Gudskul Art Collective: Learning while Nongkrong, Nongkrong while Learning

Angga Wijaya reflects on the Jakarta-based art collective’s belief in togetherness and experience-based pedagogy.

Gudskul is a public learning space in Jakarta, established by local art collectives with a unique not-for-profit work model, in which they collect and share resources in proportion to collective need. The Gudskul ecosystem includes a dynamic range of professions (from art writers to musicians to cooks to fashion designers and more)—all united by the belief that art education happens through a sharing- and experience-based pedagogy.

As part of AAA’s twentieth anniversary, AAA has invited Gudskul to reflect on learning through being together for IDEAS Journal. AAA’s collaboration with Gudskul will culminate in a 2021 public programme centred around the question: How do you learn art without going to school?


Before class begins in the morning, you might come across some of the students still sleeping in the classroom. Over the course of their year at Gudskul, many gradually come to adopt the classroom as a dorm. A few of them were delegates of art collectives from outside of Jakarta, invited to study here for free, while other participants were selected through an open call and paid tuition for operational costs. Some stayed with relatives when they first arrived in Jakarta—but the distance usually proves draining on their time and finances. Many preferred living in Gudskul instead, where they could sleep freely in the classroom, rush for a shower or wash their face, and immediately return with a cup of coffee to join the others.

The class schedule runs every Monday to Friday, from 9:30am to 4:15pm. Knowledge subjects are conveyed through lectures, presentations from guest speakers, literature studies, group discussions, collective visits, observations, and studio work. Gudskul participants study for one year, divided into two semesters. The first semester runs from August to January, and the second semester from February to July.


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Images: Scenes from Gudskul. Courtesy of the author.

The learning process in Gudskul starts with building a grounding foundation for aspects and functions of collective work, including classes like “Collective Culture Discourse” with Berto Tukan, which re-evaluates concepts of collectivity through literature studies on Engels’s The Origin of the Family and Private Property and the State. Participants get a better understanding of the history of “communal society,” and how our lives have gradually evolved to become more individualistic. Next, participants are introduced to collectivism in the arts, and present art projects at the end of the study period. “Art Collective Study,” facilitated by myself, invites participants to consider how artists come together, different forms of artist assemblages, and the artistic practices and artworks they produce. We invite artist collectives to share their experiences (e.g., Wok the Rock and Yogyakarta-based Ruang MES 56), and arrange site visits to Gardu House, a space set up by a street art collective.

They also experiment with different art materials, mediums, and technology, and take part in sessions that brainstorm sustainability strategies through group discussions, reading clubs, film or video screenings, and videos of Indonesian initiatives. Other classes, such as “Public Affairs” by Indra Ameng, encourage communication and cooperation with the neighbourhood, or discussions on mass culture and zines as artistic mediums through Berger’s The Way of Seeing and McLuhan’s concept of “the medium is the message.”


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Images: Scenes from Gudskul. Courtesy of the author.

But the key to Gudskul is the concept of nongkrong—or simply, hanging out. The organic possibilities for knowledge dissemination this opens up can be vast and unpredictable. For example, nongkrong can include attending the Majelis (a monthly assembly followed by everyone in Gudskul’s ecosystem), interning with Art Collective Compound programmes, and participating in Gudskul’s international projects (e.g., Luthfi, a participant, joined the delegation to Sharjah Biennale 2019, along with other three Subject Coordinators). There’s also a Gudskul WhatsApp group, with daily updates and regular communication with everyone in the Gudskul ecosystem. Through these activities, the participants grow to become part of a larger community, which doesn’t require membership and isn’t limited to the duration of the year they’re at Gudskul. (I’ll say more about this nongkrong concept later.)

Participants are also encouraged to put what they’ve learned from the lessons into practice, and to experience the collaborative process through collectives. As a result, three new collectives were formed in the Gudskul ecosystem—Rumah Mutual, by participants who shared a background as Jakarta newcomers; Riuh Riung, from a shared interest in sound and performance; and a study group, Kelompok Belajar.


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Images: Scenes from Gudskul. Courtesy of the author.

