Flanerie Archive: Kuncen Collection

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by Andy Fuller

The market is set back around 15 meters from the road. In front of it, there is a large space for a carpark, which on this afternoon is largely being occupied  by motorbikes. It is around 3:30pm and the sun is still hot. There is a general lethargy that marks the way market visitors and shop owners move around Pasar Kuncen. Business feels slow. Consumption and deciding what to buy is also a slow process. Visitors consider a large variety of goods before realising the use of something or whether one needs that particular object. This slowness mirrors the slowness of the trajectory of some of the objects that have come to be sold at the market. Other objects, however, make a quicker journey to this second hand and pirated goods market.

Motorbikes and cars pass along the street in a hurried and noisy manner. Across the road there is a Padang Murah restaurant; there are some pedestrians, some cyclists. Jl.Magelang is one of the main streets out of town. At the entrance to the market, there are two parking attendants who accept money and give receipts to the market’s visitors. They will look after your motorcycle. At the entrance to the building, there are two maps that represent the layout of the stalls inside. The emptiness of the maps belie the density and colour of the stalls. Visitors walk past the maps and to the lower or upper floors of Pasar Kuncen. Their bodies remember the layout of the shops which they have come to visit.

Upon entering the open-building, there are stairs leading upwards to mobile phone stalls, while the stairs going downwards lead to a space that is occupied by stalls of varying stock. It is more open here and this semi-outdoors space attracts most of the visitors.  I visit three main booths: a  money-artist, a bicycle-parts seller, a photograph seller. The rear of the market is used for clothes of varying degrees of currency and fashion. That they are ‘fake’ is accepted as part of the market’s legitimacy.  Shoes were piled up in neat and orderly racks. Shiny colours, familiar brand-names. But, they are also easily recognised as being ‘fake’, or ‘not what they claim to be’ for their imperfections and shabby quality. But they’re of a low price. These stalls are particularly empty on this slow afternoon. These clothes and shoes are in seemingly endless supply: speaking of ease and the speed of manufacture. Buying these products might be an easy way to look hip; perhaps a little like wearing the easily damaged but highly colourful and frequently up-dated clothing available from H&M in Europe.

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At a stall on the left of the entrance there are sculptures made from second-hand and disused money. The stall is run by a man who trades and swaps out-of-date money. There is a 1Rupiah note from 1964 with a portrait of Sukarno on it. There are more recent defunct notes such as those that were prevalent throughout the Suharto era. Money evokes memories and history. The dirt of its users hands ingrained in the paper’s texture. Changes in notes seem easily equitable with changes in political regimes. The new shiny notes of the post-98 era represent some kind of symbolic break with the Suharto regime and its notorious corruption. Yet corruption scandals are still common; perhaps only the uncovering of corruptive practices has increased.

Pak Dani turns the clean used notes into sculptures. Money has another life: it shifts from being a currency, to being valued for its aesthetic qualities. The rhythmic repetition of its designs make patterns on the miniature-money mosques that are hung in frames from the stall’s walls. Pak Dani Mahar, as his name appears on his business card, also makes money-birds and money-ships. The repetition of the money design serves to evoke the repetitive patterns of a birds feathers. The angles of the folded money evoke the angles of a ships sails. Perhaps this is the work of a man who has money to play with and money to work with. Countless hours of waiting for customers leads to seeing money as the basic material for a mosque; seeing it as a part of a bird. Pak Dani is an autodidact, he says, and he also says that this is not a kind of origami. His customers ask him to make his miniature mosques, ships or birds for their wedding celebrations. Their names and a particular date appears in the top-right corner of the framed objects. He sells his goods for around Rp.500,000.

Image 3There is a Raleigh bicycle parked in front of a stall selling bicycle parts. There are two stalls selling bicycle parts. Gears, brands, lights, seats, locks, peddles, cases, bells and insignias. Here are fragments of bicycles; fragments of history, ready to be re-assembled and applied to other bicycles in varying degrees of repair and in need of old and new pieces of equipment. I speak with the owner of the stall for a moment. I tell him I also have a Raleigh in The Netherlands and I tell him that the Raleigh company has now been sold to a Chinese company. He doesn’t understand why I’m telling him this nor does he care. He tells me that his bicycle is from 1951 and that it is completely original. He mentions some other bicycles that he has in his collection. He seems to have around five or six. He mentions their brands and their year and after a while the names and the brands mean less and less. The man is an enthusiast and he operates his stall and reproduces his enthusiasm for vintage bicycles in a modest manner.

Vintage is that which is historical and is still being used, retro is that which is new but which evokes the historical, the past, and that which has gone out of fashion, only to become fashionable again, for its very absence. And indeed, bicycles of colonial era Indonesia are increasingly popular; ‘heritage’ is re-claimed; colonial icons adopted as a part of authentic retro fashion. Sepeda onthel, as vintage Dutch bicycles are called, are ridden around the southern public square early on weekday mornings; there is a sepeda onthel club that meets at the end of Jl.Malioboro on Saturday nights. Collectors form collectives.

In a quiet corner a man is selling images and objects. The man is slim with a moustache and wearing a peaked cap with a camouflage design. He sits on a low stool behind his counter. Pendants and varying kinds of necklaces are hung in front of him, increasingly disguising his presence. There are framed photographs behind him and on the side of his stall. These are of  images and objects which evoke the regalia, heritage and authority of the Yogyakarta sultanate. In a small box on the left of his counter is a box of mostly black and white photographs. There are some 200 photographs. Some are in colour and some are roughly a quarter-size – slightly bigger than a passport photograph. The owner proudly points out a photograph in which the former president Suharto appears. The president is doing his usual business of standing at the centre of an image of a group of suited officials.The owner of the stall says that he obtained the photographs from various studios in Yogyakarta that have closed down.

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Many of the photographs are from the 1950s. Most of the photographs don’t have names and dates written on the back; those that do are state a year from the 1950s. The owner states that most of the people in the photographs are ‘orang dalam’, they are from within the kraton, upper class and members of Yogyakartan royalty to one degree or another. Many photographs are taken during some kind of celebratory meals; there are a series of wedding ceremonies, there are portraits of women in garden settings; portraits and profiles. A game of badminton; families posing in front of houses. The frames of the photographs vary from round and soft edges, to jagged zig-zags. Their surfaces are in varying degrees of roughness; matte becoming increasingly  matte . This man is collecting the aura of the kraton.

The Kuncen market is a contested site in which the present and the past meet. This is normal. Objects of the past, near and a little more distant, are sold for re-use. The objects move in both directions: their age, their state of being damaged or discarded are about to be repaired and re-valued by new owners. The objects slowly become grimy and dirty as they wait to be appropriated by enthusiasts and connoisseurs. Each stall holder persists with his or her collection; collections connected by some more or less loose theme.  This is trading on a small and slow scale. Sellers seem bored, disinterested and disappointed with the lack of interest in their goods. When a sale is made there is an air of resignation at the small price that is paid for the goods. Sellers fall asleep amongst their goods or consume trashy television serials. Others drink with other sellers; the despondent stare into the short distance.

Andy Fuller is a researcher currently based in Yogyakarta. His main interests are urban studies and popular culture.

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