Opinion: Art, A Force in Crisis

By Aaron Seeto
24th April 2020
For Aaron Seeto, director of Museum MACAN, art is a force to be reckoned with amidst the pandemic. In this opinion column, Aaron gives us a look at how the museum aims to produce a “cycle of goodness” in support of the local art industry.

Today is day 41. For us at Museum MACAN (Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara), day one started on Saturday, 14 March 2020, when we made the difficult decision to close the museum temporarily and postpone two public programmes, along with several live performances. A week earlier, we had opened two major and highly anticipated exhibitions to the public – a career survey by Indonesian artist, Melati Suryodarmo and a major video installation Manifesto by German artist, Julian Rosefeldt.

The evening before we closed, some of our team members were working to ensure that our visitors were informed of the changes, as people were anticipating our weekend public programmes (two of which had already sold out, so there were a lot of emails to send out).

We were also about to launch Open Debate, a new series of public debates with participants coming from other cities. This debate was going to present ideas of the body and performance art: ideas that relied on concepts about society, activism, individuals, public space and public behaviour. In short, how actions enliven or give meaning to public space and how human interaction gives form to society – many things that we probably all miss and have to rethink in our new lives in virtual lockdown. 

In that same weekend, one of Melati Suryodarmo’s challenging performances, Alé Lino (2003), was supposed to happen. It is a work about vulnerability, persistence, and liminal states between presence and absence, physical and spiritual, and the body and mind – what Melati describes as ‘a kind of complete emptiness’. Thinking back, all of these programmes explore lots of the anxieties and observations we may all be experiencing now, in one form or another. 

Although the team misses the museum every day – I know I do – it is amazing to see what we can pull together in 41 days. Since we started working from home, some things have not changed. Our Monday morning meetings go on as usual, with the only difference being that it’s done virtually. It has been important to keep up a routine, to keep each other updated, and to check in on each other. 

We also feel for the artists – not just Melati Suryodarmo, Julian Rosefeldt and Mit Jai Inn, who have spent months preparing for their exhibitions at the museum and years developing works of art – but we also think of the impacts of COVID-19 on the art sector as a whole. While we have been witnessing unprecedented global upheavals, we have also watched how communities have banded together to support each other through these difficult times and how artists and museums have been critical in providing nourishment and respite.

Over the last 41 days, I am sure that each one of us has been the beneficiary of creativity and works of artists, as we watch and explore new worlds online, listen to podcasts, and playlists on social media. Artists have also shown incredible foresight and compassion, as they mobilise their studios to make things for the greater good of society; from crafting protective clothing using their skills and equipment or leftover materials in their studios, to thinking up of new initiatives and programmes where they can provide support for the vulnerable in our society.

I strongly believe that the arts are vital to our community. Let us not forget this when our daily lives return to some semblance of normal. While we may be temporarily closed and our published programmes may have to be rescheduled, the museum team is actively working to connect the public with art and artists. We are developing digital experiences that will help create links between the public and artists through social impact programmes and exhibitions. 

Within the first two weeks of the museum’s temporary closure, we’ve rolled out our take on Museum from Home on our website and social media. The programme invites the audience to explore MACAN’s modern and contemporary art collection, listen to our podcast series, MACAN A to Z (which you can find on Spotify), read our e-publications, watch our artist interviews and revisit our exhibitions, and also download activities sheets for children. 

Stay tuned for a number of upcoming projects that we are rolling out online, in particular, an ‘art drive’ to support our local art community: to create, share, and open a dialogue in a time where physical art experience is being put on hold. It is a simple but fun idea that we hope will raise some funds in support of our art ecology. I believe that art can be a powerful tool that inspires and motivates society at large. We really hope that this “cycle of goodness” that we will be starting can lead to something bigger; a call to arms to say that “this too shall pass!”.



About Aaron Seeto

The Director of Museum MACAN, Aaron Seeto, has a vast experience working to advance the goals of contemporary art organisations and curating significant exhibitions of artists from the Asia and Pacific regions. Aaron was formerly Curatorial Manager of Asian and Pacific Art, at Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane, Australia where he led the curatorial team at the eighth Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT8) in 2015. For eight years prior, he was the Director of Sydney’s ground-breaking 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art.