Coffee-time, postcard print 27 November. Photo: JATIWANGI ART FACTORY
Soil Roof - Being at Super Fajar
November, 2019 Jatiwangi Art Factory, Indonesia
Soil Roof is a series of works exploring the daily life and work in the roof tile factory Super Fajar in Jatiwangi, Indonesia. During a one month residency at Jatiwangi Art Factory I have been hanging out, observing and taking part in different activities of work and leisure at the factory. During my time there, I made a series of works which explores the diversity and moments of softness I found in psychical labour which brings awareness to the “atypical” or undermined characteristics, faces or spaces of the factory and likewise open up towards seeing factories as producers of meaning beyond their "product". The series of works are graphic illustrations which play with the idea of the original, as well as the history and golden age of the roof tile industry of Jatiwangi. The works are installed as a permanent exhibition in the factory where they "play out" followed with a map of the works structured after the process from where the soil transform into roof tiles, in between soil and roof.
Children at the factory. 27 November. Photo: JATIWANGI ART FACTORY
Learning from hanging out in a factory
As the subtitle of this research indicates, the project was coined around the idea of being at Super Fajar which captures both my way of research as well as the community and the life there in general. I went into the factory with a pre-consumption that I might meet a tough and raw environment. I think that we to a certain degree expect the products, which is produced in a factory, to be reflected in the social and physical environment as well. Roof-tile stones are heavy, solid and tough, and made to resist endless amounts of rain, wind and sunlight. But maybe such pre-consumption is misleading because it tends to consider an environment or factory based on the final stage of its productivity, which in this case is the roof-tile stone. Instead of, for example thinking about how the environment produces content and which material, story or traditions the final production is made from. I was surprised to find an industry with so much diversity, tactility and softness which also opened up a way to understand the roof-tile factory as a producer and educated beyond the roof-tile production.
The factory was very clean and really cosy. There were lots of hang out spots were employees or guest could relax with a coffee. The place was full of life and a lot of activity which was not directly related to the production of tiles. The boss would walk around and talk with the 40 employees, drink coffee or play with the children. He would also be in charge of feeding the goats. Besides the 40 employees the factory had around 20 goats, pigeons, a rabbit, some cats, canary birds, an aquariums with fish and a family who was in charge of a small café which made ice-coffee and noodles for the employees in the breaks. Around the factory there were mango trees, the local entot tree and kersen tree. Every time guests arrived at the factory the boss would walk around and pick mangos and berries to share with them. The son of the boss would play with the pigeons and train them for upcoming competitions. After the 3pm shift, employees would join him. One employee would sometimes take the ram out and play with it in the yard. The family that lived in the factory and ran the cafe would often have friends or other guest coming. Children would play everywhere
and run in and out between the people working. Domestic tasks, family gatherings, animals, visiting guest and playing children would intermingle with the daily work at the factory. One day when I came to the factory nobody was working and the whole factory was turned into a barbecue party. Two goats were slaughtered in the in the yard. The party was due to the recent birth of the boss' child and a preparation for the Javanese Aqiqah ceremoni which is performed when a child is born. The factory became a platform in where personal, social and sacred rituals would be performed in-between the production of tiles. It shows the flexibility of the factory as an environment, constantly changing the “production” according to temporal social, personal and spiritual desires. My experience of being at the factory changed my view on the modes of productions. I was surprised to find so many soft-spots and such diversity that would present itself. It was striking to see how the soil become clay. Carried on shoulders and thrown into a machine which would make it into cubes of clay. After that the cubes were put into forms, carried out to the rags where they were dried for three days. Then burned, glazed and burned again. The people glazing the tile stones told me their favourite colour was the brown glaze. It was nice because it looked like chocolate. The production processes included a lot of heavy and tough work. Especially the carrying of clay and the people working with the machine that would form the tile. After work, the people with the heavier tasks would massage each others neck and shoulders. Other task would include more detailed and tactile handwork correcting and adjusting the finish of the tile-stones.
Along with the soft-spots which seem to appear in the daily work, I also noticed a strong diversity of in materiality, both in terms of colours and softness. The factory was always full of clothes from the women, men and the children being at the factory. Both the ones living there and the ones working there in the day time. The clothes would stand out in contrast to the tile- and brick stones at the factory. Colourful and clean after the wash. It would smell like synthetic flowers and sway lightly in the breeze. The clothes seem to show us something very intimate and personal about the people and it becomes a soft spot or an island in an ocean of bricks. Almost like a transaction between the personal and the working life.
