'We need a space where people are comfortable to share their ideas'

Aaron Seeto, director of Museum Macan (Jakarta) puts the art off the pedestal, bringing it closer to younger audiences, down to 'Generation Z' and 'Alpha'. Sitting down with ACI, he shares why one-way communication seems pretty anachronistic and why a museum should never tell you how to behave in front of an artwork

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Editor: Sebastian Partogi

Many news articles online attempt to answer a question on why local museums tend to lack visitors despite relatively affordable entry ticket prices. Most of these articles argue that the main reason why these museums lack visitors is because they link artifacts or artworks as a series of historical facts to memorize by rote without emphasizing their significance in today’s day and age. To gain insight on how museums (especially art museums) can remain relevant in the 21st century, Art Calls Indonesia contributor Sebastian Partogi recently talked to Aaron Seeto, the director of Museum Macan (Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara). Here’s an excerpt from the interview, edited for length and clarity.

Aaron SeetoAaron Seeto, director of Museum Macan, sharing his stance on which things a modern museum should facilitate | Photo: Muhammad Fadli 

ACI: What activities do you organize inside the Museum Macan?

Aaron Seeto: I think historically, museums fundamentally exist for educational purposes. Our emphasis on education here at Macan really responds to the context of Indonesia, its really specific needs and situations. Through our educational activities here at Macan, we do not seek only to nurture arts appreciation but also try to unlock creativity and critical thinking through the experience with art. 

My experience in Indonesia is remarkably different from elsewhere, we begin to cater to the needs of our younger audiences.

The other thing too is the reason why the Macan education program is designed the way it is – it is a reflection of the demography as well. Indonesia is a very, very young country with young audiences, Gen Z and Millennials. But the Gen Z audience is a big part of it and we already start thinking about how to cater to the Alphas (the generation which comes after Gen Z –ed), whom we begin to see a lot as well. We see them not just in terms of the age group but also in terms of the broader culture. We know for lots of our audiences it’s their first time coming to a museum, therefore we tailor our activities specifically to them. My experience in Indonesia is remarkably different from elsewhere, we begin to cater to the needs of our younger audiences.

Museum Macan Provided for Aci 1

A contemplative sharing session with Chiharu Shiota at Museum Macan | Photo provided by the museum

ACI: What role do you think art museums play in our contemporary society?

Aaron Seeto: If we go back a little further, what is the role of a museum? The role of a museum is not just to present or to preserve artwork, but increasingly museums have become civic spaces where people are coming together. So that ties in the educational modality, to think and discuss artwork together. And if we see how artists' work has shifted – so many artists' work now requires audiences engaged or to bring their thoughts or experiences to complete the meaning of an artwork. So it’s not that 19th century idea of an artifact put on a pedestal, which already has a defined set of meanings.

We don’t need to be an activist but definitely we need to be a space where people are comfortable to share their ideas and thoughts.

The point of having civic spaces such as Macan is that we bring people together to share in a much more complicated conversation, a civic space to discuss art and how it has a bigger social, political and economic context. So therefore, modern and contemporary museums of the 21st century involve a touch of activism that we see in our community. We don’t need to be an activist but definitely we need to be a space where people are comfortable to share their ideas and thoughts. So I think this is what we try to achieve at Macan.

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ACI: How do you make your programs relevant to the public?

Aaron Seeto: When we curate our programs, we think about their relevance, not only to our immediate audience but also to the art world. And Museum Macan wants to respond to the global conversation about art that happens everywhere. So when we talk about relevance, we’re thinking about the artists we want to work with. Where do they come from, what are they working on? And how is this different from other art scenes from around the world? So we have a bigger point of view, and we’re trying to link them to the local context.

Meeting people who have the same interest or curiosity – that’s actually what makes a museum interesting

Museum M Acan Provided for Aci 2Not necessarily a place of solemn silence: Agus Suwage and 'The Theater of Me' in a jamming session at Museum Macan in West Jakarta | Photo provided by Museum Macan 

For instance, recently we were running an exhibition by Isabel and Alfredo Aquilizan. So even though they’re talking about the migration of people from the Philippines to Australia, I think it is relevant to our daily lives. I don’t know how you get on in the city, but we’re constantly meeting different people from different places. Jakarta is a place where people come from all around Indonesia and the world. So we can still remain relevant when we bring artists from different geographies. It’s a skill you learn when you do more programming, when you do research in order to make your programs relevant to your immediate audiences. 

ACI: What do you think makes a museum special – is it the artworks displayed inside or the historical significance of the building itself?

Aaron Seeto: What makes a museum special is actually the people. Of course you need to put in the art. But if you do it correctly, you’re going to meet people who have the same interest or curiosity, that’s actually what makes it interesting, when you have people around you who are curious. We have visited some very boring old museums where they only put objects and the communication is one-way; it’s the institution telling you what to think and how to behave in front of an artwork. But I think in the 21st century these divisions are really starting to evaporate. I think these museums become special when the programs they present are able to reflect the sociopolitical contexts of not just the city but also the people who live in it.

(Art Calls Indonesia, 23.11.2023)

Interview and Text: Sebastian Partogi 

Redacted by: Marten Schmidt 

Many thanks to: Liviani Eka Putri (Publicity Coordinator Museum Macan)

Versi Bahasa Indonesia 

Read the Indonesian version of this interview here. 

ACI unbubbled

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