This method of “simulating collectives” was a provisional yet deliberate attempt for participants to get to know each other, even though mutual background and interest are not enough to fuel and sustain collective practices over the long run. Internal conflict is, of course, always a possibility—but this in itself is also part of a learning process on how to solve problems collectively. Yet trying to condense the years of experience required for collective practice, into just one encounter, and then giving it the label “collective”—well, this may have been premature. Forming a friendship requires a more organic process of building trust and collaboration. Meanwhile, living in Jakarta can itself become increasingly unmanageable and precarious—as the months drew on at Gudskul, some of the participants no longer had a stable income or enough savings to survive the whole year’s study, and empty stomachs needed to be fed.

Eventually, the participants of this cohort agreed to unite the three collectives into one. After months and months of getting to know each other and building chemistry, they found their common needs and goals, which culminated in them forming Rezim Bubariah—a food and beverage business initiative, with participants drawing from the lessons they learned in class about sustainability. The purpose was to find a solution to the participants’ concerns for daily meals, since some of the participants were struggling with their finances. The initiative would allow them to sell food, share their earnings, and reserve their savings for any future non-profit projects. The project is also an illustration of Gudskul’s own financial plan, inspired by a rice barn (lumbung) economy model—resources are stored, so that they could be distributed proportionally to each collective based on their different needs: ideas, knowledge, money, space, properties, members, and more.

With Rezim Bubariah, the participants occupied Gudskul’s kitchen and used the veranda as their food court, serving their specialty: Nasi Ayam Sambal Matah (Chicken and Rice with Balinese Raw Sambal). Some worked as chefs, others helped in serving customers and dishwashing. The participants no longer worried about getting hungry, as they got their food share from working in Bubariah. The existence of Bubariah also offered the participants an opportunity to serve food to friends who hang out in Gudskul, or to cater for events like exhibition openings or banquets for Gudskul guests.


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Images: Scenes from Gudskul. Courtesy of the author.

With increasing demands, however, they got busier. Bubariah operational hours originally started right after classes, but juggling class hours and trying to survive in Jakarta wasn’t an easy task. Some of the participants started arriving late or missing class altogether. Classes were less effective, assignments were left undone, and lesson material strayed from the planned syllabus. Meanwhile, some subject coordinators were absent for stretches of time while working on projects abroad, and were also sometimes busy running events and managing Gudskul, in addition to facilitating courses. That said, the coordinators were never meant to be the only knowledge resources, and participants were encouraged to learn from anyone in Gudskul’s art ecosystem. Gudskul’s philosophy is that every individual here possesses unique experience and tacit knowledge, everyone has something to teach and share with others.

Bubariah became a practical space for participants to experiment and learn about sustaining collectives, an example of how learning within Gudskul works. Bubariah vitalised and repurposed Gudskul’s common space, not only through serving food, but by initiating dialogue through programmes such as artist talks, discussions, film screenings, and by inviting other people from Gudskul’s ecosystem to cook and sell in Bubariah. Opening up a hangout space became a fluid learning method for them.

Again, the key to Gudskul is its nongkrong (hangout) culture, which enables these unique knowledge dissemination routes. Through nongkrong, we’re able to discover each other’s potential, share viewpoints, mutually inspire, advance ideas, collaborate, etc. Nongkrong sessions spark ideas and facilitate knowledge exchange—learning while nongkrong, nongkrong while learning.


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Images: Scenes from Gudskul. Courtesy of the author.

When the study period came to an end, their collective projects turned into personal presentations that were produced with each other’s support—even if they were just simple acts like preparing tools or attending each other’s presentations. Participants conducted discussions with each other on their experiences of moving to Jakarta, presented satirical comics on urban issues, gathered parents and children to play together, and created a digital platform that collected data from art collectives outside the Java mainstream.

The focus of Gudskul is never on the assessment criteria or other signifiers that indicate success or failure, but on the concept of togetherness and solidarity. Instead of mimicking modern art schools, where we often learn to compete with each other and focus on the practices of individual artists, Gudskul hopes to instil in artists a collective working ethos without diminishing the importance of each individual’s contribution.



Angga Wijaya is a member of Gudskul: Contemporary Art Collective and Ecosystem Studies. Gesyada Siregar assisted with the English translation.




Angga Wijaya

Thu, 8 Oct 2020