The rain that came without any invitation left us with a smooth breeze of fresh air. All of the people in Semarang Gallery move around, preparing for the upcoming exhibition that will be held that night. We sat together with the owners of Semarang Gallery inside their office. The sound of the rain got smoother and faded, replaced by the sound of people muttering.
Mr. Chris, can you tell us why you made a gallery in Semarang?
Mr. Chris: I built Semarang Gallery in 2001, so it already existed for 21 years. From the beginning of this gallery, we already focus on contemporary and emerging Artists.
A little back story, I am an Art enthusiast, but professionally an Architect by background. Even before I made this gallery, I already had several Artist friends in Yogyakarta from around 1994 – 1995. I visited them quite often, like once a week. If there are any pieces that I am interested in, I will collect some of them. So I have been a collector before I have a gallery. Going around and having creative discussions in Yogyakarta, the city of art and literature is an essential activity for me.
There is also an old friend of mine who sells antiques. From him, I learned to see things through different materials and different kinds of art mediums/ sizes/ capabilities. Seeing those seconds/ antiques, practice my being to see and understand things further.
So, yeah, the encouragement comes through those and the further thinking of a long-term way of having a space for art people to express and learn about Arts in Indonesia.
Where and when was the interest towards Art came through Mr.Chris and Mr. Dennis’s life?
Mr.Chris: Because both of us are Architects, we have big curiosities to explore buildings or the interior more than the space itself. We expanded our understanding of Art, to learn the connection between Art and space relations more harmoniously.
It already started from the very beginning of both of our learning processes about architecture, and goes coherently with the Art.
We know that Mr.Chris is the first generation of Semarang Gallery Art event handling, and now Mr.Dennis is in the process of becoming the second generation. Are there any differences during the transition?
Mr. Chris: Dennis has been joining me to handle an Art event since he was in elementary school. Sometimes he just goes around having an eye on the Art pieces or sometimes he will be part of the discussions.
Mr. Dennis: I feel, I constantly practiced my visual language dictionary from a young age. My dad was never against me if I wanted to follow, listen to his talk, or throw my perspective.
It gave me a feeling of having a safe space for learning. So I have been aware of the way my dad works.
Mr. Chris: We fill each other’s positions well right now, so there are no big differences in focus between us. Because we have had a regular system of work since the start of our gallery and have the same division about the type of Art that we wanted to explore, which is the Contemporary Art industry.
And also, I felt Dennis’s position here is very helpful, by connecting the Gallery to the newer generations of Artists, because his age is more similar to the Artists. So from my perspective, it will be easier to befriend them, have similarities, and connect better.
May we know the story behind the choosing of “Semarang Gallery” as the Gallery’s name, and about the place itself?
Mr. Chris: It’s an interesting story to tell, too. So actually, at first, Semarang Gallery had 3 owners inside, and we worked together to make the gallery happen. During the year 2005 when we were in the run of building up the gallery, I was the one who handled more things. The other two owners saw me being so passionate about it, so they said, “You can continue this and handle it.” I finally got this place in 2008. I was heavily inspired by the 798 Art district in Beijing. When I went there in 2006 I felt the place was truly fascinating. The area was previously a factory complex, which then the buildings’ function switched into Art Galleries.
Because of that, I tried to look for a similar ambiance here in Semarang. When I first saw the building, it was in an abandoned condition and needed a lot of renovations. But I felt the building aligns with what I wanted. Also, people in Semarang can feel like having a Gallery that is more representative to the city.
Do Mr. Chris and Mr. Dennis have any specific interest in the types of Artworks? As an example, do you prefer seeing it more from the archive side, or the historical side, or maybe more into digging the visual side?
Mr.Dennis: We are more focused on the visual side. We do like to explore different Artists from different kinds of mediums that they made. Like, if you have a family trip, we will always have a day where we spend time in Galleries in the city. To learn about the Art, and the Gallery layouts, and understanding differences of perspectives. Then, we will have moments of discussion. So the similarity from the types of Artworks that we are interested in is built organically through time and memories.
Mr. Chris: We feel visuals are connected to feelings, and it’s one of the surfaces that humans can connect quite easily. Maybe after that, they will explore more, or maybe not. But at least we attempted through Visual Art to open the gate of deeper interests and understandings.
How is the Art industry flow in Semarang itself?
Mr. Chris: There was a specific period when a big demand in the Art industry went really high. It was during 2007-2008s. It wasn’t only happening in Semarang but also around big cities in Indonesia.
There were a lot of Temporary Art collectors back then, where Art became short investments for them while the demand became too high. We even often run out of Artwork stocks. It was always an intense moment back then. Nothing is good when it’s for a quick short time, it’s never long-lasting or a long-term thing.
Mr. Dennis: We hope it won’t happen again. It’s good for the short term, but scary and unhealthy if we stretch the accountability of the industry and the people inside in the long run.
Mr. Chris: But talking about the present time, the Collectors in Semarang are specific people who are really into the industry. The serious old ones and the newest generation Collectors.
Still not as significant as in Jakarta, but we always try to attract Collectors outside Semarang through our E-catalog and repeatedly joining big Art bazaar events. For example Art Bazel Hong Kong, Art Stage, and Bazaar Art.
The question will be more casual now. How do both of you feel about Semarang as a place?
Mr. Chris: My Mom is from Semarang, and my Dad is from Parakan. It’s a small town in Central Java, and one of the main outcomes of the town is tobacco. I started living here when I was in Senior High School. The city is clean and the cuisine in Semarang is also what a lot of people seek.
Mr. Dennis: For living, Semarang is actually nice, more organized, and not that chaotic. People who have been living here for a quite long time can feel the comfort. But because there’s a quite different geography of each Semarang area, you surely have some options.
What pops up in your mind when you hear the word “Bali” ?
Mr.Chris: Paradise (laughing). I always feel more peaceful and great when I come back from Bali. And the people in Bali are splendid and warm. I don’t feel anxious at all when I’m around the people there. That feeling is hard to find outside of Bali.
Mr. Dennis: Honestly, a lot of people I felt, can be 100% themselves truly when they are in Bali. The energy. Like, it’s okay if you are an Accountant, but also like to do Art. That’s the freedom of honest feeling that I felt about Bali.
Any recommendations in Bali from Mr. Dennis and Mr. Chris?
Mr. Dennis: The last time we went to Bali, we stayed in Potato Head. And I think it is quite interesting because they have an area where you feel enough to explore and can enjoy spending time there without trying to go out.
Mr.Chris: We like Ubud too. A lot of things can be explored there. We like the Nasi Campur Bali. Also, we go to Museums to meet Art colleagues, like Arma Museum and Neka Art Museum.
Mr. Chris & Mr. Dennis from Semarang Gallery
written by Tia Rama
photos by Ninit Wahyu