Talking to Statues at Collective, Edinburgh

Smashing Monuments at Collective, Edinburgh
Smashing Monuments at Collective, Edinburgh, Pemuda Membangun monument

Smashing Monuments

Tue - Sun 10:00 - 17:00

From: 25 Mar 2023

To: 11 Jun 2023

City Observatory
38 Calton Hill
Edinburgh & the Lothians

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Monuments and statues permeate our towns and cities. Whether we like them or not, they feature in our daily lives. They have value to individuals and communities, yet can be controversial and infused with complex histories. It is this relationship that is explored in Smashing Monuments at Collective in Edinburgh. 

This UK premiere, a film by Amsterdam-based artist Sebastián Díaz Morales, screens on a loop, in the City Dome on Calton Hill. It was initially commissioned for documenta fifteen in 2022. 

Arranged into five titled segments, Smashing Monuments features members of the Indonesian art collective ruangrupa, established in Jakarta in 2000. This collective takes on a holistic social, spatial and personal practice strongly connected to Indonesian culture, in which friendship, solidarity, sustainability, and community are central.

Smashing Monuments at Collective, Edinburgh
Smashing Monuments at Collective, Edinburgh

On entering the gallery space, you are met with a largescale monolithic LED screen. It’s accompanied by a multi-palleted plinth – your invitation to sit down and settle into a fifty-minute screening that feels more like twenty. 

Beginning on foot at pavement level, each filmed segment shows the artist walking to their chosen monument in downtown Jakarta. From the first moment, the diverse culture of this modern city is reflected through footwear. We don’t see their face, just their feet amidst the traffic, streets and weather that day. 

Jakarta is the largest and one of the oldest cities in southeast Asia, situated on the northwest coast of Java. Once a trading port, it is now known for its rapid urban growth, traffic congestion, and flooding. 

Following full independence from Dutch control in 1949, Jakarta became Indonesia’s capital. Most landmark monuments and statues in Jakarta were erected in the 1960s, as are those featured in the film. These are a consistent silent presence within a rapidly changing city.

Each artist addresses their monument of choice, a figurative work of public art that represents a transformative moment in the nation’s political history. They each talk to the statues through a monologue, partly improvised, that is also personal to the artist.

Indra Kusumaaka (aka Ameng) visits the Pancoran monument, erected to celebrate Indonesia’s aerospace industry but now engulfed in motorways and heavy traffic.

Sebastian Diaz Morales, Smashing Monuments (2022)
Sebastian Díaz Morales, Smashing Monuments (2022), Pancoran monument

The Pemuda Membangun monument was completed in 1972 to inspire the youth to take part in building the Indonesian nation. The statue is of a youth holding fire on a plate. Artist Ade Darmawan brings a 50th birthday food offering and talks about time passing, corruption and the changing significance of this statue, now in a suburb not affordable to the youth of today.

Smashing Monuments at Collective, Edinburgh
Smashing Monuments at Collective, Edinburgh, Pemuda Membangun monument

Gesyada Siregar also brings a food offering to the Tugu Tani statue which celebrates Indonesia’s peasant heroes. It depicts a mother offering a plate of rice to her son who is fighting for independence. She poignantly asks the statue if it can talk to her deceased mother. 

Sebastian Diaz Morales, Smashing Monuments (2022)
Sebastián Díaz Morales, Smashing Monuments (2022) , Gesyada Siregar visits Tugu Tani

Farid Rakun arrives at the Pembebasan Irian Barat liberation monument with his baby daughter. It was built to celebrate independence from Dutch colonial rule – a man breaking free from his chains and colonialism. Rakun ponders what role the young might play in the future of Indonesia.

Sebastian Diaz Morales, Smashing Monuments (2022)
Sebastián Díaz Morales, Smashing Monuments (2022), Farid Rakun visits Pembebasan Irian Barat

The Selamat Datang monument was commissioned to welcome competitors to the 1962 Asian Games. It features two figures waving in the middle of busy traffic. Mirwan Andan reflects on the changes that have taken place in Jakarta and the planned moving of the capital to the island of Borneo.

Monuments and statues can hold varying degrees of importance and value to different individuals and communities. It is important to acknowledge the complex histories behind these structures and have open and respectful conversations about their significance.

Smashing Monuments at Collective, Edinburgh
Smashing Monuments at Collective, Edinburgh, Ade Darmawan visits Pemuda Membangun monument

The City Dome structure is itself a monument to Edinburgh’s history. Here it also becomes a structure of interest or a place to rest and shelter weary feet, inviting people inside who may be unaware it is a gallery space. Adults and children came and went throughout the exhibition space, each film segment enough to occupy even the most unfocused mind and hurried body. 

Calton Hill has plenty of historic monuments, each with a significance worthy of debate and discussion. It would be interesting to see a similar project about our own monuments in Edinburgh.

With thanks to Julie Boyne for this review.

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