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Destiny Exchange / Pertukaran Nasib.

Encounter 1.
Yogyakarta, Indonesia. 19 October 2009.
Created by Agents of Proximity with Nuraini Juliastuti.


We begin with an offer ! a gift, an enquiry, a gentle provocation.
Quite simply, the invitation is this:

An exchange. For one day, I will do the work which you would normally do,
and what I would like you to do in this day is to be a tourist in your own city
! to be me, but also not-me. There is, however, no coercion, and you are free
to respond to the offer as you choose.

19 October, 2009: Encounter. Amy (27, average height, freckles, red
hair, Tasmanian, good with people, not so good with pets or plants).
Bu Jilah (50-something, Javanese, quite short, collector of motorcycles
and cats).

Amy becomes the pembantu, the housekeeper and cleaner at a Dutch
school and Cemeti House, cleaning rooms, scrubbing toilets and
washing sheets for foreign tourists, Dutch preschoolers and artists. Bu
Jilah goes to Progo shopping mall.

1. (raw).

Bu Jilah was given a camera to take with her on her day off. These are
the photos she took. The first set of photos include her son, her
daughter-in-law, her husband, neighbour, shop-keepers. The second
set is from the Progo Shopping Mall in Yogyakarta. This was the first
time she had been to a mall, and her first experience using a camera.

2. (raw).

Nuraini Juliastuti (Nuning), an Indonesian artist and writer at the
Kunci Cultural Studies Centre, interviewed Bu Jilah. Most of these
fragments are from their conversation; others are notes or anecdotes
from the encounter.

2.1 (raw).

She spoke quickly in Javanese, with a casual tone, as if she was facing
me, her old friend. “Hello Mbak Nuning”, she said. “Sorry for being a
bit late. I went to the PLN office first to pay the electricity bill. Wait
Mbak, I need to fasten the screws of my motorcycle’s front lamp.”
With the screwdriver in her hands, she continued talking, “I have to
handle virtually everything in my house, starting from regular house
activities, paying bills, to trivial matters such as fixing the lamp of my
motorcycle…I am easily feeling stressed out because of these small
things…Last night, I talked to my son. Well he is not my real son, I
adopted him, anyway I said to him to not speed at our kampung,
because our neighbours like to talk and gossip about that you
know…And I said to him to always think about me, the mother who is
working really hard for the family”.

2.2 (raw).

Bu Jilah told us she has a reputation for being a hard worker, that
someone had even said she loved work more than eating. She explains
the key to happiness is to love your work. At 52 years of age, she says
she imagines she could live another 100 to 200 years more, happily

2.3 (raw).

(a) As part of the exchange, Bu Jilah is given 200,000 rupiah to use on
her day off. Her average monthly wage is 2 to 3 million rupiah
(between 66,000 and 100,000 rupiah per day); (b) Lonely Planet
suggests a mid-range budget for tourists in Indonesia of $40-$50 US a
day (about 377,000 to 472,000 rupiah); (c) In Australia, the National
Institute of Visual Artists recommends minimum artist fees for
emerging studio artists working on short term projects of $31.70
(about 270,000 rupiah) an hour.

2.4 (raw).

“I have worked since I was a little girl. As far as I remember, when I
was still sitting at the junior high school, I started to earn my own
money by selling many things … Then I worked for the lady working
at the Post Office, cleaning up her house. She introduced me to a
foreign lady called Tessa. So that was the beginning of me working for
expatriates. Tessa started to introduce me to her fellows, and that is
how I get the jobs, from word-to-mouth.”

2.5 (raw).

“Is your husband working somewhere?” “No. He stays at home.” “He is
not working?” “No. He is at home, taking care of our house.” “Is he
sick or something?” “Oh no. I think it would be better for all of us if he
stays at home, for otherwise there would be nobody taking care of our
cats.” “Do you have many cats?” “Oh yes, there are around 10 cats at
my house.”

2.6 (raw).

