — the director — gave to these questions. However it is clear to me that Totos forgot that there was no stage in Kedai Kebun. There was another interesting thing occurred in the performance; it was a scene of an anal penetration right in front of the people having their meals at the decent restaurant!!
Another performance that also stumbled upon an awkward interaction with the space was “Gelas Bening” by Teater Kanvas of Yogyakarta. The director Retno Ratih Damayanti preferred to build a whole new fake café at Kedai Kebun! In fact, Kedai Kebun itself is a café. Another case was Teater Garasi’s “Repertoar Hujan. Gunawan Maryanto the director was bused by making side-wings and constructing a stage “bereft of columns” by covering the entire walls with black cloth.
I noticed that most of the performances being played in Kedai Kebun are already fixed in the forms thus using Kedai Kebun simply as a place. These performances did not attempt to make use of the available space. Briefly, they lack in spatial ideas.

Story Nine—Making New Experiment
From how problems were encountered and resolved, Kedai Kebun is a drama about social and spatial conflict. During its journey, it is evident that a limited space actually stores great potential waiting to be explored. We have seen that Kedai Kebun was matured by interaction and conflicts taking place in it. A venue, in terms of both place and space, is a problem encountered by artists everywhere. All the stories mentioned above are just some specific cases unfolding at Kedai Kebun, which then affected our perception of our position in the social space that supports our living and life. The thrill actually lies in our longing to watch performances made by artists who are sensitive about limited space, and intrigued by it, while being critical regarding changes going on around them. Kedai Kebun is only one among small spaces amid thousands of others, so we decide not to bother any longer about what kinds of art or artists suitable to Kedai Kebun. Furthermore, we no longer concern ourselves with the issue of Kedai Kebun being an alternative space to what.
In December 2001, we decided to tear down Kedai Kebun and rebuild it into two storeys. Refusing claims that both of us were building a monument, truthfully this action is purely a public art project. For us, this is as valuable as other works of art: painting, murals, writing poems and fiction, singing, dancing, miming, making pottery and weaving, etc. I think it aims for the same goal, which is entertaining people, to be enjoyable and prestigious at the same time. Also, it is worth as much as any production cost for a theatrical performance, dance, concert or a movie. “Kedai Kebun Forum Art Project” is constructed with the total cost of Rp. 200.000.000. This fund is came from Kedai Kebun savings, added with a Rp. 80.000.000 loan. The project is conceived upon the socio-economic concept of: “art is sustained by its own community”. That is why we add the word “forum” to Kedai Kebun.
Story Ten – Kedai Kebun Forum – What’s Next?
Today we are here: Kedai Kebun Forum. Physically, many things have changed. The gallery, performance hall, restaurant and kitchen are now separated. While there is no clear-cut boundary, interventions between rooms could be minimized. Apart from that, at last for us the same thing still applies: Kedai Kebun Forum is a venue that “forces” artists/performers to use and explore the given spaces contextually. This is because we believe that this concept may enable organic forms of art (performances) to grow, the kind of art that is created and born together with artists’ interpretations of space. The space available at Kedai Kebun is not a standardized hall that separates audience’s and creators’ territories. However it is not at all too open a space like a front yard. The space provided in Kedai Kebun Forum, to a certain level still has its own privacy, intimacy and secrecy (if needed), features that certainly cannot be found in a court yard or an open public space. So, more or less, the space at Kedai Kebun Forum offers a thin, fragile and dubious line separating the spectators and the spectacle. We intend to keep the thin line to maintain the possibility of crossover between the two territories or, in reverse, to offer chances for the two positions to clarify their own conventions.
Kedai Kebun Forum is not only intended as a space for artists but also for audience, which means that the link between the two territories need to be optimally attempted, or, at least, their positional conventions is open for questions. In short, I would refer to Kedai Kebun Forum as a feminine space where anything is made possible to grow. It is not a fixed, banal and masculine space
Meanwhile, financially, Kedai Kebun Forum would like to inspire art community to seek out alternative incomes so that it can be self-sustaining and even in sustaining other communities in turn. With this in mind, Kedai Kebun likes to encourage the development of “original” and efficient patterns in art management.
However, I ought to say that all the issues I have put forward represent concepts of what we (Kedai Kebun Forum Management) intend and expect. Well, the project has only just begun. I still have to observe how it evolves to discover next issues to deal with.