Nongkrong and Non-Productive Time in Yogyakarta's Contemporary Arts

Paper Presented at the 1rst PARSE Research Conference on Time
University of Gothenburg, Sweden
6 November, 2015

by Sonja Dahl

Full paper available in open access pdf at PARSE Journal 


Literally translated the Indonesian word nongkrong approximates “squatting by the side of the road with a cigarette” or “sitting around because you’re not doing any work.” Though it’s tempting to judge such activity as a waste of time, the process of nongkrong (essentially, non-productive social time) actually serves a very important role in building social relationships in Indonesia. It describes the act of hanging out, of bodies leaning into space together, of social, mutual space and slow time. Nongkrong is the hum of relationships, an activity that through its ubiquity, especially in Java, acts as social ‘glue.’

Within the contemporary arts circuit in Yogyakarta, Java an incredible proliferation of artist collectives and collaborations support the vast number of young and emerging artists. For many of Yogya’s artists, nongkrong is an essential aspect of how both their art practices and communities function and flourish. In the words of one such artist, “Nongkrong is our school.” Its looseness allows for an open and generous exchange of ideas and information, a casual knowledge-share that many artists claim is more influential on their development than their educations in-school. Rather than focusing on end-product productivity, nongkrong offers a holistic view of art as a long-term social process.

Taking the Indonesian concept of nongkrong as its core conversation, this paper extends the idea outwards from its specific locality to think through the importance of such non-productive social time in the broader contemporary arts. I draw on the work of a number of scholars and theorists, most particularly Fred Moten and Stefano Harney, who conceptualize ‘study’ as an informal social process and collective intellectual practice. I contend that such casual hanging out supports collaboration and defines what is at once a representative thread of contemporaneity in art worldwide at this historical moment, and a peculiarly and vibrantly Indonesian form of collective practice.