The Flame of the Pacific by artists Irwan Ahmett and Tita Salina is a decade-long series of interventions within the ring of fire. Ahmett and Salina have worked together since 2010, responding to urban and public space issues in one of the most populated cities in South East Asia: Jakarta, the capital of Republic of Indonesia. Everyday acts of social disobedience, tactics and spontaneous forms of negotiation and exchange have influenced their modus operandi in producing works since they began working together. Furthermore, Ahmett and Salina speculatively apply a ‘politely subversive’ form of practice they developed in Jakarta to other contexts, through travel to other countries as well building social networks as a way to understand the complexities of globalisation, issues of history, human tragedy, environmental threats, and individual vulnerabilities within the contemporary economic system.
2013 is an important period for Ahmett and Salina in reflecting on their working process. The journey to Fukushima they undertook that year initiated a way of thinking which had not emerged before. Three years later they had an opportunity to critically revisit the situation in Asia Pacific region (consisting of 46 countries), through a Research Fellowship residency programme at ST PAUL St Gallery (AUT University) in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand. This web platform is one outcome of that Fellowship.
This concentrated research period of three months offered a chance to dig deeper into the situation, looking at how giant economic powers and the concept of the state have reconstructed society in the region, and undermined local empowerment. This began with colonisation. The rain of bullets in the Second World War continued with a series of nuclear bomb tests in the Pacific, carried out by the same colonial powers. Subsequent multinational economic cooperation platforms continue this violence, disempowering minority groups and exploiting natural resources as well migrant workers. Meanwhile, the political remnants of the Cold War ideological clash still haunts some countries.
Ahmett and Salina are motivated to explore the territorial boundaries and polemic issues that define this region. They set out to intervene in the status quo through art which reflect the ‘zeitgeist’, as an interactive experience rather creating intellectual spectacle or static knowledge. This approach to form allows for the existence of tensions as well as resolutions in addressing instabilities – both below the earth’s plates (tectonic forces) and on its surface (ideological forces).
With a series of active volcanoes stretching from Aotearoa New Zealand to Chile, the geographic region is also shaped by indigenous cultures, history and practices. Cultural and environmental wellbeing across Pacific countries is increasingly vulnerable to aggressive economic policies and exploitation, frequent natural disasters, as well as the rising of sea levels which threaten livelihoods and places of living.
Through this ongoing research platform, Ahmett and Salina interact with various stakeholders and individuals in the Pacific region. Rather than focus on a single ‘topic’ they work with currents and cycles of ideas, towards a radical imaginative space in the Pacific. As a non-institution, they don’t want to get trapped by conservative systems. Rather, continuously refreshing their perspective through combining existing orders and structures from the smallest social scale to the broadest ideas of democracy, emancipation, collectivism and social movements. A very open approach to these complex issues encourages Ahmett and Salina to work collaboratively and cross-disciplinarily, emphasising the force that is often forgotten: culture.