“Do you save the money you earn?” “Absolutely, I own lots of
jewellery, especially gold.” “So you do not have a bank account?” “No.
I prefer to save my money in the form of jewellery and keep them all
inside my own house.”

2.7 (raw).

“Do you ever have a wish for using some of your savings to go on a
holiday?” “Oh no, and what for? It would be better if I used the spare
time to work and get more money.” “Or perhaps you want to spend
the money to buy more electronic stuff?” “I do not have any particular
desire for it. I already have a refrigerator. I have six motorcycles. And I
always pay the instalments on time.” She pulled a small book
containing the record of her instalment payments from her bag. “Look,
never once have I exceeded the deadline of paying it. And because of
it, the motorcycle dealer always grants my proposal to installing
another motorcycle.”

2.8 (raw).

“The neighbours used to express their negative gestures whenever
seeing me wearing jewellery.” “Why would they do that?” “Because
they thought I was wearing the fake ones! Until one day I showed them
the letters of my jewelleries, then they started to understand…People
are always like that you know…They just do not know how hard one
has to work to get all that. I always come home very late at night. Also
everyday, usually at 3AM in the morning, I wake up, to sincerely
asking God for blessing me, my family, as well as this city.”

2.9 (raw).

On Wednesday, Amy hears through Bu Jilah’s friend, Rachel, that Bu
Jilah is intending to work on her day off, selling jewellery or taking
bottles for recycling. Rachel is keen to see Bu Jilah do something nice
for herself, and had urged her to go on a tour to Borobudur, the old
Buddhist temple in Central Java. Bu Jilah replied that she had no
interest in going on a tour to touristy sites.

The next day, Amy asks Bu Jilah if she understands that she will receive
200,000 rupiah for the project and is allowed to take the day off if she
wants. She explains her choice. She said she had never been to
Borobudur or a shopping mall, and although they did interest her,
she’d feel strange and uncomfortable going. She asks if is okay if she
stays at home and does her errands instead.

2.10 (raw).

In the end, Bu Jilah decides to take the day off after all, and spends
most of it at Progo Shopping Mall. In the evening, she tells Boy, the
interpreter, that she had found it tiring to be a tourist. She tells us
how, at one point, she got lost in the shopping mall, trapped on a
certain floor that only had escalators, contraptions she didn’t know
how to use. Laughing, she said she’d felt “groggy”, having never spent
a day with no purpose before.

3. (cooked).*

And through it all we collect fragments of text, images, remembered
words; and we lay them out in the order in which they were received.
Can more than this be done? Already the picture is partial, inauthentic;
a selective remembering of an encounter fixed in space and time.

Art becomes the means of entry. “Artist” becomes the license to
transgress; to act out, to act up; to create moments of exchange which
would otherwise go unrealised. We surrender our claim to authorship
in an act of egalitarian levelling — inviting Bu Jilah and others like her
to participate as co-creators of the encounter — but in the retelling of
the moment we wrest it back for ourselves. Is this comfortable?

Nothing is representative of anything more than what it is. Bu Jilah
does not like cats because she is Indonesian, or Javanese, or a member
of the exploited global underclass. This is not an encounter between
An Australian and An Indonesia, between North and South, White and
Black. What pulls on us is its human-ness. Yet it is also an encounter
between people who, for all their irreducibility to categories and
abstract descriptors, carry the markings of structures bigger than

And so the gap.

* With respect to Claude Levi-Strauss

As part of the 2009 South Project Gathering held in Yogyakarta,
Indonesia, Amy Spiers and Victoria Stead of Agents of Proximity
joined forces with writer Nuraini Juliastuti from Kunci Cultural
Studies Center to develop an art project exploring travel, tourism,
leisure and the relationships of power and exchange which these things
generate. In the lead up to the South Project Gathering The Agents
swapped roles with Indonesians, in an "exchange of destiny" that
attempted to subvert and invert the usual forms of interaction that
occur between locals and tourists.

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