by Alexandra Crosby
First published in Asian Currents. Written from the collaborative research done for Videochronic.
During the analog period of the 1980s and early 90s, when video technology began thriving among Indonesia’s new middle class, the authoritarian government took anticipative measures, such as censorship and taxes on sales and screenings, to contain and control video-related practices.
The experience of the 1998 political uprising showed activists mobilising the power of video and the internet to effect socio-political changes. Still fresh in public memory is footage of the shootings of Trisakti University students in Jakarta, repeatedly aired by every television station after the event and circulated internationally within hours.
These images sparked sentiments of national solidarity, leading to mass student protests in several cities across Indonesia denouncing the New Order regime. At the same time, under the umbrella of the anti-New Order movement, online communication such as chat rooms and mailing lists flourished as organising spaces and forums for discussion that could circumvent militaristic state repression.
Post-Suharto Indonesia saw an increase in media production and distribution, both commercial and non-profit. With regional areas gaining more autonomy; increasing consumption of cable television, computers, the internet and mobile phones; and growing numbers of local stations, calls for information decentralisation and democratisation became widespread.
From activist perspectives, these changes were perceived as having the potential to foster participation and broaden the social-change agenda through the autonomous production of content. Video cameras were now small enough to carry around and cheap enough to be a realistic purchase for both collectives and individuals. Citizen media, Indonesia-style, had been unleashed.
The current state and future possibilities of activist video distribution channels in the Indonesian context is a complex web of multiple models. Even while they address the challenges of off-line distribution methodologies, video activist organisations such as Forum
Lenteng, Kampung Halaman, and EngageMedia are simultaneously engaging with the possibilities of internet-based distribution. Independent initiatives are burgeoning.
Whether the responsibility of distribution is assumed by the video-makers themselves, supported by festivals, screenings or exhibitions, based on commercial opportunities, or developed through existing websites, the challenges are significant.
The problems of online distribution are inseparable from debates about licensing and are also linked to the challenges of technological infrastructure and access.
But undeniably, in this period of rapid technological development, the activists’ tools of video and internet are converging. As the transition from offline to online distribution of video content occurs, several creative organisations, such as the ones below, are showing remarkable initiative.
Formed in 2003, Forum Lenteng became committed to engaging youth with experimental video techniques and developing audio-visual research methods. Based in the outskirts of Jakarta, Forum Lenteng works largely with communities located at the peripheries of urban centres, such as Jakarta and Padang, to produce video-based information about their lives and share it on the internet.
The project of AkuMassa, for example, encourages participants to embed their video in a dedicated blog and to add comments and notes, generating discussion of the issues raised. Such a platform places society as much more than a subject or an audience, showcasing video stories from a range of local contexts.
While Forum Lenteng emerged from Jakarta’s contemporary art scene, for many projects the roles of artist and activist coincide. Artists are seen as facilitators, and video art is viewed as an opportunity to experiment with the distribution of socio-political content as much as to play with the medium itself.
Formed in 2006, Kampung Halaman works with youth living in ’transitional districts’, areas located between urban centres and/or undergoing dramatic socio-economic changes. To address some of the issues these communities face, such as limited access to infrastructure, unemployment and lack of mobility, Kampung Halaman holds video-production workshops for community members, provides technological tools and organises events, using its website as a platform to ensure the results of such efforts reach a public audience. Kampung Halaman also holds screenings in other villages, often followed by public discussions about issues highlighted in the videos.
The videos produced by such communities are understood as part of a process of self-empowerment through which interaction and education can lead to social transformation.
EngageMedia originates in Australia but now also has bases in Jakarta and Yogyakarta. The primary focus of its activities is its video-sharing site. All videos on the site use Creative Commons licensing to encourage downloading for off-line redistribution.
A key goal of the organisation is to explore how online distribution can work in low-bandwidth situations. EngageMedia has set up a series of local archives using plumi, an open-source video-sharing platform. The archives run on a server hosted locally in the organisation’s office, allowing rapid uploading and downloading to the archive. Anyone on the local area network can watch videos and easily copy them to USB sticks, DVDs and CDs. This provides all the benefits of a database and digital storage and the participating organisations can increase their technical skills and become ’online ready’ as bandwidth improves.