Travel, transportation, and exhibition-making

by Grace Samboh

Dear Weng,

Thank you so much for noticing the lingers in both texts of mine! Indeed, it has indeed always been about doing things together, doing with and for one another. Be it exhibitions, talks, seminars, festivals, publishing, research, even in archiving works. There is another text that I co-authored with David Morris, initially for a conference, that expands on this, it’s literally titled “Why do it together if you can do it alone?” In the case of writing, I’d often start by addressing it to my younger self and my peers at the time, in the hope that it also addresses other curious people in the current and future times. In the case of exhibition-making, for me, it has always been at the very least designated for everyone involved in the making, be it the myself (in whatever role), the artists, the collaborators, the organizers, the societies that the artists’ practices are rooted in.

In a recent workshop, I was asked, “If you’d only work with friends, does that mean you’d always be working with the same group of people?” I didn’t think too long about that question. I simply replied, while trying to be somewhat funny and delightful after being in the session for 90 minutes, “I never said I’d only work with my existing friends. If there’s anyone, a person or a group of people, that I am fascinated with or interested in, and I don’t yet know them, I’d introduce myself and try to be friends with them.” Now, I am somewhat reminded of what you said in “Fields II: On attachments and the unknown”, that the reason that you’d write about very few artists is because you prefer going back to the ones you have known and to keep expanding your relationship as well as your knowledge of their practices over time. In circumstances that would allow me, I try to do so too. To work with my friends, those I have known for some time and whose practices I am super familiar with, in the hope that we can exercise our care critically with each other, we can keep growing together through our work, through our practices, through life. 

On your note of “travel”, I guess I have never thought of this venture, Jakarta Biennale 2021 “ESOK”, as a biennale-making one or as an international (or global—both as problematic, for me) mega exhibition of some sort, however obvious it may seem to be. I mean, at least in my case, the travelling curators that you mentioned never really crossed my mind, though I think I can understand where you are coming from with this baggage. When we began conversing about and around JB2021 ESOK, we were still meeting and hanging out in Jakarta. Even then, the itinerary Qinyi Lim and I had in mind were of friends’ studios in different places. To really hang out, spend time, talk, mull over long overdue ideas, or hop on a completely new train of thoughts. By friends, I think we were not limiting ourselves to those who we have had the privilege of knowing in person or have ever worked together, but also those whose practices we have been aspiring at, or admiring, for some time, or even forever. This resonates to my attempt at being funny in that workshop I mentioned just now; and, hopefully also to what you had addressed earlier as ‘familiar or strangers’ in terms of fellow travelers.

To explore more on ‘friends with baggage’, I hope I have, by now, expanded the notion of friendship. I don’t think I can speak further for Qinyi, but, for me, this gesture of meeting the ones we have known, our friends, would afford us to explore nuances more critically, be it in reading, framing, or threading their works, as well as practices. This is the baggage that I think we have to carry together, from all sides, my own, the organizers, the artists, the collaborators, the audiences, the sponsors, etc. All in different sizes, I would think… Interestingly, at this point in time, I don’t think I have reached the ‘curatorial’, at least in any articulated forms of thoughts. I am still dwelling around the exhibition-making aspect of the biennale, every potential individual involved (that I sometimes address as stakeholders) from artists, curators, managers, organizers, art handlers, sponsors, audiences, etc. Literally everyone involved from all sides prior to the work being made, in its making, the staging of it, and in experiencing it on (as well as off) site. 

Can I ask you to expand what you meant by ‘an exhibition as a vehicle of transportation’? In thinking about some of the old and new friends that we are engaging with towards the biennale, many of them do not have representational practices. Their works, and practices, tend to be driven by its necessity to “simply” happen, it has grown far from motivations such as expressing, claiming, defining, making, evaluating, etc. At times, we can argue that, to some artists, it doesn’t even matter anymore whether people (at large) would understand, accept, or agree upon it as art or not, let alone its type or genre. What seemed to matter is that it happened in a particular situation where anyone involved had various chances of engagement with it, despite the level of awareness, consciousness, and tolerance. 

Looking forward to your reply.

Very best, xx


This letter is a reply to Lee Weng Choy. An exchange between Grace and Weng will be included in Weng’s collection of conversations, “Friends with Disagreements”, which will be published by Stolon Press. Grace’s writing also relates to the current conversation amongst JB 2021 ESOK curatorial team, On exhibition-making.

Grace Samboh (b. Jakarta, 1984) is in search of what comprises a curatorial work within her surrounding scene. She jigs within the existing elements of the arts scene around her for she considers the claim that Indonesia is lacking art infrastructure especially the state-owned or state run as something outdated. She believes that curating is about understanding and making at the same time. She is attached to Hyphen —, affiliated to RUBANAH Underground Hub, and currently undertaking a doctoral program at Arts and Society Studies, Sanata Dharma University, Yogyakarta. She’s logs her writings at