Body knowledge, body language and sensing
I had many conversations with the employees and the people hanging out at Super Fajar. They told me about the working hours, shifts and how they found the life and work in the factory. But the conversations were only the top of an iceberg of information about being at Super Fajar, neither capturing how it feels with the body, the senses and how thoughts would circulate or standstill during the hours, days and weeks of repetitive and exhausting work. My friend and translator told me that the employees liked me. At some point they asked me if I would like to take part in the actual work on the factory. At that point I already wanted to try to work there. But I was afraid it would be too intrusive to ask them to ask if I could join. But as they actually liked the idea and brought it up themselve it seem like a good thing to try. I worked in the factory for two days with a group of 5-6 employees. The working day would go on from 7am - 15pm and have included small breaks. I ate at the factory during the breaks and took showers after work. The experience from working at the factory added valuable information and knowledge to the way I got to understand the environment and it’s people. I was by fare the biggest man working, and being in a good age (compared to the older ones around their fourties and fifties) but I was absolutely the weakest of all the workers. It seemed to attract both a lot a fun and respect from the workers. All were really kind and cheered me up and I started doing the same to them and complimented their strength. My body became part of the machinery and my job was to carry clay to the clay-grinder. A simple and heavy task. But even such a task was full of things I didn’t master and a lot of details I needed to learn in order not to mess it all up. Nothing was told to me. I just followed what was done. By following their way I learn what to do and not to do. Cutting the clay was the first thing. It was risky, because if you did it in a wrong way the cutting-wired could get stuck, or even worser, break. Afterwards, it requires a lot to lift the clay from the ground and bring it to a good position on the shoulder. The first day I ended up carrying too much weight with the tip of my shoulder which led to a lot of pain. Furthermore I brought the clay on my shoulder randomly but later learned how to bring the downside of the clay, which was cold and wet, to my neck and shoulder, and not the upper-part which was dried in the sun and raw as sandpaper. I learned new codes and infos about the working rhythm; when to bring sand the ground when it got too wet and slippery. When to drink water, wash, smoke, sit, start the machine and shot it off. When to go left and when to go right. It was 39 degrees most of the time and I was sweating very heavily. But the feeling of clay beneath my feat and the way it would dry for a little bit during the lunch break at 12 or the heavy smell of oil which we used to smear the machinery, gave me so many new facets of the aesthetics and feelings connected to the work. The mind stops and only wonders when the next break is one. But the body continues. The employees appreciated my effect at the factory. Both at the work and in front of my laptop. During the working hours they would flex their muscles at me and tell me that I will get strong. They even tried to convince me to start working for good at the factory so I could take part in the yearly bodybuilding competition for all factory workers in Jatiwangi (1). I realised that my physical appearance and my acceptance to join the work meant a lot to the workers. It might have been a way to seek contact and understanding on different levels, and I think that body language and me working there was a psychical gesture of both interest, respect and recognition, which I think meant a lot to the people working there.
1) The bodybuilding competition was initiated in 2015 by Julian Abraham “Togar” and Grace Samboh. The competition builds new connections between the factory workers of Jatiwangi, reposition their “appearance” in relation to their local environment as well as it forms a new awareness and proudness to the traditional tile-work in relation to the modern tile industry which are currently rising. Lastly, It gives a chance for the winner to go home with 10.000.000 IDR (650 EU) which is around 4-5 times more than the monthly salary. The project, in regard to my work, also show how we also tend to stereotype the tile-stone industry with labels or values of masculinity, muscularity in a sweaty, dusty and “raw” environments. Thus, such project also builds up a narrative of the tile-stone workers as strong, tough and masculine. It builds a stronger case for the tradition tile-stone industry of course, but by being based in masculinity it also tend to oversee some of the very other important values and characteristics of softness and diversity.
Jarkarta Globe: https://jakartaglobe.id/multimedia/bodybuilders/
Getting Images: https://www.gettyimages.com.mx/detail/fotograf%C3%ADa-de-noticias/bodybuilding-contest-tile-factory-workers-fotograf%C3%ADa-de-noticias/830653012.
Translating a research
Exhibition and presentation of Soil Roof
One of the final days of my month in Jatiwangi I invited the employees of Super Fajar for an exhibition which was a selection of 11 graphic works transferred to roof-tile stones which was installed at the factory. I talked about my time at the factory and how the final works would reflect on my this experience as well as the journey and process where soil becomes a roof. I shared my thoughts on soft spots, diversity and flexibility in relation to the mass production of roof-tiles. Last, I shared a small map which would guide visitors through the different phases of the tile-production where they would discover the many different facets, faces and spaces "behind" the production. All text was translated into Indonesian. Finally we took a tour around to see the different works and talk about how human attitudes became embedded in the roof tiles. One man told me that he would like his whole roof to be made from these works.
The final works was made from graphic photoprints of the employees which was transferred onto roof-tiles that was polished from fringes. The colour would transfer to the surface of the roof-tile while the paper would be washed off. The motives of the pictures were playing with the softness, joy, strength and playfullness that I experience while being at Super Fajar and the collection meant to open up a dimension of how we perceive and enclose the production(s) of the factory. The motives would almost disappear in the tile and take its ground colour. Likewise the image would adopt all the scratches, small holes and toughness from the roof-tile which would also play with the relation between the rough and softness. Finally, the "mode" of production of the exhibition used the same material as the factory but changed the method and appearance of the roof-tile. It was a way to let the research mode adopt to the factory by choosing its product as a medium of exchange. It gave me the opportunity to bring knowledge, experience and material together in a new way, and very important, it gave a way to let a research resolve in a production which could be shared and could connect with the people and the place from where it was conducted.
Exhibition display, 27 November. Photo: JATIWANGI ART FACTORY
Postcard print, 27 November. Photo: JATIWANGI ART FACTORY
27 November. Photo: JATIWANGI ART FACTORY
This map shows the position of all eleven roof-tile works. Each of them is marked with name which is also the titel of the works.